When Ignorance Meets Arrogance

In his book Sense and Goodness without God, Richard Carrier writes:

Many animals have unique personalities, memories, and mental abilities, and can be “conscious” of their surroundings, even to a certain extent themselves. But to be able to fully perceive themselves—as a mind, as a person—requires a special organ capable of such a computation, and an organ capable of perceiving a whole pattern of such a size and complexity would have to be vastly complex itself, far more than any other sensory organ like, say, the human eye.

It just so happens that we have one of these: a cerebral cortex, the most complex biological organ in the world—in fact, as far as we know, the most complex thing in the whole universe. Animal brains are simpler, lacking this organ.

First of all, the cerebral cortex is not an organ.  The brain is the organ composed of different parts, the cerebrum being one.  And it is the superficial, or outer, layer of the cerebrum that is the cerebral cortex.   The cerebral cortex is no more of an organ than the outer layer of the kidney – the renal cortex – is an organ.

Second, the cerebral cortex is found in all mammals, from mice to dolphins.  It is simply untrue that only humans have a cerebral cortex.

Now, these are not trivial mistakes.  For Carrier to proclaim that the cerebral cortex is an “organ” that animal brains “lack” tells me he is profoundly ignorant about very basic level neuroanatomy.  Yet he speaks about it and he speaks with great confidence.  In fact, one has to wonder how Carrier could publish such erroneous claims when 5 minutes on Google would have corrected him.  It would seem he was so confident in his ignorant views that he couldn’t be bothered to fact check them.

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4 Responses to When Ignorance Meets Arrogance

  1. Dhay says:

    There’s Carriers recent pontifications on the use of Bayes’ Theorem to support his Jesus Denialism and his Fine-Tuning Denialism — analysing which, several knowledgeable users of Bayes’ Theorem have essentially called Carrier ignorant of the Theorem, of how to use it, even ignorant of the meaning of its basic terms.

    I discussed that in an earlier response here:


    Carrier has a history going way back of crackpot ideas. To quote a small fragment another earlier post of mine:

    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.


    Seems the Physics community ignored Carrier and inexplicably decided not to award him his double Nobel Prize, and the ANE history community has ignored his Jesus-Denialism. I guess the emperor is adamant that he is dressed in the finest regalia, and gob-smacked that nobody else can see that.

  2. Ilíon says:

    But to be able to fully perceive themselves—as a mind, as a person—requires a special organ capable of such a computation …

    So, consciousness and rational thought is a secretion of on organ, namely the brain (or a small portion of the brain), not different in kind from adrenaline or even bile?

    Or, is it that consciousness and rational thought is a computation (*) conducted via secretions of the brain.

    Either way, how is this not “explaining” consciousness and rational thought by explaining them away?

    (*) and computation is just counting

  3. SteveK says:

    Reductionism always devalues and shrinks the world we know and experience by explaining these things away. Illusions are everywhere.

    The mind is the brain
    Love is a chemical reaction
    Humans are molecules

  4. Ilíon says:

    Yes, when you “explain” a thing by trying to turn it into what it is not, you don’t explain it, but rather explain it away.

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