Friday, September 10, 2010

Inside Richard Carrier's padded cell

According to Richard Carrier:

“Ever since The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (TCD) came out we've been expecting deluded and irrational attacks. One such going the rounds now is the laboriously long treatment by the Christian crackpots at Triablogue…”

An obvious problem with this opening salvo is that it doesn’t mesh with Carrier’s worldview. To say somebody is a “crackpot” is normally a putdown–the assumption being that to be a “crackpot” is something undesirable.

And yet, from a secular standpoint, it makes no difference in the great scheme of things if the maggot is gnawing on the brain of a dead crackpot or a dead infidel. Both the infidel and the crackpot suffer the same fate.

That’s one of the intrinsic problems of atheism. If you’re right, you might as well be wrong. You lose by losing the argument, but you also lose by winning the argument. It’s like having the winning ticket to your own execution.

“…which they have amusingly titled The Infidel Delusion (I say amusingly because the ‘I know you are but what am I’ tactic only reinforces the stereotype that many Christians are emotionally stunted children--who also have no grasp of irony).”

i) If the fact that I named The Infidel Delusion after The Christian Delusion reinforces the stereotype of Christians as emotionally stunted children, then does the analogous fact that John Loftus named The Christian Delusion after The God Delusion reinforce the stereotype of infidels as emotionally stunted children? Carrier talks of irony, but the self-incriminating irony of his putdown is lost on him.

ii) Let suppose the contributors to TID are “emotionally stunted children.” In a godless universe, what difference does that make? Does the cemetery care whether or not the rotting corpse six feet under belongs to Richard Carrier rather than Steve Hays? Who is Carrier trying to impress? The maggots? In a godless universe, what difference does it make who believed what? How you lived or how you died?

It’s not as if infidels are happier than crackpots. Crackpots can enjoy a very cushy standard of living. Crackpots can have a lot more fun than a stoic martyr to the cause of science. In a godless universe, which would you rather be: a happy-go-lucky crackpot, or a dutiful scientist who slaves away 18 hours a day, 7 days in a windowless laboratory to score some scientific breakthrough? Suppose he emerges from the lab 20 years later with albino skin and a Nobel prize? Was it worth it? Burn the best years of his life for a plaque on the wall?

Even Richard Feynman preferred surfing and womanizing to physics. And from a secular standpoint, who can blame him? Why not party until you drop dead?

iii) And while we’re on the topic of “emotionally stunted children,” notice Carrier’s emotional need to feel intellectually superior to his opponents. He’s like a preschooler who won first prize for his Play-Doh dinosaur. Why does he feel the need to have somebody pat him on the head?

“Their entire collection of rebuttals is a good example of a delusional construct. It's built on delusionally failing to read statements in the very same text which contradict them, delusionally misreading statements in the text and then rebutting the whole book by rebutting things it never said, and delusionally believing that logically fallacious arguments are rationally sound.”

That’s the pregame bravado you get from two boxers talking smack about their opponent: “My opponent is overrated! My opponent has a glass jaw! I’m gonna knock him out in the very first round! I’m gonna take his belt!”

Both boxers say the same thing about their hapless opponent. The winner says it and the loser says it.

“And all that in an attempt to avoid the conclusions of the book: that they are all deluded precisely because they refuse to take the Outsider Test for Faith for fear of its results, and consequently they fail to admit the demonstrated inconsistencies in their belief system, by building an even more elaborate system of inconsistencies that possess the superficial appearance of being correct.”

Notice that Carrier treats the OTF as a given. But, of course, in TID we subject the OTF to a sustained critique. Therefore, Carrier is in no position to take that as a given. For the cogency of OTF is one of the very issues in dispute.

How does that question-begging objection demonstrate the rationality of Carrier’s position? It doesn’t. Quite the opposite.

Here is their argument analyzed formally:

1. There are many different Christianities.

2. If there are many different Christianities, no two Christianities have any elements in common.

3. If no two Christianities have any elements in common, then no collection of essays purporting to refute Christianity can refute Christianity.

4. TCD is a collection of essays purporting to refute Christianity.

5. Therefore, TCD cannot refute Christianity.

That’s a straw man argument. It doesn’t bear any resemblance to our actual argument. At a minimum, Carrier needs to supply a verbatim quote from our detailed response(s) to show how he derived that summary.

“Premises 2 and 3 are blatantly false. Premise 2 is false because all Christianities share core elements in common, without which no relevant form of Christianity is true, e.g. that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that believing this secures us eternal life.”

That’s irrelevant to our critique of Eller. We were responding to Eller, not Carrier. Carrier is making up an argument that doesn’t correspond to Eller’s argument. Carrier’s rebuttal is therefore irrational.

“Premise 3 is false as well, because obviously a collection of essays can collectively refute a whole array of Christianities, by attacking overlapping sets of Christianities.”

In principle, that’s true. However, one of the many problems with TCD is the way in which one essay often contradicts another essay. Therefore, they don’t present a united front against Christianity.

“Indeed, Part 1 of TCD applies to any and all forms of Christianity (not just one single form of it). Since Christianity has not passed the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), i.e. when Christianity is judged by the same standards as other religions, Christianity is no better supported than any other religion (and therefore no more likely to be true than they are)…”

Once again, that begs the question by assuming the cogency of the OTF. But that is one of the issues we challenged.

“…and Part 1 of TCD proves beliefs that have not passed the OTF are very probably false, therefore Christianity tout court is already refuted thereby. One can only retreat from this conclusion by trying to get Christianity to pass the OTF. Which the remaining chapters in TCD show can't be done for any relevant form of Christianity.”

Once again, that assumes the very thing Carrier needs to prove. We wrote a systematic critique of TCD, chapter by chapter. At a minimum, the burden of proof is now on Carrier to present an adequate counterargument.

Here is their argument analyzed formally:

1. Cultural background determines how one will believe.

2. If cultural background determines how one will believe, then this is as true for atheism as for Christianity.

3. If this is as true for atheism as for Christianity, then Christianity is not a delusion.

4. Therefore Christianity is not a delusion.

Here Premise 3 is not established. Nor is it even plausible. Because claiming atheism is a delusion "for the same reasons" in no way argues Christianity is not also a delusion. Thus the conclusion does not follow. This is therefore an irrational argument.

In fact, claiming atheism is a delusion merely because "Premise 1 is true" would entail Christianity is also a delusion (because Premise 1 is just as true for it as for atheism), thus refuting their conclusion.

Actually, our counterargument was a tu quoque argument. I, for one, don’t concede Long’s claim that cultural conditioning determines every belief of every individual. I’m merely responding to Long own his own terms. What are the implications of his position for his own position? For someone who takes pride in his powers of rationality, Carrier is strikingly unsophisticated.

“But of course Long does not argue that it does. All he argues is that because Premise 1 is true, we need to make sure our beliefs are not delusional. In other words, Long's chapter proves Christianity (like atheism and any other belief) needs to pass the OTF, and that if it does not, it's probably false (for all the scientifically established reasons he documents).”

But that’s self-contradictory. If our beliefs are delusive due to the irresistible force of cultural-conditioning, then we all lack the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. If, due to our cultural-conditioning, we’re all delusional, then none of us can pass the Outsider Test (even assuming the cogency of the Outsider Test). A delusional test-subject will subconsciously filter the Outsider Test through his delusive cultural-conditioning. He will subconsciously convert every Outsider Test into a culturebound Insider Test. So it’s self-defeating to invoke the Outsider Test when you stipulate at the outset that every test-subject is delusional by dint of his cultural conditioning.

“They cannot avoid this conclusion with the irrational dodge they have attempted. Such avoidance behavior is typical of the delusional, however.”

Far from “avoiding” the issue, we marshaled a series of arguments to the contrary. Carrier’s refusal to engage the argument is an irrational dodge, which is all too typical of delusional infidels.

“Moreover, John Loftus already rebuts their entire argument in Chapter 4 of TCD, demonstrating that Christianity is only a delusion because it has not passed and does not pass the Outsdider Test for Faith (OTF), whereas atheism does pass that test, and therefore Premise 1 does not entail atheism is a delusion, but does entail Christianity is a delusion. They don't want to honestly face this argument, so they come up with hundreds of pages of delusional excuses to avoid it.”

Of course, Carrier is hardly entitled to that value-judgment when he has failed to interact with the “hundreds of pages” of our counterargument. Notice the gaping chasm between his rationalistic rhetoric and the actual level of his intellectual performance.

Using the word “rational” in every other sentence doesn’t make you rational. Carrier substitutes rationalistic adjectives for rational arguments.

In other words, the argument of TCD is:

1. Cultural background (and common psychological biases and mistakes) determines how one will believe (collectively proved by Eller, Tarico, and Long, in Chapters 1, 2, and 3), unless one corrects for these influences when deciding what to believe.

2. One can correct for these influences only by ensuring a belief will pass the OTF.

3. A belief that does not pass the OTF is very probably false (proved again by Eller, Tarico, and Long, and by Loftus in Chapter 4).

4. A belief that is maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is probably false is a delusion.

5. TCD provides overwhelming evidence that Christianity does not pass the OTF (regardless of whether atheism also does not).

6. Therefore, TCD provides overwhelming evidence that Christianity is probably false.

7. Therefore, Christianity is a delusion.

Nothing argued in Triablogue's rebuttal to Long (or Loftus or anyone else for that matter) actually challenges any premise in this argument. And the argument is formally valid. Rejecting a sound and valid argument is irrational. And a belief that can only be defended by irrationality is a delusion.

i) Actually, the argument is self-refuting. If cultural-conditioning determines our belief-system, then we cannot correct our delusional belief-system by taking an Outsider Test–for the test-subject is culturally-conditioned to view the Outsider Test from the perspective of culture-bound insider. A delusional test-subject can’t assume the viewpoint of an outsider. His attempt to be objective will turn into yet another delusional exercise.

ii) Moreover, Carrier keeps defaulting to the OTF as if that represents an uncontested frame of reference.

Here is their argument analyzed formally:

1. The Bible is unclear about many crucial and important things a God should want us to know (proved in Loftus' chapter).

2. If the Bible is unclear about many crucial and important things a God should want us to know, then it is unclear about anything and everything it says.

3. If the Bible is unclear about anything and everything it says, then Babinski’s and Tobin’s chapters must be false (because those chapters argue the Bible is clear about several embarrassing things).

4. Therefore, "if Loftus’s chapter is true, Babinski’s and Tobin’s chapters must be false!"

Actually, our argument went well beyond that: The problem with Loftus’s argument isn’t simply that it contradicts the policy of Tobin and Babinski–although that would be bad enough. A deeper problem, as I pointed out, is that his argument is self-contradictory. Loftus takes the clarity of Scripture for granted whenever he imputes error to Scripture, or takes umbrage at some Biblical narrative or injunction.

Ironically, here we have the shockingly irrational and patently delusional black-and-white thinking that Tarico and Long warn against in their chapters. It’s a fallacy of false dichotomy: either the Bible is entirely clear on every point, or it's entirely unclear on every point. Yet neither is even probable. Loftus only argues for the middle case (which the Law of Excluded Middle requires any rational person to take into account): that the Bible is only unclear in enough places to be a self-refuting foundation for Christianity.”

But, of course, that’s ad hoc. Carrier or Loftus would have to show how Scripture just so happens to be clear when it’s offensive to the politically correct sensibilities of a liberal atheist writing in 2010 (or thereabouts). Well, that’s very convenient, now isn’t it?

Needless to say, that coincidental clarity is a textbook case of special pleading. The Bible is accommodatingly clear or unclear at those just those turning-points in his argument where he needs it to be clear or unclear. And the Bible is clearly wrong when it uncannily anticipates sociopolitical positions which offend the liberal dogmas of a white American atheist living in the first decade of the 21C. Good luck with that.

Here is their argument analyzed formally:

1. Avalos is a moral relativist.

2. Avalos concludes the Christian God is morally evil in respect to Christianity's own moral ideals.

3. A moral relativist cannot consistently argue another moral system is inconsistent with itself.

4. Therefore, Avalos' conclusion is inconsistent with his moral relativism.

That’s another straw man argument:

i) As I pointed out at the time, Avalos wasn’t actually commenting on “Christianity’s” moral ideals but, at most, Paul Copan’s moral ideals.

ii) Moreover, Avalos didn’t limit himself to judging Biblical ethics on its own terms. To the contrary, Avalos ventured his own value-judgments along the way. Take statements such as:

“Treating workers like the master did is an injustice” (217), and “this contrasts to the cruel attitude expressed by Sarah concerning Ishmael…So where Abraham might represent a humanizing tendency, God actually demands the more inhumane option” (217-18), and “basing a moral system on unverifiable supernatural beings only creates more violence and endangers our species” (233), and “Speaking only for myself here, I can say that atheism offers a much better way to construct moral rules. We can construct them on the basis of verifiable common interests, known causes, and known consequences” (233), and “if the word ‘moral‘ describes the set of practices that accord with our values, and if our highest value is life, then it is always immoral to trade real human lives for something that does not exist or cannot be verified to exist” (233).”

So it’s demonstrably false to suggest that Hector’s attack on Biblical morality was merely a case of evaluating the sacred text on its own terms (“inconsistent with itself,” “in respect to Christianity’s own moral ideals”). And a large part of my argument against Avalos was predicated on that fact.

For Carrier to so thoroughly misrepresents Hector’s actual argument, as well as my counterargument, is quite self-incriminating, coming on the heels of his allegation that TID “is built on delusionally failing to read statements in the very same text which contradict them, delusionally misreading statements in the text and then rebutting the whole book by rebutting things it never said, and delusionally believing that logically fallacious arguments are rationally sound.”

Carrier’s summary of our argument commits the “delusional” mentality which he imputes to us.

“Which makes this yet another irrational objection to what is actually a soundly proved conclusion: that God is evil by Christianity's own standards. Avalos is simply arguing that Christianity is delusional because it is internally incoherent. Moral relativism makes no difference to whether that conclusion is true. Even if moral relativism is true, Christianity is still internally incoherent, and continuing to believe what has been soundly and validly shown to be internally incoherent is still delusional.”

i) It’s true that, in principle, a moral relativist could try to show that Biblical ethics falls short by its own standards. That, however, is not the argument which Avalos deployed. He tried to judge Biblical ethics by his own standards.

ii) And even if, for the sake of argument, Avalos were successful in that regard, so what? Why should a moral relativist care about delusional beliefs? He doesn’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with entertaining delusional beliefs. So why spend so much time and effort trying to convince the reader that Christianity is delusional? To what end?

“Meanwhile, moral relativism itself is internally consistent.”

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that this is true. So what? If moral relativism were true, then there would be no moral value in the internal consistency of moral relativism. If moral relativism were true, then there’s no virtue in consistency. Why not be incoherent?

“Avalos can objectively prove the God of the Bible is inhumanly cruel (and he does; my online supplement The Will of God decisively supports him on this), which conclusion has no inherent moral status, and then from his own moral principles he can declare that cruelty immoral (and thus unworthy of worship) without requiring readers to agree with that judgment. But they still must agree with the first judgment, as inhuman cruelty is not a value judgment but an objectively defined set of behaviors.”

i) Words like “cruelty” and “inhumanity” have ethical connotations. That’s why writers use them to characterize a “behavior” they oppose.

ii) A moral relativist declaring “from his own moral principles” that cruelty is “immoral”? And what does that declaration amount to? It can’t be objectively or intrinsically immoral. Indeed, from the standpoint of a moral relativist, cruelty is amoral.

“Anyone who then also shares Avalos' personal belief that inhuman cruelty is evil (which is the moral truth ‘relative to him’) must also share his value judgment, too (that the OT God is evil), even if moral relativism is true.”

The “personal belief” of a moral relativist that inhuman cruelty is “evil”? Once again, what does that personal belief amount to? It can’t correspond to any objective moral fact about inhumane cruelty (even if, ad arguendo, we grant that tendentious characterization).

“Otherwise they are being irrational. Which is exactly what the Triablogue crew is being.”

i) Nothing is more irrational that Carrier’s illogical exercise in special pleading to salvage Hector’s hopeless argument.

ii) But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the “Triablogue crew” is irrational. So what? If moral relativism were true, then rationality instantly ceases to be an epistemic virtue. There is no epistemic duty to be rational.

Jason has already responded to Carrier’s example of Price, so I’ll move on.

“Eller doesn't argue for any morality being true in this chapter.”

That’s an understatement. He argues against any morality being true.

“Eller only argues that Christianity is not the source of all morality but is just one source among many for one morality among many, therefore Christianity cannot be considered the foundation for morality (and he's right).”

This is another case in which Carrier offers a deceptive summary of the actual argument by one of his contributors to TCD. Although Eller says that, that’s not all he says. He goes on to make a far stronger claim–as I documented in my original response. He also makes statements like:

“There are many people who assert that morality is ‘natural’ or ‘real’ or ‘objective,” and therefore independent of religion; in fact, they use (supposedly) natural/real/objective standards to judge, and often to reject, religious ‘morality.’ I am not, for reasons not manageable in this chapter but hopefully obvious in this chapter, one of these people; morality is too diverse and contradictory to be natural or real or objective…” (358).

“The question that is generally not asked in the discussion of morality, but that should be asked, is not ‘what is the basis of morality?‘ and certainly not ‘what is the true morality‘ and not, as some well-intentioned thinkers have done, ‘why be moral?‘ Asking ‘why be moral?‘ is no more sensible than asking ‘why be linguistic?‘ or ‘why be bipedal?‘ (361). ”

Does Carrier lack elementary reading comprehension?

“Neither Avalos nor myself argued that our chapters refuted Christianity. To the contrary, our chapters show examples of what sorts of delusions many Christians succumb to or resort to in order to bolster their delusional belief that Christianity is correct and necessary for modern society…Another significant point of our two chapters is that there are millions of people, even trained scholars, who actually are this deluded. If the Triablogue authors wish to concede that these are delusions, and that their fellow Christians should abandon them, we welcome their help in getting those delusions dispelled. But they cannot honestly deny that millions of Christians, even trained scholars, still embrace these delusions, as our chapters document both their widespread embrace, and that they are delusional. This should cast serious doubt on the ability of many Christians and even many Christian scholars to arrive at rational beliefs about the world and its history.”

i) “Millions” of Christians? Let’s see. Hector’s chapter on the Holocaust pans a book by Dinesh D’Souza, while Carrier’s chapter on science pans a book by Rodney Stark. How does Carrier extrapolate from two individual writers to “millions” of Christians? Does he have scientific polling data to show that what Stark and D’Souza argue represents the belief of “millions” of Christians?

ii) There is also Carrier’s systematic and demagogic use of the word “delusional.” However, a delusional state is a psychotic statement. But even if Stark or D’Souza were mistaken in their historical analysis, that hardly makes them psychotic.

Or if it does, then it also makes Carrier psychotic given the number of times he’s changed his position over the years on the historical claims of Christianity.


  1. "Inside Richard Carrier's padded cell"

    If he doesn't repent and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then his padded cell will be Hell.

  2. "Laboriously long???? Have you seen his reply to my book? It's as long as the book!