Thursday, December 27, 2007

Craig the Annoyed

Many fans have been telling me for weeks about William Lane Craig's childish rant against me on his radio show Dr. Craig's Current Events Audio Blog. Now that my dissertation has been accepted for defense (I'll blog on that in a week or two), I finally found time to listen to it. It is kind of sad. But it's the sort of petty and bigoted belittling I hear many Christians launch against whoever or whatever annoys them. So I'm not surprised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Appearing in San Francisco

I will be speaking at two separate events in San Francisco in late February (yes, 2008 is just around the corner!).

First I will be delivering a new-and-improved version of my old (and ever-popular) talk on Miracles and the Historical Method, which mixes a little humor with a lot of education on how to apply a whole "tool kit" of historical methods on any claim about history, using ancient miracle reports as a thematic example. This I will be delivering (with slide show) for the San Francisco Atheists at their general meeting on Saturday, February 23 (program begins at 6pm). You can see their upcoming calendar for more info, but the event should take place as usual at Schroeder's (a nice German restaurant and pub--if you can afford it, the Pfeffer steak rocks!) on 240 Front Street (near Embarcadero BART, see link for map and directions, but it's a short and easy walk if you can navigate the maze of downtown SF).

The following Tuesday (February 26) I will be speaking for the popular San Francisco lecture series Ask a Scientist on ancient science. The title they're giving this is The 2000-Year-Old Computer (and Other Achievements of Ancient Science). I will briefly discuss the nature and limitations of ancient science (of the Greco-Roman period), and then survey four of their best examples (not the best four, just four of a great many excellent achievements), from the ancient construction of maps and computers (the latter being the computer, of the event's title, which incidentally has long been my Avatar), and on to the physics of watermills and experiments on kidney function. This will be a much-shortened version of what I gave at CFI West (Los Angeles) back in October (including slides), with two examples covered in twenty minutes, followed by Q&A from the audience, then two more examples in a second twenty minutes, followed by another Q&A.

The latter program begins at 7pm at the Axis Cafe on 1201 8th Street (just north of 16th street, before Irwin). But be sure to go to the cafe's website and click their link for "directions" (actually just a map but nevertheless useful), since I'm told its tricky to find. It's about nine blocks south of Market, "at the base of Potrero hill" (the nearest BART station is Civic Center), so something of a trek by foot. Best I can tell, you can catch the Muni Bus #19 (posted destination Navy Yard) on Market as it passes BART toward 7th street (or catch it down 7th as it heads south from Market), then get off when it gets to 16th street (at which point it will be heading down Rhode Island). Then you'll be just a block away. Fare is $1.50 last I heard, but it may have gone up. It runs every 15 minutes. It returns along the same route (posted destination Beach).

Monday, November 19, 2007

God Still Kills Mommy

Here's the second of my two long overdue items on women's issues. This one relates to another point I brought up in the Carrier-Roth Debate. But it's my interview in the "Special Features" section of The God Who Wasn't There that needs correcting. That's where Brian Flemming shows a larger chunk of his interview of me on the UC Berkeley campus (since many ask, we filmed by Sather Tower). Over the past year or two I've been asked several times about my claim there that without modern medicine 1 in 5 women die as a result of childbirth.

This statistic I had second-hand from several sources I'd read long ago and simply took for granted. Following my usual practice, when someone leads me to doubt my sources, I dig deeper to check, and correct myself if I'm wrong. Though I've already responded to several people on this already, going back more than a year now, it eventually occurred to me I should just blog it. So here you go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birth Control & Abortion

Here's an enormous change of subject for you!

I've been sitting on two topics on women's issues that I've long had in the queue for my blog. I've now found the time for them. I'll do one today, the other sometime later. Both relate in one way or another to my old debate with Jennifer Roth: Is There A Secular Case Against Abortion? The Carrier-Roth Debate (2000), which I blogged about a few months ago (in The Abortion Controversy).

The first of these issues is a claim I made in that debate, which I reproduce in full here (emphasis added):

However, abortion statistics, such as appear in any World Almanac, only measure medical procedures, including the use of prescription abortifacients like the "Abortion Pill." What is rarely understood in this issue is the fact that the most popular means of birth control actually partly relies upon inducing early abortion, and is very likely responsible for many times as many abortions as occur in counted procedures. Hormonal medications of this sort include "The Pill," and Norplant, as well as the numerous herbal solutions which share the same or similar chemical properties and are thus employed in third world countries as a less expensive alternative to the manufactured pharmaceuticals that they mimic. All these chemicals operate simultaneously on many levels, primarily by preventing ovulation and hindering sperm, but also by preventing implantation (and thus causing expulsion) of an egg that, despite all else, is fertilized anyway. In other words, all chemical forms of birth control, including the pill, cause abortions--and no one can know whether or when they have worked by their primary means or in this last-resort manner. This means that any discussion about the morality or legality of abortion necessarily entangles us in the morality and legality of the use of the pill and related implants and injections. This is all the more true given that women can deliberately cause this early-abortion effect up to three days after intercourse by taking a double or triple dose of their ordinary birth control pills.
In response to this, many years ago someone wrote to me that they had found a scientific article claiming there was no evidence of this. Though they knew there had to be something fishy about that (since they, like me, had read literature claiming the contrary) they wanted to know what was up with this article. The paper in question, by doctors Roberto Rivera, Irene Yacobson, and David Grimes, is "The mechanism of action of hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine contraceptive devices," in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 181.5 (November 1999): pp. 1263-69.

I'll now tell you more or less what I told this inquirer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Antony Flew's Bogus Book

I'm mentioned considerably in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine about Antony Flew's new book. Fans will want to know about this, and hear some of the backstory from me, filling in some of the blanks left by the article, which was good but inevitably brief for so complicated a story. So here you go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tao Te Ching

Those who read my book Sense and Goodness without God (or even some of my online work, e.g. From Taoist to Infidel, which I updated for my book) will know I was a devout Taoist for many years. It is the religion I am still most fond of, and would soonest return to if I discovered enough evidence refuting naturalism. Unless, that is, such evidence in turn confirmed or more strongly supported some religion other than Taoism. But Taoism has such an enormous explanatory power over against just about every other religion I know, I find it quite unlikely any other is true (if naturalism is false). I discuss this fact in an appendix on Supernaturalism added to my critique of Michael Rea's World without Design.

Because of my peculiar background in this regard, I often still get asked what the best translations of the Tao Te Ching are. Though one should not overlook the Taoist writings of Chuang Tzu, the Tao Te Ching is the most important Taoist scripture, of which there are dozens of translations of varying merits. I will only list here what I consider the "most useful" of those I was familiar with, for understanding both the original and potential message of Taoism as a worldview.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Our Mathematical Universe

It was recently brought to my attention that Russell Howell, Professor of Mathematics at the Christian academy of Westmont College in Santa Barbara (California) has taken notice of my article "Fundamental Flaws in Mark Steiner's Challenge to Naturalism in The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem" (2003). He only quotes (in fact somewhat misquotes) a single isolated comment from my article and ignores almost everything else it says, even though the ignored material contradicts his argument in ways he curiously neglects to mention. His paper, "Does Mathematical Beauty Pose Problems for Naturalism?" was published in the 2006 issue of the online Journal of the Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences (yes, Christians have an association for everything).

I won't bother discussing the rest of his essay, since my article against Steiner already rebuts the same thesis Howell defends, and more than adequately in my opinion. I am only interested here in Howell's lame mischaracterization of my arguments, insofar as he quotes me at all.
Since I'm not the actual target of Howell's article, I'm only mentioned on page 9. He brings me up only when discussing Maxwell's use of a particular heuristic to discover electromagnetic radiation: by combining the assumption of a "conservation of charge" with mathematical descriptions of electrical systems that were already empirically established, he calculated (in effect) that energy should be leaking away from electrical systems (he was right: it was being converted into radio waves).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Sack Lunch

Here's some brief humor for those who are odd like me. Some time ago my sister-in-law sent us the following email:
You (Seinfeld fans) will recall that Sack Lunch was the name of the movie Elaine Benis wished to see instead of the dreaded English Patient. ("It's got Dabney Coleman. How can it miss?!) In my opinion, Sack Lunch is the greatest fake name for a movie ever. But perhaps you can do better. The winner will, a sack lunch. But maybe one with some really gourmet stuff in it. Oh, and this is a democracy so we can all vote.
And so the contest among friends and family began. Here was my entry. Enjoy. (Or not. Whatever.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Debate Videos

Not only is my TV appearance on PAX now available on DVD (or so I'm told), but so are the two grandest debates I've participated in. Of the latter, the first, "Licona vs. Carrier: On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," which took place before an audience of half a thousand at UCLA, has long been available but went out of stock for quite a while. It is now back in stock and will probably remain so. It can now be purchased via CreateSpace (but profits still go to the Secular Web and, indirectly, to me). It's probably the best debate on the resurrection you will ever see. Licona holds up his end as well as anyone in the Christian apologetics community, and I present more material than you're likely to hear in any other debate. But like all serious debates it is long and dry.

Even longer and duller is "Does God Not Exist?" which was a team debate, three-to-four hours long, before an audience of a thousand (mostly Muslims) in Dearborn, Michigan, with Dan Barker and myself on the affirmative, and Muslim scholar Hassanain Rajabali and ambiguous cosmological creationist Michael Corey on the (double) negative. I say this is "dull" only because for most people it is. There isn't really any way to make this debate stuff exciting and serious at the same time. But if you can endure it, it is a pretty good debate, though there were aspects of it that pissed me off, as you will learn from my post-debate commentary
: "The Big Debate: Comments on the Barker-Carrier vs. Corey-Rajabali Team Debate" (2004). Well, now you can see the entire debate yourself. A fairly decent DVD version is available for purchase through informal channels, while a very poor quality version is available for free on YouTube: broken up as Part I and Part II.

Most of you already know I appear in the movie The God Who Wasn't There, the DVD of which has an extended portion of my original interview in the special features. But not many of you know I debated William Lane Craig on national television. This was on Lee Strobel's now-defunct show Faith Under Fire, which used to air on the PAX network. I debated Craig by satellite feed for ten minutes or so. I taped two or three other episodes for this show, debating other guests on other topics, but those never aired.

Many have asked me where they can get a copy of my TV debate with Craig. Well, I now have an answer: you can't. It's (sort of) available on DVD as part of a Christian "teach-by-tape" curriculum (so to speak). Bits of my episode appear on Faith Under Fire 1: Faith & Jesus. It's hardly worth watching, since almost nothing of any real significance can be said in ten minutes even in the original broadcast, but worse than that, this DVD version cuts more than half the aired debate away, shows segments out of order, and concludes with a newly added segment in which Strobel lists a bunch of unrebutted arguments in favor of the resurrection not raised by Craig. This is the only occasion Craig has ever interacted with me in public (we've briefly corresponded in private on several occasions), so it's a shame the original video has essentially been destroyed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Letters and Radio

It occurred to me recently that many of my fans might not know that I have several significant letters to the editor published in journals, and have appeared on many web radio shows, since none of these are listed anywhere else. So this post is for anyone who wants to obsessively read and hear everything significant of mine, and didn't know about my work in letters and radio.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Books on Ancient Science

Okay. So you want to learn about ancient science. Whatever should you read? Here is a short survey of what's worth the bother.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Appearing in California

I am so near to completing my dissertation I haven't looked at any brewing debates on my last few posts, though I'll get to any of those once I get my last chapter in next week. But before the month closes out I should let everyone know about my three upcoming speaking engagements, all in my home state of California.

Next month I will be speaking in San Francisco for the new branch of CFI (using a lecture room at the World Affairs Council on 312 Sutter), at 6pm on Friday, September 28 (for info see the CFI|SF Website). This will be the same talk I gave in Tuscon (a while back), "Early Christian Hostility to Scientific Values." Admission is $10 or free to Friends of the Center. I will have some books to sell and sign, though I don't expect many new sales since the San Francisco community already knows me rather well, and my new book won't be out until next year (at the earliest).

Then the following month I will be speaking in Hollywood for Atheists United at CFI West
(4773 Hollywood Blvd.), at 11am on Sunday, October 28. This will be the same talk I gave in Berkeley a long time ago (before my blog), "Ancient Scientists and their Principal Achievements," though trimmed a bit. I will survey some of the most impressive accomplishments of Greek and Roman scientists in the areas of physiology, astronomy, cartography, and mechanics, with some discussion of how these achievements were possible, though in Q&A I can discuss any aspect of ancient science beyond the subjects I cover in the talk. I believe attendance will be free (though they might ask for donations), and I will have books to sign and sell.

The very next day I will give the companion talk,
"Early Christian Hostility To Scientific Values," the very same I delivered in San Francisco the month before, but now in Ventura, for the Ventura Atheists, affiliated with Atheists United (details of the event are available on their Meetup Calendar and they are requesting RSVP--though I believe attendance is free, they would like to know how many to plan for). This will be at 7pm on Monday, October 29, in the E.P. Foster Library (Topping Room), at 651 E. Main St.

All these talks draw material from my dissertation, which I will be publishing as a book next year, possibly under the title The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lynn White on Horse Stuff

Previously on my blog (Experimental History) I joked a bit about Lynn White's historical revisionism, which I noted in later comments appears "in several publications beginning as early as 1945 but most famously in Medieval Technology and Social Change (1962)." My old friend Bede got annoyed and wrote a reply (Stirrups, Horse Harnesses and Richard Carrier). As I often find among my critics, (almost) half of what he says is wrong, and the other half is irrelevant to what I actually said. But all this does afford a cool opportunity to talk about ancient history. So here goes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Experimental History

A few weeks ago I teamed up with my friend David Fitzgerald once again to talk about historical method for a gaggle of godless kids at Camp Quest West. David and I dressed up in silly costumes and did a skit or two. One girl loved my hand-made ivy crown so much I was happy to let her have it after the show, but sadly we were so busy we forgot to get any pictures. Oh well. Anyway, the gist of our presentation was that the scientific method also applies to the field of history, and in fact history is really just another science, with its own peculiarities like every other field.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Postmusical Age

I'm massively preoccupied this month getting my dissertation in, but I took a few hours this weekend relaxing and updating my music collection. It's something I do every few weeks. I haven't the time to build any heavy blog topics this month, so I thought I'd pass on some of my musings on music instead. If you're keen to know what I listen to, this post's for you. But there's also a tiny bit of music philosophy, too, for those who are curious. Because something strange and wonderful has happened to music in the 21st century. More on that later...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Abortion Controversy

A new classroom textbook has just come out called The Abortion Controversy, edited by Lucinda Almond, which includes as a chapter an old paper I wrote years ago, along with other papers from a wide range of perspectives taken from many different sources. The book is intended as a classroom reader wherein all sides of a debate can be explored.

I haven't read the other chapters included in the collection, beyond a good skim, so I can't say whether the book has other merits, but the way my contribution was treated does not inspire confidence.
As the Secular Web owns my original essay (and it's already available for free) I didn't ask for a royalty, which is fine. But I carelessly didn't ask to see a galleys before approving publication. Lesson learned. I'll have to be an asshole in the future.

For my part I have nothing good to say about this book and
I don't recommend it. As for the rest, the one good thing I can say is that it includes papers one might not readily encounter elsewhere (such as an article defending the murder of doctors who perform abortions), but if these have been treated as mine was, their authors might not recommend this book either.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

O Hammers, Head...

I read something today that just made me laugh. Pretty hard, at first. Then I thought about it...and lost a few sanity points. It's dark. So dark it almost passes from dark back into funny again. It sounds like something right out of a Douglas Adams novel...if it was made into a movie by Terry Gilliam. And yet it's totally true. I thought maybe some of you would laugh as much as I did at this bit of quirky, creepy trivia, and then feel just as icked. So here it is.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Video of Michigan Talk

The Freethought Association of Michigan has put a video of the talk I gave to their group on January 24 of 2007 at the Women's City Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can download it by going to the Freethought Association Past Events page dedicated to this event (Richard Carrier on January 24, 2007, "Sense and Goodness Without God") and right-clicking the link there to download the mp4 video (the size of the file is 56 Mb). If you have a problem downloading it, see comments section below.

This is the same talk I had announced on my blog at the end of last year, under Appearing in Michigan. I describe the talk more there, but in brief this was about the secular and scientific foundations of morality, building and expanding on my book. My intro also goes over worldview theory, and why it is essential to developing sound moral thought.
I also did about fifteen minutes on the moral aesthetics of cinema at the end of my talk, which was much more entertaining, but since that involved proprietary film clips, all of it was removed from the online video, which skips directly to Q&A, and even then only one or two questions are shown--the video even fades out in the middle of one of my answers! But I'm sure file length was an issue.

I just watched the video myself, and boy do I look like a kid! No one will believe I'm 37 there. Personally, I find that annoying. Can't I look all old and dignified instead? With my luck, when I finally start to look my age I'll probably shrivel up like Kris Kristofferson and scare neighborhood children with a smile like the crackled grimmace of a hellbeast. So I suppose I should count my blessings.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Penn & Teller's Magic Bullet

I just got back from vacation and have one great story to tell. Everything went well, my sister's wedding, my talk in Vegas, our trip to Hoover Dam, and so on. But most unexpected was my appearance on stage during the Penn & Teller show as a participant in their famous "Magic Bullet" trick. I'll tell you all about that in a bit.

However, I must pause on another oddity. Though it never touched us, our weekend in Vegas was plagued by a bizarre series of disasters, including a spectacular suicide off the thousand-foot-tall Stratosphere, a plane crash on the Las Vegas strip, a boxing champion's death by motorcycle moronity only a few miles away, and two bombings, one a probable case of arson on the seedy side of town and the other a murder at the Luxor. What the hell, did we walk into an episode of CSI or something!? Or is Vegas always like this?

Anyway, my wife and I, and my sister and her new husband, all went to see Penn & Teller's magic show at the Rio. We all love their cable show Bullshit, and Penn is one of the few celebrities who isn't shy about his atheism and actually supports our movement, so this was the only event in Vegas we thought was worth dropping a ton of cash to see. We were right. Cool stuff. And funny. I also got to meet them after the show. They were so great with fans. Teller was awfully quiet so I didn't say much, just got a signature. But I introduced myself to Penn as Richard Carrier, author of Sense and Goodness without God, and he said he was a big fan. Because of the press of the crowd I didn't have time to ask what he meant by that, but I assume he read my book or possibly some of my stuff online. We had no working camera, so sadly I have no photo for you. But the image to the left is the adcard I had them sign.

I won't give away the rest of the show, though there are several impressive things in it, indeed amazing things when you think about the fact that this is live, on stage, right before your eyes. It's not showy magic, like Copperfield's spectacles, but funnier and simpler and all the more impressive for it. The grand finale of these was the quite astonishing "magic bullet" trick. This had us all stumped, especially since I was called up to verify everything, so I can vouch for the fact that they weren't using audience plants (Penn obviously hadn't recognized me and didn't know who I was until after the show).

I'll describe this trick as I and the audience saw it. Then I'll tell you how I think it was done. But I'll give you a spoiler warning before I do the latter, in case you're the sort who thinks knowing the secret "ruins" it or something. That way you can stop reading there, and go on being amazed, or even go see the show yourself and try to figure it out on your own.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Atheist Blogroll

I have joined the Atheist Blogroll, which is like a webring where you can locate authentic blogs maintained by atheists the world over. From now on you can find the scrolling alphabetical list of blogs (with a link to the list homesite), down my blog's right margin, under the label "Other Godless Blogs," just beneath my subject index. But I'll also put it here so you can jump right into the pool and start swimming...

Join the best atheist themed blogroll!


Monday, April 30, 2007

History Before 1950

All too frequently I run into hacks inordinately fond of quoting obsolete historical scholarship, sometimes a hundred or more years old. I take them to task, for instance, in my summary critical review of the woefully unreliable work of Kersey Graves in my article Kersey Graves and The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors (2003), whose infamous book is a fine example of how (with a few exceptions) antiquated historical scholarship is simply not to be trusted. Though I do not address there the few aspects of his work that actually have been vindicated by sound scholarship of later years, my generalized critique makes the point that it's only recent scholarship, pro or con, that is worth consulting. Graves shouldn't even be read, much less cited.

Among the many arguments I gave for this conclusion was one in particular about the history of history itself:

Graves' scholarship is obsolete, having been vastly improved upon by new methods, materials, discoveries, and textual criticism in the century since he worked. In fact, almost every historical work written before 1950 is regarded as outdated and untrustworthy by historians today.
I was subsequently asked in feedback what I meant by that. Not, that is, in reference just to Graves, but in apparently condemning the whole field of history even up to the middle of the 20th century. As I have made the same point in many other contexts, I gave a detailed reply to this question years ago. I now realize this is well worth publishing here, since it applies far beyond the case of Graves and relates a point I will continue to make again and again.

So here it is, with some minor editing:

Friday, April 27, 2007

Appearing in Las Vegas

General Notice:

Yes, my blog has been quiet and I haven't been answering email. That's because I'm hell bent on completing my degree this Summer. So I'm working double overtime on nothing else. Things are going to stay that way for a while. I'll be pausing briefly in May to see my sister's wedding and relax and de-stress for a week. But since I'll be in Vegas for that anyway, I've been invited to speak there while I'm in town. That's what the next bit is about. But just so you know, I've already dug up something else I want to post here next week, so my blog won't be dormant.

Event Announcement:

I will be speaking in Las Vegas (Nevada) on Sunday, May 6 (2007) at 2pm, a little over a week from now. I've been asked to give a reprise of my well-received comedy talk, Where the Hell Is Jesus? A Look at the 'Trial Transcripts' of Peter and Paul, which I gave in San Francisco at the last West Coast Regional Atheist Meet, to much applause. I have lengthened it somewhat for the new venue, so it will have more material, but it still focuses only on the book of Acts and why Acts is so odd if Jesus really existed as the Gospels claim. Though the facts presented in this speech are entirely true, and the conclusions are not unwarranted, this is by no means a complete or systematic case for the ahistoricity of Jesus. It's meant more to be fun than convincing.

This event is co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Freethought Society and the Humanist Association of Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. It will take place in the new theater of the Sci Fi Center at 2520 State Street, Las Vegas (immediately south, I'm told, of East Sahara Avenue, just west of Commercial Center, and you can park along State Street). This is apparently the first ever event at the new theater.

I will be selling my book
Sense and Goodness without God after the talk and Q&A, but even with that the whole event will probably be over by 4pm.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

AC Interview

Christopher Ray interviewed me for Associated Content. See "An Exclusive Interview With Richard Carrier" ( March 20, 2007). It's fairly brief, but I talk more about my Coast Guard experience than I have anywhere else, and about some other things that don't usually come up, so fans might be keen to read it. In addition, for those who are curious, the only projects I'm currently on (and very busy with) are my dissertation and my Jesus Tomb article (see previous entry).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bloglet Las Jesus

Just a quick update on three unrelated bits of news:

1. Yes, I know all about the "Lost Tomb of Jesus" fiasco. And yes, it's bogus. Its advocates have not only made factual errors and crucial omissions fatal to their case, but their statistical model is completely wrong. I'm writing a critique of their claims for print publication, so I'll announce that here when it's published. But to make a long story short, they have not found the tomb of Jesus.

2. I will be speaking in Las Vegas on Sunday this May 6. Topic and other details have not yet been decided, so I will put a formal announcement here when everything is settled. I just thought I'd send an early heads up, since the date is already a done deal.

3. Bloglet is dead. That means it's no longer possible to "subscribe" to my blog. Worse, if you registered at Bloglet to receive emails announcing updates to my blog, you will not be getting them anymore.

I upgraded my Blogger template, so if you are blog savvy, you can try an RSS feed (the link at bottom is supposed to help with that), but that's no good for most people. What I want is a way to automatically email everyone who's signed up, whenever I add a new post to my blog. I would like suggestions on how to do that, especially if there are any services like Bloglet that actually work. I might just resort to the old low-tech, cave-man method of simply manually managing my own email list. But if there are better solutions anyone knows of, please comment.

For now, if you want to be notified whenever I post, email me at with "Bloglist" in the subject field.

RC out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Ontology of Time

Ontology is the study of being. Ontologists ask questions like "What does it mean to say something exists?" The ontology of time is therefore the study of what it means to say that time exists or that something exists in time. In other words, what is time? I discuss the ontology of time in some detail in Sense and Goodness without God (pp. 88-96).

In response to what I wrote there, Dave Matson asked:

Why should time be defined in terms of relativity physics where, presumably, it means a fixed future? I would think that time, as defined in quantum mechanics, would be equally preferable. As defined in this latter sense, time is presumably compatible with an undetermined future.

If we accept time as defined in relativity, then it seems that physicists would have to accept that there are "wheels within wheels" within quantum mechanics, which most physicists deny. That denial suggests that time as seen in quantum mechanics is defined differently than in relativity physics. One view seems compatible with a fixed future whereas the other does not obviously fit into that mold, if at all.

So arguing for a fixed future on the basis of relativity theory is tantamount to assuming that its definition of time should be preferred. Therein, I see a problem.

In answering this question
I will use RT for Relativity Theory and QM for Quantum Mechanics. And I will not repeat what I said in my book. So if you haven't read it, though you don't have to in order to understand what follows, you probably should read it before commenting on any of this.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Atheist or Agnostic?

Personally, I don't care all that much if nonbelievers prefer to call themselves agnostics rather than atheists. I think by now most everyone knows these are the same thing (after all, either way, you don't believe in God). And eventually the social stigma attached to the latter will float over and latch onto the former anyway, leaving no place left to hide. Well, okay, maybe the squeamish atheists will once again invent some new word to call themselves, so they can confuse a prejudiced society into not realizing they are (gasp!) really atheists. But that will just go the same way. In the end, the advantage will be lost, yet another word will have to be invented to hide behind, and 'round and 'round it goes. Good luck with that.

For me, this is all just a social game, semantic trickery, that is hard to have sympathy for, but I can't honestly criticize nonbelievers who want to avoid the social stigma falsely attached to a maligned word. Prejudice in this country, in some places and situations, is certainly real and harmful enough to justify a desire to dodge it. If black people could pretend to be white, I'm sure some of them would. This is frequently enough true for gays that they have a whole terminology of social disguise (like "in the closet" and "beard"). You can't condemn this until you've walked a mile in their shoes.

There is also a silly and heated debate (even so far as to cultivate outright rage) between atheists and agnostics as to who is really what. Of course, these terms don't even have a single meaning. Just as "atheist" can mean "denier" or "unbeliever" (generating the rather lame, confusing, and misleading terminological distinctions of "hard" and "soft" atheist or "positive" and "negative" atheist), so can agnostic mean "undecided" or "dunno!" The latter is more etymologically and historically correct, since agnosticism is supposed to be the formal position that one cannot know whether God exists or not (whether by definition or as a contingent fact of a particular agnostic's limited access to relevant evidence), but the former meaning is still very common in actual use, and both have crept into other contexts (so, for example, you can be an "agnostic" now,
in either sense of the term, as to whether Robin Hood actually existed).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New Articles Online

Fans might want to know about two new articles of mine that have appeared online recently. Although for different reasons they aren't exactly "new," I think it fitting to announce them here, in case anyone has interest.

1. Antony Flew is in the News Again

In late 2004 I wrote about Antony Flew's conversion to Deism (Antony Flew Considers God...Sort Of). This article actually made national news. I continued adding updates to it as events transpired over the subsequent years, now five updates in all. All this includes discussions of my personal correspondence and phone conversations with Flew as well as religious and press coverage and other developments. Most recently Christian apologist Lee Strobel released edited portions of a taped interview of Flew, warranting my latest update to the original article, which you can jump to here: January 2007.

2. "Errancy Wiki" Honors My Work on the Nativity

I generally have no taste for discussing biblical contradictions, since I find the matter so boring. Even more boring than bickering over contradictions in Homer. And that's being literature, in plain aesthetic terms, Homer is quite superior to the Bible, although that's just my opinion. I also find this task largely pointless, since the only people who actually think the bible is inerrant are also insanely dedicated to denying any evidence to the contrary with any baloney hoohah they can pull out of their ass. So what's the point?

Nevertheless, as a history teacher, people who dick around with history piss me off. Consequently, I have devoted my energies to one biblical error, the only one I have the stomach to bother with (and that only barely...apparently I can endure some dry heaves). Which error is that? The date of the nativity. In my
well-known and excruciatingly detailed Secular Web article The Date of the Nativity in Luke (which was originally published in 1999 and reached its 5th edition in 2006), I argue it is beyond reasonable dispute that Luke dates the birth of Jesus to 6 A.D. while Matthew dates the birth of Jesus to 4 B.C. or earlier (perhaps around 6 B.C.). This is an irreconcilable contradiction. I wouldn't give a shit, except that Christian apologists have contrived and spread so many distortions of historical fact in order to "remove" this contradiction that it got my gall up.

Anyway, my work on this has been so extensive--and, apparently, appreciated--that it is now regarded as "legendary" by the editors of the new Errancy Wiki (which is still in development). They hired me to write a summary article, which compresses my original work down to just the
conclusions reached in each section, in plainer and easier English. It's still lengthy (because efforts to deny the contradiction have been numerous and convoluted), but it is considerably shorter and easier to read than the original, to which you can still refer for more evidence and detail.

The new article is called Luke vs. Matthew on the Year of Christ's Birth (2006). It is not directly listed at the Secular Web and isn't easily evident even on the Errancy Wiki page for historical errors in Luke or Matthew (and isn't listed at all under contradictions, although the editors might be reserving the latter for purely internal contradictions). But it is prominently listed as a "legends" piece, and fans might like to know it exists, since it is a nice summary of my work on this issue and, I think, a good read. If, that is, you can stomach hearing so much bullshit ennumerated and gainsaid.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Defining the Supernatural

There is a trend in science and law to define the word "supernatural" as "the untestable," which is perhaps understandable for its practicality, but deeply flawed as both philosophy and social policy. Flawed as philosophy, because testability is not even a metaphysical distinction, but an epistemological one, and yet in the real world everyone uses the word “supernatural” to make metaphysical distinctions. And flawed as social policy, because the more that judges and scientists separate themselves from the people with deviant language, the less support they will find from that quarter, and the legal and scientific communities as we know them will crumble if they lose the support of the people. Science and the courts must serve man. And to do that, they must at least try to speak his language. And yet already a rising tide of hostility against both science and the courts is evident. Making it worse is not the solution.

As I argue in Sense and Goodness without God (pp. 29-35), philosophy is wasting its time if its definitions of words do not track what people really mean when they use them. And when we look at the real world, we find the supernatural is universally meant and understood to mean something metaphysically different from the natural. I could adduce many examples of the bad fit between real language and this ill-advised attempt at an "official" definition, but here are just two:
  • The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can't look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.
  • Conversely, if I suddenly acquired the Force of the Jedi and could predict the future, control minds, move objects and defy the laws of physics, all merely by an act of will, ordinary people everywhere would call this a supernatural power, yet it would be entirely testable. Scientists could record and measure the nature and extent of my powers and confirm them well within the requirements of peer review.
Consequently, we need a proper definition of "supernatural" (and, therefore, of the word "natural" as well), one that tracks what people really mean when they use the word, one that marks a metaphysical distinction, and allows us to say when the word is being used sloppily or improperly, as must be the case for any word we intend to be useful. This is all the more crucial for metaphysical naturalists, who must define their worldview in some manner that actually makes it meaningfully different from supernaturalist worldviews. Critics of naturalism are entirely correct about this.

I define "nature" in Sense and Goodness without God (on pp. 211-12, with a little help from pp. 67-69). But I explain this in elaborate detail, with considerable supporting evidence, in my Secular Web article Defending Naturalism as a Worldview (2003), to which I referred readers in my book. After this, and the publication of Sense and Goodness, I defined the natural-supernatural distinction even more rigorously in the joint statement of the Carrier-Wanchick Debate (2006). Anyone who wishes to interact with my definitions of natural and supernatural must read these two articles.

In short, I argue "naturalism" means, in the simplest terms, that every mental thing is entirely caused by fundamentally nonmental things, and is entirely dependent on nonmental things for its existence. Therefore, "supernaturalism" means that at least some mental things cannot be reduced to nonmental things. As I summarized in the Carrier-Wanchick debate (and please pardon the dry, technical wording):

If [naturalism] is true, then all minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural [i.e. fundamentally nonmental] phenomena. But if naturalism is false, then some minds, or some of the contents or powers or effects of minds, are causally independent of nature. In other words, such things would then be partly or wholly caused by themselves, or exist or operate directly or fundamentally on their own.
Despite all I have written on this, several people have had difficulties understanding how to apply my construction of these terms, so I thought I'd have some extended fun. Analogies and concrete examples always do a better job getting across to people what we're talking about, so that's what I'm going to do today. With a bit of fantasy, I'll show how my natural-supernatural distinction can be used to tell the difference between a natural and a supernatural explanation (a metaphysical question), and how we can know when one or the other actually is true (an epistemological question). I take a look at supernatural beings, substances, powers, properties, and effects, and we'll get to see what natural explanations of similar observations would look like, and how they would be different.

Before we can get to that, we need to get past one other important distinction: the meaning of paranormal.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Appearing in Arizona

Event Announcement:

I will be speaking at an upcoming meeting of the CFI Community of Southern Arizona in Tucson, Arizona on the afternoon of Sunday, February 18 (2007). This is open to the general public. People are expected to be seated by 1:30pm. My talk begins at 2pm and ends before 3:00, with Q&A until around 3:30 and socialization until 4:30, when I have to leave for the airport.

The venue should be the Joel D. Valdez Tucson Main Library on 101 North Stone Avenue. If for any reason the venue changes I will correct this entry to reflect that. In the meantime, contact information and more about the venue is available at the CFI-SAZ Events page. Although right now this only lists and discusses their January meeting, eventually it will be updated with information for their February meeting.

The subject of the talk will be the ever-controversial:

Christian Hostility to Scientific Values in Antiquity: From the beginning of the Christian religion through to the early middle ages, Christians either discarded, hampered, opposed, or even vilified the advance of science and scientific values. Carrier will present a hardy and alarming selection of the evidence for this, with some discussion of why this was the case then, and why Christian attitudes gradually changed over the course of the later middle ages to eventually accept the ideals of scientific progress.

Unlike what I wrote on this blog a few months ago, this speech will delve in detail into the actual evidence before 330 A.D. and will briefly discuss some of the most important changes that took place after 1250 A.D.

It turns out that library rules will prohibit me from selling
my book Sense and Goodness without God. Although alternative arrangements for selling it are being considered, in the worst case scenario I will have order forms and flyers. Of course, if you bring a book you already have, I can sign that after the talk.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Silly Questionnaires

Okay. So it's now 2007. I've decided to welcome in the New Year with something fun. My family often sends around "questionnaires" with odd personal questions that are often silly. So I usually make fun of them by sending back half-bogus answers, although I mix them in with real answers. Just see if you can guess which is which! Oh, it's not like that's hard.

Warning: expect colorful language and sexual situations!

Here are sixty of my favorites: