Richard Carrier’s Argument To Show God’s Existence Unlikely Is Invalid And Unsound

Self-described world-renowned author and speak Richard Carrier.
Self-described world-renowned author and speak Richard Carrier. Image source.

In the comment section to an earlier piece of mine on Strange Notions, Richard Carrier invited me to “interact” with him through his article “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, found in The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus. This article is the “interaction” Carrier requested. I apologize for its delay.


Richard Carrier’s argument to show that God probably didn’t create the universe, and therefore He probably doesn’t exist, in Carrier’s “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, like many attempts to use probability in defense of atheism or theism, is invalid and unsound, and based on fundamental misunderstandings of who God is and of the proper role of probability.

It is also a maddening, rambling screed, little more than bluff, bluster, and bullying, as well as an endless source of egotistical phrases, pace “critics know (and when honest, admit)”, “what any rational person would conclude”, “everyone else who’s rational and sane”, and “no rational person can honestly believe”. Nevertheless, let us “set aside ignoramuses who don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t even try to know” and analyze his main errors (it would take a monograph to examine every mistake).

His argument, repeated in different contexts, is essentially this. If God did not exist, life, the universe, and everything in it (including our minds) would look just the way they do. But if God exists, He could have created life, the universe, and everything in innumerable ways and, Carrier conjectures, surely not in the fractured, imperfect, pain-guaranteeing way we see. Therefore, because “the probability that a ‘designing’ god exists but never intelligently designed anything is likewise virtually zero, since by definition that’s also not how such a god behaves” and for other reasons Carrier creates, it is likely God does not exist.

The first and last part are pure bluff. We have no idea what a “designing god” would do for a living, nor what the universe would look like had God not created it. To say we do assumes we have (absent God) an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing, which we do not have. Note carefully that “something” includes quantum fields, the “laws” of the universe, mathematics, anything you can think of. To say we know what the universe would look like had God not created it, is to claim one knows precisely why whatever physical, mathematical, mental, and philosophical foundations exist, exist the way they do, without circularly drawing on those foundations for their explanation. And that is impossible.

The second part is bluster. Call it the Carrier-as-God thesis, which can be summarized: “If I, Carrier the god, were to design the universe, it would pink and happy with ‘bodies free of needless imperfections’ with endless complimentary ice cream for all. Since the Christian God obviously did not create this delightful world, he must not exist.” This is as silly as it sounds. How can Carrier presume to know why God did what He did?

The last part is bullying, probabilistic persiflage. Carrier thinks that by thumping the reader with (unnecessary, as it turns out) mathematics that science is happening, and thus nothing else need be said.

Carrier’s main argument

Carrier first defines “nonterrestrial intelligent design”. “By ‘intelligent design,’ I mean design that is not the product of blind natural processes (such as some combination of chance and necessity), and by ‘nonterrestrial,’ I mean neither made by man (or woman) nor any other known life-form.”

Anything that happens by necessity, must happen; necessary events are determined, i.e. caused, to happen in the way they did. But nothing happens because of chance: chance is measure of knowledge and not a cause; it is not an ontological force and thus cannot direct events. Chance cannot be creative, though necessity, which implies design, is creative by definition. “Natural processes” cannot therefore be “blind.”

God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe. God is not a creature, nor is He the same as the universe. In his inadequately described “designing god”, it’s clear Carrier doesn’t understand he is rejecting a god classical theologians also reject. Carrier’s god is not the ground of being, He whose name is I Am, existence itself, a necessary being who sustains all creation in each and every moment. Carrier’s god is instead a smart, long-lived creature possessed of fancy toys, perhaps made of pasta, who occasionally likes to tinker with bits and pieces of the universe but who is subject to the wiles and rules of the universe like other beings, though perhaps not to the same extent, an extent which Carrier always left vague.


Carrier introduces Bayes’s probability theorem, but only as a club to frighten his enemies and not as a legitimate tool to understand uncertainty. I must be right, he seems to insist, because look at these equations. Bayes’s theorem is a simple means to update the probability of a hypothesis when considering new information. If the information comes all at once, the theorem isn’t especially needed, because there is no updating to be done. Nowhere does Carrier actually needs Bayes and, anyway, probabilistic arguments are never as convincing as definitive proof, which is what we seek when asking whether God exists.

A simple illustration. Suppose we accept the prior evidence (a proposition) “A standard deck of 52-playing cards, from which only one card will be pulled, and only one of which is labeled eight-of-clubs” and we later learn that “Jack removed the Jack of hearts from the deck.” Conditional on these facts, we want the probability of the proposition, “I pull out an eight-of-clubs.” This probability is obviously 1/51 whether we start with the first proposition and update with the second using Bayes, or just take both propositions simultaneously. Incidentally, this example highlights the crucial distinction that all probability is conditional on evidence which is specifically stated (there is no such thing as unconditional probability).

Carrier artificially invents for himself various sets of “prior” information which he later tries to update using Bayes, but it’s all for show. Just like in the cards example, nowhere did he actually need Bayes for any of his arguments. Carrier further shows he misunderstands his subject when he says “Probability measures frequency”. This is false: probability measures information, though information is sometimes in the form of frequencies, as in our card example. Suppose our proposition is “Just two-thirds of Martians wear hats, and George is a Martian.” Given that specific evidence, the probability “George wears a hat” is 2/3, but there can be no frequency because, of course, there are no hat-wearing Martians.

Probability errors

There is more than ample evidence Carrier is confused about the difference between probabilistic and philosophical argument. Here are some examples.

In order to form his priors, Carrier says the frequency of observed designed universes “is exactly zero.” A statement which, of course, assumes what he wants to prove, a classic error in logic, an error he duplicates when he insists he knows “full well” that intelligent extraterrestrials must, somewhere or somewhen, exist. In both places, Carrier has substituted his desire for proof.

Again, “Yet any alien civilization selected at random will statistically be millions or billions of years more advanced [at designing life than we are].” Which alien civilizations are we selecting “at random”? What proof beyond conjecture and desire is there that (a) any other alien civilization exists and (b) that if any does exist it will be technologically and “statistically” more advanced than we, and that (c) even if they are more advanced, they would want to use their technological prowess to build lifeforms? This statement is nothing but an unproven science-fiction argument from desire. There is no set of premises which all can agree on that would allow us to deduce a probability here.

“You cannot deduce from ‘God exists’ that the only way he would ever make a universe is that way. There must surely be some probability that he might do it another way. Indeed, the probability must be quite high, simply because it’s weird for an intelligent agent of means to go the most inefficient and unnecessary route to obtain his goals, and ‘weird’ means by definition ‘rare,’ which means ‘infrequent.’ which means ‘improbable.'” Carrier constantly assumes he knows not only what God would do, but what various lesser gods would do. His case would have been infinitely strengthened had he given the evidence for these beliefs, rather than merely stating them.

“Conversely, the probability that a ‘designing’ god exists but never intelligently designed anything is likewise virtually zero, since by definition that’s also not how such a god behaves.” Who says? Has Carrier conducted a survey among deistical gods and their designing proclivities? Or is he merely assuming, without proof, that the gods must needs design (maybe it scratches some intergalactic itch)? Anyway, Carrier’s god can’t create a universe (defined as everything that exists). That level of heft requires the God of infinite ability, the only way to get something from nothing.

“Hence it’s precisely the fact that God never does things like that in our observation that makes positing God as a causal explanation of other things so implausible.” So much for miracles, then; and a rather dogmatic dismissal at that.

Design and intelligence

Carrier misunderstands other aspects of probability, too. He appears to believe, like many, that evolution occurs “randomly” and is a “product of chance”. That’s impossible. Nothing is caused by “chance” or occurs “randomly” because chance is not a cause and neither is randomness. Chance and randomness are measures of our ignorance of causes, and are not themselves ontological realities. It is always a bluff to say that “randomness” or “chance” caused some effect. You either know the cause or you do not. If you know it, state it. If you do not, then admit it (using probability).

Intelligent design enthusiasts make the same mistake, and when they do, to his credit Carrier is there to show us. “Michael Behe’s claim that the flagellar propulsion system of the E. coli bacterium is irreducibly complex and thus cannot have evolved”. The system’s evolution, to Behe, was completely “improbable.” Yet improbability arguments don’t work for or against evolution. If a thing has happened—and the propulsion system happened—it was caused. That we don’t know of the cause is where probability enters, but only as a measure of our ignorance of the cause. Whether we know or don’t know of the cause, there is still a cause. Things don’t “just happen.” That’s why when we see that organisms have evolved, which is indisputable, we know there must be some thing or things causing those changes.

What about the start of all life, i.e. biogenesis? Carrier says, “by definition the origin of life must be a random accident.” Thus does hope replace reality. Life could not have sprung up “randomly”, for randomness isn’t a cause. As it is, there is no direct evidence of how life arose, a gap which Carrier replaces with bluster, a science-of-the-gaps theory. I have no idea how life got here. God might have done it, or merely designed the system so that it had to arise. But something caused it. To say “I don’t know what the cause was” is not proof that “God was not the cause”.

How about the start of the universe? Carrier says, “Suppose in a thousand years we develop computers capable of simulating the outcome of every possible universe, with every possible arrangement of physical constants, and these simulations tell us which of those universes will produce arrangements that make conscious observers (as an inevitable undesigned by-product). It follows that in none of those universes are the conscious observers intelligently designed (they are merely inevitable by-products), and none of those universes are intelligently designed (they are all of them constructed purely at random).” And “Our universe looks exactly like random chance would produce, but not exactly like intelligent design would produce.”

No, no, no, no no no no. It’s now a cliché to say so, but this isn’t even wrong. It is impossible—as in not possible, no matter what—for “random chance” to create even a mote on the speck of a quark let alone an entire universe. Anyway, how would Carrier or anybody know what a designed universe looks like? No guidebook exists. To say this one isn’t designed is stunningly bold, a belief without evidence of any kind—except the desire that it not be so.


Perhaps the following sentences reveal how Carrier so easily fooled himself: “Hence I have demonstrated with logical certainty that the truth of Christianity is very improbable on these facts. And what is very improbable should not be believed. When enough people realize this, Christianity will come to an end.” And, contradicting himself in the matter of certainty of Christianity, he later says, “Christianity is fully disconfirmed by the evidence of life and the universe.”

Carrier nowhere in the body of his argument spoke of Christianity, but only vaguely of ETs, gods, and some curious ideas of what God would act like if He were Richard Carrier. Strange, then, that he should be so confident he has destroyed all of Christianity. And no other religion.


  1. Thank you, Briggs, for highlighting the irrational faith required to sustain evangelical atheism. And what might Carrier’s views on AGW be, I wonder?

  2. Briggs


    You’re welcome, though I can’t say it was my pleasure.

    Plus I’m out ten bucks spent on that book.

  3. John B

    I mis-read the title …

    I ‘read’ … God is Unlikely; God is Invalid, God is Unsound

    I’ll get to the article when I got time – certain to enjoy

  4. Briggs

    John B,

    You’re right. The old title stank. I’ve changed it.

  5. Sheri

    I have long argued that “chance” is not causality and evolution is nothing but chance. It generally results in my being called names I sometimes have to look up the definition for and dismissed as not understanding evolution. However, no one has ever shown how evolution is anything but chance, so I continue to push forward with the belief.

    The argument that God would not have created a universe such as ours sounds like a rewording of the “argument from evil”.

    Bob–Carrier might like the AGW fantasy that Venus suffered a runaway greenhouse effect. This is one of my favorite “scifi” parts of AGW. We have virtually no idea what Venus looked like in the past. Probes burn up on the surface. Yet scientists will say, with a straight face, that Venus probably suffered a runaway greenhouse effect. It’s just so fascinating to watch a scientist say something so utterly impossible to know.

  6. Gary

    Briggs, in the comments to your post over at Strange Notions, Carrier said “Briggs has clearly been enormously irresponsible in not reading my books before commenting on them, and very shamefully got wrong what they argue, and misrepresented my arguments in them in a matter (sic) that is arguably defamatory.”

    Just to be clear, you did read the book, right?

    And where does that exaggerated claim of defamation come from?

  7. Ken

    After reading the essay I’m still unsure of what R. Carrier said–because so much was intermingled with the usual ad hominem attacks. No objectivity there. But a couple of points caught my eye:

    RE: “God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe.”

    IF SO, THEN, where is Jesus – who ascended into heaven in the resurrected human body? Ditto for the post-assumption of Mary—where is she?? Those physical human bodies have to be somewhere.

    RE: “…the E. coli bacterium…”

    SPEAKING OF bacteria, has anyone ever noticed that in the Bible the content is 100 percent consistent with primitive (‘bronze age’) human perception. There’s both practical content of an obvious nature, and superstitious content such as prohibitions on mixing wool & linen fabrics, prohibitions on eating pork, seafood and so forth. But precisely zero content of any indication of a superior intellect (“god”) providing truly useful guidance that addressed things that a primitive society could not perceive – such as techniques for mitigating the effects of harmful bacteria (e.g. some requirement on the importance of washing one’s hands; the Jews had/have “kosher” but that really doesn’t address the matter). Imagine an anti-bacterial statute requiring latrines to be placed far from sources of drinking water – saving lives saved from dysentery, etc. – such indications of practical knowledge beyond the capacity of the audience are absent & must be imagined because such requirements aren’t there to be found.

    Apologists will say the prohibitions on mixing fabrics, for example, are symbolic—to emphasize that the Chosen People were not to mix with other religions/cultures. It’s a nice post-hoc rationalization…but that, and so many others, are also an elegant means of helping secure the power of those in leadership over the larger population. And when one examines such rationalizations one finds that is a recurring pattern—so much attributed to the divine is, coincidentally, consistent with power & control tactics of those intent on securing & exercising their power over others.

    The pattern throughout the core reference material is entirely consistent with terrestrial human creation.

  8. Briggs


    Yes, I read Carrier’s own words in Carrier’s own books. I did not read every word in every book. (I read every word in the article on current discussion.) But I do not think he about-faced at those points which I did not read and say that “I was just kidding. Jesus probably did exist.” But if he did and I missed it, I humbly apologize.

    Anyway, I got right what he argued, as I say further down in those same comments.

    Presumably, Carrier thinks, or rather thought, I “defamed” him by not summarizing all his arguments, or rather that I wrongly attributed which of his writings his each argument came from. He doesn’t seem to disagree that the arguments I claimed he made are actually and indeed his arguments. Because, of course, they are his.

    That’s why I said he was being lawerly, changing the discussion from his argument to some legalistic point of no interest to anybody.

    I haven’t even summarized all of his arguments here, either, though I swear that all of them came from the article mentioned and from no other source. Like I said above, it would require a monograph to point out the flaws in all his arguments.

    Update Had to go back and read the original post! Obviously, it was not meant to be an in-depth book review. Sheesh.


    Time for some re-education on what “ad hominem” means, brother. And for an expansion of your education on The Ascension of Jesus (who is God) and Assumption of Mary (who is not God).

  9. john b

    Regarding: Title Change – (Does anybody but me hate that EMail highjacked RE: to be reply instead of regarding?)


    Bill Clinton was RIGHT!

    It really DOES matter what IS is!

  10. John B

    wmbriggs DID say something about lawyerly in his REsponse to Gary

  11. MattS


    In your deck of cards example, shouldn’t the probability that you draw an eight of clubs still be 1/52 after Jack pulls a card from the deck. After all, you don’t state which card he pulled and it there fore could have been the eight of clubs itself.

  12. john b


    Chance of Jack NOT getting 8 of clubs = 51/52
    X Briggs getting the 8 of clubs` = (51/52) * (1/51) = 1/52

  13. Sheri

    Ken: I thought kosher was to help mitigate the problem of bacteria and meat not being properly cooked. There were many other rules about disposal of waste, washing hands, etc (Deut 23:12-13 was one I found quickly). God actually provided a pretty good set of rules. Now, your asking why did God not make people who knew all of this or He explain it to them is pretty much answered by Briggs above. You are assuming the knowledge is to be given from day one and everyone should have it. You don’t explain to a one year old child that playing in the toilet can give you dysentery–you slap his hands or say “no, no”. Later, you can explain about germs and sickness. Same with humans–they were given instructions and then allowed to grow into the knowledge of why certain rules existed.

  14. john b

    Or is this like the Monte Hall Let’s Make a Deal where after showing one of the doors, and offers the participant to switch, should one switch?

  15. Ye Olde Statisician

    Bill Clinton? Try Aristotle:
    “In what sense is it asserted that all things are one? For ‘is’ is used in many senses.”
    – Aristotle, The Physics, Book I, Part 2

  16. Sander van der Wal

    If it is possible that a bunch of algorithms running on a computer system are capable of simulating lots of universes, then “changes” are this universe is one of those simulated universes. Which kind of defeats the argument Carrier is making.

    Simulating a universe is much easier than creating one ex nihilo, you do not even need to be a demi-urge, apparently it is sufficient to be an Alien from Outer Space. And to simulate a universe that has observers the observers themselves must be simulated so well that you cannot tell the difference betwen a simulated one and a real one.

    Then, there is nothing stopping the simulated observers creating the simulated algorithms and comouter system to start some serious simulation themselves.

    Clearly, the number of simulated universes is so big that everybody is in some simulated universe.

  17. Briggs


    Typo. I originally had a hilarious pun on Jack and lost it in editing. It’s back. Thanks.

    Update In fact, my goof makes for a delightful homework problem. Love it!

  18. Gary

    Briggs, re the near-defamation claim, I though so. You are careful about what you say, but the accusation needed addressing.

  19. Sheri

    Ken: You asked “IF SO, THEN, where is Jesus – who ascended into heaven in the resurrected human body? Ditto for the post-assumption of Mary—where is she?? Those physical human bodies have to be somewhere.”

    I think that you answered at least question one in your question—Jesus is in heaven, unless you are asking if he moved somewhere else. Probably the same for Mary, though I am not that familiar with the post-assumption of Mary. It is interesting that in science fiction people easily take in the idea of corporeal and non-corporeal co-existing, creatures of pure energy, etc., but balk at the idea that God could be different from all of us and Jesus and Mary. If people can wrap their heads around the idea in fiction, why not the religious idea? Not all of the universe has to be alike.

  20. RobR

    I donated $10 to cover the book.

  21. Briggs



    Aren’t you a sweetheart! Thanks very much and God bless.


    I doubt if I subtracted from world renowned Carrier’s world renownedness. He’ll survive.

  22. john b

    Ken (and Sheri)

    IF SO, THEN, where is Jesus … physical human bodies have to be somewhere

    As Doc Brown famously said “You’re not thinking 4th Dimensionally.”
    They may be ‘somewhen’.
    Or why limit God to four dimensions.

    Speaking of Sci-Fi, in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, the protagonist (a human who grew up on Mars) has some “power” that sends villains to “places” orthogonal to our 4-space (he’s a known pacifist) so exactly what happens isn’t clear, but there is an assumption that they don’t die.

    (Heinlein has some interesting ideas on dimensionality in his “Number of the Beast”)

  23. Sheri

    John b: Yes, that would be partially what I am saying. Some denominations believe the physical body goes to heaven, some don’t. Some believe one’s “essence” goes into what I guess would be called cold storage (or another dimension) until after Armageddon and then you are reconstituted (for lack of a better term) and return to live on a perfect earth. So for those who do not hold to the idea of the physical body having to be somewhere or being put back on earth, the 4th dimensional thinking is fine. I don’t know that God would be limited by any number of dimensions or possible hereafters for his humans. I think probably we are limited in our understanding and tend to go with what is comfortable to us.

  24. Ken

    RE: “God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe.”

    IF SO, THEN, where is Jesus – who ascended into heaven in the resurrected human body? Ditto for the post-assumption of Mary—where is she?? Those physical human bodies have to be somewhere.

    Briggs: “Time … for an expansion of your education on The Ascension of Jesus (who is God) and Assumption of Mary (who is not God).

    EDUCATION ON the Ascension & Assumption–Mortal Coils in Heaven – per New Advent:

    New Advent re Christ Ascension: : “Not only is the fact of the Ascension related in the passages of Scripture …, but it is also elsewhere [in the Bible] predicted and spoken of as an established fact.”

    New Advent re Mary’s Ascension: : “…the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven. … Today, the belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is universal in the East and in the West; according to Benedict XIV (De Festis B.V.M., I, viii, 18) it is a probable opinion, which to deny were impious and blasphemous.”

    Dead or alive, there’s mortal coils there, wherever “there” is…at least per the original doctrine & documentation.

  25. Sheri

    Ken: I still don’t understand why God living amorphously in some outer reach of the universe means Jesus and Mary must be doing the same. It seems quite believable that Heaven can be a real place with actual physical form and mortals coils living there, while God exists everywhere. Why are these contradictory?

  26. Hrodgar


    Regarding the physical location of God, you have, admittedly, a point. Christ’s human form is presumably out and about somewhere, and of course he also takes up physical residence every time Mass is celebrated.

    That said, it’s irrelevant. Even if the Incarnation might somehow cause problems with Mr. Briggs argument, and I don’t see how it would, it hadn’t happened yet at the beginning of the universe, which is the event under discussion.

  27. Ken

    Hrodgar, etc. re corporeal bodies in heaven…

    My point, superficially, is as petty is much of Briggs’ nitpicking; however, on a serious note it does address a fundamental very well-established doctrinal point regarding which Briggs is wrong.

    That’s significant because, as an apparent Catholic, he’s making arguments the Catholic Church doesn’t support, and, is contributing to reinforcing in others the very views he’s purporting to be trying change.

    That’s harmful, along the lines of the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” concept. That aside, his entire presentation is rather ham-handed & worse.

    He needs to knock it off & let the Church support its doctrine; he’s causing damage.

  28. Ken

    RE: Sheri’s: “I still don’t understand why God living amorphously in some outer reach of the universe means Jesus and Mary must be doing the same. It seems quite believable that Heaven can be a real place with actual physical form and mortals coils living there, while God exists everywhere. Why are these contradictory?”

    That’s going all over the place; I was addressing a specific statement Briggs made & didn’t rebut–resorting to an assertion I needed to do more homework.

    When Briggs asserts ” “God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe.” He, as an asserted Catholic, is corrupting Catholic doctrine.

    That includes the precept of the Trinity; three distinct beings yet one entity. One of those beings was and still is, per Church doctrine, a flesh & blood being. Existing somewhere. Briggs says otherwise.

    It’s a bad Catholic who misrepresents things like this. Better to shut up & let the Church explain it. Part of the Church’s explanation is that nobody really understands the Trinity (I’m paraphrasing quite a bit here).

    Sheri, your comment: “”Heaven can be a real place with actual physical form and mortals coils living there, while God exists everywhere. Why are these contradictory?” is not contradictory (and does accommodate the concept of a mortal Jesus in a genuine place of some kind)…but it’s going beyond the nuanced detail I was driving at. Your remark about Mary might be a bit off technically — the Cath. doctrine is that she died like all of us have/will, but then her remains were brought to heaven (that special treatment, bypassing the Catholic inference of a need to transit purgatory, comports with the doctrine that she was born without original sin).

    What’s happening on this blog is a lot of religious proselytizing by someone that’s communicating it very poorly and worse. That really needs to stop.

  29. Ken

    RE: “Time for some re-education on what “ad hominem” means,”


    Ad-Hominem per :
    1. appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.
    2. attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.

    Here’s a sampling of Briggs-phrases that cannot be construed as necessary or objective, much less appealing to intellect or reason, but clearly appealing to emotions & prejudices over intellect or reason:

    – “It is also a maddening, rambling screed, little more than bluff, bluster, and bullying, as well as an endless source of egotistical phrases” [How isn’t this “bullying”?]

    – “Call it the Carrier-as-God thesis,” [Attribution of an inflated “ego” within Carrier — and totally unsubstantiated by the evidence; that aside, clearly no appeal to reason or logic in that, quite the opposite]

    – “The last part is bullying, probabilistic persiflage.” [Assertion of a frivolous application of probability via bombastic wording & phrasing—why not just explain where the error is – again, where’s the appeal to reason/intellect?]

    – “Carrier introduces … but only as a club to frighten his enemies and not as a legitimate tool to understand uncertainty.” [And from this we could infer, if we didn’t know better, Briggs can actually read Carrier’s mind for motive! The appeal to emotion is unmistakable, as is the absence of any appeal to reason/intellect]

    If those aren’t some example of ad hominem then there’s no such thing as ad hominem.

  30. Ken


    Consider this Briggs’ statement: “In the comment section to an earlier piece of mine on Strange Notions, Richard Carrier invited me to “interact” with him through his article “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, found in The End of Christianity, edited by John W. Loftus. This article is the “interaction” Carrier requested.”

    NOTE how thru-out the so-called “interaction” with Carrier, Briggs does not, ever, actually interact WITH Carrier – the entire piece is an interaction with any/everyone but Carrier…unless addressing someone in third (fourth?) person is considered “interaction” that is “with”! See Sniping, below.

  31. Ken


    FROM: , R. Carrier stated the following (below), which by any reasonable standard is polite and focused on the topics raised—not the other person. In reviewing the ensuing discussion one observes Carrier engaged in comparable polite discussion addressing facts & interpretations with a number of other commenters – NEVER resorting to the disrespectful name-calling pervasive thru Brigg’s responses (which, relative to the many other commenters there who similarly kept the discussion on points of disagreement generally respectful & cordial, presents an aberration in the overall sophistication of the discussion):

    “This is countered by Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus by Richard Carrier, who uses Bayes’s theorem to prove, with probability one minus epsilon, that the Christian God does not exist because Jesus himself never did.”
    I am formally asking for a retraction and apology.
    That book does not argue for either the non-existence of God or the non-existence of Jesus (much less calculates a result). False claim number one.
    My other book, On the Historicity of Jesus, which does argue for the non-existence of Jesus (though finding his existence may be as likely as 1 in 3), does not argue “God does not exist” at all, much less with the ridiculous argument “Jesus didn’t exist, therefore God doesn’t exist.” False claims number two and three.
    Please retract these claims, and apologize for severely misrepresenting what I have written and argued in those books.

    NOTE: Briggs refused, in the commentary responses, to address his misrepresentation of what Carrier said.

    If you want to address my Bayesian argument against a God (which has nothing to do with Jesus), you will have to interact with my chapter on the design argument in Loftus, ed., The End of Christianity. And you can’t just say it can’t work because it’s Bayesian. Because you must accept the output of Bayes’ Theorem if you accept the inputs. So the only way to challenge my argument there is to challenge the inputs. As one certainly can do for Unwin…he is not wrong to use Bayes’ Theorem, he just puts garbage in and thus gets garbage out. But you can’t simply assume all uses of Bayes’ Theorem do this…you have to actually show it is being done in each case.

    WHAT’s clear throughout the discussion (at the ‘strangenotions’ link, above) is Carrier believes his application of Bayes, etc. is valid, Briggs does not. Carrier addresses the issues, or confronts assertions made by Briggs—but cannot because Briggs never makes a clear rebuttal, consistently resorting to the bullying (or “ad hominem,” effectively the same thing) that is devoid of substance to address. The logical conclusion is that IF Briggs could rebut a given point he would and it is because he cannot that he instead is so quick to resort to, and persist in, the ad hominem/bullying tactic (if not logic, by comparison—because that’s the tactic so common by others when they cannot rebut a position on the merits of their argument). And when people cannot directly refute another’s position (or they have failed) another tactic is to “go behind their back” and try & undermine them (a tactic referred to as “sniping” in organizational behavioral jargon; e.g. see: ).

  32. Gary

    Briggs, better heaven-known than world-renowned.

  33. Briggs


    No, brother. You had all day, too, and should have come up with something better.

    When I say Carrier’s article was a “screed”, and full of “bluff”, “bluster”, “bullying”, and “persiflage” I have made specific claims. Did I substantiate those claims? Yes, sir, I did, and in spades.

    An ad hom would be where I to say, which I did not say, Carrier’s argument is wrong because it is a “screed” full of “bluff” etc. Instead, I proved where and how it went wrong—the many, many, many places it went wrong, actually.

    And you, like many atheists, are far too literal in your reading of Biblical passages, proving yet again that amateur exegesis is a dangerous sport. Your most charitable supporter is Hrodgar; listen to him.

    You’re starting to sound a bit like Carrier, too, pointing out legalistic fine points in order to distract. In no way are you attempting to salvage Carrier’s ravings (a word I borrow from St Thomas). Though you are welcome to try. (I recommend you don’t, because you will fail.)

  34. Hrodgar


    To be honest, that bugged me a little bit, too, but I am an established pedant with an excessive fondness for caveats and clarifications and literal speech, and generally take at least three times as long to get to the point as most people I know while being less clear. However, when what he said taken as what he clearly meant to say, it was not against Church teaching on the matter, and is not sufficient grounds for the charge of heresy.

    Christ’s body is of his human nature. If you will permit me to quote the Aquinas Forums, “The doctrine of the incorporeal nature of God states that God is a spirit, and as such has no body (John 4:24). Neither is God a composition of body and spirit. It is true that Jesus was both God and man, but we must remember that Jesus had two natures: that of both the divine and the creature (man). As such, we say that Jesus’ Godhead in the divine nature had no composition of body and spirit. ”

    More on the subject can of course, be found in Summa Theologica. Regardless, the point is that it is true in one sense that God has no body, since the body of Christ is of his human nature, and in another sense that Christ is God incarnate, or embodied. How this works, is, of course, a Mystery, but it is true both that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) and that “the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14) . You may think this irrational and inconsistent hogwash, but it is entirely consistent with the teaching of the Church, in the Tradition and in Scripture and in her Doctors.

  35. Hrodgar

    Apologies. In the first paragraph of my most recent above comment, there should be an “is” before “taken as.”

  36. Sheri

    Okay, Ken, that was what I was trying to ascertain. I suspected the Trinity was part of the problem. I did not understand the doctrine that Mary died but avoided purgatory–which is a very specific thing to Catholicism, I believe. I will ask no more questions. I really want no part of this discussion beyond what I asked.

  37. Briggs

    Ken, Hrodgar,

    Okay, enough laziness on my part. From Luke 24 (verses 29-32):

    But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

    And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.

    With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

    Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

    We also know that our (yours and mine) intellects are not material (see the extended book review I did of The Last Superstition for proof), and the same goes for God (see the David Bentley Hart book review for proof of that). And here we have one instance of Jesus popping up out of “nowhere”, His intellect somehow marrying to physical stuff, but only temporarily.

    Now how does Jesus do this, and how do angels, who are also immaterial beings who sometimes take on flesh? I haven’t the slightest idea. How do the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Jesus at mass? I haven’t the slightest idea.

    But whether you believe any of this or not, it proves the simplistic idea of a physical, Star Trek-like god, who anyway lives in the universe and who therefore could not have created it, is not viable. When we say that Jesus is in Heaven sitting at the “right hand” of God the Father, we are not speaking literally.

  38. John B

    Ken says:
    When Briggs asserts ” “God is not a “life-form”. He nowhere takes up physical residence, nor does He live amorphously in some outer reach of the universe.” He, as an asserted Catholic, is corrupting Catholic doctrine.

    That includes the precept of the Trinity; three distinct beings yet one entity. One of those beings was and still is, per Church doctrine, a flesh & blood being. Existing somewhere. Briggs says otherwise.
    I read the link on Christ’s ascension:
    The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words “sitteth on the right hand of God” mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view “He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase.
    Ken, NOWHERE does the link (assuming it “speaks officially” for the Catholic Church) insist on the “location” of Christ other than WITH the Father.
    I don’t think any one within the Church would pronounce “judgment” of any sort on Briggs other than that he might be human with human foibles. I myself, am what I call a ONCE AND FUTURE CATHOLIC, I left voluntarily – was not cast out – because I recognized some of my ideas might not meet “pedantic” standards of the Church although, again, my ideas probably would NOT get me cast out unless some uncaring pedantic judge had my case. I simply judged myself and left.
    GOD IS NOWHERE reminds me of the TV Series “Miracles”, where depending on your “vision”, it reads GOD IS NOWHERE or GOD IS NOW HERE. Kind of in line with “problems of the Four Dimensions”
    The Bible itself says (Christ came to the here and now – 2K years ago – by the power of the Holy Spirit) and when Christ “left” (he HAD to leave so that WE could HAVE the Comforter – the Holy Spirit)
    Now, I’ll accept that I could be in error and not in-line with Catholic Dogma. (I honestly doubt it – my differences lie elsewhere.) But, I sincerely doubt that Briggs has asserted anything athwart of Catholic Doctrine.
    Where Briggs says: “And you, like many atheists…” While he isn’t really saying you are an Atheist; are you? If so – or even if not – what is your authority to pronounce such judgments on Briggs or is it simply “your judgment”?

    (You should be looking into Mormon Cosmology – THAT is fascinating)

  39. Ye Olde Statisician

    One of those beings was and still is, per Church doctrine, a flesh & blood being.

    a) the hypostases are not independently “beings”. The three are one in being, “con-substanti-al” is the term of art.
    b) the second person, a/k/a the Word, was not transformed into a flesh and blood being, but was incarnated as flesh and blood being.
    c) the risen Christ possessed what is called a “glorified body”

    999 How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”; but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body”
    Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; ⇒ Phil 3:21; 2 Cor 15:44.
    — Catechism of the Catholic Church

    Also here at #202-205

    Hope this helps.

  40. Hrodgar

    Mr. Briggs,

    Apologies for being somewhat unclear, and in view of my first comment (though even that was a failed attempt to sidestep and show irrelevant Ken’s argument rather than support it) I can see how it would be easy to mistake my point in the second, but the second comment was arguing that upon further examination your usage was obviously and entirely correct and proper, despite the fact that it still rankled a bit to my pedantic and overly literal mind. To put it another way, I attribute the fact that it bugged me to a fault in my own thinking rather than your writing and reject the charge Ken lays against you of heresy on the basis of Scripture and a Doctor of the Church.

    At any rate, there is certainly no need to convince me of the pointlessness of a Carrier-style “god.” I am sorry for having been so unclear as to have made this seem necessary, and will try to be less so in the future.

  41. Brandon Gates

    John B,

    You should be looking into Mormon Cosmology – THAT is fascinating.

    Bringing the Gospel to the inhabitants of the Moon? The Sun!? Heavenly Father hailing from a star/planet called Kolob? Something else?

  42. swordfishtrombone

    ” We have no idea what a “designing god” would do for a living, nor what the universe would look like had God not created it.”

    Erm, yes we do. As there’s no evidence that god exists, it would look like the one we’re living in, complete with aids, ebola and dengue fever but amenable to scientific investigation.

  43. @swordfishtrombone–
    Was that supposed to be another evangelical atheist proposition? Very confusing for us simple-minded theists.
    but let’s keep up the non-sequiturs…

  44. Ye Olde Statisician

    As there’s no evidence that god exists, it would look like the one we’re living in

    But what makes you think it would look like the rationally-ordered world we live in?

    “You find it surprising that I think of the comprehensibility of the world… as a miracle or an eternal mystery. But surely, a priori, one should expect the world to be chaotic, not to be grasped by thought in any way. One might (indeed one should) expect that the world evidenced itself as lawful only so far as we grasp it in an orderly fashion. This would be a sort of order like the alphabetical order of words. On the other hand, the kind of order created, for example, by Newton’s gravitational theory is of a very different character. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by man, the success of such a procedure supposes in the objective world a high degree of order, which we are in no way entitled to expect a priori. Therein lies the miracle which becomes more and more evident as our knowledge develops.”
    — Albert Einstein, Letter to M. Solovine

    “one feature of the elementary-particle world, which is totally unexpected when compared with our experience of everyday things, is the fact that elementary particles come in populations of universally identical particles… We could imagine a world in which electrons were like footballs–everyone slightly different from all the others. The result would be an unintelligible world.”
    — J.D. Barrow, Theories of Everything

    Second, there is the idea that the universe should contain ‘traces – evidence of His involvement’. Dawkins questions whether the apparent ‘fine – tuning’ of the universe for life is one of those ‘traces’. He also asks what it would be like ‘if God did indeed set things up so that life would evolve, but covered His tracks so brilliantly that no clues remain; if He made the universe look exactly as it would be expected to look if He did not exist’. But Christian theology does not envisage the universe as being different from what it might have been if God did not exist, rather that there would be no universe. It is the whole universe that is the ‘traces’, not some little piece tacked on by way of a signature. To think otherwise bears certain similarities to searching the components of a jet engine for traces of Frank Whittle. The search is in vain; it is the whole engine which owes its being to Whittle’s creativity, rather than any individual part bearing his signature. Furthermore, to expect the existence of God to be open to scientific tests is like trying to treat the existence of Whittle as an engineering question!
    — Michael Poole

  45. MadMagyar

    The very picture of a “grinning idiot”, as one who knows not that he knows not, and provable in any court of law.

    In Stanislav Grof’s book Adventures in Self Discovery, he describes a rare but reported phenomenon called “Identification with the entire physical universe” (chap. 1 sec. j). Anyone who has had this experience understands exactly “where” God is: EVERYWHERE, all at once, at every moment in “time” (and I’m guessing before time existed, as suggested in the Bible). That’s what the theological concept of omnipresence is. It is BEYOND mere human comprehension, the experience being a gift that cannot be comprehended outside of the experience itself – in other words one knows the experience internally, knows that it happened, but cannot re-imagine it in all of its totality. One also knows that it is the state of being or existence when one attains what the Church calls the Beatific Vision, and however brief the experience was, is the point of the soul’s trajectory through life, the end result of all learning and Earthly experience – a preparation for and toward that end. “Heaven” isn’t a where, it’s a state of being so totally foreign to human consciousness that it cannot be imagined, much less described. Physical embodiment is an infinitesimally small part of one’s continued existence when one is in that state, and the visions people have had of Mary are probably of the smallest aspect of her true existence.

    In theological circles it is called the “Divine Touch” and saints who have experienced it in deeper ways than usual, or many times over a period of time, usually exhibit characteristics that defy explanation and also transcend the “fundamental” laws of physics, moving into what might better be termed God’s physics. It’s essentially being tuned in to God’s frequencies, which are much more subtle and finer than the end of (our understanding of) the electromagnetic spectrum. I call them the spiritual frequencies. Events such as levitation, bilocation, physical manifestations of all sorts, spontaneous healings (lately recorded with medical proofs on x-rays, mri’s), etc., often attributed to a saint’s intercession, are examples of the transcendence of ‘normal’ physics expressed in their lives. Atheists can deny these things all they want, but their denial means nothing in the face of many hundreds of years of palpable, verifiable evidence that holds up to greater scrutiny than any court of law could exercise.

  46. Jim ross

    Nothing is caused by “chance” or occurs “randomly” because chance is not a cause and neither is randomness. Chance and randomness are measures of our ignorance of causes,

    This is uncertain. If I understand you, you are saying like Leibniz, that everything is ultimately knowable. I’m no expert on chaos theory but I believe it says that some things are so complex that they can never be known with certainty. In the 60’s with the advent of powerful computers it was assumed that using them We would be able to predict the weather with certainty. Now we’re not sure that we can ever do that. To me this leaves the question of the ontological existence of randomness at least open. What do you think?

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