Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Formidable Challenge to the "In Principle" Construal of Hume's Argument Against Rational (Testimony-Based) Belief in Miracles

...and one that, as John Earman has noted, has been around a long time:

“The slightly longer Part II of Earman’s book contains extracts from writings of the century and a half surrounding Hume’s Enquiry which show the context and subsequent development of the debate….They end with Babbage’s brilliant (though not fully clear) demonstration that it is always possible to assign a number of independent witnesses, the improbability of the falsehood of whose concurring testimonies shall be greater than that of the improbability of the miracle itself’. From this general result Babbage shows that if m persons have died without being resurrected and we use Laplace’s rule that in that case the probability that (m+1)th person to die will not be resurrected is m+1/m+2, even if m=1,000,000,000,000, the combined testimony that the (m+1)th person was resurrected of eleven independent witnesses who tell the truth 99 out of 100 occasions, will suffice to make that resurrection overall probable. Such is the improbability of independent coincident false testimony.”

-Richard Swinburne, “Review of John Earman’s Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles" (Mind XXXX, pp. XX-XX).


AIGBusted said...

I'd say that of course miracles could be shown probable, given massive amounts of evidence.

However, the "straight rule of induction" is hopelessly fallacious.

exapologist said...

Hi AIGBusted,

I agree. One of my main reasons for this post is that I always cringe when I hear non-theists say the contrary.

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