Richard Carrier – “Are Christians Delusional?”

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 9, 2011 in Video

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Cristian Pascu February 10, 2011 at 5:32 am

Irony and sarcasm is the ultimate form of reasoning and debate. Except from being fun and narcissist.

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Jason F. Cannon February 10, 2011 at 6:25 am

Wonderful talk. I only wish that more believers had or could have access to talks like this. Thanks for the post and keep them coming!

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Ben February 10, 2011 at 7:13 am

He does a massively better job of carefully framing the contents of “The Christian Delusion” than Loftus does in the introduction of the book. Irritating.

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Eneasz February 10, 2011 at 8:42 am

Holy crap, I had no idea he was that young. I kinda hate him now, for being so accomplished at as such a young age…

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Haecceitas February 10, 2011 at 8:56 am

Holy crap, I had no idea he was that young. I kinda hate him now, for being so accomplished at as such a young age…  

What do you mean? Carrier’s accomplishments are good but not in any way exceptional for a 41 year old.

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Garren February 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

From the Carrier video: “you should only lead with strong arguments and not give them a weak one.”

That’s funny because The Christian Delusion‘s first contributor chapter has the following right near the beginning: “every argument in support of religion has been shown to be inconclusive or demonstrably false.” The chapter then goes on with the assumption that Christianity is false rather than argue towards Christianity being false. If The Christian Delusion‘s point is to show problems with Christianity, it would be a stronger book if this chapter were entirely cut.

(I feel the same about cutting the Gospel of Matthew out of the New Testament if the goal is to convince any Jews that Christianity is true.)

In the video, Carrier also talked about how bad it is for people to respond to Loftus’s “Outsider Test” by just saying they don’t need to pass it. I agree, but Loftus himself is very adamant that Atheists are exempt.

I do highly recommend Carrier’s own chapter on the resurrection, but I advise against ever suggesting the book as a whole to Christians. It’s too likely to strengthen Christian belief.

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Anonymous February 10, 2011 at 9:54 am

Here is a major, indeed, in my opinion, fatal, problem with Carrier’s argument:

The definition that he uses, namely the one from the _Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders_ (though he fails to cite it), states that a delusion is a belief that has been incorrectly inferred. However, it seems to me that the Christians he has in mind (or, for that matter, any Christian) haven’t inferred their Christian beliefs from anything. Quite the contrary, most were probably raised to believe it. Thus, given the definition that he uses, they would not be delusional.

He can, of course, amend the definition. Here’s a good place to start thinking about the concept of delusion (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/delusion/).

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Haecceitas February 10, 2011 at 9:59 am

I’ve only at 5:30 so far and Carrier begs the question with his “argument” for why his revised definition should still count as a definition of delusion. Not a good start.

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Eneasz February 10, 2011 at 10:43 am

What do you mean? Carrier’s accomplishments are good but not in any way exceptional for a 41 year old.  

In that case, let me modify my statement.
Holy crap, I kinda hate him for looking so young at 41! I’m 10 years his junior and I already look older than him!

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Wrath February 10, 2011 at 11:15 am

He makes the claim, in the video, that “intelligence is learnable”. Anyone know more about that?

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Jugglable February 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

A delusion is really just a false belief. So his talk is really basically “Are Christians Wrong?” If atheism is false, Carrier is deluded. He didn’t have to give the talk such a sensational title, but seeing as he did, and seeing as he’s gotten behind the idea that Jesus didn’t even exist, I’d guess that Carrier likes attention.

Also, one of his main weapons is ridicule. But that’s no argument. When I see somebody like him stooping to that level, it strengthens my faith. Is that really the best you’ve got?

Furthermore, in a philosophy course I took at uni, I learned about the principle of charity — which says one should entertain the best, strongest interpretation of his opponent’s view. Carrier’s approach seems to be the exact opposite: refuse to describe the opponent’s view in any way that could even be construed as remotely rational. He’s knocking down straw men left and right.

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Haecceitas February 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

He makes the claim, in the video, that “intelligence is learnable”. Anyone know more about that?  

At least there are “good habits of the mind” that are clearly learnable. One just has to learn more about what constitutes good reasoning vs. bad reasoning and then be self-conscious about it until it becomes part of the way you think.

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Anonymous February 10, 2011 at 11:27 am

Let me also point out another problem with Carrier’s definition.

As Carrier states, he is going to function with the definition of “delusion” that is not politically correct, namely, “a false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.”

This seems, to me, inadequate; for it seems possible that a belief that is, in fact, true, can still be delusional. Take, for instance, the Bears’ victory over the Cardinals in 2006. During the game, a die-hard Bears fan would have believed (btw, I know b/c I am) that despite being down 20 to 0 at halftime, they would win the game. This seems to me is a delusional belief given the evidence (e.g., the offense couldn’t get anything done!). Yet, the Bears’ defense rallied and Arizona made two blunders: they punted to Hester who ran it back for a touchdown and they missed the final field goal. Thus, Carries definition is again faulty.

This, however, doesn’t get the Christian off the hook. It only means that it’s possible for them to be delusional even if Christianity is true.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-top-ten/09000d5d810a93ac/Top-Ten-Comebacks-Cardinals-blow-it

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Justfinethanks February 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Garren:

I advise against ever suggesting the book as a whole to Christians. It’s too likely to strengthen Christian belief.

Well, of course it will strengthen Christian belief. We have good evidence to suggest that when someone with a false belief is presented with facts that contradict those beliefs, it often causes them to believe them more deeply and take on more false beliefs, rather than abandon them.

Juggable:

When I see somebody like him stooping to that level, it strengthens my faith.

You don’t say.

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Jugglable February 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Justfinethanks:

My strengthened faith was not in response to “facts that contradict those beliefs.” It wasn’t a reaction to facts. My point was in response to when Carrier does not use FACTS but uses RIDICULE.

I do know I’ve read some atheistic stuff that has shook my faith. It’s not actually coming into contacts with facts that contradict my faith that strengthens my faith. It’s when I see that Christian thinkers can deal with the toughest of these objections.

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Rondawg February 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Garren said:
“In the video, Carrier also talked about how bad it is for people to respond to Loftus’s “Outsider Test” by just saying they don’t need to pass it. I agree,
but Loftus himself is very adamant that Atheists are exempt.”
How can an atheist who has no faith make use of the “Outsider Test For Faith”?

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 10, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Atheists actually are fairly and reasonably exempt… sorta.

But that does createa marketing problem for the outsider test of faith.

The outsider test for faith presumes that you can start from a position of at least assumed neutrality, analyze competing claims equally and fairly, and then decide whether one set of competing claims is stronger than another.

By its nature that position of assumed neutrality is going to be atheist/agnostic. That’s because, if you don’t actually buy into any particular religion (or are taking that stance for analytical reasons) you are functioning as an atheist or agnostic (which one depends on your chosen definitions).

Unfortunately that means that theologians who think they are clever will respond, “But how can you say that atheism satisfies the outsider test for faith, hmm? Shouldn’t you ask how atheism would fare if analyzed by a christian, or a muslim or something?”

Which is stupid, of course. The form of atheism that Loftus is talking about (not having accepted any religious claims) is literally the definition of neutrality. And it doesn’t even make sense to ask whether not having an opinion satisfies an outsider test. By definition, if you begin with the assumption that you have an opinion, you will conclude that not having an opinion is wrong.

But this argument sounds convincing to the religious believer who wants a clever quip to quell his cognitive dissonance.

A smarter answer would be to ask whether naturalism, or some actual atheistic worldview other than generic “I don’t believe any of this magic crap so I guess I’m an atheist” atheism can be shown to satisfy some sort of outsider test. Its completely fair to ask whether metaphysical naturalism satisfies an outsider test, for example.

But theologians won’t use that argument because, while it would accomplish the goal of forcing the atheist to defend his actual point of view under an outsider test, even if the atheist failed the outsider test he’d just end up back at neutrality… ie, a less strong form of atheism.

Which isn’t what the theist wants.

And theists aren’t engaging in this conversation to get at truth, they’re in it to argue for the intellectual respectability of following a belief system started by a bunch of superstitious rape raiders who have been dead for few thousand years, modified by various alleged prophets and charlatans and forgers, plus hundreds upon hundreds of years of rationalization, schism, revision, merging, splitting, editing, and rationalizing.

So when offered a good point to score against Loftus, they pass it by because it wouldn’t support their end goal.

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Rondawg February 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm

“A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what
constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.”
This definition attempts to make the argumentum ad populum legitimate by giving “what almost everyone else believes” special consideration. It is possible for almost everybody to have inaccurate beliefs while a lesser number have accurate ones. Here is a website that discusses dillusions more deeply.

http://www.abess.com/glossary.html#D

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Ben February 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Well, of course it will strengthen Christian belief. We have good evidence to suggest that when someone with a false belief is presented with facts that contradict those beliefs, it often causes them to believe them more deeply and take on more false beliefs, rather than abandon them.

lol, alright. I’ll endorse the book in second edition form if it has the subtitle, “Guaranteed to make many Christians MORE delusional.”

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BenSix February 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Holy crap, I had no idea he was that young. I kinda hate him now, for being so accomplished at as such a young age…

Holier crap, the dude’s 41 and he looks younger than I am. Either someone up there loves him or he’s sold his soul…

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Garren February 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm

@Rondawg and Patrick

The way the Outsider Test works is to define weak Atheism (lack of belief in God) as the neutral position, challenge those who don’t hold weak Atheism to show how their current religious views can be demonstrated as true by means of rational argument and evidence, then declaring any failure to do so as a demonstration of the irrationality of their current religious views.

I hope that’s a fair representation. At least, it would explain why calls for Atheists to apply the Outsider Test are met with:

1. Defining Atheism as weak Atheism.

2. Pointing out that weak Atheism is already the neutral position so it makes no sense to argue towards it.

How would this apply to the problem of the external world? It seems one could easily declare a lack of belief in the external world to be the neutral position. So, starting from this position, positive belief in the external world must be justified from rational arguments and evidence without assuming an external world exists. Failing to do so, one should consider belief in an external world to be irrational.

I don’t know of any philosophers who lack a belief in an outside world, but I know many philosophers have been bothered by the extreme difficulty of demonstrating that an outside world exists from a position which does not assume it. Are philosophers — and practically everyone else — therefore irrational? (This is, of course, a similar argument to the one made in Plantinga’s book God and Other Minds.)

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Patrick who is not Patrick February 10, 2011 at 8:05 pm

“How would this apply to the problem of the external world? It seems one could easily declare a lack of belief in the external world to be the neutral position. So, starting from this position, positive belief in the external world must be justified from rational arguments and evidence without assuming an external world exists. Failing to do so, one should consider belief in an external world to be irrational.”

1. That seems fair to me.

2. Note that I do not believe that rational arguments have to be conclusive proofs. Probability arguments would satisfy me.

3. If we’re specifically discussing Loftus, the outsider test for faith is not a demand that a particular religion be proven to the standards an atheist would apply. Its a request that a religion be demonstrated to be more convincing than other religions, as measured by someone who has not already accepted that religion or that religion’s claims. So satisfying an outsider test for the external world would only require demonstrating that an external world is or is not more convincing than other alternatives, as judged by a person who has not accepted either position and does not use the assumptions of either position in their reasoning. It would not require actually demonstrating the external world’s existence.

4. Plantinga’s project is to drag everyone down to the same level of stupid so that religion won’t look bad in comparison. This is NOT a good defense of the reasonableness of religion. It is emotional blackmail at best. If his argument works in the entirety, the best it can say is this: Would you really be satisfied if everything were irrational? Why not lower your standards? And once you’ve lowered your standards, surely religion slips by?

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Garren February 10, 2011 at 11:09 pm

@Non-Patrick

“So satisfying an outsider test for the external world would only require demonstrating that an external world is or is not more convincing than other alternatives, as judged by a person who has not accepted either position and does not use the assumptions of either position in their reasoning. It would not require actually demonstrating the external world’s existence.”

Still, it sounds rather difficult to present a convincing argument for the existence of an external world to someone who truly does not assume one to begin with. Especially if they favor Occam’s Razor!

“Plantinga’s project is to drag everyone down to the same level of stupid so that religion won’t look bad in comparison.”

Having read God and Other Minds and his three Warrant books, I don’t think he’s being stupid at all. (Though I did roll my eyes a lot at his “evolutionary argument against naturalism.”)

His project is widely misunderstood by both Christians and skeptics. A common caricature is along these lines: “I can’t prove other minds exist but we think it’s rational to believe in other minds. We can’t prove God exists either, but to be consistent we should also think it’s rational to believe in God. Tada!”

His approach is better understood as a response to Atheistic claims that any belief must be demonstrable or discarded as irrational. I hear the Positivists took a stance like this, but I haven’t read any of their work. Platinga responds by pointing out that practically everyone disagrees with that principle when applied to the problem of other minds (or the problem of the external world).

I think he’s entirely successful at showing that beliefs aren’t necessarily irrational just because they haven’t been (or can’t be) shown to be true.

“If his argument works in the entirety, the best it can say is this: Would you really be satisfied if everything were irrational? Why not lower your standards? And once you’ve lowered your standards, surely religion slips by?”

Is it really a problem that religion doesn’t get ruled out as irrational as a procedural matter? I guess silver bullets would be nice, but we can live without them.

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Anonymous February 11, 2011 at 8:08 am

Here’s another problem:

If a delusional belief just is “a false belief that is resistant to reason and contrary evidence” then it seems that all racists are delusional. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. All racists are, indeed, irrational and some may be delusional. But it’s not true by definition that all racists are delusional. Thus, it seems to me that Carrier conflates irrationality and delusion. We may sometimes use these terms synonymously in a colloquial sense; however, this is not how the term is used by professional psychologists/psychiatrists. There is a clinical difference b/t the two and if Carrier’s definition cannot make that distinction then there’s something is wrong with it and, thus, is argument is unsound.

This problem probably won’t be of much comfort to the Christian and, perhaps, Carrier won’t mind it much either. For it might turn out that Christians are irrational even if not delusional and I’m sure Carrier would be happy with that diagnosis. But, nevertheless, the point still stands: Carriers conclusion here is false and his argument is unsound.

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Rondawg February 11, 2011 at 10:12 am

Garren said:
“Having read God and Other Minds and his three Warrant books, I don’t think he’s being stupid at all. (Though I did roll my eyes a lot at his “evolutionary
argument against naturalism.”)

His project is widely misunderstood by both Christians and skeptics. A common caricature is along these lines: “I can’t prove other minds exist but we think
it’s rational to believe in other minds. We can’t prove God exists either, but to be consistent we should also think it’s rational to believe in God. Tada!”

His approach is better understood as a response to Atheistic claims that any belief
must be demonstrable or discarded as irrational. I hear the Positivists took a stance like this, but I haven’t read any of their work. Platinga responds
by pointing out that practically everyone disagrees with that principle when applied to the problem of other minds (or the problem of the external world).”
If other brains exist, then other minds exist. The mind represents the mechanics of the physical brain that everyone has. Therefore, The belief that there are other minds is demonstrable.
I have never heard of the “external world problem.” Time for some research!

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mdMcAlister February 11, 2011 at 11:42 am

Carrier begs the question with his “argument” for why his revised definition should still count as a definition of delusion

Haecceitas—can you clarify why Carrier begs the question here?

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Haecceitas February 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Haecceitas—can you clarify why Carrier begs the question here?  

Actually, I messed that up. My attention was divided between playing Civ4 and listening to Carrier and I got a slight misimpression of what he was saying there. So I retract my claim that he begs the question.

There may be other issues with his proposed definition that are more subtle (like, given that it is rational to ascribe at least some positive epistemic value for the deeply held views of fellow human beings, it isn’t clear that believing something false should rise to the level of a delusion if it’s just more or less absorbed from the people around you) but no, I wouldn’t say that he begs the question.

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John W. Loftus February 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Garren, Rondawg and Patrick. Thanks for your thoughts.

Let’s all agree that any religious faith that is justified by the sciences passes the OTF. If someone rejects the sciences as a way to know the truth then let him or her propose a better alternative.

That settles this, doesn’t it?

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John W. Loftus February 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Garren, I never said that a person is irrational merely because s/he embraces a religion I think is a delusion. Never.

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Garren February 12, 2011 at 9:42 pm

@Rondawg
“If other brains exist, then other minds exist. The mind represents the mechanics of the physical brain that everyone has. Therefore, The belief that there are other minds is demonstrable.”

I agree that the existence of other brains constitutes very strong evidence for other minds, past even what we already have from the way people interact as if they have minds. But the so-called hard problem of consciousness may stand in the way of saying for sure that brains entail minds. At least, it’s still being debated.

(In practical terms, no one doubts other minds any more than they doubt an external world. But you know how philosophers can be!)

@Rondawg
“I have never heard of the “external world problem.” Time for some research!”

Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy — especially meditation one and two — are the classic introduction.

@John Loftus
“Let’s all agree that any religious faith that is justified by the sciences passes the OTF. If someone rejects the sciences as a way to know the truth then let him or her propose a better alternative.

That settles this, doesn’t it?”

What about religions which aren’t justified by the sciences, but neither do they reject the sciences as a reliable way to know the truth? Deism, for example. Or, heck, even the Catholic Church is getting better at fitting into this category.

@John Loftus
“Garren, I never said that a person is irrational merely because s/he embraces a religion I think is a delusion. Never.”

Can someone fail to justify their religion starting from a position of weak Atheism and still rationally maintain their religion?

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Patrick February 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I’ve never found other minds or an external world to be that big of a problem. If you insist that your standard is “proof,” and by “proof” you mean certainty, then these things have serious problems because the hypotheses they’re up against are unfalsifiable. That’s the problem with unfalsifiable hypotheses. You can’t prove them wrong. By definition that means that you can’t prove a competing hypothesis to be true.

That doesn’t mean we can’t address these matters.

We could discuss possibilities. If there is no external world, there are a great many ways my senses could report data to me. Most of these are undoubtedly inconsistent with the existence of an external world, because the existence of an external world would pose certain restraints on my senses.

Or for other minds, it simply doesn’t seem very likely that, if I have a mind, and my mind is provably dependent upon my brain and as far as we can tell on nothing else, and you have a brain that seems the same as mine, that you would not have a similar mind. Its possible, but it doesn’t seem very likely.

So, no, I don’t see those as fulfilling the function that Plantinga wants them to fill.

I stand by my assessment of Plantinga. I don’t view it as a straw man in the least. There is a theistic line of thinking that reasons that if everything can be reduced to a matter of faith, then nothing is more stupid than anything else, so no one can call religion unfounded. Plantinga’s life project has been (other than the evolutionary argument against naturalism) to take existing theistic apologetics and make them more philosophically rigorous. At least two that I can think of are these sorts of leveling attempts. This is one of them.

Loftus can defend the OTF himself, since its his baby. But in general, when it comes to the argument that it is irrational to believe in a point of view that doesn’t seem more reasonable than competing points of view when analyzed by someone who has no preconceptions (a freaking OBVIOUS epistemological point)… I don’t see the external world problem to be even slightly challenging to that argument.

Oh, and Loftus, if you’re still reading, you should read Rawls. He’s a political scientist who argues for something very much like an Outsider Test for Social Justice.

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