Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Was the McGrews' article on the Resurrection Not Even Worth Citing?

Richard Carrier thinks so, calling it "crappy." Rumor has it that Tim and Lydia disagree. I will tell you this much. If I could get Richard Carrier or anyone else to raise their probability for the resurrection from 1% to 10%, I'd consider it an enormous accomplishment.


Blue Devil Knight said...

My hunch is that McGrew is a hell of a lot more intimate with Bayes' theorem than Carrier.

Alex Dalton said...

McGrew will have quite the opportunity to fire back, as Carrier's forthcoming works focus largely on the use of Bayes' Theorem in historical method.

Blue Devil Knight said...

This must be a mis-speak:
"I don’t know any defense of Bayes’ Theorem that is as extensive and as clear as mine that is aimed at non scientists and non specialists. "

Bayes' Theorem is a theorem of probability theory, it doesn't need defense from a historian.

Victor Reppert said...

I believe Tim has worked up a dismantling of Carrier's understanding of Bayes' theorem as part of a powerpoint for one of his classes.

Tim said...

I'm reminded of the character "Ostap Bender" from the Ilf and Petrov novels. Vic and BDK may remember the reference in the first chapter of Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster.

Pass the popcorn? Thanks. Now let's sit back and enjoy the show ...

Blue Devil Knight said...

My worry is he is an instance of what he describes in the interview, paraphrased by Luke:
"You’re saying it’s hard to blame historians for not taking the Jesus myth theory correctly when all they’ve had to read are poorly argued Jesus myth theories."

This business about not being able to find "slots" at a publishing house? Does that not sound a bit deluded? And the rationalization for not going through peer review in serious journals? He comes off as a bit of a crackpot.

Also, anyone that talks about "fans" and "appearances" comes off as a demagogue. That's for rock bands.

One argument against the Jesus-myth view that convinced me about 20 years ago was that the Jews didn't seem to try to say Jesus didn't exist, but to undermine the claims about his resurrection, and his divinity. I hope Carrier addresses that.

Blue Devil Knight said...

(Note my first comment above is ambiguous, but both interpretations are likely true :))

Ben said...


"I believe Tim has worked up a dismantling of Carrier's understanding of Bayes' theorem as part of a powerpoint for one of his classes."

Any chance this is available online or can be in the future?


Ben said...


I see presented from you mainly hunches, worries, suspicions, and slander. You don't see that mathematical theorems in a historical context may need to be fleshed out in historical terms. Perhaps you think you can just hand historians the math and say, "have fun!" You jump to the conclusion that Carrier's a crackpot for "avoiding peer review" even though peer review is part of the process he's advocating. People who have fans and do make appearances in a factual sense that can be referred to would be deluded if they were in denial of it.

In response to the actual issue you bring up that is valid, the pagan critics took many assumptions seriously without challenging them that we may feel quite free to disagree with them about today. Why not basic historicity? Were they all in a position to know better? Do we have all of the earliest criticisms for us to know better?

I'm not a mythicist myself and couldn't defend the entire theory in all its implications, but maybe you should keep your spidey-sense to yourself and just stick to the legitimate questions Carrier is likely going to already be covering? It's a thought. It is too easy to mischaracterize those you disagree with based on superficiality. I think everyone knows that.


Morrison said...

Richard Carrier operates on a double standard, and I think he is really pissed that he does not have an acadmeic job at a real university.

Although he produced several works BEFORE he got his Ph.D., he now acts like anyone who does not have a Ph.D. has no right to publish their views.

Which is ironic, since the book he contributed to with Loftus includes many who do not have Ph.D.'s or not one in a relavant field.

Hence, the double standard.

And his relating all his theorizing back to mathematics as he is trying to do now is preposterous, since he has no academic credentials in Math.

So, given his own standard, he should not be taken seriously in that ares.

Ben said...


I think Carrier answered your objections concerning his math credentials sufficiently over on his blog.


Morrison said...

No, I don't think he did.

Take another look at what he wrote.

He has gone no further than Calculus in Math, which a lot of sophomores on our campus take, and falls back on listing courses he took in HIGH SCHOOL to bolster is "qualifications".

High School! Heck, I have done nearly that much! I guess that means I am an expert too. ROFLMAO!
All he did was emphasize that has no acadmeic qualifications in Math, and that he has no degree of any kind in the field.

And he is big about bragging about degrees.

So, no, he didn't answer the objection, and if you had carefully read what he was claiming, you would know that.

Morrison said...

Take a look at this article by Carrier from a while back, and Scroll down to the picture of the Coast Guard ship, and you will find what he said back then about his qualifications.

This is where he mentions his High School Courses, and some college courses (most of which are NOT Math, and tries to pass off some military training as a qualification.

So, to reiterate, he has no acadmeic qualifications in Math.

But if he can claim a few courses qualify him, I am going to claim a few courses in History and Philosophy qualify me in those fields as well! LOL!


I'm sure it is.

I know DOCTOR Carrier would not want to operate on a double standard.

Blue Devil Knight said...

war on error: bayes' theorem doesn't need defense. That shouldn't be particularly controversial. That would be like him saying he was presenting a defense of the fundamental theorem of calculus. It's not in question, by anyone. It suggests a lack of competence on his part.

As for the other stuff, it wasn't technically ad hominem because I wasn't using it to make an argument (e.g., I never said his conclusions can't be right because he is a demagogue crackpot).

I was basically pointing out that he came off as a demagogue crackpot. That's not ad hominem, just flat-out examination of his demeanor. I never said this was relevant for his conclusions. But it does hurt his overall credibility and chances of people giving him a chance, of reading his stuff in the first place. Hence, my focus on hoping he isn't an instance of what he talked about rather extensively in the interview, jesus-myth theorists who are not taken seriously because they are sloppy scholars.

He does talk up peer review (he's no idiot), but then gives excuses. Listen, I know how hard it is to get through peer review. But I don't make excuses, I need to make my papers better!

Ben said...


What you say could matter if he were not being vetted by mathematicians who could say, "this works" or "he's misrepresenting Bayes' theorem." As he says, he's not applying anything new or original. He's just applying it in context of his actual field of expertise. I'm not really sure I see the same problems that you do.

That being said, I don't really condone the ridiculous tone Hector Avalos and Carrier gave presenting The Christian Delusion book and responding to critics. Their excesses there could be treated as at least somewhat of a double standard. I don't really think they are reaching out to their ideological opponents in any meaningful way. And I'm sure they'd report that they no longer care what professional and lay Christian apologists think about scholarly consensus. It's a cheap escape route to having an argument even if perhaps it is unfair that religious epistemology has some fatal flaws. So, I sympathize.


Ben said...


Bayes' theorem needs "defense" in the sense that presumably most historians find it anathema. For example, Steve Hays from Triablogue, in "This Joyful Eastertide" (in response to Michael Martin's application of Bayes' theorem in "The Empty Tomb") considers it artificial to apply to history. He's not alone. So the "show and tell" that Carrier is dealing with seems quite legit. In an ideological sense you are quite correct. But in a subjective "we're not convinced as historians" sense, you seem quite mistaken.

I can understand your impressions of Carrier as a mythicist and Carrier can as well. Virtually anything that even slightly resembles "crankery" is going to be blown out of proportion. It is an incredible chore to have to defend the line of "oh, but Carrier is different." I honestly think he is different, even if mistaken about mythicism, and it makes sense to me why he sets off the smoke alarms of both Christians and secular historians. So if your impressions remain intact, I'm not totally surprised. But Carrier does appear to be taking the proper responsible course, given the possibility that mythicism might have a case for it if that hypothesis of his behavior is evaluated dispassionately.


Ben said...


Wow, I totally got your abbreviation wrong. Apologies.


Morrison said...

By the way, WOE, I pretty much agree with a lot of what you say, its just that Carrier irritates me they way he plays both sides of the fence when it suite him.

I note that he calls himself a Natural the end of this semester will have completed, in total, four Philosophy courses.

So, at the end of this semester, can I legitimately call myself a philosopher? chuckle

Tim said...

Since it looks like several people are interested in the question, may I suggest that you all go here:

and download Richard's lecture notes on Bayes's Theorem -- the notes he's used for public presentations, in which he tries to explain Bayes's Theorem and then tries to apply it to some instances of historical reasoning.

When you've downloaded it to your own computer, where it can't disappear into the ether or be mysteriously modified, come back here and indicate that you've got your copy on hand.

Then we'll have some fun.

Duke of Earl said...


Bayes' theorem is a very useful tool, when we have knowledge of actual probabilities.

However history deals often with one off events like Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. How do we assign a probability to that?

Do we have witnesses? If I recall correctly we only have Caesar's own testimony. Not exactly an unbiased record.

We have, in non-Christian sources, about the same number of references to Tiberius as we do to Jesus. Should we now be discussing the Tiberius-myth, and constructing arguments showing that Tiberius was actually based on various other rulers?

I think I would be laughed out of any history faculty if I suggested that. Why should Carrier get a free pass trying to promote the Jesus-myth?

Ben said...


I don't see where Carrier is asking for a "free pass." As for your concern about addressing unknowns, Carrier addresses that point over and over again in interviews on the topic. The problem is there regardless of whether it is directly assigned a range of probabilities. "Normal" history doesn't sidestep the problem by ignoring it. Bayes theorem merely puts our ignorance on the matter in harsh light.


Blue Devil Knight said...

WoE: OK if his point is to defend using Bayes' Theorem in historical research, that is more resonable (for all I know, given my knowledge of how historians work).

Duke of Earl said...

Tim, I have a copy.

Looking through it I see examples of strawmen (Christians rejecting miracles that validate other religious traditions) and his observations on the criteria used for historical assessment.

He doesn't explain why Attis castrating himself is supposed to be as shameful as crucifixion to a Jew, if I recall correctly a cult of the day did castrate themselves, not many went in for crucifixion.

Some of the derision directed at him previously in this thread seems entirely justified.

Duke of Earl said...

Okay, Carrier, attempting to invalidate the criteria of dissimilarity claims that because Jews also addressed God as "Father" we do not have a dissimilar saying.

As I understand it, the specific word Jesus used was "Abba." As a word (while still respectful, no "Daddy" here) it was an intimate word that was not used by Jews.

We still have a criteria of dissimilarity.

Who's next?

Mr Veale said...

Carrier is atheisms answer to Answers-in-Genesis.

I'm not usually that blunt about writers. But I'm still furious after reading his piece on axioms for historical study.

Duke of Earl said...

I'd have been more inclined to call him atheism's answer to Josh McDowell.

Edwardtbabinski said...


In genetics you can study definite genes and work on chi square formula and probabilities. And you can even compared genomes across closely related species for specific genes and gene segments and their locations in related genomes.

So I understand how math and evolutionary biology overlap.

But how exactly does math and history overlap?

Is there some universally recognized "DNA structure" shared by all historic events that one can compare? The theory of "memes" compared with say "genes" is far less exact and controversial. So there is no genetic code to history, no universally recognized structure to all historical events that one may compare mathematically.

And the study of psychology and comparative religion demonstrate a broad range of experiences people have from "after death visions" to "auditory hallucinations," to stories of miracles.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Do resurrection apologists discuss the milieu of thought back then? The rise of apocalyptic hopes, dreams of salvific Messiahs, and the prevalence of miraculous tales in general? I can't help but think of how crazy it was at that time for any nation to go up against Rome. It appears that the rise of intertestamental apocalyptic literature like Daniel, and older stories in the O.T. about God saving the Jewish people, led to a sort of frustration, anger, and finally religious first century madness.

Josephus says tens of thousands tried following some Egyptian outside Jerusalem and the Egyptian thought God was going to make the walls of Jerusalem fall down, presumably on the Jews that did not follow him and on the Roman occupiers still inside the city.

The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, writing more than a generation before Jesus believed that within a generation the Jews of the world would return to Jerusalem, train for battle and wage war against the rest of the world in a final battle called the battle between the sons of light and sons of darkness.

Crazy times breed crazy stories, hyperbole, embellishments. Have resurrection apologists seriously considered such a milieu, i.e., when ATTEMPTING TO ARGUE VIA MATHEMATICS how "rock solid" the thinking and storytelling of religious believers was at that time and that place?

The Jesus story has to begin being told before Jesus, before the Baptist, even before the Dead Sea Scroll writers, it has to begin with the rise of apocalpytic in intertestamental times, the Maccabean revolt against the Greek rulers of Palestine. And the craziness extended after the Greeks were overthrown, and Romans took over the land, with increasing agitation, not just the skirmishes leading up to the 70 AD war against Rome, but even a second revolt against Rome a century or so later, and the institution briefly of a Messiah King in Israel in the 2nd century.

See also




There are more questions than resurrection apologists seems to be capable of even recognizing.

And one need not provide reasons for every rumor or legend that got put into the Christ story (the story itself was written in Greek, outside Palestine, and there is prima facie evidence of literary dependence from Mark onward, one writer copying and changing the tale over time, not independent Gospel witnesses). Nor is there a need to supply reasons for every "appearance" story. One need only note the prima facie evidence for legendary additions, subtractions, edits, over time.

Do resurrection apologists imagine such stories are the best evidence an infinite God could or would provide if that God really thought people must believe in certain things. . . or else?

Duke of Earl said...

Note the hurling of elephants.

Duke of Earl said...

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; 35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. Acts 8:34-39

How many following Theudas today? Approximately zero.

How many following Judas today? Approximately zero.

How many following the Egyptian today? Approximately zero.

How many following Jesus today? Approximately two billion.

Relevancy your honour.