Mythicism All Around?

Mythicism All Around? April 20, 2016

If you move in the circles of organized atheism, it is much as if you move in the circles of conservative Christianity: you can get the impression that certain ideas are getting lots of attention, when they are only being given attention by your group which organizes for precisely that to happen.

Just like creationists, Richard Carrier (in a piece complaining about my blog post about Raphael Lataster’s disappointing article) writes “I know professors who won’t publicly admit they think we have a point, out of fear for their career.” That is, as you know, just what creationists say about dissent from Darwin in the academy. He also pretends that my post is a “defense of historicity” rather than a complaint about Lataster writing the way Carrier does, to the detriment of his credibility and probably ultimately his career.

See Philip Jenkins’ recent post for a sense of how mythicism looks to a professional historian who actually works in academia.

Of related interest, John Loftus shared this video of Robert Price (who will be debating Bart Ehrman in Milwaukee):



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  • I can’t comment on the historical case, but the case for mythicism as promoted by Richard Carrier encompass some very odd statistical ideas. I think the most striking feature is a kind of “cargo-cult” approach to statistics where tools from probability theory and statistics are first hailed as the objective measure of a valid argument (c.f. Bayesian probabilities) and then severely misapplied. When (even quite obvious) difficulties are pointed out, rather than supporting the argument with actual math from the theory that is supposed to be the objective measure of truth one instead gets a long argument that is based on various intuitions…

    I can’t help but seeing similarities to creationism as well. I have so many times heard a person says that he is convinced that the second law of thermodynamics or information theory proves this or that as mathematically impossible, and when one ask just a sketch of an argument the other person immediately resorts to a “it-just-makes-sense-and-you-can’t-prove-it-wrong”-stance.

    • Jan Steen

      Dr. Carrier PhD is the poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect. On almost every topic under the sun he acts as if he has a deeper understanding than experts in the field. He is a kind of intellectual pufferfish, blowing himself up to grotesque proportions, but lacking in actual substance.

      It’s ironic that he routinely accuses his critics of lying, when he is himself one of the most shamelessly dishonest people I have ever seen. Never ever assume that a source actually says what he claims it says.

      He would be a rather horrible little man, really, if his pomposity and inflated self-esteem wouldn’t so often make him unintentionally funny. He called his collection of totally forgettable essays, largely published in obscure journals, “The historical papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013”. It’s the kind of title adorning the collected, posthumous works of towering figures in their field. We see here how Dr. Carrier imagines his posthumous fame and thinks it is perfectly normal that a nobody like him uses such a title during his lifetime. I find this kind of thing endlessly amusing. I can’t help it. Thank you, Dr. Carrier, for making me laugh.

      • He certainly is a good source of laughs. His Patreon page, whereby he begs for money to sustain his dilletante hobby of convincing himself he’s a polymathic genius, contains this comedic gem:

        “Dr. Carrier has escaped the interdepartmental politics and tanking
        fortunes of the formal academy to write independently and pursue his
        interests as an educator, activist, historian, and philosopher.”

        Which is like me saying I have “escaped” the onerous duties of being married to Scarlett Johansson.

        • Jan Steen

          But Dr. Carrier would agree with you saying that. Polyamory is the future, you know.

        • Andrew Schefe

          Richard Carrier- Phd from an Ivy League university in Ancienct history.

          Tom O’Neill – Degree from the university of tassie in

      • arcseconds

        If I didn’t have prior knowledge of Carrier’s arrogance, I would assume the title was ironic.

        Even so, I’m wondering whether it’s possibly still ironic. Arrogant people can be ironic, even about themselves.

        • Jan Steen

          Not Dr. Carrier PhD 🙂

    • arcseconds

      I realise that young-earth creationists are just clutching at whatever straws are going to bolster a pre-conceived notion and don’t bother thinking about whether any of it makes any sense or not, but I still find the second law thing jaw-dropping, as the obvious implication is that either no physicist has ever seriously looked at evolutionary biology, or that no biologist has ever seriously looked at thermodynamics, or that those that have fundamentally don’t understand the simplest fundamentals about at least one of the disciplines.

      Yet rank amateurs (if they even deserve that amount of credit) find this information easy to acquire and obvious in its implications.

      Carrier’s case is a bit more complex. I still think it should be possible to couch historical arguments in Bayesian form, and at some point I’ll stop being lazy and see if someone’s done this properly. But I think it’s obvious that the Bayesian framework is going to have to bottom out at intuitive arguments eventually. I don’t think anyone expects to actually build up a historical argument, or indeed any non-trivial empirical claim, from raw sense data (assuming there is such a thing) and logical tautologies!

      So in principle I don’t see the intuitive argument as necessarily a problem, but in Carrier’s case it seems the Bayesian stuff is a pretty thin vaneer on a largely intuitive, and rather problematic, argument.