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Salemicus comments on Crisis of Faith - Less Wrong

57 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2008 10:08PM

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Comment author: Jade 10 December 2016 10:38:59PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: Salemicus 07 January 2017 12:15:36PM 1 point [-]

Neither sufficient nor necessary:

  • The origins of Christianity become more mysterious, not less, if there never was a Jesus.
  • We don't need to tie ourselves to a fringe hypothesis to posit non-supernatural origins for the Gospels.
Comment author: arundelo 07 January 2017 08:00:44PM 1 point [-]

Broadly speaking, I agree, and Jesus mythicist Richard Carrier would also agree:

[A]mateurs should not be voicing certitude in a matter still being debated by experts ([Jesus] historicity agnosticism is far more defensible and makes far more sense for amateurs on the sidelines) and [...] criticizing Christianity with a lead of "Jesus didn't even exist" is strategically ill conceived -- it's bad strategy on many levels, it only makes atheists look illogical, and (counter-intuitively) it can actually make Christians more certain of their faith.

But reading some of his stuff made me upgrade the idea that there was no historical Jesus from "almost certainly false" to "plausible". (Carrier has written a couple books on this -- Proving History: Bayes's Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus and On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt -- but I haven't read those, only some stuff available on the web.)

  • Carrier:

    I think it is more likely that Jesus began in the Christian mind as a celestial being (like an archangel), believed or claimed to be revealing divine truths through revelations (and, by bending the ear of prophets in previous eras, through hidden messages planted in scripture). Christianity thus began the same way Islam and Mormonism did: by their principal apostles (Mohammed and Joseph Smith) claiming to have received visions from their religion's "actual" teacher and founder, in each case an angel (Gabriel dictated the Koran, Moroni provided the Book of Mormon).

    [...]

    It would be several decades later when subsequent members of this cult, after the world had not yet ended as claimed, started allegorizing the gospel of this angelic being by placing him in earth history as a divine man, as a commentary on the gospel and its relation to society and the Christian mission. The same had already been done to other celestial gods and heroes, who were being transported into earth history all over the Greco-Roman world, a process now called Euhemerization, after the author Euhemerus, who began the trend in the 4th century B.C. by converting the celestial Zeus and Uranus into ordinary human kings and placing them in past earth history, claiming they were "later" deified (in a book ironically titled Sacred Scripture). Other gods then underwent the same transformation, from Romulus (originally the celestial deity Quirinus) to Osiris (originally the heavenly lord whom pharaohs claimed to resemble, he was eventually transformed into a historical pharaoh himself).

  • Carrier:

    [I]n Jewish cosmology, all sorts of things that exist or occur on earth also do so in heaven: fighting, writing, scrolls, temples, chairs, trees, gardens.

  • (To make the following paragraph more concise I'll omit hedge phrases like "according to Carrier". And even Carrier doesn't regard this as certain, only more likely than not.)

    The writings about Jesus that come the closest to being contemporary with his putative lifetime are Paul's seven or so authentic letters. Paul, who converted to Christianity after Jesus came to him in a vision sometime around 33 CE, never claims to have met the historical Jesus, and never unambiguously talks about Jesus as a human who lived on Earth. (E.g.: Paul talks about about Jesus being crucified, but this crucifixion took place in some celestial realm not on Earth. Paul mentions "James the Lord's brother", but this means not that James was a literal brother of Jesus of Nazareth but that James is a fellow Christian, the way a modern Christian might refer to their "brothers and sisters in Christ".)

Comment author: Jiro 18 January 2017 05:08:08AM 0 points [-]

[A]mateurs should not be voicing certitude in a matter still being debated by experts

I think this fails in the case where the experts are infected by a meme plague.

Comment author: hairyfigment 09 January 2017 09:43:45AM 1 point [-]

Your second point is clearly true. The first seems false; Christianity makes much more sense from a Greco-Roman perspective if Jesus was supposed to be a celestial being, not an eternal unchanging principle that was executed for treason. And the sibling comment leaves out the part about first-century Israelites wanting a way to replace the 'corrupt,' Roman-controlled, Temple cult of sacrifice with something like a sacrifice that Rome could never control.

Josephus saw the destruction of that Temple coming. For others to believe it would happen if they 'restored the purity of the religion' only requires the existence of some sensible zealots.

Comment author: Jade 11 January 2017 02:53:48AM 1 point [-]

Would you say the origins of other religions become more mysterious if there never were whatever magical beings those religions posit? Would you think it likely that Guanyin was real human of unknown gender? Do the origins of fictional stories become more mysterious if there never were the fictitious characters in the flesh? Did Paul Bunyan exist, as there were similar lumberjacks?

You're not supposed to tie yourself to any hypothesis, even if mainstream, but rather update your probability distributions. Bits of the NT weren't written until long enough after the supposed death of Jesus that people wouldn't have been like, 'Who you talkin' about?' And I doubt they would've cared whether the character existed, like no one cares whether Harry Potter existed, because it's the stories that matter.

Comment author: Salemicus 12 January 2017 11:36:08AM 0 points [-]

Would you say the origins of other religions become more mysterious if there never were whatever magical beings those religions posit?

Yes, of course.

The least mysterious explanation of Paul Bunyan stories is that there really was a Paul Bunyan. And the closer the real Paul Bunyan hews to the Bunyan of the stories, the smaller the mystery. P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan).

But just because a story is simple, doesn't necessarily make it likely. We can't conclude from the above that P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan).

Comment author: CCC 12 January 2017 05:19:42PM *  1 point [-]

Hmmm. To mess around with equations a bit... what can we say about P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) and P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan), given P(stories about Bunyan | Bunyan) > P(stories about Bunyan | !Bunyan)?

Let's genaralise it a bit (and reduce typing). What can we say about P(A|B) and P(!A|B) when P(B|A) > P(B|!A)?

Consider Bayes' Theorem: P(A|B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(B). Thus, P(B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B)

Therefore, P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*P(!A)]/P(B)

Now, P(!A) = 1-P(A). So:

P(!A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(B)

Solve for P(B):

P(B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B)

Since P(B) = [(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B):

[(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) = [(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B)

Since P(B|A) > P(B|!A)

[(P(B|A)*P(A)]/P(A|B) > [(P(B|!A)*P(A)]/P(A|B)

Therefore:

[(P(B|!A)*{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) > [(P(B|!A)*P(A)]/P(A|B)

Since probabilities cannot be negative:

[{1-P(A)}]/P(!A|B) > [P(A)]/P(A|B)

.[1-P(A)]*P(A|B) > [P(A)]*P(!A|B)

...which means that either (1-P(A)) > P(A) or P(A|B) > P(!A|B), and quite possibly both; and whichever of these two inequalities is false (if either) the ratio between the two sides is closer than the inequality that is true.

To return to the original example; either P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) OR P(!Bunyan) > P(Bunyan).

Also, if P(Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) > P(!Bunyan | stories about Bunyan) is false, then it must be true that P(Bunyan|stories about Bunyan) > P(Bunyan).

Comment author: Jade 16 January 2017 03:00:52AM *  1 point [-]

You left out the 'magical' part of my question. If magical beings exist(ed), then everything becomes more mysterious. That's partly why we don't pester JK Rowling about what extra-special boy Harry Potter was based on. We don't even suspect comic superheros like Batman, who has no magic, to have been based on a real-life billionaire. We certainly don't have scholars wasting time looking for evidence of 'the real Batman.' Modern stories of unlikely events are easily taken as imaginings, yet when people bucket a story as 'old/traditonal', for some people, that bucket includes 'characters must've been real persons', as if humans must've been too stupid to have imagination. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fakelore