Archive for the ‘Theism’ Category

“A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy”: Star Wars and the Problem of Evil

April 22, 2019

The next essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” is “A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villany”: Star Wars and the Problem of Evil by Christopher M. Brown. Here, the Star Wars content is weak, but there is a lot of content on various religious views, some of which rarely comes up.

The first theory that he examines wrt the Problem of Evil is Plato’s idea that God had to create the universe out of flawed matter, and flawed matter allows for evil, which then explains why humans made out of matter act evilly and why nature itself seems to contain “evil”, or at the very least odd and unexpected amounts of suffering. As Brown notes, this conflicts with the typical Christian idea of God being an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfect being. Why would a perfect being be forced to use an imperfect material to create its universe? However, I think there is a way to go here. We, as humans, are made of matter. Matter has needs, desires, and thus temptations. As Brown notes early in the essay, there is no need for the heroes to make a courageous effort to rescue Han Solo if Jabba the Hutt wasn’t evil enough to keep him as a wall ornament in the first place. By the same token, there is no need for us to ever face and overcome temptation if we have no needs or desires to be tempted by. And the New Testament in fact makes it clear that facing temptation is important even for Jesus, and so only the more so for us. This also ties into my theory that the redemption that Jesus brings us is less as an actual sacrifice but more as someone who faces the temptations that we ourselves face, and even the ultimate temptation of a painful death, and overcomes that temptation through faith in God to, nevertheless, do the right thing and what is required, and thus that must also count for us in our lives. Thus, the redemption Jesus brings is through example, not merely as a sacrificial lamb.

Brown then goes on to consider Augustine, but first considers the Christian sect he was originally involved with, the Manichees. They held that there is a constant battle between two equally balanced forces, one of Good and one of Evil, and it was the Evil forces or being that created the evil we see in the world. This, of course, would clash with the traditional idea of the Christian God, to argue that He had an opponent that He couldn’t overcome, but there is an interesting way to take this: that this conflict doesn’t exist in the universe, but instead exists in us. The whole point of this world, flawed matter and all, is to set up a situation where we have to choose between the Good and the Evil. In order for that to be a choice, it cannot be the case that one side is inherently more desirable than another. We have to be able to want to do Evil or to do Good, to be rewarded for choosing either and miss out for choosing either. This, it seems to me, aligns well with the depiction of the Light and Dark Sides of the Force in Star Wars: the Dark Side isn’t more powerful, but it’s faster and potentially easier, while the Light Side isn’t as fast and easy, but also doesn’t corrupt you physically and mentally either. As Corran Horn and Mara Jade commented in “I, Jedi”, she wasn’t really doing different when she studied with Luke, but instead was learning to power her abilities differently, with one that’s not going to burn out her engine as quickly. The same thing can be said for us: we feel good when we help people, but also can feel good when we abuse them to get something we want. We also feel deprived when we have to give something up for others, but also in general feel bad when we hurt others. We have reasons to prefer the Good or the Evil, and this material life may well be created precisely to facilitate us having to make those sorts of choices. This would also explain random suffering as both reflecting this natural dichotomy, and also providing test cases for us to make these choices. We can react to natural disasters by coming together and helping others, or retreating into our own little enclaves and focusing on our own self-interest. The world is set up to make each, at a practical level, somewhat desirable so that we always have reasons to act Good or act Evil.

Augustine’s move is to reject the Manchiean view and place the responsibility for all evil on the free will of humans. The problem is that this works for the free choices of humans, but atheists have rightly pointed out that that, in and of itself, doesn’t explain natural evil like natural disasters. The idea of this world being a test bed for us to make the choice between Good and Evil works for this, but that might not align well with Augustine who thinks the world is perfect because it came from God. Another alternative, then, is to ask if suffering is indeed bad. What is suffering, anyway? Well, in general, it’s pretty much pain. And pain is just a natural warning system telling us that something is harming us and so we should do something about that. So that, in and of itself, can’t be evil. However, we can consider suffering to be pain that is seen as random or capricious and/or that we can’t do anything about. This, however, requires beings that can understand that the pain is random, purposeless, and can’t be relieved. This, then, would mean that most animals, at least, can never actually suffer. Thus, suffering itself either isn’t necessarily bad, or else most natural suffering isn’t evil. And in the latter case if we accepted all suffering as being part of God’s plan, then it wouldn’t count as suffering either. While these arguments aren’t enough to overturn how unpleasant we find pain and suffering, philosophically speaking they’re fairly strong arguments against a philosophical and not emotional Problem of Evil.

Carrier vs Green on Origen and Josephus

April 19, 2019

I’ve been pondering talking about Richard Carrier’s Bayesian epistemology for a while now, but haven’t gotten around to it. But I also had an inkling to go over a typically insulting post Carrier made replying to a much earlier post by Colin Green because it reflects Carrier’s typical approach to arguing, where he spends lots of time insulting the person he’s replying to, playing up any chance he gets to mention that he has something peer reviewed as if that’s supposed to make us believe it, and generally missing what the other person is actually saying and arguing. Here, he also adds a hint of superiority in insisting that Green is an amateur — which, to be fair, is true when it comes to history — and using that at any opportunity as an “explanation” for the egregious errors Green is making. The odd thing here is that he seems to equate “having a PhD” with being not an amateur, which means that I could level the same criticizes at him when he talks about philosophy — which he constantly does — and arguably I’m an amateur philosopher since I only have a Masters. Which is completely ridiculous, since I’m clearly a “Freelance Philosopher”. He also criticizes it for being “tediously long”, at which point most people’s irony meters should have exploded. Sure, I often call Carrier out for being wordy while often writing long posts myself, but that’s usually because I’m arguing that Carrier should spend less time on the insults and more time on the actual arguments, and so not just that the posts are long as Carrier does here.

The base argument is this: in the existing copies we have of one of Josephus’ work, there is a section referring to a James that says, from Green “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. If this was actually in the original work, then it would strongly suggest the existence of a historical Jesus Christ, which Carrier denies. However, the section is controversial, with a number of people and experts in the field thinking that it wasn’t there in the original. The posts are debating whether or not this was there in the original.

Now, I’m not an expert in ancient history, or even in these time periods. I’m not an expert in ancient Greek either; unlike Latin, I never actually learned any of that. However, I am qualified in examining arguments, and given how strongly Carrier reacts to Green it seems reasonable for me to examine this to see if Green’s arguments really are that bad. So that’s what I’m going to do: go through the arguments in Carrier and refer them back to what’s said in Green to see if Carrier gets them right, if they are that bad, and if Carrier’s defenses of his arguments work. I’ve read both posts at least twice, but again will use Carrier’s as the main reference and only add additional things from Green as required. I’ve not read and am not going to read Carrier’s original paper, but good writing should make it clear what I need to know from it, and of course I’ll point out where either Carrier or Green aren’t clear enough about what was originally there.

The first thing to note is, again, the stakes here. Carrier doesn’t want this reference to be there in the original because it would provide a direct link to a historical Jesus Christ. So he needs to eliminate “who was called Christ” from the original text. The problem for this is that all of the existing copies of the relevant text have that in the original text. So the argument has to be that it was added later, either by mistake or by fraud. Carrier seems to be arguing that it happened by mistake, as the section makes a direct reference to “Jesus ben Damneus”, which is what that sentence should refer to, but that reference wasn’t in the original section, but was added later by a scribe, possibly as a correction from a mistake from an earlier scribe who accidentally copied a later reference to “Jesus ben Damneus” higher, corrected it by adding the line above the incorrect one, and then a later scribe simply replaced the existing text with the new one as was appropriate at the time. So an important thing to note is that Carrier seems to believe that there was no reference to “Jesus ben Damneus” in the original line, but only to “Jesus” there, facilitating the mistake. Note that, however, this seems to suggest that the scribes who made the mistake(s) did believe that the original text was referring to Jesus Christ and not Jesus ben Damneus.

That out of the way, let me start with the first substantive argument Carrier makes against Green. Carrier quotes Green as saying this:

“Carrier intends to disqualify Origen (and, with him, Eusebius) as a textual witness to the six words in AJ 20″ (emphasis added).

Carrier’s response to this “mistake” is this:

Green screws up almost from his first sentence about me. My article does demonstrate Origen is not a textual witness to three of those words existing in Josephus. But it also clearly and repeatedly states I believe Eusebius did find these words in his copy of the AJ (meaning Josephus’s twenty volume treatise, Antiquities of the Jews), or else believed he was restoring the correct reading from a marginal note.

Before I go back to look at the reference in Green, this is an extremely nitpicky objection looking at the quote. If it is established that Origen got the phrase from the original text, then this would establish that Eusebius wasn’t looking at a mistaken copy but at an accurate one when he took that phrase or interpretation from there as well. If, however, Origen didn’t get it from there because it wasn’t there, then Eusebius’ interpretation is wrong. Thus, if Carrier can take out Origen as seeing that in the original text, then Eusebius didn’t see it in the original text either. So Origen isn’t a witness to it being there in the original text, and so Eusebius can’t have either, or at least we have no reason to think so. To put this back into Carrier’s theory, the idea that Eusebius, as he says here, had a corrected or corrected the copy or reading is reasonable as long as we don’t have another, closer source to the original text. Thus, disqualifying Origen as getting that reading from the original text disqualifies Eusebius from doing so as well. “Textual witness” is of the six words in the original account, not just someone reading a text.

And this seems to be what Green is after. The quoted paragraph:

The main subject here is the passing comment in Book 20, and the scholarly understanding that the comment was known and quoted in ancient times. For example – and this is what Carrier’s article particularly contests – it is found in the work of 3rd century writer Origen: six words about Jesus and his brother James, verbatim as in AJ Book 20, together with material that seems to tie it to AJ 20. Also, in the 4th century writer Eusebius we find more extensive treatments which are more controversial and of lower evidential value (not least because Origen is the earlier witness). Carrier intends to disqualify Origen (and, with him, Eusebius) as a textual witness to the six words in AJ 20.

Hence, because Origen is the more reliable source, if he can disqualify Origen as having found and/or quoted it the six words the original AJ 20, then he can disqualify Eusebius as well. The point is about the six words being in the original and what Josephus himself actually wrote or meant, not about extant copies of the text.

So onto the next complaint. He quotes Green saying this:

I deduce that [Carrier] is suggesting Josephus originally wrote [“the brother of Jesus son of Damneus”] (see page 512). I cannot tell why the article does not set it out clearly, and why it is left to the reader to do.”

Carrier’s reply is this:

This is an extremely weird thing for Green to say. Because he even cites the page on which I do exactly that (a fact I even reference several times, on pp. 495 and 504). In fact, I devote an entire paragraph to this very point (spanning pp. 512-13), and even supply the likely Greek for it. So how can he know what page this is on, and at the same time claim it isn’t there? Your guess is as good as mine. But since what he says about my article here is 100% false, you can tell this already isn’t boding well.

The interesting thing about this, as mentioned above, is that my impression is that the mistake was copying “Jesus son of Damneus” into a place where it wasn’t originally and overwriting that as “Jesus the so-called Christ” later. But maybe my impression is wrong, so let’s keep this in mind as we go along. Anyway, here is what Green actually said:

6. Curiously, although Carrier argues at length ‘what Josephus originally said’ (to use one of his sub-headings), he never actually sets out in Greek what he thinks the six word phrase originally was. However, piecing together his comments, I deduce that he is suggesting Josephus originally wrote this: τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τὸν τοῦ Δαμναίου (see page 512). I cannot tell why the article does not set it out clearly, and why it is left to the reader to do.

Green is complaining that Carrier didn’t actually set out what the Greek phrase was. This is important because Green here in the rest of the points is talking specifically about the Greek phrases and if they are identical, close or verbatim in the other works. Carrier here translates the Greek phrase into English and then says that it all should be obvious, except that Green’s complaint is that he never specifies the Greek, making it hard to decide which ones are verbatim or identical or note. And one of the reasons this is important is because Carrier says that the phrase is Origen saying that in his own words, but too much variance would strike against that. The problem is that Carrier’s comments about quoting the paraphrase are about different Greek phrases, and so he concludes from Carrier’s “likely Greek” on page 512 that that’s the one he means. You can nitpick over whether or not that’s clear or not, but a comment about “likely Greek” when what’s under debate is a precise Greek phrase is probably not as clear as you’d think. It matters what Greek phrase is being talked about here, as Green himself notes after saying that his criticism might be nitpicky. Carrier doesn’t address it because he sidelines all discussion of the actual Greek phrase and translates it to English which hides the actual objection.

Next, Carrier quotes Green:

“I just wonder at the jarring shift of tone from earlier even-handed statements such as “Josephan authorship is not impossible” to assertively telling academia what to do [in the paper’s conclusion]”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is an amateur. He therefore doesn’t know that many journals have a mandatory editorial requirement of providing an “impact statement” laying out the significance and “impact” of your findings on the field. JECS is one such journal. The paper I submitted did not have the paragraph he is referring to. The journal’s editors specifically asked me to add it. So I did. And that’s the section at the end he is now referring to. They even asked that this explain how my conclusion should affect future research on the subject; so you’ll notice that’s exactly what I wrote. Experts are familiar with this. Amateurs act shocked.

That’s not Green’s complaint. His complaint is that Carrier shifts from a more careful tone to, at the end, expressing strong certainty. So he’s not confused by a summary, but is in fact confused that it seems to suggest conclusions much more strongly than the paper in its entirety did. Given that later quote will show Carrier claiming strong certainty for his claims, I don’t think it that valid a claim, but note what Green was after here:

Unevenness abounds. For example, of the ancient words “Jesus who is called Christ”, the article tells us that “Josephan authorship is not impossible” (page 496). Indeed, Carrier even-handedly goes on to say that the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” is “not impossible for Josephus to construct on his own”. This even-handedness indicates that this article is at least a contribution to an ongoing academic discussion. However, the final paragraph boldly excludes such possibilities. It is a jarring contrast in tone:

“The significance of this finding [of an ‘accidental interpolation’] is manifold, but principally it removes this passage from the body of reliable evidence for the fate of Jesus’ family,[1] the treatment of Christians in the first century, or Josephus’ attitude toward or knowledge of Christians. Likewise, future commentaries on the relevant texts of Origen and Josephus must take this finding into account, as must any treatments of the evidence for the historical Jesus. Most pressingly, all reference works that treat “James the brother of Jesus” must be emended to reflect this finding, particularly as this passage is the only evidence by which a date for this James’ death has been derived.”

Setting aside that the final statement above is not wholly accurate (since James’ death can be estimated from Hegesippus who says it occurred shortly before the siege of Jerusalem), the tone of that final paragraph has attracted the ire of some. I just wonder at the jarring shift of tone from earlier even-handed statements such as “Josephan authorship is not impossible” to assertively telling academia what to do: “future commentaries… must take this finding into account… all reference works… must be emended…” That final paragraph is pure Carrier; so whose are the earlier moderate statements? In any case, the former two statements belong to a different kind of writing from the last, such is the unevenness of the writing.

It’s a style point, not a content one, and so didn’t need any kind of response and so isn’t a mistake. Green finds the shifts jarring. That’s it. There’s no need for him to assert the difference between what is possible and what is probable as he does immediately after (with a shot at him being a Christian apologist), although it is certainly likely that Carrier thinks that’s when he uses the shift from the more “even-handed” phrases to the more certain ones.

Carrier’s quote of Green again (note the reason I keep saying that this way is because Carrier doesn’t always quote the full context and so I want to distinguish between his quotes of Green and mine):

“[Carrier says] ‘We cannot use Origen as an attestation of a mention of Christ in AJ 20:200, and indeed, its absence in Origen’s text speaks against its authenticity.’ (emphasis added) What is absent in Origen’s text? I’m not sure what he means.”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is not very bright. Grammar, dude. Pronouns reference the last noun or noun clause. So. What’s missing? “A mention of Christ in AJ 20:200.” In other words, a quotation of AJ containing that material. There is none in Origen. As I’d just demonstrated. That Green can’t comprehend simple sentences in English bodes further ill here.

Green gets that. He just thinks it’s an odd way to phrase that given what’s come before:

There are moments where Carrier’s convoluted argument becomes very confusing. He writes,

“We cannot use Origen as an attestation of a mention of Christ in AJ 20:200, and indeed, its absence in Origen’s text speaks against its authenticity.” (emphasis added)

What is absent in Origen’s text? I’m not sure what he means. The mention of Christ is certainly not absent in Origen, which is the reason Carrier writes so much about it! Does the word ‘its’ refer to the same thing on both occasions in that sentence? The word “Christ” is one word that is most definitely not absent from any of our texts. Does Carrier mean that the narrative of the death in AJ 20:200 is missing? I am just not sure.

“Christ” exists in Origen and in that specific reference, so it’s not missing there. So at a minimum, if that’s what he meant, he made a typo and meant to refer to Josephus there, but then that’s what he needs to prove — that it’s not in the original text since it is in the extant copies — and so wouldn’t work as evidence in his favour. At first, I thought that this was trivial but on re-reading it in the full context, I admit to being as confused as Green. What’s missing in Origen that supports Carrier’s claim? It’s not the mention of Christ, nor is it the six word phrase, as both are therein Origen. So what could be missing? He claims that it’s a direct quote here, but that’s a) not clear from the quoted text and b) isn’t actually relevant anyway as Origen not claiming it is a direct quote doesn’t mean that it didn’t originate from Josephus, which is what’s in dispute.

Next, Carrier quotes Green:

“[I]n regard to AJ 20:200…Carrier omits to even mention recent work that has led other scholars to affirm the opposite conclusion – against interpolation – in academic publications; the footnotes in his 2012 article make no mention of significant modern work … For example, no mention of W. Mizugaki, ‘Origen and Josephus’ … and Z. Baras, ‘The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James’ …”

And replies:

Green credits O’Neill for this. Evincing his gullible trust in a crank. An expert would check if those two articles actually were relevant to the subject of my article before accusing me of ignoring them. An amateur just trusts a dishonest crank’s claim that they do.

In fact, neither the Baras nor the Mizugaki piece argue for the authenticity of the James passage. See my discussion of O’Neill’s dishonest claims that they do in More Asscrankery from Tim O’Neill. At most, Baras admits it’s possible inauthenticity and only mentions one common argument for its authenticity, without mounting any defense of that argument. An argument my paper already extensively addresses.

Green’s actual statement:

I would also make an observation about a statement on the first page of the article (page 489). Carrier says something very clear:

“The TF has already generated a vast literature and I will not treat the subject here except to say that I side with those scholars who conclude that the entire passage is an interpolation and that there was no mention of Jesus in the original text of AJ 18.” (emphasis added)

This statement is supplemented with a 25-line footnote – mainly Carrier’s arguments against authenticity of the TF – more than twice the length of any other footnote in the article.[2]

At first it seems helpful to have been given a sense of the author’s intentions and focus – but not for long. As if someone’s mind changed during the editorial process, Carrier unexpectedly launches a more detailed critique on the TF (page 492), and sustains this attack for three pages. Why write that you will not treat the subject if in fact you are going to do so? And having done so, why was the misdirecting statement on the first page not deleted in the editorial process? One is not sure where the article is going at times. Much of pages 494-495 are taken up with Carrier’s detailed response to Alice Whealey’s work on partial authenticity of the TF: perhaps he feels her work presents his biggest challenge on the TF, but surely this is not the matter at hand.

On the other hand – and in regard to AJ 20:200 which is the article’s subject – some disengagement with academia is evident in that Carrier omits to even mention recent work that has led other scholars to affirm the opposite conclusion – against interpolation – in academic publications; the footnotes in his 2012 article make no mention of significant modern work.[3]

So, the minor statement here is that Carrier says that he isn’t going to discuss the TF, then does discuss it, but then doesn’t address at all more recent work on the TF. Essentially, Green’s comment is that he wishes Carrier would have made up his mind as to whether or not he was going to take on the TF. Carrier’s reply is to point out that the modern works cited don’t actually impact his point. Sure, but that’s the sort of thing he should have mentioned in the paper itself if he was going to take on the TF, or not give a detailed response to Whealey if he was uninterested in that debate. To be fair to Carrier, there might have been reasons for him to do that — a parallel he wanted to draw — but it won’t be of much interest in this discussion. Still, it’s not as egregious a complaint as Carrier makes it out to be.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier does not justify why the specific term ‘Christian’ should be an object of discussion in treating James and the Jerusalem Jesus-movement [in Josephus].”

His reply:

Here Green amateurishly confuses the word “Christian” with the identity being a Christian, i.e. being a member of a movement or sect, by whatever name, that Josephus would need to explain.

Of course, the Testimonium Flavianum does purport to call these people “Christians” and even says they were so-called owing to their founder’s designation as “the Christ” (although it never mentions anyone persecuting them). But if one agrees that’s fake, and Josephus never wrote that, then it’s possible he knew the Christian sect by some other moniker or description. That’s irrelevant to the point: Josephus would need to explain why James being the brother of a man called Christ had anything to do with his being not only illegally executed, but then his death avenged by the Jewish and Roman elite! As well as why this Jesus was even called a Christ, and what a Christ even was, or why his being so called, or his being mentioned at all, was even relevant to the story (despite the fact that Josephus always assiduously avoided the word Christ when describing other messiahs—one more reason we can doubt he did so here).

So my first response here is: what if his being a Christian didn’t have anything specifically to do with that? What if the whole “so-called Christ” part was just the most convenient way to identify which James Josephus was referring to? I’m pretty sure there’s more on this in a moment — things blend together when you’re reading it all at once — but the general thrust is that Green is saying that Josephus is using it merely to outline which James is being talked about and Carrier is claiming that the phrasing makes it more central to the story. That might be the case — there is evidence for that — but ultimately that’s what the two of them are disagreeing about, so it’s not an amateurish mistake.

Green’s actual quote:

In reviewing Carrier’s main argument, it is necessary to comment on his method of writing history. Significant planks of his argument are wrapped in an approach that is questionable, that makes the article vulnerable at an academic level. For example, his discussion of James as a “Christian” in the context of reading Josephus is problematic. Carrier writes, “James is not said to be a Christian here [in Josephus]”. He writes this about AJ 20:200:

“we would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ”, what that word meant (at the very least explaining its connection to “Christians” and James’s being one)” (emphasis added).

Carrier does not justify why the specific term “Christian” should be an object of discussion in treating James and the Jerusalem Jesus-movement. (NB. The use of that word in the TF would be irrelevant for Carrier’s purposes as he disallows the whole TF as inauthentic. He produces no alternative textual basis for applying the word here.) He insists that James‘ faith should have been explained in such terms by Josephus if he were the brother of Jesus Christ. But why? Although terminology casually used nowadays, there is simply no evidence, apart from inferring it from the TF, that the term “Christian” was ever attached to the James of Jerusalem, or the church of Jerusalem, by first century authors, even by followers of Jesus. It is cavalier to project onto Josephus that, if the passage were authentic, he “would certainly… at the very least” have called James a “Christian”. This is not an approach to writing history which shows engagement with current work on terminology related to the early church.[4]

Green is, however, playing a bit fast and loose with the quotes here. The first quote is the one that actually links it directly to the word, and it’s not as certain. The second quote can also imply it, but doesn’t have to … although putting the word in quotes does not help Carrier here. So I can accept Carrier’s reply that what he meant was what is implied by a “Christ”, and not the specific word itself. Still, unless Josephus was trying to link James’ death with actually being a Christian his thesis isn’t really supported either.

I’m going to skip discussion of the TF and move on. Carrier quotes Green:

“This is a remarkable leap. The figure ‘James ben Damneus’ is previously unknown to history. Such a personage is not found named in an ancient text, neither one by Josephus nor by anyone else. Why should the reader take the novel step of thinking that any such unattested person existed?”

Carrier replies:

This is an extremely bizarre thing to argue; but typical of amateurs, who don’t know how ancient historians worked or how the scarce survival of sources affects what we can expect to have today. Almost all the people Josephus mentions in the AJ are attested nowhere else: because he’s the only extant author for this material! Therefore, the probability we should expect someone else, somewhere else, to have mentioned these obscure figures in extant texts is effectively zero. So that argues nothing.

Josephus indeed only mentions Jesus ben Damneus because of the role he plays in the succession of high priests (we would never have heard of him otherwise); and Josephus never has any reason to mention his family at all, except once (just as he never mentions anyone else’s family without cause): to explain why this particular Jesus replaced Ananus. The reason he gives: that Ananus illegally executed his brother, generating general outrage, that led to Ananus being punished by giving Jesus his position. But for Ananus having done this to James and Jesus being thus compensated for it, we’d never have heard of this James. And indeed, that’s why James is only named as an afterthought; and why Jesus is in fact the actual primary subject of even the execution account—hence the way Josephus’s construction makes clear the only significance of mentioning James is whose brother he was. A fact that makes no sense otherwise (absent any further explanation; and no other is given). That’s precisely the reason we should doubt the authenticity of the added “Christ” comment.

So, my response to this is that this misses the point. The extant text refers to a James that is referenced elsewhere. Carrier’s theory, on the other hand, forces us to accept that a completely unattested person exists. While this isn’t a absolute refutation, it does put the onus on Carrier to demonstrate that this theory is superior, because it includes a reference to something that has to be true but that we have no other reason than Carrier’s conclusion to think is true. That oftentimes we only find such references in ancient works doesn’t help when we’re comparing a person that is referenced elsewhere to one that isn’t. And, sadly, Carrier could use this to support his own case, arguing that a Christian scribe, not knowing about any kind of James be Damneus assumed that it was a James that he did know about when clarifying the text … in short, that the scribe made the not unreasonable mistake of assuming that it referred to the James they knew about rather than a James they had never heard about.

Green’s actual quote:

Thus, having so primed you, the article will later assert that removal of “who was called Christ” reveals the original text and that the passage is really referring to “Jesus ben Damneus”, not “Jesus Christ”, so as to read either:

“The brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others…”

Or even to read:

“The brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others…”

In a stroke, this invents a brother called “James ben Damneus”. Carrier’s thesis of interpolation depends on the reader believing that a rewrite of the text justifies discovering, so to speak, that there was such as a person as “James ben Damneus”. That is, one figure has been newly written into history effectively to write an established one out of it (James, brother of Jesus Christ). Now the historical character Jesus ben Damneus has a brother called James!

This is a remarkable leap. The figure “James ben Damneus” is previously unknown to history. Such a personage is not found named in an ancient text, neither one by Josephus nor by anyone else. Why should the reader take the novel step of thinking that any such unattested person existed?[7] Carrier characteristically treats his theory with undue certainty, writing, “Thus, what Josephus meant was that this James was the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, not the brother of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).

So pretty much what I said: we have to accept that a new person existed to do so. Carrier needs to establish that his theory is more probable first before he can say that with certainty. On the flip side, however, presumably that’s what Carrier tries to do, so other than to establish that Carrier has a burden of proof it’s not doing much, but doesn’t seem to be intended to do more than that either.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Notably, this argument that ‘so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ’ does not work if ‘called Christ’ is supposed to have been written above ‘Jesus ben Damneus’. There is no historical basis for anyone believing that Jesus Christ was also known as ‘Jesus ben Damneus’.

Carrier’s reply:

This is another weird one. Green had just mentioned the whole page of my article where I explained the very common phenomenon of dittograph correction in textual transmission, and how it would cause the replacement of one phrase with another, and why. Green must not have understood any of it. Which is typical of an amateur.

My reply is that the question is not how one phrase gets replaced with another, but why that phrase was replaced with “called Christ”. If Josephus had written “Jesus ben Damneus” there, replacing that with “Jesus called Christ” would make no sense as a mistake and would have to be a forgery. If, however, as I believe Carrier’s argument ultimately ends up saying, Josephus didn’t mention it then what I said above would be one way for the mistake to end up there. Carrier fleshes out his argument:

As I wrote in my article (on p. 512; which Green apparently skipped or didn’t comprehend):

This is a common scribal error where a copyist’s eye slips to a similar line a few lines down (by mistaking which “Jesus” he had left off at), then realizes he had picked up at the wrong place, but corrected himself and then wrote a superlinear phrase intended to replace the erroneous material. A later copyist would then interpret the earlier copyist’s correction as calling for the erasure of “ben Damneus” as a dittograph, omit the words, and replace it with the gloss, “who was called Christ.” This was a frequent occurrence in manuscript transmission, resulting from scribes correcting a perceived error, but in the process, implanting their own error into the text.

In other words, when a scribe who wrote “Jesus,” looked away (such as to ink his quill or rest or attend to business), and looked back and started transcribing at the wrong “Jesus,” they would have written “the son of Damneus.” But then, catching their mistake, they would go back to where they left off and start transcribing the correct line; and above the mistaken dittograph (the erroneous “duplication” of “the son of Damneus” after the wrong “Jesus”), they would write what is supposed to replace it.

This would suggest that it wasn’t in the original but was added later as a mistake — copying from a later line — and then corrected to “called Christ”. But as that was the first mention of him, surely if Josephus was going to leave one out it would be the later one, not the earlier one. So it could have been dropped in a copy and then this mistake would have occurred. But this does require an additional mistake — the “ben Damneus” being dropped — which, while common, isn’t probable either.

Green’s actual quote:

‘”the one called Christ” is exactly the kind of thing a scholar or scribe would add as an interlinear note to remind himself and future scholars that – so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ’. (emphasis added)

Carrier allows himself that this could be either an unnamed scribe or Origen himself:

‘It is likely that what he [Origen] found in AJ 20:200 was a reference to an execution by stoning of a certain “brother of Jesus” named James a few years before the war. Origen perhaps scribbled “who was called Christ” in the margin, or above the line…’ (page 511-2).
Notably, this argument that “so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ” does not work if “called Christ” is supposed to have been written above “Jesus ben Damneus”. There is no historical basis for anyone believing that Jesus Christ was also known as “Jesus ben Damneus”. It is inconceivable that any scribe would qualify “Ben Damneus” with “called Christ”.

Therefore it is a supposed version of Josephus that just says “Jesus” (not “Jesus ben Damneus” or “Jesus Christ”) to which Carrier applies his argument about an interlinear note. So, it just said “Jesus” until an interpolator added to it. In this way, he is arguing that, in the absence of “Christ”, the second referent of “the brother of Jesus” would still be his favoured “Jesus ben Damneus” rather than Jesus Christ, a referent forged by arguing “Jesus” is linked with the appearance later in AJ20 of Jesus ben Damneus.
In both alternatives, Carrier is forced to speculate a convoluted chain of accidents, as we shall see. Trying to keep track of the dazzling range of speculations is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.

As we have seen, Carrier also brings into play his sketch of a shadowy scribe (or Origen) writing ‘exactly’ the kind of thing. The argument about the behaviour of a scribe writing an interlinear or marginal note is overstated. How does Carrier know, for example, that some unknown scribe in the 3rd century would write ‘exactly the kind of thing’ (that is, LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU as a note, those particular words and in the genitive to be in the same case as IESOU) when faced with the passage “the brother of Jesus, who was called James”?

Carrier cannot be certain, by Green, that this mistake it was would obviously have happened. It could have happened, but isn’t as common as Carrier implies. And, as noted, Green’s main complaint in that line is that if “Jesus ben Damneus” was there in the text when the mistake was made, no one would have replaced it with “called Christ” as a mistake. Carrier only addresses that by dropping the line from at least later versions of the text.

Carrier quotes Green:

“This argument for how the extant text in Josephus accrued an interpolation is speculative, not based on manuscript evidence.”

Carrier’s reply:

Only an amateur says things like this. Experts know a sizable amount of textual criticism argues from data without manuscript evidence. There are tons of examples in the expert literature. We have to. Precisely because most manuscript evidence has been lost (as I even prove has happened in this case: pp. 492-94). So most errors like this are only detectable through circumstantial evidence. Just like I literally fill my whole paper with. Which means my conclusion is not speculative. It is empirically proved with evidence. All experts agree this evidence does not have to include lost manuscripts, and know it often won’t. That’s why peer reviewers approved my paper.

My reply here is that this is important to establish: the conclusion follows only from Carrier’s theory and interpretation. As he admits, he only has circumstantial evidence for it. This puts it on the same level as other speculative or circumstantial theories. So we have to assess whether it is plausible that the sequence of events that Carrier speculates happened is, indeed, what happened. At best, Carrier has a possible sequence showing that it could have happened. It’s going to be his analysis that Josephus would not have said/meant that and that Origen despite claiming to get the story from Josephus didn’t that will have to carry the load, and we aren’t there yet.

Green’ actual quote:

This argument for how the extant text in Josephus accrued an interpolation is speculative, not based on manuscript evidence, despite the gratuitous tone of certainty. A word such as ‘exactly’ does not make it less speculative. The lack of consideration of alternative scribal formulations does not make it less speculative either. Of course, Carrier’s argument depends on the reader being convinced that what the scribe would write is exactly what is in extant Josephus because the putative scribe would thus be the indirect author of these few words in Josephus, which is the conclusion Carrier intends to lead us to.

Green complains about the tone of certainty despite it being speculation, and notes that we have to believe that this happened for this argument to matter. And note that even if Carrier had already demonstrated that this wasn’t in the original text, we still don’t have to accept his explanation, as there could be other explanations.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[T]he fact that Carrier does not turn his thoughts to any range of alternative permutations is frustrating. Could not other permutations be ‘exactly the kind of thing’ a scribe would write?”

Carrier replies:

This is another boner amateur mistake.

It doesn’t matter what else “could have” been written; because Josephus could also have written different things. So the many alternative permutations one can imagine are all equally likely on either hypothesis. These possibilities therefore cancel out, having no effect on the likelihood that this evidence arose by either hand. That’s why peer reviewers don’t require textual critics to discuss such things; and thus why they didn’t require me to.

If there is evidence for a differential likelihood, we are expected to discuss that. And thus I do: I devoted several pages in my article arguing that this phrase is definitely as or even more likely to have come from a Christian hand than Josephus; indeed, it is a direct lift from Scripture! (pp. 496-97 and 511) Who is more likely to do that? Josephus? Or a Christian scribe?

Starting to get a picture now of why my stuff passes peer review and Green’s doesn’t?

My reply is that Carrier is big on Bayesian epistemology, and a big part of that is looking at all the alternative explanations that you can and seeing which ones have the highest probabilities. All of the probabilities of all possibilities have to add up to 1, and so any possibility that is in any way credible at all will reduce the probability of any one of them being true. Thus, it is ludicrous to say that they cancel out. If they all did that, then we’d have a 50-50 probability about whether Josephus originally wrote it or not, which is not what Carrier believes. So what’s the probability of Carrier’s specific theory about how it got there being correct? That’s very much dependent on what reasonable alternatives there are and how probable they are, as well as how probable this specific theory is. And if Carrier is only interested in the conclusion itself, then he still needs to assess the probabilities of all the relevant theories, and so needs to consider alternatives that lead both to his favoured conclusion and the opposite one. Without looking to see if a scribe would have corrected it to something else in the situation Carrier describes — which even Carrier has to agree would count against his theory — hows does Carrier know or prove that his posited theory is what happened?

Green’s actual quote:

However, the fact that Carrier does not turn his thoughts to any range of alternative permutations is frustrating. Could not other permutations be ‘exactly the kind of thing’ a scribe would write? For example: simply CHRISTOU or HO CHRISTOS or HO CHRISTOS HOUTOS EN or a pious HO KURIOS – the possibilities are legion. No examination of relevant alternatives in scribal history is presented: there is no ‘control’ with which to compare how LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU is used. It is overly convenient to simply take only one possibility – extant Josephus – and assert that this is ‘exactly’ what the interpolating scribe would write.

This is probably nitpicking, though, at least at this point. Green would need to show that a specific phrasing was more likely given what the scribe knew. Then again, this really does seem more like Green striking against Carrier’s certainty here, which wouldn’t matter except for the unfortunate “exactly what an interpolating scribe would write” line.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier’s concession that Josephus’ readership already had meaningful knowledge of Christians is exceedingly damaging to Carrier’s argument that ‘the reference [to Christ] is so obscure’.”

Carrier replies:

Another amateur remark.

Pliny the Younger, the most legally informed Roman of his time, didn’t even know why Christians were called Christians or what a Christ was until he interrogated them (see On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 342-43; with Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 418-22). Green is confusing knowledge that Christians were criminals who get executed, with knowledge of why they were called Christians, what a Christ was, or where they came from or why they are prosecuted (not least by Ananus, and that despite numerous leading Jews and Romans opposing his doing so). Pliny literally had to write the emperor to ask why they were even supposed to be prosecuted at all!

(Note: Carrier emphasizes a lot and, as usual, I’m starting to drop it except where I feel it critical).

If Josephus’ intent was just to identify which James he was talking about, and to his readers the term “Christ” was known well-enough to do so, then he would have felt no reason to explain the term, especially if he didn’t know what it referred to specifically (as Carrier says later). It’s only if Christianity was relevant to the account that he’d do that, but Green’s argument is that it isn’t.

Green’s actual quote:

A range of familiar arguments are presented to persuade the reader that “called Christ” does not belong in AJ 20:200. For example, Carrier argues that if Josephus was using the word “Christ”, he would have explained explicitly to his Roman readership the content of the term “Christ”. This argument of course is used by both sides in the interpolation debate to opposing ends.
The article uses the premise that the TF in Book 18, with its reference to Christ is entirely fake, and therefore all the burden of explanation for the term “Christ” falls on Book 20, wherein any such explanation, as we know, is absent.[8] (In fact, apart from these instances, “Christ” nowhere appears in Josephus, who prefers the word “Messiah” where it is called for.) On the basis that Josephus does not supply an explicit explanation of the significance of attaching “Christ” to “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, Carrier argues that it follows that “called Christ” is not authentic.

This requirement for explanation subsists because, Carrier asserts, “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”. Carrier’s assertion of obscurity may be considered lacking in substance in light of the fact that Carrier himself, a few paragraphs later, indicates the opposite to obscurity. Referring to how, in the story in AJ20, the killing of James is met with official punishment, he deploys this argument which he thinks will show that “Christians” are not in view in the original text of Josephus:

“writing for a Roman audience in the era of Domitian… the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course”
On this basis, Carrier writes that the supposed idea of Christians enjoying any legal protection would be received as an “inexplicable” turn of events. Inexplicable to Josephus’ Roman readership, that is. The irony is that in saying that Romans would consider any legal remedy for “Christians” to be “inexplicable”, Carrier indicates that Josephus’ readership had an established perjorative view of Christians. This is not what obscurity looks like. Carrier’s concession that Josephus’ readership already had meaningful knowledge of Christians is exceedingly damaging to Carrier’s argument that “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”.

That is not to say that Josephus couldn’t have cause to explain the content of the word “Christ”, but the “obscurity” argument is an unconvincing one for Carrier to deploy. Besides, there are reasons for doubting the claim that Josephus ought to unpack the content of the word ‘Christ’, and this is covered in footnote 4 below.

If Carrier needs the term to be so obscure that it needs explanation, then relying on the audience disbelieving the story because Christians had no legal recourse works against that. Green here is just going after Carrier’s claim that if Josephus had originally meant Jesus called Christ there he would have added more explanation because it was required for his audience. Green is disputing that, and Carrier’s remarks don’t address that, attempting to prove that the details were obscure but ignoring that in his counter he relies on the precise details that they’d need to know — a sect that was criminal — are what he himself claims are what was known at the time.

Carrier quotes Green:

[W]hy should the same readers who could supposedly infer that “Jesus” refers to “Jesus ben Damneus” be unable to infer a reason for the presence of “Christ” in the text?”

Carrier replies:

Because “Jesus ben Damneus” is already narratively explained in the text; “Christ” is not. Inferences require something present to infer from. There is nothing for the word “Christ” here to infer from, not even as to why it’s relevant or even important for Josephus to mention, much less what it means. There is for the idea that it’s Jesus ben Damneus whose brother is being murdered here because it’s the very same Jesus compensated for it. Green doesn’t even understand how inference works.

Except if Josephus was really just trying to identify which James was killed, adding “called Christ” to the reference would be required to differentiate that one from “Jesus ben Damneus”. So, no, there’s not nothing to infer from. It depends on your interpretation of the text, but that’s what Carrier needs to establish to make his case.

Green’s actual quote:

As Carrier accepts the word “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, it does seem careless that he exercised himself to write that Josephus “has no stated reason why… Jesus… is mentioned at all.” As confusing as that is, it becomes clear that only the word “Christ” is at issue for Carrier.

His argument is that in the absence of a “stated reason” for “Christ” being mentioned (as a descriptor of “Jesus”), then “called Christ” must be an interpolation. However, why should the same readers who could supposedly infer that “Jesus” refers to “Jesus ben Damneus” be unable to infer a reason for the presence of “Christ” in the text?

Indeed, any non-Christian reading the text can infer Josephus’ motive for using this word in the narrative. Put simply, there are two men called Jesus in the extant text of 20:200-203 (it was a common name).[12] A moniker for each Jesus is necessary so that the passage facilitates its reference to both Jesuses without confusing them. In extant Josephus, one of them is identified as “Jesus ben Damneus” and the other is identified as “Jesus called Christ”. (This well-known narrative explanation goes unmentioned by Carrier.[13]) Thus the “James” who is killed in the passage has been given his distinguishing referent, and it signifies two things: he is “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; and this Jesus is distinct from the “Jesus ben Damneus” mentioned later in AJ 20.

In itself it is little more than a passing comment that stops the reader from confusing the two Jesuses in the simplest manner. It is not necessary for Josephus to give a ‘stated reason’ why two different Jesuses in a narrative need two monikers, any more than it is necessary for a Welsh village to give a stated reason why two men in the town are referred to as Jones the Butcher and Jones the Postman. To claim (if anyone were to do so) that any inference to such a reason would occur only to a Christian would be off the mark.

He follows through with his alternative explanation: Josephus needed to distinguish the two people with common names.

Carrier replies to that:

This is funny. Because here Green just admitted Josephus’s readers would have “confused” them: meaning, they would have understood they were the same Jesus! Precisely my point he tried denying earlier. Consistency is also not a virtue common in the amateur.

I don’t see where Green says that they wouldn’t have understood that. Green says that the audience would understand that “called Christ” was used entirely as an identifying mark and so wouldn’t have required an explanation of the term. That’s not saying that without the “called Christ” they would have known that that was what Josephus meant, and in fact rather the opposite.

Carrier goes on:

But also, his point now doesn’t address anything I argue, illustrating how Green can’t even comprehend what my article actually says. Of course, I assume (?) Green knows “Jesus ben Damneus” isn’t in the text. “Jesus ben Damneus” is simply the Hebraic representation in English of the actual Greek which renders most literally in English as “Jesus the son of Damneus.” This is not the same as “so-called Christ,” which is not a patronymic. Josephus’s Gentile readers certainly understood patronymics. Josephus uses them routinely without explanation. But his readers would have no idea why Josephus isn’t giving one for Jesus, but instead giving them some weird ambiguous designator, a word that isn’t even being explained, nor why it matters. Josephus never elsewhere does this. Nor would he. It’s inexplicable.

This is not answered by saying “Josephus just needed to distinguish the two Jesuses.” The problem is that this isn’t how Josephus would do that—because it’s unprecedented in Josephus and makes the text even more inexplicable and confusing. Why are we not being given their patronymic? Why is Jesus more important than James who only gets named incidentally? Why is Jesus called a Christ? What is a Christ? Why are we being told he was called that? Why is James being killed? Why are we being told about his brother even though his brother apparently isn’t even involved? What does this Jesus have to do with any of this? Why are we being told this story at all?

So, the basic argument here once we strip out the crap is that Josephus uses patronymics to identify people and doesn’t use Jesus called Christ’s patronymic. This is actually a decent argument, but it can be explained by “Christ” being better known. If they knew about Christians, that’s not an unreasonable take. As for the narrative claims, those assume that Josephus would mention it because those are important to the narrative, which isn’t necessarily the case. About the best argument here is that if the phrase is just supposed to mention James and not tie it to Christianity, it should have been something like “James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ” rather than “the brother of Jesus called Christ named James”. That’s definitely something that Green needs to address, but it’s also not a smoking gun either because there are a number of reasons why an awkward phrasing might be used.

Carrier quotes Green:

“By [Carrier’s] own argument, the abuse of legal process was sufficient to warrant outrage and action.”

Carrier replies:

Green evidently did not read the account as Josephus wrote it. Josephus says James was only executed because Ananus was a Sadducee and Sadducees are overly strict with the law, so Ananus took an opportunity to enforce that strictness when he couldn’t be stopped. This means (a) Ananus was not allowed to kill people like James any other time (hence he had to “seize an opportunity” to do so) and (b) most Jews (not being Sadducees) did not believe James should have been killed—including Josephus himself, who distances himself from such viciously “strict” law enforcement by blaming it on the cruel Sadducees.

This is why the actual crime James was accused of isn’t even important enough to Josephus to mention: he considers it enough to tell his Gentile readers executing James was an excessive application of Jewish laws neither he nor most Jews would endorse anyway; and that that’s why Ananus could only get away with it when he thought no one could stop him; and this overstep of power generated the outrage that deposed him. Josephus even makes clear the Roman governor could have approved the assembly of the Sanhedrin to execute James—and Ananus would not have been removed if he did. Thus Josephus is telling his Gentile readers that even the Roman Albinus did not approve the execution of James.

That is simply inexplicable if this had anything to do with Christianity. Which doesn’t even make it likely it did (and thus Josephus never imagined it did, and thus never connected any of it to “Christ”). But even if contrary to all expectation it somehow still did, this would be so bizarre to the ears of Josephus’s readers he would absolutely need to explain it. So that he doesn’t is evidence he never connected any of this to a “Christ.”

It is typical of amateurs not to read the sources they are discussing, and to not correctly interpret what they are saying and its significance.

(Note: I sometimes keep the insults in especially when Carrier’s reply is underwhelming to show how Carrier isn’t that much more professional than Green).

Anyway, Green’s point is that in order for people to be outraged over the executions, all that’s required is that the people see it as an abuse of the legal process. That doesn’t require the fact that James was a Christian to be important, and that James was a Christian would not be enough to claim that the people wouldn’t be outraged at the abuse of the legal process. So this all comes down to the point I mentioned above: if this is in the original text, why did Josephus put “Jesus the so-called Christ” ahead of James, when it was James’ death that was the relevant causal event here? Contrary to Carrier, though, that doesn’t require him to have tried to tie the riots to James’ Christianity.

Green’s actual quote:

It is necessary to return to the story of the death of James, which Carrier says could not be about “Christians” since the story describes a legal remedy for those killed, which, he claims, would not have been made available to “Christians”. In short, this is the thrust of his argument: James and some others were killed; there was a legal remedy for their deaths; but “Christians” would not enjoy a legal remedy; therefore this James is not a “Christian” and has no relation to Christian events of the first century; therefore his brother Jesus was not called “Christ”. Do all of the steps in that sequence really follow on from each other? Surely the last is entirely a non sequitur.

There is something else curious here. On page 495, Carrier has said this about Ananus’ fault in the stoning which was ‘without following the appropriate procedure of involving the authorities in charge of the law. For this outrage, many leading Jews protested…’ (emphasis added). This triggered a chain of events ending in Ananus’ dismissal from office. Yet Carrier later writes ‘the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course, not an act warranting outrage and [Ananus’] dismissal from office’ (page 497, emphasis added). By his own argument, the abuse of legal process was sufficient to warrant outrage and action. Therefore, further outrage is irrelevant to the consequences, and his argument is not advanced by it, nor by bringing supposed public hatred of Christians into it.

If Carrier is indeed claiming that the people wouldn’t have been outraged because Christians didn’t enjoy legal protections, then that’s a problematic argument. Even if Christianity was a banned cult, someone murdering one of them would, in general, deserve legal protection, and there would be no indication here that they were being executed just for being Christians in accordance with actual law. But there’s more on this later.

Carrier quotes Green:

“He offers no explanation for why he thinks it was illegal to be in the ‘Christian sect’ in 60s Jerusalem.”

Carrier replies:

This is funny coming from a Christian apologist. But I’ll set that aside. “60s Jerusalem” was in a Roman province. Unless Green is also going to agree that Tacitus didn’t write what he did about Christians in the 60s being a hated criminal sect, and that Christians were never persecuted criminally by Roman authoritis until (for some reason) the second century, when Pliny knew they were as a matter of course (though not why), it’s hard to explain why Green would think Christianity was legally protected at the time.

But the important context is not the 60s. It’s the 90s. When Josephus is writing this. It’s the Gentiles of the 90s Josephus would need to explain this to. If Christianity was a legal association in the 60s but no longer by the 90s, that’s certainly a historical curiosity he would need to explain! And merely “presuming” that the state of affairs Pliny considers a matter of course had not existed just fifteen years earlier is to invent facts not in evidence. Why was their Imperial license to assemble revoked? How did we never hear of such a strange turn of events as the Emperor licensing the Christian sect even; much less the remarkable incident of that license then being revoked? If such a thing had happened so recently, why does neither Pliny nor even the Emperor Trajan know of it? Both of whom were holding imperial legal offices in the 90s.

This is another example of the danger of amateurism: Green does not seem to understand why Christianity was ever deemed illegal; and he seems ready to invent histoirical facts for which we have no evidence. We know from Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan that Christians were only being prosecuted for illegal assembly; and we know from that and other evidence that groups needed a license from the imperial government to assemble. The Jews had such a license (indeed at that time even by treaty). But we know from Paul certain factions of Jewish leadership considered Christians to be practicing illegally well into the 50s. So if Christians couldn’t assemble with Jews in service to the Jewish synagogue authorities, and they didn’t get specific legal recognition as a religious association by the imperial authorities, they were by definition a criminal organization under Roman law. Yet the Christians receiving an imperial license to assemble, or being welcome servants to Jewish synagogue authorities, are facts too extraordinary to just imagine true without any evidence of it.

The problem here is that Carrier would need to establish that simply being a Christian was enough to be executed — even if you didn’t “assemble”, which is what Carrier says they were only being prosecuted for — and that them being arrested for any reason wouldn’t have caused outrage. In short, Carrier’s presumption is that for the words to be Josephus’, he’d have to be saying that they were arrested and executed for being Christians but no one would have been outraged over that. But to do that he’d have to at least establish that they could be arrested just for that and that being arrested for that is the only explanation for that odd phrasing. He does neither in his reply.

Green’s actual comment:

But let’s entertain for the moment the idea that a second outburst of outrage ought to be pivotal. How well does the argument stand up? For one thing, the article asks the reader to accept that the response of sympathetic Jews to James’ death in the narrative is “inexplicable” and “makes little sense” if the referent was the execution of “the hated and illegal Christian sect”. Like a crime spree in a multi-storey car-park, that statement is just wrong on many levels:

the terminological problem of using the term “Christian”;
his questionable premise that “Christians” were far too “hated” to expect any legal remedy in 60s Jerusalem (how does he know this about 60s Jerusalem? – he doesn’t say);
was the Jerusalem church a “sect”?
and his surprising assertion that to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem was “illegal”.

On that last bullet point, it is difficult to imagine what law Carrier has in mind. He offers no explanation for why he thinks it was illegal to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem. This is baffling. In fact, it is plain wrong. This is not good history writing.

Perhaps he senses that he is on thin ice. He says that against his arguments, “One can advance explanations on all counts.” He does not tell the reader what these explanations are: “I will not delve any further into that debate”, he conveniently states, having given his polemical view good airtime. But, as if he had enabled a comparison to be made, he pronounces that his explanation that Josephus did not write “Christ” is “the most probable.”

Carrier addresses the last bullet point, but not the more important second one. And his insistence here that Green doesn’t know what he’s talking about conflicts with the quote here that Carrier thinks that one can find other explanations, that he never addresses. So either he’s presenting his view as being more certain than even he thinks it is, or else this isn’t that important a point. Still, Green does need an explanation for why Jesus is given precedence over James here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier asks] “Why is ‘Jesus’ the primary subject in the execution of James, rather than James, the one actually executed?” This is a circular argument. [Because] only Carrier’s rewriting of the passage makes Jesus the central subject.”

Carrier replies:

Green goofs again here. Surprisingly for a self-proclaimed Classicist. He didn’t look at the Greek syntax. I am not the one who centers Jesus in the story. The Greek sentence structure Josephus chose to construct does—Josephus centers Jesus. Oddly. Just as I point out in my article: Josephus does not say “Ananus executed James, the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ,” Josephus oddly chose to say “Ananus executed the brother of Jesus, for whom the name was James.” It does not matter whether “the so-called Christ” or “the son of Damneus” is inserted here: it remains the fact that Jesus is the primary named; James is only named as an afterthought. In other words, the important person, Josephus is telling us here, is Jesus. James is incidental. Why?

Someone who had a Ph.D. in Classics would have gotten this. Which is why we can’t claim merely having a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to make you an expert. But it’s all the weirder that Green screwed this up, given that I devoted several sentences before the one he quotes explaining this syntactical fact (see p. 504).

Carrier is correct that the sentence structure centers Jesus in the sentence. What he’s not right about is that this centers Jesus in the narrative. Carrier is using the centering in the sentence to make a link to the more naratively important Jesus ben Damneus, but that’s not a clear link. After all, Carrier’s interpretation is that after his brother was killed Jesus ben Damneus became high priest as recompense for the death of this brother as opposed to being the one that the relevant appointing authority thought was best qualified for the job, which doesn’t seem plausible. But I admit that in the ancient world that that might have been common and Carrier might have argued for that in his paper, so I’ll let that slide for now. Still, that interpretation isn’t as clear as Carrier thinks it is.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier oddly asks this question about the Josephus text which is the subject of the article: “Why is “Jesus” the primary subject in the execution of James, rather than James, the one actually executed?” This is a circular argument. To explain: only Carrier’s rewriting of the passage makes Jesus the central subject. Having rewritten the text, he then asks why Jesus is the central subject. It wasn’t so, until he rewrote it by substituting “called Christ” with “ben Damneus”. If the text is not rewritten, Jesus is not the central subject, and Carrier’s objection then falls away. In the extant text, Ananus is the subject, James is the object, and Jesus is in a passing comment in the genitive case. Thus AJ 20:200 says:

“Ananus [subject]… brought before them the brother [object] of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Carrier desires to re-write the text but it is not cogent to claim to have found a smoking gun in terms of Jesus being “the primary subject in the execution of James”, since such is only the consequence of his own rewriting.

It is James who needs introducing in the text, and it introduces him as the brother of Jesus. Jesus is only there to identify which James this could be. In the extant text, “called Christ” completes the identification, and prevents this Jesus being identified with another Jesus later mentioned. Carrier, however, wants the identification to be with the later mention, that of Jesus ben Damneus (20:203).

As it turns out, Green addressed Carrier’s grammatical argument, claiming that it was just a passing comment in the genitive case. I don’t know enough Greek to say which is correct, but Green is right to note that Carrier elevates it in the narrative from an argument about the grammar. If the grammar can support Green’s interpretation, then Carrier’s insults are unwarranted and his counter irrelevant.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[It] seems to me to be assuming too many things … [like] why should Luke have no source other than Josephus? How does this prove that Luke did not know of the death of James? Why assume that the story of James’ death would fit Luke’s narrative scheme in Acts?”

Carrier replies:

None of these are assumed. All of them are argued for and defended with evidence in my article (directly or by citation of the demonstrations elsewhere). So Green cannot even tell the difference between an assumption and an argued conclusion. (He also doesn’t seem aware that this James exists nowhere in Acts. Luke does not even appear to know he existed. Much less was executed yet vindicated by the authorities.)

Of course I never say Luke had “no source other than Josephus”; I argue, citing abundant scholarship proving the fact, that Luke used Josephus as one of his sources, the AJ in particular. Therefore he would have known this story, had it then existed in the AJ. And I never say “that Luke did not know of the death of James”; I say Luke did not know the specific account of it in the AJ (and therefore it can’t have been in the AJ at that time). And the evidence for that conclusion is precisely the very reasons Luke would have had to use it had he known of it, which I do not “assume,” but demonstrate with argument and citations of supporting scholarship (pp. 505-06). All of which Green ignores. Like an amateur.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier deploys an ‘argument from silence’. He turns to Luke’s Book of Acts. As we all know, it ends about 62AD with Paul in custody in Rome still preaching the gospel, and with Luke having done what he set out to do: to tell the story of the gospel going from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the nations. Acts ends there in Rome, anticipating a trial before the Imperial court. It never gets to tell us of the deaths of Peter and Paul, or James.

Carrier interprets this ending as follows: “Acts does not know of a James “brother of Jesus Christ” killed by a high priest, by stoning… [Luke’s] neglect of this very attractive passage would be very hard to explain, unless it was not present in the AJ in Luke’s time”.

Carrier is assuming at least seven things here:

that Acts was written after AJ;
that Luke read AJ;
that Luke would have extended the ending of Acts to cover this incident had he known of it;
that the current ending of Acts does not really serve Luke’s narrative purposes adequately;
that Luke would have no other source of knowledge for the story but Josephus (if it were in AJ 20) and that Luke’s ‘silence’ is therefore indicative of the original text of Josephus in particular;
that any similar story of the death of James was entirely “unknown” in Luke’s day and was later invented by Hegesippus or someone around his time;
and that Acts pre-dates Hegesippus.

This seems to me to be assuming too many things, notwithstanding that Luke’s connection with Josephus deserves reflection. (It brings to mind Carrier earlier dismissing the theories of deliberate interpolation as ‘less probable’ because they ‘require more assumptions’ (page 498).[14] That seems somewhat ironic in light of a growing stack of assumptions in his article.) For example, why should Luke have no source other than Josephus? How does this prove that Luke did not know of the death of James? Why assume that the story of James’ death would fit Luke’s narrative scheme in Acts?

Carrier ignores the big list of assumptions, focuses on one, and gets it wrong. But the big point here, unaddressed at this point, is the assumption that Luke would have used the story if he had known about it. Green argues against that:

Luke chooses to end Acts with the gospel having travelled from Jerusalem to Rome and anticipating the trial before Caesar: it doesn’t necessarily fit his theme to drag the action back to Jerusalem. Indeed, not even the deaths of Peter and Paul get airtime in Acts, let alone that of James. Carrier’s theory is that Luke would want to make use of the story as potentially pro-Roman and anti-Jewish. That is what Carrier means by calling it a ‘very attractive passage’, but Luke’s stated narrative purpose is not that, but to show the gospel going from Jerusalem to the nations, so logically it ends in Rome, not in Jerusalem.

This is one of Carrier’s weaker arguments, but from this argument from silence he concludes this:

“the story [of Jesus Christ’s James] now extant in AJ 20.200 would have been unknown (since Luke makes no mention of it…) … The story… has nothing to do with Christ or Christians, which explains why Luke does not use it while Josephus does.”

This conclusion is surely based on a false dichotomy: that either Luke’s narrative intentions must take his narrative back from Rome to Jerusalem to get the death of James in; or else the Christian death story is deemed to be non-existent in Luke’s day. Carrier permits Luke to have no narrative intention of his own here, apart from what suits Carrier’s argument. It is worth adding that the argument that Luke doesn’t know of the death of James is precisely one of the factors taken into account by those who date the writing of Luke’s Acts to about 62AD. Carrier’s argument could actually be used to support an early date for Acts.

Green points out that the deaths of Peter and Paul aren’t mentioned in Acts, which if correct is a good reason to say that James’ wouldn’t be there either. Green also points to a narrative purpose for Luke that conflicts with including it. Carrier doesn’t address any of these, but these all work against his argument that if it had existed in Luke’s time he would have used it so it at least likely wasn’t in Josephus at the time. No amount of purportedly great argument and citations can make up for ignoring Green’s own arguments here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier unexpectedly calls James (the brother of Christ) ‘an unknown James’. He does not here explain how he arrives at the idea of James being ‘unknown’ as a person.”

Carrier replies:

This is another super weird goof. Directly refuting his false claim here, I in fact provided half a page of explanation! See the first half of p. 499. Maybe you can explain to me how Green missed this entire paragraph? Or how he doesn’t get why a James never introduced elsewhere and whose significance is never explained would be “unknown” relative to the actual, quite famous and well-described person whose death Josephus actually credits the fall of Jerusalem to? Perhaps Green is confusing people a Christian would know, with people Josephus’s Roman audience would know—which would be funny, because that’s evidence I cite that Josephus can’t have connected this James to “Christ.” Only Christians would not require an explanation of this James’s significance. Which is how we know only Christians can have produced this passage as we have it.

This seems non-responsive to me, as the only relevant part is saying that he did in fact explain it. I haven’t read the paper and so can’t assess whether he did or not.

Green’s actual quote:

In dismissing any connection between Christians and the AJ 20:200 story, Carrier unexpectedly calls James (the brother of Christ) ‘an unknown James’. He does not here explain how he arrives at the idea of James being ‘unknown’ as a person. Unless one knows more of Carrier’s work, this is an unexplained puzzle. If I may fill in the gap, Carrier’s approach separates James, sibling of Jesus, as a fictional character that has no historical connection with the James whom Paul met (Galatians 1-2; this James, according to Carrier, was real, but not a sibling of Jesus since he considers that there was no historical Jesus). Carrier regards these Jameses as two different things conflated by church tradition. Having this separation in mind, he would feel justified in calling the sibling of Jesus ‘unknown’. Of course, if one does not start from Carrier’s premise that these are two different James, one real and one fictional, then James, brother of Christ, is not unknown. If one does not know the background to Carrier’s thought, it would be difficult to understand why he calls James ‘unknown’ or why it is part of his argument.

The disconnect here seems to be that Green thinks that Carrier is calling James the brother of Jesus as unknown, but the impression I get from the above quote is that Carrier is claiming that of James ben Damneus. Why Carrier doesn’t think that that might be the error given that Green explicitly says that he’s talking about James the brother of Christ seems to reflect a lack of careful reading.

Carrier quotes Green:

“It is well known that Josephus tells the tale of a certain James’ death, set in the 60s. Origen does not: he merely mentions that he was killed.”

Carrier replies:

That’s not true. Origen does a lot more than “merely mention that [James] was killed.” That’s how we know Origen is confusing the account of Hegesippus as coming from Josephus. As I explain in my article (pp. 507-10), Origen says his source (whom he claims is Josephus) narrated an account of James “the Just,” that that narrative said he was so-called on account of the people thinking highly of him, and that this source linked his stoning to the fall of Jerusalem (causally and we must therefore infer temporally). All these details are peculiar to Hegesippus’s narrative of the death of James. None come from Josephus (nor are even plausibly Josephan). So again here we see Green ignoring facts to construct a false claim in rebuttal to my article, that ignores the entire argument of my article. That’s an amateur.

Green’s actual quote:

First, by way of background, it is important to state differences in how Josephus and Origen are approaching their subject matter. There should be some common ground here for those for and against interpolation. I will be a little more explicit than Carrier is. It is well known that Josephus tells the tale of a certain James’ death, set in the 60s. Origen does not: he merely mentions that he was killed. Origen’s narrative belongs in 70AD and later: the destruction of Jerusalem at the start of the 70s and that sometime between the 70s and the end of the century (after the destruction and before the death of Josephus), some Jews, including Josephus, retrospectively thought the death had been the cause of the destruction because it was the death of a just man. Both passages, however, have in common key features, similarities which are being contested by Carrier.

Green’s comment here seems to be that Josephus is telling the story as set in the 60s, while Origen is using it as a reference for events in the 70s. He explicitly admits that there are other details and that he will go on to talk in more detail about them. Carrier ignores that to take a cheap shot here. I know that later Green talks specifically about how whether you claim Origen got it from Josephus or Hegesippus there are significant differences. So to call him an amateur and to make a false claim is definitely too strong a statement. As I said, Green seems to only mean here that Josephus references it directly as part of a story while Origen is referencing it as an event to a further purpose.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[T]hese innocent words ‘the same writer’ are capable of other interpretations, [such as] just a way to avoid repeating ‘Josephus… Josephus…’ [so] these few words are not strong enough to bear the weight of Carrier’s assumptions and his bold conclusion that “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind.”

Carrier replies:

At no point in my article do I say “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind” because he said “the same writer.” Green has fabricated an argument I never made, and duly knocks down his straw man. There are several lessons here in how to spot incompetence:

Origen said a number of things that in conjunction lead to this conclusion; that one element alone would not be telltale, nor do I argue from it this way. Amateurs (and Christian apologists generally) have a really hard time grasping that a conjunction of several elements that individually are mundane can be itself no longer mundane. The conclusion follows from the conjunction, not the elements individually. Amateurs also tend to not understand what an argument even is, and thus, like here, Green mistakes my argument as “because x, therefore y” merely because I mention x. In fact my argument isn’t even from x. Green confuses the fact that I merely mention a thing, as my using it as a premise. But no competent diagram of my argument could conclude this.

Since Green is quoting that, the only relevant response who be that Green misquoted him. But Carrier doesn’t actually say that, and instead focuses on having more arguments. And the problem is that his own quote contradicts him:

Here is the actual argument Green is incompetently quoting from (from p. 499, emphasis now added):

[C]ontrary to previous assumptions, Origen does not say that Josephus said this in the AJ. He refers to a passage in Josephus attesting John the Baptist in AJ 18 (and, notably, not a passage that attests to Jesus in that same book, one of the many instances in which we must conclude Origen cannot have known the TF, which now also appears in AJ 18), and only then says, ‘the same writer says’ this thing about James the Just. Notably, he does not say Josephus says it in the same book, or even in the same work. Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind.(emphasis added)

Sure looks like he says that thing that he says he never said in his article to me. And his argument is weak because he’s relying on Origen not giving an actual reference to make the claim. Sure, Origen could have gotten that from another treatise, but there’s no evidence for “must” as Carrier explicitly states it here. So Green isn’t making a strawman at all: Carrier really does link the “the same writer says” comment to a claim that this must mean that he didn’t mean the AJ but some other treatise of Josephus’ that we have never heard of or come across.

And if you go to the article, this is Carrier quoting himself. So no incompetent quoting can be blamed.

Green’s actual quote:

On the first ‘mistake’, supposedly a mistake by Origen in thinking that he has got from Josephus some material about the destruction being caused by James’ death, Carrier draws on the fact that Origen does not specify a particular book of Josephus.[15]

For ease of reference, here are two instances in which Origen introduces his subject:

“For in the eighteenth book of his Jewish Antiquities, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist… and the same writer… says…” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, Against Celsus 1.47)

“Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Judaic Antiquities in twenty books… said…” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, On Matthew 10.17)

Can much be made of the fact that Origen does not say “in the twentieth book”? Carrier treats this as a smoking gun. He makes these assumptions about it, and the first one is perhaps the biggest assumption:

that Origen really has read such things in a book;
that Origen really did think that Josephus wrote said book;
that Origen searched diligently in Josephus for the source of these words but was unsuccessful;
that Origen’s words “the same writer” constitute hesitant language indicating that unsuccessful search;
that Origen nevertheless still thought that one of Josephus’ works was his source;
(and therefore presumably Origen did not consider whether anything else he had read by any other author could be the source, although Carrier does not say so).

However, these innocent words “the same writer” are capable of other interpretations. It could be just a way to avoid repeating “Josephus… Josephus…”[16] Anyway, these few words are not strong enough to bear the weight of Carrier’s assumptions and his bold conclusion that “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind”, i.e. not AJ 20, and not AJ at all (emphasis added).

Of course, that conclusion merely rearranges the same problem: if Origen could have “had an entirely different treatise in mind”, why did he not search or name any possible non-Josephan source he had access to? Just as Origen does not name AJ 20, nor does he name some other book. However, Carrier simply uses that to lever open a door. Now it is fair game to search for another text, unnamed by Origen, that better fits Origen’s words about the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. So Carrier proceeds on his key assumption that Origen really has read these things somewhere, and, innocently fixated on no author but Josephus, he really has forgotten where.

Carrier does need to explain what other source Origen had in mind here, and yet his actual move invalidates this argument entirely because, as already noted, he ends up linking the quote in question to Hegesippus, meaning that the “the same writer” isn’t itself even accurate, or at least relevant to Carrier’s theory.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier says] ‘Origen did not note the phrase, ‘who was called Christ,’ as original to Josephus.’ In other words, it is not Origen but other scholars (after Origen) who thought this phrase was original to Josephus. But Carrier’s statement is problematic. In particular, the words ‘who was called Christ’ account for only three of the six Greek words that constitute, in full, ‘the brother of Jesus who was called Christ’.”

Carrier replies:

An expert would already know that Origen is already talking about James the brother of Jesus, so we already know why he would say the phrase “James the brother of Jesus.” So that these three words would match in both texts would never be attributable to quotation. Otherwise we’d have to say every writer in all of history who says “James the brother of Jesus” is quoting each other. No. That’s just people using words as language requires. The only way to argue that maybe Origen is quoting Josephus is by claiming the addition of “who was called Christ” is telltale. But Origen does not say those words come from Josephus either. And as I go on to show, we would already expect Origen to use those words anyway. They appear to be Origen’s words. And indeed those three words only “appear” in Josephus after Origen; in time for Eusebius to find them there (when peculiarly Origen had not), and then present them as a quotation of Josephus (in exactly the way Origen didn’t).

This is why only those three words are relevant to our inquiry. That Green does not understand this is illustrative of his incompetence in literary and linguistic analysis and text-critical reasoning.

Except Green’s counter is that the six word phrase is exactly the same in the extant copies of Josephus and Origen, so Carrier would need to show why Origen’s comment in his own words would match that that exactly. And Origen in his own words, as Green notes, would not have used a phrasing that implies that Jesus is not Christ, whereas Josephus did. So we get to this point: with that phrasing, Origen clearly thinks that he’s referencing Josephus and not Hegesippus. But Carrier seems to accept that so this seems irrelevant, and here he doens’t address the oddity of the two using the exact same six word phrase. Admittedly, there aren’t that many ways to say that sentence, but Carrier resorts to insulting Green instead of simply pointing that out.

Green’s actual quote:

The second ‘mistake’ is the supposed mistake on the part of scholars, misled into assuming Origen is citing Josephus (misled by three presumed signposts: the occurrence of the phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; the death of James; and Origen purporting to take Josephus to task). Here Carrier sets up the idea that the connection is all in the mind of scholars. So he says:

“Origen did not note the phrase, “who was called Christ,” as original to Josephus.”

In other words, it is not Origen but other scholars (after Origen) who thought this phrase was original to Josephus. But Carrier’s statement is problematic. In particular, the words “who was called Christ” account for only three of the six Greek words that constitute, in full, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. This is significant, because it is due to this longer sequence, six words, and Origen’s mention of Josephus and the death of James, that scholars make the connection to AJ 20. No-one makes the textual attribution on the basis of three Greek words but on the basis of six words and all these things. The article does not establish why Origen would, or should, make a narrowly drawn note about only three words – “who was called Christ” – rather than Origen making a note about the fuller phrase he uses: “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. It is a difference between a Greek phrase of three words as against six words.

The fact is, it is Carrier, not Origen, who has an interest in isolating “called Christ” from the rest of the phrase. There is no reason why Origen should make a note treating the words “called Christ” in a manner distinct from how he treats the rest of the phrase. Why does Carrier frame the matter in this way? He is projecting his own concern about a three-word problem onto Origen. Carrier is merely priming the reader to be readier to accept his own argument that the issue is only three Greek words.

Carrier’s problematic statement needs further unpacking. It asserts that “Origen did not note the phrase… as original to Josephus, or claim that he was even quoting Josephus at all.” That is, Origen attributes views on James’ death and the destruction to Josephus, but does not attribute the description of James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” to Josephus. I am not convinced of this. Origen does not draw a dividing line between his comments to imply any such distinction in attribution. In fact, Origen can be interpreted as explicitly stating the opposite, taken this way: “Josephus… says… the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” Looked at this way, Origen precisely claims that he is taking material, including this phrase, from Josephus. Carrier accuses this of being a scholars’ mistake, but his assumption of a dividing line is no more convincing.

Note that Carrier also ignores a huge swathe of text talking about a lot of things, including the things that were the same and different in Origen and Josephus. And here Green is simply pointing out that arguing that Origen was not attributing the phrase to Josepgus isn’t clear.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Carrier says] Hegesippus writes ‘as if originating the appellation’? That seems an ill-informed thing for Carrier to write. Although Carrier does not tell the reader, we know that the Gospel of Thomas also uses the appellation ‘James the Just’. And we know that many scholars date Thomas earlier than Hegesippus. … [and Origen knew GThom, so] the suggestion that Hegesippus is the originator of this phrase is not well made. What’s more, according to Eusebius, the appellation ‘James the Just’ was also used by Origen’s teacher Clement of Alexandria.”

Carrier replies:

We get a bunch of boners here. Hegesippus predates Clement of Alexandria. So that Clement used a phrase Hegesippus invented is not an argument against Hegesippus inventing it. And the Gospel of Thomas is not quoted or cited by any author before the 3rd century, so we cannot in fact establish the text we have of it dates earlier—and remember, just because our Medieval Coptic copy says certain things, does not mean those things were in the text of it centuries earlier; in fact we know they often weren’t: early Greek papyrus fragments show significant differences from the Coptic text Green is referring to. Scholars do imagine the original could date anywhere from 100 to 200 A.D. But that it was written in the 2nd century and that that is what it then said are both speculations based on no evidence.

In On the Historicity of Jesus (pp. 326-31) I suggest Hegesippus is actually quoting or adapting this story from a lost Acts of James, which could well date earlier that century. But I don’t bother with that speculation in the article Green is addressing. Because I don’t actually claim Hegesippus invented the appellation in that article; I only suggest it looks like this story originated it (hence the “as if” Hegesippus did). And I list evidence in support of that conclusion: the designation is derived in this narrative from the claim that Isaiah predicted the events in this story; and James is merely called “just” many times before one of his murderers sticks the term to his name ironically near the end of the tale—in other words, he is not introduced as “James the Just”; he is depicted as getting the name from this story.

The significance of this is that this story (wherever it originated) appears to be where the appellation came from. Thus that Origen cites numerous peculiarities of this very story (and only mistakenly attributes them to Josephus) is reinforced here as the very thing he is doing. This is not the same thing as arguing this is where Origen got the phrase. Amateurs have a hard time with probability reasoning. Saying that an item of evidence increases the probability of a conclusion is not saying that that conclusion is the only possible explanation of the evidence—it isn’t even saying that that conclusion is the most likely explanation of the evidence. The latter conclusion comes only after an accumulation of all the evidence together. Not from individual isolated items of evidence.

The problem here is that if Origen knew about the appellation of “James the Just” without referencing Hegesippus then Origen’s using that term is equally compatible with getting the story/phrase from Josephus, as he would translate that James to the one he knew, the Just, especially if James being a just man was important to Origen’s story, which it was. As Green notes, Origen was essentially taking elements of the accounts he’d come across and using them to make a specific theological point. As such, he definitely would go beyond the text when phrasing things if it suited his purpose. The reason he doesn’t do it in the six word phrase is because he is at least ascribing the view to Josephus and using it to criticize Josephus for his non-belief.

Green also notes that if it is taken as a recasting of Hegesippus there are also major differences that would need to be explained, so again it’s just clear that Origen references works creatively.

Green’s actual quote:

As mentioned, to help distance Origen from Josephus, Carrier wants us to think that Origen is nearer to Hegesippus.

Carrier makes great play of the fact that Hegesippus like Origen, and unlike Josephus, uses the phrase ‘James the Just’, but this phrase was in popular usage if Hegesippus is to be believed. It was an epithet that could be used whenever Christians spoke of James.

Neverthless. arguing that Origen owes the words “James the Just” to Hegesippus, Carrier writes:

“Hegesippus repeatedly refers to this James as “the Just” … and once explicitly calls him “James the Just” (indeed, as if originating the appellation…)” (page 508, emphasis added).

Hegesippus writes “as if originating the appellation”? That seems an ill-informed thing for Carrier to write. Although Carrier does not tell the reader, we know that the Gospel of Thomas also uses the appellation “James the Just”. And we know that many scholars date Thomas earlier than Hegesippus. We also know that elsewhere Origen names a Gospel of Thomas, whereas he never names Hegesippus. In summary, the suggestion that Hegesippus is the originator of this phrase is not well made.

What’s more, according to Eusebius, the appellation “James the Just” was also used by Origen’s teacher Clement of Alexandria. To convince, an argument for Origen’s dependence on Hegesippus should at least reference and compare the potential alternative sources for the appellation “James the Just” (Thomas, Hegesippus, Clement, popular usage). Why does Carrier omit this exercise? It is one of a number of examples of the article’s lack of engagement with relevant evidence. Dependence on Hegesippus for the epithet is not established.

Note that Carrier has skipped ahead here and ignored the entire argument where Green compares the texts in question and notes similarities and differences between them to focus on this point which is clearly less important to Green and even Carrier. Focusing on minor points at the expense of larger ones and especially ones that Carrier himself has insulted Green for not talking about does not lend confidence to Carrier’s interpretations here.

Carrier quotes Green:

“‘Vespasian besieged them’ (Hegesippus) and ‘Jerusalem’s destruction’ (Origen) are at opposite ends of the story of the war, years apart. … [So w]hy does Carrier make such an inaccurate statement as ‘according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction’?”

Carrier replies:

This is not an error. Origen and Hegesippus both say the execution of James came years before the actual destruction. So that the ensuing destruction took a few years is not at all relevant to the immediacy of the consequence. And Origen and Hegesippus both say the destruction of Jerusalem was the inevitable consequence of the siege. There is no reason whatever for Hegesippus to conclude his story with the cause of the destruction “immediately” following the murder of James but to signal that was the punishment for it, as I show Eusebius correctly infers from this very passage. And indeed, Hegesippus’s narrative explicitly sets this up by noting Isaiah had predicted that, for this murder, “shall they eat the fruit of their doings,” thus signalling that how he concludes his story shall fulfill that prophecy. He is thus obviously referring to what happened: Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed. (See my whole argument, which lists multiple lines of evidence Green ignores: pp. 508-09.)

Green’s actual quote:

There are, in any case, difficulties with all these comparisons. A point made in some interpolation theories is that to derive Origen from Josephus, one has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Josephus says; but deriving Origen from Hegesippus (as Carrier does) has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Hegesippus says. This is not much in the way of progress, as theories go. Origen is still attributing to his source, rightly or wrongly named, things that neither Josephus nor Hegesippus says.

Yet Carrier insists, “this legend [in Hegesippus] must be Origen’s source.” (page 507, emphasis added). Carrier overstates similarities in the two authors, to put it mildly. Take this line in Hegesippus: “And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” That’s all Hegesippus says on the war.

Now here is Carrier’s unexpected take on it: “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”, and Carrier reiterates, saying: “immediately before the destruction came” (page 509).

This is a highly inaccurate representation of Hegesippus. Does Carrier wants us to think that Hegesippus matches with Origen’s mention of the 70AD destruction? It is inaccurate in chronology and detail. That is, “Vespasian besieged them” (Hegesippus) and “Jerusalem’s destruction” (Origen) are at opposite ends of the story of the war, years apart. Hegesippus speaks of the start of the siege. Origen speaks of the destruction of the temple and city at the end of the siege.

Why does Carrier make such an inaccurate statement as “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution… immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”? Why does the article include so many errors? If Carrier wants to satisfy us that Origen is borrowing from Hegesippus, why does he ask us to digest empty calories?

Carrier even goes on unimpressively to assert that Origen attributed to Josephus “all the same things that Hegesippus coincidentally says.” That does not square with the data, which shows that Origen’s riffing is far from entirely found in Hegesippus who does not mention the destruction and desolation of 70AD or views of Jews thereafter, nor seek explicitly for the cause of the fall of Jerusalem as Josephus does.

Carrier here yanks out one part of it that he can criticize and ignores the narrative point and the overall point that as there are things in Origen that don’t align with Josephus there are things in Origen that don’t align with Hegesippus either, so you have to accept that Origen is at least reading in no matter what source you start from, so that’s not good evidence that it was Hegesippus and not Josephus.

Carrier quotes Green:

Why oh why, has Carrier been labouring to tell us that Origen’s content ‘precisely matches with … Hegesippus’?; and that Origen’s words ‘construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does)’.”

Carrier’s reply:

Green is not very bright. So he does not grasp what my article plainly says. Origen’s details match Hegesippus, not his words, because Origen is not quoting anyone, he is paraphrasing in his own words—as I demonstrate extensively. If you look at the lines Green quotes from me in context this is obvious (p. 510). Green amateurishly doesn’t understand the difference between “content” (what I actually said) and “words,” even after supposedly having just read an article that extensively argues all the words Origen uses are his own and only the content is matched.

So it makes no sense for Green to ask why Origen’s words don’t match Hegesippus. And on the interpolation theory the only words that matched Josephus at the time were “James the brother of Jesus,” a phrase Origen would always have written here anyway (see below), and thus cannot indicate any quotation of Josephus or anyone else. So the question is whether adding to that phrase “the so-called Christ” came from a direct quote of Josephus or from Origen’s paraphrase; in other words, whether those three words are Josephus’s or Origen’s. My paper presents extensive, peer reviewed evidence they were Origen’s. And that they only entered into Josephus’s text afterward, by accident. Green has failed to respond to any of my actual arguments for that conclusion.

Green’s actual quote:

Carrier compounds this error by reiterating that Origen’s content “precisely matches with Eusebius’s quotation of Hegesippus.” i.e. Origen matches Hegesippus. It is difficult to understand what causes Carrier to say that they precisely match. But he keeps saying much the same thing in different forms of wording. Thus apparently Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” But repetition of this theme does not make it any more accurate. In fact, the lie is given to this when Carrier states of the key six words that “none refer to the AJ or Hegesippus” (emphasis added). Let what Carrier says there sink in. Why oh why, has Carrier been labouring to tell us that Origen’s content “precisely matches with … Hegesippus”?; and that Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” In the end, Carrier has to say the opposite about the six word phrase, and hardly anything matches quite as well as Carrier asserts.

Green’s point is that neither the details nor the critical six words match, despite Carrier asserting that they do. Carrier doesn’t address that except to assert that the details do and to ignore that the criticial six words are not present and, in fact, wouldn’t be present as Hegesippus would never call Jesus “the so-called Christ”.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier also gives himself a get out of jail card by saying ‘Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus’ (page 510, emphasis added). So he says perhaps it was someone else’s mistake, just in case. This posits an unknown source. Is this not ‘complicated’?”

Carrier replies:

This illustrates another amateur inability to understand the logic of probability. Indeed Green screws up twice here: first, not comprehending how low probabilities can sum to a high probability; and second, not even getting right what I said in the first place.

On the first point, if we have two possible theories that both result in the same conclusion, and one of them is simple, and so has, say, a high probability (let’s say, 60%), and the other is complex, and so has, say, a low probability (let’s say, 10%), the probability of the conclusion is thereby increased. Indeed, in the hypothetical example, from 60% to 70%. Not decreased as Green seems to assume. Because the probability of the conclusion equals the sum of all possible paths to that result.

Thus Green mistakes my pointing this out, for instead leaning entirely on a less probable hypothesis. No. When I say both paths lead to the same conclusion, I am talking about the sum of their probabilities being thereby increased. The low probability of one of them makes no difference to that fact. Innumeracy is indeed commonplace among amateurs, and I find in Christian apologists especially. It does not reduce the probability of a thesis to propose multiple possible ways it could happen. It actually in fact increases that probability.

This, if true, would show why Bayesian epistemology, based as it is on probabilities, is utterly useless. Imagine that we have a theory that’s fairly probable that leads to a specific conclusion. And then someone posits a separate theory that is utterly improbable and yet comes to the same conclusion. How does that increase the probability of the first theory being correct? Carrier seems to be going for the idea outlined above that you add up all probabilities of all theories and they have to sum to 1, but this has to be considered only against that specific conclusion, which is not how these things are done. In general, we at least have competing conclusions and they have to be assessed against each other. You can’t just invent a theory that supports your conclusion, give it a probility, and then count it in favour of your preferred conclusion! Even Carrier here implies that it’s the more probable theory that’s going the heavy lifting here.

Let me use a hypothetical example here. Imagine that someone comes across a shopping list that we all agree was mine. Someone notes that “Hot peppers” are on the list. A theory arises that someone else added that to the list because I hate spicy food and so would never buy hot peppers. This is a pretty plausible theory. Then someone else comes up with a theory that I wouldn’t have added it to the list because the grocery store I was going to didn’t stock them, which is implausible because all the grocery stores I go to do stock them. Would that improbable theory make it more likely that I didn’t add them in any reasonable sense? It’s almost certainly not true. The same thing applies to Carrier’s hypothetical. If the reason we think the new theory is improbable is because it comes to an absurd conclusion, then that would immediately count against any theory that came to that conclusion. But if we had a probable theory that came to that conclusion, that obviously wouldn’t be the case. So the only possible difference between the two would be how they arrive at that conclusion. And a theory that arrives at a conclusion through unreliable reasoning — the only way it could have a 10% probability — isn’t going to add support that the far better reasoned theory isn’t already benefiting from.

Carrier goes on:

On the second point, here is my actual argument that Green is screwing up (p. 510, emphasis now added):

That someone else conflated these two passages before Origen, a conflation that he later employed, is also too complicated: this theory requires us to invent an unattested source that Origen does not mention and assume that the same improbable errors were made in that source. Again, it is more likely that Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus.

In other words, I did not argue “Origen used a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus.” I argued that that theory, even as improbable as it is, is still more probable than an even more complex theory (“that someone else conflated these two passages before Origen”). Which is correct. But as Green didn’t actually comprehend what the argument I made actually was, he wrote a completely incompetent response to it.

Green’s actual quote:

But Carrier also gives himself a get out of jail card by saying ‘Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus’ (page 510, emphasis added). So he says perhaps it was someone else’s mistake, just in case. This posits an unknown source. Is this not ‘complicated’? It seems ironic to posit an unknown source, since just a few lines above, Carrier dismisses the idea of someone conflating Hegesippus and Origen with his remark that this ‘is also too complicated: this theory requires us to invent an unattested source that Origen does not mention…’ Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander?

Carrier explicitly leaves out the important part of the quote: Green is noting that Carrier uses “We need to invent an unattested source” as being something that indicats that the theory is too complicated, but then invents an unattested source himself as if that’s perfectly fine. That’s not consistent, and Carrier never addresses it an explicitly ignores it.

Carrier quotes Green:

“[Origen] treats ‘called Christ’ as a statement that he needs to correct.”

Carrier replies:

There is no evidence of this. It is typical of amateurs to make things up, and then declare them facts. Which, by the way, is an actual example of substituting an assumption for a fact. Green is assuming this is what Origen is doing, but there is no evidence it is (the mere juxtaposition is not sufficient to conclude so), and even some evidence it isn’t. Indeed, the whole section where Green says this selectively ignores most of my actual arguments regarding that phrase and its history of use in Origen, the Bible, and other Christian authors. I needn’t repeat it here. You can see for yourself what my arguments actually are, and how they already refute Green (pp. 511 and 496-97).

Green’s actual quote:

In this instance, the issue is not merely that LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS is an unexpected phrase for a Christian commentator to use when writing for Christian readers who all customarily refer to Jesus as Christ, not as one who is “called Christ”. Rather more than that, although Carrier does not engage with this, Origen repeatedly rails against what he takes to be a non-believer denying that Jesus is the Christ. As such, he treats “called Christ” as a statement that he needs to correct. His antagonism surely makes it more probable that he is attributing it to his literary adversary in this respect, Josephus, than treating it as a Christian idiom of his own pen.[27]

Carrier doesn’t address the evidence that Green gives here about Origen railing aganst a non-believer, meaning that he clearly thinks that he is addressing one, meaning that he thinks he is addressing Josephus. The saddest thing about this is that both Carrier’s ideas of Origen either making a mistake or reading a copy that made a mistake are consistent with this, and so intead of saying that Green is making it all up could simply accept that Origen thought he was indeed referencing Josephus, which again Carrier already accepts. So he doesn’t refute it but doesn’t even need to.

Carrier quotes Green:

“Carrier does not account for why Origen would write [‘brother of Jesus’], rather than the standard pious ‘the brother of the Lord’ in common with patristic writings.

Carrier replies:

Origen never uses “Brother of the Lord” as a phrase in his own words. So we have no need to explain why he wouldn’t use it here. But regardless, as an expert could explain to Green: Origen thinks he is paraphrasing a non-Christian source (and even goes out of his way to say so); so obviously he would not do so by attributing to that source the identification of Jesus as “Lord.” That I even need to explain this to Green is a paradigmatic example of his being an amateur.

Which makes it odd that he claims that Green is making up that “called Christ” is a statement that Origen needs to correct since that’s pretty much only used to establish that Origen thinks he’s addressing a non-Christian source, which Carrier derides but then immediately goes on to accept. So what he explains to Green is not only what Green already knows, but what he’s relying on to make his point. So much for being an amateur …

Carrier continues on to essentialy keep saying that Origen wouldn’t use Lord, but does hint that he would have used “Jesus Christ”, which is also not used here. But Carrier uses a lot of insults to concede Green’s point: Origen clearly thought that he was referencing a non-Christian source. If the choices are Josephus and Hegesippus, then he thought he was referencing Josephus.

Green’s actual quote:

Nevertheless, Carrier believes he has adequately argued that the six word phrase first existed in Origen, by combining a mention of James as a brother with his supposed familiar idiom. In summary, on the two components of the six words in Origen:

1) “the brother of Jesus”: Carrier does not account for why Origen would write that, rather than the standard pious “the brother of the Lord” in common with patristic writings; and

2) “who was called Christ”: Carrier says Origen uses it as a familiar Christian idiom but there are weaknesses in this argument.

I’m guessing it’s this one since the quotes don’t align but this is the closest one. Yeah, it’s weak to say that Carrier’s argument hereis adequate.

There are a couple of other things in Carrier that I’ll skip and Carrier skips a lot in Green, but at the end of the day I don’t think Carrier’s defense of his article stand. He’s left out a lot of what Green says and ignores or misinterprets a lot of what he does say. That being said, I don’t think Green adequately addresses why Jesus was given more prominence than James in the relevant sentence. Suffice it to say, there’s more to debate here.

(I have almost 20000 words on this, which Carrier would find excessive, but in my defense most of them are quotes).

Heaven and Hell …

September 21, 2018

So, over at Cross Examined, Bob Seidensticker is talking about a specific thought experiment and one Christian’s answer to it that purportedly links to ideas of God’s marvelous plan. Let me quote the thought experiment first:

If you [a Christian] found yourself on Judgement Day standing next to an unbeliever you cared for and liked and Jesus offered to either annihilate you both or send you to heaven and your friend to hell for eternity, which would you choose and why?

Greg Koukl, the person the thought experiment was originally addressed to, took the second option, based on that being what God does and assuming that God’s judgement in the matter as right. Seidensticker, unsurprisingly, strongly disagrees that that’s the right answer to the question:

So we’re supposed to accept an insane interpretation of justice—infinite punishment in hell for finite crimes here on earth—and just assume that God must have good reasons? This does nothing to justify the Christian position and would be satisfying only to Christians (and maybe only some of those).

This question is like God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice Isaac—it looked like an obedience test, but it was actually a morality test. The correct response for Abraham was: “No, of course I won’t sacrifice Isaac.” And this wasn’t presumptuous of Abraham.

So the underlying presumption here is that this isn’t — or couldn’t — really a test of obedience, but is instead to be thought of as a test of the person’s morality, which means that the Koukl and anyone else taking it would have to give what Seidensticker thinks is the right answer to the question, and choose annihilation for both of them in the original example and refuse to sacrifice Isaac in the second one or else they fail it. This despite the fact that the right answer to the second one was not what Seidensticker says it is, and so what he’d be doing there is taking it out of the realm of Chrisitanity and into the realm of philosophy, which is where I like to play. So let’s do that, then.

What you have to realize about both of these thought experiments is that in order for them to work in any way we have to presume that the people making the decision know that God exists, know that God is asking them to do that, and know that God knows what is or isn’t moral infallibly. Whether God knows this because what is or isn’t moral is something that is knowable and God knows everything — which is my interpretation — or because what is or isn’t moral is determined by the rules of morality that God attached to the universe in the same way that He attached the rules of physics to this universe, God out of anyone knows what is or isn’t moral. And so we can see that, in these cases, God, the person who knows what is or isn’t moral, is telling us to take an action that clashes with our moral intuitions. But if we believe that God knows that is or isn’t moral and believe that God’s system or judgements are moral, then what we end up with is a situation where our judgement of what is moral clashes with that of God’s, where we know that God is at least capable of judging morality infallibly but where we know that we, on the other hand, can get moral judgements wrong. Thus, for us we’re actually in the situation of having objective proof that an action is morally right, but having our internal moral judgements and intuitions clash with it. By any reasonable epistemology, we are in a situation where we know what is moral based on objective evidence and argumentation but recoil from it on the basis of an emotion or intuitive assessment of what “seems right” to us.

To me, no one can be considered a moral person if they refuse to accept the action that they know is moral because it clashes with their emotional assessments of what they feel or want to feel is moral. This test, then, tests for the ability to sacrifice your own personal preferences to objective morality, and so in both cases you should go with what God — who is, you must remember, the only entity in the picture who infallibly knows what is or isn’t moral — says you should do, or with what God judges is right or wrong. Thus, accepting God’s judgement on whether Isaac needs to be sacrificed or whether your friend should go to Hell is the only rational choice you can make if you are actually concerned about being a moral person. The only way the atheist can dodge this outcome is to deny that objective morality exists … but then they can’t make a claim that the decision that someone makes on that decision is immoral, which destroys Seidensticker’s entire argument here.

Since Man was supposedly created in God’s image (or the gods’ image), Man’s understanding of morality should be in sync with God’s, and the natural instinct of revulsion against killing one’s own son should be reliable.

Further to that, Seidensticker here is clearly assuming that all of our natural instincts are moral ones in the sense that they even aim at moral ends or decisions, and in the sense that even the ones that do are always correct in their moral assessments. This is obviously false on all counts. First, we have all sorts of natural instincts that are at best amoral, like that for food or water. We can definitely acquire food in instinctive ways that nevertheless we’d at least consider not fully moral. Second, we know that even those natural instincts that seem to be related to moral decisions quite often get them wrong, like when we fall into in-group and out-group thinking. And even if we can consider that the instinct to not kill one’s child is in itself generally reliably moral, anyone with any moral system more complicated than “Just go with your feelings” can easily find cases where the revulsion against killing one’s child ends up not being the ideal moral choice. Imagine a scenario — slightly modified from a “love test” in Space 1999 — where you have 10 people in one airlock and your child in another, with air slowly leaking from both of them, but where the air pressure in one airlock keeps the other one from opening and letting out those who are inside, but where you have access to a button that can vacate all of the air in one airlock, killing the person inside that airlock but allowing everyone else to go free. Taking the most popular professed morality of atheists — Utilitarianism — killing your child to save the others is the unequivocally moral decision despite that natural instinct to not kill them, and most other moral systems will at least say that it isn’t the fact that it’s your child that makes the action morally wrong. So appealing to that natural instinct as some kind of proof of the immorality of the action itself doesn’t work — since it can be wrong — and certainly doesn’t work when the other option is being advocated by the only being in existence that will never be wrong in its moral assessment.

Now apply that attitude to this question of annihilation vs. heaven for you and hell for your friend. Any mentally healthy person would be horrified at the idea of anyone, let alone a friend, being tormented forever and would immediately choose the alternative. Besides, this hypothetical assumes that “God’s system” has suddenly become flexible, so that your choosing is allowed, and your God-given sense of morality would be an appropriate response.

This, however, relies on that assumption that whether they go to Hell or not is indeed entirely your choice, which means that God has not yet judged them, or at least wouldn’t judge them as worthy of Hell if you didn’t make that choice for them. That, I think, is the driving force behind the horror, which is the idea that your choice and your choice to go to Heaven is made on the back of them being damned to Hell. But that’s not how the Christian is going to look at it here. The Christian is going to look at it as it being the case that God judged them worthy of going to Hell, but is giving you the option to spare them that at the cost of your own reward. Except that in that case what the Christian will believe is that they, in fact, deserve to go to Hell, since God has perfect knowledge and perfect morality and so would always give out perfect justice. This is in fact Koukl’s reply when asked if he’d be able to be happy knowing that his friend was in Hell:

Yeah, that’d be a shame if someone else’s anguish rained on his enjoyment of heaven. He explained that when we get heavenly enlightenment, we will understand that “God’s judgments are just.”

First, this response from Seidensticker reveals that he’s not really all that comfortable dealing with the philosophical implications of these experiments, because the issue here is not over whether Koukl might feel bad, but about whether the concept of Heaven of Hell produces a contradiction: Heaven is supposed to be us having perfect joy, but how can we have perfect joy knowing that people we love are in Hell? And Koukl’s answer here is that once we enter Heaven, we’ll come to understand why that action was deserved and so was just, and so won’t feel bad about it anymore. We may still regret that they are in Hell, but we will know that they deserved it, and so there won’t be any contradiction here.

Now, of course, the typical atheist response is that there is nothing that can deserve an eternal torment in the flames of Hell, which of course immediately runs up against the “God is perfectly moral and perfectly knowledgeable and so perfectly just” reply. But, on top of that, I think that questions like that reveal that perhaps we shouldn’t be taking the “Hell is eternal flame and brimstone” idea literally, but rather as an analogy. Hell is likely far more complicated than that (presuming it exists) and so is instead of being an obvious torment a more subtle one. If it isn’t easy to see at first blush what would be so bad about Hell, it would be perfectly reasonable for Jesus to use an analogy of extreme torment to get across how bad it ends up so that we aren’t misled by thoughts that it doesn’t sound that bad. For me, I’m rather partial to the concept in the fictional series “Heroes in Hell”, where those who were ambitious in life are all sent to live out their lives, but they still desire power and to be ambitious but the extreme competition for power and the rules of Hell itself mean that they can never really achieve their ambitions. Even Satan can’t do that, because while he rules in Hell it’s a rule that he constantly has to defend from those as ambitious as he is who, ultimately, all want his power. This is a Hell that, at first blush, doesn’t sound that bad until you realize just how terrible an eternity of that would be. It even gives a place for non-believers — it’s not that bad for them, but can never be Heaven — and can provide an epiphany for people to ultimately redeem themselves. Sure, it’s a conceptualization that isn’t explicitly stated anywhere, but a system like that makes sense and is one where we can see why Jesus might have simply said “It’s a lake of fire” instead of trying to explain why such a Hell would actually be terrible enough that people should avoid it.

But the point here is that if God is indeed perfectly moral and just — as He must be for this thought experiment to work — then we would come to understand in Heaven that God’s judgement was indeed perfectly just, and so will come to understand that they deserve it … even if we don’t do so now.

Yet again, I’m not sure how humans can be so radically out of sync with God’s “morality” when we were supposedly created in his image. You’re an enlightened being in heaven (presumably greatly elevated from your flawed, limited human shell on earth) and you know about the billions in torment and you’ll be okay with it??

But our understanding of morality is flawed. Inside Christianity, we are all sinners. That we can’t conceive right now how that makes sense is not in any way an argument when we’re going up against an actual judgement from an actual God who is perfectly moral and just. Given the scenarios, there is no rational way to deny that God’s judgement would be right without denying that God — or, at least, the God we’re talking about — doesn’t exist in that scenario which invalidates the scenario. Seidensticker is allowing his emotions to do the work here instead of the facts and arguments integral to and that are the consequences of the scenario that he is inviting us to consider.

“We [in heaven] will rejoice in the good,” Koukl tells us, but what kind of Bizarro World are we talking about, when Christian belief obliges them to label as “good” a punishment system that makes the 11 million deaths in the Holocaust look like a church picnic? It’s pretty much the most inhumane situation conceivable, and it’s held up as a divine good.

The issue is that those 11 million deaths in the Holocaust were clearly unjust and undeserved. But by definition being sent to Hell is deserved if a God as He is believed to be actually exists. So they aren’t comparable.

And Christians wonder why atheists are occasionally peeved at Christian dogma.

Wait … there are times when atheist aren’t peeved at Christian dogma [grin]?

Let’s reconsider this claim that forgiveness is available, because it’s not available to me. Who can believe the unbelievable? I need evidence, and Christianity has pretty much none. The Christian can demonstrate to us how this is supposed to work by believing in leprechauns. When they show me that believing in the unbelievable is possible, then we can move on to the question of whether it’s a smart thing to do.

Um, in what sense does he mean that the belief in God or in leprechauns are “unbelievable”? Because while I don’t happen to believe in them at the moment, I don’t see any particular reason why leprechauns couldn’t exist. Other than opening up epistemological questions about whether we can really choose to believe one thing or another, the issue here is that Seidensticker is saying that in his epistemology if he doesn’t have evidence for something then he chooses not to accept or believe it. But if the belief in leprechauns was important to me and was widespread, I, at least, would be perfectly willing to grant it simple belief status if there was no real reason to think that they absolutely couldn’t exist, even if there wasn’t “evidence”, whatever that means to Seidensticker. Since Seidensticker cannot demonstrate that God cannot exist — and most atheists refuse to try to do so — or that it contradicts my belief system itself he has no real epistemic grounds for saying that it is “unbelievable”, especially since even for him it’s his epistemic system — that presumably he can change — that makes it so for him, and not necessarily so for others.

In short, no one needs to insist that they can’t believe something without “evidence”. Seidensticker chooses to do so, but that’s still a choice. It may not be the wrong choice, but whether it’s right or wrong it’s still a choice, and so forgiveness is available to him, whether he accepts it or not.

Sexism in the Atheist Movement

March 30, 2018

So, P.Z. Myers made a post talking about the Just Us Women podcast ending. He quotes the reason for its demise as follows:

I will no longer be interviewing women who have left religion, since I cannot in good conscience refer them to the atheist community, where they could find support. … All the resources are tainted with connections to the top tier of misogynist, sexist men.

People in the comments have noted the oddity that she’s not going to interview women who have left religion because somehow doing that would mean referring them to the atheist movement, even though she doesn’t have to do that and has no reason to unless she’s still going to stay in the atheist movement, or considers herself such a tainted resource. I don’t want to talk about that oddity. I want to talk about another oddity, which comes from considering that these women have left religion, and so in general have left religions that the atheist movement considers incredibly sexist, and as sexist as something can possibly be. So, by that, these women have likely experienced the worst sexism that they possibly could have experienced. Unless the atheist movement is worse than the average religion when it comes to sexism — and I’ve argued in the past that it seems like it clearly isn’t — then surely even referring them to the current atheist movement would mean an improvement in the sexism they face from the movement that is so critical to supporting them.

Unless the atheist movement really is more sexist than religions. But that can’t be the case, can it?

When it comes to sexual harassment … maybe it is. See, one of the main differences is that the atheist movement attached itself to progressivism, and progressivism embraced the idea of “sex positivity”. Indeed, one of the main criticism the atheist movement leveled against religion was how repressed and prudish they were about sex and sexuality, particularly in women. Sex was supposed to be fun, and something that everyone should participate in, and that attempting to limit that in any way was denying people not only great experiences, but a critical part of themselves. So free sexuality was important, and all of the traditional sexual mores were done away with, with people embracing things like polyamory and casual sex so that even the idea that sex was something that was supposed to happen between people who were in a committed relationship was lost. As long as the sex was consensual, anything went.

This, of course, ended up being controversial, as it clashed with feminism. The problem was that a lot of the “anything goes” were things that feminism traditionally considered objectifying. This included all forms of sex work, leading to the characterization of some of them as SWERFs. While some denied that sex positivity and feminism weren’t at all in conflict — because of the insistence that it was all consensual — the issue remained. And it’s clear what the underlying issue was: if women were going to be having sex and being sexual, unless they were all going to be lesbians and only have sexual relations with women, that sex and those sexual things were going to be done with and for men … and at least some forms of feminism insisted that doing that would be objectifying. Yes, sex with men and doing sex shows for men could definitely be consensual and could derive from the woman’s desires, but all of that would involve doing things that feminism said men expected women to do in order to please them. Which could lead to them thinking that they were entitled to that from women. The more women who were willing to do those things for men — even for their own pleasure — the more men could justify the idea that those things were what women should do for men. The counter to that is the standard “Restricting women from pursuing what they enjoy is just as bad as what patriarchy did”, which has generally not convinced anyone on the other side.

So what we have is sex positivity which chides anyone for restricting the sexual fun that people can have or seek out, and a sex positivity that is a critical differentiating factor between atheism and religion. At that point, all of the traditional sex norms are gone, and thus all ways of enforcing those sexual norms. In traditional or religious social circles, sex is supposed to be limited to couples in a serious relationship that could lead to marriage. Yes, that wasn’t always followed, but at least if someone “took advantage” of a woman to get sex without commitment the woman could easily be consoled by saying that the man was immoral and bad, and would get sympathy from the social group for that. And someone who called that man out as a cad would be appealing to the overarching social structure, and so would at least get some consideration for saying that the person was breaking the social rules.

But that didn’t exist in the sex positive atheist movement. Casual sex — and the pursuit thereof — wasn’t a bad thing anymore. I wonder how many atheists who noticed some of the more … aggressive approaches refused to intervene not because they were intimidated by the power of the person making the approach, but because they were afraid of being called prudish or its modern equivalent of “sex negative” for interfering with two consenting adults seeking sexual pleasure.

If they couldn’t use that they were essentially being tricked by promises of a long-term relationship into having casual sex — and that therefore that they were being “used” in that way — but still felt “used” in some way, what could they appeal to? Well, the only thing left was consent. If they could claim that it wasn’t really consensual, then they could still condemn the men who took those actions without having to reject sex positivity. For example, with the Michael Shermer allegations, Smith said that he “coerced me into a position where I could not consent, and then had sex with me”, which is incredibly vague and could range from convincing her to let him tie her up to, well, what she ended up claiming, which was that he encouraged her to drink more heavily than she should and had sex with her while she was intoxicated, and presumably too intoxicated to give consent, which tied into the long-standing feminist claim that a woman who was intoxicated could not give consent. Of course, people pointed out that it didn’t seem reasonable to claim that someone else offering someone alcohol, even if they weren’t drinking that heavily themselves, was a kind of coercion that we couldn’t expect people to resist, and the debate was on. But the key was that all of this was being used to insist that she didn’t really consent, and so the sex was wrong, as that’s the only line left that she could pursue.

This led to the reinstatement of some of the old mores, as people insisted that you shouldn’t have simple casual sex with a stranger, but should have sex with someone you knew well and respected so that you could read their cues and so get affirmative consent. This, and the harassment policies, clashed with the sex positivity of people who thought that it meant that they could pursue and get guilt-free sex, and that it was all okay as long as the other person agreed. In fact, most of the clash around harassment policies was indeed about having to put restrictions on who you could pursue and when, with some of the restrictions seeming inconsistent unless you looked at it from the perspective of trying to replace the old “taking advantage of” sexual mores.

Now, which side is right or wrong is beside the point (I think both are in some ways). But the key point here is that in the “sex positive” atheist movement, women were going to get more invitations for sex, those invitations would be more direct, and a sexual atmosphere was going to be more present and more open, and there would be more pressure to be sexually open. For women who found that uncomfortable, there was no real way to deal with that. And even those women who were more comfortable with that were going to have a problem when they ended up feeling taken advantage of. So it is possible that, when it comes to sexual harassment, the atheist movement was worse than religions because it would be more open and there were no social structures in place to deal with it, and attempts to add in those structures felt like ruining all of the fun for those — men and women — who had no problem with the way it was.

Personally, I still think that the impression of egregious sexism more reflects disappointment than reality. They expected the atheist movement to be better than everything else because they came to it from certain progressive and feminist worldviews, and so expected that everyone else did, too. When they found out that they couldn’t, they felt a disappointment akin to finding out that their hero had feet of clay, except that it was the entire movement that had that and not just one or two people. Myers’ entire argument against dictionary atheists is that atheism has to imply the liberal, progressive, feminist values that he supports, even if people disagree with them. When these atheists became convinced that the atheist movement wasn’t going to adopt their entire set of values, the atheist movement itself was seen as unethical, and that caused them to abandon it … even as they ignored that the religious alternative was supposed to be worse by their own arguments.

In their disappointment, they risk abandoning burgeoning atheists to an alternative that they should find even less acceptable. That can’t be what they wanted, but it’s what they’re going to end up with.

Carrier Takes on Feser …

February 23, 2018

So, after taking on a host of Plantinga’s arguments, Richard Carrier Feser’s Five Proofs. I haven’t read the book, but I have read a number of Feser’s posts on the topic, and so I was interested in seeing what Carrier had to say about it. Of course, the problem with Carrier’s posts is that they are probably at least twice as long as necessary, which, I suppose, isn’t something that someone who calls himself “The Verbose Stoic” should comment on. However, I think it is fair to note that for the most part the posts spend far, far too much time insulting and making snarky comments about the people he’s commenting on, as it seems that he spends as much time trying to convince the reader that the people he’s commenting on are ignoramuses as he does trying to demonstrate that the arguments are wrong. As as I’ve said a number of times in the past, the problem with that sort of approach is that you had better be right, because if you are wrong then you look really, really bad.

Carrier, it seems to me, gets quite a bit wrong in this post.

I’m not going to deal with everything that was said in the post, instead hitting on a few ideas that strike my fancy. After all, I haven’t read the book and so can’t defend the full arguments. That being said, surely Carrier will hold to the basic notions of academic integrity and quote enough so that I won’t need to read it to understand what Feser is arguing, right?

Let me start with a rather odd constant gripe of Carrier’s, in that he criticizes Feser for the number of premises that he uses in his arguments:

Feser’s formalization of this argument appears around page 35. It has 49 premises. I **** you not.

I’m not sure why this should be seen as an issue. A large number of premises in an argument, especially if they are all directly outlined as such, would merely suggest a potentially complicated argument, which is certainly not something to be surprised or annoyed at. And outlining that many premises directly will make it more difficult to have hidden premises that Feser isn’t acknowledging. Does Carrier not like reading or something? Does he want his arguments as short soundbytes as opposed to full arguments? I don’t know, but it seems rather odd for Carrier to harp on the number of premises, and he does that in pretty much every point he addresses.

But let’s get into the arguments. The first one is at least one version of the “Unmoved Mover” argument, and the first thing Carrier does is to make a move that I’ve seen before — and probably talked about — and is, well, a pretty bad one, as he tries to demonstrate that a real nothing will invariably produce a something (as usual, Carrier italicizes too much for me to go back and fill it all in, but go look at his post to see his emphasis):

But what happens when you take away everything except that which is demonstrably logically necessary? Not what we “conjecture” or “wish” were logically necessary; no, we don’t get to cheat. No circular arguments. Only what we can actually formally prove is logically necessary. And that means, prove now, not at some hypothetical future time. We don’t get to “conjecture” or “wish” into existence some new logical necessity we have yet to really prove is such. Well. What happens is, we get a nothing-state that logically necessarily becomes a multiverse that will contain a universe that looks just like ours. To a probability infinitesimally near 100%. See Ex Nihilo Onus Merdae Fit.

A quick and dirty way to phrase that argument is: if nothing exists, then by definition no rules exist limiting what will happen to it; if no rules exist limiting what it will happen to it, it is equally likely it will become one of infinitely many arrays of things (including remaining nothing, which is just one of infinitely many other things no rule exists to prevent happening); if we select at random from the infinitely many arrays of things it can become (including the array that is an empty set, i.e. continuing to be nothing), the probability is infinitesimally near 100% the array chosen at random will be a vast multiverse whose probability of including a universe like ours is infinitesimally near 100%. Because there are infinitely more ways to get one of those at random, than to get, for example, the one single outcome of remaining nothing. There is no way to avoid this. Unless you insert some law, power, rule, or force that would stop it, or change the outcome to something not decided at random. But once you do that, you are no longer talking about nothing. You have added something. Which you have no reason to add. Other than your human desire that it be there. Which is not a compelling argument for it being there.

This is, to me, an argument that is so bad that it’s hard to know how to attack it. This is not a case where it seems like there’s something wrong with it but I can’t say what, like is often said about the Ontological Argument, but instead that there are so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to start to express that clearly. Well, let’s start with this: the reason that an absolute nothing can’t produce anything is not because of some rule that says that it can’t happen, but because it lacks specific powers, namely all causitive and creative powers. There are no movers in absolute nothing, and no potential movers, and so no potential movement (referring back to the “Unmoved Mover” discussion mentioned above, which relates more to causes in general in today’s terms than mere movement in space). No potential movement, no possible way to change. Thus, nothing can ever change and so nothing will ever happen to it. Thus, no random events that will eventually likely produce a multiverse.

Carrier is going to try to argue that we still need a rule to say that, and so a rule has to exist, and so I wouldn’t be talking about nothing. I think he explicitly says that in the linked post in the quote above, that you have to have rules of logic to say that and rules of logic are things. But, the rules of logic don’t work that way. It is not the case that if I try to create something in this world that it is logically impossible to create, I can get part way through the process but at the point where the logical impossibility would kick in the law of non-contradiction intervenes and causes the attempt to fail. I just could never do it. For Carrier’s argument to work, the laws of logic would have to be things that have causal powers. And at least in how we use them they, in general, aren’t things that have causal power in and of themselves. We use them to, essentially, describe what is true and what is false about a given situation and set of entities. In the absolute nothing, there is nothing to describe. Whether we can say the laws of logic “exist” or not is tricky and plays terribly with our intuitions, but it is definitely true that there is nothing and no relations to describe, so their application to the absolute nothing would be meaningless. And so we’d return to the basic presumption we’d need for something to be considered an absolute nothing: there is nothing there that has causal powers, and no laws or relations and nothing to have relations with anything else there (because there’s nothing there). And if nothing has any causal power or any potential for change, then nothing can change. If Carrier wants to argue that we’d still have to have laws of logic and so wouldn’t have nothing, that’s fine, but even if we remove them we’d still have to maintain there there is no causation and so no possibility of change … and we’d have to doubt that any kind of absolute nothing of the sort Carrier describes — and uses to build out his multiverse theory — could ever work because the only reason we insist that the laws of logic exist in Feser’s absolute nothing is because we know about them and can apply them there. Carrier would need an absolute nothing where we couldn’t say anything about it … even that anything can happen in it and does happen in it at random, which is what he needs to make his case.

Carrier seems to miss the key point here: the absolute nothing has nothing that has any casual powers, and so nothing can happen in it. In order to get something from that nothing, he has to find something that has causal powers that exists in it, and there can’t be any such thing. And if he tries to invoke causation from outside of it — by claiming that there is another universe that triggers us to arise from “nothing”, for example — then we don’t have absolute nothing because that thing outside of that nothing exists and is not nothing. Feser doesn’t have that problem for God because he explicitly denies that we started from nothing. Carrier, on the other hand, is trying to start from nothing, and that causes him all sorts of problems.

Carrier tries to call out one of Feser’s premises as being a false dichotomy, but does so in a way that’s … suspicious, to say the the least:

Most of them are uncontroversial on some interpretation of the words he employs (that doesn’t mean they are credible on his chosen interpretation of those words, but I’ll charitably ignore that here), except one, Premise 41, where his whole argument breaks down and bites the dust: “the forms or patterns manifest in all the things [the substrate] causes…can exist either in the concrete way in which they exist in individual particular things, or in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.” This is a false dichotomy, otherwise known as a bifurcation fallacy. It’s simply not true that those are the only two options. And BTW, this Premise, is the same key premise (hereafter always hidden) in all five of his arguments. We can thus refute all of them, by simply refuting this single premise (more on that later).

So let’s do that.

Ironically, a third option that in fact I’m quite certain is actually true, is the very option described by Aristotle himself. Aristotle took Plato to task for the mistake Feser is making, pointing out that it is not necessary that potential patterns actually exist in some concrete or mental form. They only have to potentially exist. Hence Aristotle said of Plato’s “world of forms” what Laplace said to Napoleon of God: “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.” Potential things are by definition not actual. So obviously we don’t need them to be actualized to exist. That’s a self-contradictory request. It’s thus self-contradictory of Feser to insist that potential things must be “actualized” somewhere (a mind; concrete things). Obviously there is no logical sense in which they must be actualized in that way.

Aristotle argued that potentials exist inherently in everything, without anything further needing to be the case. A cube contains the potential to be a sphere (by physical transformation); but not as if that potential is some sort of magical fluid contained physically inside the cube. It’s simply a logically necessary property of any material that it can be reshaped; if it can have shape, it can have any shape. Period. It is logically necessarily always the case.

So, Richard Carrier found an argument in Aristotle that Feser, who primarily works in Aristotlean and Thomist philosophy, missed, and seemingly is obvious as it seems to be a major argument that Aristotle made against Platonic Forms. Um, yes, that’s entirely credible and I immediately grant that. Or, rather, not. If the argument is as obvious as Carrier makes it sound, then I certainly would expect Feser to have caught it. You can argue that this is an Argument from Authority, but I have to ask you what seems more reasonable: that Feser, a trained philosopher who specializes to a great degree on Aristotle missed such an obvious counter, or that Carrier, who is primarily a historian and is an amateur philosopher, missed something in Feser’s argument that would show why Aristotle’s counter doesn’t apply to his argument. And Carrier only provides a small snippet of Feser’s overall argument here, so I can’t even check to see what Feser might have said to dodge this counter … although one obvious immediate and likely idea is that the forms and patterns Feser talks about are not Platonic Forms, and Aristotle’s alternative only applies to Plato’s Forms. But that’s as far as I can get without reading Feser’s book or without Carrier quoting the context more and outlining the details of the argument. Without that, however, I’m not going to accept that Feser missed something so obvious just on Carrer’s say-so.

Carrier next tries to address the ultimate substratum, and then to propose an alternative to Feser’s ultimate substratum — space/time — without having the need for it to be intelligent and conscious:

So Feser is just arguing space-time is God. Mindless, valueless, merely physical space-time. That’s just atheism.

What this means is that Feser’s entire book is about a single maneuver: trying to dodge that outcome by trying to bootstrap space-time into being an intelligent consciousness. But that’s where his argument becomes 100% bullshit. In no way does the substrate having these other properties entail it’s “intelligent.” Intelligence is only a potential thing space-time can manifest, being an organized complexity; and being an organized complexity, it cannot be a property inherent in space-time itself, which is simple and uniform. Nor would it be “omniscient,” knowledge being another organized complexity, and thus only something that space-time can be organized to manifest, not a thing space-time itself is. All possible knowledge and all possible intellection is inherent in space-time as a potential, but that is not what we mean by knowledge and intelligence. Potentially knowing everything, is not the same as actually knowing everything. A clump of goo is potentially intelligent. Organize it into a functioning brain, and it will be actually intelligent. They are not the same thing. And “we” are indeed a way the universe becomes conscious of itself; but that does not make the universe a god. Not by any definition pertinent to anyone, least of all Feser.

Now, I do know quite a bit about the ultimate substratum, having talked about it before on a number of occasions. I’m pretty sure that Carrier doesn’t think such a thing is actually necessary, but is going along with it for the sake of argument. Fine, but if he does that then he needs to accept the reasons that Feser feels we need an ultimate substratum, and the reason he says we need it is because no property at this level can be actualized unless that property is actualized in the ultimate substratum. And so if it can’t be actualized at this level because it doesn’t exist in the ultimate substratum, then we can’t have it as a potential at this level either. Thus, a brain could have no potential for intelligence and so we could never have actualized intelligence in a functioning brain, no matter how we organized it. Thus, no inherent potential for intellection without it being actually actualized in space-time, thus making space-time intelligent. And if he has to add in all of those mental properties, then he ends up pretty much with a god.

That’s one of the most common mistakes people make in dealing with these sorts of arguments. Carrier presumes that Feser is starting from God and going from there to say what properties the ultimate substratum has to have, which is why he thinks he can get away with simply inventing something else that has those properties. But that’s not Feser’s argument. Feser is looking at what properties are actualized at this level and from there arguing to what properties the ultimate substratum has to have, and then saying that pretty much seems to be God. And if Carrier can in any way break the argument that the substratum doesn’t have to actualize the properties of this level, then he doesn’t need the space-time alternative to test, as he would have dealt the argument itself a major blow. So space-time does not do as much work as Carrier thinks it does. Which is a problem because he relies on that to do much of the work in the remaining points as well.

I’m going to skip the second argument as it mostly repeats the comments from the first argument, while focusing on “holding things together” which I can’t be bothered to get into, especially with Carrier’s sparse quotes on what Feser is actually arguing. I’ll also skip the third argument because that relies on Carrier’s odd idea of universals, which I’d rather get into when I talk about morality (which I still hope to do at some point). So now I’ll start talking about essences:

Even from a formal standpoint, this one is just a terrible mess. His syllogism has a ton of boner mistakes in it; for example, Feser’s Premise 2 (around page 128), asserts that “If [the distinction between an entity’s essence and its existence] were not a real distinction…then we could know whether or not a thing exists simply by knowing its essence.” Um. Yeah. That’s how we know dragons and unicorns don’t exist, and lions and tigers do. Because it would be impossible to know the complete essence of, say, a unicorn, and not notice that among its properties is the feature of “being fictional.”

Earlier, Carrier dismisses the idea of essences actually existing, which is not something that I’ll challenge here, especially since, again, due to a dearth of context I’m not sure how Feser is using “essence” here. But I will say that in this counter Carrier confuses essence as thing vs essence as set of essential properties that a thing must have. From later:

A fully informed account of an entity’s essence would include when it exists or didn’t. It is essential to Hitler, for example, that he did not live in the 21st century. It is essential to Yoda, for example, that no one could ever have spoken to him—other than in fiction or pretense. You could not fully understand what “Hitler” or “Yoda” were if you weren’t informed of these facts. And just excluding that one piece of information, literally the most important one, from what you will arbitrarily classify as “an essence,” is just a semantic game. And semantic games can’t get you to any grand realizations in metaphysics.

Feser actually burns a few pages arguing he is not engaging in this confusion. But alas, his protests make no logical sense. He insists if you mistakenly think lions are fictional monsters, “you have not misconceived what it is to be a lion.” Um. Yes. You have. You’ve totally misconceived what it is to be a lion. Only if you arbitrarily demarcate how you’d test whether a lion existed, with the outcome of that test—as if somehow the latter was not an attribute of the lion—can you get to Feser’s ridiculous premise. But that’s completely arbitrary. Why are we demarcating away that single property of lions as no longer essential to being a lion? Just because I know how to detect a dragon if one existed, does not mean I am necessarily fully informed as to what it is to be a dragon. If, unbeknownst to me, dragons exist, then I am simply misinformed about dragons.

In order to test whether dragons or unicorns exist, the first thing we need is a set of properties that would allow us to determine whether something is or is not a dragon or a unicorn. Ideally, we’d want the ideal set of properties that identify a dragon and only a dragon, the set that all dragons have in their entirety and nothing else does. Thus, we’d want to understand what it would mean to be a dragon completely and totally. If Carrier is right here, then that understanding would have to include whether or not it exists, as that’s part of the full understanding of what a dragon is. But then Feser’s counter comes into play: if we knew what its essence was, then we would always know whether or not it exists, and we can add on then that testing for it would be pointless. So if we need to test to see if it exists, then we have to test before we understand what its essential properties are, and if we wait to test it until we know what its essential properties are, then testing it is pointless. All of this points to the idea that whether or not something exists is not an essential property of the thing. And this is particularly true in this case, since what we are asking if the set of dragons or the set of unicorns is non-empty, and so we certainly need to know what would define that set before we can ask if it has any members.

Ironically, Carrier’s own space-time hypothesis works against him here, as it implies this:

Spacetime can be completely empty. And still have the potential to form up into matter, and thence a tree. In fact, it’s statistically inevitable that every bit of spacetime there is, will. Someday. It’s a Boltzmann necessity.

Essentially, the idea is that since space-time can and does change at random, eventually some part of space-time will form a complete brain without a body. Carrier seems to extend that to everything here, as that is the implication that allows for Boltzmann Brains. But then this means that at some point in time in the universe that a dragon will exist, or a unicorn will exist, for at least a brief period of time. And if that’s the case, then it could in fact be that way right now. Add in parallel evolution on the infinite number of planets that exist in the universe and the chances of a dragon or a unicorn existing somewhere in the universe are pretty good, much better than the 0% that Carrier needs to make his point here. And while with Hitler or Yoda he could avoid this by talking about a specific case, here he can’t, because we aren’t talking about specific dragons or unicorns, but instead about instantiations of the overall category, and so if any dragon or unicorn exists anywhere that would, according to Carrier, change its essential nature.

On top of all of that, this works out badly with the potential/actual model that Carrier is supposedly sticking to for the sake of argument here, because if you change the essential properties of an object then it by definition is a different object. Thus, an object that comes into existence does not merely actualize its potential, but instead changes into a completely different object. That’s not how I see actualization of a potential, even that of coming into existence, to work, and so that his move here makes that model problematic suggests that, again, he’d have to abandon that model for his argument, which would be far more serious an issue.

The last argument relies on the space-time alternative that I’ve already shown problematic, so this is a good place to stop.

I’m not saying that Feser’s arguments work; in general, I don’t buy those sorts of arguments myself. I’m not saying that Carrier hasn’t found problems with Feser’s arguments; the context is so vague that I’m not really sure what Feser’s argument really is most of the time. What I’m saying here is that a lot of the key arguments Carrier relies on are … not good, to say the least, and are not good in ways that really, really bug me. Hence, the post pointing out those not good arguments and showing why they are not good.

Jerry Coyne on Incompatibility and NOMA …

January 26, 2018

Recently, Jerry Coyne came across a post talking about how science and religion were not incompatible, and of course had to respond to it (given his views on determinism, he could do nothing else). Generally, having free will, I likely would have chosen not to respond to Coyne’s post, but in reading it one thing became clear: Coyne’s post and arguments, in general, don’t really do anything against typical NOMA or differing domain arguments, except for one that he rides continually but which doesn’t get him as far as he’d like. Anyway, the original post is by Ethan Siegel, and Coyne starts off his criticism of it this way:

1.) Many religious people are interested in science and support scientific research. That’s true; I have no quarrel with this. But that doesn’t address my own argument, made in Faith Versus Fact, that the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science. This kind of cognitive bifurcation just shows that people can accept two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time.

But if they are, in general, trying to find out true statements about different domains, then they aren’t holding two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time … or, at least, aren’t doing so in the way Coyne needs them to in order to get to an important incompatibility. All they’d be doing is saying that for some questions, science is the approach to use, and for others, some kind of faith-based or theological approach is the one to use. I myself insist that there are times when one should use folk reasoning, or philosophy, or science based on what questions one is trying to answer, or perhaps it might be better to say based on what “truth” you are trying to find. That does not, in my view, make them clearly incompatible.

And when Coyne points out how Ken Miller acts, we can see this distinction:

The incompatibility can be seen with a religious scientist like Ken Miller, a pious Catholic. In the lab he acts like an atheist, never considering the supernatural and accepting only as true what can be tested scientifically. But when he steps into his church he immediately believes in things like the Resurrection and transubstantiation—things that are not only unevidenced, but disbelieved by other faiths and, frankly, ridiculous for a grown man to believe. Accepting truths about the cosmos using two different methods demonstrates the incompatibility between science and religion.

Except it doesn’t. Miller clearly thinks that for the things he does in the lab, science is the right approach, and the supernatural doesn’t play a part, but thinks that when it comes to theological questions that’s not the right approach to use. And if science is presumptively naturalistic and religion inherently supernaturalist, then that’s clearly the right way to go; it is not reasonable to use a method that presumes that a conclusion is false if you want to find out if it might be true. So Miller uses different methods for different domains, and can argue that that isn’t an important incompatibility because we need to use different methods for those domains. So Coyne is going to have to argue that they aren’t different domains at all. And he returns to his usual argument:

Religion and science both make claims about what’s true in our Universe. Theologians and believers, when being honest (almost an oxymoron), will admit that, yes, their religious beliefs are underlain by claims about reality, and if those claims be not true, then religion be not true.

As I commented last time, while there may be certain claims about reality that have to be true or else the religion be not true, that doesn’t apply to every fact in existence, nor are all of the claims that they are based on amenable to scientific study. In the linked post, I both pointed out that Catholicism explicitly builds into its theology that scientific facts trump even the pronouncements of the Pope, and created a religious or theological viewpoint that was distinctly religious and yet could not interestingly conflict with science. All that is left is Coyne’s general argument that at least some — if not most — religions are wrong and so are directly incompatible with science. But as I pointed out throughout my discussions of Faith vs Fact, that’s not an interesting incompatibility. Every scientific theory that has turned out to be wrong would be just as incompatible with science methodologically as those failed religions were, if we can only rely on them being wrong and being proven wrong by science to make that claim.

Coyne adds another argument:

My further argument:

  1. Science has a way to find out what is true, or at least to arrive at better and better approximations of what is true, while religion has no way to do that.
  2. The result is that different religions make conflicting claims about reality (e.g., “Was Jesus the divine son of God?”) that cannot be resolved.
  3. Religion has also made false claims about reality (e.g., creationism, the Exodus, etc.) that science can correct, while religion has no way to correct science.
  4. Therefore, religion is incompatible with science because it uses a different methodology to adjudicate truth, and because the outcomes of that methodology (what religion deems “true”) cannot be verified.

This, however, is not an argument, at least as presented. Putting aside the number of unproven assertions here, the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Well, okay, you can get from the first one to the two of them having different methodologies, but no one is going to worry about them using different methodologies if the one religion uses can’t arrive at truths. The third premise here contradicts the second, as it demonstrates that at least some of its claims can be verified, if verified means that we can go out and independently determine if they are true or false (which is usually what we’d mean in discussions of methodology or epistemology). If Coyne just means that its outcomes are proven false, then this is just as “religions get things wrong” argument, which again can’t show any interesting incompatibility. And he would need to establish that there is no way for religion to get better approximations of what is true, even if they turn to philosophy to do so. He talks about how science has made progress while religion hasn’t in a much longer timeframe, but this argument also applies to philosophy, and can be answered by pointing out that religious questions are often more fundamental and harder to solve with simple appeals to empirical data than the ones that science typically answers. So this one isn’t an argument, contradicts itself, and would still rely on an assumption that Coyne has not proven. I think it is safe to deny that it’s an argument at all.

He later uses the same graph again from Pew, showing that the majority of people say that religion and science conflict, but that the majority of people don’t think that their religion conflicts with science. That Coyne still thinks this supports his point is mindboggling. People ought to know far better about how their religion conflicts with science than about how other religions conflict with science, especially with people like Coyne — whom Siegal is opposing here — constantly going on about it. That most of them don’t see a conflict between science and their own religion but do between science and other religions is better evidence that Siegal is right about the harm people like Coyne are doing that evidence that there is an inherent, meaningful incompatibility between science and religion.

He also says this before presenting that graph:

If science and religion are compatible, why, at least in countries where we have data, are scientists so much less religious than the general public? It could be that nonbelievers are more attracted to science, or that science actually makes people less religious, or (most likely) a combination of these factors. Either way, this shows some conflict between science and faith.

But not that that conflict is inherently there or even that scientists are necessarily right to think it is. And that’s what Coyne is supposed to be doing, not grasping at some kind of nebulous conflict that, in the end, might just boil down to Coyne — and others — thinking that religions are wrong.

Summary of Sophisticated Atheology …

January 19, 2018

So, after finishing Philipse’s book, I have now read all of the books that Jerry Coyne challenged theists to read, as well as his own book and a few others. What is my overall impression, then, of the atheist arguments and positions, as expressed in the works that Jerry Coyne believes make the most convincing and strongest arguments?

All of them depend greatly on accepting a specific worldview. If you don’t accept that worldview, you’ll find the argument weak at best and ridiculous at worst.

Note that the worldview here isn’t specifically atheistic. This isn’t a clash between theistic and atheistic worldviews. But in general the atheists accept strong naturalistic/materialistic worldviews, and the consequences of those worldviews mean that there is no room for any kind of supernatural or immaterial entity to exist, and that includes gods. So, then, the consequences is that gods cannot exist. But if anyone even accepts the possibility that supernatural or immaterial entities could exist then this presumption is broken, and most of the arguments evaporate. This necessitates attempts to restore that foundation, most of which rely on some way on inductive arguments … which can’t be used to establish that something simply cannot exist. Thus, they appeal to the success of naturalistic approaches — for example — to argue for methodological naturalism, and from there to establish that foundation. But methodological naturalism does not justify ontological naturalism, and ontological naturalism is required to establish that one ought not consider the possibility that supernatural or immaterial exist, and again as soon as one does their arguments no longer have support. In the end, unless you accept their axioms you will not accept their conclusions, and it is far too easy to point out the lack of support their axioms have.

Also, it is indeed the case that in general they are philosophically uninformed. The one who is actually a philosopher — Philipse — makes critical mistakes in understanding philosophical fields, and while one cannot expect a philosopher to be equally well-versed in all of the various fields of philosophy one would expect him to do the work in understanding fields he explicitly references, like he does when he dismisses functionalism without thought despite it being well-developed, popular, and yet contradicting his own position. One would also not expect him to dismiss the common tools of conceptual analysis as he does with thought experiments. Kaufmann misunderstands analytic vs post-modern philosophy, Coyne refuses to use philosophical concepts and definitions and instead prefers the dictionary, and Rosenberg, in my view, greatly misunderstands most of the philosophical debates he wanders into. Not understanding philosophy is fine, but wandering into philosophical debates and misunderstanding them while, in general, smugly declaring science superior to philosophy is not. Moreover, by ignoring them they end up with arguments that are weak and easy to dismiss if one does not accept their worldview underpinnings, resulting in issues like the one outlined above.

In summary, the works ought not convince anyone that God does not exist who isn’t already convinced of that or predisposed to be convinced of that. As that’s not their intention, nor was that the intention of Coyne’s challenge, I think it safe to say that they have failed.

God in the Age of Science: Conclusion

January 12, 2018

Most of the conclusion to the book is Philipse summarizing all of the chapters and what it said, and so isn’t all that interesting to examine. However, at the very end, he sets out the three things he thinks he has shown, so let me go through them to see if he has, indeed, really done that:

1. Theism is not a meaningful theory. So we should become particular semantic atheists.

Since theists can point to, in general, the thing that they are talking about when they talk about a god, that we can’t make a sufficiently specific or meaningful full testable-by-science theory out of it doesn’t justify any kind of atheism. All that means is that we need to do more work to make some kind of scientific theory out of it or concede that maybe a scientific approach isn’t the right one here. This conclusion is only strengthened by the fact that those things are important to many people, and have a great impact on how they live. Given that, it’s not reasonable to declare that those things that they can clearly reference in a way that we can understand what they are talking about can’t exist or, at least, that we ought act as if they don’t exist because the theory is deemed insufficient. There are a number of things and phenomena — quantum mechanics being a good example — that we don’t have strong theories for and yet we have no trouble saying that they exist and that our job is to create proper and meaningful, testable and test theories for them. Philipse might counter that we know that quantum entities exist and don’t know that for gods, but he would still run afoul of the fact that we can’t dismiss their existence until we have a sufficient theory to be able to claim that we know they don’t exist. So either we know they don’t exist or we need to work out a better theory to allow us to know whether or not they exist.

In summary, theists can always reference gods in such a way that we can know what they are talking about when they talk about their god, and so if we don’t have a sufficient theory to assess the existence of their gods then the problem is that we need to create a better theory. And if we can claim to know that their gods don’t exist, then we have a sufficiently meaningful theory to make the semantic argument moot. Thus, we should never adopt a particular semantic atheist position.

2. If we assume for the sake of argument that theism is a meaningful theory, it has no predictive power with regard to any existing evidence. Because the truth of theism is improbable given the scientific background knowledge concerning the dependence of mental life on brain processes, we should become strong particular atheists with regard to theism.

Demanding predictive power requires us to hold theistic propositions being very strongly scientific, which most theists won’t accept and which Philipse does not sufficient justify. On top of that, that scientific background knowledge is no such thing, as we have no reason to think that any possible mental life must depend on there being a physical brain, and it is trivial to posit concepts of mental lives without brains like ours or physical brains at all. This reduces Philipse’s argument to, at best, a prime example of the inductive fallacy: I’ve never seen something with a mental life that didn’t have a brain. That is not sufficient evidence to justify, in any way, a claim that we ought not think that something without a brain could not have a mental life, and without that the improbability argument fails.

In summary, Philipse would need to give a reason why a mental life requires a physical brain — or physicality — based on more than that the examples we have observed all involve brains, and he fails to do so in this book. Since it is trivial to conceive of things that have mental lives without a physical body, that the concept itself does not require dependence on a brain provides good reason to reject an unsubstantiated claim of knowledge that mental lives require a physical brain.

3. If we assume for the sake of argument that theism not only is meaningful but also has predictive power, we should become strong particular atheists, because the empirical arguments against theism outweigh the arguments that support it, and theism is improbable on our background knowledge.

If this conclusion is true, then not only is the first one meaningless — why be particular semantic atheists when we have sufficient evidence to just be strong particular atheists — but it is also false, since we’d have to be able to provide a sufficiently meaningful theory of that theism to be able to provide empirical arguments for or against it. Moreover, this one depends on us accepting 2) — that the background knowledge makes it improbable — which means that we can’t be accepting it for the sake of argument, as he implies here. And, of course, a lot of his empirical evidence isn’t sufficient to demonstrate that case anyway, at least in my view.

In summary, this one eliminates the first conclusion and assumes the second one works, and in my view he hasn’t provide sufficient empirical arguments to justify the conclusion that he wants us to accept anyway.

This book was disappointing. Other than some small sections and the constant reference to background knowledge, he didn’t really make any Bayesian arguments, which is what the book promised. He also relies far too much on the presumption of materialism, and does a poor job of addressing objections to that view. This also holds for his insistence that we need to have an empirical/scientific theory or argument in the first place, as without that principle much of his book is overturned and there are good reasons to think that a scientific approach isn’t appropriate here, or at least isn’t the only option.

At the end of the day, Philipse sets out assumptions that he agrees with and bases his arguments on them, but those assumptions or not as safe, accepted or justified as he needs them to be. If you accept his scientific, naturalistic and materialistic worldview, then you’ll agree with him, but if you even merely doubt one of those assumptions, the entire book crumbles and Philipse does an inadequate job of buttressing those assumptions to remove any reasonable doubt. That he then proceeds as if his foundations are completely secure only makes the book worse, as any doubt carries forward and undermines every argument that depends on it. For a book aimed at or touted to be more philosophical, it makes a number of philosophical mistakes and provides a poor philosophical basis for the scientific approach he insists we need to take. This book, ultimately, cannot convince anyone who knows the philosophical background to the debates, because the assumptions he makes have specific counters that he fails to adequately address.

Jerry Coyne Proves Science and Religion Are Not Incompatible …

January 5, 2018

So, for the longest time, Jerry Coyne has been trying to demonstrate that science and religion are incompatible in a strong sense, where if a thing is scientific and a thing is religious then those things are incompatible by definition. He’s not trying to argue that some religions are factually incorrect, or that those religions were proven incorrect by advances in science. He’s unwilling to accept that any religion worth calling such could be compatible with science and scientific facts, and ultimately that no one can build a worldview that respects both science and religion without building in that incompatibility, and so no one who accepts science can be religious without cognitive dissonance. My constant criticism of his view is that he constantly tries to establish that science and religion are incompatible by proving specific religions incorrect, which is not enough to demonstrate any kind of interesting philosophical incompatibility; if a religion is proven factually incorrect, then the members of that religion perhaps should abandon it, but that doesn’t mean that they must give up the idea of a god or accept naturalism.

In a recent post, Coyne again argues for incompatibility, while examining a post defending the Templeton Foundation. I’ll pretty much ignore all of that discussion, and focus in on how Coyne inadvertently proves that there can be no inherent incompatibility between science and religion.

The big point wants to go after is Gould’s idea that science and religion deal with separate areas of inquiry and so cannot interestingly conflict. As usual, Coyne insists that religions make factual claims, and so science and religion cannot be completely distinct. He lists a few of the factual claims that he thinks science has proven incorrect, and then says this:

So while we can’t have a constructive dialogue, we can have a “destructive monologue”: science can tell religionists that what they believe is wrong, but the other side has no such ability.

But, presumably, science can also tell religion that those factual claims that they believe are correct, no? Thus, science could also help to justify religions, and verify that their facts are true and correct, thus improving our confidence in that religion and, possibly, even spawning converts. Coyne doesn’t think this is true for any religion — or at least any current one — but if this is possible — and it is — then science will not necessarily be destructive of religion, and might even help build it. Coyne doesn’t think that any religion is true, but this counter would, in fact, be him saying that he thinks all religions are false. He may even be right. He may even be right that science has proven that. But that wouldn’t make science and religion incompatible, but would merely make all religions wrong.

So in attempting to demonstrate the factual inaccuracies of religion as proven by science, Coyne inadvertently allows us to see that science need not be inherently destructive of religion, and clearly wouldn’t be destructive of any religion that happened to be true. Thus, the conversation might end up being one way — as Coyne is attempting to demonstrate — but that doesn’t mean that it has to be based around science disproving religion. And if science can prove a religion’s factual claims, that’s a conversation that is by definition the opposite of destructive. And if science and religion can have a dialogue that isn’t destructive, but could in fact be called constructive, then science and religion cannot be interestingly incompatible.

This leads us to discussions of what religions can be seen as, and if we could have not only a science that supports the facts of a religion — and potentially even proves that God exists — but also a religion that is supported by and respects science. The thing is, while I disagree with the idea that religion doesn’t involve any factual claims at all, religion is better understood as a worldview, and worldviews have a different approach to facts than science — as a way of knowing — does. While science and all ways of knowing try to establish factual claims, worldviews don’t. They are based on some factual claims, and they often have factual implications, but for the most part they are less concerned about establishing facts and more concerned about establishing normative claims, and primarily the one about how one ought to live one’s life. So while most worldviews will have a position on how someone ought to go about finding out factual claims, the number of factual claims that really matter to a worldview are decidedly small: only the critical ones that the worldview is based on, and the ones that follow as implications of it that, if they weren’t true, would mean the worldview could not be true.

So, then, imagine that I create a religious worldview. Let me call it VS-Catholicism. It holds basically all the same views as Catholicism, except that it insists that it must accept any scientific fact, and adjust theologically accordingly. To be fair, this is pretty much in line with actual Catholicism, as there is no ex cathedra claim that can be made about something that is a matter of fact. Thus, no article of faith can depend on the truth of a factual belief that science could have refuted, as that factual belief itself cannot be an ex cathedra statement. So, Coyne’s attempt to argue that the Pope has said that Adam and Eve have to literally be our direct and sole ancestors doesn’t even seem to work for Catholicism, as if that is really a factual claim then if science has refuted it then Catholicism itself would have to adjust that factual belief. However, Coyne could use that to claim that the belief is, in fact, a core Catholic belief, and so if science refutes it then Catholicism is, itself, refuted.

Hence, VS-Catholicism. VS-Catholicism denies that Adam and Eve need to literally be our ancestors, or that the story must be literally true and not a metaphor. Thus, given that, VS-Catholicism would simply adjust its theology, either to make the story true in another sense — like them being the first to gain souls, for example, which was also done by Catholicism — or arguing that the story is a metaphor, which I’ve defended before. Coyne can argue that this would destroy the need for Jesus to sacrifice himself for our sins, but there are two problems with that. The first is that in the post I linked I actually defend that, meaning that I already have an answer for that. The second — and more important one — is that Coyne could not be using science to make that argument. He’d have to be doing philosophy/theology … and pretty sophisticated theology at that. If Coyne has to move from the realm of science to the realm of theology to claim that my attempt to reconcile VS-Catholicism to science won’t work, then the issue will be with the theology, not the science. And so there is no reason to claim that science and religion are inherently incompatible. I might be wrong that my VS-Catholicism worldview can be made compatible with science in that way, but it is possible that it could work … and the problem would be with my specific theology, not with the scientific facts, or with anything that science, in and of itself, is telling me.

Now, Coyne could counter that if I build a religious worldview that is infinitely malleable, then yes, I could remain consistent with science. But in order for it to be a distinct worldview, surely there have to be some things that it thinks true and that cannot be changed. For example, for it to count as a religious worldview surely it has to think that some kind of god exists as some point, surely. And all of those could be — and Coyne tends to think already has been — refuted by science.

So I’ll give him one: the Resurrection. If Jesus was never killed and resurrected, then VS-Catholicism is false. This is convenient, because Coyne talks about that in his post:

If you don’t like those, how about the Bible?

If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your Faith is also vain. —1 Corinthians 15:14

You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t think Jesus was the son of God, part man and part divine, and died and was resurrected to expiate our sins.

But … this is one that Coyne never actually says that science has disproved. So while Coyne lists it as a factual belief for Christians, he never demonstrates that science has yet proven it false. And while a number of atheists have argued on a number of occasions that science has — arguing, for example, that science has shown that no one can rise from the dead — science hasn’t actually done that because its claims don’t allow for that kind of justification. In short, science has yet to prove that to be the case.

Which leads to Coyne’s move against proof:

First of all, “proof” is not required for a theory to have credibility; the concept of “proof” is alien to science.

This is a common atheist move: arguing that science does not provide “proof”. In my experience, the initial thrust from this came from theistic arguments that demanded that atheists prove their claims, and then insisting that any doubt at all meant that their “proofs” were insufficient, and so the atheists couldn’t really “know” that their claim is true. Thus, there was a pushback against the idea that knowledge required logical certainty, and so we could “know” things that were absolutely certain. This, in and of itself, isn’t an unreasonable position — and epistemology came to that conclusion quite a while ago — but it often gets used against demands for proof that are clearly nothing than the standard colloquial “Give me sufficient evidence to show that your theory is true”, which means give me enough justification so that I can claim to know — by the “justified true belief” definition — that it is true. Since Coyne claims that science is a “way of knowing”, science definitely has to be able to provide that sort of “proof” for its theories to have credibility. If he can’t and wants to claim that science doesn’t do that, then there are no scientific facts that any worldview, religious or otherwise, needs to consider.

And worldviews, for their fundamental beliefs, might want a stronger level of proof than is commonly accepted for scientific facts. As I talked about recently, science actually gets a lot of individual scientific facts wrong, at least at first. Sure, we can argue that it eventually gets to the facts, but it does a lot of readjusting along the way. Changing fundamental beliefs for a worldview, however, at a minimum requires a massive reworking of the worldview and might even force people to abandon the worldview. So for those sorts of factual beliefs, the worldview is going to want to have really, really strong evidence that the factual belief is wrong before it accepts it. Given that, it’s perfectly reasonable for religious worldviews to, at a minimum, be skeptical of what are the current scientific beliefs until they are established to the point where the likelihood of them changing is exceptionally low. This is particularly true is accepting that scientific belief would cause the collapse of the worldview. Thus, it is certainly reasonable for worldviews to not accept the scientific consensus if all we have is, in fact, the scientific consensus. The empirical observations themselves must be sufficiently strong and free from potential confounds before the worldview need accept it. In short, worldviews should not accept scientific challenges to their fundamental beliefs until they are forced to by the evidence; scientists simply saying that this is currently the best theory should not be sufficient to overturn the fundamental beliefs of a worldview.

Given all of this, not only are science and religion not inherently incompatible, much of the time religion and science actually interact in the right ways. Sure, there are religions can are probably at the “forced to accept that a fundamental belief is false” stage who aren’t acknowledging it, but then there are scientific claims that are not strong enough to justify abandoning those fundamental beliefs that some claim religions should just accept. The science vs religion debate should be seen as the debate between a worldview and a way of knowing, and while the two are not entirely distinct they aren’t the same either. I think that understanding this would do a great deal to help settle the question of whether or not science and religion are incompatible.

Philipse on Religious Experience

December 29, 2017

So, Chapter 15 examines religious experiences. Or, as it turns out, it doesn’t, because Swinburne, according to Philipse, uses the argument from religious experiences in a specific way for a specific purpose, and Philipse follows along with him here, and the result is that both of them are going to try very, very hard to avoid talking about specific religious experiences or their properties and instead focus on generalities. Suffice it to say that that isn’t going to work out very well for either of them.

Swinburne, according to Philipse, is attempting to use religious experiences to shift the burden of proof from theists to atheists. He does so by trying to appeal to two fundamental principles of rationality: the Principle of Credulity that says that we should trust that our sense experiences are giving us an accurate perception if we don’t have a defeater for that, and the Principle of Testimony that says that we should trust the reports of other people unless we have a defeater for that notion. Swinburne, then, will use that to argue that religious experiences — even rather vague ones — are experiences of the same sort and so should get the benefit of that trust unless the atheist can come up with a defeater, while Philipse will counter with the argument that religious experiences — particularly due to the nature of God — are too dissimilar from normal sense experiences for the principle to apply to them.

The problem is that both, in my view, miss what those fundamental principles do. The reason we hold these — as Philipse himself notes that Swinburne notes — is that without them we can’t have any basis for any knowledge at all. All of our possible knowledge is filtered through sense perception, and any possible way to have that verified independently relies on the testimony of others claiming to have had the same experiences as we had. So we cannot doubt in general our sense experiences or others reports, because if we do that we give up the very means we could use to verify them. Thus, we must start from a default of trusting them and only challenge them when we have a reason not to trust them.

The problem is that while we don’t distrust them in general, that doesn’t mean that we can’t or ought not distrust them in specific cases, or even that we don’t need to justify the beliefs and knowledge we claim given them. We can only extend this trust to things that follow uncontroversially from the sense experience itself. Swinburne attempts to put the experience and the interpretations of that experience into the experience itself — using the example of seeing a ship and having the interpretation that it is a Russian ship — but Philipse is right to point out that without some sort of defined traits that we could appeal to that interpretation won’t work; it has to be the case that someone could justify that that was a Russian ship by appealing to the qualities of the experience before we would accept that the experience really, in and of itself, is sufficient justification for it being a Russian ship. And yet, Philipse spends very little time in the chapter discussing what kind of experience or experiences might be considered experiences that would indicate a God. Instead, he spends most of his time trying to argue that religious experiences are so different from regular experiences that the Principle of Credulity simply cannot apply to them, and thus shift the burden of proof back to the theist. This is consistent with his general strategy throughout the entire book: shift the burden of proof to the theist, while at the same time arguing that no such proof is possible. Given his characterization of their necessary properties, it is difficult to see how we could have an experience of God that would count for him, and since he earlier eliminates logical arguments for the existence of God there doesn’t seem to be anything left. But it’s not a good argument to say that we should not believe that God exists because there is no way for us to know whether or not God exists.

That’s the real issue here. Both Swinburne and Philipse are required to come up with a way for us to know whether or not a religious experience would count as evidence and sufficient evidence for the existence of God. If we had a definition of what that sort of experience would be, then if someone had it or had someone else claim to have it then that experience would count under the principles of Credulity and Testimony just like any other experience would, and so Philipse’s attempt to rule out religious experiences a priori fails. However, those principles do not render Swinburne immune to the question “How do you know that your experience was an experience of God rather than an experience of something else?”. Just “feeling” that is insufficient for existence claims unless Swinburne wants to liken it to something like love … except that even then we know that we can be mistaken, and since we know that we can be mistaken Swinburne would still have to have an answer to someone who asks if he could be mistaken about that interpretation, even if it seems to be happening at the same time. So, in fact, both of them need to have a criteria for what sort of experiences would count as here. The theist needs it in order to present an experience as that sort of experience. The atheist needs it in order to be able to dismiss experiences that don’t meet that standard without falling into the trap of assuming that if it is an experience that purports to be of a God then it isn’t sufficient by definition.

I don’t think we’ve had all that many religious experiences that would count as that sort of experience, and think that the ones that we might have had often occur in circumstances that might make us doubt their accuracy. But we can’t rule out that we ourselves might have an experience that would count and thus provide sufficient reason for us, at least, to believe that God exists. Swinburne tries to argue that we already have enough of them, while Philipse tries to argue that we can’t ever have one of those. Both of them are incorrect.