The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous

Timothy McGrew and Lydia McGrew

in Probability in the Philosophy of Religion

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199604760
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741548 | DOI:
The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous

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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

Chapter.  9386 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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