Skip to main content

Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Jake Chandler (University of Leuven) and Victoria S. Harrison (University of Glasgow) have co-edited what looks to be an excellent new book: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion (OUP, forthcoming).

Here's the blurb:

*A fresh approach to philosophy of religion
*Covers a range of key topics in the field
*Brings together prominent philosophers of science, epistemologists, and philosophers of religion

Probability theory promises promising to deliver an exact and unified foundation for inquiry in epistemology and philosophy of science. But philosophy of religion is also fertile ground for the application of probabilistic thinking. This volume presents original contributions from twelve contemporary researchers, both established and emerging, to offer a representative sample of the work currently being carried out in this potentially rich field of inquiry. Grouped into five parts, the chapters span a broad range of traditional issues in religious epistemology. The first three parts discuss the evidential impact of various considerations that have been brought to bear on the question of the existence of God. These include witness reports of the occurrence of miraculous events, the existence of complex biological adaptations, the apparent 'fine-tuning' for life of various physical constants and the existence of seemingly unnecessary evil. The fourth part addresses a number of issues raised by Pascal's famous pragmatic argument for theistic belief. A final part offers probabilistic perspectives on the rationality of faith and the epistemic significance of religious disagreement.


And here's the table of contents:

1: Jake Chandler and Victoria S. Harrison: Probability in the Philosophy of Religion
Part I: Testimony and Miracles
2: Benjamin C. Jantzen: Peirce on Miracles: The Failure of Bayesian Analysis
3: Tim McGrew and Lydia McGrew: The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous'
4: Luc Bovens: Does it Matter whether a Miracle-Like Event Happens to Oneself rather than to Someone Else?
Part II: Design
5: David H. Glass: Can Evidence for Design be Explained Away?
6: Richard Swinburne: Bayes, God, and the Multiverse
Part III: Evil
7: Richard Otte: Comparative Confirmation and the Problem of Evil'
8: Michael Tooley: Inductive Logic and the Probability that God Exists: Farewell to Sceptical Theism
Part IV: Pascal's Wager
9: Alan Hájek: Blaise and Bayes
10: Paul Bartha: Many Gods, Many Wagers: Pascal's Wager Meets the Replicator Dynamics
Part V: Faith and Disagreement
11: Joshua C. Thurow: Does Religious Disagreement Actually Aid the Case for Theism?
12: Lara Buchak: Can it be it Rational to Have Faith?

Comments

Saul Wilde said…
Thanks for the tip, EA, it does look like an excellent book. I'm especially interested in Jantzen's article. I hope it will respond to the McGrew's recent Bayesian defense of the Resurrection. I don't have access to all the scholarly journals, but from what I can tell, no one has attempted to critique their article printed in the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. If I'm wrong, perhaps you can point me in the right direction?

While I'm on the subject (and if this is the wrong place to ask this, I apologize), have you read that article? It's also available online at Lydia McGrew's website. I ask because, like you, I thought (and am now rethinking) that Jesus-as-failed-prophet is a good defeater for the Resurrection. But the McGrews' calculate a likelihood ratio for the Resurrection that can overcome a very, very low prior probability--something like 10 to the -44th power! I don't think Jesus' failed expectations cut down the probability of the Resurrection that much, even given the Old Testament test for a false prophet in Deuteronomy 18. There are theologians that accept Jesus was mistaken about the timing of the eschaton but still hold a high Christology. Maybe that theology is improbable, but is it *that* improbable?

Of course, the McGrew's calculations may be way off, but with a Bayes factor that high, they have room for error. As far as I can tell, their conclusions are drawn from mainstream New Testament scholarship (they use the "minimal facts" accpeted by the majority of NT scholars, Christian or otherwise). It's an impressive argument. I'm reminded of what Chesterton wrote somewhere: "It almost makes my want to become a Christian!" Though I haven't gotten the sackcloth and ashes out yet.

Thoughts? I hope I have not rambled on too long. Keep up the excellent blogging.
exapologist said…
Hi Saul,

Thanks for your kind words.

About the paper by the McGrews: I have indeed read it, and have called attention to it before it was print on this blog. As I said there, I think it's the best case for the resurrection of Jesus in print.

Having said that, I'm still of the same mind about the apocalyptic prophet hypothesis functioning as an undercutting defeater for the argument.

Re: overcoming the false prediction issue: It's important to emphasize that the Bible itself warns its readers that one should discount evidence of divine miracles if the one claiming divine authority is out of step with divine authority in terms of character or teaching. Thus, in addition to the passages about false prophets you alluded to, there are also the words of Paul about false and lying wonders. If Paul is to believed, we should discount putative divine miracles if the character and teaching of the miracle-worker is out of step with God -- even if the evidence for them is excellent.

Relatedly, it's important to emphasize, as I did in my old post on the apocalyptic Jesus hypothesis, that the claim isn't merely that Jesus said some things that could be interpreted as a claim to an imminent apocalypse. Rather, the claim is that Jesus was fundamentally an apocalyptic prophet -- the heralding of an imminent eschaton was his fundamental message. Furthermore, on my view (which is the mainstream, middle of the road view), he did not claim to be God or the messiah. Nor did he claim that he would be raised from the dead.
Saul Wilde said…
Thanks for the response. Good point about Jesus being a gung-ho apocalypticist and not someone who just happened to be mistaken. And good point about the Bible warning not to trust a false prophet despite signs and wonders. Maybe it's more rational to follow the Pharisees and claim Jesus was in league with Beelzebub than believe he was the Messiah.

So, as far as you know, no one has published a response to the McGrews yet?
Andyman409 said…
Here is an online response to the article- although I'm not really sure how good it is.

http://commonplacesandcomments.blogspot.com/2011/07/resurrection-round-up.html

I agree with Ex-Apologist, although I think there is some evidence of Jesus predicting his own death and vindication (although is a quasi apologetic way). This small detail greatly increases the odds of Hallucinations, as most specialists will claim that a certain level of anticipation is needed for hallucinations to occur.
Saul Wilde said…
Thanks, Andyman409, looks interesting.

I agree that Jesus predicting his own resurrection would help explain the origin of the disciples' belief. It's ironic that the apologists insist Jesus predicted his resurrection yet the disciples didn't anticipate it.

But the claim about hallucinations needing anticipation is bogus. The bereaved often have visions of their recently deceased loved ones. It's a fascinating and well-documented phenomenon. Dale Allison show this in his book Resurrecting Jesus. Why the disciples interpreted their visions as a resurrection, instead of a ghost or something, is still a puzzle though. Jesus predicting his resurrection would be a good explanation for this.
exapologist said…
For what it's worth, my own view on the origin of belief in Jesus' resurrection can be found here.

Dale Allison provides a compelling case that much of the attributions to Jesus of predicting his own resurrection go back to a reworking of Jesus' failed prediction of the rebuilding of the temple in his generation. On this, see his book Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet. As he points out there, a prediction of a restored temple is yet more confirming evidence that he held to a restoration eschatology, and was an apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.
Andyman409 said…
When I said "Quasi apologetic" I meant "quasi apocalyptic". Perhaps your right about that... I am planning on doing a few posts on the topic of hallucinations on my blog- so I'll recheck that one.

BTW I was actually refrencing Dale Allison's "Resurrecting Jesus" when I made that comment!
It is amazing to me that this anthology will not contain a single essay by Paul Draper, considering how extensively he uses probability arguments in his writings.

Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…

Notes on Swinburne, "On Why God Allows Evil"

Notes on Swinburne’s “Why God Allows Evil”

1. The kinds of goods a theistic god would provide: deeper goods than just “thrills of pleasure and times of contentment” (p. 90). For example:
1.1 Significant freedom and responsibility
1.1.1 for ourselves
1.1.2 for others
1.1.3 for the world in which they live
1.2 Valuable lives
1.2.1 being of significant use to ourselves
1.2.2 being of significant use to each other

2. Kinds of evil
2.1 Moral evil: all the evil caused or permitted by human beings, whether intentionally or through negligence (e.g., murder, theft, etc.)
2.2 Natural evil: all the rest: evil not caused or permitted by human beings (e.g., suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.)

3. The gist of Swinburne’s answer to the problem of evil: God cannot – logically cannot -- give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of moral and natural evil. This is why he has al…