Thursday, May 9, 2019

Problems with "The Good Delusion"

Recently, Alex O'Connor (aka CosmicSkeptic) gave a talk to the Dorset Humanists titles the Good Delusion.  In it he argued that free will does not exist, that in consequence morality does not exist, but that moral language can be reconstructed in a way that makes it informative, if not moral.  I think he is wrong on all counts.  I made some criticisms on a few points of the video, but it was suggested to me by somebody else that Alex was unlikely to read the comments and so that I should email him directly, which I have done.  In the process, I expanded on my points.  I thought it might also be useful to post the email on this blog.  It should be noted that the points below are not all my disagreements, though they are enough to refute the initial part of his argument; and the misconceived idea of reconstructing moral language is not motivated without the errors I refute.  I should also note that these do not constitute my positive argument for free will, and for morality.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Richard Carrier and Simon of Cyrene

In "On the Historicity of Jesus", Richard Carrier goes through Mark trying to show that all the stories within it are either "... more likely a fiction than a historical tradition, or just as likely either way.  As an example of the later, he gives Mark 15:21, the story of Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry Jesus' cross.  To justify this claim, Carrier interprets Mark 15:21 as an extended allegory.  Personally, I always have problems with allegorical interpretations.  The fact is that humans are creative, and consequently any story can be given an allegorical interpretation by an intelligent author.  Because the topic of the allegory is not previously constrained (unless explicitly stated in the original story), some other story or belief can always be found to match the structure of the text that is being allegorized - particularly if you are prepared fudge on the details.  Ergo the fact that you can find an allegory has no bearing on the original intentions of the author of the story being allegorized, unless you can find independent evidence that it was intended as an allegory and the fit is perfect.  In this post I intend to show the fit of Carrier's allegory is far from perfect.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Richard Carrier and Jesus of Nazareth


As part of Richard Carrier's campaign to persuade us that Jesus was mythical, he needs to divest Jesus of all Earthly association.  A Jesus with a mother, brothers and sisters, or a hometown in Galilee is a historical Jesus - not a myth.  As a result, Carrier against those known associations, sometimes offering specious arguments in doing so.  In the case of Jesus' association with Nazareth, he does this by suggesting without basis that Mark's identification of Jesus as being from Nazareth is an interpolation in "Proving History".  To motivate that speculation, he attempts to show that Mark treated Capernaum as Jesus' hometown - exaggerating some evidence, and ignoring the inconsistency his suggestion introduces to Mark in doing so.  In "Proving History", of course, his intention is argue for his method in historical analysis, so he is content to argue that based on Mark (and absent the verse he suggests may be an interpolation), we would consider Capernaum to be Jesus' home town.  Carrier goes further in "On the Historicity of Jesus", arguing on specious linguistic grounds because the early Christians were called Nazorians; which name suggested a fictitious connection to Nazareth when the gospels were composed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Jordan Peterson Resources

Jordan Peterson on Post Modernism:

I have some familiarity with post-modern and Marxist thought from my days studying philosophy, though I would not claim to be expert in either.  I was sufficiently knowledgeable, however, that when I first encountered Peterson's critique of Post Modernism, I recognized it as, at best, inadvertent caricature of a bad faith critique, and at worst as deliberate lies and distortion about the topic.  In short, it was typical of his discussion in any area outside his immediate expertise.  The internet contains much better criticisms than I could provide.  In particular, from the YouTube channel, "Cuck Philosophy" we find both a direct critique of Peterson on Post Modernism, and a critique of Stephen Hick's book, "Explaining Post Modernism".  The later is particularly important because it appears to be the source of Peterson's ideas on Post Modernism, and is one of the most abysmal works of non-scholarship ever published with the pretense of being scholarly.  Hicks is a libertarian, and likely an Objectivist (ie, a follower of Ayn Rand).  His ideological commitment is very clear in his critique of Post Modernism, which he thoroughly misunderstands and misrepresents.

Before proceeding, I should note that from what I understand of Post Modernism, I have major disagreements with it, and its various schools.  But that does not prevent me from recognizing that at its best it is scholarly and interesting.  It certainly has developed useful tools for finding where people bury their shortfalls in reason by rhetorical tricks - an ability that Peterson is right to be afraid of, and which his following would do well to learn.

Jordan Peterson on the Nazis:

Before proceeding on this point, I do want to note that Peterson does say something very sensible about Nazi-ism, ie, that for the vast majority of people, had they been in 1930s Germany, they would have ended up as supporters of the Nazis.  You may think otherwise of yourself, but that is because your current self has grown up in an entirely different situation, and the you that grows up in that situation (hopefully) holds the Nazis in revulsion.  But beyond that point he makes two fundamental errors - his description of the motivations for and historical situation surrounding the holocaust are wrong, as shown by German speaking student of history, Three Arrows; and he insists that the Nazis were atheists, something The Cult of Dusty entertainingly rebuts.

Jordan Peterson on the Limits of Discourse:

In his Big Think talk, Peterson attacks the left for not establishing limits to discourse - ie, a threshold beyond which leftists have gone to far, such that centrist leftists will disassociate themselves from leftists who go beyond that point.  In treating "the left" this way, he treats it as a monolithic entity in order that he may demonize it.  As it happens, I, and nearly all leftists, have a clear demarcation.  We will not let go of the rule of law, nor of democratic government.  Peterson ignores that demarcation point, possibly because it is not the demarcation point of the right, where even centrist rightists happily support the Pinochets and Bolsonaros of the world.  Peterson's demarcation point is "racial superiority".  In point of fact, that is just false.  The Republican party in the US, for example, has an eight term Congressman who is a white supremicist; and had several open Nazis running for office in the most recent Congressional elections.  But the more fundamental criticism is that it is a standard that finds nothing wrong with a Franco, a Putin or a Duterte.  Essence of Thought has an excellent and detailed critique of Peterson's lecture, whose only significant failing is that it does not address my last point - which I feel is fundamental.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Richard Carrier and Rank-Raglan Heroes, Part 1

Richard Carrier and Rank-Raglan Heroes

The core of Richard Carrier’s argument for the a-historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is his use of the Rank-Raglan mythotype to establish a low prior probability of Jesus’ existence.  For something so key to his argument, however, Carrier plays very fast and loose in his use of the mythotype. Specifically,
  1. He modifies key criteria to better fit the story of Jesus of Nazareth;
  2. He biases his scoring in favour of finding Jesus of Nazareth a member of the mythotype;
  3. He biases his scoring against finding historical figures to be members of the mythotype; and
  4. He uses a biased sample of the mythotype in establishing his prior probabilities.

The first three of these points have been pointed out before, notably by James McGrath (“Rankled by Wrangling over Rank-Raglan Rankings”) and Johan Rönnblom (“Is Jesus a Rank Raglan Hero”).  Daniel Gullota has also made similar points in his review of “On the Historicity of Jesus”.  That review, however, is behind a paywall and inaccessible to me.  I only know of its contents through Carrier’s response to that review.  Unlike the first three points, I am not aware of anybody previously making the fourth point.

In this blogpost, I will restrict my discussion only to Carrier’s treatment of the Rank-Raglan mythotype, and specifically how he modified the criteria.  I will not discuss how he scores results, and how he selected his sample for comparison. Nor will I concern myself with his use of Bayes theorem on the data to generate a prior probability of Jesus of Nazareth being historical.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Richard Carrier, Rank-Raglan Heroes, and Bayes Theorem

I recently prepared this as a comment on a small part of Richard Carrier's video critique of Bart Ehrman's claims in his debate with Robert Price.  The comment, however, appears to be to large for YouTube to digest, and I would like to have it available for reference, so I am posting it here.  It will be of little interest unless you are interested either in the historical Jesus (or Mythicism with respect to Jesus), or Bayes Theorem.  If you fall into the first camp, but are not familiar with Bayes Theorem, here is a brief introduction (which, however, does make a mistake in assuming the second test [5:12], as described by him, would be independent).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Ethics and Christianity

In first Samuel, chapter 15, we learn that Saul was commanded to:
 "[Attack] the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."
This is the first genocide that is recorded in history, so far as I know.  It is a "final solution" far more complete than that of Hitler against the Jews.  It has important ethical considerations with regard to Christianity.  Specifically, any form of Christianity which is literalist enough in its interpretation of the Bible such that Samuel's command to Saul to slay the Amalekites was in fact a command from God is committed to the view that genocide is sometimes the morally correct thing to do.  Indeed, given that the 'offense' of the Amalekites was to attack the Israelites as they sojourned from Egypt (Exodus 17), even moderately literalist Christians are committed to the view that genocide can be the morally correct thing to do based on the actions of the forebears of a people, 13 or more generations beforehand.