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.

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On the Bayesian Reversal of the Fine Tuning Argument by Sober, Ikeda, & Jefferys (against Barnes & Lowder)

Computer map of the known universe in oval form with spectral and other key items indicated, on a black background, with the text beneath saying Christianity, the belief that a god created a universe 13.75 billion lightyears across containing 200 billion galaxies, each of which contains an average of more than 200 billion stars, just so he could have a personal relationship with you. Someone has crossed out the 13.75 and relaced it with 93, writing a note at the bottom that 13.75 billion is the age of the universe, not the size. In fact the size is determined by the distance the farthest known stars have traveled in the 13.75 billion years since the light we now see reached us. Which is between 91 and 93 billion lightyears. And that's not the size either, just the size of the visible part.Clearing the dusty shelves of old unanswered things. One such is the Lowder-Barnes critique of my application of Bayesian reasoning to reverse the fine tuning argument into a case against God, rather than an argument for God. Actually this is not my argument. It is the argument of three prominent mathematicians in two independent studies. My popularization of it (in conjunction with more data from other physical scientists I cited) appeared in my chapter “Neither Life Nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed” in The End of Christianity (ed. John Loftus 2011).

The original versions of the argument appeared as cited therein: Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys, “The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism” (an earlier version of which appeared in Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds., The Improbability of God in 2006) and Elliott Sober, “The Design Argument” (an earlier version of which appeared in W. Mann, ed., The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion in 2004; which corrects my footnote in TEC).

Cosmologist Luke Barnes critiqued this in a series of posts, and Jeff Lowder concurred somewhat in The Carrier-Barnes Exchange on Fine-Tuning (which also rounds up all the links in the debate, including my contributions). My principal point then was that Barnes wasn’t even responding to my actual argument (and thus neither to any of the mathematicians, one of whom also an astrophysicist, who originated it). He still hasn’t. Barnes had also tried the same tactics against Victor Stenger on much the same point. In my comments debate with Barnes it became increasingly clear he was a kook who simply never understood or addressed what I actually said in my chapter, and continued to refuse to after repeated requests that he do so. A debate with such a person is impossible. One would make more progress arguing with a wall. So I have nothing further to say to him. My chapter as actually written already refutes him. Since he has never responded to its actual content.

But Jeff Lowder is not a kook. He is a responsible philosopher who listens, takes considerable caution, and will strive to get an opponent’s arguments correct. So I am writing this entry today in response to his take on our debate (a take which wisely avoided even discussing most of Barnes’s weird and irrelevant arguments). [Read more…]

The Never Sinking Ship: How Thunderf00t Sucks at Science (or Else He’s a Liar; Probably He’s Just a Liar)

Revised. Something really funny happened yesterday. And then something funny happened today. Thunderf00t tried to lie, and got caught. And embarrassed, he threw out a bunch of insults and blather, and ran away. The event was amusing. It was so easy to catch him out. And his response to having been caught was so pathetic and bizarre. And then after publishing this post today his fans caught me in a mistake! Which is amusing for a completely different reason. And I’ll be correcting that mistake below. But it all reminded me, not only would Thunderf00t make a lousy sailor (for reasons I’ll explain), but so much has happened since I last exposed him (not even just this), that it’s high time I aggregated the new material exposing him. So here is your complete update on the horror show that is Thunderf00t. [Read more…]

Everything You Need to Know about Coincidences

A demotivational poster meme, showing a UN soldier standing next to a UN sign in Africa that says Involved in Africa, but the soldier in the camera frame is standing right next to the front of the word, and the color of the letters and helmet match the colors on the sign exactly, so the sign appears to read Uninvolved in Africa. The byline says: Coincidence. Because you couldn't have planned it any better. Signed by the author, VeryDemotivational.comHere is some handy linkage on coincidences. Thanks to a coincidence. I was reading the The #Skeptic’s Daily News and in it, by coincidence, were two separate papers on the subject of coincidence. Though only one was labeled such; the other, just happened by coincidence to be about the same thing.

I have written on coincidences before. How they mess with the heads of some epistemologists when they try to make sense of Gettier Problems (where coincidence can coincidentally cause you to believe a true statement for what is only technically a justifiable reason). And they have an epistemological and methodological role in Bayesian reasoning—for example, because effects “by coincidence” are less probable than “effects that are predictably caused,” and a lot of attempts to deny causation rely on pretending coincidences are more likely. So you have to be able to know when that’s not true.

Although, sometimes, coincidences are just as likely as causation, or near enough as to make no visible difference in our math, or even more likely the case. And thus we can’t rule them out. But sometimes we actually can. So you have to know when is which. Like when we look for evidence of meaningful literary emulation in ancient texts (Proving History, pp. 192-204). Or when some hucksters tried to claim we found the tomb of Jesus. Or when we look for evidence that the Jewish scholar Philo understood a character named Jesus in Zechariah 6 to be the same archangel Paul thinks his Jesus is, by noting that the alternative explanation requires so many coincidences to have occurred as to be extraordinarily improbable (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 200-05), including the fact that Paul and Philo assign all the same unusual attributes to the same figure, and the fact that Philo said he made the connection because the archangel in question was already known to him as the Son of God and the High Priest, and the only person in the Zechariah passage he quotes who is identified as the Son of God and the High Priest, is Jesus. Or how coincidence actually better explains the conversion of the Apostle Paul than the Christian thesis that he “really saw Jesus.”

Coincidences are also an important hypothesis to test and understand when criticizing pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, paranormalism, “miracle claims,” and all sorts of things of interest to atheists and skeptics.

So the two papers that have come up lately will interest you, if you are interested in any of those things! [Read more…]

No, Bacon Is Not as Bad for You as Smoking

Photo close-up of bacon sizzling in a pan.Some of you might have heard that bacon was rated as being as carcinogenic as smoking by the World Health Organization.

No. That did not happen.

And this is a good case for learning some modern critical thinking skills.

I’ll spoil the surprise by quoting them directly:

No, processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.

In other words, all they said is that we are certain that “processed meats” (i.e. chemically treated meats) do cause cancer (in fact, just one cancer: colorectal cancer). They did not say it was all that bad a cause of it—certainly nowhere near as bad as smoking is of an assortment of other cancers (not only of the lung), which is dozens of times deadlier compared to an average consumption of processed meat—and most people are average consumers.


First Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Always go to the original source and read what it actually says. The media should never be trusted to get a story right. Even less so some rando on twitter.

Second Rule of Critical Thinking Club Is: Never buy any alarmism about risk until you know how to compare the newly claimed risk to risks you already accept.

What do I mean by that? [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…]

Now You Can Wear Even More Bayes’ Theorem!

Picture of the Odds Form Bayesian mug (white mug with artsy black text) offered at Richard Carrier's Marvelous Amusements shop at Cafe Press.Did you say Odds Form? Shirt? Car Flag? Panties? Hell yeah.

I just finished loading my old Cafe Press store with tons of different shirts and other odds and ends featuring my Bayesian graphic, which uses imaginative rather than standard mathematical notation (as I reported last week, you can get jewelry with it from SurlyRamics).

I also duplicated most items with a cool graphic design of the Odds Form of Bayes’ Theorem (in standard mathematical notation, but artful font). Because a lot of people are fans of the Odds Form. No joke…it has actual vocal fans. It’s also the form I use to run the math in my upcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus. If you want to know what the difference is and what the Odds Form equation means and how to use it, see Proving History (index, “Bayes’ Theorem, Odds Form”). Like with the other graphic (as I explained last week), you have to assume b (background knowledge) is in the givens of every term (a common assumption mathematicians allow).

Picture of women's cap-T shirt with Odds Form Bayesian graphic across the chest. White shirt with black shoulders and neckline.Above right is a pic of the Odds Form mug I’m selling. It actually looks pretty awesome. Likewise the women’s Cap-T (below right).

To check out the full range of products, and help support my work by buying some, visit Richard Carrier’s Marvelous Amusements. Note that many items actually have color options at the purchasing page (so it’s not just all black or white). If you have ideas for other products I could develop and offer there, feel free to recommend them in comments here. Just note that I’m limited by the stock and capabilities of Cafe Press.

I have also included some Solon’s Commandments materials, as some fans requested I do many months ago, after I wrote about them in That Christian Nation Nonsense (Gods Bless Our Pagan Nation). Cafe Press doesn’t offer the option of an inscribed plastic plate, so you would have to get the mini-poster and put it in a hard plastic casement or sheath from a local office supply store–or else buy the expensive framed print option (although that does look quite nice). Junior high and high school students who feel like living dangerously can even bring a Solon’s Commandments lunch bag to school.

Two Bayesian Fallacies

At INR3 in Kamloops I spoke on applying Bayesian logic to the study of Jesus along with the same principles we apply to dead religions (so as to avoid the “don’t offend the Christians” reaction to controversial claims…claims that would not be controversial if Jesus was not the object of worship of billions of loud, influential people). In Q&A philosopher Louise Antony challenged my application of Bayes’ Theorem to historical reasoning with a series of technical complaints, especially two fallacies commonly voiced by opponents of Bayesianism. I was running out of time (and there was one more questioner to get to) so I explained that I answered all her stated objections in my book Proving History (and I do, at considerable length).

But I thought it might be worth talking about those two fallacies specifically here, in case others run into the same arguments and need to know what’s fishy about them. [Read more…]

Understanding Bayesian History

So far I know of only two critiques of my argument in Proving History that actually exhibit signs of having read the book (all other critiques can be rebutted with three words: read the book; although in all honesty, even the two critiques that engage the book can be refuted with five words: read the book more carefully).

As to the first of those two, I have already shown why the criticisms of James McGrath are off the mark (in McGrath on Proving History), but they at least engage with some of the content of my book and are thus helpful to address. I was then directed to a series of posts at Irreducible Complexity, a blog written by an atheist and evolutionary scientist named Ian who specializes in applying mathematical analyses to evolution, but who also has a background and avid interest in New Testament studies.

Ian’s critiques have been summarized and critiqued in turn by MalcolmS in comments on my reply to McGrath, an effort I appreciate greatly. I have added my own observations to those in that same thread. All of that is a bit clunky and out of order, however, so I will here replicate it all in a more linear way. (If anyone knows of any other critiques of Proving History besides these two, which actually engage the content of the book, please post links in comments here. But only articles and blog posts. I haven’t time to wade through remarks buried in comment threads; although you are welcome to pose questions here, which may be inspired by comments elsewhere.)

Ian’s posts (there are now two, A Mathematical Review of “Proving History” by Richard Carrier and An Introduction to Probability Theory and Why Bayes’s Theorem is Unhelpful in History; he has promised a third) are useful at least in covering a lot of the underlying basics of probability theory, although in terms that might lose a humanities major. But when he gets to discussing the argument of my book, he ignores key sections of Proving History where I actually already refute his arguments (since they aren’t original; I was already well aware of these kinds of arguments and addressed them in the book).

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