Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Does Richard Carrier Exist II: Claimant to the Throne

Is this Richard Carrier?
A few years ago, several of us had fun deconstructing the alleged existence of a world-renowned philosopher, historian, and all-around polymath named Richard Carrier.  While the original conversation actually took place somewhere between Heaven and Earth, as reported most accurately elsewhere right here on this site, it was also reported in a straighter version here. (As you can see from the former post, I am the "David last name removed" mentioned in the latter post, removed I hope not due to embarrassment.)

Or is this / or that Richard Carrier?
This afternoon, I received notification by e-mail that there is a claimant to Richard Carrier's throne.  This is, of course, not surprising, given what thrones tend to be made of and valued at, especially one of such illustrious and legendary character.  We should not, needless to say, treat such claims with simple naivite.

Here is the text I received, rescued from my 'junk' box:

I am moving to Columbus, Ohio, for good and all. And I’m taking a moving truck and towing my car all the way across country from my current and soon past home in Stockton, California.

Because Christians don’t understand how evidence works, they’ve literally argued that there is no more evidence for my existence than there is for the existence of Jesus their Christ. Never mind that that’s already wildly false. Here is your chance to see how evidence works, and confirm for yourself, as an eyewitness, that I do indeed exist!

This is a modern-day whistle-stop tour. I’ll be driving each day from one major city to the next, and giving a talk, or appearing in some public fashion selling and signing my books, and happily chatting and glad-handing and posing for photos for anyone who wants to verify my historicity.

The claim by the author of this e-mail to actually be the one and only Richard Carrier is, as you no doubt recognize immediately, highly dubious.  At the risk of beating a dead horse, let me point out twenty-five fatal problems with this claim: 

(1) A world-renowned philosopher would surely recognize the difference between a spoof post tagged "humour" and a "literal argument."  After all, when I asked the eminent philosopher Alvin Plantinga (see Faith Seeking Understanding) whether philosophers always have a good sense of humor, the only possible exception he could point to was St. Thomas Aquinas, and he wasn't sure about him.  Given that Plantinga knows hundreds of philosophers, all things being equal, it seems unlikely that any given claimant who fails to recognize humor will prove a genuine philosopher.  Therefore, it is unlikely that the author of this e-mail is the real Richard Carrier, a philosopher who surely far surpasses any Medieval Catholic for his ability to analyze satire.  

(2) I don't think either my post nor Glen's post claims that there is no more existence for Richard Carrier than for Jesus Christ.  I don't think Jesus' name even comes up in mine.  Again, an eminent historian would almost certainly notice such quotidian historical facts.
(3) This writer seems to be conflating "Christians" with "one or two posts I've seen on-line, by some person outside the line of sight, for all I know a Jewish rabbi impersonating a Christian to embarrass a rival faith." 

(4) In any case, since logic is part of philosophy, a genuine philosopher would almost certainly understand that one cannot legitimately generalize from a post or two by a few Christians to the claim, embracing billions of individuals, that "Christians don't understand how evidence works."

And I'm not sure the author of this e-mail, whoever he is, understands how evidence works.

(5) For instance, according to one Dr. Richard Carrier, prior probability can in part be calculated by locating a claimant within a certain reference class, and calculating the frequency with which real persons fall within that reference class.  This he calls "the rule of greater knowledge." "If we know more about the person we are inquiring about, enough to know that he belongs to a rarer reference class 'that just anyone' claimed to be historical . . . " (On the Historicity of Jesus, 238)

How many people are moving to Columbus, Ohio?  And what is the subset of people moving to Columbus who are moving from Stockton, California?  Given the respective populations and emmigration profiles, the odds, it would seem, are billions to one.  This compares (since this writer brings up the analogy) Reza Aslan's argument that Jesus could not have been literate because a mere 3% of Palestinian Jews were allegedly literate!

(6) Indeed, it is suspicious that "Carrier" claims to be moving from a city called "Stockton" to one entitled "Columbus."  These names are mythologically significant, and therefore probably an interpolation.  For Carrier claims to have once believed in the historical reality of Jesus, a "stock" explanation for the evidence believed by a "ton" of scholars.  He then set out, "sailing the ocean blue," as an innovator and intellectual explorer, in the mode of Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.

(7) It is also more than likely that this motif of travel is borrowed from Homer's The Odyssey. Carrier's own Odyssey, for instance, is said to have involved numerous love affairs, as Odysseus with two goddesses and almost with a princess, on his way home to Penelope.

(8) This poster also seems to possess an extremely primitive, sub-philosophical notion of "eyewitness evidence."  Many people claim to have met persons named Richard Carrier, no doubt.  I personally can testify to having had such a faith experience, and possess a vivid memory of encountering members of Carrier's faith community, along with a man calling himself that, in the state of Alabama.

But as Elizabeth Loftus and others have shown, human memory is highly fallible.  The fact that we remember something, doesn't mean it actually happened.  Our brains are constantly fooling themselves, as John Loftus, no relation to Elizabeth, but Carrier's editor, frequently points out.  So the fact that I or someone else has such a memory, is at best only faint evidence that such an encounter actually took place.

(9) In any case, what proof do I have that who I encountered was, in fact, Richard Carrier?  I was shown no birth certificate, passport, or even driver's license.  In fact, I have none but the weakest of anecdotal evidence, the purported testimony of an image hovering before my face, that the person I met was indeed named Richard Carrier.

(10) Even if "Richard Carrier" is offering to show people his driver's license, what will that prove?  A driver's license is nothing but a piece of paper with names and dates on it, alleged to have been issued by anonymous officials working for one or another governing agency.  As Dr Carrier and his disciples (Matthew Ferguson, for instance) sagely point out, anonymous documents are pretty much worthless when it comes to evidence.

(11) Supposing "Richard Carrier" intends (though the poster has not promised this) that he will not only show his fans his driver's license, but also his passport and his birth certificate.  But unfortunately, Dr. Carrier the author has pointed out that the Criteria of Multiplicity is practically useless, because it is always possible that these "separate flows"of evidence converge upstream from a common source.  All this material may be derived, for instance, from a single faulty birth certificate.

(12) Fingerprints, as any cautious epistemologist must know, are also subject to the same objection.  Even if "Richard Carrier"intends to prove his identity by means  of comparing his fingerprints to some government data base (though again, he gives no hint of such an intention), that is simply a Hail Mary pass to blind faith in more anonymous testimony.

(13) Indeed, does "Mr. Carrier" even claim to recall the day of his christening?  Most people do not.  He is, most likely, relying on unsubstantiated rumors from "eyewitnesses" (if he can claim that) for an event that took place more than 40 years ago.  And as generations of skeptical New Testament historians have pointed out, 40 years is FAR too long for a community to preserve even so important a memory as, say, a resurrection from the dead.  Thus they invariably refer to such testimony as "oral tradition."  If "Mr. Carrier" claims to know his own "identity," it can only be the product of multiple generations of oral tradition passed on from an event subject to the corrosion that even far more vivid memories invariably suffer.  

(14-25) According again to the famous Dr. Carrier, historical claims can break down at least at the following eleven points:

"First, you must reliably know (1) if the statement in question very probably did go against its author's interests, (2) that the author actually perceived that it would, and (3) that the statement did not serve other interests the author had which he may have regarded as outweighing any other consequences he perceived to be likely.  And that means you must (4) reliably know what an author's interests actually were, and not just in general, but that particular author in that particular book, in that particular scene (and in that particular community at that particular time, and (5) you must reliably know what the author perceived the consequences of his statement would be . . . (6) you must reliably know how that author would have weighed the pros and cons he was aware of at the time . . . And if you can establish all that, you're not done. For (7) you must also reliable know if the author was even in a position to know the statement was actually true . . . (8) You also need a specific theory as to why the questionable statement was included at all.  And then (9) you need to test that theory against other theories of what it may have been included . . . But that requires explaining (10) why that author could not omit it or even change it (and (11) why no one else could in all the decades before" (Proving History, 158-9).

Reformulating that, we must demand of those who "want to verify (Richard Carrier's) historicity, at least the following:

(14) "'Richard Carrier' must reliably prove the sincerity of his claim to being Carrier, at a minimum by speaking for free, and giving his books away.  Better would be if he died on a cross to prove himself."

(15) "You must know that 'Carrier' really believes himself to be Carrier -- preferably by something better than a lie detector test, which can be faked.

(16) "You must also know that even if 'Carrier' is not profiting from that one night of speechifying, he is also not gaining any financial, emotional, or social benefit that outweighs that loss.  You must follow him to his room to make sure he doesn't have a girlfriend in the audience, for instance.  You must ensure that he is miserable the whole time he is in town and that he knew he would be miserable."

(17) "You must be sure that when 'Carrier' says 'I am Richard Carrier,' he means the world-famous philosopher YOU have in mind, not some other image of Carrier lodged in his own brain that imperfectly corresponds to that image, and that he must have that precise image in his mind exactly as he speaks.

(18) "You must be able to prove that 'Carrier' is not a consequentialist philosopher who thinks that by deceiving you into thinking he is 'Richard Carrier,' he will not somehow bring about a great benefit to posterity, if not to his own pocketbook.

(19) "You furthermore must be able to demonstrate that, in weighing consequences, 'Carrier' perceives that only by telling the truth is there salvation for atheist philosophers;

Nor is that all:

(20) "You must prove that 'Carrier' owns a time-traveling De Lorean with which he went back to the date of his own christening, to verify that he was, indeed, given the name which rumor reports.

(21) "You must explain 'Carrier's' motives in wanting to prove his identity -- without reference to ego, cash, love, or vengence, but only a pure, unadultered and indifferent love of the plain truth;

(22) "Then use Bayes Theorum to prove that the 'Telling the Truth' hypothesis is superior to the 20 billion other possible reasons one person might impersonate another;

(23) "You also need to have your own ears checked, along with the wiring between your ears and brain, and all the neurons that fire when you process the words 'I am Richard Carrier, would you like to take a picture with me?'

(24) "Then explain why 3.8 billion years of evolution with a strong element of random luck that is not inherently truth-directed should produce cognitive, visual, and auditory senses, which accurately translate patterns of sound into meaning and relate truth that corresponds to reality in the advanced hominid brain."

(25) Oh, and after that . . . treasure the moment, because it will shortly enter into mid-term, then long-term memory, and you'll never be able to trust it again.  So even if you did once meet Richard Carrier, you can never know that this really happened to you. It's all just electrical impulses firing from synapse to synapse within your brain.


Nick said...

It's good that you explained that this is just satire. I hope Carrier also knows that about the Babylon Bee and the Onion as well.

Tyson James said...

I just hope he doesn't come to the same conclusion as poor "Pritchard Barrier"...

David B Marshall said...

The scary thing is, even as we talk, a thousand skeptical New Testament scholars are using exactly these arguments to plan their next books debunking the Jesus of the Gospels.

Brad Cooper said...

Nick, Are you sure it's satire? The similarity to "Carrier" literature is striking. Perhaps the person writing under the pseudonym "Richard Carrier" also intends his books to be taken as satire. That would explain the existence of such works in a way that was previously unsatisfying.

Brad Cooper said...

Nick, Are you sure it's satire? The similarity to "Carrier" literature is striking. Perhaps the person writing under the pseudonym "Richard Carrier" also intends his books to be taken as satire. That would explain the existence of such works in a way that was previously unsatisfying.