Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Concept of Heaven is Immoral

File:Paradiso Canto 31.jpg
What's that you say? Heaven is immoral? Yeah, I think so, and for the same reason that most people believe that hell is immoral.
Why is hell, or the concept of hell, immoral? It's not that punishment per se is immoral, it's that a punishment disproportionate to the offense charged is immoral. So, if I'm living in NYC in the early 90s, and someone steps on my new, clean, $200 Air Jordans, it would be immoral for me to pull out a gun and shoot that person. But if I stop the person and say “Yo, you stepped on my bleach white $200 Air Jordans, G!” and demand some sort of verbal apology, then this would be a more appropriate response.
With the concept of hell, we have the same disproportionate response to some sort of slight. What could possibly warrant burning or being tortured for all eternity? Since the god of the modern hell-proponent religions is described as being infinite, the theologians of those religions claim that the punishment for offending an infinite being should also be infinite. But of course, this logic doesn't hold.
Imagine Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo, and some random Japanese guy yells at Godzilla while running away “You suck!”. What has that insult done to Godzilla's ego, assuming he understands poorly dubbed Japanese? He's fuckin' GODZILLA. It's like the equivalent of throwing a rock at him; he probably wouldn't even notice. On the other hand, if King Ghidra comes flying down from space and is like “You suck!” and hits Godzilla with one of his lightening-breath attacks, Godzilla might feel threatened since they are of similar stature. And then it's on.
Or, keeping with the infinity theme, if I stole a dollar from a person that had infinite money, then I should be punished with the crime of theft; I shouldn't be punished because I robbed someone with infininte money as opposed to someone who only makes $70,000 a year. Some might even argue that I really didn't make the person with infinite money lose any “property” or net worth because they have infinite money.
Of course, who in their right mind would demand that, since I stole a dollar from someone who had infinite money, I should be punished by having to give infinite money back to the guy who had infinite money?
So back to this infinite god. What could a finite crime committed against an infinite god actually rob from this infinite god? What has this infinite god lost? The god is infinite; he has an unlimited supply of whatever it is that makes him infinite. Any sort of offense would be like dividing infinity by any finite number. The god is still left with infinity. If anything, any punishment would be infinitely disproportionate – thus infinitely immoral. On the other side of that, assuming that any god who gets offended has to punish at all implies that this god has lost something. Any god that has the ability to lose something would not be infinite.
Alora. If this analogy with infinite money holds, then its flip side – giving someone with infinite money a dollar – should also hold.
What exactly has the person with infinite money gained by me giving them a dollar? They have infinite money. If we want to maintain justice, then I should be rewarded in the same exact fashion that I would be rewarded if I gave a dollar to a person that makes $70,000 a year. But most of us would decry any sort of reward given to a person who gave someone with infinite money an “extra” dollar (how many of us congratulate millionaires or billionaires if/when they win the lottery?). Giving a better reward for giving a person with infinite money a dollar as opposed to the guy that only makes $70,000 a year  – when they don't actually gain anything – would be a disproportionate reward scheme and would actually be unjust, unfair, and could possibly even be considered immoral. It would be similarly infinitely disproportional, and subsequently infinitely immoral.
Like I wrote above, since the concept of hell is a disproportionate punishment this implies unfairness and this is why many people see it as being immoral. Likewise, the concept of heaven is equally as unfair, and should be seen as equally immoral. What sort of value could I add to an infinite god that he would notice any sort of boon? Again, the god is infinite; it would be like multiplying infinity by any sort of finite number. It might make sense to a 10 year old (i.e. “I'm awesome times infinity!” “Yeah, well I'm awesome times infinity plus one!“) but that doesn't work in the real world.
What's worse, what would happen in the real world if we awarded people who gave these hypothetical infinite money fatcats a dollar with infinite money themselves? People would be falling all over themselves to buy their one-dollar ticket to infinite money. All sorts of otherwise apathetic or truly immoral people would be quick to pay lip service or give their dollar to the guy with infinite money. Just like people would be walking on eggshells around the guy who would punish them infinitely if they were to have even thought of stealing a dollar from the guy with infinite money.
Make no mistake. Any liberal Christians who think that hell is immoral should be similarly outraged at the concept of heaven. If the concept of hell is immoral, then the concept of heaven is immoral as well.

Posted by on July 28, 2011 in apologetics


The Messiah Was A Jewish Idea

I recently watched an awesome video of Bart Erhman giving a talk about his new book Forged. During the Q&A, he received a question about the idea that Jesus never existed. To paraphrase, his response was that the idea of the messiah was a Jewish idea. Some versions of this Jewish messiah depicted him as a sort of conquering hero (like Simon Bar-Kokhba). Others viewed him as a celestial figure that would descend from the clouds and conquer Earthly kingdoms. In all of these iterations, the messiah is a conquering figure. So, if someone (i.e. some Jewish person) were going to “invent” a messiah, they wouldn't make up a story about him getting crucified. Essentially getting himself conquered instead of the one being conquered.
But is this even a fair assessment of what Christians did?
Christians claim that Jesus was (is) the messiah because he did do some conquering: He conquered death. This is what our earliest Christian writings claim. But let's go beyond that. What about the concept of eternal punishment or eternal rewards? This most certainly is not a Jewish idea (try to find the concept of any sort of afterlife just reading the Hebrew bible), but somehow it got into somewhat mainstream Jewish belief (the Pharisees; cf Josephus AJ 2.8.14). How did this happen? The concept of the Logos, also, is not a Jewish idea. How did this also get into Hellenistic-Jewish (and subsequently Christian) belief? The concept of an apocalypse, also, is not originally a Jewish idea. A book like the second half of Daniel (7-12) is evidence of Greek ideas infulencing Jewish ones.
The answer is quite obvious. Syncretism. Non-Jewish beliefs were synthesized with Jewish beliefs. Those are examples of some outside influence changing how Jews viewed their religion. Why couldn't the concept of the messiah also have been subject to similar syncretism? Or, what if some other religion absorbed the Jewish belief in the messiah, and this belief similarly underwent some transformation?
The Jewish scriptures had been translated into Greek – the equivalent of English today as far as international language popularity goes – for a couple hundred years before we first start noticing Christian belief in history. For a modern example, the concept of rap music was originally 100% an inner city phenomenon; just like the concept of the messiah was originally a Jewish idea. Since rap music was in English and thus able to be transmitted onto any other culture or peoples that understood English, the concept of rap could spread beyond its birth the Bronx c.1979. 30 years later, we have rap music being performed by native French speakers.
How easy would it be for a similar thing to happen to the concept of the messiah, when that concept was easily read and understood by any two-bit Greek and their mystery religion(s)? The one thing that the Jews had going for them was the idea that their religion was an ancient one. This gave their concepts a bit more respect. 
I'm not arguing this point very intensly, because we have no evidence of other mystery religions co-opting any sort of Jewish beliefs. I'm just writing this to point out a very possible flaw in Erhman's argument. I don't think it's as prima facie absurd as he intimated it was.

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in historical jesus, jesus myth


So Much for NOMA

It's really frustrating dealing with theist who think that NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) is a valid defense of religious claims. Even some atheists fall into that trap; thinking that religion and science deal with two different realms of… something… and never the two shall meet. Often expressed by the witty catchphrase “religion tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”. Of course, that saying assumes what it is trying to prove by saying that heaven even exists in the first place.
If religions make claims about the world, then they should be subject to the same judgement and criticism that all other claims about the world are subject to. But no, if we did that, then religious claims would be completely demolished by the weight of critical inquiry. Really, NOMA has always been a reactionary apologetic, it was never a proactionary supposition. I forget who said it, but religious people are always quick to jump on scientific discoveries that confirm some claim that the believer's religion makes. But as soon as the tables are turned, and some scientific discovery disconforms something that the believer's religion makes, they quickly retreat to NOMA so that their beliefs won't be open to disconfirmation.
Take a look at this article

Just like the hippie culture found a pill that conveniently removed the “inconvenience” of pregnancy, today’s hookup culture believes it has found a recipe for removing the inconvenience of emotion: friends with benefits.

Scientifically, though, that’s impossible. We know that thanks to what neuroscientists have learned about a walnut-sized mass in the brain called the deep limbic system.

The deep limbic system stores and classifies odor, music, symbols and memory. In other words, it’s a place for romance (my emphasis), capable of processing a splash of cologne on your lover’s neck, a particular iPod playlist or a bouquet of red roses.

The brain chemicals associated with romance and sex wash over the deep limbic system during a wide variety of sexual experiences, according to research from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health.

Holding hands, embracing, a gentle massage and, most powerfully, the act of sexual intercourse work together to create a cocktail of chemicals that records such experiences deep into the emotional center of your brain.

It’s why we remember sexual experiences and images so clearly.

One of the critical neurochemicals released during sex is dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good; it creates a sense of peace and pleasure. Anytime your body experiences pleasure, whether it’s good for you (working out) or bad (doing crystal meth), the limbic system gets washed in dopamine.

In essence, it is a “craving” chemical. It makes you want more. It creates addiction. Dopamine attaches you emotionally to the source of pleasure.

Another critical sex hormone is oxytocin, the subject of recent books like “The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy and Love.” The chemical is released during sexual expression. A tiny dose is downloaded during intimate skin-to-skin contact; a much bigger dose is released during orgasm.

In fact, the only other time as much oxytocin is released as during orgasm is when a mother is breastfeeding her baby. The mother feels its release and is bonded to her child, and the baby’s brain learns for the first time to enter into relationship by connection. I’d say the chemical’s job is to bond us for life (my emphasis).

The knowledge of sexual bonding is nothing new. 

But wait, I thought science couldn't explain love: Attachment to the source of pleasure? Bonding hormones? What else is there to love than bonding with someone? You see, science is fine when it is used to support a religious conclusion (in this case, abstinence, if you go read the whole article). But then, when you point out that the basis for love, commitment, and attachment are well known in science – answering one of the most oft asked questions by the religious “how do you explain love without a god?” – the theist will then fall back on NOMA so that they can keep the “mystery of love” ball in the religious answers side of the court.
While the author thinks that these hormones only relate to sex, obviously not since oxytocin is released and shared when a mother is breastfeeding. Otherwise she's right; the job of oxytocin is to bond us, a lot of times for life (a somewhat subtle and off-topic nudge that breastfeeding is better for a mother/child relationship than the bottle). And to still keep this post in line with my study of early Christianity and Greek, the word “oxytocin” is a corruption of the Greek word ωκυτοκίνη (oe-ky-toh-KIN-ae), which means “quick labor”; oxytocin also released during childbirth. A former friend of mine told me, somewhat paraphrased after giving birth to her first child, that it was like “…bam! I love him!”.
The concept of NOMA, it seems, is abject hypocrisy.
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in apologetics, cognitive science


"Not Jehovah, and not Yahweh"

Over at another blog the argument was made (albeit for personal reasons) not to pronounce HaShem / The Name YHWH. Note the impasse in semi-professional circles over whether to pronounce YHWH or not:
I’ve had professors (who were trained in England/American institutions and obviously Evangelical) be very adamant about the veil being torn and therefore we have access to God in such a way we SHOULD say Yahweh.  Then I have professors (secular and Evangelical) who’ve studying in Jerusalem and prefer adoni (LORD).
 A minor nitpick, but it should be adonai (אֲדֹנָי) not adoni (אדֹנִי). For example, a Hebrew literate would read Psalm 110.1 that way (Adonai says to adoni…).
Anyway, I really don't have a dog in the fight over which pronunciation we should use. Some Church Fathers knew how to pronounce The Name. Clement of Alexandria had in his church this particular tradition:
Again, there is the veil of the entrance into the holy of holies. Four pillars there are, the sign of the sacred tetrad of the ancient covenants. Further, the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called Jave (Ίαουε), which is interpreted, Who is and shall be. The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters. (Stromata 5.6).
It's nice to know that Clement's tradition is that close to modern scholarship about both the pronunciation of HaShem and what it means. That being said, a quote that the blog I referred to above quotes from is very telling:
Waltke writes of the matter:

“As an aside, let me explain why I uniquely, in a biblical theology, render God’s personal name- which is represented by the four Hebrew consonants YHWH- as “I AM,” not as “Jehovah,” “Yahweh” (as I did in my Genesis commentary) [n]or “LORD” (as I did in my Proverbs commentary).  Providence has not preserved the vocalization of this tetragrammaton (“four letters”). Scribes, who in the Second Temple period preserved and transmitted the Scriptures, read the tetragramation as adoni. YHWH cannot be pronounced. That was the scribes’ intention but not the original author’s intention. “Jehovah” confounds the vowels of adoni with the four consonants. Yahweh, though the probable normalization, is nevertheless speculative.  Moreover, it seems to demote the status of the living God to that of just another ancient Near Eastern deity, like Marduk of the Babylonains or Asshur of the Assyrians.  This normalization alienates God from the modern reader- at least, so it seems to me.” (emphasis his)

Since I am a secularist, and I think we should be teaching the Bible from a secular perspective, we should be likening YHWH to other ancient Near Eastern deities like Asherah or Marduk. We should be fair across the board in our objective study of religion and history. But of course the quoted section has its own internal logic; since Waltke still worships YHWH, it's his own personal preference for not pronouncing the vocalization of YHWH.
Ironically (I guess) on a related note, some Jews from the (2nd? 6th?) century CE claimed that Christianity was started by a man who carved YHWH into his flesh and performed miracles due to the power inherent in the name.

Posted by on July 16, 2011 in Uncategorized


Did Luke Use Mark?

Lately I've been writing about what I think is the direct trajectory of Synoptic interrelations by way of Mark > Matthew > [Marcion >] Luke. That is, that Q isn't necessary to explain the similarities between Matt and Luke; that Luke used Matt as a source (or used a source that used Matt as a source – some heretical Synoptic gospel a la Marcion) and not Q.

I posted an image of the relationship between the Synoptic gospels in one of those posts. There's one part that gives me pause about the whole hypothesis though: The 1% of overlap between Mark and Luke that is not shared in Matt. If what I had originally proposed was true, then Luke could have reconstructed Mark completely using only Matthew, but this is obviously incorrect. This 1% is a single pericope, the one where Jesus exorcises the demon from the synagogue in Capernaum. In Mark, it is Jesus' first demonstration of his

Mark 1.21-28:

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.

22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out,

24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!”

26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”

28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Similarly in Luke 4.31-37:

31 Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people.

32 They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.

33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice,
34 “Let us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!”

37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

So yeah. Luke has to be using Mark here since the wording is near identical. Especially the words that Jesus and the demon(s) speak; the words spoken in Mk 1.24-25 are nearly equivalent to the words spoken in Lk 4.34-35. The only difference is the word λεγων (saying) in Mark is replaced with εα (leave us alone or ha!) in Luke. What's also interesting is that Marcion's gospel also has the same exact spoken words as Luke, except that Marcion leaves out the vocative Nazarene (Ναζαρηνε) since it didn't make sense in Marcion's narrative that Jesus would be referred to as being from Nazareth (by this time, Nazarene had probably already lost its original meaning and was probably equated to one being from Nazareth) as soon as he had descended from the Father straight into Capernaum.

So it might be that Luke is indeed using Mark as a source as well as Matt and Little Marc.

This, as J. Tyson points out in Marcion and Luke-Acts, makes sense of the opening of Luke: That “many” (πολλοι) had composed narratives about the life of Jesus and he set out to write a better account. I can't see how only Mark and Q could be considered “many”. But Mark, Matt, Marcion, (and possibly a source that Marcion might have used; some sort of proto-Luke that looked a lot like Mark) would most certainly fit the logic of “many”. I also can't see how “many” could apply earlier than the existence of any supposed Christian heresies – prior to the 2nd century.

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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in synoptic problem


Islamic Scholar Says Muhammad Never Existed

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.
So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.
Prof. Kalisch, who insists he's still a Muslim, says he knew he would get in trouble but wanted to subject Islam to the same scrutiny as Christianity and Judaism. German scholars of the 19th century, he notes, were among the first to raise questions about the historical accuracy of the Bible.
Many scholars of Islam question the accuracy of ancient sources on Muhammad's life. The earliest biography, of which no copies survive, dated from roughly a century after the generally accepted year of his death, 632, and is known only by references to it in much later texts. But only a few scholars have doubted Muhammad's existence. Most say his life is better documented than that of Jesus.
Of course, the poverty of the documentation about the life of Jesus probably makes a homeless guy living under the Brooklyn Brige look like Mark Zuckerberg.
I don't know if this scholar actually believes it, though. He might be more of an agnostic about Muhammad's existence and is simply trying to clean the slate to investigate Muhammad's existence objectively; investigating it without “tak[ing] it for granted that Muhammad existed”. Is Muhammad closer in historical role to someone like Jesus, or someone like Alexander the Great? I have a huge dearth of knowledge about the history behind Islam, but I do recall some Greeks writing about 20 years after Muhammad's death complaining about a madman who had gathered a bunch of Arabs to conquer a bunch of land. The Greek doesn't actually name the guy, but his very brief description seems to match that of Muhammad.
Can the advent of Islam and Islamic conquest be interpreted to make sense without a Muhammad? I don't know. But I do think that Muhammad and Jesus aren't really comparable historical figures. Case in point, from the same article:
To [Prof. Kalisch], what matters isn't whether Muhammad actually lived but the philosophy presented in his name.
Christianity, at least modern Christianity, isn't about the teachings of Jesus. It's about Jesus himself. What strengthens this is the fact that the earliest Christians never appealed to the saving power of Jesus' teachings; they don't put any value on his teachings at all (if he had any to begin with). No, it's all about Jesus as some sort of human sacrifice that is the “good news”. Christianity is all about the first line of Mark: ευαγγελιου Ιησου Χριστου. The good news of Jesus Christ. Not the good news of Jesus Christ's philosophy.
I think that if someone did unite disparate Arab tribes under one banner/religion, and led them in conquering the Arab world, then for all intents and purposes we could call that person Muhammad. It really depends on how you define the role of Muhammad in history.

Posted by on July 11, 2011 in islam


Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence

This is a quote from the blog of awesome Less Wrong:
Absence of proof is not proof of absence. But absence of evidence is always evidence of absence. According to the probability calculus, if P(H|E) > P(H) (observing E would be evidence for hypothesis H), then P(H|~E) < P(H) (absence of E is evidence against H). The absence of an observation may be strong evidence or very weak evidence of absence, but it is always evidence.
Αnd I think I'll apply this to the current tide rising in the Historical/Mythical Jesus debate.
To pick the most obvious example, the current JM hypothesis posits that Paul and other early epistle writers would have quoted a teaching of Jesus if they viewed Jesus as a preacher instead of a mythical/legendary/cosmological savior figure. Since they don't do this, then it fits their hypothesis. On the other hand, the HJ hypothesis posited by most scholars is a sort of floating ad-hoc explanation for this. That is, if the early epistle writers did quote a teaching of Jesus, this would be evidence for their hypothesis (a preaching Jesus). But, if the early epistle writers did not quote a teaching of Jesus… well, this is still evidence for their hypothesis (a preaching Jesus).
This is why Bayes theorem is useful. It points out glaring ad hoc hypotheses like these. It's a heads I win, tails you lose set up by scholars.
Let H be the hypothesis that a preaching Jesus existed. E is early epistle writers quoting from the preaching Jesus. Let's say that the probability of the preaching-historical or mythical Jesus is equally 50% (i.e. P(H) = 50%) just for pedagogical value. In the mythical Jesus model, P(H|E) > P(H); the probability of Jesus existing given the evidence of epistle writers quoting him is higher than the bare bones probability of Jesus existing. That is, the probability of Jesus existing is nudged higher than 50% if a letter writer like Paul quotes from Jesus. On the flip side, the P(H|~E) < P(H); the probability of Jesus existing given the lack of evidence of epistle writers quoting him is lower than the bare bones probability of Jesus existing. That is, the probability of Jesus existing is nudged lower than 50% if a letter writer like Paul does not quote from Jesus.
In the historical Jesus model, both P(H | E) AND the P(H | ~E) are the same. When this happens, it basically means that the probability stays at 50%. This violates the probability calculus inherent in Bayes Theorem. Since Bayes is formally/logically valid, this means that the set up that mainstream scholars have erected is logically invalid. E and ~E can't both be evidence for the same thing. The only time that happens is when you're dealing with ad hoc hypotheses: “A hypothesis that forbids nothing, permits everything, and thereby fails to constrain anticipation. Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. If you are equally good at explaining any outcome (my emphasis), you have zero knowledge“.  
Take a look at the likelihood ratio (from E. Yudkowsky's Intro to Bayes Theorem): 
The likelihood ratio for X, p(X|A)/p(X|~A), determines how much observing X slides the probability for A; the likelihood ratio is what says how strong X is as evidence.  Well, in your theory A, you can predict X with probability 1, if you like; but you can't control the denominator of the likelihood ratio, p(X|~A) – there will always be some alternative theories that also predict X, and while we go with the simplest theory that fits the current evidence, you may someday encounter some evidence that an alternative theory predicts but your theory does not.  That's the hidden gotcha that toppled Newton's theory of gravity.  So there's a limit on how much mileage you can get from successful predictions; there's a limit on how high the likelihood ratio goes for confirmatory evidence.
On the other hand, if you encounter some piece of evidence Y that is definitely not predicted by your theory, this is enormously strong evidence against your theory.  If p(Y|A) is infinitesimal, then the likelihood ratio will also be infinitesimal.  For example, if p(Y|A) is 0.0001%, and p(Y|~A) is 1%, then the likelihood ratio p(Y|A)/p(Y|~A) will be 1:10000.  -40 decibels of evidence!  Or flipping the likelihood ratio, if p(Y|A) is very small, then p(Y|~A)/p(Y|A) will be very large, meaning that observing Y greatly favors ~A over A.  Falsification is much stronger than confirmation.  This is a consequence of the earlier point that very strong evidence is not the product of a very high probability that A leads to X, but the product of a very low probability that not-A could have led to X.  This is the precise Bayesian rule that underlies the heuristic value of Popper's falsificationism.
Now, what if you posit a Jesus that wasn't a preacher? This would also make sense of the evidence; P(non-preaching Jesus | ~E) > P (non-preaching Jesus). That is, we would expect the early epistle writers to not quote Jesus because they didn't view him as a preacher. 
As for ad hocness, take one of the comments over at Vridar:

Cross-posted from comments on Exploring Our Matrix:

So, according to mainstream scholarship…

Accurate geographical details = Evidence for historicity.

Absence of geographical details (e.g. Sepphoris) = more evidence of historicity, and it even tells us new facts about Jesus, e.g., that he deliberately avoided big cities.*
Inaccurate historical details = no problem for historicity/no effect on the historicist model.

You can see where this is going. Accurate and absence should be on either side of the probability formula. This time E would be accurate historical details; in the HJ hypothesis P(H | E) is still equivalent to P(H | ~E).
The problem here is with constraints. I hate to say it, but most scholars work under the assumption of a wandering, preaching Jesus without any constraints on what a wandering, preaching Jesus would entail. So they look at all of the evidence through the lens of a wandering, preaching Jesus. As the quote I posted above says, we should be looking for evidence that disconfirms our pet theories and not look for confirmation of our theories. Because the disconfirmation, as the blog of awesome that I quote from is named, helps us to become less wrong. And becoming less wrong is a lot more powerful than being “right”; implicit in the phrase “less wrong” is admitting to our own fallibility and trying to mitigate it. On the other hand, “confirmation” of our theories only feeds our ego (because it's the default human cognitive bias).
On a higher level, this lack of constraints/making beliefs pay rent seems to also apply to the Problem of Evil. We have this world that seems to be indifferent to our suffering. It would make sense that the ultimate reality (god, the matrix, etc.) actually is indifferent to our suffering. But theists posit that their god loves us and has some sort of plan for all of it or is so in love with Free Will that he will not abrogate it to ease our suffering. The problem is that this god would also explain a world that is 100% free of all suffering (heaven), and this god could also be used to explain a world that is 0% free of suffering… and every single percentage point in between the two extremes. While an indifferent god or no god at all would not explain either of those last two options.
Which worldview is operating on constraints, and which one is not? Which one is making their belief(s) pay rent and which one is letting their belief(s) squat? A theory/worldview that can be used to explain every single possible outcome is really no explanation at all.
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Bayes, scientific method, skepticism

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