Richard Carrier’s Moral Theory

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 3, 2010 in Ethics,Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.)

So far, we’ve discussed a wide range of topics:

…and more. What’s left in Carrier’s one-volume summary of naturalism? Morality, beauty, and politics.

And now it’s time to discuss morality.

I’m not going to cover Carrier’s comparison of Secular Humanism and Christian Ethics (pages 293-311), some of which is covered here. Instead, I’m going to jump ahead to the beginning of section V.2 Morality in Metaphysical Naturalism.

Carrier begins:

I have critiqued Moreland’s arguments and shown that he has nothing better to offer than Secular Humanism, and that Secular Humanism may even be better than alternatives such as Christian [Ethics]. Now I shall develop what Moreland claims to be impossible: a complete theory of natural ethical value… built and defended from the ground up, which is empirically testable and rationally justified.

How exciting! Such a task is rarely undertaken. Even today’s foremost defenders of moral naturalism have not written many from-the-ground-up defenses for their moral theories.

Carrier’s Moral Theory

Carrier’s section on morality was the most difficult for me to understand of his entire book, and I suspect it’s precisely because I’m better trained in moral theory than in many other subjects of Carrier’s book. Perhaps when Carrier discusses epistemology or abstract objects, the intended meaning came through to me, but when I came to his section on morality my training made me aware that there are at least two ways to interpret every third sentence in the section! This made it very hard for me to be sure exactly what Carrier wants to argue.

As such, I will not comment on Carrier’s theory, but instead try my best to summarize it. Remember that as with almost everything in Carrier’s book, other naturalists may have a different perspective than Carrier does. This is only one possible way of seeing the world.

Actually, I found this chapter so confusing I will not even attempt a summary. Instead, I will quote the highlights of Carrier’s chapter on morality, verbatim:

…all ‘normative’ really means is ‘true for everything’ (in other words “something we [i.e. everyone] ought to desire”)… For example, funding a court system for administering justice is normatively valuable, but not in and of itself; it has value because justice has value. So the value of a justice system is both normative and derivative [as opposed to intrinsic]…

In the simplest parlance, a value is a latent, ever-present desire, to be distinguished from fleeting, momentary, or incidental desires… When anyone harbors in their character an enduring desire for something… the object of this desire is then said to ‘have value.’ So when everyone ought to hold such a desire for something, that desire produces a normative value, a value that everyone ought to have…

On close analysis, I believe there is only one core value: …a desire for happiness. I believe that all other desires are derived from this, in conjunction with other facts of the universe, and that all normative values are what they are because they must be held and acted upon in order for any human being to have the best chance of achieving a genuine, enduring happiness…

I believe this core value entails two particular values… compassion and integrity, which are essential to a genuinely happy life… How people come to have these values ingrained in their character is a different matter from why they ought to ingrain them. The first story involves human psychology, socialization and parenting… The second story involves the logical and factual connection between having those values and achieving happiness.

This is hardly a sliver of Carrier’s moral theory, which is sketched throughout pages 313-348 of Sense and Goodness Without God. Further clarifications are available in these debates on morality between Richard Carrier and Alonzo Fyfe.

Honestly, I spent a lot of time trying to connect the dots between Carrier’s many, many assertions about morality and value and I just couldn’t do it. That is what delayed this post for so long. If anyone thinks they understand Carrier on morality, please do explain it to me.

For now, I move on to section VI. Natural Beauty. Hopefully my complete ignorance of aesthetic philosophy will allow me to catch Carrier’s meaning in that section!

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

kt45 May 3, 2010 at 7:59 am

I made a video explaining richard carriers morality on youtube. I’m on my phone so I can’t find the webpage. But you can search youtube for my video called “the goal theory of morality”. Also carrier has a video on youtube explaining it as well called “richard carrier on morality”

I’m not sure if this is the correct addresses but try these
Youtube.com/watch?v=qkpdogzo0n0&sns=em
Youtube.com/watch?v=dce8me0q4za&sns=em

If that doesn’t work use the search function. Hope the vids help

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Ben May 3, 2010 at 8:16 am

Luke,

Carrier’s “goal theory” means that you develop a definition of what constitutes genuine human happiness. Once you have that goal in mind…then you seek to fulfill it in ways that can be shown to objectively work. I’ve had no trouble reconciling Fyfe’s DU with Carrier’s GT. They seem to inform each other. I’m not even sure what questions to answer. It just seems you have certain philosophical presuppositions that derail Carrier’s meanings rather than letting Carrier inform the interpretation of his own writings. *shrug*

Ben

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lukeprog May 3, 2010 at 8:32 am
Yair May 3, 2010 at 9:04 am

Ben:

Luke,Carrier’s “goal theory” means that you develop a definition of what constitutes genuine human happiness.Once you have that goal in mind…then you seek to fulfill it in ways that can be shown to objectively work.I’ve had no trouble reconciling Fyfe’s DU with Carrier’s GT.They seem to inform each other.

How do you reconcile GT with DU on the metaethical level? GT maintains that each person should do what increases his happiness, and that the convergence of said “best actions” is a contingent fact about human nature. DU maintains that each person should do what tends to bolster desires that tend to fulfill desires, and that the “best action” is an objective moral fact irrespective of contingent facts about human nature (with the small caveat about malleability of desires and the practical scope of being able to create desires). GT is an individual subjectivist theory that becomes a normative humanism by contingency, DU is a moral realist theory that becomes normative by fiat (if at all).

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Shane Steinhauser May 3, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Carrier is a Jesus mythicist. He’s also a pagan parallels nut. Christians listen to him talk, do research on their own, find out he’s a liar, and then decide that atheism is for morons. Honestly he’s at the top of the list of “ignorant atheists”, and I wish my fellow non-believers would just stop listening to him.

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kt45 May 4, 2010 at 1:46 am

Carrier is a Jesus mythicist. He’s also a pagan parallels nut. him. &nbsp

he actually is against using pagan parallels. In his interfview with faithandfreethought he argues why atheist should not argue this way. He is a mythicist though but supports looking jewish parallels instead. I’m not sure that just because he is a mythicist that you should advise other “nonbelievers to stop listening to him” as a whole. If you reject his mythicist theory that is fine. I’m not a mythicist either but I still like his writings on naturalism and I plan on reading his chapters in john loftus book the christian delusion.

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Shane Steinhauser May 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

A quick google search shows that he does advocate Pagan parallels. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/improbable/crucified.html

I will never pay attention to Carrier on Naturalism for the same reasons I would never listen to a creationist talk about economics. In the end you are just going to get fed a bunch of arguments that commit the fallacy of suppressed evidence.

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Justfinethanks May 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm

A quick google search shows that he does advocate Pagan parallels.

I read through the article, and his position on the Parallels seems to be a lot less “Jesus is just a variation on Pagan themes” and more “there might be some parallels, but there isn’t enough evidence to say for sure.”

Carrier:

I caution strongly against overzealous attempts to link Christianity with prior religions [...]But I can’t deny there are some intriguing parallels, including those between this story of Inanna and the story of the Incarnation of the Lord told in the Ascension of Isaiah. There are many important differences, but it is curious that in the Sumerian story Inanna descends through the seven gates of Hell, with a different encounter at each stage, and her humiliation and crucifixion are at the bottom. [...] I admit these parallels are worth noting, but they are too little to make much of.

Saying there might be notable parallels, but they are “too little to make much of” is hardly the mark of someone who “advocates Pagan parallels.” But perhaps he makes stronger statements elsewhere.

And for the record, I am just as uncomfortable with Jesus mythicists in atheists ranks as you are.

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KT45 May 4, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Shane, I read through the article as well. In the article Carrier is arguing against a James Holding who asks “Who would believe a religion based on a crucified man” suggesting that no one would believe it as a story unless it happened. At the beginning Carrier shows why non jewish christian or pagans would believe in a crucified savior. The rest of the article is about why the Jews would believe it. In the second paragraph Carrier states that “my point is not that the Christians got the idea of a crucified god from early Inanna cult.” so this article is not about pagan parallels.

You can look at “Justfinethanks” response for more info but I’d like to bring up Carrier’s interview with faithandfreethought entitled “How Not to Argue for Mythicisim”. The interview can be found here: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/09/letters-and-radio.html

http://media.libsyn.com/media/infidelguy/01_31_2007_Carrier-Jesus_Myth.mp3

The interview is about an hour long so I’ll just quote him. At 14 min and 59 secs in he says

Carrier
“Its not a question of literal direct borrowing from any particular cult and it is not like christians went and studying mithraism and said ‘oh we are going to make a religion based on this’. That’s not how it happened. And that applies to all parallels that are shown between Jesus and pagan deities. I think we need to first look for full and sufficient basis already inside hellenized Jewish thought. You are talking about how the life of Jesus can be constructed from pagan gods, I think it can be done even better from the old testament.”

I think that makes his position pretty clear. Unless he has changed his position since 2007 when this interview was done (which he might have) then I think it is clear that he does not support pagan borrowing/parallels.

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Bill Maher May 4, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Carrier is a Jesus mythicist. He’s also a pagan parallels nut. Christians listen to him talk, do research on their own, find out he’s a liar, and then decide that atheism is for morons. Honestly he’s at the top of the list of “ignorant atheists”, and I wish my fellow non-believers would just stop listening to him.  

you committed a logical fallacy. I’ll give you a hint which one: it rhymes with schmad schmominem.

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Shane Steinhauser May 4, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Okay, so Carrier doesn’t propose pagan parallels. The following video gave me the opposite impression. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOGebAEOU2g

Still though he’s a Jesus mythicist and I wish people would stop taking him seriously.

Bill, it’s only an ad hom if I happen to be debating Carrier. My argument is not… Carrier is dumb, therefore mythicism is wrong. My argument is Carrier is dumb enough to buy into Jesus mythicism therefore he’s not smart enough to take seriously on any other topics.

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Bill Maher May 4, 2010 at 8:58 pm

My argument is Carrier is dumb enough to buy into Jesus mythicism therefore he’s not smart enough to take seriously on any other topics.

am i missing something? that is a textbook ad hom.

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Hansen May 5, 2010 at 1:42 am

I don’t know Carrier’s work in great detail. But browsing his own website, what I see is a man who is genuinely interested in the historicity of Jesus. He does not deny the possibility that Jesus existed and even makes the following concession:

The clear consensus of experts is that Jesus existed, was crucified, and buried (in fact, only a very small minority, and that uninformed, argues against tomb burial, and I quite agree with the majority here, that this tiny minority’s arguments are uninformed and thus unsound).

The closest to mythicism I found was his 2002 review of Earl Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle” where he concludes (emphasis mine):

Doherty’s theory is simply superior in almost every way in dealing with all the facts as we have them. However, it is not overwhelmingly superior, and that leaves a lot of uncertainty. For all his efforts, Jesus might have existed after all. But until a better historicist theory is advanced, I have to conclude it is at least somewhat more probable that Jesus didn’t exist than that he did. I say this even despite myself, as I have long been an opponent of ahistoricity….I now have a more than trivial doubt that Jesus existed, to my surprise. But this stands only by a margin, allowing that I could easily be wrong.

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Ben May 5, 2010 at 2:05 am

Ben:
How do you reconcile GT with DU on the metaethical level? GT maintains that each person should do what increases his happiness, and that the convergence of said “best actions” is a contingent fact about human nature. DU maintains that each person should do what tends to bolster desires that tend to fulfill desires, and that the “best action” is an objective moral fact irrespective of contingent facts about human nature (with the small caveat about malleability of desires and the practical scope of being able to create desires). GT is an individual subjectivist theory that becomes a normative humanism by contingency, DU is a moral realist theory that becomes normative by fiat (if at all).  

Quite simply: “each person should do what increases his happiness” = “each person should do what tends to bolster desires that tend to fulfill desires” Presumably you think those two worlds don’t align, and to whatever extent that is, is to the extent you misunderstand one or the other. Sometimes it is easier to focus on the merits of one desire (in relation to how it tends to fulfill other desires) and sometimes it is easier to focus on your meta-goals a person comprised of many competing desires (so that when we speak about it it doesn’t look like a convoluted math problem). Both thinking strategies are helpful and complimentary. My label for this is “desire economics” or “desire management” or more to put it more poetically and classically, “the pursuit of happiness.”

Ben

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drj May 5, 2010 at 4:24 am

Still though he’s a Jesus mythicist and I wish people would stop taking him seriously.

In one of the Carrier/Craig debates, Craig basically did the same thing – tried to get the audience to discount what Carrier said, based on the “fact” that he was a mythicist.

Carrier, in his rebuttal, clarified his position. He stated that mythicism is a possibility that can’t be reasonably discounted.

So, as others have pointed out, it doesn’t really look like he’s a mythicist – though the rumour that he is, seems to be out there.

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Ben May 5, 2010 at 5:10 am

find out he’s a liar

Where has Carrier been shown to be a liar?

he actually is against using pagan parallels. In his interfview with faithandfreethought he argues why atheist should not argue this way. He is a mythicist though but supports looking jewish parallels instead.

Actually it’s both. There are pagan and Jewish influences.

Okay, so Carrier doesn’t propose pagan parallels. The following video gave me the opposite impression. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOGebAEOU2g

Still though he’s a Jesus mythicist and I wish people would stop taking him seriously.

That’s the worst intro to mythicism if you are not sympathetic to it. That’s meant to be mostly comedy.

So, as others have pointed out, it doesn’t really look like he’s a mythicist – though the rumour that he is, seems to be out there.

No, he is a mythicist and in his forthcoming book, “On the Historicity of Jesus,” he will conclude that there is an 80% probability that Jesus was myth (if I’m not mistaken).

So what I tell Christians is that they have to put up with it because they in fact advocate dozens of anti-consensus positions. If they expect to have a serious conversation about anything, they have to set his position on this aside or they are uber hypocrites.

On the other hand, what I tell atheists, is the same thing Carrier does. He doesn’t expect anyone to believe him until he’s made significant headway into academic approval. So if you tell him, “I’m not buying that,” he’s not going to pull rank. He expects you to withhold judgment since he knows he has a job to do if his views are to be taken seriously.

Ben

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kt45 May 5, 2010 at 7:31 am

, it doesn’t really look like he’s a mythicist – though the rumour that he is, seems to be out there.  

well he is a mythicist but not “pagan parallel nut” type mythicist. in the q&a section of the video shane posted, someone brings up the zietgeist movie. The first part of zietgiest is all about pagan parallels and how the christians basically just made jesus up from these prior pagan myths. Carrier rejects this. As I’ve quoted in a previous he believes that the influnce of jesus as a myth must be grounded in hellenistic jewish thought. He leaves open the possiblity of pagan infleunces but sees it as unnecessary since just jewish sources are sufficient to make his case. Is the case good? Won’t know til he writes his book

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drj May 5, 2010 at 8:59 am

Ben and kt45,

Thanks for clearing that up!

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Shane Steinhauser May 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm

am i missing something? that is a textbook ad hom.  

Yes Bill you are missing a suddle difference. Saying that you should not listen to someone because they are dumb is different than saying that a position is wrong because it’s proponent is dumb.

For all I know Carrier’s ideas on Morality could be right on the money. So I’m not even debating Carrier on any topic whatsoever.

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Shane Steinhauser May 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Ben, I agree that christians are hypocritical for complaining about minority positions, but aren’t we atheists better than that? We should work hard to remove the atheist equivalents of creationism from the bed of ideas.

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Ben May 5, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Ben, I agree that christians are hypocritical for complaining about minority positions, but aren’t we atheists better than that? We should work hard to remove the atheist equivalents of creationism from the bed of ideas.  

In principle, I agree with you. In application to Carrier, I think he actually has a shot at making a good case. He’s a role model for how to do that sort of thing correctly (if it ever did need to be done). For instance we complain that the Discovery Institute is trying to change popular opinion rather than scientific consensus. Carrier’s goal is to actually change the scholarly consensus and get both historicists and mythicists to resolve all of their issues. He’ll have his book peer reviewed and pursue pushing that conversation as far as it will go in the academic community.

And meanwhile, yes, it is a pain in the ass to thread that needle since the politics of mythicism (crank mythicism) is so fierce on both sides. “Oh, but he’s not a crank” “Sure he isn’t.” “Oh, but he’s the exception to the rule.” “Sure he is.” “Oh, but if you’d just listen to his actual arguments, you’d understand.” “Sure…” Etc. Unfortunately if he’s digging his own academic grave and his book bombs, he’s earned enough credit on other things that I’m obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt in the meantime.

But yeah, if he were anyone else on any other anti-consensus issue, I’d understand where you are coming from. But from his preliminary stuff I’ve seen on the topic, he’s not gone off the deep end just yet.

Ben

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Shane Steinhauser May 5, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Hmmm. Ben I’ve never thought of it that way. He is trying to convince the academic world more than he’s trying to change popular consensus.

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Hansen May 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Ben, I agree that christians are hypocritical for complaining about minority positions, but aren’t we atheists better than that? We should work hard to remove the atheist equivalents of creationism from the bed of ideas.  

Defending the possibility that Jesus might not have existed is not in any way similar to defending something like Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t even come close. If you want to make a good case that Carrier is not worth listening to, you need to do a lot better than just calling him a mythicist or a liar.

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Ben May 6, 2010 at 1:25 am

Defending the possibility that Jesus might not have existed is not in any way similar to defending something like Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t even come close. If you want to make a good case that Carrier is not worth listening to, you need to do a lot better than just calling him a mythicist or a liar.  

That is also something I point out to Christians, that believing Jesus may have been a mythological figure is no where near as crazy a claim (even if it is academically crazy) as it is to suppose he was real *and had magic powers.*

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lukeprog May 6, 2010 at 4:41 am

The blog ‘Vridar’ is doing a very good job explaining some of the arguments behind mythicism, and how it is that so many scholars dismiss it without taking the theory seriously.

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Shane Steinhauser May 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm

@Hansen…

Josephus reports that a guy named Jesus was crucified. It seems unlikely that a religion would spring up over a non-existent person who has his story told in a real life setting. Reports may contain mythical elements, or disagree on what type of a person Jesus was but one thing they agree on is that he existed.

Now it may be possible that Jesus was a myth but the mythicists have no evidence whatsoever that Jesus actually was a myth. Sadly all of the evidence clearly points to his existence.

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Hansen May 7, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Josephus reports that a guy named Jesus was crucified.

Written more than half a century after the supposed death of Jesus and at least some of it is widely believed not to be authentic. Not terribly impressive.

It seems unlikely that a religion would spring up over a non-existent person who has his story told in a real life setting.

Why? Considering how amazingly gullible people are even today, it does not seem at all unlikely.

Reports may contain mythical elements,…

You emphasis is wrong. We have religious propaganda that may contain some truthful elements.

…, or disagree on what type of a person Jesus was but one thing they agree on is that he existed.

The authors of the Gospels agree that he existed. But does Paul? And what about the gospels that didn’t make it into the New Testament? I believe this is precisely what some of the mythicists are contesting. Certainly worthy of researching.

Now it may be possible that Jesus was a myth but the mythicists have no evidence whatsoever that Jesus actually was a myth. Sadly all of the evidence clearly points to his existence.

The evidence for his existence are by no means clear enough to justify your sweeping dismissal of anyone who does research into the possibility that he is only a myth.

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Shane Steinhauser May 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Hansen…

Written more than half a century after the supposed death of Jesus and at least some of it is widely believed not to be authentic. Not terribly impressive.

A fifty year gap between an event and a report is commonplace in ancient history. Almost everybody agrees that a christian added to Josephus’ text. However almost all historians agree that the part reporting Jesus’ crucifixion is genuine.

Why? Considering how amazingly gullible people are even today, it does not seem at all unlikely.

It does seem unlikely considering that *everyone in ancient history agreed that he existed*. So despite the “fact” that Jesus was a myth everyone (enemies and allies alike) agreed that he existed? If Jesus was fictional don’t you think someone in ancient history would call BS?

I agree that the Gospels are propaganda. They do contain some truthful elements such as… Pilot was a guy in charge, the 2nd temple fell, and *Jesus is not a myth*.

“Does Paul?” Yes he does. Look at Galatians Chapter 3.

“What about the Gospels that didn’t make it in?” Those Gospels were written decades after the original four. Almost all scholars agree that they played no part in original christianity.

Claims without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So Yes I *am* justified in my sweeping dismissal. Just like I’m justified in my dismissal of Jesus having risen from the dead.

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Hansen May 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Claims without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. So Yes I *am* justified in my sweeping dismissal. Just like I’m justified in my dismissal of Jesus having risen from the dead.

The mythicist is contesting the very weak evidence that Jesus existed – including all of the claims you made above. Carrier, in particular, is arguing against absurd claims such as everyone in ancient history agreed that he existed. So no, you are not justified in your sweeping dismissal.

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Shane Steinhauser May 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Anybody reading this should note that Hansen did not bother to rebut my “weak evidence”. I am the only one making a case here. Hansen is just playing the denialist.

So once again…

Almost all historians agree that Josephus’ report of Jesus is genuine once you remove the christian additions.

Paul says that Jesus existed in Galatians Ch 3.

The canonical Gospels contain too many elements that are embarrassing to Christianity for the stories to be wholly mythological. This means that they are grounded in some partial truths. Those truths being that Jesus existed, and was crucified by Pilot.

Almost everybody agrees that Jesus existed (Tacitus, Josephus, Paul, Post-pauline christians, etc.)

So Hansen until you can rebut my case for a historical Jesus, *and* present a case of your own I think my position is justified and yours is utterly without evidence or arguments.

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Hansen May 8, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Anybody reading this should note that Hansen did not bother to rebut my “weak evidence”. I am the only one making a case here. Hansen is just playing the denialist.

No, my point is your original sweeping dismissal that nobody should listen to Carrier because he is doing research into the possibility that Jesus may not have existed. You even went so far as to call him a liar and compare him with creationists. Yet you don’t say what exactly he is lying about.

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Shane Steinhauser May 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

When I called him a liar I was under the false impression that he advocated Horus, parallels with Jesus.

He is comparable to creationists because he holds a position that is easily refutable, and held by almost nobody within academia.

And Carrier is not *just* doing research. He is directly advocating Jesus mythicism. Doing research is fine. Nobody should be faulted for merely researching the whether or not Jesus was a myth or researching whether or not evolution is true. It’s when they come to a conclusion that flies in the face of all logic, reason, and evidence that they should no longer be listened to.

Hansen why don’t you present a positive case for Jesus mythicism? What evidence does it have in it’s favor? Nobody should believe something that is utterly without evidence. Don’t you agree?

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Hansen May 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

When many scholars that are claiming to do historical research into Jesus and Christianity are strongly biased because of their faith and are using poor historical methods, there is nothing wrong with taking a minority position. This is entirely unlike the evolution/creation “controversy”.

And what’s this bullshit about him being wrong in “advocating” his own research? So now you suddenly admit he is doing research. Backpedaling much? I even provided you with ample quotes from Carrier to show that he is not claiming his position to be overwhelmingly right. Again, nothing like the silly creationists.

I don’t even necessarily hold the view that Jesus didn’t exist. I think it’s very possible that he did. But I do recognize that the evidence is at best very weak. And nobody needs to provide positive evidence for mythicism for exactly the same reason that nobody needs to provide positive evidence for atheism. Refuting (or casting reasonable doubt on) the alleged evidence for his existence is more than enough. And that’s what Carrier is doing.

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Shane Steinhauser May 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm

So if these scholars are using poor historical methods why don’t you point them out? All scholars are biased now? Gee that sounds a lot like what a creationist would say about scientists and evolution.

I never said he was wrong in advocating his own research. I said he was wrong for *directly advocating* mythicism. And I never said he wasn’t doing research. I’d call “80% probability of Jesus never existing” a pretty strong statement. Remember that from Ben’s post?

I can provide a positive case for atheism. Why can’t you do the same for mythicism? Isn’t it rational to follow the evidence? Just because the evidence is inconclusive (and I’m not saying it is) doesn’t mean we should take the opposite position.

So maybe you’d like to provide “reasonable doubt” on the evidence that I provided?

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Shane Steinhauser May 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I must mention here that one of the reasons why atheists lose debates to WLC is because they never provide a positive case for why christianity is BS. Also they let craig argue for deism all day long without pointing out that craig must defend his position that Jebus died for your sins, satan is real, there’s a heaven etc, etc.

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Stone February 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

The YouTube video at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOGebAEOU2g

shows that Carrier totally distorts the written record during 2:00 – 3:00 minutes. He cites only one Jesus reference in Josephus’s Antiquities, when there are really two. And he cites only the one on which some scholars have lodged some serious questions (Antiq. 18), not the one on which there are no really serious questions at all (Antiq. 20). Even if one views both Josephus references with some doubt, the alacrity with which Carrier deals only with the reference that has occasioned _more_ doubts and trumps that by ignoring totally the one that has occasioned _fewer_ ones should be the surest signal that his presentation is dishonest. And the dishonesty with which he peddles the Internet myth that Paul never refers to a human Jesus’s biography at all, when Paul plainly _does_, is equally suspicious.

Yes, the man is a l-i-a-r.

Stone

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Stone February 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm

In case there’s any doubt as to Carrier’s personal feelings about sticking with the facts/data, this remark speaks for itself –

“I don’t mind politicians who lie to get things done as long as they’re doing it in the interests of the people instead of their own interests.” — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=df9nKRvlmkY, 12:45-12:52

Stone

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Stone February 24, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I’m curious: What might be your takeaway from this paragraph? What kinds of implications do you find in what the writer says, and can you give a detailed paraphrase of what’s written here, please?

“There are earlier references, but they aren’t any good. They either just repeat what Christians were telling them — Christians who were just riffing on the New Testament — or they’re actually fabricated by Christians themselves and the most famous example is a whole paragraph in the early Jewish historian, Josephus, which nearly everyone agrees was snuck into that book by a later Christian scribe, who was evidently annoyed that Josephus forgot to mention Jesus, so when he copied the book out he made sure to — you know — just add a paragraph. You generally don’t have to add paragraphs to other people’s history books for a guy who actually existed. Pretty much if you’re inserting a guy into history who wasn’t there before, usually that means he really wasn’t there before. Now that leaves us just with the New Testament…”

Thank you,

Stone

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Stone March 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Time to let the other shoe drop on this.

A few of the mythers do get the distinction between the entirely human Jesus of Nazareth and the magic man called Christ. But they often pretend that it doesn’t exist and that Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ are one and the same in order purely to confuse. Keep in mind that they are not real scholars in that they are out to frame the data around an a priori point of view rather than arrive at a point of view through examining all the data first. The latter is what an honest scholar does. The former is what a propagandist does and is what many a myther does. In fact, the former is very much like the judge in Alice In Wonderland, who announces “Verdict first, evidence afterwards”.

It’s time to let readers know what I was after here.

Harking back to the quote given in the above, please note what this lecturer is doing. He strongly implies that the extant text of Josephus’s Antiquities only provides one mention of Jesus of Nazareth, not two! That is the plain implication in “a later Christian scribe, who was evidently annoyed that Josephus forgot to mention Jesus”. Forgot to mention Jesus of Nazareth? Even if we take one of Josephus’s TWO mentions of Jesus of Nazareth as interpolated — the myther’s favorite fall-back position — this lecturer is still referencing only one of the two mentions as being scribally interpolated, not both. How sloppy — or sneaky. This lecturer plainly references this meddling scribe only in connection with a “paragraph”, which clearly points to the mention of Jesus of Nazareth in Antiquities 18 only, since the other one, in Antiquities 20, is a sentence, not a paragraph. The lecturer is strongly implying here that in the absence of his scribally interpolated mention in Antiquities 18, no further mention of Jesus of Nazareth exists in the extant text of Antiquities at all! How sloppy this lecturer is, at best, and at worst, what a bald-faced liar. What this lecturer strongly implies as a result is simply and manifestly wrong. There IS another mention of Jesus of Nazareth in Antiqs., and it’s in the form of a sentence, not a paragraph, and it’s in Antiq. 20, not Antiq. 18.

Now the mention in Antiq. 18 has already occasioned some general doubts among peer-reviewed surveys, due to certain turns of phrase that seem rather unlike Josephus. Josephus’s other Jesus mention in Antiq. 20 has not occasioned the same kind of peer-reviewed doubts at all, and how suspiciously convenient that our lecturer here completely ignores this second mention entirely — in fact, seems to imply that the second mention in Antiq. 20 doesn’t even exist in the extant text of Antiqs. at all! How very, very, VERY convenient — and seemingly deliberate — for our lecturer to imply so strongly that the only Jesus mention in Josephus is the one — in Antiq. 18 — for which there are already some peer-reviewed doubts! To seem to pretend that the less questioned Antiq. 20 doesn’t even exist is highly misleading at best. I wanted to see if anyone would spot that. No one here did.

Ironically, though, I did encounter privately one poster, a myther, who ended up doing something quite similar! So I called him on it. And he replied “The reference in Book 20 is so obviously an interpolation and certainly not about Jesus, I didn’t even think of it.” I have no reason to believe he’s not being entirely candid here. Mythers like him and the lecturer I reference here have gotten so used to assuming that their bizarre opinions are fact that they sometimes don’t think twice in coming out with their more absurd statements.

It’s time to identify the lecturer I was referencing. It was Richard Carrier in a video’d lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pX4LvKvIWJw. The remarks I quote come at 01:48 – 2:31.

Stone

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Ben March 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Stone,

Carrier just sent out a 29 page paper addressing the second reference in Josephus. So, he’s not lying about it here, he’s just not gracing every single tangent with commentary in a lecture to lay audiences.

Ben

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Stone March 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Excuse me: However conscientious that 29-page paper may be, that does not take away from the plain fact that he emphatically leaves a totally misleading impression in his video’d lecture. I am still addressing the fact that, on occasion, he is wont to play fast and loose with his data, a mark of the propagandist rather than the honest scholar. He certainly played fat and loose with data on the occasion of that lecture. If he is now straightening out his act with this paper, that’s certainly preferable to continuing with the shoddy tactics seem on the video. But it doesn’t mean he didn’t indulge in a very slippery exposition on the occasion of that lecture in the first place. Especially when speaking to fellow skeptics, it is inexcusable to be so ………. slipshod, at best.

Stone

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Ben March 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Stone,

David Stone? Author of “The Loftus Delusion” perhaps? Just curious.

Anyway, any presentation on state of the historical situation for the origins of the Christian movement entails hundreds of expert decisions on what is important to emphasize and what isn’t. You’ve focused on one such decision in a necessarily condensed presentation. If the tables were turned and an atheist audience was focusing on say, William Lane Craig’s presentation of the same historical terrain there would be unending instances of atheist out-group looking for random things to pounce on to prove just how bankrupt Craig’s epistemology is. When in reality most of the “issue” is one of Craig coming from a different perspective and doing his best to cram an incredibly complicated case into a 40 minute debate format. Without healthy doses of empathy which are rarely forthcoming from any opposing team it will be way too easy to jump to conclusions like “dishonest” or “slipshod” or whatever. Simply asking questions about what each person thinks about a zoomed in issue would make more sense than making accusations, imo.

Ben

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Stone March 16, 2011 at 2:01 am

Well, I’m not David Stone. In fact, I’m a skeptic and not a fundie. Both my parents were atheists and tenured college professors. In fact, my father was a tenured history professor with some peer-reviewed publications under his belt, so I do know something about historiography, having also taken a few of his classes. But I don’t pretend to be a professional historian the way my father was.

That said, it’s time to tell you that most of the atheists I know personally — and I know quite a few — are in academe as my parents were. And they all perceive the notion of ad hoc discounting of roughly half a dozen different pagan sourceS at a time(!) via a bewildering number of _different_ ad hoc speculationS as utterly ludicrous, and in their sheer level of multilevel coincidence and multiplicity, these ad hoc so-called “argumentS” are a blatant violation of the principle of Occam’s Razor. It is self-evident that the pagan sourceS alone — no need for the holly bibble here, as my father used to call it — are in themselves sufficient to establish A) that Jesus of Nazareth was a perfectly normal human itinerant preacher and that B) he was as normal and as real as any confirmed ancient figure like, for instance, Hannibal, whose primary sources are just as posthumous and sparse as those for Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of those I know who are most contemptuous of the tendentious mythers are atheists, in fact. They find mythers especially pernicious because the historical Jesus of Nazareth model coming from secular academe has become one of the best challenges to orthodox Christianity in centuries. It is a disaster that these serious historians are now being beset by know-nothing mythers who have much in common, in their contempt for specialized knowledge, with the noxious creationists and their contempt for scientific research.

Furthermore, the only mythers I’ve encountered are on line where they come off very much as a cult via their very own and very creepy rules of “logic”. It’s very evident to the atheists I know personally that our skeptical community is starting to develop its own liars ginned up by a fundie spirit almost as noxious as anything coming out of the bible belt. And so we have some peddlers of our own developing fundie-style lies right here on line. Time was when our skeptical community was rigorous in never imbibing any fantasy Kool-aid. That’s certainly what my atheist parents always understood. How times change.

Stone

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Ben March 16, 2011 at 2:13 am

Stone,

Well out-groups and in-groups aren’t relegated to vastly different ideological perspectives and there is a clear wall of separation as you readily demonstrate in your last comment between mythicists and historicists. Same rules apply if there’s going to be any meaningful communication.

Anyway, Carrier’s new paper is pretty good. I’d send you a copy, but I’m not allowed. It’s been accepted by the Jewish Quarterly Review to be peer reviewed and then presumably published in the near future.

Cheers,
Ben

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