Amazing Proofs of Jesus!

There seems to be an odd rise the last year or so in forgeries or other bogus claims of “archaeological” finds attesting to first century Christianity. In actual fact, we have no (that’s zero) archaeological evidence pertaining to Jesus or Christians from the first century (and very, very little even from the second). But last year there was a claim of some mysterious find of “lead codices” that was quickly exploded by experts as a fraud (see my summary: Lead Tablets of Jesus!).

And this year already two wild claims have started circulating. First, that a “first century” manuscript of the Gospel of Mark has been found (claimed by the quasi-fundamentalist Christian scholar Dan Wallace, during a debate with Bart Ehrman), by which is meant, a tiny fragment of a few incomplete words (shown at right, if this is the manuscript in question; you see, no one has come forward as its owner or stated even where it is, not even Wallace, who nevertheless wants to make a big splash with a book about it next year–there is always some money-making angle with these things).

Like the lead codices story, which became big international news before anyone was consulted who actually knows what they are talking about, this, too, has quickly become news, already garnering an article in Forbes (and, I’m told, even making TV news). But alas, it’s dubious for two reasons: first, no one will say where the manuscript is (it therefore is unlikely to be in any academic institution; as such it would already have an accession number and alphanumeric identifier, and of course they would insist on being identified); second, if the image circulating is the same fragment (the image’s authenticity has not been established; it appears to have been “leaked” by a “private collector,” supposedly its owner), it’s far more likely to be a fake than an authentic manuscript at all, much less from the first century (indeed as a forgery, it’s so crappy, the best argument against it being fake is that it was so badly faked: the papyrus shows no fray lines, the scribal lines are not evenly spaced, the lettering is inconsistent, and there are no other typical indicators of authenticity). Several heavy-hitting experts have weighed in on this, all in the “give me a break” column. You can find links to their reports on Thomas Verenna’s blog (here and here).

And now a new claim is going around that an early “first century” tomb has been found in Jerusalem that provides the earliest evidence of Christianity ever found. This was a discovery made by the same bozos who touted the “Jesus tomb” a while back (more on that shortly), and I’m really bothered by James Tabor’s continual involvement with them. He’s a great guy, but he’s really not coming off well here. The only evidence that this is any such thing as they claim (other than just another Jewish tomb) is a barely intelligible inscription and a barely decipherable carving. Each in turn:

(1) The inscription is in Greek and “might” say “God Yahweh Raises [Agb]” or some such, but doesn’t. The verb is not in fact there. Tabor just “conjectures” that hypsô is an abbreviated third person form of the verb hypsô [hypsôsen] and that it means “to raise up,” but the verb hypsô actually means to “lift up” as in “exalt,” and there are other things hypsô could be an abbreviation for (like hyps[ist]ô, “to the highest”), and it could even just be the verb hypsô, “I exalt [thee]” and so on (e.g., the agb could be hagiô, the omega ligatured to the iota, in which case it’s “to the holy and most high,” etc.). Point is, it’s unclear. Moreover, even if it were a verb of resurrection (though this would be the rarest verb used for that, even in Christian literature), the entire point of Jews reburying the bones of their dead in ossuaries was to facilitate their resurrection; so declaring that God would raise the inhabitant (possibly the person whose name begins with Agb) is exactly in line with Jewish thinking and thus not at all indicative of any peculiarly Christian sentiment.

(2) The carving is being claimed as a fat-headed stick-figure man in the mouth of a weird fish, and therefore the earliest known depiction of Jonah in the Whale, known in later centuries as a common Christian symbol of personal salvation and resurrection. But as experts have pointed out, it is far more likely an amateur carving of a nephesh, or Jewish tomb monument, with eaves and pinnacle, a common motif on Jewish ossuaries of the period, or even more likely an amphora or krater (depending on how much importance is placed on which end is up: for a good example of a reconstruction, and useful commentary on the whole fiasco, see Mark Goodacre on James Charlesworth on Talpiot Tomb B). That this is more obvious is that as a fish the drawing is bizarre (little tiny absurdly itty bitty fins; scales that look coincidentally more like architectural decoration), but as a nephesh or amphora much less so; even the so-called “man” would have to be a freak (as it is, depicting Jonah with a three foot dick; a head swollen to the size of a medicine ball; and ambiguous arms). This is very unlikely to be a depiction of Jonah in the Whale.

For, again, a gallery of heavy-hitting experts all weighing in on the “give me a break” column, see Thomas Verenna’s roundup post, which includes links (here). The most important are Robert Cargill and Eric Myers and the most educational for laymen (albeit much longer) is by Christ Rollston, which also gets you up to speed on the backstory. Needless to say, this bogus “find” is linked to a heavily-marketed book, The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity, by James D. Tabor. But given that he has been so thoroughly disgraced by expert analysis on this (and yet gives the book an absurdly confident title like that), I can only assume he has tenure, as otherwise he would cease to be employed by now. This is really beyond the pale.

It’s even more discrediting that Tabor still stands by the “Jesus Tomb Wingnut Team” interpretation of an inscription in the other Talpiot tomb as “Mariamene” (as supposedly a variant of Mariamne, supposedly a distinctive spelling of Mary Magdalene), when it is unmistakably Mariamê kai Mara, “Miriam and Mara,” one very common Jewish name, the other unconnected to Jesus. An earlier epigrapher confused a single letter as nu (N) which is actually kappa [K], the one being an upside down version of the other (a common mistake even for an expert to make who might be getting tired trudging through hundreds of inscriptions). This is so glaringly obvious there can be no reasonable dispute in the matter. Yet he keeps on claiming it says Mariamene. Lately he has been willing to allow that it “might” say Mariame kai Mara…after I pointed this out. But why didn’t he notice it before? The many statistical analyses run for the names in the tomb are also horribly fallacious (the conjunction of names there given the actual population in the tomb is simply not improbable enough to ensure this tomb has any connection with Jesus), but he can’t be expected to understand that (he’s not a mathematician and hasn’t studied statistics or statistical logic). But surely he can read Greek properly. He seems more inclined to stick to the guns of a bizarre theory than actually admit it’s too bizarre to be credible. That was not the “lost tomb of Jesus” ; and neither is this “new” find connected to Christianity.

The lesson to learn here is never to trust the media, much less the rumor mill, when claims of an amazing new find like this crop up. Wait for the evidence to actually be presented, for many independent experts to actually analyze it. Then see what survives. Usually, nothing.

Atheism IS an Identity

Sam Harris once wrote that “atheism” is “a term that should not even exist,” because “no one ever needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist’. We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle.” In context, he didn’t seem to be attacking atheism as an identity movement, just noting that in a world in which nearly everyone accepted reality, we wouldn’t have a word for atheism (this is from A Letter to a Christian Nation). But in Julian Baggini’s new piece for The Financial Times, on “Atheism in America,” he interviewed Harris, who seems to be backing the vocal few in society who have denounced the atheist identity movement in America.

It’s no secret that I believe the atheism identity movement (represented by such projects as the Out Campaign) is a powerful and important moment in American history. But quoting Baggini:

Not everyone agrees that this is the way to go. The neuroscientist Sam Harris is one of America’s best-known atheists; his 2004 book, The End of Faith, sold over half a million copies. He agrees that the situation for atheists is “analogous to being gay and in the closet for many people”, and it is striking that virtually every atheist I spoke to talked the language of being “out” or “in the closet”. Nevertheless, Harris argues “it’s a losing game to trumpet the cause of atheism and try to rally around this variable politically. I’ve supported that in the past, I support those organisations, I understand why they do that. But, in the end, the victim group identity around atheism is the wrong strategy. It’s like calling yourself a non-astrologer. We simply don’t need the term.”

Harris is wildly wrong here. If 80% of the country were fanatical astrologers and political and social policy were being driven by or threatened by that, if non-astrologers were treated the way Baggini documents atheists are treated in many states in this country (particularly the rural midwest), if they acted the way people who attacked Jessica Ahlquist did (plus a zillion other things documented in Greta Christina’s new book, which I got an advance look at, and it’s awesome BTW; but I’ll blog all about that when it’s out), in a world like that, “non astrologer” would become a meaningful, powerful, and important word. It would be a central and crucial focal point distinguishing people who want a world full of astrologers and people who don’t. It informs anyone who hears it where you stand on the whole “faith-based epistemology” thing. It says you aren’t going to be cowed into denying who you are, into living in the closet, pretending to be an astrologer. It says you are one of those unusually sane people who realizes astrology is bullshit. In a world full of astrologers, that’s just about the most important information I could ever learn about you (not quite, but nearly).

A Christian apologist (I can’t recall who) once quipped in a debate that if his godless opponent were walking down a dark street late at night and heard a bunch of people running up behind him, wouldn’t he prefer to know they were a bunch of young men leaving a bible study class? Well, no. If a bunch of bible study nuts were running up behind me in the dark of night, as a very out atheist I would be a little worried, and certainly more on my guard than if it were, say, a bunch of random joggers. But if they were a bunch of young folk leaving an atheist meetup? I’d feel not only perfectly safe, but quite happy. It thus would mean something to me that they were wearing “Atheist Pride” T-Shirts, that they were leaving a coffee shop with an “Atheist Meetup!” sign propped up outside. The word communicates something to me that is incredibly meaningful in the social context we now find ourselves in.

This doesn’t mean I assume all atheists are nice and trustworthy guys and gals. But statistically, a group of them is not going to be up much mischief. To the contrary, they’re more likely to be picking up trash as they go, and chatting about tax policy or Dr. Who. My point is that atheism as an identity means something: it’s how we find each other (as opposed to the state of things before, when theists arranged society by various assumptions and pressures so as to isolate us, making it near impossible for atheists to know they weren’t alone, much less get together and organize). That’s just about the most important thing that can happen for freethought: Atheists finding each other. Atheists organizing. Atheists sharing notes. Atheists identifying with a movement to which they belong…not because of their gender or politics or interest in knitting, but because they don’t buy into this “astrology” thing (to keep with Harris’ analogy). They are like us, because they, like us, have admitted the emperor has no clothes. And in a world run largely by people convinced the emperor is fabulously dressed, and who socially punish everyone who disagrees with them, saying out loud that we side with the no-clothers is pretty damned important.

I won’t dwell on alternative monikers. Other words don’t work. Christians claim to be skeptics. They claim to be freethinkers. They claim to be humanists. But you will never find a Christian claiming to be an atheist. It’s therefore an ideal label: that you are willing to identify as an atheist means something very distinct from, say, only being willing to identify as a “secular humanist.” Old folks do the latter. The young, the future of this country, do the former. It proves you don’t buy into the stigma anymore, that in fact the stigmatization of the word “atheist” is precisely what’s wrong with this country, and therefore stealing that identity back and making it our own is precisely the only way we will have our victory and be accepted for who we are: people who don’t see the emperor’s clothes. Whereas, the problem with “agnostic,” for example, is that an agnostic is an “atheist,” so to prefer “agnostic” as a label tends to have a psychological, not a rational motive behind it (see my past blog Atheist or Agnostic?). In fact, it communicates that you are still cowed by the stigma. You are not free. Or you are not proud of who you really are. Or you are afraid of what it means to be who you are.

To identify as an atheist is brash, it’s self-affirming, it’s the identity of choice for the young, the new generation, the people who are going to change everything (because they are literally going to inherit the earth from us). It’s a direct challenge to the status quo. And being willing to openly join a movement posing that challenge means something. For example, a meeting billed as “skeptics” this or that usually means they want to be inclusive and non-offensive; but I don’t want to have to censor myself; I want to be with people willing to call themselves atheists, with whom I can be completely who I am. I can only have that at meetings billed as “atheists” this or that. And that’s a real, tangible difference, one I experience year in and year out. It thus clearly does matter.

Many studies had once been done that religion was good for your health and happiness. But due to a variety of methodological flaws (such as conflating all “nones” as a single category rather than distinguishing apatheists from philosophically committed or even organized atheists: see my comments on Atheism and Depression) these studies were subsequently refuted by another round of studies that identified church attendance as the thing that was good for your health and happiness. But those studies were flawed by not asking the more fundamental question: what is it about church that would have such an effect? And so the latest studies have found that church and religion actually have nothing to do with it: in fact, anyone who identifies with a movement and who regularly socializes (e.g. bowling clubs, atheist meetups) gains exactly the same benefit. See Chaeyoon Lim and Robert Putnam, “Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction,” American Sociological Review 75.6 (2010): 914–33. Lim and Putnam concluded that “religious belonging, rather than religious meaning, is central to the religion–life satisfaction nexus.” Thus we don’t have to believe in god, we just have to belong to a community sharing a common identity and worldview.

When I see the science showing group identity and socialization as keys to health and happiness, the latter I knew, but it’s the first of those that catches my eye: human happiness depends on a feeling of belonging, of social identity, of not being the “only” one who doesn’t see the emperor’s clothes. Thus our happiness depends on creating an atheist movement all atheists can identify with and draw comfort and meaning from. In fact, studies suggest you don’t even have to go to atheist meetings to benefit from having an atheist movement to identify with: just having a community you strongly identify with alone conferred psychological and health benefits; getting out and socializing on a regular basis, only more so. And where else will you be completely comfortable socializing? Atheist groups. How will there always be an atheist group near you that you can regularly socialize with? Only if there is a broad, strong, and growing national atheist movement.

Sure, maybe in a hundred years all our atheist clubs will segue into philosophy clubs and Harris’ dream of no longer needing the word will come to pass. But we’re nowhere near there yet. For now, what separates us from the deluded and irrational masses is our common realization that the emperor does indeed have no clothes; and our sanity depends on socializing with others who see that, too. And not only that. Even just the existence of the movement contributes to human happiness, as that fact alone consoles and uplifts atheists who can’t socialize with other atheists (for whatever reason). It even adds to the happiness of those who already do socialize with other atheists. It really is a rising tide that lifts all boats.

So we should rally around this identity, use it to find each other, and to create a distinct community, and thereby create an identity and a sense of belonging. It’s not a victim thing (as Harris mistakenly presumes), but a power thing, a freedom thing, a belonging thing. Once we rally around this as an identity to build a movement around, we just need to make it as inclusive as makes sense, so everyone can be “completely who they are” at atheist meetings. We have people working at making atheism more inclusive of women and LGBT, for example (Greta Christina, Natalie Reed, etc.), and black Americans (Black SkepticsThe Crommunist, etc.), and others. Yes, we do need some core moral values, and we haven’t settled on any agreed set yet (honesty, reasonableness, and compassion are obvious, but the devil is in the details; just how much and what kind of honesty, reasonableness, and compassion is the “minimum entry requirement” to belong and do well), but that’s another thing we are working on. In the meantime, atheism as an identity is creating a movement, it’s creating networks, organization, knowledge. It’s creating, in other words, power. Something atheists never had. And will never have by any other means. That’s what the New Atheism is really all about: taking back who we are, becoming something as a movement.

Our comfort and sanity also depend on our not being disenfranchised, on having a recognized voice in the political discourse deciding our fates by deciding how our country gets run and what we do with its public resources. And that means we need to show our numbers, and the strength of our commitment and motivation, as well as show we have a political voice, a public presence and a lot of votes. Thus it is that the Reason Rally next month is crucial, not just for sending a message to Washington, but to America, that we aren’t a fringe minority but a fast-growing minority with as much legitimacy as Jews or Mormons or LGBT. To show them that, we need physical numbers.

So if you can go, you should go (there is a network of charter buses in place to help you do that), not just to enjoy all the speakers and entertainments and fellow like-minded non-astrologers, but to represent us all, those of us who can’t make it (because, like me, they can’t afford it; or like my wife, they can’t get time off from work), and to up our physical presence as an identity in this country, to show the nation that we are not insignificant and we do talk to each other and we organize. And if you can’t go, you should donate, to help them recover the costs of putting this on and making this statement to the government and the nation, because this is doing you a big favor, and so it is worth your while to back it (not least so that future efforts will know the support is there). You can also buy their swag, if you are more into the free market thing.

Yes, this is one of those “inclusive” things, but not in a “shush the atheist” way. Atheists will be as welcome, and can be as out as anyone there, and feel completely themselves, represented and supported.

So go! Or support it some other way. PZ posted a video that he says will persuade you: Time to Stand Up.

Tai Solarin: Atheist of Africa

Today is the Day of Solidarity for Black Atheists, launched by African Americans for Humanism and announced by our own Black Skeptics Los Angeles. And amen to that. So I’m putting up something I’ve done (albeit long ago) that’s of interest on this subject, especially since it’s something most people never hear about and never look into, even my most avid fans: my article on the late but famous atheist intellectual and activist, the Nigerian of Nigerians, Tai Solarin (1922-1994).

So famous an atheist he was that you could send a letter addressed to “Tai Solarin, Ikenne, Nigeria,” and the letters would always get to him. He had famous debates with Chinua Achebe in Nigerian newspapers, started a godless school for children (the Mayflower School, whose motto is “Knowledge Is Light,” which is still in operation), and much else besides. He was a social critic, a patriot, and an avid and outspoken defender of nonbelief. He later had a Nigerian university named after him (the Tai Solarin University of Education, which specialized in educating educators, but is now slated for closure, sadly).

Back in college, my sophomore year, I wrote a class paper on him. It’s a pretty basic, sophomore-level paper. But I spent a whole day in the UCLA library reading Nigerian newspapers and whatever else I could find, and I’m told it remains to this day one of the most detailed summaries of his life and work available online. So if you want to celebrate Solidarity with a Black Atheist day, educate yourself about this guy. Because he deserves to be remembered. Check out Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments.

And take note: atheist movements are arising all across Africa now, from Ghana to Uganda (and beyond), and this isn’t the kind of place where it’s exactly “safe” to be an out atheist, much less known as publicly promoting atheism. So African atheists are pretty damn courageous, needless to say. I’ll solidarity that!

Debates & Interviews

In January (as announced beforehand) I debated the question “Jesus: Man, Myth, or Messiah?” with Douglas Jacoby at Amador Christian Center in the beautiful Sacramento hills. And now the audio of that debate is available (video might come later; if so, I’ll emend this blog and mention it in the comments thread). Ben Schuldt produced a good wrap-up post on it, briefly reviewing the debate and then surveying all the things he would have wanted the audience to hear (he’s well aware that debates are on the clock and thus everything that needs to be said simply can’t be, but that’s what blogs are for, praise Jebus).

Video of my debate with J.P. Holding (also at Amador Christian Center, last year) on the topic of whether the “Text of the New Testament is Reliableis also now available. I had announced that long ago in a comment thread, but have been meaning to blog it up properly for a while, so I’m seizing the opportunity. Not only is the video available (via YouTube) but you can also download our slideshows and view them separately (Carrier’s | Holding’s).

I was also interviewed for the Oklahoma Atheists podcast (yes, people, there are atheists in Oklahoma, it’s not just all rusted cars and missile silos), which is now available. In it we discussed my use of Bayesian Reasoning in Philosophy, especially in The End of Christianity where I apply it to the design argument.

Finally, I was actually on live public radio in Las Vegas a while back, appearing as a phone-in guest (along with a few others) on Conversations with Cogree. One reason I hate doing call-in shows is that phoneline audio quality is usually terrible, and with multiple people and signal delays and no body language to observe, talking over each other is a constant problem. But Cogee does a decent job moderating it all. The theme was “Atheism vs. Faith” and there were multiple believers and multiple atheists, each coming from a very different viewpoint than the other. Everyone was treated fairly. You can listen to an archive of the show.

The Lame That Would Not Die!

What is The Lame? Unfortunately no one can be told what The Lame is. You have to see it for yourself. No, just kidding. It’s the claim that “Science Requires a Christian Worldview.” JT just blogged that, responding reasonably enough to a repeat of a standard Christian apologetic shibboleth (and, as he callously and shamelessly threatened therein, did indeed email me the link in question as if to annoy me, like the gangster cad that we all know he is; for shame). I realized I should probably collect a resource list of all I’ve written in refutation of it. This is that list.

First, I pretty much kick the legs out from under it with the extensive historical argument (since non-Christians invented science, and that centuries before Christianity even existed, obviously science does not require a Christian worldview) in “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” The Christian Delusion (2010), pp. 396-420. You really don’t have to read anything else on the subject, frankly.

Second, I refute one component of the philosophical case, the claim that the universe must have been designed to be understood or the human brain designed to understand it, in “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed,” The End of Christianity (2011), pp. 279-304 (key pages: pp. 298-302). That’s a short but compact and effective refutation, with references.

Third, I take on the entire Argument from Reason (which is a kind of umbrella argument that includes the claim that science only makes sense if Christianity is true, by arguing that reason would not exist but for God) in an extensive philosophical critique of Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason. But the most pertinent sections of that are my refutation of the original version of the “Science Needs Christianity” argument from (Surprise!) C.S. Lewis. Those are the sections on where the “Five Axioms of Science” came from, and preceding that, on why “Our Mind Is Reliable Enough for Inductive Logic to Work.” And following both, I refute the more general claim that “Only Theists Can Invent Science” (although I give an even clearer answer to that in the Christian Delusion chapter, item 1 above).

Fourth, I have refuted the claim that the mathematical nature of the universe entails it was intelligently designed, in my critiques of Steiner and Howell. But of those, my refutation of Steiner (Fundamental Flaws) is less fun to read than my refutation of Howell (Our Mathematical Universe), in which I refute Howell’s attempt to rehabilitate Steiner; and really, if you’ve read the latter, you don’t need so much to read the former (unless you are really geeking out on the ontology of scientific theories, which is totally cool if you are).

Now you can add to all that JT’s response, which covers a lot of the most common sense rebuttals. The only weakness of which is that he doesn’t give the best response to the claim that “the atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process.” He rightly points out that an argument from ignorance is a fallacy, and that Christians don’t really believe in the uniformity of nature (remember those miracles they keep going on about?), and if anyone is going to suss this, it’s going to be actual cosmological scientists, not hack armchair theologians.

But there is one argument one can make that kind of dodges those otherwise obvious points: the evidence e is “the uniformity of nature,” and the explanation h “God made it that way” makes e highly probable whereas one might suppose ~h “a god did not make it that way” does not make e highly probable, therefore e is an argument for god. Not that this must be a conclusive argument; having evidence for something is not the same as that something being true. For example, you can have evidence for someone committing a crime that in fact they didn’t commit–like fingerprints on a murder weapon, which could have gotten there in other ways besides having used it to kill the vic. But still.

The real problem is that ~h is a stand-in for all other theories of the evidence. Because h and ~h together must include all logically possible explanations of the evidence. And since h is only one of them (“God did it”); then necessarily ~h contains all other explanations. Many of which do make e highly probable. We don’t have to pick one, either. We can say “I can think up ten different explanations, other than God, which all guarantee that e will obtain” (for ten such examples see below). And if those all have a higher prior probability than “God did it,” then God is no longer the better explanation. In fact, it then becomes one of the worst. Note that we don’t have to know or even claim that any of those explanations is true. It’s still the case that more probably one of them is true, than that h is true, regardless.

I outline several of these possible explanations in Sense and Goodness without God (especially in section III.3 on “The Nature and Origin of the Universe,” pp.  71-96, and most especially, pp. 86-88), and all of them are more plausible than “God did it,” which means, all have a higher prior probability, because all of them are based on established precedents or simpler assumptions (on this point in general see my End of Christianity chapter again, item 2 above, pp. 282-84). Accordingly, I’ll count this as my fifth listed resource.

So there you have it. A complete kit for battling The Lame.

That Luxor Thing

Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus myth advocates who see “parallels” everywhere between early Christianity and all manner of pagan religions. Many of those parallels are real; don’t get me wrong. Some are even causal (Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). But most parallels are not real, or are not causally related (remember that basic rule in science: correlation is not causation). Some don’t even exist (and here bad scholarship becomes the disease: see my cautionary review of Kersey Graves’ Sixteen Crucified Saviors).

One important example of a “non-parallel” is the Egyptian nativity narrative at Luxor. I reviewed this claim years ago (Brunner’s Gottkoenigs & the Nativity of Jesus: A Brief Communication). Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) responded to that by claiming I was reading the wrong text (and also not reading it right), but she’s mistaken. She also claimed that the meaning of “immaculate conception” is up for debate; it is not. She simply cites other people making the same mistake she did, as if a mistake many people make ceases to be a mistake, which is a non sequitur. It would have been better if she had not doubled down on her error and just corrected herself. But that’s her own look out. What concerns me more is her poor treatment of the details of Egyptian history and the texts in the Luxor case.

I just pulled this blog topic out of my random collection of things to do when I found time, so here goes. On the matter of the translation, she’s just wrong. There is sex in the scene and plenty of lurid details, pillow talk, and everything I say, couched in the coy terms of ancient writers (this isn’t Vivid Video). Of course one should not obsess on whether Egyptian iconography depicts beds the way you see them at a Sears showroom, or whether pillow talk actually involves pillows. That’s just silly. It’s the words that describe what is going on. And the words say in effect just what I said they do. That I relate them into modern analogs is besides the point. Anyone who reads German and wants to check this for themselves, email me and I’ll send you scans of the key texts (although it should be enough to note that Brunner himself agrees with me in concluding that the narrative depicts sex, and he’s an actual Egyptologist and a leading expert on the Luxor inscriptions).

More important is that Acharya/Murdock says the bulk of my details come from the “D” text and not the one at Luxor. The D text she refers to is the narrative accompanying the panels at the Deir el-Bahri Temple Complex built by Queen Hatshepsut in the 15th century BC. When I originally posted this blog, I reported that the Luxor Temple was built at the same time by the same queen, but that is incorrect, the Luxor inscription was commissioned almost a century later by another pharaoh, and Murdock’s argument is that he stripped all the sex out of it and made it into a virginal conception. That does not follow, but I was wrong on the original point (on other points she raised, see That Luxor Thing Again). The visual panels at Deir el-Bahri are still in essentials identical to those at Luxor (with a few minor variances Murdock speculates from). But it still appears to me that the D text simply expands the abbreviated text at Luxor. To claim that the shorter text at Luxor doesn’t simply abbreviate the full narrative provided at Deir el-Bahri is perhaps not nonsense as I had thought, but it is speculation. I do not see sufficient evidence that the two stories are intended to be completely different.

As Brunner himself concluded, the myth being depicted at both temples is the exact same myth understood the exact same way. Thus the full narrative at Deir el-Bahri does indeed describe what is going on in the Luxor scenes. I doubt Acharya/Murdock can find any living Egyptologist who would say otherwise, or indeed endorse any of her convoluted efforts to reinterpret the text to say the opposite of what it says and what the accompanying images show. The Luxor text even borrows verbatim phrases from the Deir el-Bahri text, e.g. the god “did everything he wanted with her,” which if you wonder what that means, the expanded text at Deir el-Bahri tells you, in some sexy detail. Likewise, even the Luxor text says (for panel 4; Brunner, p. 45):

“She awoke because of the god smell and laughed at its majesty. He went to her immediately, he was inflamed in love for her. He let her see his god-shape, after he had come before her, so that she rejoiced at the sight of his perfection, and his love went into her body. The palace was then flooded with god smell, and everything smelled like the land of Punt.” … “The queen said to him, ‘My, how large your power is! … Your smell is gorgeous in every way!’ Then the majesty of this God did everything it wanted with her.”

The expanded text at Deir el-Bahri elaborates on what these coy phrases mean, very clearly explaining that giant god penises are going into the female places they were intended to and the queen enjoys the hell out of it and is especially impressed by how big his member is (ah, I can see the Onion’s headlines now, “Queen Hatshepsut: First Woman Eroticist Carves Her Sexual Preferences in Stone; Rules Empire”). That, plus the other details, rule out any meaningful parallels between Luxor cult and Christianity. The only parallels that remain are paralleled in all Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time and Roman and Hellenistic religions afterward, and thus are not uniquely Egyptian at all.

This is a common mistake too many make. They get stuck on one way of seeing the evidence that fits their preconceptions, then they go “Aha!” and claim causal influence (Why, surely the Christians just borrowed the nativity scene of Horus from Luxor!). But when their interpretation of the evidence is shown to be wholly wrong, they don’t abandon the idea but double down and refuse to let go of what they felt was so attractive that it “must” be true. But more importantly, they don’t try to figure out what the causal channel was or to find evidence of causal relation (because correlation is not enough, even when there is correlation). If they did, they would find that there is often no direct connection at all with what they were obsessing over originally; or that we must be agnostic about it, and not tout it as established.

The nativity stories in Matthew and Luke look like a combination of Jewish nativity apocrypha (e.g., extant and lost Moses haggadot in Matthew; and Isaac haggadot in Luke) and Hellenistic king nativities and their influence on Roman imperial nativities (e.g., tales told of the births of Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, the Roman Emperors), structured in specific ways unique to Christian needs. For example, there are magi in Matthew’s story because Matthew is deliberately reversing the Daniel narrative of the Jewish exile among the Magi (Daniel being the only book in the Bible that mentions magi). In fact, Matthew doesn’t just ape Daniel at the beginning, he also apes him at the end, turning the empty tomb story into an update of Daniel in the Lion’s Den (as I show in The Empty Tomb, pp. 360-64, and Proving History, pp. 199-204). Thus, Matthew is not copying Egyptian religion, much less the story at Luxor, where there are in fact no magi … which is not an irrelevant point, since we have to explain why magi are in Matthew’s story, and “he copied Luxor” simply doesn’t explain that, whereas “he is constructing a midrashic haggadah on Daniel” does (magi being specifically Persian priests, not Egyptian).

In the Daniel narrative, kings are troubled by omens and summon their wise men to explain them, including the magi and a foreigner, a Jew named Daniel (whom Christians regarded as among their principal prophets, having predicted the messiah would die to atone for the sins of Israel in Dan. 9:24-26; see my discussion of the Dying Messiah). In Matthew, a king is again troubled by an omen and summons his wise men to explain it, including the magi, who this time are the foreigners, and (in reversal of type) are the ones who get the omen right, and have come, in obedience to the decree of their ancestral king (Darius the Great, or so we’re to believe), to worship the one true God, as all nations ought, thus fulfilling Daniel’s message in Dan. 6:25-28, thus confirming Jesus is the Son of God, the very same God who rescued Daniel from the lions (and who will thus rescue Jesus).

Other elements of the story are just commonplaces in divine king nativities (even in real life, not just stories), and thus do not connect directly to Egyptian mythology at all. By analogy, the elements of the nativity of Moses that Matthew borrowed also match elements of the Akkadian Sargon narratives, but Matthew is not borrowing from the Akkadian myths (he probably had never even heard of them), he is borrowing from the Jewish myths. That those myths just happen to be adaptations of earlier Akkadian myths is something we now know, but is not likely anything the early Christians knew. Likewise, possibly Egyptian god-king nativities influenced Hellenistic god-king nativity stories (or possibly they were both separately influenced by earlier Babylonian and Sumerian god-king nativities, or by actual royal ceremonies common to all kingdoms of the time), but it was the Hellenistic stories and practices that most likely influenced Matthew and Luke, not the earlier Egyptian material. They probably never heard the story told at Luxor, and would have been repulsed by it if they had. (See Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 76-78.)

More importantly than all this is the fact that the nativity stories of Jesus are later add ons.  They were not part of the origin of the religion. Thus you cannot explain the origins of Christianity by saying they just revamped a godking narrative about Horus-Osiris (which was really a narrative applied to the Pharaohs). The godking narratives of the Gospels were never a part of Christianity until the Gospels were formed many decades later. There may have been an original nativity story, but we don’t know what it said, so we can’t make claims about what its influences were (although see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 247-57). The earliest version we have is Matthew’s, and we can see he invented it to suit his own literary aims; Luke’s version is (in my opinion) a deliberate rewrite of Matthew (what we call a redaction); in fact Luke is really trying to argue against Matthew, by changing every key element of his narrative (which reflects how these kinds of religious narratives get written: they are propaganda built to the occasion; although I did not make this argument there, I did list some of the evidence from which one can construct that argument in my work on the Date of Christ’s Birth; as for Luke being a rewrite of Matthew, and not writing independently of him, see The Case Against Q). Egyptian religion is wholly irrelevant to all of this.

The fact is, we can fully explain every element of the Gospel nativities by appealing to (1) their Jewish background (thus Christians, “pesher style,” constructed a narrative out of various Old Testament passages, such as reinterpreting a prophecy in Isaiah as being about a virgin born messiah; although most Jews disagreed with them, we know fringe groups of Jews treated scripture the same bizarre way Christians often did, so their doing such a thing in this case is not contextually implausible, even if it was linguistically specious: see The Problem with the Virgin Birth Prophecy); (2) their Hellenistic background (conceptions of sons of gods being announced by omens and prophecies, and achieved by spiritual rather than sexual means, were all common ideas in Greco-Roman religion, and virgin born gods were a known fad at the time; and all this could be made to agree with popular Jewish theology regarding the capabilities of the Holy Spirit); and (3) their immediate inter-community context (the Gentile Luke arguing against the Judaizer Matthew arguing against the adoptionist Mark). That leaves nothing for Luxor to explain, nor any evidence of any knowledge of the specific narrative we now find there.

Let’s Read Natalie Reed

Natalie Reed is a new member of the FtB team and she blogs about transgender and transsexual issues, and other things in her wheelhouse (like, say, Dr. Who). I try to read my fellow bloggers when I get a chance (most often at best I can only skim, and often I can’t even keep up at that, but I try), and I must say Natalie Reed is one of my favorites here. She’s smart, well-informed, writes very well, and has already taught me a great deal (check out her blog, Sincerely, Natalie Reed, and all its archives here, already full of gems). So I’m shocked to see John Loftus has gone off the handle and is treating her very strangely, ignoring everything she actually says and attacking her for things she didn’t say, and then getting petty and childish in the process, basically accusing her of being an unqualified “diversity hire.”

Which is strange. That’s like accusing someone of being hired to represent Mexico of being a “diversity hire” because they were hired to represent Mexico. Huh? And wouldn’t actually being Mexican qualify you to represent Mexicans? I mean, that’s nearly the top qualification there. Reed is a transsexual woman. She is also superbly informed on that issue, has a tremendous body of experience many atheists don’t (with issues such as drug addiction), and is a very good writer (In fact, IMO, the best in this subject). She is thus very qualified, and very much wanted and welcome here; indeed, needed here, as the transsexual and transgender community almost never has any distinct voice or representatives in atheist congregations and events. So, WTF, John?

Our own Daniel Finke has already done a superb job of explaining the situation and why Loftus is way off the rails here, and I could not top him if I tried, so I well recommend you read his post on this: On the Qualifications of our Alleged “Diversity Hire”, Natalie Reed. I’ll only add a repeat here of my comment there:

I fully agree with your assessment here, Daniel.

Natalie Reed is an excellent writer. Her blogs are often thorough, thoughtful, informed, and well-researched, are a delight to read, and do not waste words (some people complain they are sometimes long, but that’s not padding or verbosity, it’s precision and completeness). She’s impressed me. And already taught me a great deal. She also does fill a vacant niche (and that is why we got her): a representative speaking for and to atheists about transsexual and gender issues. It’s not like John Loftus was doing that (or that he would be qualified to even if he did). And frankly, I can’t think of anyone better for the job than Natalie. And isn’t the best one at it precisely who we should have here?

As for Loftus himself, he has not been comporting himself well in this case. Lately he has given ample grounds for you to conclude as you do; he’s been far more off the handle than I’ve ever seen him. I do hope he recognizes and addresses this perception and behavior problem.

Whatever you think of John Loftus (his behavior in the comments thread to Natalie’s well-thought post Target Audiences and Playing Nice is appalling, and I’m ashamed to see that), I think you should all check out Natalie’s blog from time to time. Truly. We could all benefit from reading Natalie Reed.

Why The Week Rocks

I hate magazines and never read them. Except all the magazines that I read.

I say that only because the magazines I read would be considered (by many avid magazine readers) as weird. This includes trade mags that most of you would find terribly dull but that keep me up to speed on things in my field (Historically Speaking often touches on questions of historical method across historical disciplines, as well as forums on hot debates in those fields; Isis is the definitive review periodical for books in the history of science, one of those things that other fields of history annoyingly don’t have; and so on). But it also includes periodicals I think everyone should read–including Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, but even more importantly (IMO), Science News and The Week. Something really awesome in that last got me to blogging today, which I’ll be getting at presently; but let me digress a bit on SN first.

Science News is a must because all other media do not report science correctly. Not only do they miss 99% of the important stories in scientific and technological progress. But the 1% they do report on, they get entirely wrong, almost all the time. Compare a science story in a mainstream source, with the coverage of the same discovery in Science News, and you’ll often be so appalled you will never get your science news from anywhere else again. Plus you get all those other stories you should be hearing. Isn’t the state of scientific progress across all fields one of the most important things to keep up with? As a citizen, and as a philosopher, it’s absolutely essential. Plus, you know, all those other reasons (e.g., in case you didn’t get the memo, ascience is hella cool).

But the biggest benefit is that if you read Science News for years (or, as in my case, decades), you learn tons and tons of shit about science you never would have otherwise, from field-specific knowledge and terminology, to all kinds of “consilience” stuff, like realizing the connections between everyday materials science and basic physics, or between biology and psychology, or what it really takes for cybernetics to work, or AI, or computer models of the Big Bang, and so on (also, if I don’t understand something in it, like a word or concept, I google around until I do, and being spurred to do that weekly has been a huge benefit to my intellectual development and understanding). Plus SN reminds you that religion doesn’t ever do this. That is, produce enough real advances in human knowledge every week to fill an entire magazine consistently for going on nearly a century now (and you know it won’t cease). The more you read Science News, the more religion looks decisively lame.

But my favorite magazine of all is the weekly The Week. I tried my hand at news weeklies before, and they all suck devil dicks. (That’s slang for wicked awful. Alright, yes, I just made it up. And yes, I should have said greasy devil dicks, in homage to Brian Flemming’s infamous question to me in The God Who Wasn’t There). For a classic example of my profound annoyance at U.S. News & World Report, for example, see my thrashing of it on the subject of love science in Sense and Goodness without God III.10.3, pp. 197-202. (And, hey, that combines my point above about shitty mainstream science news reporting, too! Two birds.) But The Week is different. So different. Radically different. Unparalleled, that kind of different. Better even than Brill’s Content (for those few who ever knew what that was, which I would love to see someone bring back again, at least in concept).

What is The Week? Basically, it’s like a 40-page weekly for-profit RSS feed for worldwide print media. You get one every week (it comes to your doorstep in paper, unless you get the electronic version), and it summarizes all the big stories in newspapers in the U.S. and abroad. It’s the “and abroad” part that’s especially cool. But even the U.S. part is something, because they summarize stories by summarizing sometimes several articles across several periodicals of different political bent, and they do it in half a page or even a quarter of a page or less, plus a ton of quick story summaries of a single paragraph taken from state and municipal papers across the nation and the world. And it’s brilliantly written, when you consider what they are doing here. So you don’t have to read tens of thousands of words to get the gist of what was said across the country on diverse topics by people from diverse perspectives–and in foreign newspapers even. Curious what Nigerian newspapers are saying about the U.S. presidential debates? Or about their own internal politics? What about what Iranian newspapers are saying about the assassinations of their own nuclear scientists? Or what Chinese newspapers are saying about the shift in focus of U.S. military policy to the Pacific (in case you didn’t notice that, BTW; it’s not like U.S. media cover shit we actually want to know). Then read The Week.

The effect of avidly reading The Week is the same as Science News, only it’s history-in-the-making, and world politics and cultures, that you are learning about. All kinds of stuff about, that you would never have learned otherwise. And in the same ways, e.g., you might google something talked about in an article to learn more about it; and multiply that by thousands of items a year, and the benefit to broadening your mind is priceless. And so on. Case in point (and this is what inspired me to write this blog today): Feb. 10 issue (I’m behind a bit; tends to happen), page 14, “Best Columns: International” feature, bottom fifth of the page, “Turkey.” It summarizes an article in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet by Mustafa Akyol.

I’ll just quote it outright (with some stuff snipped for space):

Newt Gingrich professes to revere modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk…He has frequently written about Atatürk and held him up as a model statesman, to the point where the Atatürk Society of America gave Gingrich an award in 2006 in “commemoration of his contribution to publicizing Atatürk’s legacy.” But does the Republican presidential hopeful really understand that legacy? Atatürk was “the greatest and the strictest secularist” in our entire region…[creating] a state free of religious interference, even banning religious garb in the workplace. In the U.S., Gingrich considers secularism “a nightmare” and an abomination. “A country that has been, since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” Gingrich says … and [he says] “anti-religious bigotry” is responsible for a decline in American morals. So how can Gingrich hold up as a hero the “militantly secular founder of a European one-party state?” The answer can only be that he favors secularism not for Christians but for Muslims, as a bulwark against what he sees as “creeping sharia.” The “obvious double standard” puts the lie to Gingrich’s claims of being an intellectual.

Ouch. But, yeah. “You are correct, sir!”

Now, I actually knew a lot already about the history of Turkey and its atheist national hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; but suppose you didn’t…you would have learned something cool here, plus you might have googled to learn more, and really learned something cool here. So think of what you might learn from other columns, week in and week out. Right above this article, for instance, is an article from Russia about the epidemic of teen suicide there and its relation to horrific flaws in the Russian healthcare system; above that, a panoply of columns from India are summarized regarding the Golden Temple flap (you may be surprised by what Indians are actually saying about that).

And case in point…I didn’t know any of this about Newt Gingrich! I mean, I knew he was a racist douchebag. But just when you thought you’d plumbed the depths of his hypocrisy… Comedian David Cross once quipped about how it pisses him off that he has to read “other countries’ fucking newspapers” to learn about shit happening in his own country. Well, touché, David. Touché.

Subscribe to The Week, people.

(And incredibly, they did not pay me to say that!)

The Richard Carrier Project

For a couple of years now a colleague of mine (Ben Schuldt, aka War on Error) has been building a site that collects every significant critique of my work online or in print. There is so much of this now that I haven’t had the time even to keep track of it all much less answer any of it. But with all or most of it cataloged in one place, and blogging now a regular pastime across the world, perhaps others who have that time can undertake the task for me. So I sponsored a simple wiki site to help Ben get all this up and running, and he says it’s pretty much ready to go.

As Ben has time he keeps adding to it, but now that it’s “live,” feel free to tell him about things he missed. He’ll get them in there. We are not cataloging forum posts, or comments in threads, or tweets, or Facebook posts, or any random rigmorole like that, however; only full-on blogs and articles (and of course anything in print). Ben also sometimes doesn’t agree with me himself, and he has posted and cataloged his critiques as well, and welcomes responses to those just as much as any of the other stuff. Ideally we’d like it to have good replies (even if those replies amount to me correcting myself, since one of the aims of the project is to catch my errors; because we all make them, and I’m keen on rooting mine out).

The site he has built is called the Richard Carrier Project. You can hop on over there and read the mission statement, and explore further if you like. It has some useful extras. For example, he keeps a running catalog there of all the audio and video of me there is to be found online (and certainly if you know of anything available that’s not there, send him the link). There is also an amusing Roast page that is full of all the awful things people have said about me (some worse than others). :-)

If you are keen to, there are two ways you can contribute to this project…

1. Independent Response

You can answer anything that’s cataloged in it on your own blog or website, submit the link to Ben, and if it’s good enough your answer will get in the catalog as a response. What is “good enough”? Well, there is a Project Directives page that gives you some of the requirements we (mostly Ben) have set. But overall, we would only count as being an appropriate response to catalog at the site something that does one or more of the following:

  1. Treats what I have actually said, compares it with what the critic said (especially the stuff they curiously left out), and sets the reader straight on the issue (e.g., how far are they missing my point or ignoring details of my case).
     
  2. Deals with any claim that I erred as to the facts and assesses who is right on that score.
     
  3. Deals with any claim that a conclusion of mine doesn’t follow from my premises (e.g., a formal or informal fallacy) and assesses who is right on that score.
     
  4. Deals with any argument I don’t address, but that a critic claims refutes my conclusion, analyzing that argument for logical validity, and the truth of its premises.

Also, we will not approve any response that lies or makes obvious errors of fact or logic or obviously misses the critic’s point (and that includes egregious fallacies like ad hominem, since we want well-argued, non-fallacious responses that stand up on fact-checking; but that doesn’t mean you have to be polite, just right). Responses don’t have to be comprehensive. You can focus on only one or a few things in a critique. Ideally we’d love a full response, but we can also construct one by adding several together. We also love responses that improve on my work, for instance explaining a point better, or providing a more rigorous or less ambiguous analysis of something, or supplying supporting facts I missed, or anything else.

2. Joining the Team

If you really impress us, and ask to help, we might invite you to become an editor of the project, which will give you more ability to carry some of the load for Ben, add critiques to the catalog, and build responses of your own within the catalog. What is “really impress us”? Obviously this is an issue of trust (since you would be given passwords to the site), so you would have to be an established presence online, enough that we can confirm you are sane, educated, honest, reasonable, responsible, on the right side of most issues, and not a pill to work with. It can be very hard to verify that for most people, so please don’t get put out if you aren’t recruited. Most won’t be. It doesn’t mean we think you aren’t that sort of person; it just means we have no means of confirming that you are.

Finally, a brief disclaimer: The very reason for the site is that I have no time for this stuff, which is why Ben took it upon himself to do it. Which means I do not necessarily approve of everything on it; because I don’t have time even to peruse most of it. I trust Ben’s judgment and have no qualms about leaving him to it. But as I haven’t carefully vetted it all, who knows what I might take issue with. In other words, don’t assume this site represents my views on anything. It’s more a collaborative fan project than my own work. But we will try our best to keep it at least in the right ballpark. So if you see anything on it representing me that you think is way off base, feel free to make your case to Ben (except when it’s some other critic who is way off base; then, just blog about it and submit that link to Ben as a potential response to catalog).

Proving History!

My new book is finally done and available for pre-order at Amazon: titled Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Yes, that’s the one (or one of the two) that everyone has been asking me about. It’s been years in the making, and in the waiting, but we completed its academic peer review, I made all requested revisions, proofed the galleys, finished the index, and it’s all ready to go, at the printer’s being typeset now. It’s being published by Prometheus Books, my first sole-author title with them.

Backstory

This all started long, long ago, four years in fact, when my wife and I were buried under student loan debt and I offered myself up to complete any hard core project my fans wanted in exchange for as many donations as I could get to fund my work. They all unanimously said “historicity of Jesus” and came up with twenty thousand dollars. Which cleared our debt and really saved us financially. It was a huge boon and I am extremely grateful for everyone who made that happen. And I’ve been tirelessly working to make good on the project ever since. I wanted the result to be superb and unassailable, nothing half-assed, but thoroughly researched.

Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. Very basic things that all scholars pretend have been resolved (producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul), really haven’t been, like when the New Testament books were written (I blogged about one long rabbit hole I got lost in on that question, as just an example of countlessly many, in my Ignatian Vexation). And the relevant literature, so much of it tantalizingly pertinent, is vast beyond reckoning, over forty years of valuable papers and books, leading to discoveries I never expected (for example, real evidence of a pre-Christian expectation of a Dying Messiah). I’ve personally collected and read over 500 articles and 50 books for this project, and skimmed or read over ten times that number at the UC Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union libraries or via JSTOR and other access nodes.

The end result was that I realized this was going to have to be two books: one resolving the problem of method (because the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked), the other applying my reformed method to the question. That second book will be On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, and it is near completion (spoiler: I conclude he most probably didn’t exist, but that it requires a very deep and detailed examination of the evidence to realize that). The first book became Proving History, which I finished last year and has been going through the usually long production and peer review process at the publisher, and is now on track for a late April release. Yes, there will be e-versions as well as print.

What’s It About?

The promo copy prepared by Prometheus Books is really very good, and describes the book quite well. Basically, it aims at two particular objectives, and one broader objective: (1) to show why the methods used to study Jesus are illogical or inapplicable, and to replace them with a method that is neither; (2) to show why, once we use the correct method, every conclusion reached about Jesus so far is not defensible on any previously championed argument (requiring a total, field-wide do-over); and (3) to use these particular examples to make a general point about the entire field of history: that all valid historical argument is and must be Bayesian, and any methods or arguments that are not, are not logically valid or sound.

Historians will want to read the book even if they aren’t interested in Jesus, because it all applies equally to whatever they study, too. Philosophers will want to read the book, because it makes a groundbreaking contribution to the logic and epistemology of history. Fans of Bayes’ Theorem, and anyone who wants to finally find out what that is and why everyone is getting into it all of a sudden (but has found everything written about it so far to be unintelligible or uninformative), will want to read the book because I designed it as a textbook for people in the humanities and not scientists or ivory tower mathematicians. And Jesus scholars (in fact anyone interested in Jesus or the origins of Christianity) will want to read the book…well, for obvious reasons.

To learn more about all this, John Loftus interviewed me about the book just recently and produced a really good article about it on his blog: An Interview with Richard Carrier about His Book “Proving History”. Loftus was one of the few lucky reviewers who received an early pre-publication draft from Prometheus–which contained the text as it was before it was peer reviewed; in response to that peer review it underwent a lot of improvements and corrections, though nothing fundamental. For those who want a primer on what the hell this “Bayes’ Theorem” thingy is, check out my Skepticon talk from last year: Bayes’ Theorem: Lust for Glory!

Common Questions

Since I am applying a mathematical theorem to the logic of historical argument, it’s often asked what my qualifications are in mathematics, since my primary field (my Ph.D.) is ancient intellectual history (philosophy, religion, and science), and my secondary field (self-taught but professionally published) is philosophy. The answer is, I had the book formally peer reviewed by a professor of mathematics, and consulted with a few other professors of mathematics during its development. I also, of course, researched the hell out of Bayes’ Theorem for this book. My more general qualifications are some 20 or so college semester credits in mathematics and mathematical and engineering sciences, and a career background in electronics and the history of science. But the peer review and consults were more important.

Another common question is how “out of the mainstream” my conclusions are. Actually, in this book, they are fully in the mainstream, with the exception of the groundbreaking idea of structuring the logic of historical argument on a foundation of Bayes’ Theorem, which is in many ways a natural progression of what’s already been going on in expanding the applications of that theorem. I’m just the first expert in the humanities to come along who also loves math and knows enough about it to introduce it there. But the rest of the book’s conclusions simply reaffirm what countless insider specialists have already been saying (and I name and cite plenty of them to prove that), and using Bayes’ Theorem to show why they’re right.

Finally, it is often asked if this book argues that Jesus didn’t exist. No. It is necessary to build that case one piece at a time rather than trying to prove everything at once. This book takes no position on that question, but merely shows how the methods used to argue for his existence are illogical and therefore the question must be examined anew, with new methods, methods that are valid. But lest you think that’s the same thing as proving Jesus didn’t exist, you should know that that would be the fallacy fallacy, the fallacious assumption that if an argument for x is fallacious, that therefore x is false. If the same facts are examined correctly, as for example with my new method, we may yet vindicate the conclusion that Jesus existed. So what the correct conclusion is requires that new look, and that is what I accomplish in my next book.

Final Word to My Benefactors

Earlier this week I sent out an email to everyone who donated $250 or more to fund my research grant, which was overseen by Atheists United. Per my contract with you all, anyone in that golden category has earned free copies of Proving History, and I need to work out where to send them, among other details. But many of those email addresses have bounced, no longer active. So if you are in that donor category, and did not receive my email, then please email me at once (rcarrier@infidels.org) so I can update my contact info and see to it that you get your copies of the book when it comes out in a few months. Even if you don’t want your free copies, please contact me anyway, so I at least know not to keep looking for you.