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Numismatic Evidence that Corroborates Suetonius’ Life of Otho and Contradicts the Gospels

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Keener and WrightTo follow up on my previous review of Christian scholar Craig Keener’s “Otho: A Targeted Comparison” in Biographies and Jesus, I’d like to briefly discuss the relevance of numismatic evidence in evaluating Suetonius’ Life of Otho in comparison to the NT Gospels.

Numismatics is the study of ancient currency, and is particularly relevant to the study of Roman emperors, since the rulers of the Roman Empire would stamp their faces on the currency in circulation throughout the Mediterranean. A number of years ago I took a seminar on Roman numismatics with professor Edward Watts at UC Riverside, in which I did a research project on the emperor Otho and the currency he circulated with his image during his short reign. It is also relevant to another seminar that I took with professor Michele Salzman in which I did a research project related to the depiction of Roman taxation in…

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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in religion

 

Can Subjective Probability Be Expressed As A Number? What Does The CIA Say?

The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis

Amazon.com summary:

This volume pulls together and republishes, with some editing, updating, and additions, articles written during 1978-86 for internal use within the CIA Directorate of Intelligence. The information is relatively timeless and still relevant to the never-ending quest for better analysis. The articles are based on reviewing cognitive psychology literature concerning how people process information to make judgments on incomplete and ambiguous information. Richard Heur has selected the experiments and findings that seem most relevant to intelligence analysis and most in need of communication to intelligence analysts. He then translates the technical reports into language that intelligence analysts can understand and interpreted the relevance of these findings to the problems intelligence analysts face.

Money quote, chapter 12 pages 152 – 156

Expression of Uncertainty

Probabilities may be expressed in two ways. Statistical probabilities are based on empirical evidence concerning relative frequencies. Most intelligence judgments deal with one-of-a-kind situations for which it is impossible to assign a statistical probability. Another approach commonly used in intelligence analysis is to make a “subjective probability” or “personal probability” judgment. Such a judgment is an expression of the analyst’s personal belief that a certain explanation or estimate is correct. It is comparable to a judgment that a horse has a three-to-one chance of winning a race.

Verbal expressions of uncertainty—such as “possible,” “probable,” “unlikely,” “may,” and “could”—are a form of subjective probability judgment, but they have long been recognized as sources of ambiguity and misunderstanding. To say that something could happen or is possible may refer to anything from a 1-percent to a 99-percent probability. To express themselves clearly, analysts must learn to routinely communicate uncertainty using the language of numerical probability or odds ratios. As explained in Chapter 2 on “Perception,” people tend to see what they expect to see, and new information is typically assimilated to existing beliefs. This is especially true when dealing with verbal expressions of uncertainty.

By themselves, these expressions have no clear meaning. They are empty shells. The reader or listener fills them with meaning through the context in which they are used and what is already in the reader’s or listener’s mind about that context. When intelligence conclusions are couched in ambiguous terms, a reader’s interpretation of the conclusions will be biased in favor of consistency with what the reader already believes. This may be one reason why many intelligence consumers say they do not learn much from intelligence reports.

It is easy to demonstrate this phenomenon in training courses for analysts. Give students a short intelligence report, have them underline all expressions of uncertainty, then have them express their understanding of the report by writing above each expression of uncertainty the numerical probability they believe was intended by the writer of the report. This is an excellent learning experience, as the differences among students in how they understand the report are typically so great as to be quite memorable.

In one experiment, an intelligence analyst was asked to substitute numerical probability estimates for the verbal qualifiers in one of his own earlier articles. The first statement was: “The cease-fire is holding but could be broken within a week.” The analyst said he meant there was about a 30-percent chance the cease-fire would be broken within a week. Another analyst who had helped this analyst prepare the article said she thought there was about an 80-percent chance that the cease-fire would be broken. Yet, when working together on the report, both analysts had believed they were in agreement about what could happen. Obviously, the analysts had not even communicated effectively with each other, let alone with the readers of their report.

Sherman Kent, the first director of CIA’s Office of National Estimates, was one of the first to recognize problems of communication caused by imprecise statements of uncertainty. Unfortunately, several decades after Kent was first jolted by how policymakers interpreted the term “serious possibility” in a national estimate, this miscommunication between analysts and policymakers, and between analysts, is still a common occurrence.

I personally recall an ongoing debate with a colleague over the bona fides of a very important source. I argued he was probably bona fide. My colleague contended that the source was probably under hostile control. After several months of periodic disagreement, I finally asked my colleague to put a number on it. He said there was at least a 51-percent chance of the source being under hostile control. I said there was at least a 51-percent chance of his being bona fide. Obviously, we agreed that there was a great deal of uncertainty. That stopped our disagreement. The problem was not a major difference of opinion, but the ambiguity of the term probable.

The table in Figure 18 shows the results of an experiment with 23 NATO military officers accustomed to reading intelligence reports. They were given a number of sentences such as: “It is highly unlikely that. . . .” All the sentences were the same except that the verbal expressions of probability changed. The officers were asked what percentage probability they would attribute to each statement if they read it in an intelligence report. Each dot in the table represents one officer’s probability assignment.

While there was broad consensus about the meaning of “better than even,” there was a wide disparity in interpretation of other probability expressions. The shaded areas in the table show the ranges proposed by Kent.

The main point is that an intelligence report may have no impact on the reader if it is couched in such ambiguous language that the reader can easily interpret it as consistent with his or her own preconceptions. This ambiguity can be especially troubling when dealing with low-probability, high-impact dangers against which policymakers may wish to make contingency plans.

Consider, for example, a report that there is little chance of a terrorist attack against the American Embassy in Cairo at this time. If the Ambassador’s preconception is that there is no more than a one-in-a-hundred chance, he may elect to not do very much. If the Ambassador’s preconception is that there may be as much as a one-in-four chance of an attack, he may decide to do quite a bit.

The term “little chance” is consistent with either of those interpretations, and there is no way to know what the report writer meant. Another potential ambiguity is the phrase “at this time.” Shortening the time frame for prediction lowers the probability, but may not decrease the need for preventive measures or contingency planning.

An event for which the timing is unpredictable may “at this time” have only a 5-percent probability of occurring during the coming month, but a 60-percent probability if the time frame is extended to one year (5 percent per month for 12 months). How can analysts express uncertainty without being unclear about how certain they are? Putting a numerical qualifier in parentheses after the phrase expressing degree of uncertainty is an appropriate means of avoiding misinterpretation. This may be an odds ratio (less than a one-in-four chance) or a percentage range (5 to 20 percent) or (less than 20 percent). Odds ratios are often preferable, as most people have a better intuitive understanding of odds than of percentages.

I’ll probably (heh) use the ranges in the figure to do Bayesian updates in the app I’m coding.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2017 in Bayes

 

Can Islam be modified to be more compatible with the modern world?

Let’s take a trip. Let’s say around 2,000 years ago.

The Roman Empire rules the known (Western) world. Its military superiority in the West is without equal. As the Borg would say, “Resistance is futile”.

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Part of the Western world under the boot of Roman rule was Judea. The area promised to the Jews by their god, Yahweh. Many Jews were sickened and disgusted by the rule of sacred Jewish lands by the Romans. Many Jews felt betrayed by their priests and scribes that they would kowtow to Roman hegemony.

What happened to the glory days of the Maccabees or even Joshua, kicking the asses of foreign powers and ensuring the sacred land promised to the Jews was theirs?

Some Jews even used sacred scripture, like the book of Daniel, to predict that a new Joshua would arrive in the 1st century and kick ass and return Judea to its rightful heirs. As the Jewish historian Josephus wrote in the late 1st century:

But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination.[1]

And so, this began a 100 year period of many Jews attempting to be the new Joshua[2], of kicking the Romans out of the area and restoring rightful rule to the Jews. The Jews went to war with the Romans three times in this 100 year span.

The first time, beginning under the reign of Nero[3] , led to the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 CE and changed Judaism forever by eliminating the temple cult portion of Jewish religious practice to this day. The destroyed temple was raided by the Romans and they used the funds they plundered from said Jewish temple to build the Roman Colosseum[4].

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The second time, around a generation after the first war[5], Jews went to war with the Romans again. And again, were sent packing.

The third and final time, in the early 30s of the second century, Jews actually won, albeit for a short time. This was the short-lived reign of the last Jewish kingdom under the rule of Simon Bar-Kokhba[6]. But after about three years of Jewish rule in Judea, the Romans used the 2nd century version of the nuclear option and subsequently kicked the Jews out of the area forever, and renamed what was once called Judea as “Palestine”. What we call it to this day. Well, at least until after WWII when we chopped up Palestine and set apart a portion for what’s now Israel.

Interspersed between these wars were what one might call “terrorist attacks”.[7][8] Though nothing remotely like the suicide bombings we get today, they were still thorns in the side of the Romans. Though the Romans had no qualms about swift and brutal reprisals.

Where are all of these Jewish terrorist attacks today? Nowhere. Because the religion that could probably be seen as inherently violent at one point in history had a reformation. One branch became what’s now called Rabbinic Judaism. The other branch began worshiping a spiritual Joshua[9] who did his conquering in the spiritual realm, and returned the spiritual Jewish kingdom to the Jews and thus had no need for violence against material Romans.

Footnotes

[1] The Wars of the Jews

[2] Biblical Criticism & History Forum – earlywritings.com

[3] Number of the Beast – Wikipedia

[4] Colosseum – Wikipedia

[5] Kitos War – Wikipedia

[6] Simon bar Kokhba – Wikipedia

[7] Zealots (Judea) – Wikipedia

[8] The Jewish War – Wikipedia

[9] J. Quinton’s answer to Do atheists believe that Jesus was crucified?

 
 

Ex-Muslim Atheists

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2017 in religion

 

I Answer Quora Questions

I thought I would repost the intermittent Quora questions that I answer here. 

So… yeah:

——————————-

Where did the “devil sign” 666 come from? For that, we have to learn a bit about the history of written language.

I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X
You probably recognize the above as Roman Numerals.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
You recognize the above, but do you know what they’re called? Arabic Numerals[1]. Yes, our number lettering system comes from Arabs. This is why Romans used Roman Numerals: They just used the letters of their own alphabet to double as numbers.
Greeks civilization peaked before Roman civilization, so the Greeks did not use Roman Numerals. They used their own letters for numbers[2]:
Α B Γ Δ E ΣΤ Z H Θ I
And Jews used their own letters for numbers as well[3][4] (note– Hebrew is read from right to left):

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י

So this means that spelling someone’s name out has a numeric equivalent. If, for example that makes sense, you know someone named “Vix”, this is 5 + 9 (V + IX) or 5 + 1 + 10 (V + I + X). You could talk in code about “fourteen” or about “sixteen” and people could infer that you’re talking about Vix.
So the “devil sign” isn’t actually 6–6–6, or three sixes. It is really six hundred and sixty six. Moreover, that isn’t the only “devil sign”; there are some manuscripts of Revelation that have six hundred and sixteen instead of six hundred sixty six[5]. Just like in the person named “Vix” example above, adding up someone’s name might result in different totals depending on how you parse the letters of their name.

 
With that being said, the name of god in Hebrew is YHWH or יְהוָה. Y is the number 10, H is the number 5, and W is the number 6. This adds up to 10 + 5 + 6 + 5, or 26[6].
Footnotes
[1] Arabic numerals – Wikipedia

[2] Greek numerals – Wikipedia

[3] Genesis 1 / Hebrew

[4] Hebrew numerals – Wikipedia

[5] The Other Number of the Beast

[6] 26 (number) – Wikipedia

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in Quora answers, religion

 

Trait Sensitivity to Contamination Promotes a Preference for Order, Hierarchy, and Rule-Based Moral Judgment

Abstract

Models of moral judgment have linked generalized emotionality with deontological moral judgment. The evidence, however, is mixed. Other research has linked the specific emotion of disgust with generalized moral condemnation. Here too, the evidence is mixed. We suggest that a synthesis of these two literatures points to one specific emotion (disgust) that reliably predicts one specific type of moral judgment (deontological). In all three studies, we found that trait disgust sensitivity predicted more extreme deontological judgment. In Study 3, with deontological endorsement and consequentialist endorsement operationalized as independent constructs, we found that disgust was positively associated with deontological endorsement but was unrelated to consequentialist endorsement. Across studies, the disgust–deontology link was mediated by individual difference variables related to preference for order (right-wing authoritarianism and intolerance for ambiguity). These data suggest a more precise model of emotion and moral judgment that identifies specific emotions, specific types of moral judgment, and specific motivational pathways.

Jeffrey S. Robinson, Xiaowen Xu, Jason E. Plaks

Social Psychological and Personality Science https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1948550617732609

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2017 in religion

 

Epistemic beliefs’ role in promoting misperceptions and conspiracist ideation

Abstract

The present study uses a series of large, nationally representative surveys of the U.S. population to produce valid and reliable measures of three aspects of epistemic beliefs: reliance on intuition for factual beliefs (Faith in Intuition for facts), importance of consistency between empirical evidence and beliefs (Need for evidence), and conviction that “facts” are politically constructed (Truth is political). Analyses confirm that these factors complement established predictors of misperception [my emph.], substantively increasing our ability to explain both individuals’ propensity to engage in conspiracist ideation, and their willingness to embrace falsehoods about high-profile scientific and political issues. Individuals who view reality as a political construct are significantly more likely to embrace falsehoods, whereas those who believe that their conclusions must hew to available evidence tend to hold more accurate beliefs.

Garrett RK, Weeks BE (2017) Epistemic beliefs’ role in promoting misperceptions and conspiracist ideation. PLoS ONE 12(9): e0184733. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184733

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2017 in cognitive science, religion

 
 
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