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The odds for getting heads or tails when flipping a penny assume that a penny is perfectly weighted which the penny is not. It assumes the method of flipping the penny is not some exquisitely constructed machine that imparts to the penny a very precisely determined amount of energy with each flip. It assumes no wind is blowing.

It assumes the coin is flipped in a gravitational field and will actually come down after it goes up. When I was on jury duty a few months ago, there was a woman whose first language was not English that wanted clarification about "beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be impossible to nail down all the tacit assumptions in writing history with or without Bayes theorem or even in doing extremely precise scientific experiments. It seems to me quite obvious that there are going to be unstated assumptions involved in carrying out and analyzing any complex endeavor.

Probably any two historians given a wealth of material documents, letters, newspaper accounts, diaries, and so on would ever write exactly the same historical account with the exact same conclusions. But this does not mean there can't be excellent historical works written. If only it were! We wouldn't get so many scientific papers that don't stand up to replication. Bayer and Amgen tested a passel of papers on which they had bet considerable research dollars for new medicines, only to find that over half of them did not stand up to replication.

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The situation in the social "sciences" is even worse than in medicine and biology. Physicists fare better because they generally take better math courses in training. I think it's important to remember that even "facts" are model dependent. Namely dependent on the reality models each and every one of us maintain in our heads.

There's no logical contradiction involved with two people disagreeing about what they experience and if they do this, then the result will just be that they will disagree about the premises, just like if they disagreed about models on other levels. There's really no fundamental difference between "facts" and "the output of models", although I will of course be the first to admit that disputes about what reality entails tend to be resolved by focused study such that one or both parties in a discussion change their minds after having performed controlled experiments.

However, we are always dealing with the same situation in that if someone makes a statistical claim they are making a logical argument that other people have to agree with the premises of Which includes "facts" , as well as the logical structure, if the argument is to be convincing. I think the problem you are pointing at is more properly stated as a lack of ability to present complex rational arguments, due to lack of mathematical education, than an isolated problem with understanding statistics.

There's no barrier to using probability in historical arguments because of this. The fact that you can "prove" things either way just boils down to whether or not you accept premises that allow such conclusion to be drawn and figuring out whether the premises are true is one of the most important aspects of rational inference. For example, I could start from a bunch of data claiming apples fall upwards to "prove" Newton's theory of gravity wrong and not violate a single law of logic doing so.

Very few people would regard this as a problem with the application of statistics in physics when they could pin it on failures in my reality model. It's the same issue with history.

The job of a historian is to argue that his premises are true and then to draw conclusions that have probabilistic merit from those while adhering to the laws of logic. If he does, he will convince rational people, if he doesn't, chances are he won't. Of course, convincing people doesn't mean the conclusions are true either, but this is the best we can do - identify the best candidate hypotheses for beliefs given other axiomatic beliefs and we'll just have to live with it if the axioms we call "facts" end up being wrong.

You do have a point that the vaunted objectivity of fact-based science is an illusion. Theory certainly informs fact, at least to the extent of which facts to pay attention to. Yet there does seem to be a distinction between a model that yields the number of illegal Irish immigrants and the counting of Irish noses. Especially as the former notoriously yielded a negative number.

One envisions sons of the Gael slipping clandestinely from Maclean Avenue in the Bronx and sneaking off to the Auld Sod. Similarly, there is a distinction between the erosion of a beach predicted by a model and the actual measured erosion of the beach. To say there is "no" fundamental distinction between an algorithm and a measurement overstates the subjective nature of science. Thanks for bringing this guy to my attention. Such expertise is not needed. Bayes' Theorem is simply the mathematical model for the arguments historians are already making. If they can't make a probabilistic argument that Jesus existed, then they can't claim to know Jesus probably existed.

And then we'd all have to concede we don't know Jesus probably existed. Sink the ship of arguing from probabilities, and all probability arguments go down with it.

Review of Richard C. Carrier, Proving History

And with that, all human knowledge. Thus, you have to address what I actually argue, not pretend it's some sort of advanced significance testing like in the sciences. It's just an argument that something probably happened in history. And as such is as valid as any other argument that something probably happened in history. Unless no such arguments are valid!


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Expertise is certainly needed Dr. Otherwise, how can we trust that someone is using a method properly without a given advanced knowledge of that method. You yourself aren't a mathematician, although that doesn't mean you aren't smart or good at math. However, that does mean that your use of Bayes Theorem is not going to be adequate when it comes to applying it to the historical Jesus or anyone for that matter. Should we trust Ken Ham to tell us about the age of the earth or evolution? Or should we trust experts in evolutionary biology?

I take the latter. You say "If they can't make a probabilistic argument that Jesus existed, then they can't claim to know Jesus probably existed. Is it your assumption that math is our only way of knowing the past? If so, then you are in for some serious dead-ends. Not only is this self-defeating because it claims that BT is our only way of knowing something that is true, which this sentence itself in return can't be verified by BT to show whether it is more probably true or false.

Your objections are epistemological, not mathematical. Any philosopher who studies history will tell you that you don't need BT and any mathematician for that fact, to solve the past. You simply need sound arguments and evidence in order to know whether something in the past happened. Using concrete numbers is not only dishonest but unnecessary. Bayes' Theorem is simply the mathematical model for the arguments historians are already making". And that is why your latest books are huge failures.

A 10 year old can grasp Bayes' Theorem, yes, it's not in itself hard mathematics, BUT it is clearly and I think all who know a bit of math agree! To note that most of your arguments in the book are fallacious, false or at best strained But the final calculation is something that a kid who learned multiplication can do, yet truly building up the probabilities is something that you are not competent in, both historically and mathematically.

Not its mathematical rigor and validity, which is easily proven, but rather the application and various epistemological considerations. In fact there is more than one school of though on how to apply the theorem and the theorem has some opposition too mainly from frequentists, but not only. He rejects the foundations of probability laid by frequentists e.

"Jesus Did Not Exist " with Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster

Than why does said Mr. Carrier assume that 1 we should believe what he writes especially since it is at odds with what much better scholars than him are saying 2 his treatment of the sources is piss poor and 3 he is not an expert in mathematics or history of early Christianity. Because he's writing about ancient history and he has a PhD in ancient history, so he's a better scholar than anyone else who doesn't have a PhD in ancient history.

No it isn't, because, again, he has a PhD in ancient history. I'm guessing you don't, so you're not qualified to judge. He doesn't need to be an expert in mathematics to write a book on ancient history, and he IS an expert in the history of early Christianity.

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If what I surmise about the two books is correct and I haven't read either one of them , something is wrong with the reasoning here. From what I can tell based on the book information and the reviews on Amazon, Unwin seems to believe he can prove the "God of philosophy" exists. Dr Briggs tells us. It seems to me quite true that if Jesus never existed, the "God of Christianity" does not exist. But I believe it to be the case that none of the "proofs" of the existence of God attempt to prove that Jesus was a historical personage and God Incarnate.

So unless there is something about Unwin's book of which I am unaware that is, unless it proves that the God who exists is a Trinitarian God, the second person of whom was Jesus, the human incarnation of this Trinitarian God , it seems to me Unwin's book and Carrier's book need not contradict each other. In short, although proving Jesus never existed would be a devastating blow to Christianity, it would in no way prove that God didn't exist. Many people believe in God who do not believe in the "Christian God," and proof that Jesus never existed or was not God Incarnate in no way proves that God doesn't exist.

As far as I can tell, Unwin does not attempt to use Bayes's theorem to prove Jesus existed. Proving that God exists does not prove Jesus existed. Briggs has defamed me by claiming I argued that God does not exist because Jesus did not exist. I have never made such a ridiculous argument, anywhere. Mathematizing your biases and values is also a really good way to get them out into to open so they can get the attention they need.

This reminds me of the Drake Equation to calculate the probability of other intelligent life in the universe.