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).

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Euhemerization Means Doing What Euhemerus Did

Photograph of a marble statue depicting Euhemerus as a bearded toga wearing bare shouldered man in thoughtful pose.Just a quickie today. Several people have asked this question in one form or another:

I’ve read a number of people who claim that your use of the term “euhemerization” is incorrect. These typically give definitions along the lines of the following in Wikipedia: “Euhemerism is an approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages.” This is consistent with what you say about Euhemerus in Element 14 [of On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 114-24], but in Element 45 [Ibid., p. 222] you use the term in the inverted sense, [whereby] people were invented based on gods, rather than gods being invented based on people.

I do wonder where the confusion arose among people (and I’ve seen a lot of them online) thinking euhemerization means turning a real person into a god. That’s not euhemerization. That’s deification. Julius Caesar was deified. He was not euhemerized. Euhemerized gods are always historically non-existent.

Obviously the word “euhemerize” means doing what Euhemerus did. That’s what the word means. Even just in its grammar (the -ize suffix in Greek and English means “to do like,” hence “to do like Euhemerus did”). But also in how it originated and why. Euhemerus took celestial (ahistorical) gods (Zeus and Uranus) and then turned them into historical men. Not the other way around. Therefore, anyone who does that is doing what Euhemerus did. They are therefore euhemerizing a god. Just as Euhemerus “euhemerized” Zeus and Uranus.

I don’t know why anyone thinks otherwise. Or how it would even make sense to think otherwise. But maybe this is what’s confusing people…

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Christians Freaking Out Over Freedom: Polyamory Edition

Photo Dr. Carrier took of his bottle and glass of wine at the airport. Venue menu on the table reads Carlolina Vintages. Bottle label reads Restless Soul Red Table Wine, from Old North State Winery. Label depicts drawing of a rising skeleton's arm lifting up a glass of wine.So when I came out as polyamorous in February, the godless Slymepit blew a gasket. But so did Christians. Their freakout was quaint. And hardly substantive. So I just filed it as something to amuse over when I had time. Now as I sit for hours in the Raleigh-Durham airport awaiting my flight home, drinking a lovely bottle of Carolina wine from the Old North State Winery, what better fun than to survey the Christian panic over poly?

First I’ll summarize a sample of some of what happened, then delve into a long treatment of the most thoughtful (albeit still totally wrong) example…

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Don’t Be Explicit in Other People’s Spaces: An Apology

This is an apology for a mistake I made. In a comment thread on Ophelia Benson’s blog about the effects of porn on unwanted violence in the bedroom, I gave as examples for my own points relating to that cases from my own personal sexual experience, which despite one content warning nevertheless got too detailed and explicit for Benson and many of her readers.

I became too defensive when attacked over that and I handled the whole matter poorly. I was too blinded by defensiveness in fact to adequately see things from other people’s perspective. Although some people appreciated what I wrote, and I value their perspective too, others who’s opinions I also respect did not, and that caused me to reexamine everything and (I hope) recognize where I went wrong and what to do about it.

I don’t want to distance myself from the people who thanked me, who included people who feel isolated from what men actually think or can think about sex and were glad to have access to it for a change, and people who deal with being attacked and demeaned and shamed for their fetishes and kinks and were thus understandably defensive about people seeming to attack and demean and shame me for the same.

But there are better ways to serve those needed ends. And I understand that now. I am always very frank and open about my sexlife. And I am often surrounded by people who are the same, and who appreciate that. So I too easily forget the world does not live in that bubble. And I didn’t realize the significance of that before now.

Explicit content is not universally wrong. It can even still serve the purposes I originally stated there and intended. And I may blog separately about that, in a better way. But content warnings are necessary for that even in your own space. And they aren’t sufficient in another’s space. You need to know it’s permitted there first, that it will be acceptable. And I now realize it’s your responsibility to check that beforehand. Because what results if you don’t can affect people badly in ways you don’t intend and wouldn’t want.

To all of those people who were harmed by my actions, I apologize. I did not want to cause harm, and regret having done so. This is another mistake in my life I shall endeavor to improve myself on and not make again. And I thank those whose remarks helped me to see that.

There are better ways to advocate for wider acceptance of sexuality and sexual diversity, and better ways to discuss the impact of porn on our lives too.

41 Reasons We’re, Like, Totes Sure Jesus Existed!

Photo of James Bishop about town, young rugged man in a blue toque, white t-short and grey vest, hip beard.People often ask me about Christian apologist James Bishop’s “41 Reasons Why Scholars Know Jesus Really Existed.” Because it’s the highest number of reasons anyone has attempted to claim (apart from the 10/42 apologetic, which Matthew Ferguson thoroughly annihilated).

This piece doesn’t try that. Thank the Lords of Kobol! But it is still a travesty of being lost in the bubble of Christian distortion, of course. Bishop is in South Africa studying theology at college, and says enthusiastic things like, “I wish to exercise my faith in a powerful manner to reach as many people as possible.” Aww.

I’ll just be brief and explain where everything he says has already been refuted. So here we go… [Read more…]

Defining the Supernatural vs. Logical Positivism

In working slowly through a gigantic backlog of blog comments, I met with one that goes back to an old school question, about my project to demarcate the natural and the supernatural. The comment by Enlightenment Liberal is here. He is asking questions about the conclusion I argued here and in print here (with a followup here). The first, Defining the Supernatural, supports the others, Defining Naturalism I and II. His perspective can be summarized as “If we grant your definitions of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, I think that all hypotheses of the form ‘X is supernatural’ entail absolutely zero observable predictions about the world,” in particular because “I think that I have absolutely no basis to conclude that there is any relation or correlation at all between the fundamental nature of things and the observable nature of things,” in accordance with Logical Positivism.

So, is he right? Let’s explore… [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…]

Shermertron the Bigot: Polyamory as the New Reefer Madness

Famous scene screencap from the 1936 film Reefer Madness in which a snearing dope dealer takes a puff in a lounge chair.Lock up your wives and daughters. Polyamorous men are going to seduce them! That’s the new panic emanating from atheist anti-feminists. Along with horror at Bacchic orgies at atheist conferences, and a denigration of sexual liberation as the scourge of society and a sure sign of the decline of public morality. Christian reactionaries? Nope. This is coming from atheists. Seriously.

Anti-feminist atheists are rarely logical and always fact challenged. They live in a bubble of impenetrable mythologies like moon landing deniers and people who vote for Ted Cruz. So none of their reaction to my coming out as polyamorous ought to be surprising. But since one of them is making a lame attempt at harassing my employers, it’s time to document and make fun of it.

The featured villain of the day is some guy (?) who goes by the charming moniker Shermertron. It would be truly awesome if that was actually Michael Shermer but reality is never that sweet. I’m assuming it’s an obsessive Shermer fan. He writes a vile blog called Orwellian Garbage, which is basically just a bunch of illogical rants about me and PZ Myers that rarely contacts reality. His silly & sad sidekick goes by the moniker Yeti’s Roar who does basically the same thing on his own blog (I suppose they could be the same person).

Shermertron and his associates suffer from the following delusions:

  • They can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and consensual flirting.
  • They can’t tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate ways of pursuing intimacy with someone.
  • They can’t tell the difference between being pleasantly drunk but still in possession of your faculties (and thus fully able to consent when asked) and being so drunk as to not even comprehend what is happening or where exactly you are.
  • They can’t tell the difference between advocating for ethical sexuality and being against all sex.

They are also liars.

If you want the full skinny, then sit down, secure your safety belt and hang on for the ride… [Read more…]