Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Christ

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narnia4
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Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Christ

#1

Post by narnia4 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 11:32 am

Wasn't sure which subforum to put this in, it could fit under many categories.

Anyway, its clear when reading this site that people are very familiar with William Lane Craig, guys like Ravi Zacharias and some books by Lewis, Copan, and Strobel get quite a bit of mention. Haven't seen as much mention of Swinburne and hardly any of arguments for the Resurrection by using Bayesian Probability theory. Is anyone here familiar with it (I'm not very, I'm afraid), and if so what are your thoughts?

I find it interesting, although with regard to apologetics I think it has pretty limited usefulness given that skeptics and Christians would probably never agree on the prior probability on things like the likeliness of miracles and a lot of other things. Although if you were truly completely neutral on an issue like the Resurrection, I think something like Bayes' Theorem could really turn it into a slam dunk. Even if you consider the Resurrection an improbable event, if you consider all the factors some claim that a Bayesian inference makes the Resurrection very likely.

So, do you guys find the attempt to quantify things like this just to be a bunch of nonsense or worthwhile? Also, any good summary links by a leading Christian apologist/philosopher/theologian on this subject?
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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

#2

Post by Ivellious » Thu Mar 29, 2012 12:04 pm

I've read a little bit on it, but I don't think you can use simple mathematical equations to demonstrate that it is "probable" that, for instance, the Resurrection occurred. The problem is that you can't possibly include every possible variable in existence into one neat equation and crunch a number. And yes, it is completely based on the numbers you put in to begin with (which are totally arbitrary).

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by bippy123 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 12:20 pm

I think if it helps in any way for Christian appologetics then it is worth pursuing. I however Like Professor Peter Stoner's probablility analysis on the messianic prophecies a bit more.

http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/radio034.htm

How true, then, it must be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, if he had 456 identifying characteristics well in advance, and fulfilled them all! In fact, what does the science of probability make of this?

The science of probability attempts to determine the chance that a given event will occur. The value and accuracy of the science of probability has been well established beyond doubt - for example, insurance rates are fixed according to statistical probabilities.

Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, Peter Stoner, has calculated the probability of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were worked out by twelve different classes representing some 600 university students.

The students carefully weighed all the factors, discussed each prophecy at length, and examined the various circumstances which might indicate that men had conspired together to fulfill a particular prophecy. They made their estimates conservative enough so that there was finally unanimous agreement even among the most skeptical students.

However Professor Stoner then took their estimates, and made them even more conservative. He also encouraged other skeptics or scientists to make their own estimates to see if his conclusions were more than fair. Finally, he submitted his figures for review to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks, Chicago: Moody Press, 1969, 4).

For example, concerning Micah 5:2, where it states the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, Stoner and his students determined the average population of BETHLEHEM from the time of Micah to the present; then they divided it by the average population of the earth during the same period.

They concluded that the chance of one man being born in Bethlehem was one in 300,000, (or one in 2.8 x 10^5 - rounded),

After examining only eight different prophecies (Idem, 106), they conservatively estimated that the chance of one man fulfilling all eight prophecies was one in 10^17.

To illustrate how large the number 10^17 IS (a figure with 17 zeros), Stoner gave this illustration :

If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They'll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would've had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom (Idem, 106-107).

In financial terms, is there anyone who would not invest in a financial venture if the chance of failure were only one in 10^17? This is the kind of sure investment we're offered by god for faith in His Messiah.

From these figures, Professor Stoner, concludes the fulfillment of these eight prophecies alone proves that God inspired the writing of the prophecies (Idem, 107) - the likelihood of mere chance is only one in 10^17!

Another way of saying this is that any person who minimizes or ignores the significance of the biblical identifying signs concerning the Messiah would be foolish.

But, of course, there are many more than eight prophecies. In another calculation, Stoner used 48 prophecies (Idem, 109) (even though he could have used Edersheim's 456), and arrived at the extremely conservative estimate that the probability of 48 prophecies being fulfilled in one person is the incredible number 10^157. In fact, if anybody can find someone, living or dead, other than Jesus, who can fulfill only half of the predictions concerning the Messiah given in the book "Messiah in Both Testaments" by Fred J. Meldau, the Christian Victory Publishing Company is ready to give a ONE thousand dollar reward! As apologist Josh McDowell says, "There are a lot of men in the universities that could use some extra cash!" (Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, California: Campus Crusade for Christ, 175).

How large is the number one in 10^157? 10^157 contains 157 zeros! Stoner gives an illustration of this number using electrons. Electrons are very small objects. They're smaller than atoms. It would take 2.5 TIMES 10^15 of them, laid side by side, to make one inch. Even if we counted 250 of these electrons each minute, and counted day and night, it would still take 19 million years just to count a line of electrons one-inch long (Stoner, op. cit, 109).

With this introduction, let's go back to our chance of one in 10^157. Let's suppose that we're taking this number of electrons, marking one, and thoroughly stirring it into the whole mass, then blindfolding a man and letting him try to find the right one. What chance has he of finding the right one? What kind of a pile will this number of electrons make? They make an inconceivably large volume.

This is the result from considering a mere 48 prophecies. Obviously, the probability that 456 prophecies would be fulfilled in one man by chance is vastly smaller. According to Emile Borel, once one goes past one chance in 10^50, the probabilities are so small that it is impossible to think that they will ever occur (Ankerberg et. al., op. cit., 21).

As Stoner concludes, 'Any man who rejects Christ as the Son of God is rejecting a fact, proved perhaps more absolutely than any other fact in the world (Stoner, op. cit., 112).'

God so thoroughly vindicated Jesus Christ that even mathematicians and statisticians, who were without faith, had to acknowledge that it is scientifically impossible to deny that Jesus is the Christ. our thanks to David Williams, a mathematician who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by Canuckster1127 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 12:32 pm

When a plane flies from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and assuming it were to crash, the probability of it hitting a specific square foot of water is near astronomical. That doesn't however make it miraculous from that perspective. The chances of hitting the ocean as a whole is 100%.

I'm all for anything that demonstrates the glory of Christ and the miraculous nature of all that he has done, but frankly, I find these types of mental exercises rely upon the relative unfamiliarity of those hearing them with the premises that underlie them. There's a reason why lotteries are popular and casinoes do such a good business. It's a tax on people who don't understand the math underlying them.
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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by Ivellious » Thu Mar 29, 2012 12:36 pm

Is there any conclusive data you can show me that demonstrates that each prophecy was established and documented before being recorded in the New Testament? And is each and every one of those prophecies being fulfilled considered absolute fact, as that "estimate" says? And also, just for the record, I still contend that arbitrary numbers being established by undergraduate students at a Christian school is a little shaky. Also, the fact that those numbers were given to the American Scientific Affiliation is moot. That is a Christian organization, and you cannot convince me that he couldn't have gone to an unbiased source to verify his numbers.

"The science of probability attempts to determine the chance that a given event will occur. The value and accuracy of the science of probability has been well established beyond doubt - for example, insurance rates are fixed according to statistical probabilities."

I don't see the point of this. First of all, probability is beyond doubt? That defies science, end of story. Also, comparing arbitrarily designed number schemes to statistics is bad reasoning. Statistics are a totally different realm based entirely on empirical data. There was no data used in this thought experiment. Also, not even car insurance is as "beyond doubt" as you make probability out to be. It's still a reasoned guess (based on statistics) that fails at times.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by bippy123 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 2:54 pm

Ivellious wrote:Is there any conclusive data you can show me that demonstrates that each prophecy was established and documented before being recorded in the New Testament? And is each and every one of those prophecies being fulfilled considered absolute fact, as that "estimate" says? And also, just for the record,
Ivellious That was the question of many christians until the find of the century a little while back (the dead sea scrolls) which was dated before Christ. As you and I both know, u cant establish history as scientific fact but you can establish the historicity of a document or documents. the historicity of the bible is very strong as even most critical bible scholars agree with. The dead sea scrolls add even more weight to the historicity of the bible.

Your right he could have sent it to a more unbiased source but you will recall that he even challenged skeptics to come up with their own number crunches, sounds fair enough to me.The historicity of the bible is placed above the historicity of any ancient document whether its alexander the great, the pharoahs or any of the ceasars of Rome. The shroud of turin is an added bonus that strengthens it that much more. If you want to throw out the new testament andold testament you might as well throw out all of history and we are left with nothing, but thats rediculious.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by bippy123 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 2:57 pm

You can also argue as some skeptics have that some of the prophecies could have been fullfilled beforehand, but then that would also bring you to the prophecies that couldnt be fullfilled this way, such as the potters field, 30 pieces of silver, no broken legs at the crucifixion etc. The potters field was found and that is an archeological fact which then strengthens the historicity etc etc etc.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by narnia4 » Thu Mar 29, 2012 8:29 pm

Created a thread about it in the past, but I'm also interested in the fragments of Mark that are supposedly from the 1st century. I've heard some say that it isn't necessarily a game changer really, but for the overly skeptical critics who put a very late date on Mark or Christ myth people its just another argument against them. Although people like that probably can't be convinced, you even have guys like Ehrman being thrown under a bus in New Atheist circles for writing a book that says Jesus existed. If it weren't so sad it would be funny.

But if people don't like the math, there's simple inference to the best explanation. Rational people admit Christ existed and scholars admit that he was killed and his followers believed he was raised again, once you get to that point other explanations get very, very far-fetched. From crazy conspiracy theories with no evidence to group hallucination. Hallucination is a popular one, but there's lots of problems with that one. One of my favorites I read from JP Holding (and was something of a "d'oh" moment because its kind of obvious) is that if the disciples were hallucinating they would have thought that Jesus was an angel or a ghost, not actually alive.

That's yet another reason why I can only shake my head when some atheists claim they are "soft atheists" and only "lack belief" in God's existence. If you only lack belief and are coming at it from a neutral position, then there's not much of an excuse. Of course there's Hume's approach to miracles that many skeptics would choose, but maybe get into that another time.
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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by Ivellious » Thu Mar 29, 2012 8:41 pm

I personally don't doubt Jesus's existence myself. I absolutely think Jesus was real, otherwise it would have to be the greatest conspiracy in history. I don't doubt he was a great man. I personally just am not absolutely sold on his divinity, or his place as the savior of all mankind. Honestly, I put him probably at the top of "influential honestly good people of all time," with the likes of, say, Gandhi and Mother Theresa just after him.

To be clear, I think the people who say Jesus never lived are sort of stupid and ignorant, or very much mislead. The debate in my mind is simply what Jesus was; a great man, or a god.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by Echoside » Thu Mar 29, 2012 9:11 pm

Ivellious wrote:The debate in my mind is simply what Jesus was; a great man, or a god.
I don't think simply being a "great man" is an option. Are you by chance familiar with the lord/liar/lunatic trilemma or any of its expansions?

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by Ivellious » Thu Mar 29, 2012 9:23 pm

I can't say I'm familiar with specific concepts or ideas regarding what different groups think of Jesus. I'm presuming those correspond to the three things that certain people say about Jesus?

I should clarify my position. I believe it is entirely possible, given the Bible and general historical trends, that Jesus was a great man. Let me put it this way: It is easy to imagine someone like Jesus living an incredible life filled with wondrous achievements and spreading great wisdom throughout the land. After an untimely death at the hands of his political adversaries, Jesus's followers began to retell his story to their children and those around them. Jesus could have become a folktale, and within a couple generations it would be easy to see a more-or-less ragtag religion (at the time) developing a mythology around Jesus, mixing truth with fiction. I don't think it is entirely reasonable to presume the "firsthand" accounts of Jesus saying certain things about himself are necessarily true, from an objective standpoint. In a sense, wouldn't it make sense that a group of generally persecuted people would be capable of embellishing the glorious tales of Jesus in order to strengthen the image and power of who Jesus was to them? Not even consciously, but simply out of human nature.

History shows that great people's legacies throughout history have a tendency to be exaggerated as time goes on. They become more heroic, more epic, and easier to follow and look up to. I don't see any concrete reason to say that Jesus could not have been a massively influential human being whose legacy was re-defined after his death. I don't think that saying Jesus wasn't a God implies he was a liar or a lunatic, because Jesus did not write the Bible. I wouldn't even say that those who wrote what they wrote were liars in that case.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by bippy123 » Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:11 am

Ivellious, the problem here is that the disciples who were eyewitnesses and students of our Lord were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ. Now if they wanted to exaggerate the history of Jesus that is one thing, but to willingly go to your death for what you know is a lie is absurd. Even Paul who was a member of the Sanhedrin when he was going on the damascus road to kill more Christians. I believe that Paul was a roman citizen and well off.
Why would he give up everything believed in and held true to his heart and ally himself with the very ones he believed were blasphemers against God unless he saw something that just absolutely turned his world upside down (the glorified Christ). The resurrected Christ is the only thing that makes sense not only with Paul but with the other disciples.

All of them died horrible deaths except for John who miraculously escaped being boiled alive in a cauldron . Maybe this is why Paul said to the Greeks "come, let us all reason".
Last edited by bippy123 on Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Probability Theories, specifically Bayesian regarding Ch

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Post by bippy123 » Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:20 am

Great points Narnia, also don't forget Habermas's empty tomb argument which is one of the main points of his minimal facts point. Habermas polled over 2000 new new testament scholars (pro new testament as well as critical new testament scholars ) and 75% of them said the empty tomb is a historic fact. Once you establish this,the only thing that makes sense in light of the empty tomb is the resurrection of Christ.

Most people will agree that this is very reasonable.

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