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Author: Briggs

October 2, 2018 | 9 Comments

Poor Richard Carrier Goes On The Offensive

Six years ago I wrote a small, daily piece (Bayes Theorem Proves Jesus Existed And Didn’t Exist) about the use of probability in proving or disproving the existence of God. I’m against it.

I began with a quote by Keynes on Bayes’s Theorem:

No other formula in the alchemy of logic has exerted more astonishing powers. For it has established the existence of God from the premiss of total ignorance; and it has measured with numerical precision the probability the sun will rise to-morrow.

I next said:

Probability carries with it “a smack of astrology, of alchemy.” Comte, Keynes reminds us, regarded the application of the mathematical calculus of probability as “purement chimérique et, par conséquent, tout à fait vicieuse.”

Now these are minds better than mine giving manful advice about over-relying on probability. Heed them. Indeed, as anybody who has regularly read this blog knows, probability is misused with shocking abandon. We all know how probability, mainly through statistical models, is used to “prove anything” — a phrase I trust is recognized for what it is, a figure of speech and not a complete logical treatise on probability misuse (although I’ve done that, too!).

I said:

…there is not one, but two books which argue that a fixed, firm number may be put on the proposition God Exists. The first by Stephen Unwin is called The Probability of God: A Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth, in which he uses Bayes’s theorem to demonstrate, with probability one minus epsilon, (the Christian) God exists.

This is countered by Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus by the very concerned Richard Carrier (pictured above), whose uses Bayes’s theorem to prove, with probability one minus epsilon, that the Christian God does not exist because Jesus himself never did.

There we have it: probability proving two diametrically opposite conclusions. Alchemy indeed.

It’s obvious the “equations” “probability one minus epsilon” are mild jokes, probabilistic figures of speech, and not meant as rigorous mathematical proofs that Unwin and Carrier came to these exact precise figures. It’s equally obvious we have two people using probability to argue both sides of a question.

It wasn’t obvious to Richard Carrier. He felt stung at the time of the post, which was later reprinted, and went then into a sort of minor frenzy. In one comment at the time he said:

…Bayes’ Theorem is simply the mathematical model for the arguments historians are already making. If they can’t make a probabilistic argument that Jesus existed, then they can’t claim to know Jesus probably existed. And then we’d all have to concede we don’t know Jesus probably existed. Sink the ship of arguing from probabilities, and all probability arguments go down with it. And with that, all human knowledge. Thus, you have to address what I actually argue, not pretend it’s some sort of advanced significance testing like in the sciences. It’s just an argument that something probably happened in history. And as such is as valid as any other argument that something probably happened in history. Unless no such arguments are valid!

By pointing out improper uses of probability, I have managed to sink All human knowledge! What powers I have! (I always knew I was special.)

Apparently Carrier doesn’t understand Bayes’s theorem isn’t really needed, that it stands or falls based on its inputs. And that the inputs are the only important things worth discussing. Carrier’s inputs are on the order of the Bigfoot conspiracy theories. For Carrier, don’t forget, claims Jesus never existed. Not just that Jesus wasn’t God, but that the man himself did not exist.

Anyway, Carrier spun himself around in circles lo those many years ago. And I forgot about the post, which after all only made a small point.

Carrier didn’t forget. Evidently, the wound I caused festered and never healed. Carrier, we presume, retreated to some dark corner to cherish the injury, only to reemerge two weeks ago with an extraordinarily long piece—found by reader swordfishtrombone—-in which he produces multiple points of evidence proving I’m a “liar”.

His title is “Why Christians Are Terrified of Probability Theory.”

Yeah, sure, Carrier. I’m quivering.

Here are the first two “lies” of which he says I’m guilty:

The title says Briggs is talking about examples of Bayes’ Theorem being used to prove “Jesus Existed (And That He Didn’t).” But he gives no example anywhere in his piece of Bayes’ Theorem ever being used to prove Jesus existed! Lie number one.

In fact, Briggs gives no actual example of Bayes’ Theorem being used to prove Jesus didn’t exist, either. He cites only my book Proving History. In which I never argue any conclusion about the historicity of Jesus. Much less mathematically. Lie number two.

Good grief!


Yet Briggs claims Unwin “uses Bayes’’ theorem to demonstrate, with probability one minus epsilon, that the Christian God exists.” Lie number three.


Number four is my favorite:

Moreover, Unwin’s conclusion is that the probability of God’s existence based on his examination of the evidence is only 67%. Yet Briggs claims Unwin got the result of “probability one minus epsilon,” epsilon being a mathematician’s term for a very small number (in fact, usually infinitesimally small). In other words, Briggs lied. He said Unwin found the probability to be arbitrarily close to 100%. In fact, Unwin found it was far more ambiguously around 67%. Strange lie for Briggs to tell. But alas. Lie number four.

You can read the others, which are equally or more frivolous.

The real problem might be that Carrier was embarrassed by other articles I wrote showing his errors. And so he took his frustration out on a toss-away article by using lawyer-like insinuations about niggling details that nobody cares about.

How about this article? “Richard Carrier’s Argument To Show God’s Existence Unlikely Is Invalid And Unsound“.

Richard Carrier’s argument to show that God probably didn’t create the universe, and therefore He probably doesn’t exist, in Carrier’s “Neither Life nor the Universe Appears Intelligently Designed”, like many attempts to use probability in defense of atheism or theism, is invalid and unsound, and based on fundamental misunderstandings of who God is and of the proper role of probability.

Lower down:

Carrier introduces Bayes’s probability theorem, but only as a club to frighten his enemies and not as a legitimate tool to understand uncertainty. I must be right, he seems to insist, because look at these equations. Bayes’s theorem is a simple means to update the probability of a hypothesis when considering new information. If the information comes all at once, the theorem isn’t especially needed, because there is no updating to be done. Nowhere does Carrier actually needs Bayes and, anyway, probabilistic arguments are never as convincing as definitive proof, which is what we seek when asking whether God exists.

Even lower down is a section on Carrier’s many probability errors.

He repeats many of these errors in his new Pity-Me-Richard-Carrier article:

Taking probability theory seriously, entails exposing assumptions to the light of day, that once exposed, destroy the Christian faith. The resulting cognitive dissonance is so powerful only two options are available to the believer: make shit up (like Unwin and Swinburne, they fabricate fantastical probabilities that have no plausible basis in logic or reality) or declare probability itself the enemy. Briggs picks option B. Meanwhile, all peer reviewed work on the question finds the opposite: that history is in fact Bayesian.

History is not Bayesian, Carrier. Any my work has been peer reviewed, too, which makes it true and indisputable.

Your work, Carrier, has also been peer reviewed. And your peers say harsh things. Which is why Carrier also doesn’t like it when I link to atheist Tim O’Neill’s “History for Atheists” site, which has many articles proving—as in proving—Carrier’s many historical mistakes.

Bear with me for one last quote, as it involves Bayes again.

Two years ago Carrier brought out what he felt was going to be a game-changer in the fringe side-issue debate about whether a historical Jesus existed at all. His book, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield-Phoenix, 2014), was the first peer-reviewed (well, kind of) monograph that argued against a historical Jesus in about a century and Carrier’s New Atheist fans expected it to have a shattering impact on the field. It didn’t. Apart from some detailed debunking of his dubious use of Bayes’ Theorem to try to assess historical claims, the book has gone unnoticed and basically sunk without trace. It has been cited by no-one and has so far attracted just one lonely academic review, which is actually a feeble puff piece by the fawning minion mentioned above. The book is a total clunker.

The “detailed debunking” is not mine, but Tim Hendrix’s “Richard Carrier’s ‘On the historicity of Jesus’ A Review From a Bayesian Perspective“. Fifty-seven pages of solid debunking.

“Tim Hendrix” is a pseudonym. “Hendrix” was evidently worried he or his family would be hounded by Carrier’s “fawning minions” (O’Neill’s phrase). And perhaps be called “a liar” by Carrier himself.

You needed have worried, “Tim”. I’ve had mosquito bites that hurt worse than Carrier’s insults.

A decade of the rosary has been said for you, Richard. Miracles do happen!

October 1, 2018 | 8 Comments

Cornell Professor Exposes His Wee P-values One Too Many Times: All P-values Are P-Hacking

The over-production of wee p-values led to the downfall of Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, who is being made to retire (with what we can guess is a comfortable “package”).

We met Wansink before, in the context of cheating with statistics. According to Vox:

His studies, cited more than 20,000 times, are about how our environment shapes how we think about food, and what we end up consuming. He’s one of the reasons Big Food companies started offering smaller snack packaging, in 100 calorie portions. He once led the USDA committee on dietary guidelines and influenced public policy. He helped Google and the US Army implement programs to encourage healthy eating.

Ah, the love of theory. Science did so well with the simple things, like explaining (in part) gravity at the largest scales, why can’t it do well explaining small things, like what’s best to eat? Surely we can’t go by the wisdom of ages, since that’s anecdote and not blessed “randomized controlled” experiment.

Never mind all that.

Thirteen of Wansink’s studies have now been retracted, including the six pulled from JAMA Wednesday. Among them: studies suggesting people who grocery shop hungry buy more calories; that preordering lunch can help you choose healthier food; and that serving people out of large bowls encourage them to serve themselves larger portions…

There was also Wansink’s famous “bottomless bowls” study, which concluded that people will mindlessly guzzle down soup as long as their bowls are automatically refilled, and his “bad popcorn” study, which demonstrated that we’ll gobble up stale and unpalatable food when it’s presented to us in huge quantities.

Why these were even subjects of “research” is, I think, the more important question. But such is the grip of scientism that it probably won’t even strike you as odd we laid aside the knowledge of gluttony in the search of quantifying the unquantifiable.

I’m happy, however, to note that Vox sees parts of the problem:

Among the biggest problems in science that the Wansink debacle exemplifies is the “publish or perish” mentality.

To be more competitive for grants, scientists have to publish their research in respected scientific journals. For their work to be accepted by these journals, they need positive (i.e., statistically significant) results.

That puts pressure on labs like Wansink’s to do wha’’s known as p-hacking. The “p” stands for p-values, a measure of statistical significance. Typically, researchers hope their results yield a p-value of less than .05 — the cutoff beyond which they can call their results significant.

There is no non-fallacious use of p-values. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t lead to true results. Here is a faulty syllogism: “Michael Moore is a fine fellow. Fine fellows support toxic feminism. Therefore, 1 + 1 = 2.” Although it’s a joke, p-values are like this in form. The conclusion in this argument is true, but not for the reasons cited.

That’s the best case. The usual one is like this: “I need a novel finding to boost my career, and here is some data. Here is a wee p-values. Therefore, men really aren’t taller than women on average.” The conclusion is absurd, goes against common sense, but since it has been “scientifically proved”, and its anyway politically desirable, it is believed.

When I am emperor I will ban all p-values, and I will also disallow the publication of more than one paper biannually. (These are among my lighter measures. Wait until you hear what I intend to do with Resurrection deniers.)

I won’t go through Vox’s incorrect explanation of p-values. You can read all about them here, or soon in a paper that has been accepted (peer reviewed, and therefore flawless) “Everything Wrong With P-values Under One Roof.” Also see the articles here.

I want instead to disabuse Vox of their explanation of Bayesian statistics:

While p-values ask, “How rare are these numbers?” a Bayesian approach asks, “What’s the probability my hypothesis is the best explanation for the results we’ve found?”

Not really. What Bayesians ask instead is “What’s the posterior probability this parameter in my ad hoc model does not equal zero?” You can call a non-zero parameter in an ad hoc model a hypothesis if you like—it’s a free country—but a non-zero parameter is such a narrow small thing that it’s undeserving of such a noble title.

That’s the problem with (most) Bayesian statistics. It still hasn’t learned to speak of reality. For that, see this class.

Thanks to Sheri, Al Perrella, and some anonymous readers for the tip.

September 30, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Even Angels Want To Know More

Previous post.

Learning is endless. And Thank God for that.


1 However, it is impossible for the natural desire in separate substances to come to rest in such a knowledge of God.

2 For everything that is an imperfect member of any species desires to attain the perfection of its species. For instance, a man who has an opinion regarding something, that is, an imperfect knowledge of the thing, is thereby aroused to desire knowledge of the thing.

Now, the aforementioned knowledge which the separate substances have of God, without knowing His substance, is an imperfect species of knowledge. In fact, we do not think that we know a thing if we do not know its substance. Hence, it is most important, in knowing a thing, to know what it is. Therefore, natural desire does not come to rest as a result of this knowledge which separate substances have of God; rather, it further arouses the desire to see the divine substance.

3 Again, as a result of knowing the effects, the desire to know their cause is aroused; thus, men began to philosophize when they investigated the causes of things.

Therefore, the desire to know, which is naturally implanted in all intellectual substances, does not rest until, after they have come to know the substances of the effects, they also know the substance of the cause. The fact, then, that separate substances know that God is the cause of all things whose substances they see, does not mean that natural desire comes to rest in them, unless they also see the substance of God Himself.

Notes As we have said many times, knowledge of cause is the goal.

4 Besides, the problem of why something is so is related to the problem of whether it is so, in the same way that an inquiry as to what something is stands in regard to an inquiry as to whether it exists. For the question why looks for a means to demonstrate that something is so, for instance, that there is an eclipse of the moon; likewise, the question what is it seeks a means to demonstrate that something exists, according to the traditional teaching in Posterior Analytics II [1: 89b 22]. Now, we observe that those who see that something is so naturally desire to know why. So, too, those acquainted with the fact that something exists naturally desire to know what this thing is, and this is to understand its substance. Therefore, the natural desire to know does not rest in that knowledge of God whereby we know merely that He is.

Notes And, as our good saint said before, though in different words, the greater the mind, the greater the desire to know more.

5 Furthermore, nothing finite can fully satisfy intellectual desire. This is shown from the fact that, whenever a finite object is presented, the intellect extends its interest to something more, so that, given any finite line, it strives to apprehend a longer one; and the same thing takes place in regard to numbers. This is the reason for infinite series in numbers and in mathematical lines.

Now, the eminence and power of any created substance are finite. Therefore, the intellect of a separate substance does not come to rest simply because it knows created substances, however lofty they may be, but it still tends by natural desire toward the understanding of substance which is of infinite eminence, as we showed concerning divine substance in Book One [43].

6 Moreover, just as the natural desire to know is present in all intellectual natures, so is there present in them the natural desire to put off ignorance and lack of knowledge. Now, the separate substances know, as we have said, by the aforesaid mode of knowledge, that the substance of God is above them and above everything understood by them; consequently, they know that the divine substance is unknown to them. Therefore, their natural desire tends toward the understanding of divine substance.

7 Besides, the nearer a thing comes to its end, the greater is the desire by which it tends to the end; thus, we observe that the natural motion of bodies is increased toward the end. Now, the intellects of separate substances are nearer to the knowledge of God than our intellects are. So, they desire the knowledge of God more intensely than we do. But, no matter how fully we know that God exists, and the other things mentioned above, we do not cease our desire, but still desire to know Him through His essence. Much more, then, do the separate substances desire this naturally. Therefore, their desire does not come to rest in the aforesaid knowledge of God.

8 The conclusion from these considerations is that the ultimate felicity of separate substances does not lie in the knowledge of God, in which they know Him through their substances, for their desire still leads them on toward God’s substance.

9 Also, quite apparent in this conclusion is the fact that ultimate felicity is to be sought in nothing other than an operation of the intellect, since no desire carries on to such sublime heights as the desire to understand the truth. Indeed, all our desires for pleasure, or other things of this sort that are craved by men, can be satisfied with other things, but the aforementioned desire does not rest until it reaches God, the highest point of reference for, and the maker of, things.

This is why Wisdom appropriately states: “I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of a cloud” (Sirach 24:7). And Proverbs (9:3) says that Wisdom “by her maids invites to the tower.” Let those men be ashamed, then, who seek man’s felicity in the most inferior things, when it is so highly situated.

September 29, 2018 | 11 Comments

Insanity & Doom Update LVII

Item Senator Cruz hounded by progressives (video speaks for itself)

Item Perversion on the curriculum

Consider at what point it would be more merciful for God to destroy this land than the let the children learn that evil is good and so suffer for eternity.

Item The pics heading up today’s were circulated by the NHS of England. They show a video game controller versus a pacifier, and a pair of slutty shoes and lipstick versus a pacifier. They both say “Would you give up this?” infantilizing toy “For this?” guarantee of starting a family. They skipped the “infantilizing” and “family”, of course. The implication that young Brits should only care about Me! Me! Me! was there and plain.

The video game pic advised men to get free condoms. Well, “FREE” condoms. Who is paying for them is a mystery. For the slutty shoes, the ladies are advise they can abort their newly conceived life “up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.” “FREE”, of course. You have to admire computing the number of hours in five days.

Perhaps it was inspiration to name the acronym of these FREE services the “Walsall Integrated Sexual Health Services” WISH.

England appears dead set on committing suicide. The reasons why we are already well familiar with. The real question is: how do we talk them (and us) out of it?

Item University to rename Serra House, Serra Mall following two years of controversy

Stanford will rename the freshman dorm, Serra, and Serra House, two campus buildings honoring California mission system founder Father Junipero Serra, who has drawn sharp criticism for his mistreatment of Native Americans.

Stanford will also seek to rename Serra Mall, pending the approval of Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service. This would change the University’s official address, which is currently 450 Serra Mall. If approved, Serra Mall will become Jane Stanford Way in honor of the University’s co-founder.

New names for the Serra dorm and the Serra House, an academic building that houses the Clayman Institute for Gender Studies, have yet to be determined. According to Brad Hayward, Associate Vice President for University Communications, the University will select the new name for Serra dorm after gathering student input starting this fall.

Not all landmarks that echo Serra’s name will be re-christened. Serra Street, which stretches from the end of Serra Mall to El Camino Real, will retain its name. The dorm Junipero — named for the juniper tree rather than Serra, despite popular misconceptions — will remain unchanged….

In the meeting [to highlight the faux concern of decision makers], individuals of Native American descent recounted “visceral feelings of harm, trauma, emotional damage, and damage to their mental health,” as a result of buildings honoring Serra, according to the report.

“For many of the participants, Serra’s name evokes the entire history of oppression of Native Americans,” the committee wrote.

Speaking of suicide, the “popular misconceptions” are many. If hearing the name “Serra” is going to evoke “the entire history of oppression of Native Americans”, then we ought to use it on every possible occasion. Mosey over to the Stanford coffee shop and say “I’d like a large coffee, black. Also: Junipero Serra!” Then watch the poor darling who took your order it quiver and foam at the mouth. See how many Junipero Serra Junipero Serra Junipero Serras it takes before he begins spinning in a circle.

A Junipero Serra Junipero Serra Junipero Serra historian tried to correct Standford’s idiocy, but the poor fellow who wrote an op ed in support of Junipero Serra Junipero Serra Junipero Serra
probably didn’t realize that administrators never announce they’re thinking about doing something without already have decided to do it.

Junipero Serra is a saint, incidentally. Who’s a saint? Junipero Serra Junipero Serra Junipero Serra.

Item The Most Contrarian College in America

Have I got a college for you. For your first two years, your regimen includes ancient Greek. And I do mean Greek, the language, not Greece, the civilization, though you’ll also hang with Aristotle, Aeschylus, Thucydides and the rest of the gang. There’s no choice in the matter. There’s little choice, period.

Let your collegiate peers elsewhere design their own majors and frolic with Kerouac. For you it’s Kant. You have no major, only “the program,” an exploration of the Western canon that was implemented in 1937 and has barely changed.

It’s intense. Learning astronomy and math, you don’t merely encounter Copernicus’s conclusions. You pore over his actual words. You’re not simply introduced to the theory of relativity. You read “Relativity,” the book that Albert Einstein wrote.

Diversions are limited. There’s no swimming team. No pool. The dorms are functional; same goes for the dining. You’re not here for banh mi. You’re here for Baudelaire.

I’m talking about St. John’s College

The degree to which “the program” omits the intellectual contributions of women and people of color troubles me. But many schools would be wise to consider and better integrate its philosophy

Wait. This doesn’t sound like insanity. It doesn’t sound like doom. It sounds good, ideal, desirable. Why is it here, then?

Because this came from the enemy New York Times. St John’s has been noticed. Noticing always starts like this. With praise, and with a hint of discontent (“the intellectual contributions of women and people of color”, which pale next to the contributions of pale-faces). St John’s is now a target. The left will not accept anybody in any position of authority to engage in wrongthink. St John’s has been outed. They will be attacked.

Now is the time to pray for them.