Keith Parsons responds to the Spelling Bee incident:
Am I skeptical of Victor's report? No. Why should I be? People frequently think that they have had clairvoyant episodes, premonitory dreams, ESP, etc., so there is no reason whatsoever that I should doubt such a report. It is not at all outside of the "ordinary course of nature." On the contrary, people have such experiences all the time. How did he (the violin teacher) know what had happened? Well, of course, he did not know. People get hunches, feelings, and intuitions all the time. Some, by chance, are going to be close to something that actually happens. Confirmation bias then steps in to make sure that we remember those that seemed to correspond to what happened and forget all of those that did not.
I have trouble seeing why people are so sure that he didn't know, even if they are naturalists. Does he really know that this is naturalistically impossible? It might be less likely given naturalism than given supernaturalism, and thus the evidence might probabilistically support supernaturalism via Bayes' theorem. (OK, OK, people accuse me of abusing Bayesian probability theory on a daily basis, so I'm already bracing myself). But the most we can say, I think, if my teacher knew that my rival had gone down and been upset, this might be difficult to explain naturalistically based on what we know about nature at this point. Why do we have to assume it was a guess that turned into an appearance of knowledge because of confirmation bias.
A few more details about the incident are relevant here. First, he said he had this "perception" just at the time when the rival went down. Second, my violin teacher never reported anything like this in the three years when he was my teacher. It's not as if he brought up a bunch of them, and this one just happened to fit. He did mention other clairvoyant incidents, but didn't claim to have a whole lot of them. Third, although spellers, like all competitors, experience the agony of defeat, nobody ever was quite as demonstrative as this guy. So I'm just not sure you can chalk it all up to guesswork and confirmation bias. In fact, in the absence of some good reasons to believe that he couldn't have known something that was going on a couple of miles away in that school auditorium, I think the reasonable thing to say would be that he did know.
Of course, Victor raises these queries because of their seeming relevance to miracle reports. Didn't Hume say that we should be skeptical of reports of events outside of the "ordinary course of nature?" Well, it depends on what we mean by the "ordinary course of nature." The largest largemouth bass ever caught was a lunker of 23 pounds landed by a Georgia angler circa 1924. Now this is pretty astonishing since a largemouth bass of ten pounds is a whopper. My Dad was a lifelong bass fisherman and he never caught one over eight pounds. Suppose, though that in tomorrow's paper I read that a largemouth bass weighing 24 pounds had been caught. Would I be skeptical? Maybe slightly, but I would probably tentatively accept the story. What if the report said that a largemouth bass of 50 pounds had been caught? I would most definitely be skeptical and would strongly suspect a hoax. What if the report said that an enormous, glowing bass had levitated out of the water and pronounced maledictions on all fisherman? Obviously, no newspaper--with the exception of the (now sadly defunct) Weekly World News would every publish such a story.
But, of course, we have to consider the not only the probability of the event given naturalism, but we must also consider the laws of supernature. How probable is the event given supernatural involvement. Is it the sort of thing God is likely to do, or not, if we suspect God? Of course, Keith and I disagree as to whether it is possible to consider the laws of supernature, but people who have beliefs about supernature have probabilistic expectations concerning what to expect from supernature. If you say that's not enough for a law, well guess what. In quantum mechanics all you get are probabilities also. Are we worried that God isn't observable? Well, science commits to unobservables all the time.
In considering miracles claims like the Resurrection, we can formulate a theory about what kinds of miracles God is likely to perform, and why he would perform them. Given this theory, we can ask whether the historical evidence is more likely to be the sort thing we should expect if the theistic theory is true, or whether it is more like the sort of thing we should expect if the theistic theory is false. There is a very large trail of historical evidence to look at.
Of course, you can end up deciding that yes, the historical evidence confirms the theistic story, but the atheistic account is more probable based on the total evidence, or relative to your priors.
Have the laws of nature been established by a firm and unalterable experience, as Hume suggests? I don't think so. My experience is far from establishing the laws of nature on a firm and unalterable basis. What about yours?