Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

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Don Bradley
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Don Bradley »

dastardly stem wrote:
Tue Jun 14, 2022 2:16 pm
Anyway, what is your take on incorporating into the "historical method" a science of probability?
DS,

Great question. I'm glad this is an area you're exploring. All of us can use more systematic tools for thinking in our toolkits. In the modern world, we all need such tools. In politics, for instance, we may encounter partisan scholars whose work always comes out supporting a given position, showing that they are in fact advocates as opposed to seekers. And tools for analysis like this can help us recognize that and make better judgments.

I personally love Bayesian analysis. There are many questions on which it can be very useful, and these, to my mind, include some historical questions and even some religious questions. I used Bayesian thinking years ago in assessing certain apologetic-critical questions, and it still forms an important part of my own thinking.

One problem with applying it formally (numerically) to history is that in history, as compared with the sciences, it is much more difficult to quantify probabilities on the questions we want answers to. So, interpreters of history using Bayesian reasoning end up assigning probabilities based on personal, subjective factors, but the use of actual numbers to represent these can grant them the illusion of objectivity.

So, most questions in history are not very amenable to formal Bayesian analysis purporting to generate concrete numerical probabilities. Yet, while formal Bayesian equations usually don't render sound historical probabilities, where broadly Bayesian thinking is actually useful in history is generally just in helping us see the direction that a given evidence points. We can employ Bayesian thinking to help us look at our evidence systematically, recognizing that a given piece of evidence should be viewed as making a given hypothesis more likely or less likely.

It's also important to use Bayesian thinking by taking into account the "prior probability" of an outcome. For instance, a Latter-day Saint linguist, Brian Stubbs (whose work I think is generally rigorous and whom I like) once noted that the Hebrew language shares more roots with the Uto-Aztecan Native American language family than certain neighboring African tribes' languages share with each other and pointed out that linguists have concluded that these tribes' languages share a common origin. The implication he's putting across is that the relationship between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan exceeds the standard needed to conclude that two languages share a common origin, and this is therefore strong evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

While I actually think this is one of the most interesting lines of evidence adduced for Book of Mormon historicity, I see Stubbs making a major oversight here: he has failed to account for prior probabilities. Linguists have concluded that these neighboring tribes' languages are related because the probability that neighboring groups' languages will have a common origin is high to start with--i.e., in Bayesian terms, this has a high probability. Meanwhile, when we have two groups that are separated by oceans and don't share evident genetic origin or clearly share other (non-linguistic) culture in common, the prior probability that their languages share a common origin is low. It's not that it can't be so--maybe it is! It's just a hypothesis that requires s a higher standard of evidence to overcome the low probability prior to the assessment of the new evidence (the sharing of linguistic roots).

Linguistics is far, far more amenable to formal (numerical) Bayesian analysis than are the great majority of questions in history, but this example can perhaps help show the kind of insight that Bayesian thinking can provide within history.

As for applying Bayesian analysis to ancient history, in my own area of history, Mormonism, where we have probably literally about 100,000 times as much documentation on the faith's origins than we do for those of early Christianity, I think it would still be fiendishly difficult to design a proper formal Bayesian analysis--one that could generate numerical probabilities that can be remotely relied on. Unlike measurements made in the natural sciences, historical narratives overwhelmingly consist of things that are not properly quantifiable, much less quantified. So the analyst would essentially have to just make up numbers to plug into the equations. Given how difficult this would be for Mormon history, I have trouble seeing how it would really be possible for ancient Christianity.

One philosopher who has considerable expertise with Bayesian analysis is Richard Swinburne. Swinburne is also a Christian theologian. He has applied Bayesian analysis to the resurrection of Jesus. So, paradoxically, Richard Carrier has used Bayesian analysis to conclude that Jesus never existed, while Richard Swinburne has used it to argue that Jesus literally rose from the dead! So it's use regarding early Christianity thus far is not only problematic but thus far also contradictory. It may be that historians will learn enough about the past and refine techniques for establishing prior probabilities enough in, say, the next fifty years that they will be able to more systematically illuminate questions of ancient history, but I think we are a long way from doing that with any objectivity now.

While early Christianity is not my area of history, there's a scholar I can tell you is legit from both his work in early Mormon history and in early Christian history--Daniel Gullotta. As a historian of Mormonism, I'm in an excellent position to judge the quality of his thinking, and he's first-rate. He primarily does early Christianity, and given what I know of him from his work in Mormon history, I trust him as a scholar with rigorous thinking. It turns out he has written a review of Carrier's work. You can find his review on his Academia.edu site. (Oh shoot, I just checked and the link takes you to a pay wall. I believe parts of the review are on Carrie's Wikipedia entry.) I know he credits Carrier's approach as being highly sophisticated, but he also has a number of strong criticisms.

Richard Carrier seems like a highly intelligent and good natured guy. It bears noting that his projects seem to all be controversial and all point in the same direction. He has written arguing against broad-consensus views among historians in each case that Jesus didn't exist, that science thrived under the Romans and stopped progressing under Christianity, and that Hitler was a Christian. In my experience, in exploring controversial topics regarding a given ideology's worldview, like a religious or antireligious worldview or political worldview, the results sometimes come out more favorable to the worldview and sometimes less favorable. Where we have someone solely and consistently finding evidence that supports a given worldview, we should question their objectivity. Carrier's consistent conclusions that are both unfavorable to Christianity and cut against broad-consensus conclusions about Christianity even among religiously nonbelieving scholars (e.g., Bart Ehrman) raise real questions here. If we're looking at probabilities, we can assess some probabilities here. What is the probability that a particular maverick scholar who consistently argues to negative conclusions about a worldview even against the judgment of most other scholars (whether those scholars embrace that worldview or not) is objective and right and they are wrong?

There are a great many scholars of early Christianity who don't appear to be driven by ideology and often make findings that problematize their own position, showing their independence of ideology. I believe John Kloppenborg to be one of these. If you want to know about the historical Jesus, I'd recommend one of those guys.

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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Dr Moore »

Don Bradley wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 6:16 am
dastardly stem wrote:
Tue Jun 14, 2022 2:16 pm
Anyway, what is your take on incorporating into the "historical method" a science of probability?
Unlike measurements made in the natural sciences, historical narratives overwhelmingly consist of things that are not properly quantifiable, much less quantified.
For example, Joseph and the abilities and content of Joseph’s mind, as a single common, causal factor cutting across most of the faith’s origin story. This factor, impossible to properly quantify, was ignored by the Interpreter’s “Team Bayes” in the production of Rasmussen’s Quantifying the Evidence series. With the predictable result that, the results are ridiculous.

This, among other problematic issues such as cherry picking and sharpshooter fallacies, is why I labeled the whole project “faith-promoting pornography.”
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Kishkumen »

Thanks to Don for his long response on Carrier. Unfortunately, Gullotta has not made his review available on Academia, even though a stand-in file was uploaded there. Just FYI for those who try to download the review from the link.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by dastardly stem »

Don Bradley wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 6:16 am
dastardly stem wrote:
Tue Jun 14, 2022 2:16 pm
Anyway, what is your take on incorporating into the "historical method" a science of probability?
DS,

Great question. I'm glad this is an area you're exploring. All of us can use more systematic tools for thinking in our toolkits. In the modern world, we all need such tools. In politics, for instance, we may encounter partisan scholars whose work always comes out supporting a given position, showing that they are in fact advocates as opposed to seekers. And tools for analysis like this can help us recognize that and make better judgments.

I personally love Bayesian analysis. There are many questions on which it can be very useful, and these, to my mind, include some historical questions and even some religious questions. I used Bayesian thinking years ago in assessing certain apologetic-critical questions, and it still forms an important part of my own thinking.

One problem with applying it formally (numerically) to history is that in history, as compared with the sciences, it is much more difficult to quantify probabilities on the questions we want answers to. So, interpreters of history using Bayesian reasoning end up assigning probabilities based on personal, subjective factors, but the use of actual numbers to represent these can grant them the illusion of objectivity.

So, most questions in history are not very amenable to formal Bayesian analysis purporting to generate concrete numerical probabilities. Yet, while formal Bayesian equations usually don't render sound historical probabilities, where broadly Bayesian thinking is actually useful in history is generally just in helping us see the direction that a given evidence points. We can employ Bayesian thinking to help us look at our evidence systematically, recognizing that a given piece of evidence should be viewed as making a given hypothesis more likely or less likely.

It's also important to use Bayesian thinking by taking into account the "prior probability" of an outcome. For instance, a Latter-day Saint linguist, Brian Stubbs (whose work I think is generally rigorous and whom I like) once noted that the Hebrew language shares more roots with the Uto-Aztecan Native American language family than certain neighboring African tribes' languages share with each other and pointed out that linguists have concluded that these tribes' languages share a common origin. The implication he's putting across is that the relationship between Hebrew and Uto-Aztecan exceeds the standard needed to conclude that two languages share a common origin, and this is therefore strong evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

While I actually think this is one of the most interesting lines of evidence adduced for Book of Mormon historicity, I see Stubbs making a major oversight here: he has failed to account for prior probabilities. Linguists have concluded that these neighboring tribes' languages are related because the probability that neighboring groups' languages will have a common origin is high to start with--i.e., in Bayesian terms, this has a high probability. Meanwhile, when we have two groups that are separated by oceans and don't share evident genetic origin or clearly share other (non-linguistic) culture in common, the prior probability that their languages share a common origin is low. It's not that it can't be so--maybe it is! It's just a hypothesis that requires s a higher standard of evidence to overcome the low probability prior to the assessment of the new evidence (the sharing of linguistic roots).

Linguistics is far, far more amenable to formal (numerical) Bayesian analysis than are the great majority of questions in history, but this example can perhaps help show the kind of insight that Bayesian thinking can provide within history.
Wow. Thanks. That was an excellent help as an example.
As for applying Bayesian analysis to ancient history, in my own area of history, Mormonism, where we have probably literally about 100,000 times as much documentation on the faith's origins than we do for those of early Christianity, I think it would still be fiendishly difficult to design a proper formal Bayesian analysis--one that could generate numerical probabilities that can be remotely relied on. Unlike measurements made in the natural sciences, historical narratives overwhelmingly consist of things that are not properly quantifiable, much less quantified. So the analyst would essentially have to just make up numbers to plug into the equations. Given how difficult this would be for Mormon history, I have trouble seeing how it would really be possible for ancient Christianity.

One philosopher who has considerable expertise with Bayesian analysis is Richard Swinburne. Swinburne is also a Christian theologian. He has applied Bayesian analysis to the resurrection of Jesus. So, paradoxically, Richard Carrier has used Bayesian analysis to conclude that Jesus never existed, while Richard Swinburne has used it to argue that Jesus literally rose from the dead! So it's use regarding early Christianity thus far is not only problematic but thus far also contradictory. It may be that historians will learn enough about the past and refine techniques for establishing prior probabilities enough in, say, the next fifty years that they will be able to more systematically illuminate questions of ancient history, but I think we are a long way from doing that with any objectivity now.

While early Christianity is not my area of history, there's a scholar I can tell you is legit from both his work in early Mormon history and in early Christian history--Daniel Gullotta. As a historian of Mormonism, I'm in an excellent position to judge the quality of his thinking, and he's first-rate. He primarily does early Christianity, and given what I know of him from his work in Mormon history, I trust him as a scholar with rigorous thinking. It turns out he has written a review of Carrier's work. You can find his review on his Academia.edu site. (Oh shoot, I just checked and the link takes you to a pay wall. I believe parts of the review are on Carrie's Wikipedia entry.) I know he credits Carrier's approach as being highly sophisticated, but he also has a number of strong criticisms.
There's a benefit to us for Richard being an independent guy. he has responded to Gullotta's review and it's not hidden behind a pay wall (so even us fools get to catch up with it): https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13573

I was made aware of Gullotta's review I just haven't had access to it. I love this point by Carrier (first quoting Gullotta):
Paradoxically, Carrier’s main contribution may wind up being seen not as an advancement of mythicism, but as a criticism of current methodologies employed by scholars of the historical Jesus. Because of this, Carrier’s work is an ironic contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus.
Carrier:
A note to a fellow writer: that’s neither paradoxical or ironic. If indeed that’s the ultimate value of my work, that’s precisely what I asked for. The last paragraph of OHJ literally begins (bold type hereafter indicates emphasis added): “But it is the method I want my fellow historians to correct, replace or perfect above all else” (p. 618) even if they don’t change their position on historicity; and the paragraph immediately preceding that concluded:
I want to see a helpful critique of this book by objective, qualified experts who could live with the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist, but just don’t think the case can be made, or made well enough to credit. And what I want from my critics is not useless hole punching but an alternative proposal: if my method is invalid, then what method is the correct one for resolving questions of historicity? And if you know of none, how can you justify any claim to historicity for any person, if you don’t even know how such a claim can be justified or falsified at all? Also correct any facts I get wrong, point out what I missed, and if my method then produces a different conclusion when those emendations are included, we will have progress. Even if the conclusion is the same, it will nevertheless have been improved.
In other words, the goal of my book explicitly included the production of a future successful defense of historicity, through the reform of facts and assumptions. Thus, if it does so, it would not be ironic (which means contrary to expectation) nor paradoxical (which means seemingly self-contradictory),
I mean...yes. Not really pertinent to what we're saying, but hopefully Gullotta took Carrier seriously enough to get these things. In reading Carrier, I've seen him basically begging for what Gullotta thinks will come, and yet, apparently, hasn't.

More to the point:
It starts with Gullotta declaring sixth grade math is beyond him and therefore should be ignored. To the contrary, historians need to start learning the mathematical logic they all depend on in every argument they make. “Sixth grade math is hard” is not a valid rebuttal to that point. If he wishes to insist a historical Jesus is probable, he needs to explain what “probable” means and how he arrives at that probability. Saying “I refuse to do math, but will assert a mathematical conclusion at you anyway because I just feel it in my gut” is not a commendable response. If you have no actual understanding of how you can arrive at any logically valid conclusion, your expertise doesn’t count for anything. “Feeling it in my gut” is a dubious alternative, too easily hijacked by bias, and impossible to critique. Historians need to do better. They need to explain to us why their assertions of probability are valid. And “I feel it in my gut,” isn’t an explanation.

Likewise, as if to demonstrate exactly my point, Gullotta thinks Swinburne’s abuse of Bayes’ Theorem demonstrates it doesn’t work. As if William Lane Craig’s abuse of standard logic demonstrates even logic doesn’t work. If you refuse to understand the math, you can’t produce a valid analogy by citing someone who fakes the math, as evidence against math. This is akin to saying that because a political think-tank can abuse statistics to argue bogus or misleading claims, that therefore none of the sciences should ever use statistics. Whereas if Gullotta would brush back up on his sixth grade math, he’d be able to tell why Swinburne’s use of Bayes’ Theorem is a scam, and mine does not commit the same follies. In fact, I wrote a whole book on how not to do that. That Gullotta can’t tell the difference is bad. History is about reaching conclusions in probability. That requires competence in understanding probability.
I get a little shy about quoting Carrier because he holds no punches. But often he seems to be on the money.
In his conclusion Gullotta only mentions my lower bound probability of “1 in 12,000” but not my upper bound, which is a “1 in 3” odds Jesus existed, the actual conclusion of the book (he mentions the “33%” only in passing mid-article). By altering his conclusion to hide that fact conceals from casual or inattentive readers what my actual conclusion was: that the probability Jesus existed could not reasonably be higher than 1 in 3. That’s far more favorable to historicity than he represents. This looks like a well poisoning fallacy: pretending I didn’t control for bias by readjusting my personal conclusion of 1 in 12,000 to 1 in 3, thus making my conclusion appear far more ridiculous than it is.
That's pretty disappointing sounding. I've seen many many people, even some here, complain on this same reason. It's tough to imagine how that gets missed. But Carrier graciously attributes this mistake to "But these are fairly minor, and reflect I think more an unthinking bias than conscious efforts to deceive."
Gullotta says “Carrier’s imagined historical Jesus of the academy has ceased to exist,” but the only “imagined historical Jesus” I test in OHJ is: “an actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life, who continued as an identifiable movement after his death,” “the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by the Jewish or Roman authorities” and “some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).” I actually repeatedly exclude from consideration any of the fancier historical Jesuses Gullotta is talking about (quite explicitly: read pp. 31-35, and pp. 24-27). He thus misrepresents my book as arguing against some set of already-rejected versions of a historical Jesus, rather than allowing for a mere “gist” of a Jesus (as Gullotta puts it). But only testing that “gist” of a Jesus is what my book actually does. Exactly the opposite of what Gullotta says.
Again:
Apart from those things, Gullotta ignores nearly the whole book and instead only addresses six points made in it:

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s claim that [1] a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed, [2] his understanding of Jesus as a nonhuman and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus, [3] his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces, [4] his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community, [5] his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths, and [6] his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype as a means of comparison.

In every case, his arguments are illogical, and sometimes show he didn’t even read the book.
I won't quote the whole thing, but to me, it gets more interesting after this.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13573

Hope you read it, and I"d wonder, if you have access to him, what Gullotta thought of Carrier's response.


Richard Carrier seems like a highly intelligent and good natured guy. It bears noting that his projects seem to all be controversial and all point in the same direction. He has written arguing against broad-consensus views among historians in each case that Jesus didn't exist, that science thrived under the Romans and stopped progressing under Christianity, and that Hitler was a Christian. In my experience, in exploring controversial topics regarding a given ideology's worldview, like a religious or antireligious worldview or political worldview, the results sometimes come out more favorable to the worldview and sometimes less favorable. Where we have someone solely and consistently finding evidence that supports a given worldview, we should question their objectivity. Carrier's consistent conclusions that are both unfavorable to Christianity and cut against broad-consensus conclusions about Christianity even among religiously nonbelieving scholars (e.g., Bart Ehrman) raise real questions here. If we're looking at probabilities, we can assess some probabilities here. What is the probability that a particular maverick scholar who consistently argues to negative conclusions about a worldview even against the judgment of most other scholars (whether those scholars embrace that worldview or not) is objective and right and they are wrong?
Woe...This feels like a big misdirection. Carrier does not give his arguments on mythicism as a criticism of Christianity. He continually says you can't use his evaluations and studies to argue against Christianity. One could believe Jesus sacrificed in the heavens, is the Son of God, and inspired Paul and others. Mythicism is not a refutation of Christianity per se...It's a evaluation of a question in history.

I think there are tons of questions to ask here. And no doubt the controversial nature of it, sure causes many eyebrow raises. But how we go from needing questions answered to he's probably wrong because other scholars disagree, without those other scholars giving us reason why they disagree, seems a tad out of place. Look I turn into a Carrier apolgist, it feels, and I don't like that. I just want his work to be treated fairly because it has largely drawn me in. And it seems nearly every time I hear people criticizing his work, they aren't criticizing his work, but a caricature of it. It's hard to watch.
There are a great many scholars of early Christianity who don't appear to be driven by ideology and often make findings that problematize their own position, showing their independence of ideology. I believe John Kloppenborg to be one of these. If you want to know about the historical Jesus, I'd recommend one of those guys.

Don
I appreciate the recommendation. And your response overall was helpful--even if I feel a bit disappointed by your comments on Carrier's work. I know you're taking a break, and I appreciate you sticking around to answer me. I meant to refer to Carrier's work as an example and I appreciate your comments on Bayesian analysis. 50 years feels like a long time right now, but that may be a reasonable projection.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Kishkumen »

dastardly stem wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 3:18 pm
I was made aware of Gullotta's review I just haven't had access to it. I love this point by Carrier (first quoting Gullotta):
Paradoxically, Carrier’s main contribution may wind up being seen not as an advancement of mythicism, but as a criticism of current methodologies employed by scholars of the historical Jesus. Because of this, Carrier’s work is an ironic contribution to the quest for the historical Jesus.
Carrier:
A note to a fellow writer: that’s neither paradoxical or ironic. If indeed that’s the ultimate value of my work, that’s precisely what I asked for. The last paragraph of OHJ literally begins (bold type hereafter indicates emphasis added): “But it is the method I want my fellow historians to correct, replace or perfect above all else” (p. 618) even if they don’t change their position on historicity; and the paragraph immediately preceding that concluded:



In other words, the goal of my book explicitly included the production of a future successful defense of historicity, through the reform of facts and assumptions. Thus, if it does so, it would not be ironic (which means contrary to expectation) nor paradoxical (which means seemingly self-contradictory),
I don't see how him anticipating he will get criticism is the same thing as the criticism playing into his hand. He was arguing for mythicism. If the end results do not support mythicism so much as help forward the cause of historicism, then that would be ironic. Carrier sees someone's claim of defeating him, and he says, "Ah, I knew that you would defeat me, so you didn't defeat me!" Er, what??????

What we see here is Richard Carrier's ego problems on full display.
I mean...yes. Not really pertinent to what we're saying, but hopefully Gullotta took Carrier seriously enough to get these things. In reading Carrier, I've seen him basically begging for what Gullotta thinks will come, and yet, apparently, hasn't.
Gullotta critiqued Carrier's work, which he did take seriously, in the ways he is best qualified to do, and the results are not pretty for Carrier. I was able to access Gullotta's review through my university library and so I read it. He did a pretty good job, I think. Where he hits Carrier is in his assumptions and interpretations, not so much on the Bayesian analysis. And this is an important point! If Carrier's assumptions and interpretations are significantly flawed, then Bayesian analysis can't help him out of that problem.
More to the point:
It starts with Gullotta declaring sixth grade math is beyond him and therefore should be ignored. To the contrary, historians need to start learning the mathematical logic they all depend on in every argument they make. “Sixth grade math is hard” is not a valid rebuttal to that point. If he wishes to insist a historical Jesus is probable, he needs to explain what “probable” means and how he arrives at that probability. Saying “I refuse to do math, but will assert a mathematical conclusion at you anyway because I just feel it in my gut” is not a commendable response. If you have no actual understanding of how you can arrive at any logically valid conclusion, your expertise doesn’t count for anything. “Feeling it in my gut” is a dubious alternative, too easily hijacked by bias, and impossible to critique. Historians need to do better. They need to explain to us why their assertions of probability are valid. And “I feel it in my gut,” isn’t an explanation.

Likewise, as if to demonstrate exactly my point, Gullotta thinks Swinburne’s abuse of Bayes’ Theorem demonstrates it doesn’t work. As if William Lane Craig’s abuse of standard logic demonstrates even logic doesn’t work. If you refuse to understand the math, you can’t produce a valid analogy by citing someone who fakes the math, as evidence against math. This is akin to saying that because a political think-tank can abuse statistics to argue bogus or misleading claims, that therefore none of the sciences should ever use statistics. Whereas if Gullotta would brush back up on his sixth grade math, he’d be able to tell why Swinburne’s use of Bayes’ Theorem is a scam, and mine does not commit the same follies. In fact, I wrote a whole book on how not to do that. That Gullotta can’t tell the difference is bad. History is about reaching conclusions in probability. That requires competence in understanding probability.
See above. Basically he is ignoring the substantive criticism and hiding behind Bayesian analysis. If his judgment of prior probabilities is wrapped up in bad readings of Paul and bad interpretations of history, then plugging these bad views into Bayesian formulae does not transform them into gold.
I get a little shy about quoting Carrier because he holds no punches. But often he seems to be on the money.
In his conclusion Gullotta only mentions my lower bound probability of “1 in 12,000” but not my upper bound, which is a “1 in 3” odds Jesus existed, the actual conclusion of the book (he mentions the “33%” only in passing mid-article). By altering his conclusion to hide that fact conceals from casual or inattentive readers what my actual conclusion was: that the probability Jesus existed could not reasonably be higher than 1 in 3. That’s far more favorable to historicity than he represents. This looks like a well poisoning fallacy: pretending I didn’t control for bias by readjusting my personal conclusion of 1 in 12,000 to 1 in 3, thus making my conclusion appear far more ridiculous than it is.
That's pretty disappointing sounding. I've seen many many people, even some here, complain on this same reason. It's tough to imagine how that gets missed. But Carrier graciously attributes this mistake to "But these are fairly minor, and reflect I think more an unthinking bias than conscious efforts to deceive."
This stuff about the 33% and the 1 in 12,000 is quibbling. He does not mention the 33% merely in passing. In any case, the core arguments of the review article are not focused on this issue at all. Carrier wants to make it about these things because he presumably can't rebut the core arguments.
Again:
Apart from those things, Gullotta ignores nearly the whole book and instead only addresses six points made in it:

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s claim that [1] a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed, [2] his understanding of Jesus as a nonhuman and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus, [3] his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces, [4] his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community, [5] his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths, and [6] his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype as a means of comparison.

In every case, his arguments are illogical, and sometimes show he didn’t even read the book.
Obviously this is not the review Carrier wanted, but that does not mean it does not present a challenge to his work. I will have to check to see whether Carrier addresses these criticisms, but to my eyes Gullotta's criticisms are spot on. In short, Gullotta does not have to rebut Carrier's math if Carrier is wrong about angel beliefs in Second Temple Judaism, the strength of MacDonald's hypothesis about Homer and Mark, and Carrier's selective use of a modified Rank-Raglan archetype. Gullotta shows that Carrier tweaks items on that list to fit Jesus, which is pretty damning for a work on prior probability analysis. It shows that Carrier is willing to change the parameters to make the prior probabilities come out the way he wants.

I would say that Gullotta basically makes similar points about the James argument we have made here, which did not come out looking too good for Carrier. His points about angels are a huge problem for Carrier. It shows that Carrier really didn't know what he was talking about in his entire celestial Jesus argument, since there actually was not angel Jesus worshiped by Jews before Christianity came around.

I am more sympathetic to MacDonald than Gullotta is because I think G is missing some important aspects of Jesus' character that make the use of Homer more intelligible, namely:

Jesus' self-presentation needs to be understood first in a Hellenistic Jewish context as regards to claims about his kingship. Gullotta only sees the anti-Roman imperial response in Jesus, but Jesus more locally is anti-Herodian and perhaps a throwback to Hasmonean kingship, which falls within the Seleucid orbit. So look for Seleucid and Hasmonean elements in Jesus, not just anti-Caesar elements. Indeed, presenting himself as anti-Herodian does not necessarily carry with it anti-Roman aims. The politics of client kingdoms in the Roman world were very complicated, with people jockeying for approval as kings in Roman eyes.
Richard Carrier seems like a highly intelligent and good natured guy. It bears noting that his projects seem to all be controversial and all point in the same direction. He has written arguing against broad-consensus views among historians in each case that Jesus didn't exist, that science thrived under the Romans and stopped progressing under Christianity, and that Hitler was a Christian. In my experience, in exploring controversial topics regarding a given ideology's worldview, like a religious or antireligious worldview or political worldview, the results sometimes come out more favorable to the worldview and sometimes less favorable. Where we have someone solely and consistently finding evidence that supports a given worldview, we should question their objectivity. Carrier's consistent conclusions that are both unfavorable to Christianity and cut against broad-consensus conclusions about Christianity even among religiously nonbelieving scholars (e.g., Bart Ehrman) raise real questions here. If we're looking at probabilities, we can assess some probabilities here. What is the probability that a particular maverick scholar who consistently argues to negative conclusions about a worldview even against the judgment of most other scholars (whether those scholars embrace that worldview or not) is objective and right and they are wrong?
Woe...This feels like a big misdirection. Carrier does not give his arguments on mythicism as a criticism of Christianity. He continually says you can't use his evaluations and studies to argue against Christianity. One could believe Jesus sacrificed in the heavens, is the Son of God, and inspired Paul and others. Mythicism is not a refutation of Christianity per se...It's a evaluation of a question in history.

I think there are tons of questions to ask here. And no doubt the controversial nature of it, sure causes many eyebrow raises. But how we go from needing questions answered to he's probably wrong because other scholars disagree, without those other scholars giving us reason why they disagree, seems a tad out of place. Look I turn into a Carrier apolgist, it feels, and I don't like that. I just want his work to be treated fairly because it has largely drawn me in. And it seems nearly every time I hear people criticizing his work, they aren't criticizing his work, but a caricature of it. It's hard to watch.
Carrier's work is popular in large part because people are looking for challenges to Christianity. As Christianity has become more explicitly political, there has been a bigger demand to undermine Christian claims, going all the way back to its foundational narratives. Carrier isn't stupid. He knows this, and so he is really being disingenuous here. What he is saying makes no sense: In saying that Jesus never existed, I am not fighting Christianity. LOL!!!
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

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Can't thank you enough for what you got me, Kishkumen.

I shouldn't have used Carrier as an example here. I'm not feeling all that interested in getting back into it. I meant to focus my question on the question he raises in Proving History which got me a splendid response from Don. That I take exception to other comments about the historicity question is just gonna have to sit, right now. I'm going to take some time and digest some more.

Appreciate it. I wish I had something you would like so I could repay you. Keep me in mind when you need a favor.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Kishkumen »

dastardly stem wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 7:55 pm
Can't thank you enough for what you got me, Kishkumen.

I shouldn't have used Carrier as an example here. I'm not feeling all that interested in getting back into it. I meant to focus my question on the question he raises in Proving History which got me a splendid response from Don. That I take exception to other comments about the historicity question is just gonna have to sit, right now. I'm going to take some time and digest some more.

Appreciate it. I wish I had something you would like so I could repay you. Keep me in mind when you need a favor.
No problem, stem! And we don't have to get into Carrier again. I can't seem to help myself when he is brought into the mix. You are quite welcome. I enjoy being useful when I can, especially to old friends.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Analytics »

Kishkumen wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 4:18 pm
I don't see how him anticipating he will get criticism is the same thing as the criticism playing into his hand. He was arguing for mythicism. If the end results do not support mythicism so much as help forward the cause of historicism, then that would be ironic. Carrier sees someone's claim of defeating him, and he says, "Ah, I knew that you would defeat me, so you didn't defeat me!" Er, what??????
Carrier was arguing for mysticism, but was also arguing for a more rigorous, Bayesian analysis of the evidence. Carrier has consistently claimed that he thinks his arguments about Bayesian methodology are more important than his arguments about the historicity of Jesus. He wants people to take both things seriously, sure. If they only take his arguments about methodology seriously, that is still a win.

The very last chapter of his book begins with:
But it is the method I want my fellow historians to correct, replace or perfect above all else. We can’t simply rely on intuition or gut instinct when deciding what really did happen or who really did exist, since that simply leans on unexamined assumptions and relies on impressions and instincts that are often not reliable guides to the truth. We need to make explicit why we believe what we do rather than something else, and we need this as much in history as in any other field.

Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (p. 717).
Kishkumen wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 4:18 pm
Where he hits Carrier is in his assumptions and interpretations, not so much on the Bayesian analysis. And this is an important point! If Carrier's assumptions and interpretations are significantly flawed, then Bayesian analysis can't help him out of that problem.
True enough, but if Carrier wins on the question of methodology, that is still a big win. Quoting from the first paragraph of the preface:
Though I shall argue it’s likely this alternative is true and that Jesus did not in fact exist, I cannot assume it has been conclusively proved here. In fact, it may yet be proved false in future work, using the very methods I employ (which were proposed and defended in my previous volume, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus).

Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (p. 9).
Kishkumen wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 4:18 pm
Carrier's work is popular in large part because people are looking for challenges to Christianity. As Christianity has become more explicitly political, there has been a bigger demand to undermine Christian claims, going all the way back to its foundational narratives. Carrier isn't stupid. He knows this, and so he is really being disingenuous here. What he is saying makes no sense: In saying that Jesus never existed, I am not fighting Christianity. LOL!!!
I agree that Carrier isn't stupid, but you don't need to argue Jesus wasn't historical to cash in on people who are looking for challenges to Christianity. Christians need Jesus to be historical, but atheists don't need Jesus to be mythological. Carrier has said something to the effect that if his main objective was to attack Christianity, taking on this fringe issue of historicity would be a terrible strategy because it alienates so many people who want to accept mainstream scholarly thinking.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

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Analytics wrote:
Wed Jun 15, 2022 10:54 pm
True enough, but if Carrier wins on the question of methodology, that is still a big win. Quoting from the first paragraph of the preface:
Though I shall argue it’s likely this alternative is true and that Jesus did not in fact exist, I cannot assume it has been conclusively proved here. In fact, it may yet be proved false in future work, using the very methods I employ (which were proposed and defended in my previous volume, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus).

Carrier, Richard. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (p. 9).
What I have seen is that Bayesian analysis can’t fix a deficit of knowledge and poor reading skills. I don’t consider that a win on the question of methodology.
I agree that Carrier isn't stupid, but you don't need to argue Jesus wasn't historical to cash in on people who are looking for challenges to Christianity. Christians need Jesus to be historical, but atheists don't need Jesus to be mythological. Carrier has said something to the effect that if his main objective was to attack Christianity, taking on this fringe issue of historicity would be a terrible strategy because it alienates so many people who want to accept mainstream scholarly thinking.
A lot of younger atheists seem to like what Carrier is doing. And I have heard he has one or more sugar daddies willing to bankroll his efforts. So, someone likes what he is doing whether they need what he is doing or not. Carrier may be right that the “fringe” issue of historicity is a loser if you want scholarly credibility, but everything I have seen of him suggests he has a decently sized avid audience that digs what he is doing and is willing to pay for it. If he hadn’t been so eager to step on his own dick at every opportunity, he might have gone a lot further with it.

I agree with Gullotta when he described the interest in mythicism as a burgeoning movement in recent years. This is Carrier’s audience, and they are supporting his message.
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Re: Historical Methodology: A Few Thoughts

Post by Analytics »

Kishkumen wrote:
Thu Jun 16, 2022 2:55 am
What I have seen is that Bayesian analysis can’t fix a deficit of knowledge and poor reading skills. I don’t consider that a win on the question of methodology.
Exhibit B: Kyler Rasmussen.

Bayesian analysis isn't a magic wand that nullifies a deficit of knowledge. Nobody claimed it was. Bayesian analysis is a logically valid framework for evaluating evidence in the face of uncertainty.

Carrier has argued for both mysticism and for the validity and applicability of Bayesian analysis in historical questions. Just because he is wrong about one doesn't mean he's wrong about the other. If one appropriately uses Bayesian analysis to prove Jesus probably was historical, that's a win on the issue that Carrier thinks is more important.
Kishkumen wrote:
Thu Jun 16, 2022 2:55 am
A lot of younger atheists seem to like what Carrier is doing. And I have heard he has one or more sugar daddies willing to bankroll his efforts. So, someone likes what he is doing whether they need what he is doing or not. Carrier may be right that the “fringe” issue of historicity is a loser if you want scholarly credibility, but everything I have seen of him suggests he has a decently sized avid audience that digs what he is doing and is willing to pay for it. If he hadn’t been so eager to step on his own dick at every opportunity, he might have gone a lot further with it.

I agree with Gullotta when he described the interest in mythicism as a burgeoning movement in recent years. This is Carrier’s audience, and they are supporting his message.
Yes. In Carrier's own words (from 2012), "This all started long, long ago, four years in fact, when my wife and I were buried under student loan debt and I offered myself up to complete any hard core project my fans wanted in exchange for as many donations as I could get to fund my work. They all unanimously said “historicity of Jesus” and came up with twenty thousand dollars."

Personally, I think confirmation bias is a better explanation for his continued obsession on this rather than cynically talking about historical Jesus in a plot to get rich off of it.
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