Alright, I know that this might be a bit of a serious topic to discuss around the "water cooler", but bear with me. I'm a bit of a history nut, and a big pet peeve of mine are the pseudo-historical myths we think we all "know" about history but usually end up being totally wrong (like "People in the Middle Ages didn't wash" or "People used to not get older than 40 or 50."). There's a number of mechanisms that keep myths like these around in the public consciousness, but one of the most prominent tends to be Hollywood.
Now, we all love to pretend that we are far above getting much of our historical ideas from movies, but the fact is that we all do it sometimes. We all get pissed when we see Christians banging on about Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, but I challenge everyone of you to cast the first stone. When I ask you to imagine a Roman city or army, who doesn't visualize Gladiator or I, Claudius? Who wasn't at least slightly convinced that the movie King Arthur was based on actual research about a Roman general? And don't get me started on those of you who think crap like The Patriot presents historical merit.

Now why am I saying this? Because several days ago the film Agora was released in the States. For those of you who don't know, Agora tells the story about Hypatia: she lives in Alexandria in the Fourth Century AD; she is a female scientist, an atheist and a defender of reason. She protects the remnants of the Library of Alexandria, until they are destroyed by an angry Christian mob. Ultimately she doen't pander enough to the whims of the Christian leaders, and she gets lynched. The emphasis of the film is on Christianity's incompatibility with reason and its zeal to destroy knowledge, with Hypatia is one of the last and ultimately unsuccesful guardians of reason and science.
I can almost feel some of you getting excited at this great plot. But wait, doesn't it sound a little too black-and-white to be true? Well, that's because it is. Most of the story is based on absolutely nothing, and the movie (which is actually not a Hollywood production, by the way) is a fictional story set in an aesthetically accurate Alexandria even though it purports to be based on historical facts.

Despite this, I already hear friends from the US and elsewhere (who acquired the film by... ahem... other means) telling me that it's one of those film that "an atheist has to see!!". They swallowed everything hook, line and sinker.
We might laugh at the people who take Passion of the Christ as to be a beautiful and accurate representation of Christ's crucifixion, but somehow I get the feeling that many atheists (even here) will watch Hypatia and get out of the theatre strengthened in their convictions that religion and science were and are incompatible. 
And undoubtedly there will be atheist feminists who will come out feeling justified in the (remarkably common) idea that paganism was somehow kinder to women than Christianity. 
As it turns out, we're not all that different from Christians if we don't pay attention.

I think we should train ourselves to look at history sceptically and rationally, and accept its conclusions even if they're not always the way we'd like them to be. The truth is always far more complex than a cartoon version. That's why I present you with a review by an amateur historian of Agora, where he details the circumstances wherein Hypatia really died, what the motives were, what her science and her gender had to do with it (if anything), how the Library of Alexandria gradually decayed instead of being destroyed, etcetera.

So if you plan on seeing (or have seen) the movie, it's probably a good idea to read this review before you start internalising it as how you see the ancient world.
You can find the review here:
And for a more thorough discussion:
It's written by an atheist with a Masters in medieval history. Basically, he explains historical topics (usually relevant to either atheism, science, or Christianity) very accessibly, but he dispells plenty of myths on both sides as he goes along. He also has plenty of articles detailing how Early Christians (and Christians in the Middle Ages) viewed reason and knowledge. The results might not be what you expect, but you'll learn a lot. Highly recommended.

My rant ends here. Cheers ;)

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You've made some extreme easily refutable claims about Carrier, that anyone who is familiar with his work would not make. For example you say: "Carrier adheres to literally every anti-Christian historical theory there is. Every single one." O rly??

Explain this: Kersey Graves and "The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors" One would think based on what you've said, Carrier would have bought into it wholesale. Every single one, you said.

But that's just too easy. You could tone down your rhetoric and get away with some valid objections. Now I don't know enough about each of the four examples you've brought up to say, but I suspect you've given a rather shallow evaluation. I've read a lot of his work and I've seen him reject plenty of nonsense. If Carrier really is just looking uncritically for just any old anti-Jesus theory, why did it take him over a decade to buy into mythicism? Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity He doesn't seem too concerned about pointing out problems with Doherty's work and I know well that he goes around viciously debunking movies like Zeitgeist, pointing out the failings of "The God Who Wasn't There" and generally blasting most mythicists and the fallacious ways they tend to argue in every venue he attends. You should listen to the ways he actually argues about it (in an interview on Infidelguy about "How not to argue the Mythicist position") and note that he doesn't expect anyone to believe him unless he actually manages to change the scholarly consensus, because that's the responsible thing to do even if he believes he has a really good case.

So, I'm pretty sure you have grossly mischaracterized his work, but you are entitled to your opinion, I suppose.
"You could tone down your rhetoric and get away with some valid objections."

I could do that. Or you could realise it was a rhetorical exaggeration in the first place. Either would have worked. But I suppose yours is a fair objection.

Of course I don't mean that Carrier buys into absolutely friggin' everything that's anti-Christian. He doesn't, for example, buy into the idea that Christianity was a scheme concocted by aliens to prepare humanity for their apocalyptic invasion. I just don't see why that's anything to praise him over.
And yes, he does blast most myther arguments: that's because most of them (Zeitgeist, Acharya S) are so completely awful that everyone with a brain is forced to distance themselves from them.
That doesn't change the fact that he's a supporter of some of the most discredited ideas in academic historical analysis: like Jesus Mythicism, the Conflict Thesis, and the Christian destruction of the Library of Alexandria, as well as speculative nonsense about stuff the ancients "might have known" that "might have been destroyed" by Christianity later on. I know quite a bit on all those subjects, and I can tell a contrived and speculative argument from an objective one (see Earl Doherty's book for some prime examples of that).
Just because he often cracks down on (by Myther standards) "bad" arguments, doesn't mean he's objective, anymore than Ken Ham's frequent dissertations on what creationist arguments not to use somehow prove that he's doing serious research.

Add to that his capacity of self-delusion, like when he claimed that the only reason he can't get published in a decent peer-reviewed press is because of anti-Christian biases (despite the fact that other anti-Christian but well-researched books happen to get published in peer-reviewed press quite easily), and when he declared his own book to be a "tour de force", and I think you can see why I don't hold him in very high regard.

So seriously, I'd be careful to defend this guy as a role model for how historical research should be done.

That said, I give him all the credit on the world for his books on ethics and other subjects.
"like when he claimed that the only reason he can't get published in a decent peer-reviewed press is because of anti-Christian biases (despite the fact that other anti-Christian but well-researched books happen to get published in peer-reviewed press quite easily)"

Link please?
Woops, I seem to have my atheist historians mixed up. Doherty was the one who tried getting his Myther thesis published and failed.
Carrier hasn't yet written a book on the Mythicist position (he cheerleads on the sidelines for Earl Doherty and posers like Rook Hawkins/Thomas Verenna though), so obviously he couldn't have gotten rejected.

My mistake.
Carrier has some peer review lined up for his "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ" manuscript. And he intends it as a conversation starter with the rest of the academic community. He doesn't expect any lay person to take mythicism seriously unless he makes significant headway into changing the consensus.

And as I understand it, he supports folks like Rook Hawkins because of their enthusiasm and interest in advancing in skill. I doubt he endorses their final products. He's just being a nice guy and gets slandered for it by unsympathetic folks who jump to conclusions.

In general, Carrier argues like a sane person even when defending underdog positions. He always has well thought out reasons for whatever he says. Feel free to engage him on his blog on any of your examples. I just reread the conversation he had with another blogger on the Christian library burning challenging him. He asked for sources on the many claims the other guy was making and that guy apparently never got back to him. Feel free to go further on the issue.
"Carrier has some peer review lined up for his "On the Historicity of Jesus Christ" manuscript. And he intends it as a conversation starter with the rest of the academic community."

Considering that Carrier isn't an academic (unless he's managed to get a position at a university that I'm not aware of), I wonder how actual academics like Bart Ehrman and Geza Vermes, who have been studying early Christianity for years on end are going to react to this "conversation starter".

If he actually gets his research favourably peer-reviewed, I might change my opinion about him. If it contains the same amounts of speculation as usual, I wouldn't count on it though.

"In general, Carrier argues like a sane person even when defending underdog positions. He always has well thought out reasons for whatever he says. Feel free to engage him on his blog on any of your examples. I just reread the conversation he had with another blogger on the Christian library burning challenging him. He asked for sources on the many claims the other guy was making and that guy apparently never got back to him. Feel free to go further on the issue."

I know exactly what discussion you're talking about. You thought that was convincing? All Carrier was doing was repeating speculative "it happened but the sources just didn't mention it because their accounts are too brief" fantasy bullshit, despite the fact that the sources do mention the destruction of several statues.

Of the five accounts we have of the destruction of the Serapeum (some of them anti-Christian), none of them mention anything about books or a library. How anyone can look at this and start some tedious speculation about how we can all reject these (for some spurious reason), is beyond me.
That's not "sane" reasoning: that's the same "retreat to the possible" tactic that Christian apologists like William Lane Craig use.
Well, prejudices against mythicism are pretty high. I asked Ehrman in person if he was interested in writing the foreword to OHJC, and he said if he did it would only be to say not to read the book. Obviously Ehrman won't even bother to read it, though Carrier plans to send him a copy anyway. Nevertheless, there will be others not so strident who will at least give it a read. And if that manages to kill mythicism, so be it.

"You thought that was convincing?"

I thought it was unresolved, not convincing either way. I don't know enough about the subject to weigh in unless the contributors themselves step up to the stipulations of the other. And that didn't happen.
Fair enough. There's a giant discussion on Jesus Mythicism in the Theism section of the forum, by the way.

On a sidenote, Bart Ehrman is going to be writing a book debunking Jesus Mythicism, and showing why it has so little academic credibility (and so much prejudice against it). Or at least, that's what he told someone from the Rational Skepticism fora in an e-mail.
More power to Ehrman, but if he doesn't bother engaging the material in Carrier's book for his book, he's just going to bring down upon himself a ton of blowback from mythers. It's really stupid, even if mythicism is crap. I always get frustrated with evolutionists who want to put down creationism, but never bother to know enough about it, that the creationists have just enough slack to make it look like they have a case to other creationists. I hate to see the nonsense politics of that continue, because I don't think it helps educate anyone. Same goes for mythicism. It's too late to worry about "legitimizing" it. If you have to write a book about it, you have to know what it is you are refuting. Period.

And that thread you referenced is way too huge, and filled with way too many crazy people. I saw it before and I'll pass.
Jesus Mythicism is actually not like Creationism at all. Creationism is based on an outright denial of every scientific discovery we've ever made, and it's in direct contradiction with everything we know about biology. That's why many biologists refuse to debate them: when you've fallen that far away from reality, there's no point giving them the oxygen of publicity and recognition.
Jesus Mythicism is different: Myther arguments are invariably crap (and no, I don't think Carrier will come up with some highly original, defensible arguments) but they're at least possible. They're not the most parsimonious and the best explanation of the available evidence, but at least they attempt to follow proper historical analysis (although they usually fail at it) and are able to change their mind (although the idea is often quite emotionally entrenched); there are some very understandable reasons why you'd think Jesus Mythicism is a good theory, and most of them can be helped with a better understanding of the historical method. So writing a book detailing this (and raising the overall level of atheist arguments) is not a fool's errand at all. It might actually make a difference.
It's why I bother to debate Mythers, at least.

I didn't read the entire thread either, by the way. I just went straight to the ending and whenever someone comes along promoting Jesus Mythicism, I (and several other posters) point out why that is not the most parsimonious explanation of the evidence.
Well, the politics are similar even if the level of epistemic depravity isn't.

I'd just hate to pop onto page 83 and say something that's been said 3 times already.
In the same way, most scholars have long abandoned the simplistic representation of science and religion as incompatible and hostile to each other: they've stopped believing in that "Conflict Thesis" a long time ago.

I liked your post mostly, but I have to say that I think science and religion are indeed in conflict. Religion is based on faith, where certain belief w/o evidence is deemed laudable. Whereas science is general less than certain of almost everything even with evidence.

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