Why the Smart Money Is on the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Being a Forgery

Photo of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife papyrus fragment, a rectangle with seven or eight lines of sloppy writing in Coptic, courtesy of Harvard University.I was going to do a news roundup of several new developments in ancient manuscript studies, until one of them turned out to be a roller-coaster ride down a rabbit hole filled with all manner of twists and turns. The subject? The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. The other news I’ll post on separately. Because this one. Boy. It needs an article all unto itself.

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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…]

Atheistically Speaking: Does EvoPsych Suck?

Logo for the podcast Atheistically Speaking, showing an old time radio microphone on a white background next to a picture of Thomas Smith in thoughtful pose, and his name under the microphone, and above all of that the word Atheist in red inside a red box, with scrawled letters in black trailing after it completing the word Atheistically, and the typed word Speaking just below that.A good interview with me has gone up at Atheistically Speaking with Thomas Smith (“Taking a clear, rational look at atheism and surrounding issues!”). It’s episode 202, “Dr. Richard Carrier on EvoPsych.” The description:

Is 90% of all Evo Psych false? That’s the claim Dr. Richard Carrier makes in his mammoth article, which can be found here. While I’m hoping to have Richard on at a later date to discuss the topic he’s likely most known for – Jesus’s existence, this visit is all about Evolutionary Psychology and whether or not it is a pseudo science.

Smith was intrigued by the article I wrote, and asks me to discuss its claims, evidence, and basis, and why evolutionary scientists have deluded themselves into thinking they aren’t much more than astrologers carrying water for various social and political ideologies. Though on that last point we don’t get very far, for want of data. But the sneaking suspicion is addressed. As well as some of the dangers of their fallacious methodology.

Update: Part 1 is episode 202. Part 2 of our interview is episode 203.

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…]

Is 90% of All EvoPsych False?

Graphic from a pseudoscientific website using EvoPsych to argue nonsense about the thermodynamics of human marriage bonding, showing a pretty girl in a short skirt in flirtatious pose, with ratio lines showing the perfect ratios of her body parts, with the words Perfect Body, Perfect Genes. From http://www.eoht.info/page/Evolutionary+psychologyEvolutionary Psychology is the study of how attributes of human psychology evolved biologically by natural selection. I and others have averred many times that it is mostly a pseudoscience. EvoPsych proponents balk and take offense. We cite numerous papers by experts in evolution and psychology who agree with us. They claim they’ve been refuted. We ask where. They suddenly stop talking to us.

That’s a common sequence of events. I’m going to here collect all the information backing our claim. Any and all rebuttals to what I here argue, that you think are worth reading, I want to have collected in comments, so though my comments threads always close after six days, any links to rebuttals you email me after that time, I will post below myself.

Also be aware that this article is as long as it is because EvoPsych proponents employ whack-a-mole apologetics (“But you didn’t address x,” and it’s always a different x the moment you do address x). Consequently, I am covering all the bases. [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.

So…

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…]

Fantastic Study of Gender Differences Finds White Privilege Instead

Graphic from the article discussed showing support for nuclear power by gender as described in the article.This is one of the most excellent must read articles ever sent to me (by a girlfriend who does this sort of thing for a living. You know who you are, Girl. Thank you!) I’m talking about David Roberts, “There’s a Gender Divide on Nuclear Power, but It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means,” at Vox.

First I’ll tell you why I think it’s awesome. Then I’ll quote some of the best bits for you, if you just want to skip to that…

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Myths of Charity: The Enduring Sham of Arthur Brooks

Photo of an actual Louisiana Disaster Assistance debit card or automated benefit card, produced by the department of social services.Six years ago Arthur Brooks published Who Really Cares (which has gone through several subtitles, from America’s Charity Divide to Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters to The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism). This book is still triumphantly cited by many conservatives and libertarians as proving various dubious things, but especially two in particular: that atheists are less charitable than religious believers, and that privatizing all social welfare would improve social welfare.

But this book is largely a sham. It cooks the numbers and uses devious logical tricks to make it seem as though its conclusions are true, when in fact they demonstrably are not (or at best are demonstrably undemonstrated). A good skeptic doesn’t just believe what she reads; she checks the facts and the logic to make sure she’s not being snowed. Sadly, libertarians (usually men) who cite this book at me (as happened last year in a private communication) are bad skeptics. Because they don’t treat this book skeptically. At all. It just corroborates their ideology, so obviously it can’t be incorrect about anything, and one shouldn’t even think to check if it is.

This struck me the moment that exchange happened: a notable man claimed to me that data in Who Really Cares proves that “the working poor” give “three times more” to charity than anyone “on public assistance” at the same income level, and therefore public welfare makes people less charitable. Of course, right away I was suspicious, since it seems absurd to think someone who can only survive by receiving charity should be expected to give anything to charity. (Can you imagine badmouthing a disabled homeless person dependent on your soup kitchen and group home for not giving anything to charity…that lousy miser!)

But more importantly to today’s lesson, I was immediately suspicious of the statistic. [Read more…]

Help Miri Mogilevsky Keep Writing for a Living

Snapshot from a corner of Miri Mogilevsy's Patreon page, showing you can give a dollar amount per blog post to become a patron of her writing, and that she has at writing eleven patrons contributing a total of sixty-seven dollars a month so far.I have long been a fan of Miri Mogilevsky’s excellent writing on society, science, and sexuality, among many other topics, including feminism and other aspects of social justice. As well as her speaking and teaching. I’ve also been considering launching my own Patreon account later this year. But I’d like to see a colleague get it functional in action in the way I see Mogilevsky doing it now. And really, I’d just love to see her supported as a writer.

Her Patreon launch is really great. It’s inspiring me to develop my own someday and she’s given me great ideas for it. Check it out. You can become a patron of her work for just a dollar a month even. Or more. There are also some special goals she’ll meet for greater investments.

It’s worth it. I’ve cited and used her work many times (e.g. [1] and [2]). And I would value getting to do that more often. She nails certain subjects I want to find good articles on far better than I ever could. Including topics in Polyamory (e.g. [1] and [2]). She writes well, clearly, completely, and thoughtfully. I have enjoyed countless of her articles here at FtB as well as for Daily Dot, xoJane, Everyday Feminism, Friendly Atheist, Salon, and other venues. To get a feel for her contributions, just skim her blog archive for the month of this April alone.

-:-

I’ve posted about this not only because I’m a big fan of Miri’s and support her work and think some readers of mine might share both sentiments, but also because I’m becoming more interested in the anarchic Patreon model of employment for authors and artists. I think more authors I like might do this in future. As perhaps will I. So stay tuned!

Why I Don’t Always Trust Israel

Does Israel resort to war crimes, and then lie about it, to gain its ends? It has in the past. Which is why I have a hard time believing Israel’s claims now that it isn’t targeting schools and hospitals, which are UN-observed civilian refugee sites. That would be a clear and horrific war crime under international law and the Geneva conventions. I also have a hard time believing what they also in the same breath say (see previous link), that they actually are targeting those sites because they are storing rockets for Hamas. (Yes, those two claims directly contradict each other; yes, it’s absurd to think sites observed by UN personnel are storing rockets–in fact, they clear any rockets found at sites set up as refugee centers).

To get up to speed on this, read this and this and this.

Hamas, of course, is evil and insane, if ever those words had meaning. They lie and kill all the time, in vile ways and without any rational sense. They also try to manipulate the public with false claims. But this isn’t a claim coming from Hamas.

There is a difference between responding justly with necessary force to legitimate terror and danger, and using that legitimacy as cover for trying to get away with evils even greater than those achieved by the enemy you are answering. Because of the Christian Armageddon Lobby, Israel does get away with quite a lot, and getting a free pass is a form of power, and power corrupts. If Israel is beyond all criticism, then it can slip in any evil and play the same get-out-of-jail-free card. If they are allowed to get away with anything, then they will in the end do anything. (So do we. Consider Tuskegee.)

Why am I doubtful that Israel is telling the truth this time? Because neutral observers confirm it. And Israel has done this before. In the most appalling way. And I want to share with you the example I mean. You can’t understand the world without it.

As a historian, I wonder at all the things people don’t know about our own history, and yet history repeats itself when we don’t. So let me recount something you probably have never heard about. It will sicken you. Especially the most patriotic, ra-ra, pro-military folk among you. Yes, especially you. [Read more…]