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Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in Atheism, Epistemology, Featured, Jesus, Skepticism | 42 comments

Me and Koresh vs the Gospel Writers and Jesus

Christian:
Why is it more probable that your god exists than man made him up?

We have an exceptionally high prior probability that your god is false given that we both believe that every other god claimed to be true (before and after) is false. Thus, on prior probability, the JC God is HIGHLY unlikely to exist. How does the Christian overcome this? They have to provide high CONSEQUENT probability. ie Evidence. But this is poor. Let’s take the four Gospels, written by unknown people at unknown dates in unknown places with ex post facto agendas to evangelise, at least 40 years after the person they are writing about and whom they have never met, has died.David Koresh.jpg

Let us analogise. I really get into David Koresh. I dig him. I come to believe NOW (actually, in another 20 years plus, to be accurate), whilst in another country, that David Koresh was the living Messiah. But, remember, I have no telephone or internet, car or public transport, to research this etc. Now, after being converted, coming to already claim that this guy is the Messiah, I THEN write a ‘history’ or account of this guy and his Messiahship. Remember, I have never met him, and there is no way of knowing (and it is unlikely, given my geography) whether have met any of his disciples. I call myself an evangelist, one whose job it is to convince other people using persuasive techniques, of the Messiahship of Koresh.

Would you think this is a reliable account of David Koresh? Should MY account be trusted?

 Not on your nelly, sunshine!

Taking just one little portion of the accounts: Matthew 27. Dead and resurrected Saints appear, parading around Jerusalem for many to see. Except no one else in the world apart from Matthew, writing int he context stated above, makes note of this. No Jew ever mentions what would have been, for them, the greatest thing ever seen.

Or take the idea that the nativity accounts (a point I bring up in my nativity book available from the sidebar) stake claims on the ‘facts’ of Jesus’ birth. They are pretty much the only cross-referencable claims in the NT. Matthew and Luke fail on every claim. They are empirically wrong. So given the basis that the first claims in two of the Gospels are empirically false, and these are the only ones which are verifiable, on what basis do we have the right to believe the rest of the Gospel claims, which are not verifiable? Wedding at Cana? Who was there? How do we know? etc. These are miracle claims which happen in rather unverifiable, nebulous contexts. And yet people are happy to drop the Nativity when it gets into difficulty and believe these nebulous claims?

Of the Gospel accounts, we should be thoroughly skeptical.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    I’m not a Christian anymore (obviously) but I would imagine that a Christian could object that they do not actually admit that every other god is wholly false, but rather that they get many of the details wrong about what god is or does. For example, many cultures have more than three (or less than three) independent manifestations of the godhead, whereas trinitarian Christianity claims that the correct number is exactly three. Many cultures have some sort of divine cosmogony, and while the details differ wildly from the Christian account, their god concept does generally put some number of gods in the driver’s seat at the start of the universe.

    To make an analogy to something that everyone agrees does exist, we could look at all the various defective theories of light prior to Newton and his successors. Just because they didn’t get that light is quantized, finite in speed, composed of various wavelengths, etc. does not mean that there was not an actual phenomenon that was being variously and often badly described by countless theorists.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I think pretty much all religions are mutually exclusive, otherwise God is involved in some major deception, or omitting to rectify incorrect truths. Unless you are some kind of universalist or post modernist…

      • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

        They are mutually exclusive, of course, if you take all the propositions expressed by each religion as a set, and compare each set of propositions as a whole to the next set of propositions.

        Imagine two sects, Alphaists and Betaists. The Alpha sect believes that:

        1) An all-powerful mind created the universe
        2) The all-powerful mind arranged for his offspring, a demigod, to be born and live among humans as an itinerant prophet.
        3a) This arrangement involved mysteriously and dispassionately impregnating a virgin.

        The Beta sect believes all the same things as the Alpha sect, except that they believe a variant version of the third statement:

        3b) This arrangement involved incarnately and enjoyably impregnating a virgin, who was no longer a virgin thereafter.

        Now each sect calls the other heretical and surely the two religions are mutually exclusive, but it is unclear to me how their exclusivity could be used to create an inductive argument against the premises upon which the two sects are agreed.

        My question, I suppose, is whether “all religions are mutually exclusive” to such a degree that we do not find some core metaphysical affirmations or commitments at the root of most or perhaps all of them.

        • Daydreamer1

          As you say, theories of light had commonalities that were wrong, while the phenomena (noumena really) of light still existed.

          Yet the phenomena, and the noumena, of God is what we are trying to decide.

          Hume dismantled the argument for intelligent design that we could divine ID in something we did not know was designed. If you are trying to test whether something is designed you cannot just assume it is then conclude it is because you assumed it is. Whether there is a God is what we are trying to decide. Those most assuming that there is cannot just look at each other and nod, ignore the bits they don’t agree on, and then conclude that because they assume there is that there probably is.

          This is just the ID argument in another form.

          • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

            I’m not trying to decide whether God is real, so much as decide whether it makes sense to say, as JP does, that the a priori probability that at least one god exists is low because most of the various (usually intricately detailed) theological God hypotheses are mutually exclusive.

            p.s. Not at all sure how we got on to the topic of ID.

          • Daydreamer1

            Hi Damion,
            Sorry, I did understand that. Guess my reply should have made it clear that that is how I would approach the question – not approach how you were relating to it.
            The God hypothesis contain many points that are mutually exclusive. With scientific hypothesis that makes them more interesting, but with theology we see live and let live, rather than actual engagement, because that is all they have. They cannot decide between their own ideas – just make them.
            So what remains to the theologian when confronted with this issue? As you say, they are likely to fall back on the commonalities, rather than differences, and attempt to use that constructively (since they are searching for constructive defences to the point about mutual exclusivity). So, with just a breath or movement of a pen, we have the assertion that the commonality is actually more important than the mutual exclusivity. Why? Because it is evidence that in our base nature we have some sort of knowledge of God. This is the same as the popular usage of ‘them atheists are just denying what they know to be true’.
            Breaking down the argument though we see it is the of the same type as ID. It isn’t ID itself, but just the same type of circular logic that was pulled apart by Hume, who did it using ID as his example, and hence the reference to ID. If that makes sense – it did to me at the time ;)
            For me, it isn’t that at least one God hypothesis is low because of mutual exclusivities only. It is that the commonalities have other explanations and are asserted using circular logic. That combined with mutual exclusivity means not just any one has a low a priori probability, but that the assertion of any God, compared to the scientific explanations of the other reasons we create Gods ideas, means that the whole idea has a very low a priori probability.

  • Seth R. Massine

    In the latter stages of my Christianity, I actually believed that some evil force (I.E, Satan) had corrupted the bible; shattering it into many distorted “truth nuggets”. Clearly a sad attempt to reconcile all of the contradictions and “eye witness” accounts. Truly amazing what lengths an individual will stoop to in order to maintain a delusion that brings comfort and a sense of community.

  • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

    Why is it more probable that your god exists than man made him up?

    Natural theology indicates there is one God. As someone partial to Thomistic proofs for God’s existence, this rules out atheism, agnosticism, deism, pantheism, and polytheism. The options remaining (as far as I can tell) are generic monotheism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism.

    My study of the Old Testament and New Testament lead me to believe the prophets were inspired by God. My study of NT history leads me to believe Jesus rose from the dead. Note this does not commit me to inerrancy. My study of the Koran leads me to believe it is not divine revelation. It states that it confirms the Torah and Gospel while contradicting them (among other issues). The Book of Mormon is historically inaccurate (e.g., Old World animals in the New World in pre-Columbian times) and thus is not likely to be an accurate account of God’s workings. So I choose Christianity on the basis of the evidence.

    And even if Christianity is wrong it is unlikely that it was “made up”. The willingness to undergo persecution by the first Christians indicates sincerity if nothing else.

    We have an exceptionally high prior probability that your god is false given that we both believe that every other god claimed to be true (before and after) is false.

    That depends on the background knowledge you include in your estimates. And atheism is in the same boat. There is an exceptionally high prior probability that atheism is false. And evidence for atheism is much worse than the evidence for some deity existing.

    Let’s take the four Gospels, written by unknown people at unknown dates in unknown places with ex post facto agendas to evangelise, at least 40 years after the person they are writing about and whom they have never met, has died.

    The original manuscripts would have to be identified in some way when they were placed in a collection of other writings so that a potential reader could identify the writing without opening the scroll. The Gospels are anonymous in the sense that a name does not appear in the text proper. However, the manuscript evidence is unanimous that the name Matthew was always attached to what we know as the Gospel of Matthew, that the name Mark was always attached to what we know as the Gospel of Mark, that the name Luke was always attached to what we know as the Gospel of Luke, and that the name John was always attached to what we know as the Gospel of John. The patristic writings provide evidence for traditional authorship.

    While the exact date each Gospel was written is not certain, we know all of them were written within living memory of the events they describe. The fact that the evangelists had an agenda tells us nothing about their accuracy. Traditionally, all four evangelists were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitnesses.

    Remember, I have never met him, and there is no way of knowing (and it is unlikely, given my geography) whether have met any of his disciples.

    As noted above, we do have evidence that the Gospel writers were eyewitnesses or were in contact with eyewitnesses. And Christians did move around more freely than your quote implies. Also, your analogy should include more than one author writing about Koresh to be more analogous to the early Christian writings.

    Except no one else in the world apart from Matthew, writing int he context stated above, makes note of this. No Jew ever mentions what would have been, for them, the greatest thing ever seen.

    Accepting your interpretation of Matt. 27, I don’t think we’d expect just anybody in the world to mention such a thing. And Josephus is the only extant non-Christian source writing at length about Israel in the time of Christ.

    They [the nativity accounts] are pretty much the only cross-referencable claims in the NT.

    Really? What do you mean by cross-refrenceable?

    And yet people are happy to drop the Nativity when it gets into difficulty and believe these nebulous claims?

    Considering the genre of the Gospels (Greco-Roman biographies), the relatively private nature of the nativity (compared to the public ministry), and the time difference between the nativity and the public ministry, it is not irrational to be more skeptical of events from the nativity than events in the public ministry (even if you accept events from both).

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Ack, screwed up the formatting on this post. Sorted now. Thanks for popping by Jayman – long time no hear. Will respond to your points tomorrow.

    • kraut2

      “And even if Christianity is wrong it is unlikely that it was “made up”.
      The willingness to undergo persecution by the first Christians indicates
      sincerity if nothing else.”

      An exceptionally bad argument considering that the willingness to undergo persecution is/was present in those whose religion you deem to be “not divine revelation”, secular communists (think Rosa Luxemburg), and others who died for believes you do not accept.

      “There is an exceptionally high prior probability that atheism is false. And evidence for atheism is much worse than the evidence for some deity existing.”

      What is your assessment of that probability based upon? Gut feeling? Bayesian analysis? (Based on the equally weak evidence for all religions the probability – non Bayesian – for christianity to be true is about 1/xn)
      Atheism does not need evidence – atheism is waiting for evidence that stands up to scrutiny to be shown.

      It is always the same misunderstanding – atheism is the null hypothesis, your claim to the existence of any divinity has to supported by other than the writings of a tribe that scribbled together its (now proven false) history, its justification for its existence by claiming to be “special”, by further claiming the necessity of a god correcting his mistakes (keep in mind an omniscient god that is also eternal and omnipotent – what logic supports all of those claims I haven’t found yet) by sacrificing a son that did not exist in the previous version of the story, including a holy ghost.

      I do not have to proof anything, I do not need to show you evidence that god does not exist (remember the frigging basics – it is almost impossible to prove a negative) – atheism – I just might point out that NO evidence that so called theology provides has been convincing – not by any and all religions.

      Your claim as to the falsifiability of all others are also applying to your favourite religion. Historicity, “divinity” of revelation (anybody could claim that, and why not Koresh – he died for his beliefs and others with him).

      I think Carrier roundly puts all your claims into its appropriate shoe box of nonsense better than I could ever hope to do, simply because overall I am rather disinterested in theological questions that amount to not much more than gazing at your exposed dick.

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        An exceptionally bad argument considering that the willingness to undergo persecution is/was present in those whose religion you deem to be “not divine revelation”, secular communists (think Rosa Luxemburg), and others who died for believes you do not accept.

        You misunderstand my argument. My argument is not that the willingness of the apostles to undergo persecution means Christianity is true. My argument is that the willingness of the apostles to undergo persecution is evidence that the apostles were sincere. In general, I do not doubt the sincerity of the founders of other religions or ideologies. The suggestion that religion was just “made up” on a whim is ahistorical nonsense, especially when directed at Christianity.

        What is your assessment of that probability based upon? Gut feeling? Bayesian analysis? (Based on the equally weak evidence for all religions the probability – non Bayesian – for christianity to be true is about 1/xn)

        If N is the number of beliefs about God (which would include atheism) then the prior probability of atheism being true is 1/N, the very same prior probability that Christianity is true.

        Atheism does not need evidence – atheism is waiting for evidence that stands up to scrutiny to be shown.

        If the prior probability of atheism is 1/N then it does need evidence to achieve a posterior probability of greater than 0.5. If, for example, the prior probability of atheism is 0.01 and there is no evidence for atheism then it would be irrational to be an atheist.

        It is always the same misunderstanding – atheism is the null hypothesis

        Based on the above probability, agnosticism would have to be the initial position. The “misunderstanding” occurs because I don’t accept atheism as an hypothesis.

        your claim to the existence of any divinity has to supported by other than the writings of a tribe

        Note I started with natural theology. Atheism is removed from consideration before we even get to evaluating the Bible.

        by further claiming the necessity of a god correcting his mistakes (keep in mind an omniscient god that is also eternal and omnipotent – what logic supports all of those claims I haven’t found yet) by sacrificing a son that did not exist in the previous version of the story, including a holy ghost.

        The crucifixion is not God correcting his own mistake. And, as even the atheist Richard Carrier admits, the death of the anointed one is prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27. What Carrier doesn’t recognize is how that prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The 69 “weeks” (483 years) between the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of the anointed one corresponds to the time between the decree of Artaxerxes I (458/7 BC) and the baptism of Christ (AD 26). The anointed one being “cut off” corresponds to Christ’s death in AD 30. Daniel also prophesies that the city and the sanctuary of the Jews would be destroyed. This was fulfilled when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Does the “null hypothesis” of atheism predict such things?

        Your claim as to the falsifiability of all others are also applying to your favourite religion.

        The nature of the inspiration for the Koran is different than the nature of the inspiration for the Bible. I don’t need to hold to inerrancy to the same extant a Muslim does. And the positive evidence for the historicity of the NT is superior to that of the Book of Mormon.

        I think Carrier roundly puts all your claims into its appropriate shoe box of nonsense better than I could ever hope to do, simply because overall I am rather disinterested in theological questions that amount to not much more than gazing at your exposed dick.

        And yet you were interested enough to write this comment. A good day to you too sir.

        • kraut2

          “If the prior probability of atheism is 1/N”
          do you not ealize how ridiculous you are? Since there is only one atheism vs. several theist hypothesis (n = around 5×10^3) the prior probability of atheism is 1 and not 1/n – according to your math.

          The probability of any religion being true is 1/ 5×10^3.

          “The “misunderstanding” occurs because I don’t accept atheism as an hypothesis.”

          your grasp of any understanding of scientific process as demonstrated by your understanding to the 0 hypothesis precludes any further discussion.
          they say the law is an ass….

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            It was not just made up, the religion was likely a political instrument to unite the population of a region that had undergone severe changes from city kingdoms that were overthrown as archeology now seems to find out.

            This is supposed to apply to Christianity? Can you point to any early Christian documents that support this view?

            no, atheism is not a belief in any god it is also not a belief in no god. It is absence of belief, the proof is not on us, we do not claim that any particular god is not true…

            My main point is that the prior probability of atheism plus the prior probability of not-atheism must equal one: P(A|b) + P(~A|b) = 1.

            No, it is 1/(1 /5×10^3)

            = 1 / (1 / 5000)
            = 1 / 0.0002
            = 5000

            How is this consistent with my previous point?

            There is no justification to accept those stories as anything but that – stories.

            I just provided you with a reason with the prophecy from Daniel 9:24-27. You conveniently omitted that from your response.

            your grasp of any understanding of scientific process as demonstrated by your understanding to the 0 hypothesis precludes any further discussion.

            We’re in a philosophical and metaphysical discussion. You need to provide philosophical justification for taking atheism to be the default position.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Due to their being a number of big points, let me concentrate on just a couple:

      Natural theology indicates there is one God. As someone partial to Thomistic proofs for God’s existence, this rules out atheism, agnosticism, deism, pantheism, and polytheism. The options remaining (as far as I can tell) are generic monotheism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism.

      Does Natural Theology indicate that that God must be a holy trinity? If God is necessary, it must follow that the Trinity is necessary. That God, not having created anything, has a physically incarnate aspect which is necessarily existent is problematic. Now, the Trinity is all-over incoherent, a whole world of “eh?”.

      I have seen people try to claim that a 3 in 1 God is better than just one, and it is always hilariously ad hoc. What one has to do is post hoc rationalise something which has developed by anthropomorphic evolution. After realising that God must include Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and trying to make sense of that in light of the OT (itself hilarious, especially when we see other such examples, like the soul suddenly being invented after Jews saw themselves being so badly treated in the Seleucid Empire by the Helenic rulers such that to justify bad things happening to the good chosen people, they steal the idea off the Greeks – evolution of ideas in human terms) – we see this Trinity idea being shoehorned into Scripture and theology.

      To an outsider like myself, it seems obvious that these ideas were made up. Not so much a person sitting down one day at his desk and saying “I am going to make up a crazy religion today”, but a process of theological add-ons which get embedded into pseudo-historical claims.

      On probability, as Loftus sets out really well in his chapter on Christianity being wildly improbable, in the End of Christianity, of all of the major religions, Christianity is the most improbable given the layers of extraordinary claims. But, as mentioned, the level of evidence is exceptionally poor. As he says, even IF Christianity is true, we should not believe it (ie it would not be epistemically justified to do so). That is faith, for you. It does the job in justifying that which should not, epistemologically speaking, be justified,

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        Does Natural Theology indicate that that God must be a holy trinity?

        I don’t think natural theology indicates that God must be a Trinity. But it is consistent with God being a Trinity.

        like the soul suddenly being invented after Jews saw themselves being so badly treated in the Seleucid Empire by the Helenic rulers such that to justify bad things happening to the good chosen people, they steal the idea off the Greeks – evolution of ideas in human terms

        The Jewish belief in a soul, in the sense of a part of a person living on after physical death, pre-dates the persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

        After realising that God must include Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and trying to make sense of that in light of the OT . . . we see this Trinity idea being shoehorned into Scripture and theology.

        I hardly see how making sense of certain facts is a bad thing.

        On probability, as Loftus sets out really well in his chapter on Christianity being wildly improbable, in the End of Christianity, of all of the major religions, Christianity is the most improbable given the layers of extraordinary claims.

        Going off my notes from the chapter:

        Loftus claims historical investigation cannot determine whether a miracle occurred or not (p. 78). But since testimony is evidence it is possible that historical investigation could determine whether a miracle occurred. Even an atheist like John Earman agrees in Hume’s Abject Failure. Loftus is throwing away probability when it is inconvenient.

        Loftus claims you have to begin with a Christian framework in order to interpret the evidence as supporting Christianity (p. 79). But my own comments show that I start from basic facts about the world (natural theology) and historical investigation. It is absurd to think that someone would have to start with a Christian framework to interpret the resurrection of Christ, for example, as evidence for Christianity.

        Loftus provides no hard numbers for his claim that Christianity is the most improbable of all major religions. Apparently we are to take it on faith.

        In the latter part of the chapter Loftus fires off numerous questions with faulty assumptions that will be convincing to atheists only. For example, he asks why none of the messianic prophecies of the OT have been fulfilled. I just provided a fulfilled prophecy in my comments to kraut2. Loftus also makes basic factual errors like saying no NT author claims to have seen the resurrected Jesus (cf. John 21:24).

        But, as mentioned, the level of evidence is exceptionally poor. As he says, even IF Christianity is true, we should not believe it (ie it would not be epistemically justified to do so).

        And what is the prior probability of atheism being true? If it is less than 0.5 what evidence bumps the posterior probability of atheism over 0.5? From what I’ve read from him, Loftus seems to avoid defending his viewpoints (some of which might seem quite extraordinary to the outsider).

        That is faith, for you. It does the job in justifying that which should not, epistemologically speaking, be justified,

        No, that’s an atheist definition of faith used for rhetorical effect.

        When you have time, I’d be interested in seeing you address my other points.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          Do you think God is necessary, philosophically speaking? Because if you do, then that must mean you think the Trinity is necessary. Surely Jesus and the HS aren’t contingent aspects?

          The Jewish belief in a soul, in the sense of a part of a person living on after physical death, pre-dates the persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

          Can you elaborate? I don’t think breathing life into a human constitutes the soul which can be punished and rewarded past death and is somehow representative of the person! (there are sooooo many problems with the soul hypothesis it gets my goat!).

          But since testimony is evidence it is possible that historical investigation could determine whether a miracle occurred.

          But the sheer level of evidence to do so must match the incredibly low priors and still be the most probable hypothesis with the best explanatory scope and power. That is, what I remember, he was getting at.

          Loftus provides no hard numbers for his claim that Christianity is the most improbable of all major religions.

          He doesn’t need to, since he shows in that little diagram and spiel that it is the advancing additive value of extraordinary claims which affect the probability calculation.

          As for prophecy fulfilment, I don’t buy it. I think any prophecy fulfilment in Jesus is almost necessarily flawed. The OT prophecies for Jesus were simply not prophecies or apply locally and temporally to then. The contrivances to get them to be for Jesus may cut the mustard for those wanting them to be true, but look distinctly dodgy for everyone else. You can retrofit Nostradamus better than that, and they were BS.

          And what is the prior probability of atheism being true?

          I’m not sure this makes sense. I am wondering how a lack of belief in a God can have a prior.

          Other than that, can you define faith, give a definition you work to?

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            Do you think God is necessary, philosophically speaking?

            Yes, in the sense that his existence is not dependent on another.

            Can you elaborate?

            For example, the abode of the dead is called Sheol in Hebrew. Such a place indicates a belief in life after physical death.

            But the sheer level of evidence to do so must match the incredibly low priors and still be the most probable hypothesis with the best explanatory scope and power. That is, what I remember, he was getting at.

            I gave the page number. Does he use the word cannot or not? It would hardly be surprising if Loftus wants to have it both ways.

            He doesn’t need to, since he shows in that little diagram and spiel that it is the advancing additive value of extraordinary claims which affect the probability calculation.

            Do you have a page number? Merely noting that additional claims lead to greater improbability is not the same thing as demonstrating Christianity is the most improbable of all major religions.

            As for prophecy fulfilment, I don’t buy it.

            General objections to prophecy won’t cut it. Where is the flaw in my example from Daniel 9:24-27? Even Richard Carrier grants that it refers to a messianic figure. I’ve merely crunched the numbers and noted the connections to Jesus Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem.

            I’m not sure this makes sense. I am wondering how a lack of belief in a God can have a prior.

            I’m wondering how it couldn’t? The prior probability that some deity exists plus the prior probability that atheism is true must equal one. Since you are an atheist you clearly don’t give atheism a prior probability of zero so you must give it some positive number. For example, if the prior probability that some deity exists is 0.75 then the prior probability of atheism must be 0.25.

            Other than that, can you define faith, give a definition you work to?

            When I say I have faith in God I mean I trust that he will fulfill his promises.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            My point about God being necessary is that by extension you must think the trinity is THE necessary version of God, even though the ideal is fraught with problems and incoherence.

            On the soul, I refer you to the Jewish Encyclopedia:

            “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture. As long as the soul was conceived to be merely a breath (“nefesh”; “neshamah”; comp. “anima”), and inseparably connected, if not identified, with the life-blood (Gen. ix. 4, comp. iv. 11; Lev. xvii. 11; see Soul), no real substance could be ascribed to it. As soon as the spirit or breath of God (“nishmat” or “ruaḥ ḥayyim”), which was believed to keep body and soul together, both in man and in beast (Gen. ii. 7, vi. 17, vii. 22; Job xxvii. 3), is taken away (Ps. cxlvi. 4) or returns to God (Eccl. xii. 7; Job xxxiv. 14), the soul goes down toSheol or Hades, there to lead a shadowy existence without life and consciousness (Job xiv. 21; Ps. vi. 6 [A. V. 5], cxv. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 18; Eccl. ix. 5, 10). The belief in a continuous life of the soul, which underlies primitive Ancestor Worship and the rites of necromancy, practised also in ancient Israel (I Sam. xxviii. 13 et seq.; Isa. viii. 19; see Necromancy), was discouraged and suppressed by prophet and lawgiver as antagonistic to the belief in Yhwh, the God of life, the Ruler of heaven and earth, whose reign was not extended over Sheol until post-exilic times (Ps. xvi. 10, xlix. 16, cxxxix. 8).

            As a matter of fact, eternal life was ascribed exclusively to God and to celestial beings who “eat of the tree of life and live forever” (Gen. iii. 22, Hebr.), whereas man by being driven out of the Garden of Eden was deprived of the opportunity of eating the food of immortality (see Roscher, “Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie,”s.v. “Ambrosia”). It is the Psalmist’s implicit faith in God’s omnipotence and omnipresence that leads him to the hope of immortality (Ps. xvi. 11, xvii. 15, xlix. 16, lxxiii. 24 et seq., cxvi. 6-9); whereas Job (xiv. 13 et seq., xix. 26) betrays only a desire for, not a real faith in, a life after death. Ben Sira (xiv. 12, xvii. 27 et seq., xxi. 10, xxviii. 21) still clings to the belief in Sheol as the destination of man. It was only in connection with the Messianic hope that, under the influence of Persian ideas, the belief in resurrection lent to the disembodied soul a continuous existence (Isa. xxv. 6-8; Dan. xii. 2; see Eschatology; Resurrection).”

            I do not have Loftus’ book in front of me, but it has a diagram of improbability going through pantheism, deism etc through judaism to christianity, each worldview making progressively more extraordinary claims.

            On Daniel 9:24-27, considering Christians can’t even agree on how to interpret it, it is interesting that you are so sure of your prophetic position! “It is something to say of any passage of the OT that it has attracted more interpretive enquiry and suggestion than any other, yet this is probably the case with Dn. 9:24-27.” – Motyer, J. A. “Messiah,” in The New Bible Dictionary, electronic edition, eds. D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, Downers Gove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996, p. 751.

            On this passage, it is worth considering:

            http://infidels.org/library/modern/chris_sandoval/daniel.html

            http://www.bibleorigins.net/DanielFailedPropheciesOf.html

            http://infidels.org/library/modern/jim_lippard/fabulous-prophecies.html

            etc etc

            On your definition of faith, there must be some inductive probability that allows you to trust, otherwise it is just irrational or a-rational, and kind of fits Boghossian’s claims.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            On priors, it depends how you define it. IF by prior you are referring to inductive experience, such that previous cases give us an expectation before adding data, then this doesn’t make much sense for atheism, but on theism, we have heaps of examples of previous deities which have turned out to be false; heaps of supernatural claims invoking god as explanatory hypotheses as being false; heaps of claims of real historical events involving gods which have been false and so on. This then informs the prior on any subsequent god claim.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            addendum, I do find Lowder’s argument from the history of science (AHS) pretty solid.

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2012/06/16/the-evidential-argument-from-the-history-of-science-ahs/

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            I do not have Loftus’ book in front of me, but it has a diagram of improbability going through pantheism, deism etc through judaism to christianity, each worldview making progressively more extraordinary claims.

            Wouldn’t polytheism have even more claims? Or how about Mormonism?

            On your definition of faith, there must be some inductive probability that allows you to trust, otherwise it is just irrational or a-rational, and kind of fits Boghossian’s claims.

            Yes, but the inductive probability is not what faith is; rather, it is the reason we have faith.

            On priors, it depends how you define it.

            No, it’s mathematically required that atheism have a prior probability if theism has a prior probability.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Yes, sure, as a negation of the probability. I am just working through what a prior would look like approaching it from the same direction I did a claim in the truth of a particular god claim.

            It’s not a case of theism vs atheism, and this could be where we are talking cross purposes.

            It is a case of a particular god claim being true, and that particular god claim being false.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            In other words, you are conflating the falsity of a particular god claim with atheism, and its truth with theism, whereas it is christianity or not christianity.

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            It is a case of a particular god claim being true, and that particular god claim being false.

            I realize that. But the prior probability of atheism must be the remainder left over after adding up the prior probability of each god claim. As a short example:

            Judaism – 0.25
            Christianity – 0.25
            Islam – 0.25

            If these were all the religions then the prior probability of atheism must be 0.25.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I’ll reply to your other points after these ones, for sure.

          • Daydreamer1

            Hi Jonathan,
            Hope you are well. Sorry for not replying. I know something geological could work well, especially if relating to creationism et al’s. Things here are of a very high quality though and I would only feel it was worth it if the quality was maintained, and often these debates are so frustrating that I have to spend an amount of time recouping. I’d love it if I lived near groups meeting on these things, skeptics or philosophers in the pub etc, but I don’t and am largely on my own. As such any frustrations have few places to vent. Therefore I try not to put too much time into it for fear of it driving me mad…

            Anyway… My thoughts on reading all this is why all the stress on the prior probability? What is wrong with calculating a probability now based on what is available?
            If someone tells me there is a lump of cheese hidden under a bowl I would lift it and have a look and then give you the probability of it being true after I have looked at it.
            Sure, I could make an attempt to give a prior probability based on the persons honesty (or whatever), but I’d prefer to use a little bit of brain power and tally up some evidences. Can a detector detect the whiff of cheese e.t.c?
            With atheism and theism I have no problem starting with a 50/50 for both and then working from there. Even if I started with a prior probability for theism of 95% and hence 5% for atheism I would still be landing at theism not being a very good description of the world and not having a very high likelihood of being right for that reason.

            I also get annoyed with the idea that these are all quantifiable variables. What value is the accurate value for the probability that we are brains in vats? Is it not like trying to put a number on something subjective?

            You know those arguments that work because they don’t have much meaning and they bamboozle… This feels like one of those.

  • patrick.sele

    kraut2:“No, it [i.e. the probability of atheism being true] is 1/(1 /5×10^3)

    (5×10^3 being roughly the
    number of gods a census on the old RDForum indicated to exist or have existed.
    It is likely higher, but that figure stuck in my mind)”

    In my view this
    method of assessing the probability of the truth of atheism is fallacious. This
    probability does not depend on the numbers of religions that have turned out to
    be false. The following analogy, which is prompted by blogger Eliezer
    Yudkowsky’s blogpost “Privileging the hypothesis”, may help to understand my
    point:

    Imagine that
    someone is found stabbed but there are no clues as to who the murderer is.
    However, there would be several views concerning the identity of the murderer.
    Now, in this analogy the idea that a specific person committed the crime is
    equivalent to a specific religion. Atheism would be equivalent to the view that
    no crime has happened. Now, even if all the views concerning the identity of
    the murderer were false, it wouldn’t follow that the person who holds the view
    that no murder has happened is right or at least most likely right. After all,
    the probability of the view that no murder has happened does not depend on the
    number of views concerning the identity of the murderer.

    Let’s assume that
    for some reason 50 people could have killed the person. This means that the
    prior probability that a specific person is the murderer is 1/50. But it does
    not follow that the view that no murder has happened has a prior probability of
    49/50. Actually it is lower than the probability of the view that a specific
    person is the murderer. Moreover, looking at these people there may be good
    reasons to assume that some of them are more likely to be the murderers than
    others.

  • patrick.sele

    Now, how can one
    assess the prior probability of atheism? In my view it can be done by finding
    out what worldviews there are at all. As far as I can see all religions as well
    as atheism (or better: naturalism) fit into one of the following categories,
    respectively:

    1) Naturalism (There is no reality beyond the natural world.)

    2) Idealism (There is a reality beyond the natural world, but there are no
    gods or other supernatural beings.)

    3) Pantheism (God exists but He is not personal.)

    4) Polytheism (There are many gods.)

    5) Dualism (There are two gods, a good one and an evil one.)

    6) Monotheism (There is just one God.)

    From this arrangement
    one can see that prima facie the probability of naturalism is not higher than
    the respective probabilities of all the other concepts; it’s 1/6. Admittedly,
    it is higher than any religion, as every religious concept (# 2-6) comprises more than one religion.

    However, a closer
    examination may show that some of these concepts or religions they comprise are
    more probable than others. As for such an examination, philosopher Edward Feser
    has provided an outline of it:

    “I would say that as a
    preliminary to arguing for Christianity, one has to establish first,
    through independent and purely philosophical arguments:

    1. The existence of God


    2. Such attributes as the
    unity, simplicity, power, intellect, and will of God


    3. God’s conservation of the
    world in being and providence


    4. The immortality of the
    soul


    5. The possibility of
    miracles



    These are just the sorts of
    topics one finds treated in old-fashioned manuals of natural theology written
    in the Scholastic tradition. And once one has established this much, religions
    like Buddhism, Taoism, most forms of Hinduism, etc. are ruled out already. Only
    some form of monotheism can be true IF any form is true at all.

    The next step is to show that
    IF any allegedly revealed religion is true, it has to be backed by miracles in
    the strict sense — events that could not in principle happen naturally and
    that could only have had a divine cause. There is no other way one could
    have rational grounds for confirming the claim that some message really came
    from God.

    That much pretty much rules
    out Islam. Muhammad never even claimed any miracle other than the Koran itself.
    But the Koran is clearly not miraculous in principle even if one
    believed that it was so extraordinary that Muhammad could not have written it.
    By contrast, everyone agrees that Christ’s resurrection would be impossible by
    purely natural causes, IF it really occurred.

    The next step is to defend the
    historicity of Christ’s resurrection itself. In my view, it is foolish to do
    this until one has already independently established points 1-5 above. For only
    in light of 1-5 is the evidence for the resurrection going to have its full
    power. Apart from 1-5 a skeptic could always say “Who knows what really
    happened, but we know it couldn’t have been a miracle” etc. That won’t
    wash if one has already established 1-5, though.

    If one establishes that too,
    though, and if one grants (what I think there is no reasonable doubt about)
    that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be divine, then the fact that He was
    resurrected, that only God could have resurrected Him, and that this happened
    despite His saying something which would (if false) be blasphemous in the
    extreme, all would confirm that it was not false. In other words, it
    would show that there is a divine “seal of approval” on what He said
    and that what He said is therefore true. But if He is divine, and yet He is a
    different Person from the Father and Holy Spirit, etc., then we’ve got the
    essence of the doctrine of the Trinity. And then from there a Thomistic
    theologian works out the rest by inferring from what natural theology tells us
    together with what Christ’s revelation tells us. And that takes us beyond
    natural or philosophical theology and into sacred theology.”

    (Source: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/rosenhouse-redux.html)

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Are you saying that Christianity, with its massive plethora of extraordinary claims, none evidenced outside of the bible, none verifiable apart form the ones which, due to their verifiability are found to be false (nativity accounts), is more probable than Islam?

  • patrick.sele

    There is good
    evidence for the view that the Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts. Supportive
    of such an idea is a concept that has been called “undesigned coincidences”.
    This concept is explained in the following video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGVLeC5HbSQ

    A more detailed demonstration of this concept can
    be found in the following talk, delivered by philosopher Timothy McGrew:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wUcrwYocgM

  • patrick.sele

    There are other
    pieces of evidence for the truth of Christianity. So, the following link
    contains a collection of answered prayers:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25891/25891-h/25891-h.htm

    Well-documented
    miracle accounts can be found in the following biography of the Lutheran pastor
    and theologian Johann Christoph Blumhardt:

    Dieter Ising, Johann Christoph Blumhardt: Life
    and Work: A New Biography, Translated by Monty Ledford, Eugene 2009.

    In the following
    excerpt from another biography of Blumhardt, written by his friend Friedrich
    Zündel (1827-1891), we find a description of the miraculous events surrounding
    Blumhardt’s work:

    http://cdn.plough.com/~/media/files/plough/ebooks/pdfs/a/awakeningen.pdf

    Another good source
    for Christian miracle accounts is the following work:

    Craig S. Keener,
    Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, 2 vols., Grand Rapids
    2011.

    To these books can
    be added the following book containing a testimony of a healing miracle that
    happened about ten years ago:

    Don and Jill
    Vanderhoof, From Strength to Strength: Our Testimony of God’s Healing,
    Greenville, SC 2002.

    From the back
    cover:

    “Don and Jill Vanderhoof and their two children,
    Ben and April, are church-planting missionaries in the country of Germany. In
    August 2000, Don was the human version of Mad Cow Disease. The diagnosis was
    made based on characteristic patterns of brain degeneration indicated on MRI
    brain scans and Don’s unmistakable symptoms. The Vanderhoofs were told that
    this disease is always fatal. This story is their testimony of God’s healing.”

    Prof. Dr. med. Dr. rer. nat. Harald Hefter,
    Assistant Medical Director of the Neurological Teaching Hospital in Düsseldorf
    (Germany):

    “Nach
    klinischem Erscheinungsbild, Verlauf und Zusatzdiagnostik (…) war das
    Vorliegen der neuen Variante der Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Erkranung sehr
    wahrscheinlich, so dass (…) angesichts der aussichtslosen Prognose der zügige
    Rücktransport in die USA organisiert wurde. (…)

    Als Herr Don Vanderhoof sich nach 1 1/2 Jahren
    gesund in unserer Klinik vorstellte, verbreitete sich die Nachricht von seiner
    Rückkehr wie ein Lauffeuer unter denen, die ihn zuvor betreut hatten. Alle
    waren über die nicht für möglich gehaltene Genesung sehr erstaunt.“

    Translation:

    “According to
    clinical manifestation, progress and additional diagnostics (…) there was a
    high probability that we had the new variant of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
    before us, so that in view of this hopeless prognosis a speedy return journey
    to the USA was organized. (…)

    When after one and
    a half years Mr Don Vanderhoof introduced himself again in our hospital while
    being in good health, the news about his return spread like wildfire among
    those who had taken care of him. Everybody was surprised at such a seemingly
    impossible recovery.”

    (Source: http://www.amazon.de/Aber-einzigartige-Geschichte-einer-Heilung/dp/3417248922)

  • LukeBreuer

    Let’s take the four Gospels, written by unknown people at unknown dates in unknown places with ex post facto agendas to evangelise, at least 40 years after the person they are writing about and whom they have never met, has died.

    Are you aware of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses? Furthermore, are you aware that life expectancy is often calculated with infant mortality, such that high infant mortality will depress life expectancy values such that one’s idea of how many people live into old age will be improperly low?

    • Peter

      In Carrier’s book Not the Impossible Faith the life expectancy cited (46 years) is conditional on having survived to 15. He also gives a probability of a 15 year old surviving for another 40 years (34%). Documents also need time to be circulated (a literate person needs to be found to copy them out) and that is if they are being widely circulated rather than serving one particular community. I don’t put much weight on the argument that the Gospels survived a hypothetical critical examination from eyewitnesses – who may not have seen, understood, or cared to rebut any of them. Papias for instance gives an alternative recounting of the Judas story which one assumes was an unchallenged oral tradition.

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        I really rate Carrier’s NTIF book. His stuff on the unverifiability of Luke is super-powerful imho. For me, Luke is not the ‘historian’ he is cracked up to be by apologists. Well, he’s not a historian and shows pretty much zip all historiographical technique.

      • LukeBreuer

        Next time I’m provoked to dig into this stuff, I’ll give Carrier a shot.

        • Peter

          I also recommend it. Even if you don’t agree his books are usually full of fun and abstruse historical details!

      • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

        He also gives a probability of a 15 year old surviving for another 40 years (34%).

        I don’t have the book on hand at the moment (I have read it), but according to this site: “McIver brilliantly looked at the latest research in population size around Galilee, Jerusalem, and the other villages and cities Jesus visited during his ministry in antiquity, and what life expectancy was in the first century in Roman-Palestine. He concluded there would have been approximately 60,000 potential eyewitnesses who saw or experienced Jesus in person. McIver claims that ‘[o]f the 60,000 or so potential eyewitnesses, between 18,000 and 20,000 would be still alive after thirty years, and between 600 and 1,100 after sixty years.’ (4) He concludes the book by stating that ‘…as is evident from the life tables, some surviving eyewitnesses would have been available to the Evangelists to consult had they so wished.’ (5) This is very important information for anyone interested in the possibility that the Gospels were either composed by eyewitnesses or depended on the tradition of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and ministry. Assuming the standard dating for the composition of the Gospels (Mark=AD 65, John=AD 90) it would appear there were in fact many eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry to consult if the Gospel writers desired.”

        Documents also need time to be circulated (a literate person needs to be found to copy them out) and that is if they are being widely circulated rather than serving one particular community.

        Regardless of your favored solution to the Synoptic Problem, it is evident that the Gospels were circulating quickly. The early Christian documents regularly hint at the widespread circulation of the writings.

        I don’t put much weight on the argument that the Gospels survived a hypothetical critical examination from eyewitnesses – who may not have seen, understood, or cared to rebut any of them.

        It’s not merely an argument, it’s taking notice of ancient Christian sources themselves.

        Papias for instance gives an alternative recounting of the Judas story which one assumes was an unchallenged oral tradition.

        Wouldn’t the alternatives be a challenge to it? And note that Papias confirms the interest in listening to eyewitnesses and their followers.

        • Peter

          Thanks for that reply.

          On the many eyewitnesses point, in a way I agree. My problem with the very public nature of many of Jesus’s miracles is that it makes me wonder why there should be so little corroborating evidence – and why Paul should be particularly concerned with the fact that Jews in Judea weren’t converting (a view I get from my reading of Romans 11). The Christian community in Judea was likely small as it seemed to play no major role (whether as scapegoats or anything else) in the Jewish Wars for example.

          “Regardless of your favored solution to the Synoptic Problem, it is evident that the Gospels were circulating quickly.” Fair point. We learn as we go…

          Papias does show an interest in learning from students of elders, but he also separates himself from the “multitude” who he says did not research things as carefully. Moreover, the one story we have that he does recount suggests that this was an unreliable medium.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            “”multitude” who he says did not research things as carefully”

            This is really important – the sheer massive number who would have converted with the merest of actual evidence. Snowball.

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            My problem with the very public nature of many of Jesus’s miracles is that it makes me wonder why there should be so little corroborating evidence

            The ancient attestation for Jesus’ fame as a miracle worker is, as far as I know, unparalleled in antiquity. I fail to see how there is little corroborating evidence.

            and why Paul should be particularly concerned with the fact that Jews in Judea weren’t converting (a view I get from my reading of Romans 11)

            I’m not sure how Judea fits in with Romans 11. Nonetheless, what percentage of the Jews in the world witnessed Jesus work a miracle? It had to be a rather small percentage so it’s hard to count Jewish obstinance to Christianity as a reason to doubt the accuracy of the Gospels (which of course record disbelieving Jewish responses to Jesus).

            Papias does show an interest in learning from students of elders, but he also separates himself from the “multitude” who he says did not research things as carefully. Moreover, the one story we have that he does recount suggests that this was an unreliable medium.

            In Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4 Papias is saying the multitude took pleasure in those that speak much. He is not speaking of the multitude’s research abilities per se. Unfortunately, Papias’ five-book work is lost to us and we only have a couple dozen fragments left (not just one story). It is noteworthy that Apollinarius can reconcile Papias’s account of Judas’ death with the account given in Acts, so we can’t be sure Papias was wrong or if he used hyperbole. But my main point was that as late as Papias we still see an interest in hearing from eyewitnesses.

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          I think there are fundamental problems with this many eyewitnesses and in a sense is a no win situation for christians (no surprise, since it ain’t true!). The more eyewitnesses, the more highly unlikely the claimed events happened. Think of any given miracle claim – the more people who supposedly saw them, the more incredible it is that no one reported it at all – no contemporaneous accounts, inscriptions or anything. Imagine these scenes, by far and away the greatest things any of these people ever would have seen, and supposedly by god incarnate.

          Of course, to me, it is obvious most are allegorical / parable / metaphoric and not historic. eg the feeding of the 5000 seems obvviously not a true event. Man cannot live on bread alone. Spiritual sustenance, emanating from Jesus, but delivered by the disciples, Good news moving from 12 to 5,000.

          For that to be an actual occurrence is utterly unbelievable when no one there gave enough of a shit to record it for posterity.

          • http://biblicalscholarship.wordpress.com Jayman

            The entire NT is contemporaneous in the sense that it was written within living memory of Jesus’ public ministry. We may also note Josephus’ account. The feeding of the multitude is the only miracle (outside the resurrection) attested in all four Gospels so clearly many people cared enough to record it for posterity.

            While Jesus’ miracles did have a message to them that does not relegate them to allegories, parables, or metaphors. Such a suggestion is so 19th century. Even the atheist should be able to admit that Jesus was known as a miracle worker. I’ll leave it to them to explain how he pulled it off without actually performing a single actual miracle.