Appearing in Kamloops

I will be speaking at the Imagine No Religion 3 conference in Kamloops, British Columbia (Canada) this May 17th through 19th (2013). For details (including registration, on-site daycare, entertainments, venue, speaker lineup, etc.) click the previous link (or to just look at registration options right away, click here). The event will be held at the Kamloops Coast Hotel and Convention Centre (where there may still be rooms available at the special convention rate). I am presently scheduled to speak in the 1:30pm slot on Saturday the 18th (but that can often change).

My talk will be “Imagining the Study of Jesus without Religion: Bayes’ Theorem and the Quest for a Historical Jesus.” This will summarize key elements of my book Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus but with added emphasis and details on what it might mean to study Jesus if there were no religious assumptions built up even in secular scholarship–if Jesus were treated the same way as Hercules, for instance. Copies of my book will be sold at the event. I’ll be happy to sign any you buy or bring. I’ll be at the whole conference.

There is also a special free banquet and meet & greet for CFI members Sunday night, which I will likely attend.

[Update: the video of my talk is now available online.]

May Online Course on Free Will

I will be teaching an online course on the science and philosophy of free will for the Center for Inquiry Institute this May. Anyone can register. Fee varies (from $30 to $70 depending on your status). Details on the course and registration options are provided at the CFI Website. It is one month only, four modules, with readings and discussions. Learn at your own pace. My co-instructor will be the philosopher John Shook, but I will be fielding most of the work. This is one of many courses offered by the CFI Institute throughout the year. I have taught several myself (on the philosophy of naturalism and the origins of Christianity and the historicity of Jesus).

As CFI explains:

There is no specific time that you must be online. There is no “live” part to these courses, and you cannot miss anything even if you can only get online at 6am or 11pm — you can log in and participate anytime, day or night, 24/7. A certificate of course completion is available to students who do participate online (as opposed to only lurking and reading, which is also an unobjectionable option for some students). Completion of eight courses at the Expertise 200-level is rewarded with the Institute’s Certificate of Expertise.

As to the content of this new course specifically:

This four-module short course discusses the intersection between science and philosophy in defining and understanding free will, with the aim of learning the latest science on the nature and existence of free will and how to critically approach philosophical uses of it. Students will not only learn about the relevant elements of brain science, but also how to identify common philosophical fallacies in reasoning about free will.

To that end, course topics will include:

The varieties of free will and the differences among them; identifying causes and the role of personal identity in making decisions (and what the latest brain science has to say about both); the nature and purpose of assigning responsibility to personal agents (in law and daily life); the difference between determinism and fatalism, and the importance of addressing both personal and genetic-environmental causes of decisions when thinking about social, political, and moral systems.

So if you are interested, check out the details at CFII and consider taking the course (even if only to lurk, and just read what gets discussed and not participate, which is fine). The course begins on May 1 (which is next Wednesday).


Three New Videos

My Huntsville debate with David Marshal can now be viewed online (Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?) as can my Raleigh talk on the literary study of the Gospels (Why the Gospels Are Myth: The Evidence of Genre and Content) and my Greensboro talk on the historicity of Jesus (Why I Think Jesus Didn’t Exist: A Historian Explains the Evidence That Changed His Mind), which is a double-length expansion of my briefer summary at Madison last year (So…if Jesus Didn’t Exist, Where Did He Come from Then?). All three talks summarize material that will appear in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.

The debate, meanwhile, was something organized separately. It was a decisive win. I thought that might be because Marshal was too honest. He didn’t have any real rebuttal to my case to offer, and wasn’t willing to invent one (and had no bag of tricks to manipulate the audience with either). But as his subsequent blog commentaries show, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about anyway. As John Loftus reports, Dr. Hector Avalos told David Marshall, “I’ve seen your debate with Carrier, in which you were clearly outmatched intellectually, theologicaly, historically, and scientifically.” Loftus concurs: “Having seen it myself I agree.” As one might expect, Marshall has been writing a blog series in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the debate, yet just skimming all that I find it full of weird factual errors and yet more logical fallacies and irrelevancies. I’m honesty not even sure it’s worth replying to.


Ten Years to the Robot Apocalypse

Counting down. Soon we shall all be doomed.

Okay, I wrote this on the plane to Alabama about a month ago. It’s been languishing in my queue until now. So step back in time. I’m presently five miles above the earth hurtling through space in a giant metal bullet at hundreds of miles an hour. Earlier I was reading Science News (an old issue from last year; I’m behind) while waiting on the tarmac for takeoff. Got to the article on Eureqa, the “robot scientist” that can discover the laws of nature all on its own, just from looking at and experimenting with data. I was reminded of an earlier article a few years ago on the Lipson-Zykov experiment (mentioned in a sidebar). Then I caught another just recently, about Spaun (yeah, I’ve been reading Science News out of order). Spaun is a neural-net computer program that makes decisions like a person: it thinks, memorizes, solves problems, gambles, etc. All these developments, in the span of just a couple of years. Had some thoughts… [Read more…]

Appearing in Irvine Next Week

I will be giving two talks at the University of California, Irvine, next Wednesday (April 17th, 2013). One for the Classics Department (in conjunction with the Interdisciplinary Program in the History and Philosophy of Science), and one for the campus chapter of the Secular Student Alliance (homepage on Facebook). Both talks are open to the public (parking and other details available here), with Q&A. I will definitely be selling and signing my books at the SSA event (not sure yet if that will be possible at the earlier departmental event).

The first talk will be at 2pm in Humanities Gateway room 1010 on Bayes’ Theorem and Historical Reasoning: How Historical Methods Can Be Improved and Why They Need to Be:

Drawing from his new book Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Prometheus, 2012), Dr. Richard Carrier will explain what Bayes’ Theorem is (in terms anyone in the humanities can understand), how it underlies all valid historical methods even when we don’t realize it, and why knowing this can improve historical reasoning and argument in all fields of history.

The second talk will be at 5pm in Social Science Lab (SSL) room 122 on Can Morality Be a Science? in which I’ll summarize my findings in The End of Christianity and Sense and Goodness without God regarding the prospect of science actually taking over the job of discerning moral truth (which means, not just studying morality descriptively, but prescriptively), in the same way it has taken over many other domains of philosophy (from cosmology and anthropology to psychology and cognitive science).


Is Thunderf00t a Sociopath?

In response to my video promoting positive goals and values for the atheist community (Atheism…Plus What?), Thunderf00t (whose real name is Phil Mason) has expanded his anti-feminist rants to the point that I am seriously worried he might have no empathy for other human beings at all. He is now even ranting against concern for minorities. His departure from logic and reason, in defense of abuse and amorality, is just weird, and makes it ironic that he claims my call for more community and compassion, honesty, and reasonableness is toxic to the atheism movement. Clearly, his chucking overboard empathy, women, minorities, and anything actually good for our community is what’s toxic. If his vision were realized, the atheist community would be a scary and awful place to be.

Before I break down what is most disturbing about his video, some backstory is needed. [Read more…]

Atheism…Plus What?

Picture of Dr. Carrier at the podium discussing Atheism Plus at the 2013 American Atheists conventionVideo of my talk at the 2013 American Atheists Convention (their 50th anniversary!) is now online. It is getting downvotes from the haters (even at one point more downs than ups). Please go watch that video (Atheism…Plus What?) and see if you can find anything in it that honestly deserves a downvote. Seriously. And if you don’t, please upvote it. Show the haters they don’t own the movement.

Others reading the comments (I can’t stomach such a task myself) tell me that the downvotes appear to be coming from people who didn’t even watch the video (or didn’t watch it all through). It appears, in fact, that these downvotes are there in an attempt to discourage people from watching the video, rather than representing disagreement with its actual content or quality or value. [You can now read a transcript and view the slideshow.]

Note that the Women in Atheism panel at AACon 2013 is also a must-view adjunct to this, since in it the women on the panel brilliantly answer some of the common questions that arose from my talk. Unfortunately that video is not yet online (I’m not sure if they are putting everything up or only select things). I will link it in here as soon as I find out it’s available. But one of the examples of what they addressed is the hyperskeptical claim that all the harassment of atheism women in our movement is done by hundreds of Christians posing as atheists, which actually should outrage you all the more if you really believed that (rather than using it as an excuse to do nothing about it). Greta Christina gave an excellent discourse on why that doubt is irrational (in short: we see the same phenomenon in every other movement, e.g. the gaming and tech industries, so we should not expect to be a miraculous exception), and other members of the panel added to that (such as pointing out that we have plenty of evidence a lot of them are atheists).

I also did a podcast last month on Atheism+ that went up just recently, in which I have a reasonable conversation with someone who disapproves of it, UK political scientist and Huffington Post blogger Tony Sobrado (listen to his Interview with Richard Carrier on Atheism Plus). No hating or flaming, and no straw men or other fallacies. He had concerns based on misunderstandings and missing or incorrect information, asked about them calmly, and gave me the opportunity to answer them. All without any atmosphere of hostility. A model for how to do this. [A convenient transcript of that interview is now available.]

That podcast was inspired by Sobrado’s Huffington Post article against Atheism+ “What Is Atheism Plus and Do We Need It?” and from listening to the ensuing podcast or reading its transcript you can see how we addressed everything in his article on that show. So anyone who may have read that and wondered how we might respond (or was angered by it and wished someone would answer it), this is the podcast for you. But the AACon video is a good introductory piece to start with. The two together tell you pretty much all you need in order to understand what we’re really advocating in the Atheism+ movement and why.


[Update: I have since also published an essay on this subject in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 21.1 [2013], pp. 105-13, which is available online as Atheism…Plus What? Then see here for all my blogging on the topic of Atheism Plus, before and since.]