pp 1–28 | Cite as

Undesigned Coincidences and Coherence for an Hypothesis

  • Lydia McGrew
Original Research


Testimonial evidence that is particularly helpful to confirmation combines agreement on some content with variation of detail. I examine the phenomenon of “undesigned coincidences” from a probabilistic point of view to explain how varied reports, including those that dovetail in detail, assist confirmation of an hypothesis. The formal analysis uses recent work in probability theory surrounding the concepts of dependence, independence, and varied evidence. I also discuss the connection between these types of report connections and an hypothesis about the reliability of the sources involved.


  1. Blunt, J. J. (1851). Undesigned coincidences in the writings both of the Old and New Testament. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers.Google Scholar
  2. Bovens, L., & Hartmann, S. (2003). Bayesian epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Carnap, R. (1945). On inductive logic. Philosophy of Science, 12, 72–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Challenging the Credibility of Evidence in Criminal Trials. (2010). Criminal law and justice weekly. Retrieved 24 August, 2017 from
  5. Claveau, F., & Grenier, O. (2017). The variety-of-evidence thesis: a Bayesian analysis of its surprising failures. Synthese. Scholar
  6. Earman, J. (2000). Hume’s abject failure: The argument against miracles. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fitelson, B. (1998). The plurality of Bayesian measures of confirmation and the problem of measure sensitivity. In: Philosophy of science 66, Supplement, “Proceedings of the 1998 Biennial Meetings of the Philosophy of Science Association,” Part I, (pp. S362–S378).Google Scholar
  8. Fitelson, B. (2001a). A Bayesian account of independent evidence with applications. In: Philosophy of science, 68(3), Supplement: Proceedings of the 2000 biennial meeting of the philosophy of science association, (pp. S123–S140).Google Scholar
  9. Fitelson, B. (2001b). Studies in Bayesian confirmation theory. In: PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI.Google Scholar
  10. Holder, R. D. (1998). Hume on miracles: Bayesian interpretation, multiple testimony, and the existence of God. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 49, 49–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Horwich, P. (1982). Probability and evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Howson, C., & Urbach, P. (1993). Scientific reasoning: The Bayesian approach. La Salle, IL: Open Court.Google Scholar
  13. Huemer, M. (2007). Weak Bayesian coherentism. Synthese, 157, 337–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Licona, M. (2016). Licona responds to Ehrman on New Testament reliability. Retrieved 13 January, 2018 from
  15. McGrew, T. (2003). Confirmation, heuristics, and explanatory reasoning. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 54, 553–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McGrew, L. (2016a). Evidential diversity and the negation of H: A probabilistic account of the value of varied evidence. Ergo, 3, 10.Google Scholar
  17. McGrew, L. (2016b). Bayes factors all the way: Toward a new view of coherence and truth. Theoria, 82, 329–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. McGrew, L. (2017). Accounting for dependence: Relative consilience as a correction factor in cumulative case arguments. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 95(3), 560–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McGrew, L., & McGrew, T. (2009). The argument from miracles: A cumulative case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In W. L. Craig & J. P. Moreland (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to natural theology (pp. 593–662). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Myrvold, W. (1996). Bayesianism and diverse evidence. Philosophy of Science, 63, 661–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Myrvold, W. (2003). A Bayesian account of the virtue of unification. Philosophy of Science, 70, 399–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Olsson, E. (2005). Against coherence. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Olsson, E. (2013). Coherentist theories of epistemic justification. In: E. N. Zalta (Ed.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Springer, New York. Retrieved 24 August, 2017 from
  24. Olsson, E., & Schubert, Stefan. (2007). Reliability conducive measures of confirmation. Synthese, 157, 297–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Paley, W. (1850). Horae Paulinae, or the truth of the scripture history of St. Paul evinced by a comparison of the epistles which bear his name with the Acts of the Apostles and with one another. In: T. R. Birks. London: The Religious Tract Society.Google Scholar
  26. Paley, W. (1859). A view of the evidences of Christianity: In three parts. In: R. Whately (Ed.) Murfreesboro, TN: Dehoff Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Schubert, S. (2012). Is coherence conducive to reliability? Synthese, 187, 607–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Shogenji, T. (2013). Coherence of the contents and the transmission of probabilistic support. Synthese, 190, 2525–2545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sober, E. (1989). Independent evidence about a common cause. Philosophy of Science, 56, 275–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Thagard, P. (1978). The best explanation: criteria for theory choice. The Journal of Philosophy, 75, 76–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wallace, J. W. (2013). Cold-case Christianity: A homicide detective investigates the claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.Google Scholar
  32. Wheeler, G. (2009). Focused correlation and confirmation. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 60, 79–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wheeler, G. (2012). Explaining the limits of Olsson’s impossibility result. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 50, 136–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wheeler, G., & Schlosshauer, M. (2011). Focused correlation, confirmation, and the jigsaw puzzle of variable evidence. Philosophy of Science, 78, 376–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KalamazooUSA

Personalised recommendations