When Jerry Coyne was promoting myther Richard Carrier as “an expert on history and a Biblical scholar,” he overlooked the fact that Carrier considers himself quite the expert at philosophy too. Here is quote of Carrier describing himself:
Wood yet again misrepresents what I say about the nature of philosophy and what it means to be a philosopher, and his lies will be wholly exposed by anyone who actually reads my chapter on this subject (pp. 23-26). At the very least, Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match theirs in every relevant respect.
If one takes Carrier at his word in further clarifications, then he was not trying to say “I’m one of the most important and greatest philosopher’s of history”. Interestingly, Carrier’s statement was response to an attack from David Wood who wrote a piece about why Carrier should not be considered a philosopher (http://www.answeringinfidels.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=84). So that makes Carrier’s clarification all the more plausible to me. Why disbelieve him?
As for David Woods article comparing Carrier to Aristotle, I just can’t believe the guy spent so much time actually picking apart what appeared to me, a rather off the cuff statement in self-defense.
Of course, its very easy and effective (on some audiences) to play up the narrative of the conceited self-loving atheist. After all, if he thinks he’s better than God, of course Hume and Aristotle are no match, so maybe the motivation lies there.
I think the whole Carrier/Wood saga reflects poorly on both of them, though. David Wood looks pedantic, uncharitable and like he’s on a mission to not just refute Carrier, but to personally assassinate his character. Carrier comes off as hot-headed and immature, and also uncharitable. Either way, reading through the exchanges sort of makes you feel dirty – like you’re just reading through some random troll fight on a forum in some dark corner of the internet.
But if anyone’s interested, Carrier has many responses to Wood here:
” I just can’t believe the guy spent so much time actually picking apart what appeared to me, a rather off the cuff statement in self-defense.”
‘Off the cuff’?
“Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match theirs in every relevant respect.”
That doesn’t sound some like off the cuff comment to defend himself.
His knowledge matches Aristotle in every relevant respect? That’s pretty damn bold.
Maybe yes, maybe no. But Carrier is defending himself on whether he (and others) are right to consider him a philosopher. In the context, it seems… maybe strange to use such legendary names like that… but still kind of appropriate.
On the other hand, he may truly be a conceited jerk who thinks too highly of himself, who knows? But I could see similar comparisons, in other contexts. Picture somebody who makes, plays and studies music, and has a degree related to classical music, but gets accused of being less than an actual musician. They might say they are no less a musician than either Mozart or Bach… not the first names one might want to throughout, but not inaccurate.
He also gives a slight correction and clarification at the bottom of the page, where the quote originally appeared:
“But Carrier is defending himself on whether he (and others) are right to consider him a philosopher.”
My issue is that he said his knowledge and qualifications match in all relevant areas those of Aristotle.
He’s not saying “hey, by definition I’m a philosopher too, buddy”. that much I would sympathize with. But he’s making the grand charge that the knowledge that Aristotle had in his mind is tantamount to the knowledge in his own mind.
Either way, I’m sure we’ll all agree it wasn’t the best way to go about defending or improving one’s image, especially in front of a hostile audience.
So that makes Carrier’s clarification all the more plausible to me. Why disbelieve him?
Let’s see. A blogger who promotes himself on his own blog as a “renowned author” with “avid fans” who “span the world from Hong Kong to Poland” and who writes thousands of words attacking a mainstream academic scholar as being “incompetent,” making“hack” mistakes, and not acting “like real scholar,” is precisely the type of guy who would liken himself to Aristotle and Hume. If Carrier didn’t have a history of having such a bloated ego, I might be willing to buy his walk back.
BTW, I found this bit of self-promotion on Tom Stark’s analysis of Carrier’s position:
The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah
Richard Carrier > At the very least, Wood cannot argue against the fact that I am no less a philosopher than Aristotle or Hume. My knowledge, education, and qualifications certainly match [amended, “or are comparable to”] theirs in every relevant respect.
Just to add that Carrier has tried to present himself as a better cosmological physicist than the physics community, getting very shirty and abusive when they wouldn’t listen to and heed his ignorant ideas — so ignorant they appear to ignore something so basic to his topic of Big Bang Denial as the cosmological standard model.
And he has tried to present himself as a better physicist than Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schroedinger and [insert names of modern great physicists here], because he has presented a paper — a paper which contains no formulas and which ignores the issues which made the problem insoluble for these great physicists — claiming to unify quantum mechanics and relativity.
Carrier’s justification of his Jesus Denialism (Mythicism) uses Bayesian statistics to calculate a very low probability of 6.75% — gosh, an accuracy of three significant figures emerges out of calculations containing many guesstimates, even I smell a rat there — that Jesus the man existed; that probability calculation seems to be based not upon that sexy Bayes’ Theorem alone, but upon a mish-mash of ordinary frequentist and Bayesian statistical ideas and methods.
Hendrix says (quoted above) that “[Carrier’s] uniﬁcation of frequentism and Bayesianism consists of a loose discussion which misunderstands both what these ideas are and how they diﬀer”, and in the body of his critique fleshes out Carrier’s misunderstandings and failings.
Two things: the first is that it seems to me that Hendrix here very politely but definitely calls Carrier out for ignorance (“misunderstands”) and for mere hand-waving (“loose discussion”).
The second is that the Amazon blurb to Carrier’s “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus” says “The author demonstrates that valid historical methods—not only in the study of Christian origins but in any historical study—can be described by, and reduced to, the logic of Bayes’s Theorem. Conversely, he argues that any method that cannot be reduced to this theorem is invalid and should be abandoned.” If Carrier is using a mish-mash of Bayesian and frequentist statistical ideas and methods (and WM Briggs also identifies Carrier is doing so) then his method has failed (by his own criterion) and should be abandoned.
Publishing Jesus Denialist books with such a sweeping claim about what does and doesn’t count as valid historical methods (ie the other historians are not doing their job properly) makes an implicit claim to better knowledge and better expertise than his fellow historians — just like Erich von Däniken did with his “Chariots of the Gods” series of popular history books.
I see that in his scribd paper “Reading Raphael Lataster, A Review From a Bayesian Perspective” ‘Tim Hendrix’ has criticised Richard Carrier’s Jesus-denialist sidekick, Lataster, for what looks like a worse understanding of Bayes’ Theorem than Carrier has [**]; as so often with users of Bayes’ Theorem, it’s Garbage In, Garbage Out:
Oddly, Lataster seems to have been telling us for a good few years now that his PhD thesis is in preparation; will he ever achieve it?
[**] I recall a post by Carrier explaining to his readers why it’s an elementary mistake to input a probability of 0 or 1; he obviously hadn’t communicated this to Lataster at that time.