Want to Literally Wear Bayes’ Theorem?

Picture of the Bayesian SurlyRamic: shows Bayes' Theorem, graphically arranged in an attractive way, black text in haly of white on black ceramic circle.Surly Amy has kindly met my request to create a SurlyRamic of Bayes’ Theorem. I designed the graphic for her, and she has made the product. You can check it out here, and buy one if you are keen. In the interests of art (to make it look elegant and not a busy mess), I took two liberties: I didn’t put the two expressions in the denominator inside brackets, but just stacked them on either side of a plus sign to indicate that (obviously) the multiplications have to be completed before the addition. I also left out the variable b for background knowledge, though that is commonly done even by mathematicians. You should understand that it’s present in every single term (see my Bayesian Calculator for an explanation of this and the rest of the equation). For example, P(h|e) represents P(h|e & b) and P(h) represents P(h|b), and so on.

Now we can totally geek out the Bayesians.

Strange Notions: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

The Catholic website Strange Notions asked me to write two brief articles on why questioning the historicity of Jesus is more plausible than commonly assumed. I was asked to respond to two earlier challenges to that thesis on their site, written from the perspective of Catholic apologetics: Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach by Jimmy Akin and Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed by Trent Horn.

My first article, responding to Akin, is Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. My second, responding to Horn, is Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins. Together these have accumulated almost two hundred comments, often long and thoughtful, which sadly I haven’t the time to read through. (If anyone has the gumption to do it and would like to summarize the whole thread and/or report to me which comments might be worth my attention or blogging a reply, feel free to post anything like that in comments here.)

Akin then replied to me in Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier. And then Horn replied in Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier. Here I shall respond to those… [Read more...]

Is Attacking Rape Apologetics Rape Apologetics?

It’s strange to see even atheists convert hyperbole into fact in the span of just hours or days. That’s supposed to be what religious people do. When I wrote an article attacking rape apologetics in the discussion of the allegations against Michael Shermer, I was accused of engaging in rape apologetics (examples cataloged here, here, here, and here). But only by making false claims about what I wrote in my article.

This has started now to become lore. In comments on Stephanie Zvan’s recent article on the BlockBot I was weirdly even accused of “victim blaming” in an article against victim blaming that actually defends victims from being unfairly blamed (lest this not be believed, I will document the actual contents of my article below), and a scenario I explicitly described as reprehensible and as victimization and worthy of condemnation, one commenter said I described as “kinda cool” and “what a rapist would like to believe,” which is the exact opposite of the actual facts in the case, yet this version of events is then endorsed by another commenter. Meanwhile, in comments on the same article described as “what a rapist would like to believe,” I had to debate actual rape apologists (or at least folks who didn’t know that’s what they were doing). Which in context is surreal.

It’s unclear how the myth arose that something I condemned I called “kinda cool.” And perhaps the lore varies from person to person. But throughout, from what I’ve read, I have found there are some failures of fact and reasoning to address. [Read more...]

Learn Philosophy from a Philosopher / Then Cure Cancer

Two big things going on this week:

(1) Learn philosophy from a philosopher. Our own emeritus adjunct professor of philosophy, Daniel Fincke (Ph.D.), is offering courses online in philosophy to anyone who is keen. Details here. You can even make requests to him of what course subjects you’d pay to be taught in. His rate is $16/hour for a 40 hour commitment, and you’ll be part of an interactive online class, taught by an expert professional.

You can still get in on his ongoing evening Ethics course (he is doing a catch-up session for new enrollees tomorrow), or get in on a new run of that course in October or December (mornings, all Eastern Time), or catch his Nietzsche course which starts this Thursday (a must do if you want to know the real deal about Nietzsche, from an actual expert on Nietzsche, instead of naively all the pop nonsense claimed about him), or this Friday start his course on Philosophy for Atheists (that’s right!). He also will offer a history of philosophy course (Enlightenment to Present) in October. For a testimonial to how useful and rewarding these courses are, and for more complete course descriptions and how to sign up, see the latter half of Fincke’s blog post here.

(2) Then go help us cure blood cancers. And make weird things happen. FreethoughtBlogs has a Light the Night Team affiliated with the Foundation Beyond Belief and we’re aiming to raise ten thousand dollars for blood cancer research. We’re in friendly competition with Skepchicks, who are doing the same. I blogged about this charity effort before (see here, here, and here), it’s becoming a major vehicle for getting attention to the fact that atheists actually support secular charities that make a difference. You can donate to the FtB team here.

Our own Greta Christina is an honored hero this year (surviving cancer and working to garner support for research) and she’s submitted to some forfeits and dares if you donate to the FtB team under her name (see My Light the Night Walk Forfeits and Dares for all the details). Our own PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, and Avicenna have done the same (check out those links), but Greta’s are the most amusing.

For more details see: Skepchick Forms “Light the Night Walk” Online Team — The Race Is On!

I’m Auctioning a Piece of My History at Sacramento’s Freethought Day Festival!

This October 12 (Saturday 2013) I’ll be at the ever-growing and amazing Sacramento Freethought Day at William Land Park. I will also be attending the donor’s reception the night before. And doing a panel. And the day of the festival they’ll be auctioning off a piece of unusual Richard Carrier memorabilia.

Here are the details… [Read more...]

The Moral Truth Debate: Babinski & Shook

I’ve been sent two links of responses to my article last week, “What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?” Technically they are responses to Harris. But insofar as I am defending the same core thesis, and the links were sent to me, and both are by authors whose opinions I respect (even if I don’t always agree with them), they warrant a response here. These responses I think should be read by everyone, since they are common mistakes and misunderstandings, and my responses will clarify things you might need clarified…especially in the closing epilogue of this post.

First of the replies is Ed Babinski, who posted his own entry for the Harris contest on Facebook. Second is John Shook, who posted a reply on his blog at CFI.

In both cases, I must first reiterate the whole gist of my article:

One reason Harris is not the best one to use as your straw man in this debate is that doing that is lazy. It allows talking past each other far too easily. To avoid that I created a formal deductive proof of his core thesis (all the way back in 2011…and that was in development well before that, even before I read his book or even knew he was writing it–which means it is only a proof of “his thesis” in retrospect, since I had been developing the same thesis independently since 2004). What I asked people to do is find a logical invalidity or a non-demonstrable premise in my syllogism. Because that will prevent vagueries and misunderstandings and get right to the heart of who is correct. To do that, I told everyone to read my chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist” in The End of Christianity (indeed I said in last week’s article, quote, “the syllogisms you have to prove invalid or unsound are on pp. 359-64″). Hereafter I shall refer to that as TEC.

To keep avoiding this is to just lazily act like armchair problem solvers who can’t be bothered to actually look up the best version of the argument they are criticizing. Stop that. No more straw man fallacies. Address the best and most rigorous form of the argument. And do it correctly, i.e., actually identify an actual fallacy in those syllogisms or identify a premise in them that is false (or which you can prove we do not know is true).

Apart from simply not doing that (which is the biggest flaw in these replies, reducing them both to a classic straw man fallacy), here is also what’s wrong with the Babinski and Shook rebuttals… [Read more...]

I’ll Be at the Atheist Film Festival This Weekend

I believe there are still tickets available for attending this Friday’s director’s party as well (which I will also be attending, among other folk many might like to meet or chat with). All the details here. The festival itself will be all this Saturday. I’ll be hanging out for most of it. I’ll probably head home after the premiere of Hug an Atheist, which I donated a small amount to fund and have been looking forward to for some time. If you bring any books you want me to sign while I’m there, I’ll be happy to oblige.

Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Greece, Rome, China

Something unusual for today. Rummaging through my old papers it returned to my attention that I had never published my senior thesis. So I have put it on my website and am making it available: Richard Carrier, “Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Heroes and Ghosts in Virgil, Homer, and Tso Ch’iu-ming,” Senior Honors Thesis UCB (1997; rev. ed. 2004). For the entry at my publications page at Academia.edu I wrote this description:

Compares the language, depictions, and explanations relating to ghosts (as souls of the dead) in ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese classics and finds connections between them and those cultures’ respective understandings of the ideal hero.

[BTW, anyone not already aware of my Academia.edu page might want to bookmark it, as it has become my main collection of entries for my more formal work online and in print; although just print publications I keep updated on my cv and publications list, which is the same list but without the rest of the cv. And all new publications I always announce, of course, here on my blog.]

In the paper itself, I explain the text now online with this leading remark:

The following essay was my senior honors thesis at UC Berkeley for the awarding of the Bachelor’s degree in History (minor in Classical Civilizations). It was originally written in 1997. In 2004 I reorganized and numbered its sections, updated its references, revised some sentences, and added some paragraphs, all with the intent to consider publication, but decided I was no longer confident in its core thesis. There are interesting insights and information here, but ultimately the evidence of afterlife beliefs and heroic ideals in ancient Greece, Rome, and China is a little more complicated than this. I am publishing it now only for the sake of what utility and interest in may have. But I no longer fully endorse all of its conclusions, and its treatment of the evidence is not adequately broad to be considered thorough. It’s quite good as an undergraduate thesis. It probably won me my doctoral fellowship. But it meets only minimum standards for graduate level work. — Richard Carrier, Ph.D.

To give you an idea of what’s in it, I will produce here a table of contents and some excerpts: [Read more...]

What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?

Sam Harris has a contest on. “Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less.” The best essay (as judged by Harris opponent and atheist philosopher Russell Blackford) will win $2,000 (and be published on Harris’s personal website). “You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.” If any such essay actually changes Sam Harris’s mind, they will win not just $2,000 but $20,000 (and Harris will publicly recant his view).

Ophelia Benson has been critical of this contest (see A Losing Lottery Ticket, Sam Has to Presume a Great Big Ought, and a guest post from a commenter Why the Is/Ought Problem Matters). His own contest page (The Moral Landscape Challenge) has an important FAQ (a must read for any contenders). I actually am behind Harris’s program (I think his core thesis is correct, and I think Benson is wrong to say it is not), but I am not very impressed with Harris’s ability to defend or articulate it.

I had even greater problems with Michael Shermer’s attempt to defend the same core thesis Harris does, and I have commented before on how he was simply destroyed by his opponent, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, even though I think Pigliucci is ultimately wrong and Shermer ultimately right (see Shermer vs. Pigliucci on Moral Science). I expect Harris will get similarly pwned. And that’s sad. Because it hurts their cause. They just aren’t the best defenders of this idea. And they should admit that and stop trying to be lone wolfs and look for and work with expert collaborators. There are several real, even renowned, philosophers who have been defending the same core thesis for years. Harris did not come up with anything fundamentally new here, and they have far more skill and experience dealing with the rigorous philosophical requirements of this debate.

Below I will explain what is wrong with Harris’s contest so far (and why it is not what Benson is concerned about); why what Benson has been saying is incorrect (and misses the point of Harris’ actual core thesis); and how (again) science can actually take over moral philosophy the same way it has done the theory of life (in the science of biology) and the universe (in the sciences of physics, astrophysics, and cosmology) and man and society (in the sciences of anthropology and sociology) and of mind (in psychology, neurophysiology, and cognitive science). [Read more...]

Essential Viewing on Godless Cosmology

Image capture from Before the Big Bang – Loop Quantum Cosmology Explained, showing host (a woman) and physicist Ivan Aguillo laughing together before a chalk board full of equations, some of which Aguillo explains in the video.There is a video every atheist must see, who ever wants to think about or debate the origin of the known universe (with a theist or even a fellow atheist). It is a superb video. It is the kind of video we need more of. What is so great about it? Some atheists went to some actual scientists (actual cosmologists and theoretical physicists) and asked them about the claims made by Christian apologists like William Lane Craig. And asked follow-up questions. And recorded what they said. And edited it together with useful commentary. Imagine this being done for origin of life studies or any other question where theists love to abuse the science (but doesn’t get the same coverage as evolution). Or claims theists make about cosmological science that didn’t get covered in this video.

The video I’m talking about is by the SkyDivePhil video team (an awesome couple who do a lot of great stuff on science awareness through their YouTube channel). The specific video in question is Before the Big Bang – Loop Quantum Cosmology Explained. It’s great for a number of reasons. For one, it gives a nice explanation of what quantum loop gravity theory is and has to contribute to superstring theory and how they came to differ, and then ties this all into current debates in cosmology, in particular the origin of the known universe, in even more particular what caused the Big Bang.

You can see why theists would be nervous at this point. And why atheists might be especially keen to check this out. I know there are lots of videos about the Big Bang and cosmological arguments. But this one is a league above them all. Because it distills the right points, from real experts, in a well-organized way that will leave most smart layfolk with a much better idea of why theists are wrong about Big Bang cosmology and how the likes of William Lane Craig are conning people with their selective distortions of it. Some of the discussion might be easier to understand for at least college graduates and autodidacts, but I think anyone with smarts can grasp the main points, and brush up on anything they don’t quite get with some judicious googling.

Either way, this should be anyone’s first-stop in that quest to understand current Big Bang theory. And everyone who wants to be able to speak informedly on this issue (such as to debate it) definitely must know at the very least what’s said here. So you should all give it a view. It’s 44 minutes, so find a nice pleasant time to just sit down and watch it. You’ll come away with a better grasp of how to articulate the points made in it, and make use of that to thwart Christian apologetics, as well as just understand how we (as intelligent life) got here, better than you did before. The triumph of atheism is reflected in the incredible strides of success science has made in answering that question…without having to posit a god to explain anything.

Below I’ll say more about it, why the video is worth watching, and what other resources you can tap to make the most use of it–and show to Christians why they are just wrong about godless cosmology… [Read more...]