Issues with Probability in Arguing for the Resurrection, Evolution, etc

On the contrary, I think Bayesian probability calculations are subjective relevant to your background beliefs. Everyone has different priors, because not everyone is on the same page with regards to all of the propositions under consideration. So what is garbage for me could be legitimate for you, and vice versa.

1 Like

If that’s the case, then the entire exercise is pointless. We might as well just stick with people believing what they want to believe because they believe it, and not bother trying to legitimize it with fancy equations.


You are also overlooking a very important fact: No one doubts that large asteroids hit planets. Whereas there is no conclusive, or even particularly convincing, evidence that any supernatural event ever happens or has happened, at any time or place. This is why the consensus of scholars in many fields is against the consideration of “supernatural” occurrences as explanation, even among those who might believe in the supernatural as a matter of personal faith.

This is yet another important consideration that Andrew tries to just blithely skim over. His argument actually requires that one accept as an established fact that supernatural things occur. Completely unjustified.


I don’t think most people would think that the odds of a supernatural event happening are much smaller than that of a large asteroid hitting earth. There are plenty of cases where using updated methodology and better instrumentation, we discover convincing evidence for a new phenomena which has not been observed before. Example: the first detection of gravitational waves in 2016. Low probability events can and do happen, and with enough meticulousness (like what Loke and others have done) one can make a strong argument that they did happen.

I don’t know if that consensus is one which is borne out of genuine epistemological conviction, or a pragmatic concession in light of pluralism of beliefs among scholars. Your anti-supernatural bias seems to be a a uniquely modern Western stance. Each community may have different standards of evidence, methods of knowing, and consensus regarding prior evidence. There would thus be unique Bayesian priors in play when arguing about any proposition to a specific epistemological community.

For example, I think that besides being a psychiatrist, you are also a psychoanalyst, right? Some people think psychoanalysis is pseudoscience. But I’m pretty sure that among your community of psychoanalysts, there is a certain consensus on the efficacy of certain psychoanalytic theories and treatments, and you would adopt different strategies for arguing about psychoanalysis when talking among psychoanalysts versus among skeptics.

1 Like

Belief is not a factor in Bayes’ theorem. Knowledge is. There is no place where you can plug in “I believe that God exists”. You can plug in a probability for God’s existence(and you might say you believe this probability is high) in calculating the probability for the resurrection, but that probability itself needs a justification. You must make a case for that number that others can look at and see if it has some rational support. You can’t just make up numbers. Or well you can, but then that just makes it all the more obvious that you’re doing GIGO.


I do think this is a problem that plagues most analysis in this space, both in arguments for and against the Resurrection. Incidentally, it is interesting the same sort of problems arising arguments for and against evolution at times.

1 Like

The common understanding of Bayesianism not as simple as you put it…there is objective Bayesianism and subjective Bayesianism.

(a) Subjective Bayesians emphasize the relative lack of rational constraints on prior probabilities. In the urn example, they would allow that any prior probability between 0 and 1 might be rational (though some Subjective Bayesians (e.g., Jeffrey) would rule out the two extreme values, 0 and 1). The most extreme Subjective Bayesians (e.g., de Finetti) hold that the only rational constraint on prior probabilities is probabilistic coherence. Others (e.g., Jeffrey) classify themselves as subjectivists even though they allow for some relatively small number of additional rational constraints on prior probabilities. Since subjectivists can disagree about particular constraints, what unites them is that their constraints rule out very little. For Subjective Bayesians, our actual prior probability assignments are largely the result of non-rational factors—for example, our own unconstrained, free choice or evolution or socialization.

(b) Objective Bayesians (e.g., Jaynes and Rosenkrantz) emphasize the extent to which prior probabilities are rationally constrained. In the above example, they would hold that rationality requires assigning a prior probability of 1/2 to drawing a black ball from the urn. They would argue that any other probability would fail the following test: Since you have no information at all about which balls are red and which balls are black, you must choose prior probabilities that are invariant with a change in label (“red” or “black”). But the only prior probability assignment that is invariant in this way is the assignment of prior probability of 1/2 to each of the two possibilities (i.e., that the ball drawn is black or that it is red).

I think I tend to be more sympathetic to subjective Bayesianism, simply because I see too much diversity in definitions of rationality and the background beliefs that people hold, as @swamidass pointed out. Of course, I still believe that one has to argue rationally for why a probability should have a certain value instead of just making numbers up, but I don’t know if any rational argument is able to pin down a universally accepted number.

Would you care to cite some of these examples of in favour of evolution that are based on make-believe numbers? Do you think this something of which creationists and evolutionists are equally guilty?

1 Like

No. In fact, I debated about whether or not to include “for evolution” arguments.

An example of this problem is the “pregnant rafting monkey” that founded the americas. In this case, of course, I’m not aware of anyone putting precise numbers on it. However, it is as example where a very surprising and low likelihood event must be inferred to make sense of evolution. To actually put numbers on this would be a problem, because we are discussing about a black swan event.

There are other examples too, and they are more subtle and also distinct. Just don’t have time to explain at the moment. Maybe later.


But that is not what I was discussing. Rather, I was comparing the odds of it being true that “supernatural” events like resurrections occur, vs the odds of it being true that asteroids hit planets.

No contest, I think.

But that would be an example of a natural phenomenon that turned out to be more likely than we initially thought. So that would go against Loke’s analysis, not in its favour.

I actually do not consider psychoanalysis to be a science. Rather, I consider it to be a hermeneutic system.

Whether psychoanalytic therapy is effective is a scientific question, but that is not quite the same question as that of which, if any, psychoanalytic theory is true.

1 Like

No, my point was that regardless of natural vs. supernatural, there are low probability events that can turn out to be more probable than not.

Can you explain what that means?

This is because we discount all specular events that are known. The origin of the universe and the origin of life are examples. It’s here it happened so it’s probability is one yet we struggle to explain these events by natural laws alone.

Is the resurrection low probability? Not if the universe and life is the result of intelligent creation. Usually someone who designs something can also fix it. The is the message I am getting from @dga471.

OK. That’s actually how I approach this problem. I completely discount the whole question of “natural” vs “supernatural” and simply go by how common the various options are, according to the empirical evidence available to us. We have no good evidence that resurrections have ever happened, and if they have they are vanishingly rare events. Whereas it is an undisputed commonplace that people will believe things to have happened which never actually did, and even which could not possibly have happened. And this is particularly the case when religious faith is involved.

So I really don’t see this as an issue even worth of serious discussion. The correct answer is quite obvious and straightforward, and much as I am trying to do Loke the courtesy of taking his book seriously because he obviously but a lot of work into it, I can’t always sustain that attitude.

I do not believe it has been demonstrated that any of the psychoanalytic theories provide more accurate model of the operation of the human mind than any other. And since these are often mutually exclusive from another, that renders the question of which if any is “correct” a non-scientific question.

Nonetheless, when I am listening to the things patients tell me (not to mention when listening to things people say in other contexts, or when encountering a human artifact such as a work of art or literature) I find psychoanalytic theory a useful system in which to interpret and talk about the content of what I am encountering.


I believe I somewhat understand the way you think - I just think that a thorough assessment of the probabilities should lead to a much higher probability than normal that something supernatural occurred here. That being said, I think we are just rehashing the same arguments which have already played out here. I don’t think I can say anything much more that I haven’t already.

But by what metric do you mean “useful”, if ultimately it plays no role in deciding the correct treatment or therapy for the patient as it is not proven scientifically? Or are you saying that psychoanalytic theory is just a good subjective theory for you to think about things personally, unrelated to the actual scientific decisions you make - sort of like a personal philosophy or moral ethic?

Incorrect. It is a low probability, because of the untold trillions upon trillions of organisms that have died, not one has come back to life to our knowledge. And even if we claim some of the fables and folk tales told about resurrections may have some basis in reality, they still make up an almost infinitesimally small number compared to the number of things that died and just stayed dead.

1 Like

I am talking about two different things.

Psychoanalytic therapy is a treatment that involves listening to the things a person says and responding in a manner informed by an an understanding of what they say that is based on psychoanalytic theory.

This could be an effective treatment (though I will also admit the evidence on that is not a unequivocal as I would like it to be) without the psychoanalytic understanding of how the mind works being correct.

To be more specific: It might well be scientifically demonstrated that a patient is helped by interpreting and responding to what he says as if the Oedipus complex exists. This does not mean that the Oedipus complex actually exists.


Not to our knowledge but to your knowledge. This has been @dga471 point that it comes down to a matter of perspective and how you are processing evidence.

We have also never seen life arise from non life or an animal evolve with significant new features. From my perspective resurrection is true because of the reliability of the Bible and it is described in more than one occasion.

Yes, but they are random. Can the resurrection of Christ be regarded as a low probability event which could have just as readily missed and gone to one of the thieves with whom He was crucified?

What am I missing here? It seems to me that as a Christian, the purposes of God will not be frustrated. To an atheist, miracles are not just improbable but impossible because there is no agency for them, as opposed to low probability events in nature which are increasingly certain to occur with the passage of time.


There seems to be a mix up here. The Ressurection hypothesis presumes that we would not usually see organisms rising from the dead from the get go. The hypothesis is not “it is regularly observable (even if rare) that organisms rise from the dead.” It is rather, “we never see organism rise from the dead, except in this particular case.”

You distort the hypothesis in order to make it seem sillier than it is. It seems in fact that a number of taxa, including hystricomorph rodents, reached South America from Africa around 35ma, not just some hypothetical monkey.

1 Like