© Richard Carrier, Ph.D.
Richard Carrier is a world-renowned author and speaker. As a professional historian, published philosopher, and prominent defender of the American freethought movement, Dr. Carrier has appeared across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., and on American television and London radio, defending sound historical methods and the ethical worldview of secular naturalism. His books and articles have received international attention. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University in ancient history, he specializes in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science, with emphasis on the origins of Christianity and the use and progress of science under the Roman empire. He is also a published expert in the modern philosophy of naturalism as a worldview.
He is the author of, among other works,
1) On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt
2) Jesus from Outer Space: What the Earliest Christians Really Believed About Christ
3) Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith
4) Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013
5) Not the Impossible Faith
6) Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?
7) Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism
8) Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus
9) Science Education in the Early Roman Empire
10) Scientist in the Early Roman Empire
and a contributor to:
I thank Dr. Carrier for allowing me to reprint his essay:
In researching another article I came across an old piece by Mark McIntyre. On his blog Attempts at Honesty, back in 2011, he wrote a brief piece dismissing New Atheism with the argument that “their unbelief is not due to the lack of evidence but the suppression of it.” The fact that this is disturbingly ironic is precisely the lesson we can learn from it: it’s not the atheists who are suppressing or ignoring evidence. It’s the likes of Mark McIntyre who are.
This is what a delusion looks like: accusing people who actually are matching their beliefs to the evidence of ignoring or suppressing evidence, while ignoring or suppressing evidence yourself, and maintaining a belief irrationally disproportionate to—indeed in direct contradiction with—the actual evidence (see my old talk “Are Christians Delusional?”, although also keep in mind my caveats about using a mental illness model of religion).
Delusions Even of What’s in Scripture
McIntyre affords us an example almost immediately in another article, where in “Truth Whack-a-Mole” he declares, with bizarre earnestness, that “Contrary to what some think, doubts and questions are not condemned in Scripture.”
Um. Dude. Yes they are. And they’re never praised or encouraged either.
In the Epistle of James we’re told:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. JAMES 1:5-8
In First Timothy (1 Timothy 1:6-7 and 6:3-4) and Second Timothy we’re told not to “wrestle with” the definitions or meanings of words because that kind of questioning is “useless” and leads “to the ruin of the hearers,” in fact any questioning and debate are worldly and vacuous and only lead to “godlessness,” and even talking about one’s doubts and questions will only spread evil like a disease (2 Timothy 2:14-17). Thus “have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies,” we’re told, because they only “breed quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).
And how do you tell what is a “stupid and senseless controversy”? The gist you get everywhere in scripture is that it’s anything contrary to what you were first taught (e.g. Galatians 1:6-9). You don’t need to investigate anything beyond that because “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). In other words, don’t doubt or deviate from what you were first told. Don’t analyze or argue. Don’t discuss your doubts and differing conclusions with anyone. Doing so is wicked. Even having doubts makes you unstable, and unworthy of any support from God.
Everywhere else the subject comes up, this same sentiment is reinforced. Reject philosophical analysis as wicked (Colossians 2:8; Ephesians 4:13-15). The questioners of the world are damnable fools (1 Corinthians 1:20). Every thought and question must be subdued and made captive to Christian doctrine (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). In Luke 1:18-22 Zechariah is struck mute for merely asking for evidence. In John 20:29 we’re only told those who believe without evidence are blessed—thus belittling Thomas for merely asking for evidence, the real message of that passage. Hebrews 11 establishes we should just trust the things we’re told, and not expect there to be evidence (and yes, that’s what it says: see Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 236-40).
Doubts and questions are uniformly discouraged in scripture. Indeed I demonstrate this was a general feature of Christianity and Christian scripture for centuries in Chapter 5 of The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire (see also Chs. 7, 13, and 17 of my book Not the Impossible Faith). There is no example in scripture where it’s said that doubt and questioning are cool; to the contrary, plenty of passages communicate the opposite. So how has McIntyre deluded himself into thinking his Scriptures say otherwise? By literally ignoring all the evidence.
Has Liberty Not Made Anyone Happy?
Another such example of McIntyre’s delusionality shows in another article (his most recent as of this writing), “Bars of Wood to Bars of Iron”, where he complains that all our increased freedoms and social progress haven’t made the world better, seriously asking:
But are we any happier as a society? Have the new-found freedoms brought personal peace? Based on the angry rhetoric from those who most loudly proclaim freedom from limits, I struggle to see that we are indeed happier. Perhaps we have exchanged what has been perceived as a yoke and exchanged it for a collar of iron.
Of course one might not marvel at how an able straight white man wouldn’t “see” how things have gotten better—never part of a group having been shit on for centuries as a woman or a black or gay man or a disabled person, and so on. “We ended slavery and enfranchised women and stopped imprisoning gay people and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, but we’d be better off going back and having slaves again and only men voting and queers off the street and cripples even further disadvantaged” is of course the sort of thing only someone completely blind to the improvements these things have entailed to the happiness and welfare of black people and women and gay men and the disabled would ever say.
Ignoring vast realms of evidence—even because of such intense bigotry as to blind oneself to entire realms of reality—is indeed another data point evincing how deluded this guy is. But even outside his racism and sexism and homophobia and ableism and every other bigoted bias blinding him, his statement still ignores other vast realms of evidence to the contrary. As Stephen Pinker and Michael Shermer have documented, the data show considerable improvements worldwide on every measure of pursuing human happiness, from reductions in poverty and violence and morbidity and mortality to measured increases in societal contentment. People are only angry we haven’t gotten farther precisely because there is now no justification for continuing to tolerate so much, given how much we’ve proved we can eliminate. People are angry at so many stalwart attempts like McIntyre’s to go backwards, and thus lose all we’ve gained.
And indeed, the data show one other very secure fact: we now know, both chronologically and geographically (from studies as diverse as those of Gregory Paul to Phil Zuckerman), that the more we remove religion and replace it with meaningful democracy and secular human rights (and yes, they’re secular), the better all these measures improve across an entire population. But alas, McIntyre “sees no improvement” in the world. When you are that certain of a conclusion in the face of such vast evidence to the contrary, you are delusional. You might want to see to that. You need to figure out what’s causing this severe impairment in your empirical access to reality. And in case you can’t figure out what is disabling you, I have a hint: it’s your religion.
Missing All the Evidence
But back to the article I started with. McIntyre goes on there to declare:
I have come to realize that those who refuse to believe (it is a will issue, first and foremost) have to spend a lot of energy whacking down those truth moles as they pop up. How are you going to respond to the claims Jesus made about himself? How could the complexity we see in biology happen by chance? Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths? Why is it that so many believe in the supernatural? These are examples of questions, like moles, that pop up and must be swept aside to remain antagonistic to belief. Those who are truly wrestling with these questions are more open to dialog.
These are not moles. They’re corpses. The reason we don’t “keep entertaining” them is that they’ve been decisively answered already, crushed under tons of plain evidence. “How are you going to respond to the claims Jesus made about himself?” Confront the entirety of mainstream Biblical scholarship today (like, you know, this, this, this, this, …). “How could the complexity we see in biology happen by chance?” Confront the entirety of evolution science including contemporary protobiology. “Why is it that so many believe in the supernatural?” Confront the entirety of the cognitive science of false beliefs (like, you know, this, this, this, this, …).
The evidence is all there. McIntyre ignores it. Why? Because he hasn’t learned how vulnerable to false beliefs humans are, and thus he himself is. “Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths?” Yeah. Every significant belief has a nonzero probability of being false. That’s a fact. And humans can and must learn to cope with that fact if they are to comprehend and navigate reality competently and honestly—while those who don’t learn to cope with this fact become delusional. McIntyre wants a certainty that doesn’t exist. And his resulting quest for it leads him to a delusional superstition, where he remains trapped by stupid questions like “Can you really live as though there are no absolute truths?”
- Of course we well know we can’t trust that anything we’re told Jesus said, he actually said. Nor that even if he said it, he didn’t as mistakenly believe it as any of hundreds of other self-declared saviors did. McIntyre would admit this of any other religion but his. That’s why he’s delusional.
- Of course we well know evolution by natural selection has explained or can explain every single complexity in any organism on earth, and that the first life arising by chance accident is not only highly probable in such a large and old cosmos but exactly matches all observations.
- Of course we well know we can only be certain of anything to varying degrees of probability, and that “absolute certainty” is a characteristic of delusion, not wisdom. This is as true of physical facts of the world as of morality or any other domain of knowledge. Admitting this is a requirement of a competent mind.
- Of course we well know people believe, and have believed, tons of obviously false supernatural nonsense, and done so because our brains were not intelligently designed and make countless errors in evaluating reality, unless we tame our errant brains with more reliable methods. In fact this is actually evidence against the existence of any concerned god.
Every attempt to avoid these conclusions with rationalizations that always fall apart when analyzed only further demonstrates how delusional Christians resorting to such defenses are.
All theism is built on ignoring evidence. Atheists as a whole have already met their burden of evidence in showing the existence of any imagined god is extraordinarily improbable. The burden is therefore now on theists to find and present some convincing evidence to the contrary—without hiding all the evidence that changes that conclusion! They’ve failed. They’ve failed for thousands of years. So the odds of ever succeeding now are so low as to guarantee anyone still trying can only be delusional.
The ignorant may have an excuse, but not for long. Because it’s not plausibly possible to be a person out in the world today and not find out about all this vast evidence against any plausibility of a god. So one can only persist in believing there is one by choosing to ignore that. And choosing to ignore evidence that would change your mind precisely to avoid changing your mind—whether ignoring that evidence altogether or ignoring its rational consequence to any conclusion—is precisely what it means to be delusional. And that indicates you have a commitment to your beliefs for reasons other than evidence. You might want to seriously confront what those reasons are.
And then understand that wanting a thing to be true, does not make it so.