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Richard Carrier’s ”On the historicity of Jesus” A Review From a Bayesian Perspective

Contents

Tim Hendrix April 22, 2016

1 Introduction

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2 How Bayes’ theorem is applied in On the Historicity of Jesus

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2.1 Definition of the hypothesis of historicity h

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2.2 The evidence:

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2.3 The computation

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3 Proving or guessing history: Bayes’ theorem and errors

 

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3.1 The gameshow

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3.2 How Bayes’ theorem inflates errors

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3.3 The effect of systematic bias .

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3.4 An example using errors estimated from On the Historicity of Jesus 15

3.5 But doesn’t the upper and lower bounds fix this?

 

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4 Examining the logic of On the Historicity of Jesus

 

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4.1 The trial-example: Why accuracy matters

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4.2 The hypothesis of Myth and historicity .

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4.2.1 Bobs defence has a new strategy

 

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4.2.2 Conflating background information and evidence

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5 Prior bamboozlement

 

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5.1 The Rank-Raglan prior of historicity

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5.1.1 Jesus almost certainly didn’t exist because four written

 

accounts says he does

 

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5.1.2 A close reading of the Gospels

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5.2 What reference classes can’t do

 

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5.2.1

Adding properties

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5.3 Bobs lawyer computes a prior

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Tim Hendrix is not my real name.

For family reasons I prefer not to have my name

associated with my religious views online. This is the third revision of this manuscript.

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5.4 The Rank-Raglan prior examined .

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5.4.1 The response to the alternative reference class objection

 

examined

 

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5.4.2 First “proof” Jesus existed, the written account reference

 

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5.4.3 Second “proof” Jesus existed, the Josepheus reference class 37

5.5 Conclusion

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5.5.1

So what is the true prior?

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6 Other comments

 

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6.1 Not using Bayes’ theorem

 

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6.2 What Paul really meant

 

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7 Discussion

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7.1 Bayes’ theorem and history

 

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7.2 Summarizing the counter-argument to On the Historicity of Jesus

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7.3 Final comments on On the Historicity of Jesus and Proving History 51

Appendices

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A Bayes’ theorem

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1

Introduction

Dr. Richard Carrier’s recent book, On the historicity of Jesus, (Sheffield Phoenix Press, ISBN 978-1-909697-35-5), is the second of two volumes in which Dr. Car- rier investigates the question if Jesus existed or not. In this and the first volume, Proving History, Dr. Carrier argues that the current state of Jesus studies has failed to recover the true Jesus because they have relied upon developing histor- ical criteria to determine which parts of a text can be trusted or not. According to Dr. Carrier all criteria and their use is flawed. Rather, in the two volumes Dr. Carrier suggests we should only rely on Bayesian arguments:

The first step in that process was to assess the methods so far em- ployed on the subject and replace them if faulty. I accomplished that in the previous volume, in which I demonstrated that the most recent method of using ’historicity criteria’ in the study of Jesus has been either logically invalid or factually incorrect, and that only ar- guments structured according to Bayes’s Theorem have any chance of being valid and sound. Here I apply that method to the evidence for Jesus and show what results. (On the Historicity of Jesus, preface)

As indicated by the quote, this second volume examines the evidence for and against the existence of Jesus using Bayes’ theorem. The outcome of a Bayesian argument is a probability that Jesus existed or not. In other words, the answer to

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the question is a number between 0 and 1 such that 1 implies we are absolutely certain Jesus was historical, 0 implies we are absolutely certain Jesus was not historical and for instance 0.75 (or 75%) implies we are somewhat convinced Jesus was historical. The main contributions of On the Historicity of Jesus is:

In other words, in my estimation the odds Jesus existed are less

than 1 in 12 000. Which to a historian is for all practical purposes

a probability of zero. For comparison, your lifetime probability of

being struck by lightning is around 1 in 10 000. That Jesus existed

is even less likely than that. Consequently, I am reasonably certain

there was no historical Jesus. Nevertheless, as my estimates might be too critical (even though I don’t believe they are), I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the probability is better than that. But to account for that possibility, when I entertain the most generous estimates possible, I find I cannot by any stretch of the imagination believe the probability Jesus existed is better than 1 in 3 (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 600)

This conclusion is also stated as follows:

And yet that is using the absurdly generous estimates concluding every chapter, and especially the last chapter on the Epistles, the only place I could claim to find any credible evidence for a historical Jesus. So 1 in 3 is only the maximum possible probability Jesus existed, meaning we can say with confidence that the probability Jesus existed is in fact less than 1 in 3. (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 599)

Or to spell these out, using “absurdly generous” estimates Dr. Carrier arrives at a probability of 1 3 Jesus existed and using realistic estimates the chance he existed is 0.00008. As mentioned, the method employed to arrive at this conclusion is a Bayesian argument. Dr. Carrier explains it as follows:

To know whether any theory is the most probably true, you must compare it with all other viable theories (no theory can be defended in isolation). To effect such a comparison you must establish four premises: (1) the prior probability that the theory you are testing

is true, (2) the converse of which is the prior probability that some

other theory is true instead, and then (3) the consequent probability that we would have all the evidence we actually have if your theory

is true, and (4) the consequent probability that we would have all

that same evidence if some other theory is true instead. From these four premises a conclusion follows with logical necessity, which is

simply the probability that your theory is true. (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 16)

These four items dictates the organization of the books. To provide an overview the chapters are organized as follows:

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Chapter 1: Surveys what constitutes relevant evidence. Dr. Carrier concludes the relevant evidence can be divided into four categories: (i) extrabiblical evidence, (ii) acts, (iii) the gospels and (iiii) the epistles.

Chapter 2 and 3: Formulating sensible, minimal, hypothesis for early chris- tianity on the assumptions Jesus did exist or did not exist.

Chapters 4 and 5: Surveying the background knowledge

Chapter 6: Estimating how likely the two minimal historical hypothesis are a-priori.

Chapter 7-11: Estimate how likely the four categories of evidence is given the two theories (that is, if Jesus existed or did not exist).

Chapter 12: The outcome of the two proceeding steps are probabilities. These are then combined using Bayes’ theorem to produce the probabilities dis- cussed in the two quotes.

As can be seen from the outline, Bayes’ theorem plays a central role in Dr. Car- rier’s argument and appears critical in terms of arriving at the conclusion that “I find I cannot by any stretch of the imagination believe the probability Jesus existed is better than 1 in 3”. Several reviewers on Amazon also points out that the use of Bayes’ theorem to historical questions is an important feature of the book. A representative sample:

First he takes bold strides to change the failed paradigm in historical method, then he applies a superior method (Bayes’ Theorem) and gives us a masterpiece of staggering proportions. (Neumann)

He [Dr. Carrier ] argues for using Bayesian probability in the study of history, especially Jesus. This methodology is breath of fresh air in Jesus studies - instead of ad hoc or even apologetic arguments, Carrier has a method that is based on probability and not just possibilities and wishful thinking. (Quentin D. Jones)

This is Carrier’s best book and hands down the best book on Jesus his- toricity. Anyone who has trouble with Bayesian arguments will have to admit Carrier uses them surgically and ends up showing convincingly that they give reason a clear windshield for cruising difficult highways. (James Branscome)

In this review I will try to examine the Bayesian content of Dr. Carriers argu- ment from the main-stream view of what constitutes valid and invalid appli- cation of Bayesian reasoning, a view I have some familiarity with through my education (I have a PhD in Bayesian methods) and my work (a research position with focus on Bayesian methods).

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I have elsewhere discussed Dr. Carriers first volume in the series, Proving History 1 . In that review I believe I identified several areas where Dr. Carriers arguments were lacking, as for instance Dr. Carriers particular non-Bayesian interpretation of probabilities. However a difficulty in writing the review was that Proving History does not provide worked-out examples for how Bayes’ theorem should be applied in practice to solve historical questions such as the existence of Jesus. With an example now being provided in On the Historicity of Jesus I hope to be able to continue the discussion of Bayes’ theorem and it’s application to history and perhaps this will be useful for other historians who wish to assess the applicability of Bayes’ theorem to historical questions. It is important to stress that no matter the validity of Dr. Carriers argu- ments, a person who desires to look for errors in On the Historicity of Jesus could properly dig up something such as an imprecise use of words (probability and density might be confused). I won’t care for such minor issues in this re- view, rather I will focus on what I consider to be the most interesting question, how Dr. Carrier will apply Bayesian methods to the question of Jesus existence and thereby arrive at concrete, useful results. I will therefore only raise issues pertinent to core aspects of Dr. Carriers argument which in other circumstances would cause me to go back to the drawing board or give me serious pause re- garding the trustworthiness of my conclusions. In other words, I will try to answer the question: Are the results obtained in On the Historicity of Jesus as trustworthy as the above quotes indicates?. A reader should be aware I will limit myself to the Bayesian (logical) structure of the argument and not discuss the many pieces of historical evidence Dr. Carrier presents and interprets. However before we can address Dr. Carriers argument it is important to understand what it is and I will summarize Dr. Carriers argument in the next section. This review assumes familiarity with basic probability theory and a brief review of the notation used is included as an appendix.

2 How Bayes’ theorem is applied in On the His- toricity of Jesus

It is important to distinguish between two ways to apply Bayes’ theorem to history:

The qualitative way: In which one considers a historical argument (or type of argument) and tries to translate the available information into proposi- tions such that the argument can be formulated in the language of prob- abilities. This might allow us to say something about which probabilities must be very high/low for the argument to work, or why a particular type of argument works. I call this way of using Bayes’ theorem qualitative

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because it involves examining an existing argument symbolically but not the computation of exact probabilities.

The quantitative way: In which one attempts to derive/estimate a quantita- tive value of a particular hypothesis by plugging numbers into a Bayesian formula.

The qualitative application of Bayes’ theorem is in my opinion unproblematic simply because it is only an aid for reasoning: if it works for you, by all means use it!. The use of Bayes’ theorem in this way is in many ways scientific common sense. For instance, it asks us to formulate our hypothesis and evidence carefully and exactly, to think about what is probable rather than what is possible or absolutely true/false, and to let our judgement be guided by a tradeoff of how a-priory likely our hypothesis is versus how well the evidence is explained by our hypothesis. A book that I believe is representative of this view is Aviezer Tuckers Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography [Tucker, 2004]. In my own experience, for some problems, thinking this way can be a help, but for most problems it is not and adding an extra layers of A’s, h’s and P ’s to a problematic argument can sometimes hide rather banal errors. However Dr. Carriers application of Bayes’ theorem is quantitative as it revolves around computing actual probabilities. The basic idea by Dr. Carrier is to apply Bayes’ theorem to history:

P (h|E.b) =

P (E|h.b)P (h|b)

P (E|h.b)P (h|b) + P (Eh.b)P (¬h|b)

here h is the hypothesis in question (Jesus existed), E is the relevant evidence, the dot denotes “and” (for instance h.E is “h and E”), b is our background historical evidence and ¬h is the negation of h, i.e. that Jesus was not historical. In the next sections I will briefly sketch what the various symbols mean for later reference:

2.1 Definition of the hypothesis of historicity h

The hypothesis h and ¬h were discussed already in Proving History. Dr. Carrier writes:

In Proving History I demonstrated that we can parcel out the entire prior probability-space to just four classes of hypothesis altogether:

h = ’Jesus was a historical person mythicized’

• ¬h = ’Jesus was a mythical person historicized’

h 0 = ’Jesus was a historical person not mythicized’ (triumphal)

• ¬h 0 = ’Jesus was a mythical person not historicized’ (postmod- ern)

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As I argued there, the latter two classes of hypothesis, even collec- tively. consume a vanishingly small piece of the prior-probability- space (certainly less than a one in a million share). They can there- fore be ignored.

That leaves us with bare historicism and bare mythicism [h and ¬h]. However, both must be more developed than this, not only to make our job easier by ruling out all implausible variations of them, but also to leave us with hypotheses that make more substantial pre- dictions. This will give us in each case a minimal theory, one that does not entail any ambitious or questionable claims (thus keeping its prior probability relatively high), but still leaves us with a theory substantial enough to test (thus keeping its consequent probability relatively high as well). The minimal Jesus myth theory I will de- velop in the next chapter. Here I will develop the minimal theory of historicity. (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 30)

After a discussion of what should and should not be contained in such a minimal theory we arrive at the following list:

This gets us down to just three minimal facts on which historicity rests:

An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.

This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.

This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).

That all three propositions are true shall be my minimal theory of

historicity.

(On the Historicity of Jesus p. 34)

Similarly, in chapter 3, minimal mythesism ¬h is fleshed out:

At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.

Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus ’communicated’ with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspiration (such as prophecy, past and present).

Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally be- lieved to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.

As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred com- munity, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.

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Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only ’additionally’ allegorical)

That all five propositions are true shall be my minimal Jesus myth

theory.

(On the Historicity of Jesus p. 53)

That is, h and ¬h are being considered equivalent to these two lists of proposi- tions.

2.2 The evidence:

The evidence, E in Bayes’ theorem, considered by Dr. Carrier is divided into the following four categories:

Gospels: The content of the Gospels

Acts: The content of Acts

Epistles: The content Epistles

Extrabiblical: Extrabiblical evidence (various references to Jesus such as Josepheus)

Each of these categories are broken up into subcategories to be treated in seper- ate sections. For instance the extrabiblical evidence Extrabiblicalis broken up into a number of subcategories the first four of which are:

e 1 : Twin traditions

e 2 : Documentary silence

e 3 : 1 Clement

e 4 : Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiah

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in total there are 25 such pieces of evidence e 1 , the evidence is treated as:

, e 25 . Thus in our notation

E = Gospels and Acts and Epistles and Extrabiblical

= e 1 and e 2 and · · ·

= e 1 .e 2 . · · · .e 25

and e 25

The background information

Next there is the background information which I will only mention briefly. The background information b consists of two long and very informative chapter of various political, religions and social circumstances relating to early christianity.

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2.3 The computation

On the Historicity of Jesus does not state in any single place which formula is used for computing the probability of historicity, however it is reasonably easy to re-construct it from the available information. First, notice that according to Bayes’ theorem:

P (h|E.b) =

P (E|h.b)P (h|b)

P (E|h.b)P (h|b) + P (Eh.b)P (¬h|b)

it follows:

P (h|E.b)

P (¬h|E.b) =

P (E|h.b)P (h|b)

P (Eh.b)P (¬h|b)

Then Dr. Carrier assumes that

(1)

P (E|h.b) = P (e 1 .e 2 . ··· e 25 |h.b) = P (e 1 |h.b)P (e 2 |h.b) · · · P (e 25 |h.b)

(and similar for ¬h). If we plug this into the above equation we obtain:

P (h|E.b) P (¬h|E.b) =

P(e

1

|h.b)

P(e 1 h.b) ×

P(e

2

|h.b)

P(e 2 h.b) × ··· ×

P(e

25

|h.b)

P(h|b)

P(e 25 h.b) ×

P(¬h|b)

This is sometimes known as the odds ratio. What we are of course interested in is not (directly) the odds ratio but the actual probability Jesus is historical

P (h|E.b) P (¬h|E.b) ,

P (h|E.b). However if we obtain a value of the above ration, r =

then we can easily convert that back into a probability of Jesus being historical because

P (h|E.b) =

1

1 +

1

r

=

1

1

+ P(e 1 h.b)

P(e 1 |h.b)

× ··· × P(e 25 h.b) × P(¬h|b)

P(e 25 |h.b)

P(h|b)

(2)

This is quite a mouthful, however the upshot is that according to Dr. Carrier, in order to compute the probability Jesus is historical P (h|E.b), all we need to estimate is the prior probability P (h|b) and the 25 ratios:

P(e 1 h.b) ,

P(e 1 |h.b)

P(e 1 h.b) , ··· , P(e 25 h.b)

P(e 1 |h.b)

P(e 25 |h.b)

In practical terms, Dr. Carrier use historical considerations to estimate the prior probability P (h|b) and the probabilities of each piece of evidence given historicity h and non-historicity ¬h and this discussion takes up the bulk of the text. To give a feeling of what these numbers are Dr. Carrier estimates that P (¬h|b) 0.0625 and then, letting r i = P(e r |¬h.b)

P(e r |h.b) ,

r 1 = 0.6

r 2 = 0.4

r 3 = 1

r 4 = 1

r 5 = 0.5

r 6 = 1

r 7 = 1

r 8 = 0.5

r 9 = 0.4

r 10 = 0.5

r 11 = 1

r 12 = 0.5

r 13 = 1

r 14 = 0.5

r 15 = 0.5

r 16 = 1

r 17 = 0.8

r 18 = 1

r 19 = 1

r 20 = 1

r 21 = 1

r 22 = 1

r 23 = 1

r 24 = 1

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and r 25 = 1. All of these numbers are then combined to produce the final probability P (h|E.b). This is done with two sets of numbers, corresponding to Dr. Carriers realistic estimate as well as his most generous estimate, and

this produces the two estimates of the probability Jesus existed of P (h|E.b)

0.3233 1

3 and P (h|E.b) = 1 000 . The next sections will consider the various

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steps of this argument more carefully.

3 Proving or guessing history: Bayes’ theorem and errors

I everything that can be said about the applicability of Bayes’ theorem to history should be seen in light of the observation Bayes’ theorem inflates errors. It is therefore worth spending some time examining this problem with a simpler toy example.

3.1 The gameshow

Forget everything about probabilities and history and suppose you are at a gameshow where there is a table with the following items on top of it:

An apple

A teddy bear

A box of crayons

and your goal is to guess the weight of the apple, m A , as accurately as possible. You can do this in one of two ways: (i) you make your best guess as the weight of the apple or (ii) you make guesses at the weight of the teddy bear m B , crayons m C and the total weight m T of all three items and then compute the weight of the apple as:

m A = m T m B m C .

I think everyone will recognize the second strategy is both suboptimal and rather

silly. Why? A person who wished to defend the formula could point out things in it’s favor, for instance that it is a proven mathematical fact or that it may be difficult to guess the weight of the apple and the formula avoids this difficulty 2 . These are however obviously poor arguments: The problem with the formula is that the estimates of m T , m B , m C on the right-hand side each come with an error, and when you subtract or add two numbers to each other the (relative) error in the difference will be larger than the individual errors. The formula thus inflates the error in m A . For instance, it is possible that we estimate the total weight to be lower than the sum of the weight of the two other objects (remember we make these estimates individually) and in that case the formula will tell us the weight of the apple is negative.

2 These observations more or less parallels the arguments presented in Proving History in favor of using Bayes’ theorem.

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Guessed weight of apple, method 1 True weight of apple (112g) 0 50 100 150

Guessed weight of apple, method 1 True weight of apple (112g)

0 50 100 150 200 Chance of guessing at this weight
0
50
100
150
200
Chance of guessing at this weight

Guessed weight of apple in grams

of guessing at this weight Guessed weight of apple in grams Guessed weight of apple, method

Guessed weight of apple, method 2 True weight of apple (112g)

0 50 100 150 200 Chance of guessing at this weight
0
50
100
150
200
Chance of guessing at this weight

Guessed weight of apple in grams

Figure 1: Suppose our ability to guess the weight of the apple m A has an error given by the distribution in the left-hand pane, i.e. we typically guess within about 15g of the true weight of 112g. If we assume this error is representative of our ability to guess the various weights when estimating m A = m T m B m C , then using this formula magnifies the error with about a factor of 1.7 shown in the right-hand pane.

Secondly, while the use of the formula seemingly has the advantage of no longer requiring us to guess the weight of the apple, we still have to guess weights, namely the weight of the two other objects as well as their total weight and therefore the formula is predicated on the assumption that we can indeed guess weights accurately. However, if we make this assumption, then we can also pursue strategy (i) and just guess the weight of the apple, and we would no longer have the problem of the error being inflated due to the substraction. In other words, the second strategy invites us to make incoherent assumptions. Of course there are cases where the formula will work. For instance, if we were told the total mass and the other objects had masses which were easy to guess (for instance bottles of soda). However a person who wished to advocate strategy (ii) over strategy (i) would have to argue this is indeed the case since strategy (ii), as outlined above, is inherently more prone to errors than strategy (i). It will not do to say: “Well, strategy (i) is hard, so I suggest we use strategy (ii)” since strategy (ii) is inherently more difficult to apply than strategy (i).

3.2 How Bayes’ theorem inflates errors

Bayes’ theorem magnifies errors the same way strategy (ii) did in the example with the apple. This should be apparent by simply inspecting the expression eq. (1), however it is worth providing some quantitative guidance to how large this effect is. If we first focus on the example with the apple and we suppose our

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Chance of guessing at this value of p(h|E)

Value of factor True value of p(e i |h) 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1
Value of factor
True value of p(e i |h)
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
Chance of guessing at this value of p(e i |h)

Guessed value of each factor p(e i |h)

of p(e i |h) Guessed value of each factor p ( e i | h )

Probability of historicity True value p(h|E)=0.3233

) Probability of historicity True value p ( h | E )=0.3233 0 0 . 2

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

1

Probability of historicity p(h|E)

Figure 2: Similar to the apple-example in fig. 1, suppose our ability to guess the probability of each factor in the Bayes computation P (e i |h.b) has an error as given in the left-hand pane, then using Dr. Carriers formula will magnify this error by a factor of 5 to produce the error in the probability Jesus existed, P (h|E.b), shown in the right-hand pane.

ability to guess the weight will be off by a random factor as illustrated in fig. 1 in the left pane. In the figure, the blue line illustrates the chance of guessing a particular weight of the apple and according to the figure the chance of guessing more than 150g or less than 80g is neglige. If we assume an uncertainty of the same magnitude affects our ability to guess the weight of the other two items and the true weight, then the uncertainty in our ability to guess the weight by the second method is as illustrated with the red line in the right pane; as we can expect, the error is inflated by a factor of roughly 1.7, and we now often make unrealistically high or low guesses of m A . The same concept applies for the guesses at the various probabilities in the Baysian computation eq. (2). If we assume our ability to guess each factor P(e i |h.b) in the computation is off by just a small amount as seen in fig. 2 (left pane), the errors in the various factors will combine (just as it was the case for the apple example) to induce a nearly uninformative distribution of our estimate of historicity, P (h|E), shown in the right-pane. 3 Notice the width of this distribution is much larger than was the case in the left pane (in fact it is about 5 times wider), and this is despite an assumption we are fairly good at guessing the true probabilities (shown in the left pane). The bottom line is this:

Bayes’ theorem, as used by Dr. Carrier, will magnify the errors by a factor 5 (approximately).

(equivalently) To estimate the probability of historicity at a given precision

3 For illustrations sake I use the upper-bound supplies by Dr. Carrier

12

using the method of Dr. Carrier it must be assumed all other probability estimates can be made with 5 times higher precision.

In the following I will try to illustrate the consequences of this effect in two ways. The first is by examining the effect of systematic bias (that is, being slightly too optimistic or pessimistic regarding the evidence) and the second is by estimating the magnitude of the error (the width of the blue curve in fig. 2, left pane) from Dr. Carriers numbers and examine what that error implies for the probability of historicity.

3.3 The effect of systematic bias

Humans are not perfectly rational but come with inherent biases for or against various ideas. Accordingly, it is reasonable to consider how well Bayes’ theorem will function when applied by a human operator who is at least slighly biased. To this end, we consider Alice and Bob. Alice is ever so slightly biased for his- toricity and she overestimates the probabilities of the evidences on historicity and correspondingly underestimate the probability on mythicism by a few per- cent. Bob is biased in the same manner but towards mythicism. For instance suppose the “true” value of the evidence of “Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiah” is

P (Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiah|h) = 0.061,

P (Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiahh) = 0.079

Then if Alice is 4 percent biased she would estimate:

P Alice (Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiah|h) = 0.061 × (1 + 0.04) = 0.0634,

P Alice (Ignatius and Ascension of Isaiahh) = 0.079 × (1 0.04) = 0.0758

Remember, these probabilities are based on subjective judgements without any way of externally confirming if we are right or wrong and the reader is invited to consider how accurately he or she could estimate “The probability of Acts given historicity” (I would be quite happy if i made it within 20%) The result can be seen in fig. 3. It shows that with no bias (0 percent), Alice and Bob both agree on the probability of historicity of P (h|E) = 0.3233. When the bias increases to only 5%, Alice concludes there is more than 85% chance Jesus is historical and Bob at the same time and considering the same evidence believes there is less than 5% chance Jesus was historical!. For small values of the bias, this spread corresponds to a roughly 20 times increase in uncertainty. I believe a bias of 5%, considering we rely on subjective judgement, is very, very low indeed. Consider for instance the relative bias humans exhibit when judging numerical values such as the age of another person, the price of some good, the rise/fall in unemployment under Regans administration or the relative size of the Chinese economy and keep in mind these are objectively available facts and not guesses of the probabilities of how likely particular ancient manuscripts are given different hypothesis.

13

Probability Jesus is historical, p(h|E)

1

0.8

0.6

0.4

0.2

0

Biased for historocity (Alice)

Biased against historocity (Bob)

for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10
for historocity (Alice) Biased against historocity (Bob) 0 2 4 6 Bias in percent 8 10

0

2

4

6

Bias in percent

8

10

Figure 3: Effect of systematic bias. Suppose Alice uses Dr. Carriers estimated probabilities but is ever so slightly biased towards historicity in her estimates of the various terms (a bias of 4% means estimating 6.34% rather than 6.1%, see text) and Bob is similarly ever so slightly biased against historicity. The two curves show the effect of the bias on their final judgement of historicity, for instance at 4% bias Alice believes Jesus almost certainly did not exist and Bob is nearly certain he did. Accordingly, we must assume we are absolutely unbiased when estimating probabilities when we apply Dr. Carriers method.

Systematic bias has in this section referred to a subjective, irrational bias. It may(?) be objected we should simply ignore this affect because it has to do with psychology, or that no such bias affects Dr. Carriers assignments of probabilities because he has considered the matter very thoroughly and objectively. However, as will be shown in the following sections there are other sources of systematic bias than psychology and in the following sections I will point out simple but subtle ways systematic bias can (and arguably is) introduced. At this point we can conclude:

Dr. Carrier’s use of Bayes’ theorem magnifies bias by around a factor 20

To use Bayes’ theorem we must assume we (and others) have a fully neglige bias and no other sources of bias exists

Any non-neglige bias will lead to wildly diverging results

14

Probability of historicity 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1 Chance
Probability of historicity
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1
Chance of guessing at this value

Probability of historicity p(h|E) with errors estimated from OHOJ

Figure 4: If we estimate the error of the individual terms as being equal to the mean difference between the upper/lower bounds Dr. Carrier supplies in his text this results in an extremely broad, uninformative posterior distribution of historicity.

3.4 An example using errors estimated from On the His- toricity of Jesus

I argued previously Dr. Carrier’s use of Bayes’ theorem roughly inflated errors by about a factor 5 provided the errors are fully unbiased. Naturally this raises the question what the value of the errors actually are. After all, if the errors are very small, inflating them by a factor 5 might not be too bad. The bad news is I don’t think there is any objective way to estimate the errors. After all, these are errors in our subjective judgement on how plausible something seems to be. I suppose one could gather a large number of historians and see which values they independently came up with, but this too would not really inform us about the errors but about how well historians agreed with each other. In On the Historicity of Jesus Dr. Carrier provides his estimates of the upper and lower bounds for the relative magnitude of the various terms in the computation, i.e. fractions of the form:

P(e 1 |h)

P(e 2 |h)

P(e 1 h) ,

P(e 2 h) , ···

.

One way to proceed is to estimate the typical size of the error from these upper and lower bounds. In some cases, Dr. Carrier’s estimate of the upper and lower bounds agree; since I don’t think this is realistic, I will only consider those terms where the upper and lower bounds differ. Doing this I arrived at the plot shown in fig. 4. As can be seen, with errors of this magnitude we can effectively

15

arrive at any value of the probability of historicity P (h|E) 4 . My estimates of the errors can naturally be criticized from various perspectives and I certainly do not claim this is the only way of going about the problem. In the main this criticism revolves around the formal vagueness of On the Historicity of Jesus, for instance that Dr. Carrier’s choice of providing upper/lower bounds of various fractions does not correspond to any sensible statistical practice. I will very tentatively conclude:

If the error of the various probabilities is of the magnitude corresponding to the upper/lower bounds this is sufficient to allow nearly any conclusion to be drawn from the data.

Mind this is assuming we are fully unbiased in our error estimates. With just the slightest bias, errors of the size estimated here would lead us to conclude whatever our bias predisposed us towards with near certainty.

3.5 But doesn’t the upper and lower bounds fix this?

An objection to what I have discussed above is that since Dr. Carrier provides upper and lower bounds of the various terms, and from these terms compute upper and lower bounds on the probability of historicity, then the probability of historicity is upper and lower bounded and so the conclusion holds regardless of how Bayes’ theorem may inflate errors in other circumstances. There are two principal comments to be made to this type of argument. Firstly, the use of upper and lower bounds do not correspond to any sensible Bayesian procedure. What are the upper and lower bounds supposed to repre- sent? Presumably, at least for the upper bound, is supposed to represent some sort of confidence interval. I.e. we can be 95% sure the “true” probability is lower (or greater) than this bound. The problem with this idea is that the use of confidence intervals in this manner is both wrong and not required. If we do not know what the true weight of the mass of the apple m A is, Bayesianism suggests we should represent that uncertainty with a probability distribution as shown in the left pane of fig. 1. Similarly, if we do not know the exact prob- ability of a given term, for instance x = P (e 3 |h.b), then we should represent that uncertainty using a probability density of x as shown in the left pane of fig. 2. It may seem extravagant to consider “a probability of a probability” 5 , however this is done all the time in standard Bayesian analysis. It is in other words completely standard textbook stuff and in fact the only thing we can do if we do not know the probabilities. To consider such an analysis, consider again the term P (e 3 |h.b). Recall e 3 was the evidence found in “1 Clement”. To say the upper and lower bounds of

the ratio r = P(e 3 |¬h.b)

P(e 3 |h.b)

are both 1 (as Dr. Carrier does) is to say we have no

4 Since the terms are fractions I work in the log domain. I then compute the mean of the difference between the log of the upper and lower bounds and assumed the error was uniformly distributed within these bounds. This is by no means the only way to go about the problem and the result should only be taken as an illustration. 5 More precisely stated, a probability density of parameter which represents a probability

16

uncertainty in this ratio at all. It is a much stronger statement than to say this ratio has mean 1 or that we do not know what the ratio is; in all these cases we should assign a probability distribution to r which reflects our uncertainty in the value. The problem is that when this is done the errors are inflated dramatically as previously illustrated. This brings us to the second problem. Dr. Carriers arguments in On the His- toricity of Jesus relies on particular interpretations of certain passages. Presum- ably, if these interpretations are different then this would affect the argument somehow, i.e. it induces uncertainty in the estimates of the various probabili- ties. It is not at all clear if the final probabilities reflect this uncertainty (I will provide examples of this later on in a brief discussion of the Epistles). If there exists a (plausible) textual reading of a certain passage which is true with some non-vanishing probability and much easier explained on historicity than mythi- cism then this induces uncertainty in the estimated probabilities. Whether one considers upper or lower bounds, or a Bayesian analysis, this induces uncer- tainty in the estimated probabilities. The upper and lower bounds discussed in On the Historicity of Jesus cannot represent anything but Dr. Carriers par- ticular choices in his interpretation or how these choices on average affects the probabilities. These considerations are perhaps much easier illustrated with the gameshow example. It is possible to postulate for instance an upper bound on the apples weight by saying the total mass must be no higher than some value and the mass of the two other objects can’t be any lower than two other values. However these postulated upper and lower bounds depends on all kinds of things, for instance we might lower bound the mass of the crayons using an assumption crayons has the same density as rock. When all is said and done we can insist the lower bound represents the absolute extreme of our estimates, however we can’t really know. Suppose in a gameshow example that a bias of just 5% in the estimates would be sufficient to throw off the bounds how confident would we really be? It seems unclear why this is any more exact than simply saying an apple can’t weight more than say 300g.

4 Examining the logic of On the Historicity of Jesus

In this section, I will go over the specific argument presented in On the Historic- ity of Jesus and present the specific reasons why I think Dr. Carrier misapplies Bayes’ theorem in On the Historicity of Jesus. I will show that Dr. Carrier makes (subtle) assumptions and conflations which favors mythicism and which, to be formally correct, requires the prior probability P (h|b) to indicate a very specific event. However as will be shown in the next chapter the prior is (quite trivially) incorrectly computed, rendering the overall argument erroneous. I will use a running example of a trial to illustrate the various moves made in On the Historicity of Jesus and why they are of consequence to the overall argument.

17

4.1 The trial-example: Why accuracy matters

Since all probabilities used by Dr. Carrier depends on the definition of historic- ity h and myth ¬h, the exact definition of these terms is very important and any difficulty in their definition can dramatically affect the entire computation. To give the reader an impression of the kind of difficulties we can easily find ourselves in I will consider an example of a criminal trial where we consider the proposition:

g : “Bob is guilty”

given different pieces of evidence. Suppose for instance e 1 is the evidence that a hair was found at the crime scene which matches Bob according to a DNA test 6 . In ordinary Bayesian reasoning we would then have:

P(g|e 1 .b)

P(¬g|e 1 .b) =

P(e 1 |g.b)P (g|b)

P(e 1 g.b)P (¬g|b)

if we suppose we are a-priori uncommitted to Bob being guilty, P (g|b) = P(¬g|b) = 1 2 , then under the natural assumptions the chance Bobs hair is found at the crimescene is much larger given Bob is guilty than if he is not guilty, P (e 1 |g.b) > P (e 1 g.b), and we can conclude Bob is likely guilty. For definiteness assume P (e 1 |g.b) = 10 000 × P (e 1 g.b) in which case

P(g|e 1 .b) = 99.99%

So far so good: If your hair is found on the crime scene and you don’t live there, you are likely guilty of the crime. However in an actual trial both the defence and the prosecutor will argue for a particular theory of what happened. Suppose therefore that the defence argues that Bob is not just innocent, but there was a mixup at the crime lab such that the original hair sample was contaminated with Bobs hair. In other words, suppose the defence introduce as a theory the additional proposition:

T : “The hairsample was contaminated with Bobs hair”

the defence then argues for the joint proposition (innocence): i = ¬g.T (Or in words: Bob is not guilty and the evidence was contamination). In this case,

just as before: P(g|e 1 .b)

 

P(e 1 |g.b)

× P(g|b)

P(i|e 1 .b)

=

P(e 1 |i.b)

P(i|b)

However consider the first two terms: If Bob is guilty, then the chance Bobs hair will be found at the crime scene is the chance a criminal will leave hair. However if Bob is innocent and the sample is contaminated, then the chance Bobs hair will be found at the crime scene is just the chance the criminal left

6 we assume Bob does not live at the crime scene and that he has no relationship to the diseased

18

hair, since per assumption the sample would be contaminated so as to match Bobs sample. I.e. P (e 1 |g.b) = P (e 1 |i.b) and so

P(g|e 1 .b) P(i|e 1 .b)

= P(g|b)

P(i|b)

and so the defence argues Bob should be found innocent since the evidence is indifferent with respect to his guilt and we should be a-priori uncommitted to

1 and Bob is not guilty. Should

his guilt (i.e. P (g|b) P (i|b)) and so P(g|e 1 .b)

we be convinced by this argument? Not so fast. We now have to account for the term P (i|b). Notice that

P(i|e 1 .b)

P (i|b) = P (¬g.T |b) = P (T g.b)P (¬g|b)

In general we can conclude that the term P (T g.b) (the chance of contam- ination given the defendant is guilty) is rather low, in fact for us to reason consistently we can deduce it must be in the order of P (T g.b) It it thus this term P (T g.b) which “saves” us from being off by a factor

of 10 000. In practice, humans are often very focused on how well hypothesis explains the evidence, i.e. P (e 1 |i.b), and not so good at judging the intrinsic probability of a hypothesis P (i|b). This is a common and well-documented flaw in human thinking which we must be aware of. The problem is particulary severe when the addition to the hypothesis (T in this case) has the form of a conspiracy. If the defence proposed the theory that someone had conspired to frame Bob, this would easily explain every piece of incriminating evidence (he was framed see?) while even weak evidence for innocence still counts towards his innocence (the conspirators messed up see?). Consider for instance the idea the Apollo moon landings were faked. Evidence which would normally be considered absolutely conclusive such as video tapes is dismissed as part of the hypothesis (the hypothesis entails the moon landings are faked so video evidence is easily explained as being manufactured), while minor anomalies such as the supposed wind that ripples the flag remains evidence for the conspiracy. In my opinion, this goes a long way to explain why it is so hard to reason people out of conspiracy theories. The bottom line is this: When we add additional elements (what I call theo- ries) to our basic hypothesis, such as contamination in the above example, these will as a rule dramatically alter our assignments of all probabilities since the only reason we propose a particular theory is because it explains the evidence. To counteract this, we must be extremely careful to reason exactly about the prior probability of the theories we propose and correspondingly, we must make very strong assumptions on our ability to gauge the intrinsic prior probability of propositions if the theories are complicated. In the previous case,

100 1 , their computation would

if the defence inaccurately assumed P (i|g.b) =

have been off by about a factor of 100. In comparison, in the example with Jesus a factor of 3 is enough to overturn the conclusion of Dr. Carriers conser- vative estimate. With this in mind, let’s look at how Dr. Carrier defines his hypothesis.

1

10 000 .

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4.2 The hypothesis of Myth and historicity

Recall that Dr. Carrier defines his hypothesis of history and myth not simply

as whether Jesus existed or not but as theories for his existence. Mythicism ¬h

is defined by Dr. Carrier as (introducing m A ,

m A : At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.

m B : Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus ’communicated’ with his subjects only through dreams, visions and other forms of divine inspiration (such as prophecy, past and present).

m C : Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally be- lieved to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm.

m D : As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred com- munity, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.

m E : Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only ’additionally’ allegorical)

That all five propositions are true shall be my minimal Jesus myth

theory.

(On the Historicity of Jesus p. 53)

And similarly historicity is defined as a list of four other propositions. If we only focus on mythicism, a difficulty Dr. Carrier does not address in On the Historicity of Jesus is the basic hypothesis of historicity is conflated with a particular theory for historicity and so it is not clear exactly what the basic theory of historicity or mythicism is. I think the closest we come to a definition is the first element of his definition of historicity: “An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.”. That is, there once lived a man called Jesus who founded a religious group which stands in a causal relationship to christianity today. I will leave the question of what basic historicity and myth exactly is open and simply define bare historicity as the proposition:

, m E ):

h B : Jesus was a historical person

then ¬h B will be “it is not true Jesus was a historical person”. We can then define mythicism, as it is used in On the Historicity of Jesus , as the conjunction of ¬h B and the five elements of our theory of mythicism:

¬h = m A .m B .m C .m D .m E .¬h B

Similar we can introduce the three elements of minimal historicity:

20

This gets us down to just three minimal facts on which historicity rests:

h A An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.

h B This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities.

h C This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began wor- shiping as a living god (or demigod).

That all three propositions are true shall be my minimal theory of

historicity.

(On the Historicity of Jesus p. 34)

and then in this notation Dr. Carriers definition of historicity is:

h = h A .h B .h C .h B .

As a preliminary comment, the notation used by On the Historicity of Jesus is simply flawed since quite clearly ¬h is not equal to the negation of h. In other words, Dr. Carrier is not comparing two binary exhaustive propositions and from a technical standpoint the computation used is therefore flawed. This is however not the major issue, the major issue is that adding elements to our theory, just as the case of Bob and the murder trial, can only happen if we

are extremely careful to correctly assess the prior probability of the new joint hypothesis, especially when those additional elements are an aid in explaining the evidence.

, m E and bare mythicism ¬h B better

explains the evidence than just bare mythicism ¬h B . As an example, recall in bare mythicism we start out with only assuming there was no historical Jesus. Suppose then we consider the evidence in the Gospels which obviously describes an earthly Jesus. If we consider the probability of the Gospels given just h B , then creating the Gospels has to involve the Gospel writers somehow making up or coming in contact with an “earthly Jesus” tradition and then decides to write the Gospels as only containing this tradition. On the other hand, if we assume in addition to ¬h B that m E is true,

It is no doubt the case that m A ,

m E :

Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story [Je- sus was an earthly man with an earthly family with followers etc.] was real (and either not allegorical or only ’additionally’ allegorical).

Then we are starting from the assumption that the Gospel writer already thought Jesus was a historical person so clearly he would be pre-disposed to write the Gospels about an earthly Jesus. In other words

P (Gospels|m E .h B .b) P (Gospels|h B .b)

21

The same goes for other pieces of the evidence: If we assume the Christians already understands Jesus to be historical at the time of them writing their history, the chance of them writing about a historical Jesus is of course much, much higher than if we simply assume the Christians initially start out convinced that Jesus was not historical and had to change their minds within a relatively narrow timescale. Or consider another example:

m B :

Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was orig- inally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarna- tion, death, burial and resurrection in a supernatural realm

With an assumption such as this in place, it is of course much much easier to explain certain pieces of evidence. For instance in 1 Thessalonians 2.14 Jesus is said to have been killed by the Jews; however Dr. Carrier regards this to be an interpolation. According to Dr. Carrier, Paul actually believed Jesus to have undergone a heavenly crucifixion by Demons as described in 1 Corinthians 2.8

Thus, when Paul says ’the rulers of this age’ (archonton tou aionos toutou) were the ones kept in the dark and who in result crucified Jesus, he is using archon in its then common supernatural sense:

the demonic powers (Element 37). Paul almost never uses this word of earthly authorities, and never so uses it in conjunction with the cosmic vocabulary of aeons. And here he certainly cannot be using it in a human sense, as the motives he is imputing to these archons then make no sense. Rather, this exactly describes what we saw in the earlier redaction of the Ascension of Isaiah: Satan and his demons kill Jesus only because his identity was kept hidden from them, so they wouldn’t know what his death would accomplish (see Chapter 3, 1; with Chapter 8, 6) (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 565)

However, if Paul is talking about a crucifixion carried out by demons, this is easily explained if we assume m B , that Paul already believed Jesus to undergone death in the supernatural realm:

P (Epistles|m B .¬h B .b) 1

However if we only believe Jesus was not historical, then Paul talking about a supernatural crucifixion should be compared against any old source mentioning a supernatural crucifixion of any non-historical person, for instance the proba- bility we might have sources discussing a supernatural crucifixion or execution of Robin Hood, Moses or Buddah. In other words again:

P (Epistles|m B .¬h B .b) P (Epistlesh B .b).

So connecting this to the crime-example with Bob, what I have argued so far is

that I think it is fair to say the addition of m A ,

, m E

to ¬h B makes it a lot

22

easier for us to explain various pieces of evidence. The elements m A ,

therefore acts like the contamination hypothesis T in the trial example and accordingly we should be very careful when we assess the prior probability of our joint hypothesis P (m A .m B .m C .m D .m E .¬h B |b). So how does Dr. Carrier do this? Well, according to Dr. Carrier the problem can simply be ignored:

)technically (

, m E ] (that is,

all theories of the evidence for Jesus that entail historicity is false and at least one of Premises 1 through 5 is false), but since their prior probability (even collectively) is surely less than a tenth of one percent (as I just reasoned), and their posterior probability not

sufficiently high to make enough of a difference (especially in relation to minimal historicity), these theories share such a small portion of the probability-space occupied by ¬h that they can simply be ignored. In other words, if ¬h (as I have minimally defined it) is false, it’s simply the case that historicity is probably true (On the Historicity of Jesus p. 55)

theories not defined by Premises 1 through 5 [m A ,

¬h (non-historicity) must also include all Jesus myth

, m E

Let’s spell out what this argument must imply. First notice that

P(m A .m B .m C .m D .m E .¬h B |b) = P(m A .m B .m C .m D .m E h B .b)P (¬h B |b)

So Dr. Carrier argues that, based on a previous argument, P (m A . · · · .m B .h B |b)

P(h B |b). This

implies:

1

P(m A .m B .m C .m D .m E h B .b)

The argument Dr. Carrier refers to takes up about one page and itemizes why the background evidence and minimal mythicism implies each of the elements m A , ··· , m E . I will only focus on m E for simplicity. So why is m E entailed by b and bare mythicism ¬h B ? Dr. Carrier explains:

Finally, Premise 5 [i.e. m 5 ] is already an effective certainty, as it is true even if historicity is true, and is so well verified in background evidence that its prior probability is as near to 100% as makes all odds. So the possibility of its being false will not be an issue. (p. 55)

Firstly, that m E is implied by historicity is irrelevant and it is odd Dr. Car- rier would bring it up. Secondly, the argument boils down to saying that P(m E |h B .b) 1 since m E “is so well-verified on background evidence”. But what is this saying? It is saying exactly that assuming our general background knowledge, and assuming Jesus was not historical, we can conclude m E , that subsequent Christians believed Jesus was a real person (or more specifically, that “subsequent stories” about Jesus were true). This is a highly problematic argument: Assume someone is thought not to exist on earth, for instance one of the Gods in the Hindu religion. Then ¬h B

23

is true for this God. However for P (m E h B .b) 1, then it should be almost certain that subsequent Hindus would place that God on earth with a family, enemies, etc. etc. as implied by m E . Obviously this might happen, but given the many Gods or God-like creatures who start out celestial and remain so presumably it mostly does not happen; similar comments apply for the other properties like that Jesus underwent death and resurrection in the supernatural realm. The only way to “fix” the argument from a formal point of view is to conflate evidence with background knowledge. I.e. we must claim that our background knowledge contains the statement that later Christians (say around year 100) came to believe Jesus was historical. In other words P (m E h B .b) = 1 because our background evidence already contains other facts implying m E . This is actually stated in On the Historicity of Jesus as:

Finally, that subsequent Christians believed Jesus was his- torical [m E ] is an established fact in our background knowl- edge, and therefore the probability that it is false is virtu- ally zero; and therefore it consumes effectively all the probability- space reserved for myth. In other words, any theory of myth that denied this would have an absurdly low prior. It therefore can be ignored as well. (On the Historicity of Jesus p.249)

As stated, there is as such nothing illegal in this move from a strictly formal viewpoint, however we have to be extremely careful when arguing some infor- mation is part of our background knowledge as we then have to account for how this element affect all terms in our computation. Let’s illustrate this with the trial example.

4.2.1 Bobs defence has a new strategy

Suppose we consider the trial-example with Bob from before and suppose Bobs defence argues that it is part of our background-evidence that Bob was arrested for the crime. The background-evidence is then b = b .a 0 where a 0 is that Bob was arrested. Now recall that e 1 was that Bobs DNA was found on the crime- scene and T is the theory the DNA-sample was contaminated at the laboratory and i = T.¬g. Where we left off the last time was:

P(g|e 1 .b)

= P(g|b)

P(g|b)

P(i|e 1 .b)

P(i|b)

=

P (T g.b)P (¬g|b)

Recall furthermore that what “guaranteed” the right conclusion, that the DNA indicated Bob was guilty, was that the chance of contamination was assumed

low on our background knowledge, i.e. P (T g.b)

000 . However, notice

that when we add a 0 to the background knowledge Bobs lawyer can make the following (arguably correct) argument: “If Bob is arrested by the police, a 0 ,

this must be because the police think they have found some piece of evidence linking Bob to the crime. Why else make the arrest? But since Bob is assumed

1

10

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innocent, ¬g, and the polices only lead was the hair, there must have been an error incorrectly linking Bob to the crime though the hair and that error must therefore be in the DNA analysis of the hair. So P (T g.a 0 .b) 1 and not very small as the prosecutor claims. Therefore Bob is innocent.”. Notice this argument is true under the assumptions and implies again:

P(g|e 1 .b)

P(g|b)

P(g|b)

P(i|e 1 .b) =

P (T g.b)P (¬g|b)

P(¬g|b) 1(?)

So once more we have seemingly acquitted Bob. Of course we can know post- hoc this argument is faulty because the DNA must point to Bobs guilt. We can therefore conclude that the inclusion of a 0 in b must lower the prior probability of Bob being innocent (or correspondingly increase the prior probability of Bob

being guilty) by an amount such that

P(¬g|b) 10 000 when a 0 is included in b.

I think there are three points worth emphasizing before returning to Dr. Carriers argument:

P(g|b)

The first point is that these manipulations is causing our original probabil- ity of the evidence (the DNA on the crime-scene) to jump around between the various factors. If we started out with the above computation, i.e. using a 0 and T , for us to reason correctly we would have to figure out, without any external guidance or way to check if the argument was sound, that P (g|b) 10 000P (¬g|b) despite the fact the judge had instructed us originally to be a-priori uncommitted to the clients guilt.

The second point is that correctly reasoning in the above situation requires us to be extremely careful in how exactly we define background evidence, evidence, hypothesis, etc. etc. It also requires us to be extremely careful to preserve and account for this information in subsequent arguments.

The third point is that we cannot simply assume it is innocent to add something to the background evidence because it is generally known or has no causal connection to the hypothesis. For instance, it is generally known Bob is arrested (why else have the trial?) and that him being arrested cannot (backward) cause him to have committed the crime. Still, adding this piece of information, in conjunction with the other assumptions, can easily throw off a computation by several orders of magnitude.

4.2.2

Conflating background information and evidence

With this in mind lets turn to Dr. Carriers argument. Firstly, what is it Dr. Car- rier adds to the background information? The timing of these subsequent Chris- tians he mentions as being part of our background evidence as well as their extent within christianity is important. If “subsequent Christians” means some Christians around year 1300CE believed Jesus was historical this is true, how- ever this would prove a version of m E (the 1300CE version) which would have no relationship to the actual evidence which is from the first two centuries.

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Thus, the statement must imply that Christians in the early phase of christian- ity believed Jesus was historical. So how is this included in our background information? Dr. Carrier does not say, but it must relate to early sources such as Paul or the Gospels. The point is that Paul and the Gospels is elsewhere treated as evidence as are other early sources. So what Dr. Carrier says is that some (unspecified) part of the evidence, e 0 , is actually part of our background knowledge and given this piece of evidence m E is certain. Lets state this for- mally. We assume that our background knowledge is composed of two parts:

b = b .e 0 where

e 0 : subsequent Christians believed Jesus was historical

and then it is true that

P(m E h B .b .e 0 ) = 1

However now our prior for h B is actually:

P(¬h B |b) = P(¬h B |b .e 0 )

So when we compute our prior probability that Jesus was not historical, we must do that while assuming (and accounting for) early Christians believing Jesus was historical. That is, e 0 must explicitly enter in the argument and be well-accounted for by whatever computation we carry out. Comparing to the trial example, this is exactly similarly to the way adding a 0 to the background information must be accounted for. Another way of writing this is by the ratio of the probabilities which becomes:

P(h B |b)

P(e 0 |h B .b )

P(h B |b )

P(¬h B

|b) =

P(e 0 h B .b ) ×

P(¬h B |b )

It seems plainly obvious to me at least that an early belief Jesus was historical in the Christian community e 0 is easier explained if we assume Jesus was historical than if we assume he was not. For instance, it is much easier to account for an early Mormon belief Joseph Smith was historical under the assumption he indeed was. In this case P (e 0 |h B .b ) > P(e 0 h B .b ) and so

P(h B |b) P(¬h B |b) >

P(h B |b ) P(¬h B |b )

So it seems reasonable to assume that when Dr. Carrier adds this piece of evidence to the background knowledge he favors mythicism. How much? Is it 5% or an order of magnitude? I don’t think there is any way to tell in general, and before we can even begin to make guesses we must know exactly what is being added to the background information; something which Dr. Carrier is very vague about. I will return to the effects of conflating various pieces of background evidence with the prior when I discuss how Dr. Carrier numerically estimates the prior.

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Conclusion Dr. Carrier adds various assumptions m A ,

hypothesis. These additional assumptions are made in knowledge of how the evidence actually is and they serve as to make the evidence far more probable on mythicism. The effect of this is to create a bias in favor of mythicism in that the evidence is then easier to explained. How much? As all probabilities are guessed I don’t think there is any way to tell, however as we saw earlier a bias of just a few percent is enough to throw the computation completely off. The way these assumptions are justified by Dr. Carrier is by conflating var- ious pieces of information about early christianity, presumably parts of the ev- idence, with our background knowledge. Before we can even begin to consider this we must be extremely clear about what constitute background evidence, evidence and hypothesis. This is not clear in On the Historicity of Jesus, rather there is a 176 pages of “background information” all of which must be accounted for when computing the prior probability and, as in the case of Bob, each piece has the possibility of invalidating the computation. To summarize:

, m E to his initial

The notation in On the Historicity of Jesus indicate two binary exhaustive hypothesis are being tested h and ¬h, however in reality what is being tested are two theories which are not mutually exclusive, each which are

a mix of an (never explicitly stated) basic historical hypothesis h B and

other additional elements m A ,

, m B and h A , h B , h

C

Adding elements to our basic theory can (and as I argued do) bias the probability of the evidence by a large amount; since everythi