Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bayes' Theorem Producing Dividends

I've been having a lot of fun over at str discussing issues related to the initial implausibility of the resurrection and how that affects the believability with Jason Engwer. He indicated at Triablogue that he was over there, so I went to have a look and noticed him insulting a skeptic named Joe in a way that was very typical of him. For instance, just look at the top of the thread here and you'll see him going after Joe personally. "Joe doesn't know much about history. Notice the deep irrationality of Joe's position" etc, etc.

So I jumped in to point out to Joe that he needn't take things too hard. Jason's insults are very typical of him. Part of his standard repertoire. I gave some examples. Then I started discussing the issues with Jason.

Jason responded in typical fashion. Amy from str then entered and had to tell Jason to tone down the obnoxious rhetoric. That's fine if he wants to do that at Triablogue, but that's not how they operate at str. She deleted some portions of his post and my portions that had to do with my discussion of him personally. Apparently this was not his first warning and he was warned that he could be blocked if this continues.

In the meantime Jason had posted his own thread at Triablogue. Insulted by Jon Curry. As if I had insulted him just now. In fact Jason was busy digging into the archives to find something that could be taken out of context in a manner to suggest bad insults on my part. There's no need for me to look to years ago documentation to find Jason engaging in personal attacks. Just look to the current thread he's participating in.

But this was an unusual opportunity for me. Here's Jason ready to debate, but he's restricted from personal insults and from rudely directing his statements toward the audience as opposed to me. Pretty nice. Why not pursue this further? So I did.

Several interesting things have emerged. First of all, as Jason knows, my brother Bill and I think it is useful to use Bayes' Theorem to evaluate the believability of the resurrection. It's easy to say things like "there's nothing implausible about God raising Jesus from the dead" and "the fact that ancient people were sometimes gullible and superstitious doesn't matter too much." But when you actually quantify these matters it exposes how rational these statements really are. Bill and I find that Christians typically don't want to get too detailed and quantify these matters, and we think we know why. Bayes' Theorem has a way of laying bare assumptions in a way that exposes the irrationality of Christian thinking.

The way to squirm out of the problem is to attempt to undermine Bayesian inference. Steve Hays at Triablogue tried his hand at this here. There are 6 billion people in the world. The existence of someone like Bill Curry would thus be extraordinarily implausible. So we shouldn't believe he exists. Jason commented in the same thread and presumably thinks Steve is raising good objections.

But now over at str Jason is quoting Craig and Moreland with regards to how it is reasonable to believe the winning lottery numbers reported in the paper despite the fact that any particular number is initially extraordinarily improbable. Craig and Moreland rely entirely on Bayesian inference for their evaluation, and I couldn't agree with them more.

Jason would then subsequently argue that my view has problems because we often believe things that lack precedent. Over and over again I'd respond by saying I agree, and I entirely agree with Craig and Moreland's explanations. I don't think Jason quite understood what it was Craig and Moreland were saying. I think he thought they were agreeing with him and against me, but in fact the opposite is true. Jason has entirely undermined his and Steve's objection to Bayesian inference by quoting Craig and Moreland.

Several other interesting things have emerged in the course of this discussion which I think once again shows the strength of Bayes' Theorem. It lays bare the assumptions. Jason's assumptions are being exposed. In my view it exposes the irrationality of his views. Here are some of his beliefs:

1-Jason says that if you were to consider a resurrection claim and part of your background knowledge was that the person was regarded as some sort of messiah and a miracle worker, you would not initially consider the resurrection claim to be unlikely. So, just as a hypothetical, assume Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was believed to be the Messiah and a miracle worker by some Muslims. Assume he was claimed to be risen from the dead a few decades back. Before even considering the evidence we should start with the presumption that this claim is not unlikely. My view is the opposite. It's extremely unlikely. If you agree with Jason I guess you'd be quick to believe that Jesus was likewise raised.

2-Jason has used the example of earthquakes frequently. He says if you'd never heard of one, never seen one, and had no reason to expect one and if you were to stop and consider the likelihood that the ground is about to move you wouldn't initially consider it to be unlikely. I say that you would and if suddenly the ground started moving you'd be shocked. If you didn't experience it yourself but simply heard the report of it you might not believe it, and that would be rational. Jason says no.

3-Though a single eyewitness wouldn't be good enough for a murder case, Jason doesn't understand why it wouldn't be good enough for a miracle claim, like perhaps a resurrection. To me the answer is self evident.

These evaluations are in their very nature subjective (another point Jason had misunderstood, thinking that for some reason this was problematic). So it's not really that I think it needs to be argued. Jason clearly has a much different threshold than me regarding what he finds to be initially believable. I think it's rational to dismiss the claims of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad without really looking into them. Look into them if you think that's interesting, but it's so exceptionally unlikely that it's reasonable to just ignore it. Or what of a miraculous claim? Should I believe it if it's reported by someone and that's all the information I have? To me there's no question. Absolutely not. Jason doesn't feel the same way. This explains why I find him to be a very credulous person and perhaps why he would regard me as too skeptical.

Friday, July 24, 2009

What's the Bachelorette Got to Do With It?

All right, I admit it. I watch the Bachelorette. It's kind of a stupid thing my wife and I like to do together. We get into all into the drama and talk with each other about what he or she should do etc. This is not typical television for me. So much more useful ways to spend my time with all of the injustices in the world. But you gotta goof off sometimes.

All of you high and mighty people might say "Well duh" when I make this point, but we all know "reality" television isn't real. We know the producers skew things to make for an interesting story. On the other hand you're watching video. You're getting their statements. So if someone appears to be a jerk and later denies it you won't believe them. You saw them on video.

So there's this guy on the show vying for the Bachelorette (Jillian Harris) by the name of Wes Hayden. He's introduced on the first episode and you see him singing. He's very good. As the episodes progress you start to wonder if he's really there more for his career and doesn't care about Jillian. He also seems to be a bit of a bully, pushing some of the other guys around verbally.

Later one of the other bachelor's (Tanner P) confides in Jillian that another bachelor has a girlfriend. We learn that it's Wes that is being charged, though Jillian and the other guys never find out who Tanner was implicating. This resulted in large drama. The other bachelor's want to know who it is, but Tanner P says nothing. You wonder why he didn't. Maybe he isn't sure that he understood Wes right.

In a later episode the all American nice guy Jake gets booted. In the next episode he's returned because he has to tell Jillian about Wes, who is still in the running. He's since learned that Wes has a girlfriend apparently. He informs Jillian and later makes the same accusation when Wes is present. Wes denies everything. Jillian apparently isn't sure Jake is right and keeps Wes for another episode.

This is surprising to me. Wes is obviously a jerk. Why would Jake come back if he weren't sure of himself?

In the next episode Jillian has a date with Wes in Spain. It seems to be awkward. At one point Wes appears to have a verbal slip as he talks about his girlfriend. Whoops. I mean ex-girlfriend. Jillian appears taken aback. Finally at the rose ceremony Wes is booted. During his limo ride out he says things like "First guy ever to make it to the top four with a girlfriend."

Prior to the final selection for Jillian they have an episode called "The Men Tell All." Wes didn't show "for obvious reasons" according to Chris Harrison, the host.

Conclusion? He's a scumbag. I mean we saw it on video, right?

Turns out you'd be wrong to think that. It appears to me now that the whole thing is a sham. How do I know? Well, I listened to this interview with him, and I just think his explanations make so much better sense of what I saw. It makes sense of the fact that sometimes when he says something offensive the responses of others around seem strange. Sliced and diced, like they were part of a different context. And it makes sense of the fact that he'd have to be about the dumbest guy in the world to hope for good publicity by going on the show, hiding the truth from Jillian, yet admitting to America how big of a jerk he is. And he's obviously not a stupid person.

Pretty much every instance of him saying something offensive is a spliced and diced clip that really alters the meaning of what he's really saying. Take for instance his admission in the limo that he had a girlfriend. Here is what he says happened. They drive him around in circles in a limo for like 3 hours with the AC off and the windows up. For better sound quality supposedly. They feed him all the liquor they can. At one point a producer says something to the effect of "How about you and all this girlfriend stuff?" He basically repeats back what the producer says. "Yeah, first guy in bachelorette history to get to the final four with a girlfriend." He then goes on to say "As if I'd put up with you pricks telling me what I can and can't do, drive around in a sweaty car, etc if in fact I had a girlfriend. I'd have gotten out of here."

He's quoted as saying at one point "I already played my song, I already serenaded Jillian. I've gotten what I needed." Sounds pretty bad in isolation. An open admission that he's here for publicity. But that was stated in a context of people asking him if in fact he was here more for his career. He basically says that if that were true, he's already gotten what he's needed. He's had the exposure. Why would he stay in this house with all of these stinky guys with producers telling him what he can and can't do, unable to even call home to his extremely sick grandmother if this was just about some exposure, which he's already gotten?

What about Jake's confrontation? Apparently Jake is a God boy. He thinks God speaks to him and tells him what he should do. He had been on 6 episodes, so this was confirmation he needed to go back one more time because God had told him he'd be on 7 episodes (God's lucky number apparently?). He was probably pressured by producers, made to think Wes had admitted to having a girlfriend, when he didn't mean it that way, and brought back on for high drama. It was obvious to me as I watched this that some of it was contrived, but I didn't realize how contrived. Jake talks on the phone with another bachelor already kicked off and it seems scripted, more like he's talking to a producer. Wes claims Jillian didn't even want to deal with the confrontation, but the producers made it happen.

Jake actually identifies the first name of the supposed girlfriend. Laurel. Wes begged the producers not to name her, because he knew she'd be hounded. They didn't think she would be, but the next day People Magazine had already found her and this meant harassment of course. She says there is no truth to the claim that they are together, and she maintains that view today.

The final insult was the "Men Tell All" episode. The host says something to the effect of "Wes didn't show. We can imagine why." But he wasn't specific, which I thought was a little strange. According to Wes he initially did decline to go on, but later changed his mind. He was afraid of the edit he would get, but in the end he decided he had to try. The producers wouldn't let him on.

Today he's a villain. Just Google his name and you'll see. Everyone is still convinced. And it's all false (in my view). I thought he was a villain too just a week ago. I had good evidence. Video footage. And the claim wasn't so outrageous. A guy went on a show for selfish reasons. That's a pretty sound basis for a conclusion, right?

I heard a new saying. Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. Be skeptical. You shouldn't be so confident in what you think you know.

Heck, maybe I need additional information before drawing the conclusion that Wes is innocent. So hard to know. I'd bet he is, but I wouldn't bet my house on it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Ann Arbor Art Fair

Did I ever have a great time this weekend. I helped man the Michigan Atheist booth hoping to have some interesting discussions. And I did. It was great.

I started by going after Planned Parenthood. A couple of young girls were holding down the fort just across from the Atheist booth. Most atheists are fine with abortion, but I oppose it. So I approached them by saying "Let me tell you why I think abortion is wrong" and I then explained why. They basically were in no way prepared to explain why they believed what they believed and didn't want to debate at all. Fair enough. I took their condoms anyway.

Next was a young pretty girl at the atheist booth. She talked about how belief in God makes her feel so good. I told her I was happy for her. If she's happy I'm happy. For me what matters is the evidence first and foremost. That's not for everyone. I asked what I typically do. Why do you believe in God and the Bible? God talks to her. I asked what she thought of others that speak to God? She said that is fine with her, and she thinks they do speak to God. But their God is telling them that Jesus is not the way to be saved. Do you really think they speak to God?

Her eyes narrowed and she said I was right. She doesn't believe them when they say they speak to God. So I asked her why she should expect me to believe she speaks to God when she doesn't believe others that say they speak to God?

We had a very long, fun conversation. It was interrupted by an atheist passer by that started ranting about the evils of religion. He barely would stop to catch his breath as he skipped from one topic to another. The girl and I rolled our eyes trying not to be rude, but just wishing he'd shut up. Finally he did and we were back having interesting conversation.

During the slow moments I'd wander around and harass people. I saw the Democrat booth with all these pictures of Obama. I approached with "Obama is a bigger war monger than Bush. More troops in Afghanistan, more mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying on our phone conversations, detaining people without recourse to courts, holding people even when they've been found innocent." The reaction there was just uncomfortable silence, so I left them alone as well.

On to the Muslim booth. "Why believe in God? Why believe in the Qur'an?" This developed into a long and extremely fascinating discussion. These people were far better informed than most Christians I know. They pointed me to some interesting texts in the Qur'an which they claim demonstrated scientific truths that were only discovered later. Truths about embryology, plate tektonics, and cosmology. I told them that I suspect they are re-interpreting the Qur'an in light of current scientific discoveries. Why did we have to wait for Charles Darwin and Galileo for these things if they were in the Qur'an the whole time? If evolution were proven false tomorrow you'd say that they Qur'an has always taught it.

No, they said. Look here. We can show you predictions for tomorrow. The Qur'an talks about living things on other planets and how they will come into contact with humanity eventually. We are making a prediction, not just re-interpreting after the fact.

Back and forth we went. Had a great time with them. They were so reasonable in so many ways. They said that I was reasonable to be agnostic about God. He who asserts must prove. They said belief in evolution was a scientific fact, so they agree that I should accept it. They also talked about the many Christians they encountered that told them that they were wrong because the Bible says Jesus is the only way. How can they think this is persuasive? The fact that the Qur'an says something in no way shows that it is true. We must demonstrate the truth of it and then ask people to follow it, not the other way around.

I got some contact information and I expect we'll discuss things further. If nothing else they can help me understand the Qur'an better whenever I have questions.

From there I went to the Liberterian booth. Signed the petition to audit the Fed. High fived in support of Ron Paul. They gave me a movie. "The Obama Deception."

I strolled back to the atheist booth only to find one of the atheists, a young tatooed bearded guy, cursing at another young man. "You are an f-ing liar" over and over. I asked "What is wrong with you man, why are you doing this, do you think this is helpful or persuasive?" Apparently this Christian claimed he had studied some subject in school and the atheist thought he'd studied something else. Who cares? So anyway this atheist, who had apparently been drinking, stepped aside and the Christian and I had another fun conversation. Basic questions about inerrancy and God. Another good talk.

It's sad that the most obnoxious behavior I encountered was from atheists as opposed to Christians or Muslims. We need to work on this.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Power of Photographs 2

What's makes this even more sad is I really don't know why we're fighting the Taliban.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Me and Matt Slick

I finally made time to give Matt Slick a call over at CARM. I listened to a discussion he had on a show called The Atheist Experience. He did an initial call in, then called in for a later show for a more extensive discussion with Matt Diluhanty. You can listen to that call here. I thought for the first call he was cut off a little too much by the hosts, so he seemed frustrated, and then for the second call I thought Matt Diluhanty didn't answer his challenges the way I would have, so I thought I ought to call in to CARM and see how I fared. Then I got sick with a sore throat and forgot about it until now. So it had been a while since I had thought about TAG, but I thought I'd call anyway.

You can go to the CARM podcast and listen to my call from 7/6 or you download the section that involves just me here. It was a lot of fun. Matt seems like a really good guy and he's absolutely right that he and I would have so much fun with these topics over a barbeque in his back yard.

I'm not as philosophically oriented, so things like TAG are not so much my area of expertise, but it's fun anyway. I thought the call went great and generally I'm satisfied with the way I presented my fundamental objection, but I have to admit that some of the things he said didn't really register with me while I was on the phone so I didn't respond to them exactly as I would have liked to. I might have more to say about this later, or I may just call him back.

He wanted to ask me about the Kalam Cosmological argument, but wanted to give another caller a chance to get through, so he suggested I call back and I did. So after one caller I was back on the air. Once again it's at his podcast, or you can just listen here. A more brief call, but interesting nontheless. Once again I was able to express my fundamental objection to the Kalam Cosmological argument and I was happy with that.

He suggested I call in the next day (Tuesday) to talk about the resurrection. So I did. The podcast isn't posted yet, but I recorded it myself, so you can get that here. It's a .wma file. I might replace it with an .mp3 after the podcast is posted. This call also was great as far as I was concerned. I expressed my fundamental objection to belief in the resurrection, ripping off Arif Ahmed's brilliant argument against Gary Habermas and Matt tried to respond. In my view it's absolutely devastating. Matt in response was getting away from my central argument, talking about the early dating of Acts, which is really rendered irrelevant by Ahmed's argument. If I was trying as hard as I could to win I'd have probably dismissed these points as irrelevant, but really I was more just having fun and I find the rabbit trails interesting, so I went with it a little. The reality though is that even if we posited that Acts was dated to the 40's, Ahmed's argument still shows that belief in the resurrection is unreasonable.

In the end I asked Matt to chew on it and I'd call back to see what his thoughts are. I'll post that when it happens.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Listening to some of the "Best of Bob Dutko" this weekend I couldn't help but laugh. He spent a long time talking with callers about the second coming of Jesus and the logistics of it. The Bible says that everyone will see him coming in the clouds of glory. Does this mean Jesus will use television and other man made technology, or will he not have any use for our the technology of us pathetic mortals.

Bob grilled his callers. A caller would say something like "Jesus has no need for mere human devices. He'll come and everyone will see." "But," Bob would respond "the earth has curvature. If he flies over Detroit, people in California can't see. They can't see clouds in Detroit." Bob would jump on these callers and their inconsistency.

Bob offered his own solution. Jesus will use some sort of refractory abilities so that everyone can simultaneously see his appearance in the clouds.

I wondered to myself, what if a foreigner, say perhaps a Chinese immigrant, was passing through Detroit listening. It must sound like seemingly intelligent people having a serious conversation about how Santa Clause manages to get up and down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve. People explaining and arguing about it. How does the tooth fairy manage to sneak into the bedroom and replace those teeth with money undetected? Grown men, the type of people you interact with every day in board meetings and design reviews arguing about the logistics of Santa and the tooth fairy. How bizarre it must sound to their ears.

A girl I'd met recounted her experience leaving the Catholic faith. She said that she had a roommate in college from China. One time they had a very brief conversation about religion. The girl explained that she believed in Jesus and how he died and rose from the dead for our sins. The Chinese girl said one word in response. "Seriously!?!" And that was it. They never discussed it again, but the Catholic girl for the first time stepped into the shoes of an outsider and started to see how bizarre it must sound to the ears of those not indoctrinated with it. And her faith crumbled.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cool Christian Rappers

Listening to Christian radio, as I often do, I heard an old Carman song played. "JC In Da House". Robin Sullivan from WMUZ in Detroit played it like it was a normal song in her rotation. As if it was cool and hip. Though I have to say that there was a sense in her voice that she thought it was kind of silly. Can you tolerate more than 30 seconds of it?

If you make it and you want to take it up a notch, try the Huckabee show on Foxnews where two white nerd boys rap it up for abstinence and Jesus. Check the looks on the face of the two attractive females in the audience with their pained politely smiling faces which say "How did we ever get involved in this?"

Of course there are a lot excellent Christian musicians that I listen to all the time on my iPod, including MercyMe, Third Day, Casting Crowns, and Chris Tomlin. I like to mix that in with a little Pantera and some Megadeth.