The Jesus Tomb and Bayes’ Theorem

Finally, a mathematician actually gets the math right on the Jesus Tomb hypothesis. Conclusion? We have not found the tomb of Jesus. For those who already know the backstory and want to jump right to it, read Bayes’ Theorem and the “Jesus Family Tomb” by physicist Randy Ingermanson. He approached the problem like a physicist dealing with any old problem in data analysis (the problem is not so much different from how particle accelerator data are analyzed). He was assisted by political scientist Jay Cost, another who has good experience running Bayesian models like this. This expands on Ingermanson’s work on this published under peer review as Randall Ingermanson, “Discussion of: Statistical Analysis of an Archaeological Find,” Annals of Applied Statistics 2.1 (2008): 84-90 (responding to Feuerverger).

Backstory: James Tabor and some others have been pushing the claim that a tomb uncovered in the Talpiot district of Jerusalem (hence now called the Talpiot tomb) is the actual burial place of Jesus (and we not only have his “coffin,” but his DNA! As well as evidence he had a child named Judas by Mary Magdalene, also buried therein, also with her DNA!), and they published a book and a documentary arguing their case. (I’m just being colloquial. The tomb’s not full of coffins, of course, but ossuaries, a cultural analog). They had a mathematician backing them (Dr. Andrey Feuerverger), but his math has been consistently bogus from day one. For example, even though we have vastly better odds of randomly getting a name in a group of ten-to-thirty bodies than in a group of five, he kept running the math for five, even though there were ten-to-thirty bodies buried in that tomb. He also adopted a number of dubious (and some outright refuted) factual assumptions (for example, regarding the names of the women in the tomb: see, as one instance, the penultimate paragraph of my previous article on this tomb). By these devices, he found the odds were 600 to 1 in favor of this being the actual tomb of Jesus.

What happened: Ingermanson and Cost apply the correct math (Bayes’ Theorem, valid historical premises, proper treatment of variables, and correct mathematical models, e.g. acknowledging that more than five people were buried there). They find that by standard historical assumptions, the odds are 1 in 19,000 against the Talpiot tomb being the tomb of Jesus, and even by more generous assumptions the odds are 1 in 1,100 against (I put my own assumptions into their model and came up with 1 in 200 against), while even the most fanatical “I desperately want this to be the tomb of Jesus” estimator can only get odds of 1 in 18 that the Talpiot tomb is the tomb of Jesus. Thus, it probably isn’t, even if we are ridiculously generous to the hypothesis that it is.

So much for that. Done and dusted.

On Sexual Harassment

Thunderf00t’s post today on the ongoing sexual harassment policy debate (titled MISOGYNIST!!!) has already generated nearly 600 comments (and that in barely half a day). Almost simultaneously, Cristina Rad has told one story of her own and asked whether it falls under the definition of sexual harassment (Educate Me on Sexual Harassment. Case 1.). (My own answer: it does, but only in the moral sense, not the legal, i.e. it was harassing, and it was sexual, and that’s the kind of behavior we don’t want at events, but not anything we’re calling to outlaw). Earlier this month the “ongoing sexual harrassment policy debate” gained a historical treatment, which anyone who wants to get in on this debate had better read first before assuming they have all the information or have been told the truth about it (because a lot of lies have been circulated and are still being generated regarding what has actually been said and done in this debate): see Harassment Policies Campaign – Timeline of Major Events. IMO, most of it has been debating the debate rather than the issue, and most of it consists of reaction to trolls and bullshit rather than worthwhile disagreement (and I will remind you, most does not mean all).

But I find it boils down to five simple truths: [Read more...]

Rad Thunder

If you don’t know Cristina Rad (ZOMGitsCriss, “Zoh My God, it’s Criss!”) or Phil Mason (Thunderf00t), you should. They’ve just joined Freethought Blogs. But they have huge chops as YouTube vloggers of the first order. You can read all about them at Rational Wiki (Cristina / Phil). And Cristina introduces herself to FtB fans here; and Thunderf00t, here.

I’ve long been impressed by Cristina Rad’s talent editing her videos and speaking on camera. No word is wasted, every point is spot on, and it doesn’t even look like she’s trying. She’s very smart and informed, with a keen sense of humor. Basically, the ideal vlogger. And her relentless take down of religious nonsense is a thing to see (one of my favorites, her take two on the Ten Commandments exemplifies her style and genius). Mainly vlogging from Romania, you’ll get from her a perspective on the world you won’t likely get elsewhere. Even still, I rarely can find time to view vlogs, and for that reason did not know Thunderf00t’s work very well until now (though I had seen and loved this video on William Lane Craig), but all of it is smartly done and rich with scientific fact (and scientific humor). He doesn’t just find creationist gems of stupidity and correct them (which makes for some top entertainment, believe me), he also fights vociferously for free speech online and promotes the beauty of the natural universe, using video as his vehicle for both.

We’ve also recruited several other smart vloggers and bloggers, including Zinnia Jones (introduced here), who does some great analytical vlogging in her own right, defending a reality-based worldview against godist assaults, and educating people on LGBT issues. And the well-known Aron Ra and Ashley Miller have started blogging here, too. Aron has a huge following and critical acclaim as a popularizer of evolution science against creationist lies and foolery (check out his YouTube channel and his intro to FtB), and Ashley writes smartly and well on many legal and cultural topics of interest to the godless (intro here).

Welcome them all, check out their stuff, and enjoy!

This Is Atheist Charity

Want to make history? The biggest explicitly atheist charity fund drive is now underway. And you can help make it world news. What do atheists do to solve problems? Pray? F no. We do this thing called science. But science costs money. And here’s where you and history come in. The Foundation Beyond Belief is aiming to break a world record for explicitly pro-atheist group giving by raising (at least!) a million dollars for cancer research. In particular, we’re seeking to improve treatments for blood cancers and the care of patients. This FBB project is in cooperation with the inclusively secular (meaning not godless, just not godist) Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (which aims to eliminate blood cancers and help its victims), and in particular their Light the Night nationwide charity walk.

If you read nothing else linked from this blog, read the FBB Light the Night page, which explains their goals, what the money will do, and how this will make news (if you help make it happen). In fact, they are aiming not only to break a record for atheist charities, but to break a record for the whole Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The FBB reports that if they succeed, “This would make the FBB team the first team in LLS history to bring in $1,000,000 or more in their first year!” If you prefer to just give money and not actually get out and do stuff, you can just donate now to their online “virtual” team. But they are especially interested in increasing the number of local Light the Night teams formally affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief, and above all, to increase their size.

What do Light the Night Teams Do? [Read more...]

The Dying Messiah Redux

The following article has been revised and corrected, with appreciation to the critiques and analyses of Thom Stark. Revisions may continue so as to perfect the content and make this article of greatest utility. Latest revision: June 29 (2012).

Last year I made the case that the idea of a “dying messiah” was not wholly anathema to Jews and even already imagined by some before Christianity made a lot of hay out of the idea. I made small revisions to that article (The Dying Messiah) to make its claims and evidence clearer. This year, Thom Stark (a seminary graduate) wrote a response (The Death of Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah) and discussion on his blog has continued since (culminating in It Is Finished for Richard Carrier’s Dying Messiah). His analysis has changed my opinions and conclusions on several matters, and identified several errors in my original analysis (now corrected or removed), but does not change the overall thesis. Some of his replies also get wrong what I said or quote me out of context or go off on irrelevant digressions, but I won’t waste words on that. I’ll just cut to the chase and deal with the relevant evidence and argument. [Read more...]

Historicity Course This July

Want to study the best case for and against the historicity of Jesus? Want to pick my brain about that for a whole month? CFI has asked me to teach another online course on that very subject this July (that’s right, just three weeks from now) entitled Did Jesus Exist? Navigating the Debate. You can read about and register for this course at the CFI Institute website. Tuition varies from $30 to $70 depending on your status. You will also need a copy of my book Proving History (so if you don’t already have one you should buy one now or as soon as you register, since Amazon shipping can take a week, unless you pay more for faster delivery). Unfortunately Prometheus still hasn’t come out with any electronic versions of the book yet (that’s still in production apparently). But Amazon is selling the hard cover at a cut rate price (I still get the same royalty so it doesn’t affect me).

In this one-month online course I will help you examine the methods of historians, their relationship to the leading theories about the historical Jesus, and the available evidence both for and against his existence, and teach you how best to evaluate arguments on either side (including how to check facts, spot fallacies, and avoid bad arguments).

Week 1: The methods of historians and how to tell good history from bad.

Week 2: The evidence for the historicity of Jesus and its context and value.

Week 3: The most credible theories of the evidence (supporting historicity and not).

Week 4: The best criticisms and responses to those theories.

I have taught online courses for the CFI Institute before, on Naturalism and the Origins of Christianity. The process is basically this: on your own time you complete the assigned readings each week (which will include not just assignments from the course text but also special materials, such as articles, lectures or videos, provided for free through the online course interface), answer each week’s assignment question in an online forum, and ask any questions you want in that forum by starting new threads there, then we move on to the next week’s topic. Everyone’s behavior is expected to be professional and in the service of learning.

Obviously with only one month, and one week per topic, we won’t be able to get into thorough detail on everything, but you can get a lot of questions answered and learn a lot about how to approach this debate more informedly afterward. I will also be providing students a short precis of the argument I will make in my next book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ (in the third week of the course), which we can discuss the merits of over the last two weeks of the course.

The SSA Is Our Future

The Secular Student Alliance has become the most superb institution for promoting and supporting young atheists, at both the college and now high school level. This is more than just a campus group. The future of atheism rests in their hands, and they are doing more than any other organization on earth to actually increase the number of atheists who are out, active, and organized, while providing them with the informational and logistical support to be out, get organized, and spread the word. They are the money driving the best meme machine in town. I want you to support them. With money. Whether it’s just $10 (you can spot a tenner, surely) or $100. Or $500. Or $50,000 (yes, a single donor has ponied up fifty grand this very day). Oh, and yes, they are a 501(c)(3) charity.

If you aren’t already clicking here to donate and need some persuading (“Why the hell should I give money to the SSA? Who the frack are they?”), please give me a chance to convince you. Here’s why you should do it… [Read more...]

20 Questions

Are there “20 Questions Atheists Struggle to Answer” ? I was asked how I respond to Peter Saunders’ claim that there are, and how I would respond to those questions. According to God’s Advocate, Saunders thinks “there have not been any decent responses to [these twenty questions] in the past 40yrs,” but evidently he isn’t bothering to read any of the best answers available or even to find out what they are. The questions themselves are pretty much boiler plate, and consist mostly of fallacious loaded questions that ignore the established science behind nearly every one. I noticed that my work over the years has answered every one, except a few that are so lame I really can’t believe he thinks they need a better answer than science has already provided (at least with respect to whether atheism is true–I think science can always know or learn more about anything, but at a certain point you know enough to know God is not involved in whatever it is).

So here are my answers to his twenty questions… [Read more...]