Thursday, December 27, 2012

John and Richard

John Loftus is a much easier to take (I mean that as a genuine compliment) critic of Christianity (and, by leaps and bounds, a far better writer) than the detestable Richard Carrier.

To digress a bit, The latter, Richard Carrier, is the proverbial “self-made man in love with his creator” who proclaims on his hideous self-referential and self-worshiping blog that he is “renowned” and “His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland.” *Gag.* He also seems to have found a niche industry—he can convince the atheist innumerate (of which there appear to be innumerable, from Hong Kong to Poland) that his (ab)use of freshman probability (Bayes’ Theorem) surely means that his conclusions are sound and profound—given all those symbols and equations. They look so mathy! Proof by invoking math that is impenetrable to your choir is very analogous to Dembski’s tactics. (Although, to his credit, Dembski, based on the evidence at-hand, knows infinitely more math than Carrier.) Other “philosophers” take the same approach using the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle—wow the readers with quantum indeterminacy.

Carrier is currently preening that he has a peer-reviewed article (one is again reminded of the IDers, who also treat peer-reviewed articles as the Holy Grail) disproving the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, the disputed reference to Jesus in Josephus’ Antiquities.
Antiquities 18.3.3. "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day."
He seems to have missed the memo that Christian scholars, for the most part, already acknowledge that this was possibly if not most likely an interpolation by misguided early Christians.

Of course, most scholars are not as in love with themselves (or at least are clever enough to hide the fact) as Carrier is. They present their case and allow readers to reach their own evidence-based conclusions. Carrier, in contrast, not only presents his argument--such as it may be-- but also tells us what definitive conclusion we must reach—because he is, after all, Richard Carrier:
… combined with the arguments I assemble in my article for JECS, spells the final death knell for any hope of restoring any part of the Testimonium Flavianum. It is 100% Christian fabrication.
What a loser!

Back to John Loftus. He has a post boldly (I mean that sincerely) entitled In a Godless Universe the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting is What We'd Expect Would Happen. Of course Loftus condemns the massacre. However he then writes:
In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.
On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:
In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.
Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.

The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.


  1. >In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.

    The funny thing is Loftus once remarked to me in passing over at Dangerous Minds blog he read Brian Davies.

    This charge of his assumes God's goodness is the goodness of moral agency & obligation. But what if God is merely metaphysically and ontologically good & not morally good in the unequivocal sense a human being can be morally good?

    Then as Davies said the Problem of Evil becomes a pseudo-problem.

    Loftus like Coyne has the same hyper anthropomorphic view of God as a 5th grader and he knows of nothing more sophisticated.

    I can't abide an overly anthropomorphic non-transcendental so called "god". To waste time worshiping such a thing is base idolatry not to mention it renders the whole Incarnation of Divine Word both unremarkable and redundant.

  2. I agree completely with your assessment of Carrier's personality. If you meet him, as I have, he introduces himself as "Doctor Richard Carrier". Also notice the link on his blog to "Dr. Carrier’s Official Website". He has some serious ego issues to work through.

    Of course you see the same and worse from Christian bloggers. Note the hilarious and nauseating self-aggrandizing header on Edward Feser's blog.

    You write: "The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens". Is that just hyperbole or are you really that ignorant of the literature? I would understand if you found all the arguments unsound or unpersuasive. But that the arguments are out there is just a fact.

    1. >Note the hilarious and nauseating self-aggrandizing header on Edward Feser's blog.

      Because quoting other people who have praised you for your legitimate accomplishments(as opposed to praising yourself with your own words) is somehow "self" aggrandizing?

      Do gnus have some sort of virus that collectively lowers their IQ's by about 50 points?

  3. Carrier's article is actually more about the shorter reference to Jesus by Josephus (in book 20), and proposing that it originated by mistaken incorporation of a Christian's note into the main text. It's a pretty good article, I think.

    And, a little bit of self-promotion isn't much of an argument for pathological egotism, if one (a) does in fact have a legit doctorate, as Carrier does; (b) if one is a self-supporting scholar who has to support their work through books and talks; (c) actually is very well-informed and smart.

    1. And, a little bit of self-promotion isn't much of an argument for pathological egotism,

      We're not talking about a 'little bit'.

      (c) actually is very well-informed and smart.

      Except, as has been demonstrated repeatedly by others, Carrier is nowhere near as well-informed or smart as he thinks he is. Hence his repeatedly being taken to the woodshed by fellow historians, people more knowledgeable regarding Bayesian analysis, by philosophers, etc.

      (b) if one is a self-supporting scholar who has to support their work through books and talks;

      No, Carrier is not a self-supporting scholar. The way he supports himself, to the extent he does, has far less to do with scholarship than it does with... well, whatever you'd call the equivalent of being a low-level Rush Limbaugh for atheists.

    2. NickM,

      Yes I know, or at least I gathered from his post (I can't read the article.) But his blog post states:

      "But this article also summarizes a sufficient case to reject the Testimonium Flavianum as well (the other, longer reference to Jesus in Josephus)"

      As for the shorter, I predict up front that any conclusion about its authenticity is not scientific. The longer reference meaty. So much so that, as much as Christians might want it to be true, it reads, even in translation, as an interpolation.

      The shorter one provides no such critical mass. The phrase "brother of Jesus called Christ" may raise flags (I tend to assume is is an interpolation--or rather I don't care) but it is too short to gain any scientific purchase. Without the discovery of an earlier manuscript, which either does not have the reference or contains it as a marginal note, people can argue about it (and have) for centuries and get nowhere (not that that's not fun.)

      Of course if Carrier has found an earlier manuscript, or even reference to an earlier manuscript that did not contain the phrase, then I'll humbly retract. Short of that, in regards to the shorter reference, given that he claims his "proof is pretty conclusive" he is practicing pseudo-science and confirmation bias.

  4. Ugh. It would be better to read the article before making comments like this. Key points include: a detailed analysis of Origen's and Eusebius's quotes of Josephus, and how it appears that the Christian-specific material originated between the two (who were a generation apart but used the same library). I'm not qualified to give his argument a detailed assessment but it looks like a worthwhile academic and scholarly piece of work. Which makes a priori dismissals of Carrier look pretty silly. Email me at and ill send a PDF.

    1. NickM,

      I will read it but my dismissal is not silly any more than if I dismissed a paper purporting to have discovered perpetual motion. Apart from a spectacular new discovery you cannot prove or come close to proving the shorter reference is a fabrication. It is too short. It cannot be shown to be anachronistic or contrary to Josephus' style. It is not out of context.

      "I'm not qualified to give his argument a detailed assessment but it looks like a worthwhile academic and scholarly piece of work"

      No doubt it is scholarly. But this is a long-running game of people making argument and counter-argument on a fragment of data--it may be scholarly for that field but it is not scientific. There are scholarly papers that argue "If Jesus was not real his early disciples would not have been willing to die for him." That is the level of the argument over the shorter reference--it is at best "yes, that makes sense" just sitting there ready to be counter-attacked with a "Yes, but.." argument--to which you might conceded, "Well yes, that makes sense too, but..."

      Arguing over the shorter reference is navel-gazing. It's theology.

    2. But, Dave, now that I've sent it to you, you can see that your comments are indeed silly.

      (1) There is more data than just the limited context of the passage at 20.200. There is e.g. data on which church fathers did or didn't refer to it, when/where/why, etc. This is precisely what Carrier does.

      (2) Also, there is more to the context than you let on. Apparently the context indicates that the James and Jesus being referred to were probably referring to James the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, a high priest who is in fact mention right at the end of this passage, at 20.203.

  5. "Arguing over the shorter reference is navel-gazing. It's theology."

    Amen, brother.

  6. NickM,

    On the contrary it confirmed my worst suspicions.

    You do understand that I am not claiming that either of the references are real. I am claiming that Carrier, I'm guessing because of an inflated ego (he does, after all, know Bayes' Theorem!) overstates his conclusions (and his contributions). I think I counted 10 or 12 unsubstantiated "probably"'s and/or "likely"'s and a couple of "almost certainly"'s. Christians probably would not have... Joesephus probably... etc.

    I am surprised that you, as a scientist, do not see that his claims for the shorter reference amount to nothing more than speculation. Including identifying the James--in what, again, amounts to speculation with a dose of question-begging thrown in. It might be tolerated and viewed as scholarship in a soft, mushy field such as Carrier's-- but it would be puked-upon in a scientific discipline.

  7. Hi David,

    I guess shit not only happens but a whole lot of it can hit the fan and be strewn about for a few years then too, right?:

  8. With Carrier's essay, I take it that it addresses people who think that the Testimonium has some legitimate content to it, and people who think it is, as Carrier argues, a pure fabrication. Of course, Christians acknowledge that Josephus couldn't have said everything he is supposed to have said in the Testimonium. The question is whether it as an authentic core. Carrier says it does not.