November 21, 2014

The academic shortcomings of Jesus denialists

First, folks, that's what the likes of Robert M. Price, Joseph Atwill, Richard Carrier and Acharya (D.M. Murdock) are called here. Not "mythicists." I've moved Robert Eisenman into that camp too. (Wiki links on the above.)

The original version of post-Enlightenment Jesus mythicism really took off in late-Victorian Britain, around the same time as Theosophy and the Society for Psychical Research took off.

First, it wasn't just Jesus mythicism; Buddha mythicism and Zoroaster mythicism were also in the air. (Wiki's article fails to mention that, sadly.)

Why?

In my opinion, it was an attempt to "spiritualize" all three religions at precisely the same time Theosophy and psychic beliefs were in the rise. Especially given that Theosophy was connected to both Buddhism and Christianity, this makes some sort of sense.

Hinduism wouldn't be eligible for spiritualizing. The British who had the Raj in India, with stereotyping their "wogs" and seeing the all-too-anthropomorphic gods of Hinduism, would have said ixnay on that.

And Judaism? Well, the "genteel" anti-Semitism of late Victorian England would put the kibosh on that.

That said, it was an idea with a positive goal, was Jesus mythicism.

Today? It seems to be little more than an evangelistic vehicle for Gnu Atheism and as such, worth about as much.

Let's look at the leading intellectual lights.

Price (His homepage, and for others)?

First, as this rant on Facebook, an anti-Obama screed, shows, academic skills in Biblical criticism certainly don't translate across borders. (Note: Price normally posts to Facebook as "public," not "friends" or "friends of friends," therefore, I am not revealing any private confidences.)

Since then, per the screen capture of a recent Facebook post by him, he's gone far, far beyond that. In case you can't read the print in his avatar, it says, "Never apologize for being white."

A mix of that and commenting on a Facebook site about "American White History Month" (and not even the first such site!) would indicate that, if not a full-out racist, Price is at least that genteel, pseudo-scientific creature, the racialist.

It's all part of what I call Christianism as a parallel to Islamism, or what Wiki labels Christian atheism.

He teaches at a seminary named for a leader of the African-American wing of the New Thought movement. This is school accredited only by an organization that accredits diploma mills. Think of a black version of Unity, and that's where he teaches. At a minimum, doubly ironic for teaching at a metaphysics-dripping seminary, and a black one to boot. At a maximum, doubly hypocritical. (That said, I wonder if the folks at Johnnie Coleman know about all aspects of his personality.)

Add to it that Price believed a cock-and-bull story about an ancient statue indicates he could be a "movement atheist," an activist, even if not a Gnu, per my observation a few paragraphs above.

That leads me to D.M. Murdock, aka Acharya.

She was an original peddler of this nonsense; I say it via Gnu Atheist thought leader P.Z. Myers favorably touting it. She has no bachelor's level degree in religion, let alone a graduate degree. As Murdock's Wiki page notes, she is 10 times more credulous a peddler of bad puns than was the Yahwist section author of the Torah.

Her listing of her academic background on her website seems precisely done to cover actual thinness. Take being a "trench master" on an archaeology dig. Nice, yes, but, unless at a major new dig, it's more grunt work than intellectual work. (As a kid, I watched my dad assist as a certified amateur archaeologist at a couple of Anazasi digs, so this observation isn't out of life.) Plus, note that this work is all at classical sites. No Biblical archaeology from you!

Some denialists like to bash her, but Price and Eisenman are among those who give her touts on her website.

Carrier? He's proof positive of Mark Twain's bon mot about "lies, damn lies and statistics." Claiming that Bayesian probability allows him to estimate the most likely historicity odds of Jesus as 0.008 percent is horse hockey. And, yes, he really makes that claim; click the link. There's simply not enough information from history of 2,000 years ago to have anywhere near that degree of precision, above all else. It's horse hockey for other reasons, too. Overall, it's clear that Carrier is "cooking" his Bayesian books to claim such pseudo-precise "precision."

Click the 0.008 link. It will explain how Carrier tries to put numbers on his prior and consequent probabilities. I first saw this on another blog, a person who actually, though not a mythicist himself, took Carrier seriously.

Related? On his own website, at this link showing how to work with Bayesian probabilities, Carrier essentially admits to something like book-cooking. I quote:
You can use the following calculator to run any standard two-hypothesis Bayesian equation (up to a limit of 1 in 100 odds on any variable, and accurate to only two decimal places).
Now, within his first book, I'm sure he claims to have a more precise use of Bayesian stats, but ... that itself might be part of the book-cooking. 

Beyond that, Bayesian probabilities are, in general, more subjective than Carrier tries to portray. And, trying to present them as more objective than they are is another part of the book-cooking.

Carrier does have a Ph.D. in ancient history, so he's ahead of Murdock and at Price's academic level. However, in six years since obtaining that Ph.D., he has held no academic position, not even as an adjunct. His listing of such things as "instructor" at Partners for Secular Activism or "visiting lecturer" at Center for Inquiry Institute don't count, of course.

And, having an eight-page CV, like spinning one volume into two on Bayesian analysis of Jesus' historicity, is blathering up there with Murdoch, especially when it lists publications in non-peer review, non-technical journals. As for the amount of blathering? His surprises me not one whit, not considering the vomitorium of words he spills out at times at Freethought Blogs. And, he, like Murdoch, knows neither Hebrew, nor Aramaic, nor Syriac.

Beyond that, Carrier has what I can only call a willfully perverse methodology of interpreting Bible passages. Click this link for more.

Atwill has not even a bachelor's degree in theology, biblical studies or ancient history. And, the idea that Rome invented Jesus for Jewish crowd control is laughable to anybody who knows ancient history in general or the Roman Empire in particular.

The one person with seemingly a more impeccable academic background is Eisenman. But, he's gone beyond the point of credibility on his take on the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially his refusal to accept carbon dating evidence and other manners scientific. All he is proof for is that it's a good idea to wait until after one gets tenure to propose truly weird ideas. A decade or more ago, I wouldn't have lumped him in with the mythicists, but now I will, at least the narrower mythicists, and perhaps the full-blown denialists.

I have a "professional" M.Div. degree. It's a "terminal" degree in that, in most academic systems, I would have had to gotten a second master's before a Ph.D. But, I'll put it ahead of a Baptist Ph.D. on academic rigor, let alone one from a fundamentalist bible college.

My undergraduate degree was classical languages, and I read Hebrew there, too. I took a short course in Aramaic in seminary as well. That puts me ahead of all but Price (I think; maybe he never read Hebrew, either), and Eisenman. I've also taken both academic courses and independent study on historical-critical methodology, which applies to all ancient literature with a clear, diachronic development history, not just biblical literature. That puts me ahead of all but Price, Carrier and Eisenman, with Carrier either not learning much of it in his antiquities study or else deliberately ignoring it. And, it puts me well ahead of most denialists' fanboy flag-wavers.

Beyond that, most Jesus denialists, like most "denialists" in general, are to some degree, at least, conspiracy theorists, with the mindset that entails.

Mythicists in the broad sense G.R.S. Mead and G.A. Wells I separate from the Jesus denialists in one sense. Their general claim is that Jesus is a composite character, but has perhaps some historic personage behind him. They're also less conspiratorially minded than denialists. But, they too generally lack academic credentials.

That all said, many of the arguments of the denialists can be turned on their heads.

First, even with a brief period of evangelism, Judaism in the eastern Mediterranean was smaller than non-Jewish Hellenism by far. The argument from silence from 1st-2nd century CE pagans means little. There's other Jewish people and events they're also silent about. Did Rabbi Akiva also not exist?

Second, as noted, arguments about the critical development of Christian scriptures applies to the Homeric corpus and other things.

That's just some short notes, in the end, here. Other priniciples of Biblical criticism apply to some degree to study of antiquities in general, and some of the denialists' arguments besides that from science can be turned on their head.

So, while I don't totally agree with a Bart Ehrman, and would give more credence to the "soft mythicism" of the likes of Mead and Wells than he might, I'm definitely with him much more than I am his Gnu Atheist attackers like Carrier.

November 20, 2014

BREAKING #Obama immigration plan reveals #birther fears true

A leaked advance copy of President Barack Hussein Obama's immigration speech tonight reveals that he is going to implement his radical, socialist ideas in entirely new ways, betraying new evidence of his Kenyan birthplace.

Details follow, with a special note at end.

Primary point? Reportedly, using the "excuse" of being allegedly "worried" about a flood of Mexican immigrants, and with "Hispanics" passing "African Americans" in total US population, Obama plans to expand immigration from his Kenyan birthplace and other African countries.

And next?

Reportedly, Obama will also help expedite visas and other paperwork for Kenyans and other Africans.

Overall?

Doubling the number of African immigrants is reportedly his goal.

You read that right. Doubling the number of people that may go on welfare. Doubling the number of people who may have Ebola. Doubling the number of people who will want Obamacare.

...

Simply put, he is going to use executive action like no other president has done, to destroy traditional America.

This will be hard to stop. Many Americans will believe that the leaked version of Barack Hussein Obama's speech does not mean this. But it does.

Obama, now that the midterm Congressional elections in his second term are over, is now finally revealing his truly radical socialist plans.

Really.

You should stay tuned for further updates as to what he will do next. Reports are that Agenda 21 being implemented could be next. After all, this new flood of immigrants will be clamoring for land. And that he's going to spring illegals from jail. And that he has new love for anchor babies.

And
If
You
Are
Smart
Enough
To
Understand
Acrostics ....

November 18, 2014

#Cardinals allegedly looking at Jon Lester

Jon Lester, the next
St. Louis Cardinal?
First, I have to say "allegedly," because it's Jim Bowden of ESPN making this claim, that the Cardinals and GM John Mozeliak are looking at free agent lefty Jon Lester, via a "source" who hasn't talked to anybody at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and, from what Baseball-Reference tells me, hasn't talked to St. Louis teevee or radio, either.

This is the Jim Bowden who discovered his personal version of the Peter Principle by falling upward from being a baseball GM to working at the Great Red Satan, after all

That said, is it possible? Yes, indeed.

(Update, Nov. 19: The Sawks have made an (initial?) offer of 6 years, reportedly $110-120M. They've come off their "no long term" stance, well above the midyear 2013 of 4 years, and $70M.)

Let's start by clearing up a bunch of factual crapola from Drew Silva at Hardball Talk, which is where I saw the Bowden claim.

Namely, the Cards do NOT have six legit starters.

Marco Gonzales began 2014 in AA at Springfield. He needs to begin 2015 at AAA in Memphis and spend a full season there. He was an emergency call-up last year.

Carlos Martinez has not (yet) proven himself to be a legitimate starter. In part, that's because he hasn't had a lot of opportunity to do so, but that's not the point. The point is that he isn't a legit starter now and Silva's wrong for claiming that.

And, while he's legit, John Lackey struggled a bit after coming over from Boston, and his contract expires after this year. And, he's five years older than Lester.

Adam Wainwright,
about to get a
co-ace in St. Louis?
Otherwise, Shelby Miller was of course traded in the deal earlier this week for Jason HeywardAdam Wainwright just had (minor, we hope) elbow surgery and Michael Wacha's shoulder condition won't be better known until spring training approaches.

Actually, if one notes that Lester is two years younger than Waino, and has had less in the way of arm problems, kicking the tires on him, with the added advantage of him being a lefty, isn't a bad idea at all. Except for having just 190 innings in 2011, Lester has had at least 200 regular-season innings in every year he's pitched since becoming a full-season member of the Sawks.

I like the possibility — if, as always, the price is right.

I'd go above the four years that Boston offered Lester in the regular season last year, but no more than five — while maybe tacking on a mutual option year for year six.

Price? I wouldn't go much above $25M a year, if I'm going more than four years. Because I have to extend Lance Lynn (not just one arbitration year, Mo, but, say 4/$55 for his three arb years plus first year of free agency) and look at inking Heyward.

And, don't you have to give Waino a bit of bump on his contract to keep him happy? Maybe add $2.5M/year to boost it to $22M and add one option year to it?

Atheism does NOT necessarily = political liberalism

Updated November 17, 2014 to reflect more "issues" with Robert M. Price.

Christian fundamentalists, and people halfway close to them, even, have thrown around phrases like "Godless communism" for more than half a century, implying some formal link between liberal, even more left-liberal, political beliefs and religious unbelief, whether that's expressed in the form of atheism or not.

At the same time, in recent years, some Gnu Atheists like P.Z. Myers have been doing a twist of their own on that, indicated that Gnu Atheism, or true movement atheism, really is liberal, to the point that P.Z. wants to read non-liberals out of the movement (and deny that people like Sam Harris are both Gnu Atheists and neoconservatives.)

Well, proof positive that Myers is wrong comes from a leading atheist, and a leading activist atheist of sorts, to boot, at least if one counts "mythicists" (biblical scholars who believe a historic Jesus never existed) as activists.

Robert M. Price went off on Facebook with an anti-Obama screed. (Note: Price normally posts to Facebook as "public," not "friends" or "friends of friends," therefore, I am not revealing any private confidences.)

And, now, as of March 25, 2014, per the screen capture of a recent Facebook post by him, he's gone far, far beyond that. In case you can't read the print in his avatar, it says, "Never apologize for being white."

A mix of that and commenting on a Facebook site about "American White History Month" (and not even the first such site!) would indicate that, if not a full-out racist, Price is at least that genteel, pseudo-scientific creature, the racialist.

(Update: And, he teaches at a seminary named for a leader of the African-American wing of the New Thought movement. Think of a black version of Unity, and that's where he teaches. At a minimum, doubly ironic for teaching at a metaphysics-dripping seminary, and a black one to boot. At a maximum, doubly hypocritical.)

Beyond that, per my original version of this post? Being selectively against democracy (Price doesn't indicate he had any problems with it when Reagan was elected) also would be an indication of some type of selective thinking.

And, given that Price believed a cock-and-bull story about an ancient statue indicates he could be a "movement atheist," an activist, even if not a Gnu, per my observation a few paragraphs above.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Being an atheist, Gnu or otherwise, is no guarantor of critical thinking skills, or at least, no guarantor of their across-the-board application. Per that link immediately above, I've been saying that for five years or more.

Also, that last-but-one link above it, the cock-and-bull, is also an indicator that even the best-minded of mythicists (an intellectual stance I don't dismiss out of hand, but don't buy into at this moment, either) have some gaps in their intellectual rigor.

Beyond that, it shows that Price is some sort of conservative. There's plenty of libertarian atheists out there; there are also conservatives.

And, from a Redditor, where this post has gotten picked up and discussed: "PZ (Myers) is the Ann Coulter of the atheist movement. He gives both liberals and atheists a bad name." Amen to that comment. That said, per a recent post of mine, PZ is far from alone among Gnus in committing both sins.

And, speaking of, to the Redditors and others who come to this post, and poke around this blog a bit more, I'm not a conservative myself, or even close to it. I am a skeptic, a critical thinker, a secular humanist (preferred to "atheist" most the time) who is what passes for some kind of non-communist left-liberal in America of today.

But, please note that I'm a critical thinker, and one who values some type of intellectual honesty. (And for you Redditors, thank doorknob that's on an atheism group and only Gary Johnson, not Ron Paul, was mentioned. Because, in 2012 presidential campaigners, there was only one actual libertarian, and it wasn't Ron Paul, just like it won't be Rand Paul in 2016.)

PLAIN OLD CONSERVATIVE ATHEISTS

Anyway, not all non-liberal atheists are libertarians, either, contra the general tenor on the particular Reddit room, of the claims of the likes of Penn and Teller. Sam Harris, as mentioned above, is obviously a neoconservative, as Chris Hitchens, to some degree, eventually became. Robert Price is an old-fashioned paleoconservative, arguably harkening back to a pre-Reagan era of the likes of Bob Taft, before a Religious Right started its political ascent. Price's political viewpoint, though I disagree with it (and think it lacks some critical thinking) illustrates my thesis.

Another example?

George Will, perhaps. No, he's not an atheist (yet?) but he does officially identify as a "none." And, if we were to label him politically, he'd be some sort of paleoconservative.

Yet another, who I know is an atheist, and is a libertarian on at least some issues, and who is, I know, pro-life on birth issues? Nat Hentoff.

And some of us, whether atheist or not, don't fall 100 percent in the pro-choice camp, to tackle that issue head-on. I believe that the state has a compelling interest in protecting the life of a fetus when it hits a reasonable point of viability, whether that's 22 or 24 weeks. I do believe that women in most states should have easier access to abortion than they currently do before that point, and  I believe that we should restore Medicaid funding for poor women.

I also recognize that out of many conservative people's mouths, a pro-life argument only applies to unborn babies, it seems, but not others. Again, though, that's not always true, all the time. The Roman Catholic Church is the most prominent, but not the only, individual or group to be pro-life and also anti-death penalty, for example. (Of course, we have the complication of some Catholic hospitals refusing to consider fetuses as persons when there's a monetary bottom line, but that's another issue.)

And I, like many other Americans, find this a difficult issue with few "bright lines." Sloganeering by pro-lifers repells me. So, too, though, do the stances of some pro-choice people who indicate that everybody pro-life is a noob, or that pro-choice can only entail pro-choice, no exceptions, for every week of pregnancy.

Sorry, but that's not me. Basically, I'm part of the "complex, middle, conditional position" that P. Diddle mentions in this excellent post on the political science of this debate. That stance, and the percentage of people who hold to it, has probably only grown in the 40 years since Roe, grown at the expense of extremes on both ends.

Anyway, atheists don't want to be stereotyped, right? Not stereotyping others is part of that.

This has further relations to the much-lamented (by some but not all) Women in Secularism conference hosted by the Center for Inquiry. I have no doubt that women's voices are underrepresented.

I also don't doubt that conservative voices are also underrepresented. That's especially true if we ignore the neocons like Sam Harris and the libertarians like Penn and Teller. Paleocons of a Robert Price or George Will perspective are woefully underrepresented.

I say this in part because of a recent post at The Humanist by Greta Christina, one to which I will not link until whoever is moderating the Humanist's website approves my post. She was talking about Women in Secularism, and got me to start thinking about conservatives in secularism.

Also, though I'm talking specifically about atheism, and more specifically yet about Gnu Atheism, similar issues hold true for modern skepticism.

Now, I have no doubt that American-style liberalism (don't forget, Americans, that term means something else in most of the world's political lexicons outside of the US and Canada) is the majority position among both Gnu and conventional athests, as well as among skeptics, and among humanists of various metaphysical or non-metaphysical stances.

But, in all of those movements, their inner positions don't necessarily lead to those politics.

I'm using "necessary" in its logical sense. In turn, that's why I continue to say good atheists and skeptics could always stand an intro to philosophy course or two, especially one that covers the basics of logic.

I don't doubt that, the free thought and critical thinking that, theoretically, skeptics will use across the board, and that one would hope atheists, Gnu or otherwise, would, is more likely to lead to generally liberal political stances. But, again, not necessarily so.

Back to the Redditor, and the person who commented here. Sometimes, tone itself is "substance." Certain tribalist-type subgroups within atheism either don't recognize that or else refuse to accept it.

November 17, 2014

#Cardinals make blockbuster trade with Braves

Jason Heyward,
rental? Long-term
Cardinal answer?
Whoa now. Big Cardinals-Braves trade just went down, as the Post-Dispatch and others note.

Shelby Miller and minors prospect Tyrell Jenkins go to Atlanta for Jason Heyward and setup man Jordan Waldon.

First, if you'll click Jenkins' link, you'll see he's as much a "prospect" as is every other minor league player with breath and a pulse, and that's the end of that story. Not sure why anybody would "love" him, but I guess some people do.  Tis true, per the PD, that he looked good in the Arizona Fall League. I still say "meh." A "prospect" with mechanics bad enough to cause multiple-year shoulder problems — not to mention a team not noticing that earlier, per the Cards' growing reputation on issues medical and management — is also ... "interesting." Per the link just above, he was expendible in another way. The Cards were either going to have to add him to the 40-man roster or else expose him to the Rule 5 draft.

So, what we have is Miller, who regressed in 2014 and probably is still in the doghouse of manager Mike Matheny and GM John Mozeliak to a degree, going to the Barves for a good set-up type guy and an  OK bat, good defense corner OF.

Shelby Miller now
an ex-Cardinal.
Right move?
Big problem is that Miller was under team control for a few years while Heyward is a free agent after 2015.

Well, the Cards will give him the QO if they don't resign him and get their comp draft pick. This "bridges" past the loss of Oscar Taveras and gives the team a full season to look at Randal Grichuk and also Stephen Piscotty, as well as figuring out the long-term future of Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. And, Heyward can play center as well as right, so, resigning him could be in the works as part of moving past Jay. That said, Heyward hasn't actually played CF that much.

So, long-term, this is a chance to develop OF depth, plus Jay and Heyward are in competition for a long-term contract. I really don't see the Cards keeping both down the road.

Contra commenters at Hardball Talk, I don't think the move, at first glance, is either "terrible" or "terrific." I think it's interesting, probably a mild plus if Heyward isn't resigned, and a decent sized plus if he is, and deserves it. In all of this, let's not forget Heyward is only going to be 25 next year, too.

At the same time, there is one BIG problem with the lefty Heyward. His career lefty-righty splits are at least half as bad as those of Matt Adams. And, if they're that bad over 5 years, they're not getting better in the future.

On the pitching side? Surely this means Carlos Martinez comes to spring training as the presumed fifth starter, unless Mo and Matheny decide to give Trevor Rosenthal a shot as well. It could also mean that Mo will still eye resigning Justin Masterson if the price is right.

So, a trade that is "interesting" and probably can't be fully evaluated until a year from now.

This may be a win-win, and it may be a garbage-garbage for all we know. Bernie Miklasz offers his analysis of Heyward, pre-trade move, and more, post-trade.

There is one seeming plus to add. "Character," like "grit," is sometimes overrated. But, it's sometimes underrated, too. Heyward, in his farewell to Braves fans, certainly seems to be bringing some positive character to the Birds.

So, why didn't Heyward stay in Atlanta? Per a follow-up at Hardball Talk, there's either missed communication, or he and new temporary super-GM John Hart weren't seeing eye to eye. It's interesting that Hart's in this job on a presumably shorter-term basis, and has only been there a couple of weeks, and he's already pulling triggers.

As for paying Heyward 7/$140 on a new contract, which has been one set of figures I've seen tossed out for what he wanted out of Hotlanta? Erm, no! I'd like Mo to start at 5/$85 and work upward. I'll consider either 7 years OR $20M/per, but not both. Not unless he finds some of his old power back (without his old strikeouts), or can steal even more bases than before, and at a success rate like this year, not like in the past.

Now, where to play him in the batting lineup. That's the subject for a second post. Stay tuned. And, obviously, this changes who else the team might look for in the offseason, per my first speculations a couple of weeks ago.

What does the Halliburton deal mean for the everyday world?

For those who have missed it, Baker Hughes has accepted Halliburton's takeover offer, broached last week.

What's this mean?

First, Bloomberg suggests that, with oil prices slumping, it means other such deals could be around the corner. And, given that the two principles in this deal will likely have to do a fair amount of divestment, those pieces could be part of any new deals.

Second, what is this saying about future oil prices? Biz Journals suggests they'll stabilize around current levels, while Bloomberg suggests Baker Hughes' acquiesence in the takeover means it was worried prices would sag more.

Third, what's that mean internationally? The Saudis have trimmed production a bit; will they cut more? And, as Russia-Ukraine noise continues, Putin surely can't like even the idea of oil prices stabilizing in the mid-80s, let alone sagging more.

Domestically?

Fourth, it means that oil fracking probably will face a quite year or so ahead. Until the deal is finalized, as well as until more certainty appears in oil futures for the next year or so, domestic drillers will easy off.

Fifth, it may mean more bad fracking jobs. A bigger company, with the desire to cut costs to pay for a takeover, etc., will be cutting corners, too.