The Parameters of Bayes' Theorem, Part 1

First off, Thomas Bayes (1701–1761) had a stroke of brilliance in creating his theorem! This is how we wish everyone should think when evaluating claims, events and promises. In a way, one cannot help but be in awe of it. Nothing I say is to indicate otherwise. My only beef is how it's been misused in cases where it shouldn't be used. The formula is below. Notice that the prior probability of event "B" cannot be zero. That sets the major limitation for how Bayes is used. Anything that is given a zero prior probability is not the subject for Bayes' Theorem. Got it? To use it in cases where there is a zero probability is to use it incorrectly. That's the point, not that every claim has a nonzero prior probability to it.

In the following simplified video explaining Bayes' Theorem, take a close look at the 45 second mark.

The narrator says something like this:

"Let's say you know one student in a class of twenty has the flu. Then the prior probability that a student in that class named Sally has the flu, is 1/20. That is your prior probability." Notice you have some factual information, that is, one student in a class of twenty has the flu. This is significant. First comes data, then comes prior probabilities. Bayes is dealing with factual data from the beginning. Without it there is nothing to compute. Compute?

Quote of the Day On Using Bayes' Theorem, By Richard Miller

On Facebook Dr. Miller wrote this:
Unlike what has been foisted by Carrier, Ferguson et al in these threads, prior probability in evidentialist statistics is far more subjective and typically may require/include field expert determination and any number of other inputs beyond assessment of rationality and logical validity, quite the opposite of the "anything goes" mentally we've seen exhibited here in such tiresome fashion. This is particularly true where there exists a relative paucity of informative statistics to aide in establishing prior probability, e.g., with the resurrection tale.

Interesting here, John Loftus and I are the only ones here to have studied in seminary with William L. Craig and his camp. We recognize the apologistic tactic a mile away. They rhetorically have already won. They selected Bayes then gave their mythological proposition an non-zero prior probability. Everything after that is meaningless smoke and mirrors meant to distract the masses. They've already quietly succeeded. All they needed to do, according to their camp, is show that their fairytale world is possible. Done! They've tricked you into allowing this step to frame the debate entirely to their own essential success. A more careful look at Bayes, however, shows this step to be utterly false.

Are Christians Evil?

Orthodox Christianity holds that those who don’t “make the cut” end up suffering for all of eternity, and this has of course been the cause of much criticism of the religion. Something that is rarely considered, however, is what this doctrine says about Christians themselves. For the Christian must of course view the eternal suffering of sinners as justified. And yet, by the moral standards most of us accept, eternal punishment is never justified – much less for individuals who aren’t really evil. Perhaps some would consider that kind of suffering as appropriate punishment for Hitler or Ted Bundy. But what about all the average non-Christians who end up in hell – people like your neighborhood atheist or Hindu? An orthodox Christian must be in favor of eternal suffering for such individuals as well. If he were to witness their being thrown into hell fire on Judgement Day, he would have to find that perfectly proper and right. Does this mean orthodox Christians are evil?

Atheist Alliance of America's 25th Anniversary Convention Is At DragonCon

Come out if you can! It's September 1-4 in downtown Atlanta, GA! Here's the schedule.

Minoritized Biblical Scholarship as Christian Missiology and Imperialism

The Bible and Interpretation has published my essay on "Minoritized Biblical Scholarship as Christian Missiology and Imperialism"
Ethnic perspectives on the Bible and minoritized biblical scholarship are predominantly missiological and pastoral endeavors. The aim of these minoritized approaches is to retain or recruit ethnic “minorities” by persuading them that the Bible offers them some comfort or analogy to their experience that can be beneficial. Rather than being postcolonialist or anti-imperialist, these perspectives can be viewed as another version of Christian colonialism, bibliolatry, and imperialism.

Christianity: The One-True-Faith…One of Many


When skepticism languishes, apologetics flourishes

Imagine, if you will, a gigantic Religious Apologists Quilt, large enough to cover a football field, including the end zones. There are more than 6,000 squares—each a square yard—representing each of the religions of the world, past and present. For Christianity alone, because it has splintered endlessly, there aren’t enough squares on the entire field. Certainly, for example, the Baptist, Catholic, and Quaker brands cannot be the same religion. But let’s allot 500 squares to the quarrelsome Christians.

Quotes of the Day On Miracles Vs K. Winsmann

Kenneth Winsmann: “People who are determined to not believe in miracles will always find a way of convincing themselves of their illegitimacy.”

Wayne Thompson:
Take the identical wording of your comment above, and instead of “miracles” insert words like unicorns, leprechauns, elves, ghosts, angels, vampires, werewolves, witches, mermaids, etc. – anything really for which no credible evidence actually exists or ever has.
Personally, I think it is somewhat miraculous that the Catholic Church was able to cover up, and get away with, the sexual abuse of SO MANY altar boys over so many decades. I’m sure this wouldn’t meet the Church’s standards for defining something as a miracle, but it demonstrates to what extreme lengths they will go to protect the Church. Might they not be similarly disingenuous and extreme in their methods when trying to establish something as a true “miracle”?

"He takes these poorly documented and often misdiagnosed stories as miracles, yet he demands indisputable scientific proof to debunk it."

Herald Newman:
If there is no methodology to asses these claims then you are doomed to remain agnostic on the topic forever. We can assess the claims and falsify them, but we cannot establish that the claim is actually true. Miracle claims can be investigated by science, and science can potentially show a natural cause to the event in question. What science cannot do is show a supernatural cause is behind the event. You have to rely on ignorance for that.
The last quote deserves some discussion on its own, by Rosa Rubicondior: "How can science address a claim that, by definition, violates the laws of nature, and so for which there can be no evidence."

An Investigation Into the Alleged Miracles at Lourdes, France

Professor Kenesi, who investigates alleged miracles of healing at Lourdes wrote about them. Here's one of the money quotes [Full Text below]:
Lourdes is famous for its miracles though despite the millions that go there, and the countless miracle claims, only 69 (up to the year 2015) have been declared officially to be sound examples of possible miracles. The miracle reports were more common in decades gone by. The reason for that is that improvements in medical science are refuting miraculous explanations. The miraculous is heading towards redundancy.

Quote of the Day by GearHeded

The real issue at hand is whether the Gospel narratives are mainly history or mythology. Krischins are fond of pointing out that "Teh Bible isn't a science text and should not be read as such!" The response should ALWAYS be: "Teh Bible isn't a HISTORY text and should not be read as such!"

Quote of the Day by Robert Conner

When responding to the Realists and Camps and Torleys of the world I keep the tone sarcastic to signal that we're not having anything approaching a real discussion. I don't regard it as a question of 'shutting down communication' which assumes there's some real communication taking place. The responses we get from the resident apologists aren't the results of reasoned textual interrogation but canned material from apologist blogs and (my personal fav) Christian "think tanks" to which we are often referred. Whether their responses cohere with anything else the New Testament says isn't a question that occurs to the apologetic mindset; it's all ad hoc argumentation anyway. It helps to remember that Christian advocates are used to proselytizing the ignorant, the emotionally vulnerable, and the gullible, and that they assume they'll find some similar audience here. It seems rarely to occur to the true believer that most here who have reconverted have "been there, done that," and have heard it all before.

I also proselytize among the ignorant. By educating them. I appeal to the emotionally vulnerable who are offended by the monumental hypocrisy of Christian preachments. However I don't pretend I can sway the gullible--there are some people, lots of people, who are just born to be swindled.

Quote of the Day by Wayne Thompson On Faith

Wayne Thompson:
Every small child knows what faith is; they just have different terminology for it: “Let’s play make believe!”

There Are Many Impossible Claims Having a Probability of Zero

What are the odds that someone can self-propel themselves to the moon and back without any technological help, including oxygen tanks?

Timothy R Campbell:
I am not sure that one can utilize math or reason or probabilities when dealing with claims of miracle or magic. After all, any event that can be seen as statistically possible would then not be magic. Resurrection -and John flying to the moon through self propulsion- are impossible without magic, but would certainly be possible if magic was possible. Once someone shows definitively that magic is possible, THEN the statisticians can review their estimates!
On Facebook Richard Carrier has been arguing that every claim, except a logically impossible one, has a non-zero probability to them. He said:
The only thing that has a zero probability is that which no amount of evidence (none whatsoever) would ever warrant believing; not a thing for which we don't have that evidence, but a thing for which no such evidence can even be conceived. The only thing that qualifies, is raw uninterpreted present experience. Everything else we can be wrong about, such that some amount of evidence, *if it were presented* would warrant believing it. But when it isn't presented, we aren't warranted in believing it.
When it came to the resurrection Carrier said,
I literally actually believe the probability is nonzero, and not only because I can imagine evidence that could convince me, although that's the big point to note here. I don't think resurrection happened because no such evidence has appeared. Not because no such evidence can even be conceived.
John W. Loftus: Nonzero as in

Richard Carrier: Maybe. That's the kind of probability I'm talking about at least.

John W. Loftus: There is no difference between that number and zero.

Mattapult Explains What We Think of Faith

In responding to Christian apologist David Marshall who asserted I should say: "By faith, Christians mean 'holding to and trusting in what you have good reason to think is true, in the face of difficulties.' But in practice they don't live up to their own standards." That's not what I want to say. I said "Faith is an irrational leap over the need for evidence" and stand by it. It's because Christians like Alvin Plantinga and others say this. I also say "Faith is an irrational leap over the evidence." That's because it best describes what Christian do. Mattapult explains:
How can I believe that what they do is not important, but what they call it is important?

Let's look at a few examples: Don Camp says that if you pray a lot, and look for times when your prayers seem to be answered, then obviously "God" is answering them. That is a counting-the-hits fallacy.

Realist1234 seems to think babies being killed by "God" is ok, because "God" is perfectly moral and will even things out sometime in the future.

Vincent Torley often argues that philosophy answers empirical questions. Enough said.

When confronted with these fallacies, the rational approach would be to re-evaluate the evidence.

Then there's the Ken Hamm's of the world, and the Westboro Baptist Church, Evangelicals, Mormons, and so on. Not only do they experience difficulties -- as you suggest -- they cannot even convince each other their god is the right one, and the others are wrong. With so many different conceptions of god, how can we believe they are all taking a rational look at the evidence?

We know geographic coincidences, indoctrination, and emotional manipulation play important roles in their belief systems. How is the belief guaranteed to be rational when there's such heavy irrational influences?

When the behaviors differ so drastically from the definition, how can the definition be right?
To say the word "faith" is to say fideism or faithism, they have the same exact meaning. That's what we're saying, despite their claims to the contrary.

Quote of the Day By Rudy On Faith

Rudy R asks,
Is there no word in the Christian lexicon that describes a belief not grounded on proof or empirical evidence? My question is directed to all Christians. My point is that the common Christian wouldn't know the word fideism. In fact, the lay Christian, who is coached by those who know the weak arguments, quotes Hebrew 11:1 to bat-down the "atheist" definition of faith. When cornered about the lack of proof or empirical evidence, Christians respond with faith as a reason; for if they had evidence, they would state so without relying on faith.
I like these thoughts. How about the word "Faithism" the belief in belief itself? And then say it's equivalent to how "Faith" is used by believers. Or, that it's all faithism? "Fideism" seems to be a a good word as well, the view that knowledge depends on faith. We could say it's all fideism. The word "faith" is therefore equivalent to the words "faithism" and "fideism." Discuss.

What Are the Odds I Can Fly to the Moon and Back? Zero. A Bayesian Analysis.


Christians (and a few atheists) get butt hurt when we tell the truth that brain dead cold cadavers stay dead, that there's a zero chance one or more of them have ever come back to life. Here are the facts: 108 billion human beings have been born into the world (per one estimate), all of whom died except those still alive, 7.5 billion of us. Those of us alive will die and our deaths will be permanent just like all other species on the planet, who share with us a common ancestor, along with everyone yet to be born (no known estimates for this figure). I think we can safely say everyone born has died or will die, and never come back to life. While taxes may not always be a permanent state of affairs, death is.

Let me give an analogy. What are the odds I can fly to the Moon and back on my own via self-propulsion without the use of modern technology, not even oxygen tanks? Zero. Again, Zero.

Quote of the Day by JP415 on Ridicule and Bayes' Theroem

JP415: "What is the Bayesian probability that Muhammad split the Moon in half, or that Hercules killed the Hydra? Sometimes satire is the most effective form of refutation."

How Did the Great Christian Swindle Begin?


It followed an old script…and added its own spin

In his classic analysis of religion, Treatise on the Gods, H. L. Mencken speculated on how it all began: “There must have been skeptics at the ringside when the first priest performed his hocus-pocus, and no doubt some of them, revolting against its transparent fraudulence, set themselves to find a better way to deal with flood, fire and famine.” But there were far more non-skeptics, those who were duped by the hocus-pocus. It was not Mark Twain who said: “Religion was born when the first con man met the first fool” (I don’t know who did, although Twain often gets the credit))—but it shows his flair for nailing the truth.

Quote of the Day On Bayes' Theorem, by Herald Newman

Herald Newman:
As somebody with a degree in mathematics, I look in disgust at every apologist who tries to use Bayes theorem to "establish the likelihood of the resurrection." Bayes theorem requires that we have an established background probability, and as far as I know, the dead stay dead. The background probability of coming back from the dead (after more than a few minutes) is 0.

Ask any school child and they'll tell you that zero times anything is always zero. Just more apologists trying to pull the wool over the eyes of their math ignorant flock.

Establish that people come back from the dead, and we can start talking about Jesus coming back from the dead.

Quote of the Day On Miracles By Sir_Russ

If Lourdes worked there would be no reason for any cancer patient to bother with treatment - just bop over to Lourdes for your miracle. But, believers know that conventional medicine offers real hope, whereas trekking off to Lourdes is what you do when you've abandoned hope. The miracle claims from Lourdes have been analyzed and the Christian church's own attested cure rate is less than the natural remission rate for cancer. Likelihood of dying en route to Lourdes is orders of magnitude higher than the cure rate.

On the Christian Use of Bayes' Theorem, by JP415 and GearHedEd

I have an axe to grind with the way Craig, Torley, et al. used Bayes’ Theorem. It just seems like a diversionary tactic. During a debate, they break out an equation and say, “Our methods are objective! See, we’ve even got a math formula to prove it.” But when you look at the formula, you see that it’s stuffed with a bunch of unproven assumptions. They should know better. Maybe they do.
They do. Craig's entire career has been an effort to become a "respected Christian Apologist". He was already committed before he went to college. And none of the "priors" that they stuff into their Bayes' Theorem Machine are reasonable. It all comes from poorly evidenced claims in the Bible, and gets a "pass" because of where it was found.
Yeah, it's like, "Given our prior background knowledge that Superman came from the planet Krypton, it's entirely likely that he could fly and shoot laser beams from his eyes." You could just put any old thing in there and get the results you want.
I think this analysis is basically correct, and I wish to comment further.

Quotes of the Day by Robert Conner

I wish I could get Robert as a Team Member here at DC. Here's a quote for people who insist on following the latest Christian apologetic fad of trying to quantify unique miraculous claims in ancient history using Bayes' Theorem:
I don't know much about Bayes' Theorem, but I know it's August 1, 2017 and Jesus hasn't come back yet.
Here's another one highlighting the fact that faith is pretending to know what you don't know (think of the Sophists in Socrates's day):
Celsus repeatedly noted Christians boldly opine about all sorts of things they don't and can't know, and nothing has changed in the two millennia since. Jesusplaining Christians appear to think their convictions are some kind of "smart pill"--just witness the resident apologists who infest this site with their twaddle and who never cease to pontificate about everything from the ancient documents they read only in translation to particle physics to evolutionary biology.

My Definition of Faith Spoken at Gateway to Reason 2017

Just think of Christian fundamentalist Alvin Plantinga here if you need to, whose cognitive faculties are not functioning properly!

My Speech at the Ark Encounter Protest July 8th


Jeffery Lowder Silences Disagreement at Secular Outpost

Two days ago Lowder said:
In order to maintain a high quality of discussion in the comments box, I have made the executive decision to moderate all comments on all posts. This decision is effective immediately.

The following policies are in effect....5) This blog has a philosophical focus; the editors and authors aren’t interested in debating with readers who think philosophy is worthless or cannot understand the value of clearly defined terms. Comments along those lines will be blocked. LINK
Not having been a part of the discussions he refers to, it looks like he's feeling the heat from my book, Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End, which mirrors Dr. Hector Avalos's call to end biblical studies as we currently understand them.

Listen, I have blocked people for various reasons, but never because someone merely disagreed with my views. One issue I have debated over the years is the existence of an apocalyptic prophet who was the basis for the Jesus we read about in the gospels. I have never silenced this debate here at DC, yet Lowder just censored a debate over the value of philosophy of religion. Pity, to think he claims to be interested in "genuine inquiry." Hypocrite! This is to be taken as another example of his hypocrisy.

I Really Do Appreciate Christians Who Go to Bat for LGBT Rights

But com’on, is Jesus their best reason for stepping up to the plate?

A young man named Matthew Vines has taken on a big challenge: trying to convince Evangelical Christians that their virulent opposition to homosexuality is wrong. Those very righteous people don’t seem to grasp that their anti-gay rhetoric is mean-spirited, destructive, evil. They may claim that they don’t hate gay people…no, they love them, and want to get them to turn away from sin. But they remain mired in aggressive and arrogant ignorance about gay people. They bring shame to theology.

I'll Be At Gateway to Reason This Weekend in St. Louis

This weekend should be an amazing one at Gateway to Reason. Thomas True, the organizer, has put together a fine line-up of speakers and topics. Come out if you can! My talk will be on my latest book, Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.

Quote of the Day, by Herald Newman On Miracles

In Reply to David Marshall, Newman said:
Miracle claims aren't interesting to me because they cannot be verified. The best we can do is establish that the "miracle" in question was a result of natural phenomena at work. The best the apologist can do is claim that since science can't explain an event, it could be supernatural.

Until the day that some apologist has a reliable method to investigate their "supernatural", miracle claims are nothing more than empty claims, and can be dismissed.

"Discussing" David Silverman's Quote With Justin Schieber and @CounterApologis[t]

Here is why internet celebrities are divisive. Because then can be. Since I'm against atheist divisiveness I have plenty to do, and in doing it I guess that makes me divisive too. I am against a cookie cutter-mentality, a one size fits all approach to capturing this planet for reason and science. I am against the attitude  that we should all do this or think that, and if we don't we are ousted from the atheist ranks of the cool people. This reminds my of High School all over again, but it's happening.

Sometimes I just inadvertently back into these difficulties. Recently I liked this meme of Dr. David Madison's who posted a David Silverman quote. I Tweeted it and said, "Yep. Honesty requires atheists to tell the truth, not placate them, no more than doctors with patients." Controversy ensued.

Here's an accurate description of a faith based cult, per my friend Peter Boghossian

Here's an accurate description of a faith based cult, per my friend Peter Bighossian's work. Watch up to the 3:15 mark. Listen up apologists, if this is not accurate description then what word would YOU use that best explains all of these similar examples that reject science based evidence?

All Christian Apologetics is Special Pleading!

This is the claim I made in a chapter for my book, How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist. Whenever an apologist makes an exception for their own faith, that same exception can be claimed by another sect in the Christian household, or another religion. Whenever an apologist uses an argument for their faith, that same argument can be claimed by another sect in the Christian household, or another religion.

They say Christianity is unique. Aren't all religions? They say miracles are possible. Don't other religions say that? They say their deity answers prayers. Others claim the same thing. They say they have a subjective experience of their deity. Don't they all? They claim a personal miracle. So do others. They quote their scriptures (or inspired people) as an authority to settle disputes. Don't others? They claim the existence of objective morality shows their god exists. So do others, even ISIS! They claim there is solid evidence for what they believe over all other religions, yet it does not convince others who believe in the supernatural.

They treat their own religion as special, that it has truer truth, and a better history. But in reality they're just more familiar with their own religion. Period! They cannot see what they're doing. They take for granted their faith is the one true one out of the myriads of religions of the past, present and future. Then taking this as the real reason for their faith, they special plead it all the way to market. But by special pleading their case they allow other religious faiths to walk through the same door. It doesn't defend their religious faith from the myriads of others out there, which is arguing fallaciously. This shows how desperate apologists are to defend what cannot reasonably be defended, and why reasonable people cannot believe.