Dykstra on Ehrman & Brodie

Rene Salm has clued me in to another important new peer reviewed journal article, by Tom Dykstra (M.Div.; Ph.D. in Russian History), who is best known for his critically acclaimed book on how the Gospel of Mark is built out of the Epistles of Paul (Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel, reviewed by Neil Godfrey at Vridar). His new article is “Ehrman and Brodie on Whether Jesus Existed: A Cautionary Tale about the State of Biblical Scholarship,” published in volume 8.1 of the Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies in 2015.

Comparing the books pro and con historicity by Thomas Brodie and Bart Ehrman, Dykstra makes many remarks critical of both authors, but especially Ehrman, and like Philip Davies, argues for greater caution and humility from historicity defenders. He also dismantles Ehrman’s arguments for historicity. Not always effectively (his treatment of the “Brothers of the Lord” argument is conspicuously weak; and he is, IMO, too sympathetic to the all-Paul-as-forgery thesis), but still often illuminatingly.

Dykstra also opens with a good brief on the Thomas Thompson parallel (which ended in the field’s acceptance of OT mythicism), illustrating how Ehrman’s (and McGrath’s) threats to destroy the career of anyone who even tries arguing against historicity in the field have a frightening precedent in biblical studies that scholars today are still embarrassed by. Even more material on that comes up later as well (pp. 20-21).

Two Interesting Observations

But what I noticed the most about this thirty pages (almost all of it well worth reading) are two things in particular worth calling special attention to.
[Read more…]

Appearing in Charleston, South Carolina!

Logo for the Secular Humanists of the Low Country, showing the humanist human symbol in blue, straddled by the blue letters S and L, over a peach colored shape of the state, against a yellow background.I will be in South Carolina this February 21st (Sunday) speaking on the subject of applying Bayesian reasoning to the question whether someone existed…you know, someone like, say, Jesus. I’ll be speaking at 4pm in Gage Hall (4 Archdale Street, Charleston, SC). Open to the public. I will be selling and signing copies of my books (including for the first time a new printing of Proving History that is physically smaller and lighter, but still a hardback). We will all be having dinner after at Tasty Tai and Sushi.

My talk this time is “Applying Bayes’ Theorem to the Historicity of Jesus and Its Lessons for Critical Thought.” For the first time I will discuss both Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus and what I have “learned from interacting with critics over adapting Bayes’ Theorem to the task of analyzing the evidence for Jesus, and how such lessons become a window to understanding Bayesian reasoning and its application to all areas of critical thinking.”

More details here.

Tucker’s Review of Proving History in the Journal History & Theory

Cropped view of the cover of a recent issue of the journal History and Theory. Subtitled: Studies in the Philosophy of History.As I recently mentioned, a Harvard University philosopher, Aviezer Tucker, just published a review of my book Proving History for the academic journal History and Theory (Vol. 55, February 2016, pp. 129-140), titled, The Reverend Bayes vs. Jesus Christ. Tucker is an expert in the methods and philosophy of history, so his review carries some weight. It’s significant, therefore, that he endorses the program of my book—that historians need to start using Bayes’ Theorem, as effectively as they can, to resolve questions in their field—and that in fact even when he criticizes my book, he does so by suggesting improvements that are either already in that book (and he merely overlooked them) or in my subsequent application of its program in its sequel, On the Historicity of Jesus. This is almost the best assessment one could expect. It lacks merely noticing that much of what he suggests, I already did. What I provide below is an analysis of his review that helps understand his points, and relates them to what I’ve already written. [Read more…]

Barnes Still Not Listening on the Bayesian Analysis of Fine Tuning Arguments

Cover of Christian physicist reference guide to multiverse arguments, entitled Who's Afraid of the Multiverse, by Jeffrey Zweerink, showing a bunch of bubbles full of stars lined and stacked in black space.Last month I caught up on an old thread with On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder). Luke Barnes has now thrown up a bunch of responses that are even more bizarre. One of the things I observed is how he never addresses any of my actual arguments. And now he keeps doing this yet again. And I think he sincerely doesn’t even know this is what he is doing. It looks like he delusionally believes I argued things that I didn’t, and delusionally doesn’t see the things I did argue, even when I explain them to him. I don’t know how to interact with someone like that. And on top of that, now he seems to be contradicting himself and isn’t aware he is. This is genuinely strange.

Because continuing this looks impossible—Barnes has so consistently ignored what I actually say, that I do not see the likelihood of his ever actually responding to me, making any further engagement a waste of my time—this might be the last time I bother addressing him. I’m giving him one more shot only because he’s supposed to be an actual cosmologist and not some rando. But be aware, yet again, he is already refuted by everything I already actually wrote in the original TEC article and in my latest reply to him (with one exception I’ll get to below). So honestly, you could just go back and read those. That’s all you need to see how irrelevant or wrong everything he keeps saying is. But I’ll survey it anyway.

[Read more…]

We Are All Bayesians Now: Some Bayes for Beginners

Cartoon with the title (Yet another) history of life as we know it... It then shows stages of ape evolving into hominid evolving into humans etc., walking increasingly upright, then suddenly hunched over a computer, and the five stages are humorously named Homo Apriorius, for the ape, Homo pragmaticus, for the hominid, Homo frequentistus for the cave man, Homo sapiens for the human, and then Homo Bayesianus for the equally naked computer user. Thought bubbles are shown emanating from each, showing a mathematical representation of how they think, which roughly translates to, for the ape, they just assume hypotheses are true, then for the hominid they just think about evidence and not hypotheses, and the cave man makes predictions of the evidence from hypotheses, then the human just asserts evidence with hypotheses, while the Bayesian correctly asks what hypothesis is likely given the evidence.Two things happened recently. I was thinking about better ways to teach Bayesian thinking with minimal math in my upcoming class on historical reasoning (which starts in two days; if you want in, you can register now!). And I just finished reading an advance copy of the first proper academic review of my book Proving History, which is the main textbook I use for my course. That review is by fellow Bayesian philosopher of history Aviezer Tucker, which will appear in the February 2016 issue of the academic journal History and Theory.

The review is an interesting mix of observations. I’ll comment on it in more detail when it is officially released. The abstract of his review is available, but it’s not a wholly accurate description of its content. In fact the review is mostly positive, and when critical, Tucker proposes what he thinks would be improvements. He’s uncertain whether a Bayesian approach will solve disagreements in Jesus studies, and he mentions some possible barriers to that that weren’t directly addressed in Proving History, but he is certain Bayesian methods do need to be employed there. The question becomes how best to do that. He makes some suggestions, which actually anticipate some aspects of how I did indeed end up arguing in Proving History‘s sequel, On the Historicity of Jesus (which Tucker hasn’t yet read, so he was unaware of that, but it’s nice to see he comes to similar conclusions about how to examine the evidence). He takes no side in the debate over the conclusion.

Both events converged. Tucker’s review reminded me of some ways to better discuss and teach Bayesian thinking. In truth, Everyone Is a Bayesian. They might think they’re not. Or they don’t know they are. But they are. Any time you make a correct argument to a conclusion in empirical matters, you’re argument is Bayesian, whether you realize it or not. It’s better to realize it. So you can model it correctly. And thus check that all its premises are sound; and be aware of where you might still be going wrong; and grasp all the ways someone could validly change your mind.

Bayesian Reasoning in a Nutshell

Here is just a basic guide for simple Bayesian reasoning about history… [Read more…]

New & Improved Critical Thinking Course

Cover image of Bo Bennett's new edition of Logically Fallacious.I’ll be teaching critical thinking skills online this November. With a new, easier, lower priced textbook: Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies, the new Academic Edition, by Bo Bennett of The Humanist Hour. Get your copy now! And register today! Class starts November 1.

Learn the basics you need in logic, cognitive science, and reasoning about probability, to be a better, sharper thinker, about everything that matters in your life.

Or spread the word. Tell any of your friends or contacts who might be interested. Lots of people might want to hone their knowledge and skills in this domain. And this class is all about helping with that.

What will this course cover? Why take it? Here is the course description…

[Read more…]

Speaking for Columbus Rationality Next Month!

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Proving History. Illuminated stained glass Jesus in darkened room as peered at through a cross cut-out in an iron cathedral door. Title and author name below.I will be speaking on Bayesian history and epistemology for Columbus Rationality and the Secular Student Alliance at OSU in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, November 16th, at 7:30pm in Lazenby Hall (room 021) on the OSU campus. Details here.

I Will duscuss Bayesian reasoning and its application and status in the field of historical research; and how the analysis of the methods actually used by historians today reveals it is all Bayesian, and can be improved and better understood by recognizing this. I will also discuss the role and contents of my book Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (available in print, kindle, and audible); and likewise of supporting books by Aviezer Tucker, David Hackett Fischer, and C. Behan McCullagh.

I’ll have copies of Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus on hand.

Tim Hendrix on Proving History

Tim Hendrix wrote a critical analysis of my book Proving History two years ago, and recently made it available online. Coincidentally I also just discovered a review of the book in College & Research Libraries Reviews, which had been published in June of 2012 (pp. 368-69). That was only one long paragraph, but I was surprised it understood the book and took a positive angle on it, concluding:

The use of a mathematical theorem to establish reliable historical criteria can sound both threatening and misguided. However, Carrier describes and defends the theorem in layman’s terms, demonstrates that historians actually think in terms of probabilities while rarely quantifying them, shows how all other axioms and rules in historical methodology are compatible with the theorem, and then gives it a practical workout on recent studies on the historicity of Jesus … [in which] Carrier shows how the criteria for judging whether or not Jesus was a historical figure (coherence, embarrassment, multiple attestation, contextual plausibility, etc.) are replaceable by Bayes’s Theorem, which “if used correctly and honestly . . . won’t let you prove whatever you want, but only what the facts warrant.”

Hendrix (who has a Ph.D. relating to Bayesian studies) gives it a much closer look on its technical aspects in applying Bayes’ Theorem. There are some issues of grammar that suggest English might not be Hendrix’s first language (he also uses British spelling conventions), but his writing is good enough to work around that (most of the time).

[Read more…]

Everyone Is a Bayesian

Greg Mayer posted at Jerry Coyne’s blog on “Why I am not a Bayesian.” In his explanation, he goes wrong at three key points. And they are illustrative of common mistakes people make in trying to understand or apply Bayesian reasoning. In reality, Mayer is a Bayesian. He just doesn’t understand why. Here is the breakdown. [Read more…]

McGrath on the Rank-Raglan Mythotype

Cover of Richard Carrier's book On the Historicity of Jesus. Medieval icon image of Jesus holding a codex, on a plain brown background, title above in white text, author below in white text.Yesterday I addressed McGrath’s confused critique of portions of On the Historicity of Jesus (in McGrath on OHJ: A Failure of Logic and Accuracy). He has also published a second entry in what promises to be a series about OHJ, this one titled “Rankled by Wrangling over Rank-Raglan Rankings: Jesus and the Mythic Hero Archetype” (let me know if more arrive in future). This entry is even less useful than the first. Here are my thoughts on that.

[Read more…]