As you may have heard, atheist activist and independent scholar Richard Carrier is suing loads of his erstwhile allies for defamation, among other things.
[Just to get my own biases out of the way: I have nothing personally against Richard Carrier. He has done yeoman’s work in bringing the question of Jesus’ historicity into question, among various other things. About the only thing he did spectacularly wrong (from an atheist movement perspective) was turning Atheism Plus into an “us vs. them” festival of denunciation and excommunication, but that was arguably bound to happen. Possibly he should be credited with speeding up the inevitable collapse.]
I was going to write up why this defamation suit is a Sisyphean uphill battle, but regrettably I have been overtaken by events and expertise. Instead, I give you the definitive podcast which ends all rational debate on this lawsuit:
AS280: Richard Carrier’s Lawsuit, with Andrew Torrez https://t.co/C2QPvLRDvm
— A.S. Podcast (@speakatheism) September 29, 2016
— Blue Ball Skeptics (@BlueBallSkeptic) September 30, 2016
(Share and enjoy, of course.)
To give you the tl;dr version: As a public figure, Dr. Carrier will have to show that the defendants acted with “actual malice,” that is, reckless disregard of the truth or the knowledge that what they published was false. Given that the allegedly defamatory claims involved are highly subjective (e.g. harassment, boundary pushing, unwanted touching) this is an incredibly tough row to hoe. This is even more true when we consider that Dr. Carrier has represented himself publicly as a moral philosopher and a shining example of how to respectfully pursue polyamorous relationships. One of the obvious downsides of making yourself into an exemplary case is that people are going to critique how you live your life, and that critique forms part of our (constitutionally protected) public discourse on the topic under consideration.
If I was a praying man, I would pray for Dr. Carrier to drop this suit as soon as possible. He is unlikely to prevail, and even if he does (1) many of the defendants in the case are likely to end up being judgment proof, and (2) none of them ever are going to take him back into the atheism plus social justice clubhouse. The status quo ante is dead and gone. It is time to move forward.