A Bayesian Brief on Comments at TAM

I was asked about remarks made by Chris Guest (President of the Australian Skeptics, Victorian Branch) at this year’s TAM. He gave a quick twenty minute talk on Bayesian reasoning and its abuses, with which I entirely concur. (This talk begins with Guest’s introduction at timestamp 48:30.) He criticizes my work briefly at the end, but understanding his remarks there require understanding his remarks throughout the talk. His only mistake is that when he gets to my work, he makes one crucial mathematical error that invalidates his entire critique…
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Komarnitsky: Required Reading on the Resurrection of Jesus

Cover of Doubting Jesus' Resurrection by Kris Komarnitsky, subtitle "What Happened in the Black Box," tagline "An Inquiry into an Alternative Explanation of the Christian Origins," second edition, dark brown cover with a black box in middle in 3D aspect with a question mark on it and an arrow moving into it from the left with the words "Jesus Crucified" and an arrow moving out of it to the right with the words "Resurrection Belief."Five years ago Kris Komarnitsky produced a well crafted book, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? He has now extensively revised and updated it for the second edition, and that new version is now available, taking into account developments and new publications in the field, as well as newly examined comparative evidence that sheds light on why naturalistic explanations of the resurrection belief and empty tomb tales make far more sense than anything else. The big news is that it’s free on kindle this weekend (possibly only in the U.S.). [Update: apparently only Saturday; there will be another free offer on some future Saturday.]

Even though Komarnitsky is an amateur historian, his book is well researched and actually required reading on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus. I consider it an essential item to include on your reading list if you ever plan to debate that topic, formally or informally. He makes his reasoning clear and cites sources and scholarship, so you don’t have to rest on his authority. Anything you want to use from his work you can adapt to the purpose, and cite the underlying evidence and scholarship directly. I don’t agree with everything he concludes or assumes, but one of the merits of the book is that you can decide for yourself. He provides the evidence and reasoning, and doesn’t expect you to take him at his word.

I have often cited his book in my own work. And I was sufficiently impressed by it that I wrote the following promotional statement on its behalf:

Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn’t been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means. Though I don’t always agree with him, and some issues could be discussed at greater length, everything he argues is plausible, and his treatise as a whole is a must for anyone interested in the resurrection.

This new revised edition is even better. The improvements are substantial and more than warrant buying the new edition even if you already have the old one. Others have similarly been impressed by it, including Robert Price, even the infamous James McGrath. With fourteen customer reviews on Amazon it still averages five out of five stars (I must conclude the fundamentalists haven’t noticed it yet, so as to give it bad marks for no sound reason as they often do).

The basic thesis Komarnitsky explores is not to examine all the plausible natural explanations for the evidence, but to focus on only one coherent explanation and see how well even just that one theory holds up against the Christian alternative. He is aware that other explanations exist that are also far more plausible than the supernatural, and that this makes his ultimate conclusion (that Jesus did not really rise from the dead) even more probable (since the probability of that equals the sum of the posterior probabilities of all plausible alternatives, of which his is only one, so if even his is more probable than the supernatural, the supernatural is far less probable than even the converse of that).

One of many major improvements in the second edition is his adaptation of the anthropological work of professor Simon Dein of Durham University, who also endorses Komarnitsky’s book, and in the process explains this aspect of the new edition:

In this book Komarnitsky provides a compelling and convincing account of how the early Christians came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Building on my own research and documentation of a modern-day Jewish movement that rationalised their dead Messiah would resurrect from the dead, Komarnitsky argues clearly and concisely that the same basic cognitive process could have given birth to the Christian resurrection belief two thousand years ago. This book contains a wealth of biblical and social scholarship, and it is an important contribution to the study of early Christianity.

In addition to drawing on well-documented analogs like that, this book also surveys cite-worthy evidence regarding burial customs, legendary growth rates, and a great deal else. Even veteran experts will find it a handy source of references and ideas.