Skip to main content

A confusing book

Image result for standing roulette wheel clip art

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....

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

https://sites.google.com/site/francescoorsi1/

https://jhaponline.org/jhap/article/view/3

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …