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.


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 ( 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.


You may know there are two conventions for representing historical years: the traditional A.D. and B.C., and the chic new C.E. and B.C.E. (if you don’t know about that, Wikipedia will get you up to speed). People often ask me why I use one or the other, or what (as a historian) I think we should use. I always use B.C. and A.D. when I have a choice, and I believe we should only ever use that convention. The other should be stuffed in a barrel filled with concrete and tossed to the bottom of the sea. However, I don’t always have a choice. When I publish with Prometheus Books (and so far that means five chapters in two volumes, The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity, and one whole volume out this April: Proving History, which I’ll blog about when it’s finally released), I have to adhere to their editorial conventions, which include a requirement to employ the newfangled convention (so their copy editors always convert the abbreviations, which led to an error in Delusion, where a C.E. date was given as B.C.E., on page 413, which I’m told was corrected on a later printing). So sometimes you’ll see me use one, and sometimes the other. That’s why.

But why do I think C.E. and B.C.E. are dumb? Really dumb, in fact. The newfangled convention has been promoted in an idiotic and patronizing attempt not to “offend” non-Christians who have to use the Christian calender (yes, it’s a Christian calendar, full stop). That’s the same non-Christians who (we’re to suppose) are still being regularly offended by having to call a day Saturday even though they don’t worship the God Saturn. Christians don’t get offended by naming a calendar day by a non-existent pagan god. So why should non-Christians get offended by naming a calendar year after a non-existent Christian god? Calling the sixth day of the week ‘Saturday’ (literally “Saturn’s Day”) does not entail embracing a Eurocentric worldview or belief in the God Saturn. It’s just using the English language. So, too, the labels B.C. and A.D.

The new convention is even stupider than that, of course, because it’s embarrassingly Orwellian. The traditional convention of B.C. (“Before Christ”) and A.D. (“Anno Domini” = “In the Year of the Lord”) is supposed to be improved by replacing it with the culturally neutral B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”) and C.E. (“Common Era”). But both indicate the same exact division, made by the same exact religion, for the same exact reason, to honor the same exact god. Either way, it’s the same demarcation, which was the invention of Christians, and only makes sense as such. There is no other reason for starting “year 1″ where it does, other than what Christians mistakenly believed to be the birth of their Lord and its cosmic importance.

Yes, mistaken. There is no evidence that Jesus (even if he existed) was born in 1 A.D. (much less on Christmas), and in fact all the evidence we have is against that. The only evidence there is (if it can be trusted at all) entails he was born either no later than 4 B.C. or no earlier than 6 A.D. (a contradiction that further entails at least one of those dates must be wrong). For a summary of the evidence on this point see Richard Carrier, “Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ’s Birth” (or read the full analysis which that only summarizes: “The Date of the Nativity in Luke” ). Personally, I think it’s more embarrassing for Christians if we keep the traditional terms, as that can only perpetually remind them of how fallible and silly they are. Whereas the new notation makes the rest of us look even sillier.

Anyway, point is, the only reason whatever for starting the calendar at year 1 in the B.C.E. / C.E. system is the wholly erroneous medieval belief that the god Jesus was born in that year. Changing the acronyms does nothing to conceal that fact and therefore serves no purpose, other than to please a pernicious form of liberalism that believes you can change what things are by renaming them. And like all stupid attempts to conceal what things really mean by renaming them, the  B.C.E. / C.E. notation is less intelligible (era common to whom?), less explicable (why does the ‘common era’ begin in the year it does, instead of some other year?), less practical (repeating the same two letters in each designator slows visual recognition), and less efficient (using five letters to do the work of four). It’s therefore just monumentally stupid.

As George Carlin aptly observed, our fear of facts always involves making our language more polysyllabic, confusing, and useless. As he put it, “American English is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation.” This is a classic example of that, although in this case foreigners are just as guilty of it, as if they want to hide from the fact that they were conquered by Christian imperialists and are now compelled by that accident of history to use their calendar instead of their own. Just deal with reality. It’s much better that way. Trust me.

The bottom line is, the original notation is more familiar, more honest, more factual, more meaningful, less confusing, and easier to use. There is no good reason to change it.

Red Tails

Lucas’s new film is good but not excellent. There were elements of it that disappointed me. But it may be worth your support anyway. Here’s why…

Red Tails is a movie just released honoring the Tuskegee airmen, an often unrecognized unit of black fighter pilots in WWII. For those who don’t know the backstory, George Lucas (sort of?) wrote and produced it, and has been working for over two decades to try and make this film happen, because studios just weren’t interested (he ended up paying for it himself, and it wasn’t cheap). Why? Because, he was told, a film with an “all black cast” was assumed to be a loser at the box office, especially in the foreign market, and thus not worth the investment a major film like this requires.

Sikivu Hutchinson, writing for Black Skeptics here at FtB, gets you up to speed on this fiasco in Jim Crow Hollywood 101. Although one of the deciding factors causing studios to reject the film was apparently their belief that an all-black action film would flop in the foreign market, so it’s not just the fading ghost of Jim Crow America, but also the rest of the “We Used to Love the Atlantic Slave Trade” Western World and “Why Is Their Skin a Weird Color, What Are They Aliens?” Eastern World (oh, and I suppose we ought to add the “We Can’t Afford to Buy Your Stupid Movies Because of Your Agrosubsidies, Dumb Asses!” African market and the “We Have Our Own Action Movies With People of Color in Them, Thank You” Indian market, and so on, but I’m not a studio exec so I don’t know what supposed data they were looking at).

Other WWII Films to Compare

As for myself, I thought the movie might be awesome just because it was a WWII action flick; the fact that it was about the Tuskegee airmen was just a cool bonus. I was a little unsure, though, because ever since the 80s WWII movies either suck (Pearl Harbor, anyone?) or are beyond excellent but, as one might say, kind of dark. Das Boot, Schindler’s List, Valkyrie, Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Basterds, Miracle at St. Anna, are all superb films, some are brilliant on almost every measure. But they aren’t exactly ra-ra, “heroes rock!” action flicks. Yes, Basterds had a bit of that (and some would say a bit too much of it, and that on the “um, that didn’t happen” side, but let’s be honest, we all love a good revenge fantasy now and then), but overall even that film was, let’s be honest, dark. So can we have more feel good WWII films? Sure, people die even in those. Sad things happen. It’s war. But the overall feel is not “excuse me while I go shoot myself,” but more in the “yay!” category.

Once upon a time we had those movies, albeit often wildly fictional: Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, Force 10 from Navaronne (all had a token black guy…who duly got killed; except in Force 10, where he’s only mortally wounded, demonstrating real progress in racial relations; until you notice he wasn’t depicted on any of the promo film posters, despite being Carl Weathers, hardly a nobody…). And of course there have been plenty of WWII-set pieces…that had nothing much to do with war per se. Like Victory, two of the Indianna Jones films (Raiders and Last Crusade), The Keep … (notice we are descending into even wilder fiction here). But they also used to write really heroic, sometimes even delightfully comic, WWII movies that, I have to say, would never get written today for some reason. I’m thinking of flicks like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Father Goose, and Operation Petticoat.

Red Tails: Bad News First

I name all of these so you’ll know what my point of reference is as far as what counts as a really good WWII flick (don’t make too much hay out of any omissions; there are tons of classics I haven’t seen). Red Tails doesn’t make this cut. And that’s mostly because George Lucas wrote it (the credits say two other guys did, but on The Daily Show he described himself writing it, and IMO either he did, or clones of him did, because it’s very Lucasy). George Lucas is kind of a shit writer, IMO, and the worst when he tries to write “for kids.” He talks down to kids. He apparently thinks kids are stupid. When I was watching Red Tails there were several scenes were I was pulled out of the film because of some stupid dialogue he’d put in (or allowed in, if he was just supervising the script; indeed the very first lines of the film will worry you as far as their dumbness…all I can say is, it gets better…mostly). Later I realized why that stupid, unrealistic dialogue was in there: he wants parents to take their kids to go see this movie, and he thinks kids are too stupid to follow realistic dialogue (as my wife said to me afterward, the opposite is the case: she learned how to speak and understand better by watching as a kid movies that were written for adults; but this is a guy who thinks kids loved Jar Jar Binks).

Still, there were really only three or four scenes that were that bad. The rest was at least decent, especially when the black performers were on screen (the cast is not devoid of white people, it just doesn’t have any in lead roles). But here I think the rest of what was wrong with this movie is that the director (Anthony Hemingway) kind of phoned it in whenever he was shooting white cast members. In almost every scene with a white person in it, their performance sucked. It looked like he always printed the first take, when a real director would stop and tell them, “Okay, you’re delivering your lines fine; now perform the lines. Okay, take two…” In contrast, the black actors performed solidly throughout, even R&B singer Ne-Yo, who was great, producing one of my favorite characters and adding something different to the film I’m sure would have been lost if they’d gone with someone else.

(I should also add my usual peeve about all contemporary cinema, that I’m sick of the over-use of CGI in movies today; it’s lazy and unconvincing and destroys most of the awe movies once could produce. I liked it back when we actually made movies, and not cartoons that we try to pass off as movies. But this is a minor point. I know it’s unrealistic to expect some real movie magic and actual aerial stunt work, especially when he wasn’t even getting funded properly, but I really do want to see real movies again some day. So, complaint registered. Moving on…)

Red Tails: Now the Good News

It’s a decent work of historical fiction that’s fun to watch in the classic sense. You will learn a lot about what went on and what they accomplished and how they were perceived at the start of the war and how that changed by the end of it, which is all in broad outline accurate. There’s humor and heroism. And it’s miles better than any crap film like Pearl Harbor. Note that I can’t compare Red Tails here with the 1995 HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen starring Laurence Fishburne, which covered the same unit, not only because I haven’t seen it (although now I am inspired to), but because it was not a studio released film; indeed, the fact that it was not is an example of what’s wrong with Hollywood (and accordingly, as I don’t have premium channels like HBO, I had never heard of it until researching this post today).

So what about Red Tails? Should you see this movie, and encourage others to as well? Your call. But let me play advocate: (a) it’s at least an okay movie (7 out of 10, and from me that’s saying something since most films these days don’t even rate a 5 for me); and (b) it will teach you shit about history you might not have known but would love to learn. And I don’t just mean the issues (or for some uninformed people, even mere existence) of black combat pilots in WWII, but, especially cool for a historian of technology like me, the fact that the Nazis invented jet aircraft and fielded a fleet of jet fighters during the war, and we had to fight them with ordinary prop planes (maybe someday I’ll blog about one of my old pastimes, weapons tech, and the fact that pretty much everything we fight with now was invented by the Nazis, including the automatic assault rifle, shoulder-launched rocket, and guided missile…and yes, jet fighters), and (c) it will flip the bird at the white-ass studio execs who wouldn’t pay for or to distribute this film because “no white people are in it.” They think white people won’t go see it because they aren’t in it (and it’s always supposed to be about us, see).

It would be worth it to prove them wrong. I’d certainly hate to find them feeling “vindicated” by the movie’s failure. Because studio execs are neurophysically incapable of registering a film’s quality at all, they won’t realize it failed (if it even does) because of the writing or directing, so they will think it’s because no white actors were in the lead parts. It’s this stupid false inference that has driven practically the whole industry since 1980. That’s why when one studio comes out with a hybrid talking vampire shark movie, every studio comes out with a hybrid talking vampire shark movie, because “obviously” that’s “in” now (rather than judging what to do based on whether a script is actually just good).

Next Move

If, however, you rankle at paying to see merely average movies just to learn stuff and support a cause, but you want to see what was actually the first all-black-lead WWII action movie, then rent Miracle at St. Anna (directed by Spike Lee). That got panned by the critics (mostly because Spike Lee didn’t direct it like a “Spike Lee” film, as critics had pigeonholed him, but actually demonstrated his skill and versatility as a director and made something quite different), and fans of “constant action” war movies hated it because it had a lot of boring “talking” and “emotion” and shit, and other people hated it because it was a little confusing and requires you to actually follow everything and be intelligent. But it actually rates as one of my top most favorite WWII films (in the “dark” category, that is), rivaling even Saving Private Ryan.

Why? Well, you might get it if after watching it, you have the balls to then watch it again, now knowing what happens and thus what all sorts of things really meant earlier in the film (the imaginary-friend scene with the boy in the barn will make you cry…once you know what was really going on in that scene). And if you have an eye for the decisions a director makes (editing, getting performances from the actors, where to put the camera) and just overall matters of quality (not much CGI here). It will also teach you about history (a central atrocity that occurs in the story is actually a true story). And it has literally the most intriguing opening scene of any war movie ever made (yes, even beating Saving Private Ryan). I know one critic who said it sometimes played too much into black stereotypes, but in fact it demonstrates how blacks themselves in the 1940s could play with those stereotypes, while some of them were based on cultural realities of the time, and in fact you actually get as much diversity of character among the men as you would in any “all white” WWII film (so if you don’t notice that, then you are the one obsessing on stereotyping…and I wonder if that was kind of Lee’s point).

Anyway, that’s an excellent film, and thoroughly anti-Lucasy (which does mean, not for kids). But what I want now are good, action-fun WWII films. Like Inglorious Basterds with an all-black infantry unit; or Operation Petticoat style antics in an all-black motorpool unit near the front lines (“When the air raid started he just took off. All he said was ‘In confusion, there is profit!'” … if you didn’t just laugh, you either have no sense of humor, or you haven’t seen Operation Petticoat recently; one of those is easy to remedy). Why not? The potential would be awesome. If you want to see that happen, though, you may have to start small and go see Red Tails. Then studios will start listening to pitches for similar films, and inevitably something awesome will get made that never would have otherwise.

In other words, maybe we should make Red Tails the next hybrid talking vampire shark movie.


If you are wondering what all the worldwide hubbub is over Congress’s attempt to fast-track the latest anti-piracy legislation (SOPA and PIPA) without much public scrutiny (you may be wondering, since Google has blacked out it’s logo in protest, and Wikipedia has shut down entirely for the whole day), then if you read nothing else, read Confessions of a Hollywood Insider. Marta Evry, whose livelihood is threatened by overseas media piracy, nevertheless agrees these laws are bad news and should not get passed. She explains very well all the reasons why, in plain and easy to grasp terms, with links to all kinds of relevant articles for exploring each item further.

I have my own perspective on this as an academic, which I posted on my Facebook Wall. Corporations have used over-broad “copyright protection” laws to stifle academic research before. They will use these laws to do the same, and these laws are a ton worse.

Want a fast and easy way to do something about it? This is one internet petition you will want to sign. Politicians only take bribes to win votes. So if they see this is actually going to cost them votes instead, then they can’t be bought anymore. Conclusion? Make it cost.

Sexism, Racism, and the Golden Rule

Our own Ian Cromwell (the one and only Crommunist) posted today on the Schroedinger’s Rapist metaphor and the pushback against it that uses racism as an example (if you don’t know the back story, Daniel Finke provides). Ian’s thesis is this:

I’ve frequently heard people object to the Schroedinger’s Rapist argument as sexist, with anti-black racism used as a counter-example. I reject this comparison because it neglects two important factors: 1) that the issue under discussion is about whether or not we want women to feel more comfortable; and 2) that black people often make similar behavioural adjustments to accommodate the racism of their white friends. I share some personal stories to illustrate this.

He invited my comment and I realized I was just writing a blog post of my own. So here goes!

(To all of my readers, the following assumes you’ve read his post.)

Ian, awesome. I agree with most everything you say. I’d only offer some qualifications that come from comparing my experience and attitude to yours. You can tell me if I’m on track with this or not. (Though much of this in fact confirms your point.)

I think we should still account for the fact that there’s a difference between reasonable and unreasonable reactions.

I believe it would be wrong of you to adjust your behavior because of that crazy street-crossing lady, because not all people are like that. If I have to jog to get somewhere on time, I jog. You shouldn’t be deprived of that option because of your skin color. Were a hooded black man jogging up behind me, I would not be any more concerned than I would be were it a white man, nor would I dash away. And that’s saying something, as I’ve not only been attacked by black men, I was attacked for being white. So if anything you might think I’d have a legitimate reason to flee from jogging black men. But I’m not an idiot. I don’t assume all black men are racists or violent. And one dude jogging does not fall into any threatening reference class I know.

Likewise (regarding your door-to-door example), I chat with black men who show up at my door unusually frequently (I say unusually only because I live in a very diverse neighborhood and most people don’t). Again, people not talking to you is simply irrational behavior. You might have to end-round it (by wearing a suit, or developing a more disarming opening line and smile) for the practical reason that you need their cooperation and there really isn’t anything you can do about their being a racist idiot. But, IMO, you don’t have to like it. And when you don’t need their cooperation, you don’t owe them anything. Their fear and discomfort is their own damn fault. (But again, that’s just IMO.)

On the other hand, as I have myself been menaced by groups of black men for being white (complete with anti-white racial slurs and attacks with hurled bottles; I live on the edge of a rough town), I will cross the street to avoid a group of black men dressed like gangbangers, but not a group of black men dressed in suits or jogging clothes or even dressed in “hip hop” kit but with backpacks (as the sort of guys who would menace me would not be so dorky as to carry backbacks; those are clearly school kids). My reasoning is not “those guys must be dangerous” but “if I avoid those guys, my risk of being menaced declines considerably.” And that conclusion is based on actual, personal experience. (Which is also neighborhood specific; I have no such worries walking about in Harlem where I effectively lived for many years.)

It’s also not based solely on their being black (obviously it is partly: in this town [Richmond, California] there are some black people who will attack you for being white, whereas no white people tend to attack you for being white), but on their wearing gear that identifies them with the culture that dangerous men boast being a part of. And yet, only some people in that culture are dangerous. Thus, my avoiding them does not entail I assume they are dangerous, but only that I am reducing my risk in the event that they are. I don’t see that as racism. It looks more like common sense to me. (Which, as you note, is exactly a woman’s point: any random man could be Schroedinger’s Rapist–that doesn’t mean 50/50, but still a non-negligible risk that has to be managed.)

Accordingly, a bunch of black guys who see me do that in this town should know there are guys who actually do look like them who would give me shit, and thus acknowledge that it’s not unreasonable of me to avoid finding out. They might even telegraph a heightened friendliness to reassure me that they aren’t those guys. And that would be entirely reasonable, too.

This kind of adjustment doesn’t necessarily have to do with race, either. Even though I am white, I would have enough presence of mind to know I shouldn’t walk into a business wearing a ski mask, even if I was wearing it just to keep warm; and I wouldn’t joke about carrying a bomb within earshot of airport security; and I engage all manner of adjustments to my behavior to ensure my presence in some context is not misinterpreted. As you point out, that’s just good sense.

Like you, I’ve been attentive to what clothes I was wearing, for example, and adjusted to compensate, e.g. when I’m thrashed from construction work and covered in mud and grunge and dirt and wearing “second hand” clothes (because those are the ones I don’t care about getting ruined), and I walk into a shop to get a coke, I make an effort (by whatever means, from body language to conversation to facial expressions) to telegraph that I’m an orderly, intelligent man with money, and not a crazy homeless guy keen on pinching something.

And like you, I have often scared the hell out of people by walking up on them too quickly, so I also shuffle my feet now so someone ahead of me is aware. And even then (and this has happened a couple times just in the last year) I sometimes get fearful, worried looks as I pass. And I’m a white dude. (Which perhaps means you shouldn’t assume it’s always about your being black; evidently some behaviors worry people regardless.)

The point is, some kinds of reactions are simply unreasonable and do not need to be accommodated (unless for practical reasons they have to). But some kinds of reactions are reasonable and should be accommodated (and we should actually feel good about accommodating them). This applies in the male-female dynamic just as much as any other. I do make an effort to make women around me feel comfortable, and I don’t see this as some sort of reverse gender bias or affirmative action, but as simply what a good guest and/or host does: make those around him feel comfortable. We do the same thing when we avoid political arguments at family gatherings.

On the other hand, there are people whose company I don’t want, if they don’t like the way I naturally am. For example, I will avoid swearing in certain contexts (e.g. a formal lecture; when I’m a guest in a conservative’s house; etc.), but I’m not going to hang out at a party where I can’t swear. I’d rather be elsewhere. Conversely, if it’s my party, and you don’t like swearing, you belong elsewhere. And that’s your responsibility. By extension, any women who might have unreasonable expectations shouldn’t mingle with men who don’t meet them. But not all expectations are unreasonable.

How do you tell the difference? Empathy and the Golden Rule: (a) first understand what difference it makes to be a woman [e.g. by a huge margin, women are far more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than men, and they live with that fact, we don't] and (b) then ask if you were them, how would you want to be treated? (Or, “how would that behavior then look to you?” or “what would that remark then sound like to you?” or “what would reassure me that I’m going to be comfortable here?” etc.).

Another example of (a), BTW, is the fact that men tend not to have much actual experience receiving unwanted advances; whereas women tend to get that shit a lot, to the point of getting fed up by it as much as any man would who had the same experience. When guys say “but all advances from women are welcome!” that only confirms to me they are naively inexperienced. Would you want persistent advances from your best friend’s wife? Or women you find unattractive? What about daily menacing come-ons from gay men? I have been hit on or flirted with by gay men a good amount (and not just because my wife used to work in the theatre) and I don’t mind it, it’s even flattering, but this is because they were always polite about it, genuine gentlemen; but imagine if they weren’t? Or they just wouldn’t lay off? Or literally everywhere you went yet another dude came on to you? It would get tiring after a while. Why, gosh, you might even give up going to group events where that keeps happening.

Hence, Ian, I think your overall point is spot on.