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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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The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous

The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous

(p.46) 3 The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous
Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Timothy McGrew

Lydia McGrew

Oxford University Press

The formal representation of the strength of witness testimony has been historically tied to a formula — proposed by Condorcet — that uses a factor representing the reliability of an individual witness. This approach encourages a false dilemma between hyper-scepticism about testimony, especially to extraordinary events such as miracles, and an overly sanguine estimate of reliability based on insufficiently detailed evidence. Because Condorcet’s formula does not have the resources for representing numerous epistemically relevant details in the unique situation in which testimony is given, many late 19th century thinkers like Venn turned away from the probabilistic analysis of testimony altogether. But a more nuanced approach using Bayes factors provides a better, more flexible, formalism for representing the evidential force of testimony.

Keywords:   Bayes factors, testimony, witnesses, reliability, miracles, Venn, Condorcet

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