Support My Work with Your Christmas Shopping!

My FaceBook personal photo, me in glasses and shaggy hair and nice white collared short smiling while facing 30 degrees to the left of toward the viewer.Want to send me some dosh in appreciation for my independent scholarship and speaking and blogging, without actually spending any extra dosh at all? This is how…

When you do your Christmas or Solstice or other holiday shopping this season, you can buy gifts for people (friends, family…yourself!), or spend your own Amazon gift cards or credits after the holiday ends, by using the Richard Carrier Recommends Amazon Store. Not only can you buy stuff I’ve put in that store (lots of my own favorite or recommended stuff in several categories, from books to videos), but you’ll notice on the right margin you can buy other stuff as well (maybe from your own wishlist, if you’ve logged in to Amazon beforehand). The prices are all the same for you, but I get a small commission on every sale through there. So you basically end up getting Amazon to support my work, by using my recommendations to inspire you to give them your business.

You can also, of course, support me by just buying my books (that’s a special page just for them that includes audio and electronic editions), and now also any of my amusements or games (only one game for now, but another is on the way, though not in time for the holidays), and I get a cut equal to my share of pageviews out of all my fellow bloggers from what you pay to subscribe to FreethoughtBlogs (that subscription also lets you view our entire website without ads).

When I spoke to a few people at Skepticon this year they were often surprised to learn that I don’t make very much selling my books or blogging or speaking. Anyone who knows the industry, of course, knows no one makes any appreciable money blogging. My books, as obscure nonfiction, will never make Stephen King money (or even Richard Dawkins money). And I keep my speaking fees low as a way to help the movement, so more groups can afford to bring me in to speak or debate. When all my income is added up, and taxes and expenses are subtracted, I only take home about $15,000 a year. I could just barely live on that, with extreme “starving artist” frugality. But I live with an awesome woman who earns considerably more, so I’m not living like a starving artist. I gladly operate as her domestic manservant to earn my keep at home, in addition to my cash income paying our mortgage (and property taxes & insurance to boot).

But the more money I can bring in, the more it’s appreciated by both of us, and the more it keeps me going doing what I do. Because it shows I’m having an impact and my work is appreciated and valued. The advantage of being an independent scholar is that I do not have to fear the threat or meddling of any academic institution and don’t have to kowtow to their expectations or exhaust enormous amounts of time on endless committee work and other things they bury profs under. The disadvantage is that I have to cobble together my income from disparate sources. One of which is passing the hat to everyone who wants to show their appreciation for what I do, like any street busker would. You can of course just send me money (through PayPal at rcarrier@infidels.org) just to show me you value what I do.

But buying gifts for Christmas through my Amazon store is just one more way to do that that costs you nothing extra at all. So keep that in mind for this holiday season!

Did You Notice International Men’s Day? Maybe Next Year You Should

Yesterday was International Men’s Day. Our own Freethought Blogger, Ally Fogg (noted journalist and gender equality activist) blogged about it last weekend and then wrote a really good brief on it for The Independent, “Male Victims of Rape, Sexual Abuse and Depression: Breaking the Silence on International Men’s Day,” with the tagline, “Those who mock today are mocking victims of a viciously gendered society.” The latter is an article I think everyone should read. Though some balked or joked (as Ally notes), many feminists support the day and the ideas and goals behind it, and all certainly should: see this article in The Guardian, this article in The National Student, and this article in The Feminist Times, all of which are feminists speaking to feminists, and make some points even Ally overlooked, so they are good reads, too. Take a tour of these articles and expand your awareness of the gendered nature of real-world problems affecting billions of human beings. It will be especially enlightening for anyone who immediately asked, at first hearing of this, “Why do we need a day for men?” The more so if you didn’t immediately think of at least half a dozen good answers.

Do Massively Powerful Ghosts Exist? The Carrier-Esposito Debate

Image of Esposito's Some of you might recall I debated the existence of God with Come Reason evangelist Lenny Esposito at UC Riverside some time back. Well, video of that debate is now available! You can watch it in standard low res at YouTube, or get a higher quality version as a DVD set (or audio CD set). The DVD includes the Q&A (that’s not on YouTube), a written transcript, and Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” (and not mine, of course…I suppose it wouldn’t even occur to them to ask).

By all reasonable accounts I won this debate, pretty handily, although I don’t think debates can actually be “won” like this. My winning just means the clock ran out before Esposito could voice a credible answer to everything I said…and that he couldn’t have, even if he had more time, is something that can’t be decided by a clock. But if you don’t care about that and just like debates with a clocked win by the end, this is one such.

Their description:

Does God Exist? Philosophers and theologians have written volumes on this topic, but it has become especially significant in our modern world. In this riveting debate, Lenny Esposito and famed atheist Richard Carrier go head-to-head to try and settle the question “Does God Exist?” Recorded in front of a packed house at the University of California Riverside, this multi-disc set provides over five hours of stimulating debate, discussion, and answers to one of the greatest questions in human existence.

This debate is part of a larger DVD set that includes the live debate, an extended question and answer session with the students at UC Riverside, a debate transcript, as well as Lenny’s post-debate analysis of Carrier’s arguments in an mp3 audio file.

Notably, the debate and Q&A was only about two hours. That the DVD contains “over 5 hours of content” would suggest Esposito’s “post-debate analysis” is over twice as long as the entire debate itself (and thus he gets to speak four times as long as I do). Do the math on that and you’ll kind of see how Christians need to sort of kind of cheat to win people over. The idea of maintaining an actually balanced analysis, equal time to both parties, doesn’t even occur to them.

Picture of a mug being sold (click image to buy) in which it says I also have to say, in reaction to their ad copy, I’m starting to get amused by the tired old trope of calling every debate over the existence of God “the Great Debate” (that’s been used so many times it’s almost at joke status by now). I now think, “Really?” Unfettered capitalism vs. an intelligent economic ecology with capitalist-socialist checks and balances against each other’s extremes: that would be a far greater debate. Since it would actually affect billions of lives. Whether you believe God exists or not doesn’t really change much. Because “God exists” actually doesn’t entail a position on any moral, economic, or political issue whatever, since God can be made to advocate literally anything (and has been), simply depending on what sect of believers you fall in with by mere global happenstance. But whether you believe we should totally unchain capitalism (or, just as horribly, go for full-on communism) will actually change how you act, speak, vote, and change the world for countless other human beings. Likewise so many other real issues. Gay and trans* rights; women’s equality; institutionalized racism; prison reform; placing limits on government spying; legalization of sex work or recreational drugs; and so on and so forth.

You know. Just saying.

-:-

P.S. If anyone either finds/creates a transcript of Esposito’s post-debate analysis or extracts from it any remarks you would like to know my response to, feel free to bring it up in comments here. I’m not going to bother listening to it myself. I’ve been doing this long enough; I’ve heard it all before.

Lataster on Mythicism and Theism: A Request for My Readers

Cover of Raphael Lataster's new book There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. Cover art looks like an artist's rendering of blue spacedust and a black hole sucking everything in.I have a request for all my readers. There is a new book summarizing a case that Jesus might not have existed, which has received some positive reviews (from the Arizona Atheist and John Loftus; also reader reviews at Amazon), and some predictably negative ones (from the nefarious Christian apologist J.P. Holding, whose promised Part 2 does not seem to have materialized yet, and an even longer harangue by Nick Peters).

The book I’m talking about was published by a doctoral student in religious studies, Raphael Lataster (more on the soon-to-be Dr. Lataster here), and entitled There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism, based on his master’s thesis. The finished book you can buy for a very reasonable price [print] [kindle]. I have not had (and likely won’t have) the time to thoroughly vet the book, much less check it against the copious Christian apologetical attacks on it (by Holding and Peters, linked above). I did read enough to note that there were some problems with it, but I’m curious to know if those were the only ones, and if anyone else would notice them (so I won’t mention them now).

The book actually is in two parts, despite being quite a short read. The second part summarizes a case against traditional arguments for theism generally (not the historicity of Jesus specifically), and some of the approaches there are novel. And humorous. So even if you aren’t interested in the historicity debate, you might be interested in Lataster’s approach to debunking theism and theistic apologetics more generally. Moreover, in both parts he adapts my work to argue from a Bayesian perspective, which may interest yet more readers keen to test that out.

So I’d like as many of my readers as seem inclined to read either or both parts of Lataster’s book and comment here on what they think, positive or negative. Though if negative, please give Lataster a hand by being specific so he has a chance to revise the work for a second edition, which I know he is interested in doing. This is basically my way of crowdsourcing an opinion and assessment of this book, since I haven’t the time to study it thoroughly myself. I’d especially love it if anyone compared their reading of Lataster’s book with its Christian critics, as linked above (quite a task, as their critiques are very long, and possibly tedious and frustrating, if history serves, so I’ll be especially impressed by anyone who voluntarily endures that and reports back here on their findings). Are the Christians being fair? Or are they doing a hatchet job? Specific examples of either would be helpful to Lataster.

Note: I am about to head out for Skepticon, where I’ll be AFK much of the time, so comments that post here might not go live until middle of next week. But rest assured they will be appreciated, and will post eventually (as long as they are polite and on topic).

Typhoon Devastates the Philippines: Please Aid the Humanist Crisis Response!

Because I couldn’t say it better than Ed Brayton already did:

The Foundation Beyond Belief is launching a new Humanist Crisis Response for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which has been rated as the most powerful storm ever recorded by the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The power of this storm is mind-blowing, sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts up to 235 — with 10 million people in its path. The aftermath is absolutely devastating. After much research, FBB decided on the Citizens Disaster Response Center as the beneficiary. They’re based in the Philippines and on the ground already. Any help you can give is obviously very badly needed. You can find a link to donate here. Every dollar will go to the CDRC. It isn’t enough to be anti-religion; if we are serious about our humanist principles, we must put them into action and help others whenever possible.

One More Time, with Feeling!

Skepticon is just a few thousand short of their funding needs. One last push to get them there would be much appreciated! I’ve asked before. But for incentive this time, PZ said it best

If you need additional incentive, consider this: this is the conference the haters hate the most. I’ve already got some wackaloons I’ve never met and who have never attended a conference I’ve gone to, and in particular have never had any plans to attend this one, ranting and raving about a boycott of the con, and a walkout of my session (but then, these are the same kooks who propose to do that every time I give a talk somewhere, and the only people who’ve walked out so far seem to be invisible). This is the convention that has Rebecca Watson, Amanda Marcotte, Greta Christina, Debbie Goddard and all kinds of uppity women stirring up trouble. Subvert the dominant paradigm! Support the skeptical conference that isn’t run by asshats!

Amen.

What Is Stellar War?

Snippet of the Stellar War sales page banner from GameCrafter, showing the title of Richard Carrier's game against a background of a NASA image of stars in a nebula. Some card faces are shown, including a Secret Agent card and a Fighter Attack card.Answer: a card game I invented in high school. (That’s back in the 1980s, for those who never noticed my birth year in Facebook.) I created it by hand with tape and cutouts and a photocopier using paper-card stock. My friends and family played it for years.

Why mention it now? Well, because now you can buy it. And it’s not just tape and cutouts and photocopied card-paper anymore. It’s an almost professional quality game set now, thanks to GameCrafter, essentially the “CreateSpace” of card and board game publishing (design-by-web-interface, publish-on-demand). If you want to check it out, then see the sales page for my now-resurrected childhood card game Stellar War.

Photo of hand-crafted pale wooden box containing Brother Sam's table game Superstructure, the Superstructure logo in red across the top.Why do this now? Well, because I was inspired by Brother Sam Singleton. Or as many know him, game designer (and jack of many other trades) Roger Scott Jackson (his pals call him RoSco). He designed a game back around the same time I did, called Superstructure, and he just recently resurrected it, with the help of his wife Cari. His IndieGogo funding campaign went off well (it even got a story in the Charleston Gazette). RoSco made a YouTube video about the project and now you can buy a hand-made reproduction of the complete game (at BestGameBuilt…note the amusing headline there).

This made me think, “Hmm. Technology has changed a lot since then. Maybe they have PODs for games now?” So I looked around and discovered GameCrafter, which I can now say (having completed one whole project with them) is a really excellent company as far as its online design and accounts interface. Its product is just a touch below professional corporate game manufacture (which is still far better than tape and cutouts and card-paper), and its pricing is high, but that’s unavoidable because this is one-off manufacturing (if you pay them to build just one box set for you, then you are going to have to pay a lot more than if you bought a thousand units at bulk wholesale price).

You can buy a Stellar War box-set set for fifty dollars. The price would be nearly half that (which is honestly more like what it’s worth) if I did a full production run of five hundred units and ran my own distribution network, but I’ll never sell enough of them to justify that, so I’ve made it available for die hard fans and table-game geeks like me who won’t mind dropping fifty bucks on a unique and entertaining bit of Richard Carrier’s creative past–and to enjoy a fun game your friends are unlikely to have even heard of!

A photo of Richard Carrier's card-game Stellar War in mid-play. Several decks of cards, a die, and cards upright on the table showing space frigates and dreadnaughts and missile attacks and lunar space stations and chain reactions and all manner of whatnot positioned around a table.Though I invented Stellar War in the 1980s, in 1998 I revised it slightly in order to pitch it to a major game company, which finally passed on the project because it did not fit the then-growing trend in tradeable card games. Other than that I’ve only had my hand-crafted mock-up set ever since the 80s (even a hand-made card-paper box–I built three or four complete sets for myself, friends, and family). With modern computer tech I redesigned all the cards and rulebook to look smart and professional. But I kept all my original hand-drawn graphic art. So as you play, you are staring at spaceships and commando helmets and lightning bolts that I drew by hand as a teenager…nearly thirty years ago.

You can learn all about the game, and see shots of the game in play, and, if you feel so inclined, buy one for yourself (or as a Christmas gift for a friend!) at GameCrafter.

I have another amusing game in the works at GameCrafter now–History or Hogswallop!?–which I invented just a few years ago to teach historical methods to kids and teens at Camp Quest West (it has consequently been very well playtested). So stay tuned for that!

Some Good Reads on Ancient History vs. the Gospels

I blogged a while ago about Matthew Ferguson’s brilliant takedown of the 10/42 apologetic. That’s the argument that springs off the ridiculously false claim that we have better sources for Jesus than for Emperor Tiberius…why 42 against 10 even! Not. Oh, so not. See Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan. (Just this year I had a Christian in Q&A try to “get” me with the 10/42 apologetic, so it’s still making the rounds, even after such a decisive refutation that more than one Christian apologist admitted they’d boned it. I was so glad I had that article to refer my questioner to. It masterfully educates.)

Anyway, Ferguson (a doctoral student in Classics at UCI) has been blogging a lot since, in ancient history, counter-apologetics, and philosophy. But I thought my readers would be especially interested in a recent fine article of interest to historicity buffs: Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament. I have often written about the same subject (such as in Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 7; Sense and Goodness without God IV.1.2.6, pp. 246-47; and my analysis of Xenophon vs. the Gospels and the two sections after that). But Ferguson does a really good job building even further on all this, adding examples and clearly explaining the significance of each point, and going beyond even the points I’ve made. Any history buff will find it interesting. It’s just gravy that it has its uses in combating Christian apologetics as well. I’d even say it’s required reading for any layman who wants to get up to speed on essential common knowledge in the field of ancient history that often isn’t known by Christian apologists. This is the thing to read if you want to take on the absurd C.S. Lewisism that the Gospels don’t “read like” myth. They actually don’t read like history. Ferguson explains why.

Ferguson also composed a really good combo discussion of historical method and philosophy–in particular, epistemology of the supernatural, that subject wherein Christians keep accusing us of “bias against the supernatural” without quite comprehending the difference between bias and logically valid inference. Called Griffin Beak, Mermaid Fin, and Dragon Blood Soup, he presents probably one of the best articles I’ve seen on “what it would take to convince a reasonable skeptic of a miracle (like the resurrection of Jesus).” My most avid readers might notice he is building a lot on my work, but that’s the beauty of it. He develops and expands on what I’ve argued exceptionally well. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to see happen. He also makes use of Greg Cavin’s recent excellent presentation on Bayesianism, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus (already a legend in the counter-apologetics field, Cavin’s 434 page slideshow is actually quite educational, and spot-on almost top to bottom). Ferguson’s article also made me laugh. More than once. It’s kind of a wink-wink take down of the entirety of Christian apologetics. All without explicitly claiming to be. Check it out.

Other top articles by Ferguson in the same vein are Outside Corroboration as a Historical Criterion and the Validity of Arguments from Silence and Methodological Approaches to Ancient History.

 

 

Want to Read All Our Blogs with NO Ads? Well, Now You Can!

You can now subscribe to FtB, and your subscription fee substitutes for our ad revenue, and the ads go away, and you still get to support our work. It’s just $30 a year (or less if you want smaller increments). You get access not just to my blog without ads, but to all the FtB blogs with no ads.

Right now it only works through PayPal, though in future we will have other pay methods worked in. And you have to have, or create, a user account (and stay logged in, or log in when you want to view FtB without the ads) either with us or WordPress, Yahoo or Google. All four types of user account will be recognized, but if you want the easiest enjoyment, you should subscribe through whichever account you don’t mind staying logged into all or most of the time, and that may just be our local user account, which you can create just for that purpose.

If you are interested in this, then login here. It’s a great way to help reward us for our work that doesn’t require your enduring the aesthetic displeasure of some other shill’s popup or other annoying attempt to get your attention (because basically, right now, like with most of the internets, it’s the shills who are paying for you to read FtB for free).

This is a new feature and you may encounter bugs. If you do, report them directly to Jason Thibeault (Lousy Canuck), the amazing guy who made this happen all on his own time–he will be happy to fix any problem that comes up if he can (just post a bug report in his thread here).

The Star of Bethlehem: The Definitive Takedown

Cover of Aaron Adair's book The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, showing a star to the left, the milky way as viewed from earth to the right, part of an astrological horoscope to the bottom right, and the stock bible image of the magi on camels in shadow at the bottom.An astrophysicist has just done a bang-up job debunking the Star of Bethlehem and its affiliated fawning scholarship. All in just 155 pages (in fact, really only 128 if you skip the appendix, glossary, and bibliography). The author is Dr. Aaron Adair. The book is The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View (also available on kindle). Like any responsible amateur, he sought the help of historians, classicists, and specialists for composing his sections on the literary and historical arguments, and for translating the original Greek (even though he has some competence in the language himself). His research was exhaustive. His key arguments fairly conclusive. He explicitly sets aside many eye-rolling side-debates like dating the death of Herod the Great, yet even then he mentions them and his reasons for not delving further into them. And his command of the astronomical arguments is, of course, unmatched, being directly in his field of expertise.

I was one of the experts who advised him on the project and I got to read an advance draft and was very impressed with the result. Hence you’ll see my promotional blurb on the book’s cover. I wrote:

Well researched, scientifically reasoned, elegantly concise, this book will long be required reading on the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Full of fascinating historical facts, and better informed and more careful than any other book on the subject, this should be on the shelf of everyone interested in that legendary celestial event.

True that. His bibliography alone is of great value. Scientists will find the book especially heartwarming. Historians will as well. It even taught me a few things. In the foreword by astronomer and science writer Bob Berman, for example, I learned something I hadn’t even thought of, an example of Christianity seeping its way even into popular astronomy education. Berman writes…

[The Star of Bethlehem] has been a staple of holiday planetarium shows since the 1930s…[and my] very first column, published in Discover in December 1989, was a two-page spread about the Star of Bethlehem. Basically I summarized the various “explanations” shown to the public during planetariums’ annual “Star of Wonder” shows, then noted that Planetarium Directors–I’d interviewed quite a few–were well aware that each was impossible. Nonetheless, the shows remain popular, and have become such a tradition in and of themselves that no one seems bothered by such make-believe science being annually offered to the public.

Indeed.

Beyond that, however, I find this book of value not just because it will teach you a lot of cool things about history and astronomy with an economy of words, nor only because it has a great bibliography and is the go-to resource now for discussing this subject, but also because in the process of addressing astrological theories of the Star account, Adair deftly demonstrates a point I had long made myself but never had the time to demonstrate: ancient astrology was so wildly inconsistent and diverse that any astrological theory of either Christian origins or biblical accounts is probably beyond any possibility of demonstrating.

And this is relevant to the historicity debate. Not because proving the star account was a wholesale myth (and was inspired by no actual natural or supernatural event), as Adair does, entails or even implies Jesus didn’t exist (a historical man can have such myths spun around him easily enough), but because it shows why every Jesus mythicist who attempts to make an astrotheological argument for the origins of Christianity and (especially) the construction of the Gospels is just engaging in a Rorschach inkblot test. There was no consistent symbolism or system of allusions in ancient astrology, so any attempt to use one (or cobble one together) is just another multiple comparisons fallacy run amok.

That doesn’t mean astrotheological theories are necessarily false. But it does mean none can be proved even probable on present evidence, so the whole attempt should be abandoned.

To understand why, Adair’s book is a must-read. And that’s on top of all the other reasons I’ve summarized. So if any of this is your thing, check it out!