Using Bayes Theorem to Decide How Likely the Jesus Miracle Stories

Using Bayes Theorem to Decide How Likely the Jesus Miracle Stories October 23, 2015

Christianity makes some fanciful claims: Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. Jesus turned water into wine. He raised Lazarus from the dead and was resurrected from the dead himself. He is God, one with the creator of the universe.

One response to these claims is simply to dismiss them. We could put them in the same bin as the tall tales from other mythologies. Let’s instead see how probability can be applied to questions like this. Christians and non-Christians won’t easily agree because they won’t agree on the individual probabilities. Still, an understanding of conditional probability will give us a powerful analytical tool to at least better understand these claims.

Richard Carrier (whose Skepticon video was helpful in my understanding of this material) says that conditional probability “is the mathematical model for all correct reasoning about empirical claims.”

An example: medical test

Let’s imagine a test for a disease that is 95% accurate. That is, it is positive 95% of the time for someone who has the disease and negative 95% of the time for someone who doesn’t. Now imagine a common disease—10% of the population has it, so in a thousand people, 100 have it and 900 don’t.

Now give those thousand people the test. For the 100 sick people, the test gives 95 positives and 5 (false) negatives. And for the 900 healthy people, it gives 855 (900 × 0.95) negatives and 45 (false) positives.

Suppose the test says that you have the disease. How worrisome is that?

You must be in either of the two groups of people with positive test results. You’re either one of the 95 who actually do have it or one of the 45 who don’t but got a false positive. The chance that you’re sick is the number of sick people who test positive divided by the total number of positives: 95/(95 + 45) = 0.68.

The probability is 68% that you have the disease.

Let’s recap: what’s the probability that you (or any random person) has the disease? 10%. But what’s the probability given that you have a positive test result? It’s 68%. That’s conditional probability—the likelihood of something given (conditional upon) something else, some additional information.

Make the test ten times more accurate and a positive test results means a 96% chance that you have the disease. Instead—and here’s where it gets interesting—make the disease one tenth as common and your likelihood of having the disease given a positive test result is 16%. Make it very rare—one in a million—and that likelihood becomes just 0.005%.*

Visual approach to the same problem

Let’s explore the original problem but visually this time.

This tree is just a recap of the previous problem: we start with 1000 people, then divide them into two groups based on what we know initially (the probability of a person being sick is 0.1), and finally process this with new information, the test whose probability of a right answer is 0.95.

Applying probability to the God question

Let’s move on to the God question (I’m using an example from Richard Carrier’s video).

We start with 1000 universes, places where we imagine God to exist or not. In step 2, our initial assumption about the God claim is to be generous. Knowing nothing about this “God” guy, let’s start by saying that the likelihood of his existence is 50% (P(G) means “probability of God”). In step 2, this gives us two possibilities, with 500 universes in each.

In step 3, we add our new evidence. In the medical example, the new evidence was the result of a test, and here it’s the existence of evil in our world—birth defects, natural disasters that kill thousands, slavery and other immoral institutions, and so on. This evil exists, and yet no god is doing anything about it. What is the likelihood that a benevolent God could exist but still accept the evil in our world?

We have plenty of examples of benevolent beings: the noblest humans. They’re not perfect, but we could assume that a perfectly benevolent being would be at least as benevolent as a good human. Try to imagine a benevolent human (1) who could prevent bad from happening, (2) wouldn’t be harmed for taking this action, but (3) didn’t do anything. That’s pretty inconceivable. Let’s say that the probability of this happening is one in a million. Let’s be conservative and assign the same probability of standing by and doing nothing to a perfectly benevolent god.

That’s the P(e|G) = 10–6 in the diagram above: the probability (P) of the evidence of evil (e) given (|) the existence of God (G) is one in a million (10–6).

The 500 universes on the left side of the tree have to be divided given the probability of such a god existing given the existence of evil. Only one in a million could have a god (~0 means “almost zero”).

It’s easier on the right side of the tree. The likelihood of evil existing in a godless universe is 1.

Conclusion: the existence of evil makes God very improbable.

But … but God could have an excuse

In response, the Christian may say that God has an excuse for not acting. Yes, he’s benevolent, but he’s also omniscient, and our finite minds must simply be unable to understand the justification for his inaction. (This is the Hypothetical God Fallacy—starting with a presupposition of God’s existence—but let’s ignore that for now.)

“God works in mysterious ways” doesn’t help the Christian position, and the tree shows why.

Consider step 3. The conditional probability is now 1. The apologist assumes some unspecified, inconceivable (by our finite brains) reason why God has his own justifiable reasons for allowing evil. But this means we’re looking for something else. We’ve gone from searching for God (G) to searching for “God who has unspecified, inconceivable reasons to allow evil” (G′).

As you can see from step 2, this simply moves the problem around. We had nothing to go on before, so we just assigned a generous 0.5 probability for God (P(G) = 0.5). But now we have a more refined goal that can be evaluated. Now, we’re looking for a very particular God (G′), a very unlikely God, a one-in-a-million God.

Conclusion: making excuses for God makes him less likely. First you must imagine (despite the lack of evidence) supernatural beings, then those with sufficient power to create the universe (deities), then assume that there are benevolent ones that interact with us, then imagine this one-in-a-million deity who has this inconceivable excuse to allow evil, even gratuitous evil like agonizing birth defects in animals.

The mathematics of conditional probability has been applied here to the question, How likely is God given the existence of evil? We could also ask, How likely is the virgin birth given the existence of other virgin birth stories that preceded Jesus that would’ve been known in Palestine? Or, How likely is the resurrection given the existence of stories of other dying-and-rising gods?

(I respond to the book The Probability of God here. That discussion looks at the many other reasons why the Christian god claim is unlikely besides the Problem of Evil.)

This approach will probably never resolve a debate between a Christian and a non-Christian because they won’t be able to agree on probabilities. However, it does give structure to the argument and highlights the unknowns.

Oh, I know He works in mysterious ways,
but if I worked that mysteriously I’d get fired.
— caption for Bob Mankoff cartoon

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 1/14/13.)

Appendix: Bayes’ Theorem

We have been using Bayes’ Theorem, though it is more commonly expressed as an equation. To see that this tree structured approach is an equivalent (though more intuitive) approach to the equation, let’s convert the medical test example above into equation form.

In that example, we first imagine a population of 1000 people and then (step 2) use the likelihood of the disease (10%) to divide that population into sick and well and then (step 3) further divide those populations into those who got positive and negative test results.

Our goal is P(s | p), the probability (P) of being sick (s) given (|) a positive test result (p). Bayes Theorem says that this is computed as follows:

where ~s = the probability of not being sick.

This may look imposing, but you’re already familiar with these terms. Look at the numerator first, a measure of how likely s (being sick) is:

• P(p | s) = the probability of a positive result given that you’re sick = 0.95 (that is, a likelihood of 95%)
• P(s) = the probability of a random person being sick = 0.1 (the incidence is 10% in the population)

The denominator measures all possible results, your being sick and your being well. It’s the sum of the numerator (the sick likelihood) and its opposite (the not-sick likelihood), which is composed of:

• P(p | ~s) = the probability of a positive test result given that you’re not sick (that is, a false positive), which is 0.05 (our example was simple, with false positives and false negatives both at 5%, but in the general case they could be different)
• P(~s) = the probability of not being sick = 0.9. This one is not a variable since P(~s) = 1 – P(s).

Put these values into the equation: 0.95×0.1/(0.95×0.1 + 0.05×0.9) = 0.67857. This is what we got above with the simpler and more intuitive 95/(95 + 45).

* Here is the math behind those probabilities:
99.5/(99.5 + 4.5) = 0.957
9.5/(9.5 + 49.5) = 0.161
1/(1 + 20,000) = 0.00005

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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• Explorer

There are plenty of incidences in the bible to support the idea of a malevolent yahweh.

What would be interesting, given the stories like Uzziah being struck with leprosy for worshipping wrong, is calculating how likely it is that yahweh exists and is malevolent.

• The Christians would say that “malevolent” is in the eye of the beholder. Those actions weren’t malevolent from God’s standpoint; ergo, they were morally A-OK.

Not much of an argument–assuming as it does God and then justifying that assumption, rather than the other way around–but that’s what they’d say.

• Explorer

They could definitely make that morally relativistic case, but it’s a tough sell in apologetics to the unbelievers when the odds for your arguments for a good deity, as defined by the average person, are far lower, or are infinitesimal, to the odds of your argument being applied to a malevolent deity, again as defined by the average person.

You’ll never convince someone their faith is wrong, but can only hope they will eventually examine their own faith. However, you can point out to observers where someone is making unsupported claims, define the hidden assumptions, and thereby inoculate those witnesses to the discussion against those fervent but bad arguments.

• Christians want to shield God from testing but still maintain that he acts in our world (in an apparently untestable way).

• Robert Templeton

Therein lies the problem. Assigning attributes to this god pigeon-holes it into a set of criteria for inspection based on the precepts of people who have only imaginings about such things. Yet, according to our most reverent religious ideologues, we can’t really do that (despite any preconceptions ascribed thereby). My guide to my atheism has always been the implacable underlying assumption that if there was any meta-physical being which could alter the universe to afford worship or provide some meta-physical existence then it would be able to be proven experimentally (through observation in some way). To ascribe any attributes to something that is a-priori ‘beyond physical attributes’ is contradictory. Unless there is a basis for definition that can then be shown to lead to a description, we are bantering about words and ideas with no connection to reality.

The paradoxical issues with the attributes given to this being by certain religions already discount existence on principles of logic and reason. But, further, the insinuation of existence on lesser criteria is sparse at best and open to interpretation at best.

Basically, there is no need to implement logic or mathematics to dispute god’s existence. It simply vanishes with observation, reality, evidence, and circumstance. Where there seems to be no fictional being, there is no fictional being. Too bad for the believers.

• Christians want to shield God from testing but still maintain that he acts in our world (in an apparently untestable way, of course).

• Robert Conner

The Christian narrative has always advanced on logical fallacy, in the instance you point out, special pleading. Revamping the Jesus story started with the gospels: the exorcisms of Mark lose the more lurid details when retold by Matthew and Luke and disappear altogether in John. Mark’s Jesus is a laborer, but becomes “the son of the laborer” in Matthew.

The exorcism stories and the “pick up your cot and walk” meme may have been dropped due to apologetic considerations:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

• Jesus is in agony on the cross in Mark, but he’s cool and calm by the time Luke rolls around.

• Robert Conner

Yes, for example.

• Robert Conner

http://www.magicinchristianity.com

There are a couple of book reviews I haven’t got around to linking.

• The Secret Gospel of Mark? Hasn’t that been rejected for being a modern forgery?

• Robert Conner

No. Stephen Carlson’s accusation of forgery has been shredded, most recently in an article published in Vigiliae Christianae by Timo Panannen and Roger Viklund. Peter Jeffery’s book is a running joke. More here on the dishonesty in New Testament studies:

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Gospel-Mark-Robert-Conner/dp/1906958688/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1445790634&sr=8-1&keywords=secret+gospel+of+mark

Ultimately, of course, it does not matter how many editions of Mark there were, but the 40 year “debate” over Secret Mark is a case study for how NT studies is warped by doctrinal allegiance and dishonest handling of evidence.

• Yeah, I see the controversy, but it’s not easy as an outsider to the conversation to make sense of it.

• Robert Conner

Actually my book was written specifically with the non-specialist in mind. There are, of course, many references to the technical literature, but anyone interested in the controversy can follow it through my book. Granted, I’ve omitted some of the more ridiculous arguments and those that simply recycle what’s gone before–it’s a standard maneuver in apologetics to keep repeating a claim until it becomes “truth.”

• Robert Conner

I suspect the Roman intelligentsia would have agreed with you completely.

https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

• 100meters

I’m going to steal your example of the evil of animal birth defects, Bob.
Whenever I’ve brought up the notion of human birth defects as malum in se, believers counter with just-punishment, some kind of teaching-moment for others, or both.
But now, I think I’ll ask that a person instead visualize a blind, three-legged newborn zebra…abandoned by its mother, left behind by the herd, as it whimpers in terror, bleeding, trying to drag itself along the ground. Perhaps for several horrifying days.
To the xian, animals have no soul, or moral agency, so this can’t be “deserved” for any sin. With no human observers, there is no moral or learning lesson for anyone.
And yet, these scenes play out millions of times a day worldwide.
How can this be, oh omnibenevolent One?

• Yes, that’s exactly the point. To us, painful birth defects in a baby are more difficult, but you could handwave that God could see some good in that if everyone who hears the store gains in compassion. Stupid example, but possible.

But in the case of an animal, far away so that no human will even see the carcass afterwards, what’s the point?

It’s almost like there is no supernatural, and bad stuff just happens.

• MNb

If you need some visualization there is this variant:

A merciful death for this animal apparently is beyond god’s capabilities.

• One tactic seems to be denying that animals truly feel any pain. William Lane Craig has used that.

• I’ve heard that. Inconceivable. What a bastard.

• He even tried to spin that as if it should be a comfort to pet lovers (as Craig claims to be). Um, what?

• Dys

Not only that, but he sourced his friend Michael Murray, who has no relevant degree in science or neuroscience, to summarize the relevant research. And IIRC, when some of the authors of those articles found out, they called BS on Craig.

• That doesn’t surprise me.

• Robert Conner

After Richard Carrier mentioned one of my books on magical praxis in Christianity as an example of a failed interrogation of the evidence, I published a response, available here:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/125993290/Faking-Jesus

We don’t need a theorem to disprove Christianity; its own history and founding documents have that more than covered. Doctor Carrier and I are both basically on the same page–we both think Christianity is absurd and I’m pretty sure he would agree with me that Christianity is dangerous as well. In a more recent essay I summarize the Roman critics’ response to the Jesus cult:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

I believe Christianity in all its forms is the enemy of a just, rational society. Taking an insight from Sam Harris, I have concluded that religious “moderates” are just the tall grass the religious predators use for cover. My writing encourages sane people to know the enemy. Low info has always been the cultural medium that allows Christianity to thrive.

• Eric Sotnak

Thanks for posting these links. It is amazing to me how much the plausibility of Christianity is undermined just by filling in the details of its historical background. Once you start to get a picture of all the non-Christian religious and magical beliefs that were around at the time, and how pervasive those ways of thinking were, the more reasonable it becomes to put Christianity into the “same stuff different day” category.

• Robert Conner

You’re welcome.

A lot of academics who started off as one hundred percent believers yield to the clear intentions of the text and realize that Christians were the products (prisoners?) of their own time and that the Bible simply doesn’t describe the world we live in. Once a person clears that hurdle, they’re free to find a better description or make their own.

• What do you think would suffice to prove a miracle? It’s a bit hard to say, I know, but David Hume said we should reject such claims from eyewitnesses unless they were “of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish.” However, I’m not sure what would qualify. Over a thousand witnesses who reported all seeing exactly the same thing at once?

• MNb

David Hume also began to answer your question. From a secondary source:

http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/understanding/section10.rhtml

“it can only be credible to the extent to which the testimony in its favor is more forceful than the laws of nature that contradict it.”
That means that the amount of witnesses is not so important; it’s important to have independent witnesses. I’d also say that a miracle, when supposed to come from an immaterial omni-everything god, must have a purpose (that’s what believers claim after all) and that we should be able to find a strong statistical correlation between miracles and whatever the purpose is. That implies repeatability – and why not? If that god can pull off a miracle once, he/she/it can do it more often.

So if a believer presents me a lost tribe (ie it can be demonstrated it hadn’t had any contact with western civilization for at least 2000 years) who tells the story of a saviour with its core elements (the preaching, the messias claim, the torture – but not a crucifixion – and the Resurrection) that would be pretty strong evidence for christianity.

• Okay, that makes sense. However, the religious usually hold that demanding any kind of “test” of God is blasphemous though, so that’s not likely.

Why not a crucifixion in the tribe’s story?

• MNb

Crucifixions were a Roman specialty, so that would suggest a contact with Antiquity.

• If the tribe knew the rest of the story, then why not that?

• MNb

That’s the point – they are supposed to have their own version of the story to confirm their independency.

• I see. So a messiah figure who died for our sins by another means then but is otherwise the same?

• busterggi

Like the miracle of Fatima? Thousands claimed to have seen the sun dance in the sky. The millions who made up the rest of the world’s population didn’t.

Who are you going to believe?

• The Miracle of the Sun is a good one for evaluation. First, most of the eyewitness accounts were not taken until two decades later. This is not good as memory can easily be altered over a long period of time. Further, while the event only being seen locally does not necessarily rule it out, but no one else in the hemisphere report seeing it. Also no astronomers or observatories had reported the phenomena at the time. What’s reported was very similar to known solar events such as sundogs in any case. So no, the large number of witnesses is not always persuasive.

• Cozmo the Magician

What about Elvis. Tons of folks believe they have seen him after his death? One of the things I have learned as a magician is that human perception is not very reliable. Copperfield had a while audience witness him make the statue of liberty vanish. (As an aside, not an original effect, a Magician used the same method to vanish a whole island.) Even i we accept the biblical accounts as representing actual eye witness stories (unlikely) all it would show is that some dude new a few cool tricks. I find that more likely than a god man walking around doing ‘miracles’.

• SteveK

Bob,
Most of this is over my head. For Step 3, what would the calculations show if you relied on “New evidence: existence of good”?

• A related post here is also about Bayes Theorem and may be a better fit for this kind of question.

“New evidence: existence of good”?

By ‘good’, I assume you mean biblical morality ‘good’:

“It is really under biblical ‘good’ that ANYTHING goes except for blasphemy of the holy ghost.

Yes, you can commit genocide and be forgiven.
Yes, you can murder, rape and be forgiven.

You can commit genocide on every single individual in any group except lets say a baby and its mother, you can beat that baby to death, rape its
lifeless body, then carve that baby up and eat it, cut off that mothers
head and shit that baby down her throat…..

And STILL be forgiven.So the biblical “good” is the REAL case where anything goes…

And THIS is the kind of ‘morality’ you get out of a biblical deity

Well anything but blasphemy

That is way too horrible for forgiveness.

• SparklingMoon,

Jesus turned water into wine.He raised Lazarus from the dead and was resurrected from the dead himself.He is God, one with the creator of the universe.
————————————————
There is no doubt that the Prophet Jesus (as)is a great Prophet of God. He is without question loved and honored by God, a light of this world and the sun of guidance. He was glorified before the Lord God and possessed a status close to His throne. Millions of those who love him, follow his teachings, and act upon his guidance will receive deliverance from hell. However,it is a serious error and disbelief to raise such a chosen servant of God to divinity.Those whom God loves are very close to Him and have a special relationship with Him. If, on account of this relationship, they sometimes refer to themselves as the “sons of God”, or claim that God speaks through them or manifests Himself in them, then these claims are true in a sense and from a perspective which must be explained. The use of such terms —for those who lose themselves in God and then emerge in a new form after being nurtured by the light of God— is a time honoured tradition among those bestowed with Divine knowledge. It is sometimes said that God has appeared in such a person. This expression does not mean that the person is himself Rabbul Alamin [Lord of all the Worlds]. Many have lost their footing on entering this delicate chateau of thought and, as consequence of this confusion, thousands of pious people, holy men, and avatars have been worshiped as God.

The Christian religion is deprived of the Unity of God. These people have turned away from the True God and have made a new god for themselves who is the son of an Israeli woman. But is this new god all-powerful as the True God is? His own history bears witness against this. Had he been all-powerful, he would not have been beaten up by the Jews, would not have been taken into custody by the Romans and would not have been put upon the cross. When the Jews said that if he came down from the cross on his own, they would believe in him, he would at once have come down, but on no occasion did he demonstrate his power.

Jesus possessed no extraordinary power. He was a humble person and was characterized by human weakness and lack of knowledge. The Gospels show that he had no knowledge of the hidden, he went to a fig tree in order to eat of its fruit and was not aware that there was no fruit on the tree. He confessed that he had no knowledge of the Day of Judgement. Had he been God, he should have known of the Day of Judgement. He possessed no Divine attribute and there was nothing in him which is not to be found in others. The Christians admit that he died. How unfortunate then is the sect whose god is liable to death. To say that he was revived after his death affords no comfort. What reliance can be placed in the life of one who is liable to death? (Ruhanikhazain)

• Dys

*Yawn* Don’t you have anything better to do than pointlessly troll with your religious beliefs? You can’t support them with anything real.

Islam is just as wrong-headed and false as Christianity.

Personally, I can’t figure out why you haven’t been banned yet. While you take care to not say anything over the line, you also make no effort to add anything to the discussion other than mindlessly reiterating what you believe. And when you get questioned on it…you just respond with more of the same. Which just leads to long, boring comments from you that have no relevance to the conversation. If you want to discuss Islamic theology, this isn’t the right place to do it. And your inability to defend your beliefs isn’t going to win any converts.

You basically just take up a lot of unnecessary space here.

• busterggi

I’ve given up on Sparky, you can’t converse with him – all he does is preach in a very boring way.

• SparklingMoon,

Islam is just as wrong-headed and false as Christianity.
————————————————————–
There is no competition between Islam and Christianity as founder prophets of both were sent by the same God Almighty. The competition is between reality and myth. A myth that is woven around the person of Jesus and his teachings that is not only against his own message but also against all holy scriptures.

Christianity guided to the same God as did the Torah. But, after the Messiah(as), the god of Christians was transformed into another god who was nowhere mentioned in the original teachings of the Torah, nor did the Israelites have any inkling of such a god. Belief in this new god disturbed the entire dynamics of the Torah,and its teachings regarding deliverance from sin and attainment of piety and purity became corrupted. Deliverance from sin came to depend simply upon the belief that the Messiah (as) had courted death by crucifixion for the salvation of mankind and that he was ‘God’ himself. Many other timeless commandments of the Torah were also violated and the Christian faith underwent such a change that even if the Messiah (as) himself were to return, he would fail to recognize it. It is most astonishing that the people who had been enjoined to follow the Torah, so brazenly flouted its commandments. For instance, it is nowhere written in the Gospels that though the eating of pork was made unlawful in the Torah, yet I [the Messiah]make it lawful for you; or that though the Torah prescribes circumcision, I repeal this commandment. How could it be lawful to introduce into religion what had not been uttered by Jesus (as) Nevertheless, as it was inevitable that God would establish a universal religion, namely Islam, it was the deterioration of Christianity that heralded this faith.(Ruhanikhazain)

• busterggi

“There is no competition between Islam and Christianity”

Seriously Sparky?

• Dys

There is no universal religion, and I don’t particularly care what Mirza Ghulam Ahmad said or what you believe, as you’re both wrong.

But as I said, you can’t do anything else but regurgitate your religious beliefs. What you can’t do is give any good reason why anyone should care.

But you’re going to keep on spreading the manure anyway.

“There is no doubt that the Prophet Jesus (as)is a great Prophet of God”

Sorry, but there is plenty of doubt:

Even most of us have better morals than professing OWNERSHIP of other human beings.

• SparklingMoon,

Jesus said, ” Beat slaves who did wrong with many stripes,unless they knew not their wrong,then few stripes”. Luke 12:47-48.
_______________________________________________
Firstly, in the Gospel Luke there is no such statement as this flag delivers. The real statement in Luke 12:47-48 is:

Luke 12:47: ”The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows”. Luke12:48: ”But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”.

These verses must be read in their context to understand the real message and purpose of the sayings of Jesus (as):

(Luke 12:41):You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:42):Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (Luke 12:43) :The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? (Luke 12:44):It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. (Luke 12:45):Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. (Luke 12:46):But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk.

This Parable is used by Jesus(as) in his sayings to advise and warn his followers to be remain stick to his message till the next coming prophet otherwise they will be punished by God Almighty.

It is a misuse of the sayings of Jesus to get a conclusion of beating slaves by writing such misguiding flags.

• From where do you get your universal prior probability? From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The Problem of Induction § Bayesianism and subjectivism: The simple, and obvious, criticism of the Bayesian method is that the prior (before knowledge of any evidence) probabilities fixed by Bayes’ postulate are arbitrary.

I also question whether Bayesian probability is the right thing to use before you have any evidence. I suggest Dempster-Schafer theory, plus Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant.

We have plenty of examples of benevolent beings: the noblest humans. They’re not perfect, but we could assume that a perfectly benevolent being would be at least as benevolent as a good human. Try to imagine a benevolent human (1) who could prevent bad from happening, (2) wouldn’t be harmed for taking this action, but (3) didn’t do anything. That’s pretty inconceivable.

How often is (2) true, in the strictest sense? Once you relax it even a tiny bit, then you’ve gotta deal with the massive failure of the West, as exemplified by Rwandan Genocide § United States. Indeed, that massive failure seems like evidence that we don’t actually know what it takes to be a noble human. We can describe some characteristics, just like many people can describe what a car does. But how it works? Well, that’s a completely different ball of wax, it seems. By the way, the risk to the West was at most a few hundred Western soldier lives to save probably 200,000 Rwandan lives, and maybe the kind of political fallout we see at the Battle of Mogadishu. Let’s take out our scales, balance those against each other, and then judge how “noble” the West truly is.

• MNb

“The simple, and obvious, criticism of the Bayesian method is that the prior (before knowledge of any evidence) probabilities fixed by Bayes’ postulate are arbitrary.”
Yes, that’s why I am not impressed by the Bayesian method either, whether an apologist like Swinburne uses it or atheists do.
I would have given you a thumbs up for this if you hadn’t conflated individuals

“We have plenty of examples of benevolent beings: the noblest humans.”

with an abstract concept like “the West”.
Due to ignorance, stupidity and other shortcomings it’s totally possible that the collective actions of noble human beings with the best intentions result in total disaster. Neville Chamberlain signing a peace treaty with Hitler in November 1938 is a fine example. He was totally backed by British public opinion and most of his colleague-politicians – something that tends to be forgotten in our days.
The difference of course is that Chamberlain was not exactly omniscient.

• I would have given you a thumbs up for this if you hadn’t conflated individuals

“We have plenty of examples of benevolent beings: the noblest humans.”

with an abstract concept like “the West”.

What? I’m just saying that if “the noblest humans” have approximately zero real power in our world, then (i) their nobility is suspect; (ii) even if they are noble, it’s not clear that we understand why. “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” The idea that said apathetic men are ‘good’ is ironically questioned, of course.

What are noble-making properties? That’s really the big question, here. Jesus offers one model; among other things, he said: you don’t force other people to suffer; if suffering needs to happen to change the system, do it yourselves. He led the way. This is a very, very different kind of nobility than e.g. Aristotle’s. For more along these lines, see Otto Borchert’s The Original Jesus. Jesus was not a kalos kagathos. He drastically redefined ‘noble’. I think we’ve mostly rejected his redefinition, by this point in time.

Due to ignorance, stupidity and other shortcomings it’s totally possible that the collective actions of noble human beings with the best intentions result in total disaster. Neville Chamberlain signing a peace treaty with Hitler in November 1938 is a fine example. He was totally backed by British public opinion and most of his colleague-politicians – something that tends to be forgotten in our days.

I suggest you read the actual contents of Rwandan Genocide § United States. The US had a reputable source saying that a “Final Solution” was going to be put in place, before killing hit its peak.

“What are noble-making properties? That’s really the big question, here. Jesus offers one model;”

• MNb

“I’m just saying ….”
No, you aren’t. You answered a postulation about individuals with a sweeping statement about the West. Getting dishonest that soon?

“that if “the noblest humans” have approximately zero real power in our world ….”
If.
Neville Chamberlain had a bit more than zero real power in his world. And by all accounts he was a more than decent character.

“What are noble-making properties?”
No idea.
Good question though.

“I suggest you read the actual contents of ….”
Why? What has it to do with Nevil Chamberlain heading for a disaster with the best intentions?
Or do you assume that I don’t know anything about the Rwandan Genocide? That would be a hasty assumption – again.
Or how does the Rwandan Genocide falsify “Due to ignorance, stupidity and other shortcomings it’s totally possible that the collective actions of noble human beings with the best intentions result in total disaster”?
Let me grant you that “The US had a reputable source saying that a “Final Solution” was going to be put in place, before killing hit its peak.”
If this is your evidence that such disasters are invariably caused by non-noble humans you’re doing statistics with N=1, something you accused Adam of. Nice double standard.
If you don’t mean it that way it’s just irrelevant for “Due to ignorance, stupidity etc.”.

“He drastically redefined ‘noble’.”
Good for him. Good for you. Totally irrelevant to me.

Oh – and because you’re not skilled enough to read text in images like Adam prefers to provide:

LB: “What are noble-making properties? That’s really the big question, here. Jesus offers one model;”
Adam: “It’s like this: I created man and woman with original sin. Then I destroyed most of them for sinning. Then I impregnated a woman with myself as her child, so that I could be born. Later, I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself to save all of you from the sin I give you in the first place.”

• No, you aren’t. You answered a postulation about individuals with a sweeping statement about the West. Getting dishonest that soon?

As long as “Getting dishonest that soon?” stands, we are done—unless you can provide sufficient evidence to establish that it was an appropriate thing to say. The evidence must be carefully quoted and hyperlinked, so that you pick out precisely what it is I did that merits the accusation of dishonesty—an accusation which imputes evil intent. Or you can apologize and demonstrate works worthy of repentance, per Mt 3:8. I do not care what faith you profess, if any.

• How often is (2) true, in the strictest sense?

It’s not, but we’re letting our imaginations run wild. The topic is God, remember?

This is a thought experiment. I don’t know why the fact that the West is imperfect makes it irrelevant.

• It’s not, but we’re letting our imaginations run wild. The topic is God, remember?

I disagree that it is acceptable to let imagination operate in domains where it is not sufficiently disciplined. Your “run wild” reminds me of the following from Calvin’s Institutes, Book I, Chapter IV The Knowledge of God Stifled or Corrupted, Ignorantly or Maliciously:

1. SuperstitionBut though experience testifies that a seed of religion is divinely sown in all, scarcely one in a hundred is found who cherishes it in his heart, and not one in whom it grows to maturity so far is it from yielding fruit in its season. Moreover, while some lose themselves in superstitious observances, and others, of set purpose, wickedly revolt from God, the result is that, in regard to the true knowledge of him, all are so degenerate, that in no part of the world can genuine godliness be found. In saying that some fall away into superstition, I mean not to insinuate that their excessive absurdity frees them from guilt; for the blindness under which they labour is almost invariably accompanied with vain pride and stubbornness. Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity, and, neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their curiosity in vain speculation. Hence, they do not conceive of him in the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised. This abyss standing open, they cannot move one footstep without rushing headlong to destruction. With such an idea of God, nothing which they may attempt to offer in the way of worship or obedience can have any value in his sight, because it is not him they worship, but, instead of him, the dream and figment of their own heart. This corrupt procedure is admirably described by Paul, when he says, that “thinking to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). He had previously said that “they became vain in their imaginations,” but lest any should suppose them blameless, he afterwards adds that they were deservedly blinded, because, not contented with sober inquiry, because, arrogating to themselves more than they have any title to do, they of their own accord court darkness, nay, bewitch themselves with perverse, empty show. Hence it is that their folly, the result not only of vain curiosity, but of licentious desire and overweening confidence in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, cannot be excused.

You list yourself as “Hardware designer, software programmer”; surely you know that people without sufficiently well-trained imaginations are going to think up all sorts of crazy things when thinking about software and/or hardware? I am also a hardware designer and software programmer/​architect; I’ve worked on all aspects of quadcopter development, including getting an STM32F407 to go from scratch, after graduating from an ATmega2560. You surely know how much it sucks when you have to get 7 things all operating properly, before the system gives any signs of life. Imagine also working on startup funds, so the only diagnostic tool I had was an oscilloscope with a 2″ screen and a buggy BitScope 310 2-chan scope + 8-chan analyzer. Imagine how disciplined one’s imagination has to be, to possibly get such a system to operate properly. The practice of “letting our imagination run wild” is antithetical to getting such a system to work. Why would it be ok to “[let] our imagination run wild” when it comes to God?

This is a thought experiment. I don’t know why the fact that the West is imperfect makes it irrelevant.

Do you think evil people are as good at “imagining morality” as good people? (I can be less binary if you insist, but hopefully you get the idea from this caricature.)

“Why would it be ok to “[let] our imagination run wild” when it comes to God?”

Because ‘God’ is IMAGINARY

http://godisimaginary.com/

• Kodie

I recognize in this that you still have not answered about what you do believe. All this is is a speculation on what everyone else does wrong, for wrong reasons, and for being regular humans whose brains don’t work optimally. Nobody can tell from this what “genuine godliness” is, just what someone thinks, and I suppose you agree or you wouldn’t have posted it, it is not. “We’re not all like that” is a common defense of Christian beliefs, and my answer is “so what, you’re still delusional.” God is a fictional character, whose qualities you do imagine, you do discern from all other humans whose ideas you prefer or discard, according to your own imaginary ideas of what a god would be and seems to be, as long as you’ve imagined that he really exists.

But I think Bob was talking about reining it in and not bringing up every stray tangent you can think about. Why are you going there when we’re all still not finished with the last sub-sub-topic you wanted to bring up.

• I recognize in this that you still have not answered about what you do believe.

I wasn’t aware that this was a blog which examines all the ins and outs of what I believe. I’m happy to talk about the topic, and go on some tangents. But I have no interest in baring my soul to people who have no intention of doing anything similar in response. And yes, I’ve not answered a lot of your comments because you’ve left a ton. You’re welcome to pick out the one to three most important if you’d like.

All this is is a speculation on what everyone else does wrong, for wrong reasons, and for being regular humans whose brains don’t work optimally.

I said nothing about “work optimally”. That is a strawman.

Nobody can tell from this what “genuine godliness” is, just what someone thinks, and I suppose you agree or you wouldn’t have posted it, it is not.

100% irrelevant. Scientists can approximate physical law via noisy and biased apparatuses, chiefly themselves.

“We’re not all like that” is a common defense of Christian beliefs, and my answer is “so what, you’re still delusional.”

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

But I think Bob was talking about reining it in and not bringing up every stray tangent you can think about. Why are you going there when we’re all still not finished with the last sub-sub-topic you wanted to bring up.

I think I’ll let him moderate, and not you. Sound like a plan?

• Kodie

You’re using words without defining them. It’s only fair we ask.

…..

You never provided any evidence, so you started off wrong.

Bob already moderated you but you seem really confused what that was about. Don’t you accept help from kind strangers?

• JBSchmidt

This is a childish task. You are creating your answer by inputting the numbers that work best.

• Suggest and defend better numbers.

• JBSchmidt

“What is the likelihood that a benevolent God could exist but still accept the evil in our world?”

You have set three arbitrary standards: 1) What level of acceptance is required for a God to be benevolent, 2) What criteria must be met in order to be considered good and 3) All evil produces no positive effect.

Anyone using this theorem to prove or disprove God uses value judgments. That is much different than using empirical evidence. For that reason, there are no better numbers to suggest or defend. This is just a misapplication of the theorem.

• Bayes has been used by apologists to argue for their position as well. I hope you go argue some sense into them as well.

I respond to the author of The probability of God here.

• JBSchmidt

“Bayes has been used by apologists to argue for their position as well.”

I acknowledged that it would be just as incorrect.

“I hope you go argue some sense into them as well”

So your position on Bayes Theorem is correct until I scourer the internet and challenge everyone using Bayes Theorem to to prove/disprove God’s existence.

You didn’t respond to what I wrote. You simply pointed your finger at someone else. Apparently I was right, “This is a childish task”.

Childish?

• Apparently I was right, “This is a childish task”.

Apparently you didn’t read the post. I acknowledged, “This approach will probably never resolve a debate between a Christian and a non-Christian because they won’t be able to agree on probabilities.” Nevertheless, it does highlight the various factors we would need to evaluate if we were to decide on the probability of God. This could give structure to the argument.

For example, we could agree on examples that would be evidence in favor of the Problem of Evil as an argument against God. We could argue over how big a deal this is (whether the probability of God given the PoE is 0.1 or 0.001, say). This is pointless iff no new insights could come from it.

• JBSchmidt

I am challenging the incorrect use of the theorem for this subject, like using algebra to spell. Not because there is no agreement on probabilities;but rather, the probabilities and variables themselves are made out of whole cloth. How does that produce anything of substance?

” Not because there is no agreement on probabilities;but rather, the probabilities and variables themselves are made out of whole cloth. How does that produce anything of substance?”

You mean like the bible?

• As I’ve made clear, I’m on something of the same page with you. Turning something like this into something quantitative is difficult. When passions run high, as it does in this instance, that’s an added complicating factor.

But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we can’t make some progress. Say you’re trying to price a plot of land. You take into account the view, the size, the convenience to important things (highways, cities), etc. The marketplace allows people to haggle and find agreement (if it doesn’t sell, maybe my price is unrealistic, etc.). There is no marketplace in the case of evidence for God, which highlights how difficult this is (but it also highlights how out of touch with reality this project is–reason isn’t much of a tool).

But that was a bit of a ramble.

1.
BENEVOLENT Merriam Webster
1a : marked by or disposed to doing good
b : organized for the purpose of doing good
2: marked by or suggestive of goodwill

2.

GOOD Merriam Webster

1 a (1) : of a favorable character or tendency (2) : bountiful, fertile (3) : handsome, attractive

b (1) : suitable, fit (2) : free from injury or disease (3) : not depreciated

c (1) : agreeable, pleasant (2) : salutary, wholesome (3) : amusing, clever

3
evil Merriam Webster
adjective ˈē-vəl, British often & US also ˈē-(ˌ)vil