2006-06-17

Research bias

I just read the transcript of a debate on the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus between professors Craig and Ehrman. (Haven't we progressed further than this? What next, debates on the number of angels on a pinhead?) Craig is committed to the literal truth of the Bible and uses the old trick of presenting a huge (Bayesian) equation in support of his position, because, you know, it's Math and anyone who calls Math first in a debate is automatically right. It wasn't much of a surprise to find that Craig works for the Discovery Institute, well-known obfuscators of the truth. Ehrman makes a brave attempt to keep the discussion rational, but it's water off a non-drinking horse's back.

In passing Ehrman makes a point that perhaps shouldn't be surprising but still took me aback: Almost everyone who are researching New Testament history are doing it because they are believing Christians. In other words, they are committed to certain results even before starting. That just can't be a recipe for good research. Ehrman himself apparently had the intellectual integrity to follow the evidence where it lead him and dropped out of Christianity.

2 comments:

Tom said...

Bayesian probability is not a trick; Ehrman argues on the basis of probability, and Craig makes the assumptions explicit.

kai said...

The point is that you can't wave around a big formula where all the numbers are unknown and then claim that the result shows that you are right. Bayesian probability is perfectly OK, the use of it in this case is merely a rhetorical trick.