Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Never Tell Him the Odds

At the risk of taking things in an awkward direction -- oh, what the heck, you only live once or thereabouts: Jason Rosenhouse, you complete me:

If I may speak in Bayesian terms for a moment, between the hypotheses “This ancient text is a purely human production,” and “This ancient text is the Word of God,” surely the former assumption gets assigned a far higher prior probability. When we update our probabilities in the light of the new evidence that the Bible contains nothing that human beings of the time could not have produced, I do not think we should revise upward the probability that we are reading the Word of God.
There is more, much more, where this came from. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm not sure if Jason Rosenhouse is staying with ScienceBlogs; if so, he might end up being the last to do so. Sad, sad, sad, and so on. Even the mighty flagship Pharyngula is on the brink.

I hope they all appear visibly elsewhere, and soon.


AW said...

Always an education.

I, like Jason Rosenhouse, am vexed too. "If Enns wants to turn around and say this is all no big deal because God might communicate through fiction," then why not through "Moby Dick," "Mansfield Park," and "Catcher in the Rye?" Why stop with the 64 or so books of the bible?

Maybe God also likes to communicate through non-fiction: "God is Not Great," "Letter To a Christian Nation"(gets my vote-sounds like God), or "Evolution of God."

Is it possible God likes to communicate through film, music, the internets...

Dale said...

AW, I think you're on to something. If god communicates through books -- and I'm saying 'if' here, an 'if' that governs both 'if he exists at all' and 'if he does that' -- then we have a right to object that he has picked some rather shitty and appallingly limited books, considering the range of options. And as you say, this doesn't even mention music, art, film, and so much more.

Snowbrush said...

I was unaware that there ever was any evidence that the Bible contained knowledge that the people of the era couldn't have had without divine revelation.

Dale said...

Snowbrush, as far as I know, everything in the Bible could have been known to people living at the time it was written. And some of what they "knew" at the time is now known to be wrong -- for example, the strong implication in either Deut. or Lev. (or both) that insects have four legs. I'm not sure why they couldn't take the time to count the legs -- that was perfectly within reach at the time. There's also at least one Biblical passage that gives 3 as a value for pi.

An all-knowing god wouldn't make basic mistakes like that. We would, on the other hand, expect basic mistakes to originate from merely human authors writing in a barely-literate, pre-scientific age.

This is Rosenhouse's view as well.

Rosenhouse adds to this the insight that every instance where the Bible gets something wrong, it reduces the Bayesian probability that this work was of non-human origins.

Many Christians differ. I would guess most do, if only by not even realizing that the Bible is pretty mixed up about some pretty basic things. The burden is on them to explain how an all-knowing god would produce such a flawed work, and further to explain how these flaws don't, if nothing else, suggest the likelihood that other aspects of the work -- aspects that aren't open to straight empirical scrutiny -- are not worth taking seriously.