Richard Carrier

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Apologists, beware of the Independent Scholar!
Going One God Further
Icon atheism.svg
Key Concepts
Articles to not believe in
Notable heathens
If you don't hear it from me, be skeptical of it.
—Richard Carrier[1]

Richard Carrier (1969–) is an American historian, philosopher, author, and atheist. Carrier strongly advocates atheism, especially Atheism Plus,[2] as well as metaphysical naturalism. Carrier openly doubts the historicity of Jesus.

He has also written of his doubts on Hitler's Table Talk,[3] a collection of private conversations between Adolf Hitler and his confidants which suggest that Hitler was an atheist (despite years of personal affirmations to Christianity in speeches and books), citing authors' bias, differing accounts, and problems with translations between German, French, and English.

In June 2014, Sheffield-Phoenix published Dr. Carrier's On the Historicity of Jesus, which he claimed to be "the first comprehensive pro-Jesus myth book ever published by a respected academic press and under formal peer review".[4][note 1]

Dr. Carrier's reputation within the atheist community was largely brought to an end due to allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, over which he filed for defamation against seven defendants. The case was dismissed as it was wrongly filed in a court that had no jurisdiction to hear it. Carrier pursued three additional lawsuits against the defendants; these lawsuits were settled out of court. Very detailed information about the lawsuits can be found on Carrier's website[5] and on a website maintained by the defendants.[6]

According to Dr. Carrier's 2020 CV, he does not appear to have taught in any post-secondary institution since 2000.[7]


Dr. Carrier fluently speaks at least five languages, comes from a freethinking Methodist family, and was married to Jennifer Robin Paynter from 1995-2015 until they agreed to divorce after a series of affairs and an attempt at an open marriage.[8] In the post in which he announced his divorce Carrier came out as polyamorous. He served in the United States Coast Guard for two years (1990-1992). He has a Ph.D. in Ancient History from Columbia University (2008). Among other organizations, he's a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Carrier is a prolific writer. If there's an argument for the existence of God, or against atheism, he has probably thoroughly debunked it in his books, on blogs, or in public speaking events. He is known to give positive arguments for the conclusion that there is no god (strong atheism).

The importance of Philosophy itself is covered in the introduction to Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, and in a Skepticon talk entitled "Is Philosophy Stupid?"[9]

Carrier defines the supernatural as irreducible mind (spirit) or mental property, often with direct causal powers (magic), all without underlying physical causes.[10] This is basically the mind stuff from dualism. He presents evidence that this is the definition most people actually use in practice.


[An error many historians make] is to say “My theory explains the evidence, therefore my theory is true!” They forget to ask if an alternative explanation also explains the same evidence just as well (or even better).
—Richard Carrier[11]

Carrier is an independent author and researcher not attached to any academic institution. His book On the Historicity of Jesus was published by an academic press, and as a response to claims that his book wasn't peer reviewed he stated this:

"Independent, established professors whom I don't know personally, peer reviewed my book for Sheffield, just as such persons do all books at all academic presses. The standard is two. So any book you read from a bona fide academic press will have been peer reviewed by at least two professors of the subject not known to the author. Indeed, the process is double blind, just as for journals."

Later he clarified:

As I wrote in 2013 (emphasis added so you don’t miss it):
"I sought four peer review reports from major professors of New Testament or Early Christianity, and two have returned their reports, approving with revisions, and those revisions have been made. Since two peers is the standard number for academic publications, we can proceed. And Sheffield’s own peer reviewers have approved the text. Two others missed the assigned deadline, but I’m still hoping to get their reports and I’ll do my best to meet any revisions they require as well."
"It’s important to note that clarification: Sheffield-Phoenix selected its own peer reviewers to vet my book, as they do all academic treatises they publish. That’s the entire point of an academic press. This was after I also submitted peer review reports from multiple prominent professors of Biblical studies I had used to pre-vet my manuscript, to ensure it would pass any peer review a publisher engaged. It’s also not uncommon for academic presses to ask the submitter of a manuscript to supply a list of suitable peer reviewers. But whether Sheffield-Phoenix relied on any of the peer reviewers I selected, I won’t have been told." [12]

Carrier also included this reply from Sheffield Phoenix Press:

"Many thanks for your email, we are happy to clarify on this for you, whatever may be the case in the USA, in the UK we are familiar with two kinds of publishers (at least): academic and trade. All academic publishers operate on the same basis, of making publishing decisions on the merits of a proposal as assessed by experts in the field (‘peer review’). This is true for university publishers like Cambridge University Press and non-university publishers like Bloomsbury Academic, Routledge, Macmillan, Blackwell. There is no difference between the groups in the reviewing process. Nor is there any difference in prestige between university presses and independent academic publishers (e.g. some authors may like to be published by Oxford, but no one can say it is a ‘better’ publisher than Macmillan, for example)."

So the claim Carrier sent it to friends or there was something non-standard about the peer review appears to be nothing more than ad hominem FUD.

That said, the claim that it is the first peer-reviewed comprehensive mythicist work is incorrect, since Jean Magne's 1993 title From Christianity to Gnosis was published by Brown University through Scholars Press in the Brown Judaic Studies series, and argued that Christianity had a gnostic origin with no historical founder, a full twenty years before Carrier's case was made.[13]

Carrier is a proponent of the idea that Jesus never existed as a historical figure in any meaningful way. He argues that since other religious figures with characteristics similar to Jesus did not exist, Bayesian statistics imply that Jesus also probably did not exist.

In my estimation the odds Jesus existed are less than 1 in 12,000. Which to a historian is for all practical purposes a probability of zero. For comparison, your lifetime probability of being struck by lighting is around 1 in 10,000. That Jesus existed is even less likely than that. Consequently, I am reasonably certain there was no historical Jesus… When I entertain the most generous estimates possible, I find I cannot by any stretch of the imagination the probability Jesus existed is better than 1 in 3.[14]:600

The non-existence of Jesus is a respectable but minority position among scholars. Carrier's application of Bayes's Theorem to the question has not been widely accepted.

On the Historicity of Jesus got a book review in the December 2014 issue of Journal of Religious History.[15] An earlier version of this review states:

As a result, this work far outdoes anything the typically-amateurish mythicists have produced to date, but is also methodologically superior to the work of more respected and mainstream historicist scholars. (...) On the Historicity of Jesus is clearly and convincingly argued, extensively researched, solidly referenced, and is essential reading for those open to questioning the historical Jesus, and to those who want to learn how historical theorising ought to be done."[16]

To date, Lataster's review remains the only one to condone Carrier's methods and conclusions in academic literature.


  • Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, AuthorHouse, 2005 ISBN 1420802933
  • The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave, edited by Robert Price & Jeffery Jay Lowder. Prometheus, 2005
  • Not the Impossible Faith, Lulu, 2009 ISBN 0557044642
  • Why I Am Not a Christian: Four Conclusive Reasons to Reject the Faith, Philosophy Press, 2011
  • Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, Prometheus, 2012
  • On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014 ISBN 1909697494
  • Science Education in the Early Roman Empire, Pitchstone, 2016 ISBN 9781634310901

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Although there is one problem with Dr. Carrier's statement, as explained below.


  1. Wisconsin Atheists. "Richard Carrier: The Historicity of Jesus." YouTube. 2012 July 2.
  2. "Atheism… Plus What?" Talk @ AACON 2013
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Hitler's Table Talk.
  4. Richard Carrier (July 17, 2013) Update on Historicity of Jesus
  7. Curriculum Vitae: Richard C. Carrier, Ph.D,, 20 July 2020. Carrier's 2000-2003 work was as a librarian's assistant, not as a teacher or instructor.
  9. Is Philosophy Stupid? - Richard Carrier - Skepticon 6, HamboneProductions on YouTube, 29 November 2013.
  10. Defining the Supernatural,, 18 January 2007.
  11. Carrier (25 April 2016). “Bart Ehrman Just Can’t Do Truth or Logic”. Richard Carrier Blogs.
  12. Killing Crankery with Bayesian Reasoning: The Kooky & Illogical Postflaviana Review, Carrier
  13. Jean Magne, From Christianity to Gnosis and from Gnosis to Christianity, Brown Judaic Studies (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993)
  14. Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014 ISBN 1909697494
  15. Lataster, R. (2014), Richard Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014; pp. xiv + 696.. J Relig Hist, 38: 614–616. doi:10.1111/1467-9809.12219
  16. Raphael Lataster "Review of Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt - Jun 2014"