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Probability in the Philosophy of Religion$
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Jake Chandler and Victoria S. Harrison

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199604760

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199604760.001.0001

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Peirce on Miracles:

Peirce on Miracles:

The Failure of Bayesian Analysis

(p.27) 2 Peirce on Miracles:
Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Benjamin C. Jantzen

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents a Peircean critique of the Bayesian approach to historical inference. In particular, it examines a suite of arguments from C. S. Peirce against the use of Bayesian methods to ascribe a probability to the occurrence of a miracle on the basis of historical witness testimony. An exegetical account is given of the ‘Method of Balancing Likelihoods’, the Bayesian position which Peirce presents as a charitable reconstruction of Hume’s argument against miracles. Peirce’s criticisms of this method are examined, and most are found to depend crucially on his account of probability. It is argued, however, that the most effective criticism is independent of any particular account of probability and so presents a challenge to modern Bayesian epistemology. This latter criticism points to a sampling bias that necessarily accompanies the use of historical testimony.

Keywords:   Peirce, Hume, miracles, Bayesian, likelihood, testimony

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