CPBD 045: Richard Carrier – Is Christianity Responsible for Science?

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 9, 2010 in Podcast,Science


(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview historian and philosopher Richard Carrier. Among other things, we discuss:

  • Rodney Stark’s claim that Christianity is responsible for ancient science
  • The incredible progress made by ancient scientists
  • Carrier’s upcoming book on the Historical Jesus

Download CPBD episode 045 with Richard Carrier. Total time is 1:03:59.

Richard CarrierĀ links:

Links for things we discussed:

Note: in addition to the regular blog feed, there is also a podcast-only feed. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Haecceitas June 9, 2010 at 7:27 am

There’s something wrong with the audio file. I can’t hear Richard’s voice at all.


John D June 9, 2010 at 7:29 am

I don’t appear to have the same problem. Richard’s voice is fine.


RA June 9, 2010 at 7:31 am

Richard is in one speaker and Luke in the other. You probably have the Richard speaker muted.


Robert Gressis June 9, 2010 at 8:33 am

I’ve only heard the first forty minutes of it, but this is a really eye-opening, informative conversation. I’ll have to read his paper in The Christian Delusion to get the references.


Thoaar June 9, 2010 at 8:56 am

is it possible to, instead of mixing one person at 100% left channel the other 100% right channel, maybe pan one person 70% left, pan the other 70% right?
The full left vs. full right is actually harder to listen to than the older podcasts where there wasn’t any differentiation. Maybe because because the new mix ‘feels’ like sitting between two people on a bench instead of sitting at a table with the other conversationalists on either side. just a suggestion – love the podcasts!


lukeprog June 9, 2010 at 9:27 am

I’m glad you find it useful, Gressis!


Patrick June 9, 2010 at 10:12 am

For someone who greatly values study of the primary sources in the study of intellectual history, Mr. Carrier repeated (esp. in the last 15 minutes) refers to “they,” “those” early Christians who impeeded progress to science. I don’t think I heard one specific Christian or primary source mentioned. I suppose we have to wait for his book for that info.


lukeprog June 9, 2010 at 11:34 am


Uh, yeah, this interview is a shortened version of a book chapter he has already written in The Christian Delusion, which has footnotes and so on…


urbster1 June 9, 2010 at 4:04 pm

This was a really great interview! Thanks for having him on the show. Like you, I eagerly await both of his forthcoming books :)


Thoaar June 9, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I read Richard’s chapter “Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science” in The Christian Delusion before listening to this podcast. This podcast is a wonderful companion to that chapter in how it expands and explores other aspects of the history. Thank you for sharing this conversation.


lukeprog June 9, 2010 at 9:47 pm


I’m glad to hear it. That’s exactly what I tried to do. Thanks!


Atheist.pig June 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm

A thorough destruction of the premise “Is Christianity responsible for science”. Now all you need to do is get Rodney Stark on to tell us why Carrier’s wrong.


lukeprog June 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Lol, that would be funny! What would he even say? That ancient pagan science is a myth perpetrated by atheists?


Alexandros Marinos June 10, 2010 at 2:36 am

Luke, thank you for a great episode. Richard is really enjoyable to listen to, this may have been my favourite CPBD episode yet.

One argument I was surprised not to hear used against the ‘christianity is responsible for science’ hypothesis, is that the scientific method itself can be traced back to Islamic, not christian scholars. Surely by the force of this argument we should all be counting down the time to lay our prayer mats and bow towards mecca?



Dan June 10, 2010 at 4:36 am

Great stuff. Reminds me of a xtian book on science i read in my evangelical days where the writer ( convincingly to me at the time ) argued that since the judeo-xtian wordlview was linear and “forward” compared to the cyclical thinking in other religions/cultures ( eg buddhism/hinduism ) that this was a positive factor in how science
developed in the western world.

Richard mentioned having to cull lots of stuff out of his drafts for the upcoming book on jesus “historicity”. Just a thought – I hope Richard releases the sections Richard was forced to omit for reasons of brevity.

It would seem to me it would be a good idea ( particularly to refute the inevitable xtian nitpicking that will come follow ) to be able to refer readers to somewhere online ( or maybe another “reference” volume ) for more detailed and complete coverage of points Richard were unable to fully cover in his final book.

I guess the obvious place would be Richards web site. Maybe he could even prepare this “follow up” reference volume as a PDF and then give the option to buy this on his web site.

Or maybe offer this (presumably very bulky ) reference as a Kindle or iPad book via one of those self publishing web site services ( i’m guessing Richards publishers wont be interested in publishing such a
weighty and likely “dry” reference ).


Bebok June 10, 2010 at 5:03 am

Good interview, Luke. For me the greatest shock was the information that Vivian Nutton was actually a man. I remember, when my girlfriend told me she didn’t know any woman that was a leading scholar in her field, I suggested her checking out Vivian Nutton.


Haukur June 10, 2010 at 8:12 am

Yes, this was a good interview – Carrier is always bursting with things to say.

I must admit that while I do understand how a Christian can convert to atheism by reading the Bible I’ve never understood how that could happen to a Taoist!

On medieval manuscript transmission: This is something I do know a lot about so perhaps I’ll say something. People often underestimate how difficult it is to copy a text faithfully. The accumulation of errors with each new copy is a natural and unavoidable part of the process. This doesn’t just happen with difficult things that the scribes don’t understand (like Carrier’s table of weights) but also with perfectly mundane things that they did understand. Anyway, the point isn’t that the copyists were bad, the problem was that there were no engineers around to compute a new table once the old one had become corrupt.


Jason June 10, 2010 at 8:54 am

I read/listen to anything the involves Richard Carrier, so thanks for the interview. I just hate your new mixing setup. I’m listening on headphones at work and I find it very annoying.


Atheist.pig June 10, 2010 at 9:47 am

I haven’t read Stark so I’m unsure what way he would respond or even try to counter Carriers arguments.

Maybe Stark would say something along the lines that the ancient pagans weren’t really trying to discover the ultimate design and beauty of a universe created by a rational perfect being. Rather they were just describing what they thought of as random disparate phenomena with no ultimate rational laws or unifying principles. This was only possible in Christian Europe where our modern idea of science came to fruition from the premise of unifying rational laws governing the universe.

This is what many theists and non-theists alike generally accept.


Philip June 10, 2010 at 10:26 am

For those that want to mix the audio back to dual-speaker mono, here’s one way given a certain set of prerequisites:
1: You’re on a Mac
2: You have the Developer tools installed (they’re available on the install CD/DVD)

Open the App:

Down at the bottom of the window you’ll see a check-mark for “Mix Stereo to Mono”. Check that box and no matter the application you’re using to play the podcast, it should immediately change to be equal output in both left and right speakers.

Much nicer for my preferences given the two speakers divided between speakers in the audio file.


lukeprog June 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm


The mix wasn’t intentional. For all the interviews I haven’t mixed yet, I’ll mix them center.


Rhys Wilkins June 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Great interview Luke,

Richard needs to be a recurring guest on the show I think!


Rhys Wilkins June 10, 2010 at 8:40 pm


Are you going to do a review of the 2010 Carrier-Licona debate?


lukeprog June 11, 2010 at 8:21 am

Haven’t seen it yet. Maybe.


Tim June 11, 2010 at 9:09 am

Hey Luke

CPBD seems to go from strength to strength in terms of discussion content. Some great guests lately with lots of interesting stuff to consider.

But I share the criticisms of others about the recent technical weirdness. You say above “the mix wasn’t intentional” which seems a really odd thing to admit, like you don’t even check the final mp3 you upload or something. Didn’t you move to a Mac? Have you tried using the podcast template in Garageband?

If you need any nerdy audiophile help I – and I’m sure others here – would be happy to assist in making CPBD sound even better.



lukeprog June 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm


Yes, if you’re willing to share some audiophile tips, please contact me at lukeprog [shift+2] gmail.


Dr. Richard Carrier August 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

Dan, creating Kindle supplement to my next two books is not a bad idea (I can sell a companion PDF on Lulu, too). I’ll keep that in mind.

Bebok, if your girlfriend means by “her field” ancient science (or even ancient history), there are tons of very gifted and renowned women in her field. See my list further down in my blog essay “Are Women Just Stupid?

Atheist.pig, the ancients were doing all those things, too. So the Christians weren’t doing anything different.


Bebok August 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Thanks for the interesting link, Richard. Anyway, “her” in my comment was actually meant to refer to a leading scholar, not my girlfriend.


Nualle November 14, 2010 at 5:36 am

Love the podcast, Luke. Just discovered it a couple of weeks ago and have enjoyed the ones I’ve downloaded. This one with Richard Carrier, though… the difference in levels between your voice and his makes it unlistenable. I crank up the volume to hear Richard, then your reaction or next question is so loud as to be an aural assault. That’s really unfortunate; it’s a topic I’d very much like to hear about.

Please rerelease it with the levels balanced. Thanks.


Luke Muehlhauser November 14, 2010 at 6:58 am


That’s too bad; it sounds fine to me. Anyway, I don’t have time to remix episodes. I do have another episode with Carrier upcoming.


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