Continuing my series on early reviews of my book On the Historicity of Jesus, today I am writing about the detailed review by F. Ramos. If you know of reviews I haven’t covered by now (or follow-up segments of reviews I did cover), please post them in comments (though please also remark on your own estimation of their merits).
This review is by a person of unknown interests and qualifications. It is an extraordinarily long Amazon review (well over 10,000 words altogether), by someone named F. Ramos (who even continued their review in comments on another customer review, but that I address there). Since Amazon reviews can be edited after the fact, I will be commenting on the version that existed originally (which I have saved for reference). I have no control over whether anything in it subsequently changes.
Ramos’s review is largely disingenuous and often makes false claims about the book, and covertly defends Christian fundamentalism throughout. For example, he often asks rhetorical questions as if I had no answer, without telling readers that those questions are answered in the very books he is referring to. He likewise often implies the book doesn’t address something, when in fact it does. And when he does that, he offers no response to what the book actually argues. Meanwhile the evidence throughout his review reveals he is a Christian fundamentalist who can’t abide the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist and needs to rationalize his way out of it, in the face of an extremely tight argument against him. Indeed, he cannot even abide the notion that the Gospels aren’t true accounts of Jesus!
Let’s see what I mean…
- …we can tell that Bayes’ Theorem can be used to justify anything from Jesus did not exist to Jesus resurrected – is this a reliable method for use in history? Everyone can decide as they wish.
This is true of every method whatever, even standard deductive logic. Any method can be abused and misused. That is not an argument against the validity of the method. I specifically pointed this out in Proving History (hereafter PH), pp. 67, 79-80, and most specifically p. 305 n. 33. Accordingly, this is not a useful remark. Any more than it would be to say “we can tell logic can be used to justify anything, because e.g. the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so is logic a reliable method? Everyone can decide as they wish.” It’s all the less sensible given that I demonstrate that all other historical methods are actually covertly Bayesian…so there actually isn’t another method to use in history. This is it. (See PH, chs. 4 and 5.)
Ramos similarly ignores my discussion in PH about the very issue he raises that data in human history is poorer than in most sciences. I explicitly point out that such uncertainties can in fact be modeled mathematically and dealt with soundly. Indeed, much of PH is about exactly that. For example, just for starters, see PH, pp. 64-67, 85-88, 105-06. Indeed, the only question is whether we are dealing with uncertainties in a logically sound fashion. And that actually requires Bayes’ Theorem. I also make exactly the point he does: that the survival of records from antiquity can be expected to be very poor, so we can’t over-rely on the absence of records to make an argument: On the Historicity of Jesus (hereafter OHJ), pp. 290-93, 306-08 (this also cuts both ways: pp. 275-77, 349-56). Accordingly, I assign no value to the mere lack of documentation for Jesus (OHJ, “[odds of] documentary silence = 1/1,” p. 357). Ramos doesn’t mention this.
Ramos also falsely claims Proving History “bypassed” the academy and peer review. In fact, it was formally peer reviewed by a professor of biblical studies and a professor of mathematics. On the Historicity of Jesus was formally peer reviewed by numerous professors of biblical studies, and was published by a major respected academic press in biblical studies.
- Unfortunately, though this book is 696 pages long, it does not use Bayes’ Theorem at all except in the very last chapter (which is very short) and the calculations there are very few indeed.
This is impertinent and misleading. Every chapter includes and concludes with its role in the final Bayesian analysis (just look at the entry for “mathematics” and “Bayes’ Theorem” in the index, pp. 690, 683). And I explain why I don’t litter the book with gratuitously more than is needed: OHJ, p. 65 n. 13 (see also pp. 240, 509). As I explain throughout PH, historians don’t need to litter their books with mathematical formalisms to be correctly using Bayesian argumentation (e.g., PH, p. 67). Particularly as humanities majors are terrified of math and need a more palatable easing into it. Hence I said (PH, p. 64):
I will use numbers and formulas sparingly and simplify everything as far as I possibly can. In historical reasoning, this works well enough because we never have and thus don’t need the advanced precision scientists can achieve… But that doesn’t change the fact that the logic you always use when evaluating claims is inherently mathematical.
Ramos can hardly be “shocked” that I would do in OHJ exactly what I said I’d do in PH. Instead, he characterizes OHJ as somehow doing the opposite. That’s disingenuous.
- …when any numbers are crunched out, should anyone trust them or believe them as being reliable or useful for predicting an outcome on a historical question? One of the biggest problems with his methodology is that it lacks predictive scope and verifiability/falsifiability – once a value is generated, how would we “confirm” if it really is accurate or not?
This is even more disingenuous. Indeed, it is outright dishonest. For I explicitly answer both questions in the book. Most explicitly, OHJ, pp. 601-06 and 617-18. Elsewhere, every time I assign a number, I explain on what basis I have selected it, and what it would take to change it. I already discussed how debate then should proceed if we have a dispute over what numbers to enter in PH, pp. 88-93 (a section actually called “Mediating disagreement”) and 208-14 (a section actually called “RESOLVING DISAGREEMENTS” in bold capital letters), both of which are cited for exactly this purpose in OHJ, p. 618 n. 15. It is disturbing to me when a reviewer of a book ignores the actual contents of the book and gives the impression that it doesn’t answer key questions (when in fact it does) and proposes this falsely claimed failure as a defect of the book.
- In his book one can see much of how he…dismisses nearly all the evidences available, excludes evidence (like indirect archaeological evidences which could buffer the sources he assumes are myth), [and] how his metaphysical naturalistic and even Humean biases influence much of his conclusions overall.
This comment is the first clue that Ramos is a Christian fundamentalist, and therefore catastrophically unreliable as a reviewer of this book (OHJ, p. xii). An atheist would not cite “naturalistic bias” as an actual bias: because methodological naturalism is actually fundamental to sound historical method, as other Jesus historians explain (they even developed the Criterion of Natural Probability in an attempt to convey it: PH, pp. 177-78; see also my discussion of the Smell Test, PH, pp. 114-17). Anyone who says otherwise is the one who is irrationally biased–rejecting vast quantities of background evidence, and thus becoming as much a pseudohistorian as creationists are pseudoscientists. I am thus explicit in rejecting Christian apologetics and supernaturalist theories as not properly belonging to serious academic discussion (OHJ, pp. 14, 30, 507, 617-18). Similarly, “Humean biases” is a catchword in Christian apologetics–it means “he doesn’t buy miracles,” something no atheist would offer as an objection. Atheists also know that Hume has actually been revised into sound form on Bayesian terms (PH, p. 310 n. 18).
So when Ramos claims OHJ just “dismisses nearly all the evidences available,” we can read his hyperbole to actually mean it “demonstrates with sound arguments and correct facts the uselessness of nearly all the evidence available, but which fact I can’t bear to accept so I am going to deny it and pretend the book just dismisses the evidence ‘out of hand’ [sic] without even an argument, because the truth is scary.” (See OHJ, chs. 7 and 8 for which evidence counts and why.) Likewise when he claims OHJ “excludes evidence (like indirect archaeological evidences which could buffer the sources he assumes are myth),” we can now know what he really means is that it “correctly explains that no archaeological evidence actually supports historicity over myth, but that can’t be, it just can’t be, so I am going to claim the book just excludes it, and not even mention the reasons it gives for it being irrelevant, because those reasons are scary.” (See OHJ, pp. 24 and 257-58, w. notes 6-8.)
- …his hyperskepticism and propensity to dismiss available evidence on Jesus while being very conveniently lenient on non-Jesus figures (Alexander the Great and Socrates come to mind from the book) doesn’t help his case and is kind of disturbing since it looks hypocritical and double standard often (raise the evidential expectations incredibly high on Jesus’ record and lower it incredibly low for everyone else).
Note what I actually present for Alexander and Socrates (OHJ, pp. 21-24, 289-92). There is no plausible way to claim I am misrepresenting the extremely well-documented fact that the evidence for them is vastly better than we have for Jesus. Indeed, as I there explain (twice!), if we had the same evidence for Jesus, the historicity of Jesus could not be doubted. What is telling is that elsewhere Ramos lets slip that he thinks the Gospels are the same as eyewitness accounts written by the disciples of Jesus immediately after his death. That pegs him as a Christian fundamentalist. Indeed, in the same discussion he also tries to defend the historicity of Moses and all other Biblical Patriarchs (using common fallacies in Christian apologetics, and dismissing the entire mainstream consensus in the field), and in his main review he even implies he accepts the authenticity of the book of Daniel–practically a litmus test for Christian fundamentalism. I should also point out that Ramos again appears to deceive by implying that I “raise the evidential expectations incredibly high” with Alexander and Jesus, when in fact in both places I explain why it can be reasonable to expect we wouldn’t have as much evidence for Jesus as we have for them. (Of course, we still don’t have it.)
So Ramos’s accusations of hypocrisy and a double-standard are clearly based not on the actual content of the book, but a disturbing misrepresentation of the book, which in fact says quite the opposite of what he claims. The evidence for Alexander and Socrates really is vastly better. And yet I did not argue this implies Jesus didn’t exist. Ramos similarly continues with dishonest claims like that OHJ “assumes” the Gospels are myth, when in fact it extensively demonstrates this (so much so that some reviewers have complained that I spent too much effort proving so obvious a point: see OHJ, pp. 387-509). He even claims it’s false that “little to no extra-biblical references can be found until several decades after Jesus’ death,” yet I cannot fathom what documents he could possibly mean to cite as contradicting that statement–a statement I am pretty sure is universally agreed upon by every expert in the field, suggesting Ramos might even be way out in the wild fringes of Christian fundamentalism. Ramos also claims I must be wrong about Jesus because I’m an atheist; when of course, we know it’s more likely the other way around (OHJ, p. xii).
He also tries to tone troll me for being too “confident/arrogant,” without giving a single example of what he thinks counts as such. Christians always say this about atheists. What they mean is we have very certain facts, and conclusions logically follow with extremely high certainty from them. Facts and conclusions Christians can’t abide. So rather than our certainty being justified (as in fact on those points it is), they have to delusionally convince themselves that it is instead just overconfidence and arrogance. Without his citing any examples to check, we can’t know which camp Ramos is in: a critic with a point, or a delusional Christian trying to deny obvious facts. But the evidence so far is trending only one way.
- [Summary of Contents]
Ramos then proceeds at length to just summarize the content of the book, more or less accurately, with minimal commentary. His few critical remarks in there are nevertheless again disingenuous. His attempt to claim historical reasoning isn’t Bayesian and PH not peer reviewed and that the Old Testament is a reliable historical record and the evidence for Jesus and Socrates is the same I already addressed above. But he also now claims that the parallels between Romulus and Jesus are “general enough to fit any bill really,” yet he fails to adduce a single example (much less shows that “anyone” would fit it), and one can only wonder what example he could possibly have in mind…that wouldn’t just further prove my point (OHJ, pp. 56-58; likewise pp. 225-29, which is based on peer reviewed literature in the field, e.g. Richard Miller’s piece in the Journal of Biblical Literature). Ramos is thus sounding a lot like a Christian apologist.
Ramos also complains that my definition of crucifixion is too broad, yet fails to mention that in fact my definition fits the way the word was actually used in antiquity, and I don’t merely claim this, I demonstrate it (OHJ, pp. 61-62)–it is the definition used by Christian apologists (and scholars aping them) that is anachronistically too narrow. Indeed, I cite recent, extensive peer reviewed scholarship supporting me (Gunnar Samuelsson’s Crucifixion in Antiquity, published by Mohr Siebeck in 2011). The fact that Ramos doesn’t tell his readers any of that, but pretends I am the one just making unsupported assertions tells you all you need to know about the reliability of his review. It’s all the more pathetic that he doesn’t seem aware that I hardly make any crucial use of this fact in the book. Thus, he was terrified by a fact he didn’t like, so much so he had to lie about it being incorrect, even though he could have safely ignored it since it isn’t even an essential point in the book.
Ramos also complains that finding any kind of mythotypes is invalid altogether (even though it’s based on established peer reviewed literature in the field) because we “ignore the fine details of accounts which really set all of them apart,” as if he didn’t read p. 167, n. 29 where I made fun of people like him because their argument would compel them to deny that Westside Story was based on Romeo & Juliet because “look at all the differences!” That’s just fallacious Christian apologetics. The differences are irrelevant to the point. The similarities remain improbable without influence. And Ramos presents no actual argument otherwise–he just insists it’s not true. Like Luke Skywalker insisting Darth Vader can’t possibly be his father because, you know, That’s Impossible. (For the actual truth of the matter, see: OHJ, Elements 46-48, pp. 222-30, likewise pp. 45-47, 97 n. 72, 56-58, 390-95, and Elements 11 and 30, pp. 96-108, 164-68; see also PH, pp. 131-34, 141.)
- the Rank-Raglan hero-type model…Carrier does not establish…is a rigorous or reliable measure for determining myth since there are purely naturalist myths as well like false naturalistic accounts that would score low with this model.
This remark is almost unintelligible. But if an above-half score on the RR criteria were not a reliable indicator of myth, then we should find many historical persons meeting that condition. That none do is therefore an objective fact we must take into account. The criteria being broad or arbitrary makes no mathematical difference (OHJ, pp. 231-32, 244-45). Denying objective facts is the popular pastime of Christian fundamentalists, however. Mentioning that lots of people score some of the items has no bearing on that fact. By Ramos’s reasoning, it should still be just as common for historical persons to score as high as Jesus. That it is not (despite 15 people fitting that condition), is what is relevant. And yet, while Ramos expresses his annoyance that I actually point out that Mithradates and Alexander the Great just fall short of scoring high enough to count, I actually allow that between 1 and 4 persons scoring high enough do indeed exist. So he doesn’t even understand that I am actually including the assumption of historical persons meeting the high-score condition. He has no case to make for a higher number.
- [Carrier] merely assumes that religious people make things up all the time with their heroes (without providing a positive case for this assumption let alone clear undisputed examples pertaining to the Jewish or Christian scriptures or verified motivations if such was the case).
This most pegs Ramos as a Christian fundamentalist. He had also just insisted Daniel and Moses were real people, and that Daniel is a genuine treatise by Daniel, and complains that I don’t agree, even though I am merely granting established mainstream consensus in the field–in other words, I am meeting the requirements of peer review. In fact (contrary to his deception here) I actually extensively support the point that “religious people make things up all the time” by extensively citing examples and extensively citing, even multiply quoting, abundant mainstream peer reviewed scholarship (this is, in fact, Element 44, OHJ, pp. 214-22; I even elaborate on an infamous example, pp. 387-89; and amusingly Ramos unwittingly admitted to another example in his agreeing that Christians forged the Ascension of Isaiah).
It is pretty typical for a Christian apologist to be faced with an extensive and vast positive case, backed by the citation of dozens and dozens of peer reviewed monographs and articles, and then declare that the claim was made “without providing a positive case.” Seriously. (He later even says this is an “assumption” of mine; again as if I did not in fact extensively document it as the mainstream view.) It is likewise telltale of a Christian fundamentalist to covertly dismiss that entire case by implying the mere fact that Christian fundamentalists “dispute” the findings of mainstream scholarship means that those findings should be dismissed. “Teach the Controversy” really means “please replace all the facts with our dogma instead.” This is not sound or sane argumentation. This is delusional fundamentalist argumentation. Ramos’s opinions in this matter are thus extremely unreliable.
- [Bayesian reference classing] looks dubious because “reference classes” pretty much would have to be modern imagined subjective abstractions on historical cultures, which will lead to reification and putting modern biases on historical cultures which did not share our biases and ways of thinking – very dangerous since Carrier is prone assert something is myth very easily due to his metaphysical naturalistic worldview which does affect the final results of course
I don’t think Ramos actually understands what the word “reification” means. The facts in this case are all real. There actually, in actual concrete fact, are no known historical persons in the set of all persons to whom were attributed more than half the Rank-Raglan attributes. That there is a set of such persons is also an actual concrete fact (I list them and cite the documentation for them, OHJ, p. 231). Ramos does not explain how any modern bias affects my analysis here in any way (or anywhere). He’s just sure it must, because, well…just because.
Sorry, you can’t argue by assertion. You have to actually prove that my argument is undermined by such a bias. You can’t just insist that it is, somehow, somewhere. Because you want it to be? Or desperately need it to be? Those aren’t valid reasons.
Note that I extensively discuss how to work with the problem of adjusting reference classes to avoid modernizing bias in PH, pp. 229-56. Whereas by Ramos’s reasoning, no historical knowledge about antiquity is even possible…because we could only construct false modernizing pictures of it. Clearly he is desperate here, so desperate he is willing to throw all historical knowledge under the bus, just to save his precious baby Jesus.
Note also Ramos’s bagging on my naturalism…more evidence he is a Christian fundamentalist. He later insists that even though I document that visions in all other religions are obviously explained by the psychology of dreams and hallucination, I should have allowed that Christian visions are not thus explained but alone are genuine. Only a Christian fundamentalist would attempt such an egregious fallacy of special pleading. (Really, the moment anyone starts arguing that Christians were having real experiences of an actual celestial Christ, “therefore Jesus existed,” you have already departed all rational debate.)
- [Carrier's] complaint is that “Jesus” looks too coincidental (though this is odd of him since Jesus was a common name).
This is disingenuous because in fact I explain why it remains odd even though it is a common name. I even mathematically quantify the problem: OHJ, pp. 239-44 (esp. p. 242). Evidently Ramos would prefer readers not know that.
- [Carrier] asks if the evidence for Jesus is as strong as say the evidence for Caesar Augustus (this comparison is bad for the same reason Carrier says comparison with Alexander the Great is incorrect, but looks like he didn’t notice that he was contradicting what wrote in Ch. 2).
This would be a valid point if the passage he is referring to didn’t in fact say:
That’s why we need to look at the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Is it as strong as the evidence for the existence of Caesar Augustus? And even if not that strong (and we already know it isn’t, as I discussed in Chapter 2, §2), is it still strong enough to make historicity more probable than ahistoricity, no matter what Rank–Raglan score Jesus has?
So here, Ramos appears to be deliberately misrepresenting the book, so as to claim a contradiction exists in it that does not. Such dishonesty further discredits him as a reviewer.
- Carrier thinks there were 20 significant interpolations in the NT but he does not list them here.
Because it’s not controversial. Only fundamentalists would deny it. (So, guess what that means.)
I actually list the twenty (a definite undercount) in my peer reviewed article, “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44,” Vigiliae Christianae (2014), which is awaiting publication, but a pre-print is available in Hitler Homer Bible Christ (see HHBC, p. 383).
- [Carrier says] “a worshiped savior and celestial demigod” [is less likely to be historical than just any other person claimed to be historical, but that] assertion is bogus since it makes no sense that Jesus would have a lower probability than anyone else at all unless you have a metaphysical naturalist bias as the reason for lowering the probability a priori – association fallacy.
That sentence is largely gobbledygook. But the intent I think is to say that surely it is naturalistic bias to say that a celestial demigod is less likely to exist than an ordinary person. Which only a Christian fundamentalist would argue.
Ramos is confused as well as wrong. That fewer celestial savior gods exist than actual people is not only true (so he is indeed wrong to claim otherwise), it remains true even if naturalism is false. And I don’t mean by absolute count, but by rate, i.e. most persons claimed to be celestial savior gods (e.g. Dionysus, Osiris, Zalmoxis) don’t exist. Even if Christianity is 100% true. Thus Ramos is screwing up a basic mathematical concept, because the consequences of correctly understanding it are scary: see PH, 244-45, where I address exactly the error he is making here (as if I were psychic!), and ironically explain that validity requires objectivity, the very thing Ramos is abandoning here, by refusing to be objective about his own religion.
His confusion goes even beyond that. Because the point I was making was not that actual celestial savior gods don’t exist (all non-delusional people agree with me that they don’t, and OHJ was only written for the non-delusional). But that persons claimed to be celestial savior gods typically don’t exist. Thus, for one to be a historical person is actually unusual. And unusual = infrequent and infrequent = improbable. I realize this is a painful lesson for a Christian fundamentalist. It physically hurts their little brains. Surely it can’t possibly be true? But alas, it is.
- Interestingly the famous historian Thucydides existed while Socrates was alive but never wrote a thing on him.
Laughably, this is supposed to argue that either Socrates didn’t exist (even though we have several other contemporary references, and the probability of a mention does not entail a mention everywhere–this is basic logic, people: OHJ, p. 518 n. 13), or we can always expect authors not to mention people they know (therefore their not doing so proves nothing). But this completely botches the whole concept of making a sound argument from silence (PH, pp. 117-19). We only have one text from Thucydides, on a single war in which Socrates played no significant role until after the year the book ends with, so we have no reason to expect Socrates to be mentioned there. Wikipedia nails the point:
Thucydides omits discussion of the arts, literature or the social milieu in which the events in his book take place and in which he himself grew up. He saw himself as recording an event, not a period, and went to considerable lengths to exclude what he deemed frivolous or extraneous.
His book then cuts off in the middle of the year 411. The involvement of Socrates in the trial of the Generals of Arginusae, an event we would expect Thucydides to cover, took place in 406. Sooo…guess what? Do you know what happened when Xenophon continued Thucydides’ unfinished account of that war all the way to that trial? Oh, that’s right. He mentions Socrates.
- Carrier assumes that if Jesus existed and was famous, that the followers would have wanted to write more on him and preserve many more documents on him than we have today [but] this makes no sense since there is no reason to assume that people would have been interested in writing “all” the little things about Jesus’ 3 year ministry + not all sources did survive time … [etc.].
This is disingenuous to the point of actual dishonesty. Because it fails to mention that I say exactly the same things (throughout OHJ, chs. 7 & 8). And Ramos is not just failing to mention this, he is giving the deliberate impression that I don’t say those things, when in fact I do. That’s called lying. A Christian fundamentalist who spits on his own ten commandments: that’s a hypocrite.
I actually conclude the absence of these texts and documents does not argue for the non-existence of Jesus. For exactly the reasons Ramos lists. (Although I do point out that this may be an over-generous concession–by pointing out exactly what is different between Jesus and Socrates regarding survival of records: among which is the fact that the Church of Socrates didn’t come to rule the whole Roman Empire and decide which documents to preserve. And yet I still do not let that affect my conclusion.)
- 1) Christians were not the only ones who controlled textual transmission of ancient texts and 2) if Christians were forging, why not change their own texts to fit with other historians? Its less work to correct mistakes in the NT rather than chasing all the numerous manuscripts (histories, satires, commentaries) and deleting “supposedly” embarrassing omissions relating to Jesus, if such a thing even existed. This wide censorship conspiracy idea just looks too absurd.
His first claim is false. Christians (throughout the Middle Ages) were the only ones who controlled the textual transmission of nearly all the ancient texts we have. The exceptions are extremely few and thus insignificant (some scientific texts preserved by Muslims; some rare and extremely limited finds like the Dead Sea Scrolls; etc). See Element 21, OHJ, pp. 146-48 (as well as comments on pp. 351-53). I document a huge number of examples throughout chapter 8 of curiously missing texts, and note how all of what instead survives aligns almost perfectly with the interests of Christian orthodoxy of the 4th and 5th century, a patent impossibility to have happened by chance. I also document numerous examples of proven doctoring of texts (as I noted earlier here). And contrary to Ramos dishonestly guffawing at a “wide censorship conspiracy,” I actually explicitly explain in OHJ that no conspiracy was required for this (pp. 276-77; cf. p. 290, 303, 305, 609). By not telling you I say that, Ramos is effectively lying to you.
His second claim, meanwhile, is simply unintelligible. I cannot fathom what alterations to the texts he actually has in mind. It sounds like he is saying the Gospels cannot contain any errors or contradictions among them, because if they did later editors would have fixed them all, therefore the Gospels must be completely inerrant. That is a delusionally ridiculous argument, of course, and I hardly need convince any sane person of that. (On the problem of deleting embarrassing things, see my detailed coverage in PH, index, “Criterion of Embarrassment.”) Otherwise, obviously it’s easier to scratch a passage than to try and sneak one in that emulates the original author’s style and context, so Ramos was evidently hoping we wouldn’t think his assertion through.
Ramos confusingly tries to argue against my chapter on Acts (OHJ, ch. 9) by picking at a single detail (that it contains miracles), as if I had argued that that single detail ensures an entire source is fiction. Since I never make such a silly argument, either Ramos was so enraged by this point he failed to read almost the entire chapter, or he is again lying. I never argue that “source contains miracle stories” = “entire source is fiction.” My argument for Acts being fiction is based on a large number of criteria being simultaneously met, only one of which is “includes events too improbable to have really happened” (which is not restricted to miracles: OHJ, pp. 364-67, 394-95; PH, pp. 114-17, 177-78). Ramos doesn’t even seem aware that that was the argument. He accordingly fails to reply to it or comment on my actual argument in any fashion.
The only other arguments he has here are: (1) a repeat of his error in thinking differences in two stories eliminate any possibility of influence between them (the Westside Story fallacy); and (2) his insistence that the parallels I find in the literature can all be explained as expected without positing fiction, but he does not show this for any single case (he doesn’t even mention one), so it is just an assertion–a typical assertion for Christian apologists, who love to insist they can prove something, but then never do, and when asked, never can. This is basically just delusional gainsaying, and not a legitimate criticism of any intelligible kind. And (3) that he totally expects Acts to completely forget about Pontius Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea, and Jesus’s entire family, but here he betrays no understanding of the actual argument I make as to why that’s weird in this case (he tries to argue from the example of Spartacus, but that case is not in any sense analogous), and accordingly the book already refutes him (OHJ, “The Mysterious Vanishing Acts,” pp. 371-75).
It’s worth pointing out that in that last case, as in a few others noted above, we have Ramos engaging in “black and white thinking,” i.e. he can only understand something as true or false, known or unknown. He cannot comprehend the notion of a frequency or a probability. Thus, Acts can only be 100% true, or is total fiction. And the disappearances of supposedly extremely important people from history is either totally 100% expected or “proves” Jesus didn’t exist. In actual fact, neither is the case. I allow an 80% probability that those disappearances would be found in Acts if historicity is true (OHJ, pp. 374-75, 386)–which means I am actually agreeing with Ramos (because 80% means “probably” their disappearances are expected–just not wholly expected, but that requires nuanced thinking about ambiguity and uncertainty, a cognitive ability fundamentalists typically lack). I personally think it’s much less likely, and give a lower bound of 20% instead of 80%, although that still allows a 1 in 5 chance of these vanishings if Jesus existed. And in my final calculation, I use both values (ceteris paribus, on the 80% assumption, Jesus has a roughly 1 in 3 chance of existing; on the 20% [and all other lower bound estimates], roughly 1 in 12,000).
That is clearly too nuanced for Ramos to comprehend.
Ramos makes the same mistakes in his commentary on my treatment of the Gospels: Westside Story fallacy; claims everything can be explained, but presents no actual explanations of anything; and cannot grasp any nuance, ambiguity or matters of probability. The idea that certain markers make it more probable that a story is a myth can only be comprehended in his mind as saying those markers guarantee that a story is myth: black and white thinking, which is not in my book, but is clearly the mode his mind is stuck in. Consequently, he is not responding to the argument of the book. Indeed he just gainsays me repeatedly and gives no actual examples of any alleged errors I made. And he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge what my arguments are (e.g. why Luke-Acts is not trusted–by most mainstream historians now, not just me). His commentary here is thus essentially useless.
- [T]he worst odds [Carrier gives] is 0.008% so he is certain that there was no historical Jesus.
Not quite. What I actually say is (OHJ, pp. 600):
I am reasonably certain there was no historical Jesus. Nevertheless, as my estimates might be too critical (even though I don’t believe they are), I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the probability is better than that. … [and] when I entertain the most generous estimates possible, I find I cannot by any stretch of the imagination believe the probability Jesus existed is better than 1 in 3.
Elsewhere I have explained that 1 in 12,000 is not as certain as Ramos seems to think. You would not get into a car that had a 1 in 12,000 chance of exploding…so 1 in 12,000 is not a very high level of certainty. But then, we’ve seen his brain is burdened with a black-and-white cognitive bias, so he apparently cannot comprehend shades of certainty like that.
- …there are way too many arbitrary assumptions injected into stuff like “prior probability” … and of course the arbitrariness of “consequent probabilities” …
Ramos fails to realize that if this is true, then all of his own arguments are likewise invalid–because he routinely depends on his own assumptions about prior probabilities (every time he says something is normally likely or unlikely, he is assuming a prior probability) and consequent probabilities (every time he says the evidence is what we do or don’t expect on any theory, he is assuming consequent probabilities). So if those are arbitrary, his every argument is arbitrary. So much for that, then.
This is a typical Christian apologetic tactic: to try and avoid the conclusions of sound logic by insisting the premises are always arbitrary. Without actually demonstrating that any of them actually are. In actual fact, none of this is arbitrary: it is all soundly reasoned and defended; he is confusing subjective and uncertain with “arbitrary,” but those are not at all the same thing (PH, pp. 66-67, 81-85). Just as this is a stupid way to respond to sound deductive syllogisms, it’s a stupid way to respond to Bayesian syllogisms. Which could be entirely reconstructed as standard deductive syllogisms. So any argument against the applicability of Bayesian reasoning to a matter, is actually an argument against the applicability of any logic at all to a matter (PH, pp. 106-14).
Because nothing can ever be argued for without assuming it has a sufficiently high prior probability and a sufficiently higher consequent probability. Any argument–literally any argument you make for any claim x (when it is logically possible for x to be false)–is either unsound or invalid, unless it stands on premises about the relevant probabilities. And once you realize that…you are admitting Bayes’ Theorem describes all sound empirical reasoning.
- Though he accuses historicists of filling in gaps with speculations and asserting mere possibilities, Carrier does the exact same things throughout the book.
He gives no examples.
I guess he couldn’t find any.
He instead goes on to insist that when document A just repeats what document B says, then document A makes what document B says more likely. That is insane. But maybe it makes sense to a Christian fundamentalist. The fact is, as all honest historians agree, evidence has to be independent to count, and you have to know it is independent to count it (OHJ, pp. 254-56). Just repeating a claim does not increase that claim’s likelihood of being true. At all. And when you don’t know a claim is true, you don’t know a claim is true. Ignorance does not generate knowledge.
FOX News notwithstanding.
Perhaps Ramos doesn’t understand that you can’t just claim some other oral or independent source exists–you have to actually have evidence that it does, and that that is what a document got its information from. If you can’t demonstrate that, then you are violating one of the most basic principles of honest inquiry: possible does not mean probable (Axiom 5, PH, pp. 26-29; to see what ad hoc assumptions then do to the priors: PH, pp. 80-81, and index, “gerrymandering”).
- One often wonders if mythicists would believe in the existence of Socrates, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, the original Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), Zoroaster, Confucius, Homer, Epicurus, Democritus, Leucippus, Spartacus, Zeno, Aesop, Muhammad, Apollonius of Tyana because these folk tend to get off easily … I actually wonder what Carrier would conclude on these people if he had performed the same analysis as he did in this book.
This complaint is funny. Because it proves he didn’t actually read my book very carefully: I actually explicitly say Aesop was probably not historical (I have to conclude Ramos doesn’t know how to use an index, but hey, for those who do, OHJ, index, “Aesop”). Whereas I have a whole section on why the evidence for Socrates establishes he almost certainly existed (I’ve already discussed how Ramos distorts my account of that; but again, index, “Socrates”).
Pythagoras may well not have existed. I’d assign it a 50/50 prior, because he is such a mythic figure and it is curious that he wrote nothing and no contemporary evidence exists nor anything we’d normally account reliable. I don’t know any evidence that tips it much either way after that. And many historians of antiquity are fully comfortable with the idea that Pythagoras didn’t really exist. Likewise Homer. In fact the widest consensus right now is that Homer did not exist. Certainly his epics were written over a period of several centuries, as assumptions within the texts show they were started in the bronze age and finished in the iron age, so they cannot have been written by one man. Hippocrates is attested by two contemporaries who knew him (Plato and Aristotle), so we’re already well past what we have for Jesus; we also have things he himself wrote; etc. So I have no problem concluding more probably than not there was a Hippocrates. Although unlike Ramos, I certainly don’t require there to be. I’m quite comfortable with the possibility that Hippocrates was invented the same way Aesop was.
Likewise all the others.
What is weird is that Ramos thinks we’d consider it a scandal if his list of people didn’t exist. To the contrary, the scandal is that in mainstream academia experts on those men are all comfortable with and openly entertain the possibility that they didn’t exist, yet we are supposed to be terrified to treat Jesus exactly the same way–even though the evidence for him is no better, and often worse. (The only exception I suspect is Epicurus, the only one he lists for whom the evidence is too strong to doubt; but that’s precisely because what we have for him, we don’t have for Jesus.)
Ramos concludes by whining about how mean I am to say that Christian apologists are unreliable and delusional and their opinions no longer matter to honest scholarship. Truth hurts.
And that’s it. Ramos has no other arguments against OHJ. I think it’s safe to dismiss his review as a dishonest, disingenuous, illogical and contra-factual Christian fundamentalist winge.
For a complete list of my responses to critiques of OHJ, see the last section of my List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus.