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A confusing book

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Some random reading again.

Probability in the Philosophy of Religion. 2012. Much of the text is available on Google books.

One big question in the P of R that involves probability in some sense is the evidence for miraculous events.

Suppose a theist puts it forward as one of his reasons for belief in God that "only this belief can explain the parting of the Red Sea." One classic response, formulated for example by David Hume, is that the historical evidence for the event can never be greater than the improbability of the event. So it is always more rational to believe that the alleged miracle didn't happen, and the chain of testimony that has brought us news thereof is at fault, than to believe that it did happen, and qualify our belief in laws of nature in the process.

This seems, then, squarely an argument about probability, and some of the contributions to this collection address it.

One of the contributions that does is written by Benjamin C. Jantzen, of Carnegie Mellon University.
Jantzen argues that Bayesian approaches to this question fail. Bayesianism has two parts: the identification of probability with rational degrees of belief on the one hand and a rule for inductive inference on the other. Jantzen argues, following Peirce in this, that (Jantzen's words), "the Bayesian computation is structurally biased, and the very sampling process of history renders this bias ineliminable."

Peirce doesn't call it Bayesianism. He calls it MBL, the "method of balancing likelihoods," and it is his view that this was Hume's method in the essay on miracles.

Anyway, it should be said that Peirce isn't really trying to resuscitate an argument for theism from miracles, which would fit rather poorly with his sort of theism. Peirce thinks of God as real, but not existing, where "existence" involves interaction. So Peirce's theism anyway has to get along without miracles in the classic sense of the term. Peirce is contending, though, that Hume anti-miracles argument was invalid, because MBL is invalid. In terms of Peirce's bigger picture, this is motivated by his view that probability, and so an element of randomness, is an objective fact about the world, not merely the acknowledgement of human limitations. And Jantzen seems to agree.

BUT ... I find the explanations confusing. Because the Peirce/Jantzen arguments, applied to the Red Sea or anything similar, seem to me if I understand them at all, to be to the effect that testimony is biased by the method of its preservation. The testimonies came down to us because religious traditions have coalesced around them. So isn't this an argument that Hume was if anything too tolerant of religious testimony?

That doesn't seem to be where Jantzen wants to go with it....


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