Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A Quest For The Historical Jesus Part 2: A Review of Richard Carrier’s On The Historicity Of Jesus

Laurens
Laurens
Wed Dec 09, 2015 9:13 pm by Laurens

In my last post in this series I described how in my opinion the best argument I had heard for the historicity of Jesus did not stand up to scrutiny. The next step in my quest I had decided was to read what has been hailed to be the best case for mythicism that has so far been put out there, to see whether it was convincing. That case being On the Historicity of Jesus by Dr. Richard Carrier. In this post I shall review his book and summarize where I now stand on the issue of whether or not Jesus was a historical being after having read it.

On the Historicity of Jesus is a peer reviewed scholarly work with extensive footnotes and references to the latest literature. Do not let that put you off however, I had little to no prior knowledge of the subjects covered before starting and I found it easy to follow. That being said this is not a casual bedtime read, it requires concentration, but no more so than any book containing lots of information.

Carrier begins by positing a hypothesis of minimal historicity and a hypothesis of minimal myth. ‘Minimal’ meaning the basic tenets that if shown to be false would collapse the entire hypothesis. Minimal historicity is that there was a man named Jesus who gained devout followers during his life, these followers continued to expound his teachings and theology beyond Jesus’s execution at the hands of the authorities. Eventually some of his followers began to worship Jesus as a God. Minimal myth posits that Jesus began as a celestial entity who endured incarnation, suffering and death in a supernatural realm (as did the gods of many pagan mystery cults at the time). Jesus communicated with his followers via visions, dreams etc. At some point Christians began to create allegorical myths about Jesus as a historical entity. These were eventually believed to be accounts of a real earthly person.

The remainder of the book sets out to use Bayes Theorem (described in his previous book Proving History) as a method to analyse the background knowledge and evidence in terms of its likelihood to exist on each hypothesis. This is done first by analysing the background evidence, that is; all of the cultural, religious, political knowledge that pertains to the origins of Christianity. In these sections we learn about the dying and rising saviour gods that were prevalent in many cultures around the time that Christianity emerged. We also learn that a suffering Messiah was not actually anathema to the Jews, and that Christianity was a perfect response to the Roman occupation of Judea and the corruption of the Jewish temple cult. There is a heck of a lot of information in these sections, all of it fascinating and enlightening. The information is divided into numbered elements which make for easy reference when anything is bought up later on in the book, something that made it very easy for me to follow.

The analysis of the background data concludes with an unusual fact, that Jesus scores very highly on the Rank-Raglan list. This is essentially a list of qualities that were common to a lot of mythical entities. Carrier notes that there are no known historical people who score over half of the items on the list, Jesus scores 20 out of 22. The odds that a historical person would also be a Rank-Raglan hero are therefore very low.

We are then taken on a tour of the evidence in the following order. Extra-Biblical evidence – of which there is nothing that confirms Jesus as a historical figure (excluding interpolations such as those in Josephus), at best the mentions of Jesus in extra-Biblical sources are not independent of the Gospels and are therefore not usable evidence. Acts – which is shown to be largely historical fiction, with some oddities that may be better explained on mythicism than historicism. The Gospels – which are repeatedly shown to be allegorical fiction and therefore we are unable to derive any useful historical information from them even if there is any contained therein. Then finally the Epistles – which are curiously lacking in any historical details about Jesus as an earthly person.

All throughout his analysis Carrier is granting as favourable odds towards historicism as he feels able. Arguing a fortiori as he calls it. Even given this overly generous approach historicism does not come out well when the figures are punched in to the Bayes equation.

This method, of arguing a fortiori is what sealed the deal for me. Even if we bend over backwards to allow for extremely generous odds in favour of historicism, it still doesn’t come out on top. I can safely say that this book has pushed me from the agnostic camp to the mythicist. That being said, I am not in a position to check all of Carrier’s source material, or look up any of the scholarship that might argue against his points. What this book desperately needs is a rebuttal, with the best case for historicism yet. Preferably in a similar accessible style so lay people can assess both. As things stand though On The Historicity Of Jesus is pretty damning of any case for the existence of a historical Jesus. Until such a time comes that someone puts out a sound rebuttal to it, I must say I am firmly with Carrier in his conclusion: Jesus probably did not exist.

On the Historicity of Jesus is precisely what mythicism needed in order to be taken seriously. One can only hope that it will be treated with the respect that it truly deserves. When I dived into the book I was expecting, or hoping to find some weak links in his case, but I really didn’t. The only arguments that I was unsure about were treated in favour of historicity as far as the probabilities went (this being the possibility that the Epistles mentioned Jesus’s brother), and the case for historicity did not triumph because of it. All in all, whether you are a staunch historicist, an agnostic on the matter, or a curious mythicist I would definitely recommend this book.

I really cannot fault this book, and therefore score it:

5/5

 

Bigfoot Bounty

he_who_is_nobody
he_who_is_nobody
Mon Feb 17, 2014 7:56 pm by he_who_is_nobody

I just got around to watching the first few episodes of “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” from SpikeTV. This is another cryptid based TV show, but instead of being another pseudo-documentary about the cryptid, this show is based on the reality TV template. There are nine teams of two, one team is eliminated every episode after competing to see who brings the best evidence in for Bigfoot. The teams also have a smaller challenge during each episode, wherein they compete for advantages going into the main elimination competition.

 

I am just going to start by saying, this show is terrible, and unless you have a huge interest in reality TV shows or Bigfoot, it is not worth watching. However, there are two highlights of the show. The first highlight is Dr. Todd Disotell. Dr. Todd already has a reputation among crypto-zoologists in that he is the one who tests material to see what type of DNA signature it has. Dr. Todd’s no nonsense approach to genetic testing is a breath of fresh air when it comes to this and other cryptid related shows. In “Bigfoot Bounty” the show’s producers gave him a state of the art mobile genetic testing lab. Dr. Todd is able to test the different samples brought in by the contestants in a matter of hours. I feel this testing lab is the best thing to come out of this show.

 

The second highlight of this show is Natalia Reagan. Natalia is a field biologist and her job is to teach the contestants how to act like actual field biologists. Natalia is always instructing the contestants on how to take proper field notes and collect proper field samples. As an actual field scientist myself, I can greatly appreciate the fact that Natalia is teaching crypto-zoologists the basics when it comes to fieldwork. There are many tedious notes to be taken long before anything can be sampled in a lab. Natalia and Dr. Todd make a good point in informing the contestants that none of the samples will be tested unless they follow the proper procedures when it comes to collecting their samples.

 

Another aspect of the show that I find funny is just how out of shape the contestants are. All but one team are either actual hunters or active Bigfoot researchers. However, one would not be able to tell that they spent anytime out in the field with just how out of breath they are on a simple hike. Beyond that, the way most of the contestants act when they are in the woods (they jump at any noise and think it is a Bigfoot) is highly suspicious to someone that has spent any amount of time hiking and camping. It appears to me that none of them has any basic outdoors experience. If it were not for Natalia teaching them what to do while in the field, they would just be running around scaring the hell out of each other. However, in the end Dr. Todd and Natalia cannot save this show. It is just another run of the mill reality TV show with standard made up drama between the contestants and added dramatic tension before each commercial break. In my opinion, this show is best left unwatched and forgotten. I do like Dr. Todd and Natalia’s attempt to bring some science into this show, but their efforts alone cannot save it. I hope that Dr. Todd and Natalia will end up with their own TV show one day; I would watch it. In addition, the mobile lab that Dr. Todd now has may lead to some awesome real biological discoveries.

Global Warming – Is there a solution?

Inferno
Inferno
Mon Feb 17, 2014 1:52 pm by Inferno

I spend way too much on my newspaper. 200€ a year, just to get a weekly paper. Granted, it’s about 10m² just on one page and it’s as thick as your average Bible, but still… For those of you who don’t know it, I’m talking about the German newspaper “Zeit”. It really is excellent, I just don’t have the time to read it every week. Not even close. So mostly, I just pluck out the articles that really interest me and go through those.

I won’t bore you with the article in “Zeit”, instead I’ll link to the article it references:

Rollin Stones: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Short version: We’re pumping out much more CO² than we should. In fact, if we keep going at this rate then we’ll reach the red line (about 565 Gigatons until 2050, counting from today) in just over 18 years. (Today’s output ~31Gt/y, and 565/31=18.2) The problem: We’ve got about 2700Gt of CO² sleeping under ground in the form of coal, gas and oil.

So what are our choices? Depending on which side you listen to, there’s different solutions and different non-solutions. If you listen to the deniers then obviously there’s no need for a solution, the greens (note: NO capital G) say that solar/wind/bio-fuel and cutting carbon emissions (either through fuel economy or reducing the economy) are solutions but that nuclear power is a big no-no. The nuclear industry says that nuclear energy is the only solution.

If you’re reading this, you’re interested in what I think and say. Only to thrash it in the comments.

I will try to base my arguments on as much science as I can, though I warn you up-front: Not all here is hard science, some of it is soft science aka. humanities. In those cases, I present arguments and hope that they’re good enough.

A paper in 2004 (Pacala and Socolow, 2004) offers 15 solutions. (page 3 in the PDF, page 970 on paper) They can be categorized into two (or three) sections:

1) Improve efficiency

2) Use renewable energy sources or those of low CO² output

2.1) Use carbon sinks for fossil fuels

All of these 15 solutions are good and I can think of a few others, though they would be costly and possibly not as effective. So let’s focus on these 15. We’ll agree that 1 and 2.1 are all good, skip forestry (I’m very happy to see that on the list and it’s something that will take a lot of effort, sadly) and we’ll move to #2. Here we have five possible solutions: Biofuels, Photovoltaic, Hydrogen, Wind and Nuclear. I’ll try to very briefly deal with all of them, but I will completely skip Hydrogen because I know exactly nothing about its use as a fuel. If anyone could enlighten me in the comments, that would be much appreciated. It’s also noteworthy that both Hydro-electric power and tidal power have been skipped. The solution: There’s just so damn few of them, they make no global impact whatsoever. (Combined, they could potentially make up 1/4th of the power needed today, but that’s potential (i.e. sometimes not accessible and/or in natural reserves) and there’s huge costs involved.)

Potential energy available

So let’s quickly look at those four remaining sources of fuel. I’ll start with Wind.

There are two ways of harnessing the power of the wind: Offshore wind farms and Onshore wind farms. Theoretically, wind power could give us more than enough energy. (see graphic 1) For the following figures, I will rely on this 2010 UK report as shown over at Wikipedia.
We can easily see that there is a huge difference in cost between onshore and offshore wind power: Offshore costs nearly twice as much. That’s also the reason why many companies are reducing their offshore wind power spending and are focusing on other means. For example, to achieve Britain’s goal of 15GW, this article suggests that you’ll need about 60$ billion. I don’t have that kind of money and neither do they, it seems.
The second way, onshore wind power, suffers problems of its own. Turbines don’t look good, they kill birds (though not nearly as many as people might want you to think), they’re unsafe… None of these are real problems, so we’ll skip those and get onto real ones. For this, I have absolutely no concrete number and must rely on what I was told by a high-ranking member in the Austrian ministry for agriculture. (includes renewable energy) If his numbers are correct, then onshore wind installations are pretty much used up. Austria produces about 1400MW from Wind Energy, or about 4% of our national consumption. Most countries produce between 1-7% of their energy from wind energy, in fact the EU average is 7%. Only countries with access to the ocean or with huge parts of unused land produce more than that. If I am to trust said person above, the EU average can rise to 10%, maybe 12%. It’s doubtful if more can be produced, simply because the turbines take so much space.
In short, Wind power can only do so much to curb carbon emissions. We must look further.
Having dismissed wind power as a viable alternative, we move on to biofuels. Contrary to common belief, not all of biofuels are generated by sugar cane or maize. This pop-sci article discusses the worth of forestry-related biofuels. Other researchers are looking into algae, fungi and other alternative biofuel sources.
Apart from the obvious problems with biofuels, like “food vs. fuel”, soil erosion, deforestation, impact on water, etc., there’s another huge problem: ERO(E)I or Energy Return On (Energy) Investment. Basically it means that you put in X amounts of energy and you get Y back. If Y>X, then you have a net gain. An EROEI of 1 means that you just break even: You get back what you put in, so there’s no gain. An EROEI of anything lower than 1 means you lose energy. Fusion, to take but one example, has an EROEI lower than 1.
OK, I see what you’re getting at. What’s the EROEI of bio-fuels? Murphy and Hall (2010) calculated three different EROEI’s:
1) Biodiesel with 1.3
2) Corn-based Ethanol with 0.8-1.6
3) Ethanol (Sugarcane) with 0.8-10
Most biofuels are simply too inefficient to make a big impact. We’d have to use vast swathes of land to achieve this. As Pacala and Socolow (2004) state:

Option 13: Biofuels. Fossil-carbon fuels can also be replaced by biofuels such as ethanol. A wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provided the ethanol itself were fossil-carbon free. This ethanol production rate would be about 50 times larger than today’s global pro- duction rate, almost all of which can be attrib- uted to Brazilian sugarcane and United States corn. An ethanol wedge would require 250 million hectares committed to high-yield (15 dry tons/hectare) plantations by 2054, an area equal to about one-sixth of the world’s crop- land. An even larger area would be required to the extent that the biofuels require fossil-carbon inputs. Because land suitable for annually harvested biofuels crops is also often suitable for conventional agriculture, biofuels production could compromise agricultural productivity.

Now I suggest, and you may or may not agree with that assessment, that this is simply unacceptable. We can not, nor should we, use biofuels to replace fossil-carbon fuels. Our greatest hope lies in electric motors. Biofuels can substitute a small sliver of current use, but if I were to make decisions I’d ban them outright.

This leaves us with the photovoltaic and nuclear options. To achieve 1/15th of today’s energy consumption, we’d need an area the size of Israel. (2mio ha = 20,000km² ~Israel or Slovenia) This wouldn’t be a problem if we could just plant them wherever we want, but we have to factor in watts per m² (Graphic 2), distance to destination, etc.

Watts per m²

There is the added problem that photovoltaic costs quite a bit (see UK 2010) and again uses up large tracts of land. However, some people suggest it could make up 3-4 wedges (of 14-16 wedges needed) in this battle. I’m not so optimistic, at least not with the current state of technology. I’m all for using photovoltaic, don’t get me wrong. We’ve got some panels installed ourselves, as much as we could fit on the roof. However, they’re still not at a point where they’re effective enough to really take over. Currently, the most effective (and expensive?) cells have an efficiency of 44%. The average is far below that.
My conclusion: Solar power is by far the most promising of the above four mentioned, but we shouldn’t slack off on innovating them.

Last but not least, I want to turn  to nuclear power. I have previously already talked about how nuclear power is actually an incredibly safe alternative, the problem is just that people don’t know about that. I won’t go into that here. The above mentioned UK estimate (2010) calculates nuclear cost as being lower than tidal, offshore wind and solar power, and as being in the vicinity of other forms of energy. (onshore, coal, gas, biomass, etc.) By “in the vicinity” I mean that they overlap a huge amount, because of course there is some error margin. Nuclear’s EROEI is, depending on what kind of reactor you run, either lower than wind’s (10 vs 18) or much higher than wind (50 vs 18), but no matter what it’s far higher than either biofuels or photovoltaic (1.3 and 6.8 respectively).
There is then, only one real problem: Nuclear energy is a good way of battling CO² output, but on its own it’s not sufficient.

Nuclear alone may just not suffice

I will reserve a political discussion of these issues for a later time. I hope that I’ve made a few points clear:

  • Some suggested solutions (biofuels, wind) may just be far less viable than advertised. These “solutions” should be avoided if at all possible or at least only implemented to a certain degree.
  • Other solutions are difficult to talk about due to a lack of information (wind) or due to public opposition (nuclear), though that wasn’t mentioned now.
  • Various solutions are needed to solve this problem. No one solution can fix this problem on its own. (Well, returning to our hunter/gatherer days might…) Greens are harming the cause (of reducing CO²) by not allowing nuclear energy to be part of the solution.
  • I personally would go further and postulate that avoiding the oncoming crisis is ONLY possible if we use nuclear energy. I’d suggest going for 3-4 wedges instead of the 1 wedge suggested, if only to have a safety net. As soon as solar energy comes to the point where it can actively take over, we can turn off the reactors and lean back in contentment. But until then, nuclear energy is a vital part of the solution.

A Short post on why i am prejudging the latest book by Norman Stone

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:34 am by theyounghistorian77

Perhaps you may have missed it but earlier this month saw the publication of a new history on the Second World War by Norman Stone. As of yet i haven’t read the work so i cannot offer my opinion of it fully, but i am afraid i am the mood to prejudge the book in that i do not expect great things from it due to it’s length. Click on the Amazon link and you will see that it is a “Short history”, and what it means by that is the entire work is only approximately 270 pages long.

My prejudgment is based on a little bit of experience. Last year saw the release of another work, this time only 200 pages long (or 190 pages plus 6 pages of footnotes and 4 pages of select bibliography), which was a biography of Hitler by a certain A.N Wilson. Something which i have already described in these forums as “ridden with factual error” and “easily amongst the worst biographies of him that I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across, but then i also have the feeling this book was not aimed at a person like me.”

The book, like the current one from Norman Stone, was designed for a general audience, not for anyone who takes History seriously. Granted therefore we ought to judge it by some degree of looser standards compared to say some of the works i have often cited in my posts like the Biography written by Ian Kershaw or the Third Reich trilogy by Richard Evans but even so this was little excuse for the deep flaws of A.N Wilson’s book so brilliantly exposed here.

So i fear for the latest work by Norman Stone. The entire history of World War 2 is such a vast subject that in my opinion it simply cannot be covered within the space of 300 pages without omitting many of the details needed to make it a proper history of the Second World War.

This is the reason why i do not think i will be using it as a citation anytime soon. I have other works in my bookshelf such as Martin Gilbert’s “Second World War” which on page count alone is almost Three times as long as Stone’s book but my edition is also written on larger than average pages also.

(Image: A Size comparison. My copy of Martin Gilbert’s “Second World War” compared to my copy of Ian Kershaw’s “Nemesis” (pt2 of his biography of Hitler. “Hubris” or pt1 is virtually the same size) and also my copy of A.N Wilson’s “short biography of Hitler”)

I guess the final clincher in me deciding to use Stone’s work as a citation is me reading it, and i would like to hope i am wrong in my prejudgements here. But as i have laid out, i am not optimistic.

Ray Comfort’s such a Genius isn’t he?

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:42 am by theyounghistorian77

Well not really!

For those who haven’t kept up to date with his ramblings, Banana-man has decided to write a new book titled “The Beatles: God and the Bible” (sounds really exciting). Now i know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover but in this case i can infer at least that stylistically there could be much carried over from an earlier screed titled “Hitler: God and the Bible” (which I’m not going to review unless someone mysteriously sends me it as a Christmas present) in that Comfort’s using “Historical Character X” only to disseminate his own evangelical nonsense regardless of whether or not said evangelical nonsense has anything to do with said Historical character. With the latter book i mentioned, as you all may remember, he turned it’s intellectual comments into a short 33 min video which i proved the case to be. In that video he basically equated abortion to the Holocaust and added in to the mix that Hitler was not a christian by using quotations of dubious origin. Because that obviously helps his evangelical message. But even if we somehow accept that Hitler was Anti-christian anyways it would still remain the case that the comparison of the Holocaust to Abortion (which was the main point of that film) is silly, especially in the context of what the Nazis actually did with regards to the subject as i pointed out.

I mention all of this because Ray Comfort’s made a brand new movie, based upon his latest evangelical work which i guess in the spirit of the last one, i have to review right?

Here it is in all it’s Christian Glory

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The Soviet Story, A critique (the first 20 mins).

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Wed Nov 02, 2011 12:35 pm by theyounghistorian77

I’ve been eyeing up to do something about this film for a little while, and whilst i enjoy mocking those derive all their ideas about the Soviet Union from the likes of Beck and said film. I’ve decided to calm down enough now, to do a proper critique of this movie, which for the time being can be located here.

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Ray Comfort is 180 degrees from reality

theyounghistorian77
theyounghistorian77
Sat Oct 01, 2011 12:57 am by theyounghistorian77

Ok so i had a really good laugh today. I decided that a watching of Ray Comfort’s “180 movie” would be a good way to waste 33 mins of my life. The best synopsis of the contents of the film at present can be found on RationalWiki. But i can boil it down to two arguments Ray presents:

1) Hitler is Anti-christian.

2) Abortion in America is really akin to the Holocaust.

The second argument is really little more than the application of godwins law into a debate, furthermore the connection between abortion doctors in America today and the Nazis in the 1930’s and 1940’s is more silly and superficial than what Ray and his fellow religious propagandists make it out to be. Yes it is true that the Nazis used forced abortions upon women deemed “unAryan” (women who were Jewish or Slavic, etc.) in order to decrease their number as part of their eugenic policies, however for healthy Women of the Volksgemeinschaft it was a different story, because for them abortions were banned. Indeed in 1936, Heinrich Himmler created a Reich Central Office just for the purpose “for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion”! You know those two things Ray and his fellow religious fundamentalists don’t like. Being sarcastic here like i sometimes am, Does this mean that by ray’s logic he may be *shock horror* akin to a Nazi? In the real world, of course he isn’t!

But for the purposes of this, im going to attempt to rebut his other argument, that Hitler was no Christian.

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