Paper and Website: “The Jesus Tomb Math”

As I announced a few weeks ago on this blog, Robert Marks and I have been collaborating on some papers on the mathematical foundations of ID at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab (these papers are currently under review with mainstream peer-reviewed journals):

We have also just finished a paper debunking the statistics of James Cameron et al. (go to www.jesusfamilytomb.org), who have claimed both in a documentary on the Discovery Channel and in a book titled The Jesus Family Tomb that the pattern of names in a tomb found outside Jerusalem matches names in Jesus’ family so closely that it is highly probable that this is in fact the family tomb of the New Testament Jesus. Since “Jesus son of Joseph” is buried there, this would indicate that Jesus himself is buried there. The implication that the Resurrection is a hoax is immediate.

Prof. Marks and I show that the statistics cited by the Jesus Family Tomb people are bogus. See our paper at

baylor.edu/…/Research/EILab/…/Jesus_Tomb_Math…

For MATLAB programs that run the numbers, go to

www.jesustombmath.org

This work is tangentially relevant to our discussions at UD about intelligent design because the Jesus Family Tomb people are claiming to show that small enough probabilities demonstrate that Jesus is buried outside Jerusalem. Prof. Marks and I show that the probabilities really aren’t that bad. In light of the probability arguments that keep being made for and against evolution — the most notable recent case being in Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution — the arguments we make in our “Jesus Tomb Math” paper will have a familiar ring.

Question: You think any of the skeptic societies might be interested in highlighting this work debunking the Jesus Family Tomb people? I’ll give 10 to 1 odds that they won’t. Indeed, how many skeptics now believe that we’ve found the tomb of Jesus? And to think that until just recently the skeptics didn’t even think that Jesus existed (go here).

22 Replies to “Paper and Website: “The Jesus Tomb Math””

1. 1
tribune7 says:

God bless you Dr. Dembski.

Cameron says he’s found His tomb and (IIRC) Hitchens says He never existed.

They can’t seem to keep the story straight.

Anyway, how would you factor in the fact that the Tomb just happened to be found now despite a strong incentive by the region’s contempory authorities (Roman and Jew) to reveal it.

It seems pretty hard to keep the burial of a family a secret.

And then consider that the area was governed for most of the rest of the next 2,000 years by others (Muslims) who had a vested interest in disproving the Resurrection.

Thanks again for running the numbers.

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pk4_paul says:

More stats for number crunching. At his website Randy Ingermanson writes:

“We know that these bone-boxes were used in Jerusalem for only a short stretch of time in history — roughly from 20 B.C. to A.D. 70. One can then estimate the total number of men in Jerusalem who lived during that time. That number is estimated in the book The Brother of Jesus, page 58, to be about 80,000 men. This is a reasonable number and we’ll use it in our estimates.

So now we can estimate the number of men in Jerusalem who would have been named “Jesus son of Joseph”. The number is 1.26% of 80,000 men, which works out to 1008. Remember, this is an estimate. How good is this estimate?

That is easy to answer. We would expect the true number of such men, using the usual laws of statistics, to be between 900 and 1100 men. (We compute the “standard deviation” of our estimate to be the square root of 1008, which is about 32. With extremely high probability, the true number of men should be within 3 standard deviations of our estimate of 1008. So, in round numbers, we can be VERY confident that there were between 900 and 1100 men in Jerusalem named “Jesus son of Joseph” or some variation of that name.”

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jb says:

tribune7: “Cameron says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s found His tomb and (IIRC) Hitchens says He never existed.

They canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem to keep the story straight.”

I don’t in any way want to defend the skeptics or those who want to deny the tenets of Christianity, etc. But it’s important to keep things straight regarding the opponents. Not all deniers of the tenets of traditional Christianity necessarily deny the existence of Jesus. While there are some who claim he never existed, others acknowledge that he existed, but deny the bodily resurrection. Some of the latter category even call themselves Christians (though the accuracy of that designation can certainly be disputed), either being of the “Jesus as a Good Teacher,” variety of secularized, liberal quasi-Christianity, or believe in some sort of “spiritual” rather than bodily resurrection. From the bits and pieces I’ve seen and heard, it appears that Cameron is in this latter category. IOW, I’m not sure Hitchens and Cameron are on the same page trying to tell the same story.

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lotf says:

Over here in the UK the tomb story didn’t take hold though perhaps not surprising, even some in the CoE doubt the divinity of Jesus.

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jb says:

lotf, didn’t the BBC do a documentary on it a couple of years prior to Cameron’s Discovery Channel episode? I suppose that would have diffused some of the hype it had this go-around.

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Mathetes says:

The atheists who do try to assert that Jesus didn’t exist historically can be inconsistent:

* “Historically it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one.” -Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian.

* “So little is known of him [Leucippus] that Epicurus (a later follower of Democritus) was thought to have denied his existence all together, and some moderns have revived this theory. There are, however, a number of allusions to him in Aristotle, and it seems incredible that these (which include textul quotations) would have occured if he had been merely a myth.” -Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, 1972, p.64

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lotf says:

@jb
If they did I missed it.
Religious issues get less airplay in the UK as it is, most media are negative.

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tribune7 says:

IOW, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure Hitchens and Cameron are on the same page trying to tell the same story.

I want to see them debate!! 🙂

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scordova says:

I have been collaborating on some papers on the mathematical foundations of ID at BaylorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Evolutionary Informatics Lab (these papers are currently under review with mainstream peer-reviewed journals):

Best of luck to both you and Dr. Marks. These papers should be accepted and will make a serious contribution to the understanding of evolutionary information dynamics.

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PT says:

“Question: You think any of the skeptic societies might be interested in highlighting this work debunking the Jesus Family Tomb people? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll give 10 to 1 odds that they wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. Indeed, how many skeptics now believe that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve found the tomb of Jesus?”

I must admit that I’m puzzled by the suggestion that sceptics share some kind of hive-mind. I remember reading about the ‘Jesus tomb’ story on the BBC and, as a sceptic, my first response was to be, well, sceptical. I doubt any sceptical groups would be interested in publicising your work for two reasons: firstly, Cameron is a bit of a hack and few people have even heard of him; and secondly, the statistician involved has already agreed that his conclusions were rather dubious and based on a lot of assumptions.

I was especially bemused by Dr Dembski’s closing remark:

” And to think that until just recently the skeptics didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even think that Jesus existed”

Yes, there are some sceptics who don’t think Jesus existed (I’m not one of them); they are still in existence and still hold that opinion. I’d be grateful if Dr Dembski remembered that scepticism is primarily a method rather than a belief system. Sure, there are a few people who call themselves sceptics and dismiss any new ideas out of hand, but real scepticism is epitomised by individuals such as James Randi, who don’t automatically dismiss reports of supernatural abilities but do insist on rigorous testing and examination of the evidence.

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PT109 wrote:

“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be grateful if Dr Dembski remembered that scepticism is primarily a method rather than a belief system.”

PT: Just wondering. Have you ever been skeptical of skepticism? Doing so is required to be consistent in your philosophy in the GÃƒÂ¶del sense. Otherwise your “method” is self refuting.

I’m up to being a skeptic of skeptical viewpoints about skepticism of skeptics and am working hard on the next meta level. It isn’t easy my friend, but it can be done. Baby steps, PT. The secret is baby steps. I know it’s rough – but we can do it! We can be skeptical of all things!

Gloppy

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Apollos says:

Just wondering. Have you ever been skeptical of skepticism?

It worked wonders for Scanton.

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Bob O'H says:

It’s nice to see you applying a Bayesian approach to this problem: I think it really helps to clarify the logic in cases like this. Are there any plans to apply it to problems of inferring design?

Bob

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PT says:

Hi Gloppy,

Nice website. There’s certainly a lot to be said for using a method on itself, as the Logical Positivists should have done with their Verification Principle.

To my mind, if there’s any reliable way of aquiring knowledge then it will be through scepticism and objective examination of the evidence, with as few appeals to emotion or faith as possible. If there is no reliable way of aquiring knowledge, then no method is better than any other and so I might as well adopt scepticism.

Doubt as to the validity of an evidence based approach seems akin to the total scepticism of Descartes: it’s an interesting thought experiment, but you wouldn’t want to apply it to real life. As Cleanthes says to Philo in Hume’s masterful “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion”:

Whether your scepticism be as absolute and sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: we shall then see, whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived from our fallacious senses, and more fallacious experience. And this consideration, Demea, may, I think, fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this humourous sect of the sceptics.

Although I realise that the article you linked to was written in jest it did make some valid points; of course it isn’t intellectually healthy to read only the opinions of people who agree with you: I’ve read Pascal’s “PensÃƒÂ©es” and Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy”, as well as more modern works, but I confess that I haven’t found any of them very convincing.

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benkeshet says:

Apart from statistics, on one page Jesus Family Tomb denies Jesus’ resurrection, the very raison d’etre of the Gospels, saying on their Theological Considerations page that resurrection is not as important as finding physical remains that at least confirm that Jesus walked the earth.

Yet the same Gospels used to determine Jesus’ family members do not say that Jesus permanently succumbed to death, but rather testify positively of temporary burial in Joseph of Arimithea’s tomb adjacent to the site of crucifixion and of resurrection into eternal life. Here the Jesus Family Tomb people look silly promoting the fatally flawed (pun intended) Gospel records as a trustworthy source for lesser details like family members.

Yet on another Jesus Family Tomb page, The Resurrection, someone writes that the resurrection may have occurred later from a second “permanent” tomb. The disciples actually did “steal” the body to prevent desecration, and moved it to Talpiot. There Jesus may or may not have been resurrected.

Again the Jesus Family Tomb tries to eat their cake and have it too by relying on the Gospels as sources of reliable information for family members, and yet ignoring obvious reports about the resurrection: that at sunrise the women found the Joseph of Arimithea tomb surprisingly empty, that neither Peter nor John (at least initially) knew what had happened to Jesus’ body at Joseph’s tomb, that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at Joseph’s tomb, etc.

Best Regards

17. 17
Collin says:

mathetes, you’re awesome

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Phinehas says:

PT: To my mind, if thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s any reliable way of aquiring knowledge then it will be through scepticism and objective examination of the evidence, with as few appeals to emotion or faith as possible. If there is no reliable way of aquiring knowledge, then no method is better than any other and so I might as well adopt scepticism.

I’m skeptical aobut scepticism’s reliablility in acquiring knowledge. I’ve always thought that revelation beats it hands down. Of course, I suppose it depends upon your starting point.

If you assume there is no God (because you are skeptical?) and must rely completely on knowledge via fallible human conventions, then it seems like skepticism is a very prudent approach. Given the history of human mistakes, it would be foolish to be otherwise.

On the other hand, if God exists, and, as the typical concept of God would suggest, He knows everything and has the ability to communicate what He knows in a way that can overcome fallible human conventions, surely knowledge gained through such revelation would be more reliable.

So, in a way, it seems no surprise to me that one who starts with skepticism will end up with it. On the other hand, one who is the least bit open to the existence of God need not be so skeptical, especially as it relates to revelation.

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PT says:

Hi Phinehas,

I’m curious as to what you mean by ‘revelation’. There are at least three categories of events/experiences which are classed as revelation: personal revelation, group revelation, and written revelation (if you’re referring to another type then please correct me).

I myself (like most people) have had neither a personal revelation, nor a group revelation. Let us suppose that God does exist and that there are people with whom he communicates directly through revelation: how are we to recognise them? Do we have any reliable way of distinguishing a prophet from a lunatic? Unless you’re prepared to accept unquestioningly the claims of people like Bob Jones, John Smith, or L. Ron. Hubbard, we must use an evidence based approach to determine which of these people who claim revelation are genuine. The only way to establish their credentials beyond reasonable doubt would be to ask them questions which they couldn’t answer correctly by any natural means. In this case, sceptical investigation is the best was forward.

If you take revelation to refer to a claimed holy book or books, then how are we to establish it to be a genuine holy book? The claims of the New Testament are in contradiction with the claims of the Quran, yet both claim to be divinely inspired. The Bible is a particularly difficult book to prove, because it is an anthology rather than a single book with a single author; even if you could prove that one book was divine revelation, that wouldn’t mean that every book was. The only way to show that a book was divinely inspired would be to test it carefully, so again scepticism and an evidence based approach must come to the fore.

You say:
So, in a way, it seems no surprise to me that one who starts with skepticism will end up with it. On the other hand, one who is the least bit open to the existence of God need not be so skeptical, especially as it relates to revelation.

But Thomas Paine was a firm believer in God, and yet he dismissed all claims of revelation; he declared that a book could be forged or altered, and a self-proclaimed prophet could lie, so only the natural world could be relied upon. Paine saw the natural world as the only form of divine revelation, and it can be explored only through human reason.

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scordova says:

Bill,

Thanks to you you and Dr. Marks for taking the time to do this!

Sal

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Phinehas says:

PT,

A couple notes.

The only way to establish their credentials beyond reasonable doubt would be to ask them questions which they couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t answer correctly by any natural means. In this case, sceptical investigation is the best was forward.

I would say that there are a couple of different types of skepticism. In my view, there is nothing wrong with doubts when they lead one to find things out. It is the doubt that causes one to rule certain possibilities out of hand that I think are troubling. Too often, it seems to me, skepticism can result in the latter.

Biblical support for skepticism can be found in a number of examples. Prophets were tested on their ability to correctly predict the future. Signs and wonders were given to validate a message. Even the words of the apostles were tested against prior scripture.

But my main point is that skepticism uses man’s fallibility as a starting point. I can imagine a different way of looking at knowledge that starts with God’s capabilities instead of man’s fallibility. My use of the term revelation was meant to represent how God might communicate knowledge in a way that overcomes man’s fallibilities in this thought experiment. (Though I am familiar with general and special revelation as more formal categories .)

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Phinehas says:

From a different perspective, why should fallible man’s skepticism lead to reliable knowledge? Isn’t his skepticism just as fallible as any other part of his faculties? Or am I now being too skeptical? How does a fallible person know how much skepticism is too much or how much is not enough?

Children are typically much less skeptical than adults, yet they are sometimes capable of seeing directly to the truth of a matter in ways that confound adults. That’s why we have the phrase, “From the mouth of babes…” (Well, that and Psalm 8.)

My dad is the skeptical, logical type. My mom is much more intuitive, while also being more trusting. Yet on most of life’s important decisions where they have differed, I would say that my mom gets it right at least half of the time. Why is this? Perhaps because even skeptics sometimes simply believe what they want to believe under the guise of logical skepticism. Once again, it looks to me like skepticism is just as fallible as any other part of fallible man.

What we really need here is someone who is capable of overcoming man’s fallibilities in order to disseminate reliable knowledge. Perhaps this entity could use both man’s skepticism and his intuition, his reason and faith in the process. At the least, it might be wise to be open to this possibility.