Is Timothy McGrew An Expert When it Comes to Miracles?

Christian apologist Tom Gilson said: "Timothy McGrew is an international expert on epistemology and miracles. If Loftus has come up with a better defense than Tim has already encountered, that would be a miracle all its own."

John Loftus: If Timothy McGrew is considered an international expert on miracles and concluded a virgin named Mary gave birth to the second person of the Trinity, then he's not really an expert. He's certainly not a historian using the standards of the historical method, which is the kind of expert we should turn to for miracle claims in the past, not philosophers. Let's see him respond to this link to show that he's an expert. Can he respond or not? If not, then what atheist Michael Levine says is dead on.

Despite the condescending attitude of Jonathan McLatchie and the McGrews, I think they stand to learn from me. If you know anything about me you know I'm well-read. So I'm telling you there are plenty of critical things said in my book on miracles that I don't think they have considered before. See one of them below.

I wrote about religious experts in four important posts: 1) The Authoritarian Path to Faith; 2) How Can We Decide Between Experts? 3) Five Things That Disqualify People From Being Experts in Religious Matters; and 4) People Who Shouldn't Be Trusted As Experts in Religious Matters (which I just may add McGrew to this list). In other words, an expert is not an expert if he defends something that is palpably false. An expert is not an expert who obfuscates the facts with definitions that don't clarify, and does so with an unabashed sophisticated special pleading.

Let's just take one example from a paragraph Timothy McGrew wrote in his article for the Stanford Encyclopedia Philosophy on Miracles to see if he's either an expert, or an evangelist:
4.2 How much would credible miracle reports establish?

In the final analysis, the relevance of background beliefs looms large. To say this is not to endorse a lazy and unprincipled relativism; rather, the point is that one's considered rational judgment regarding the existence and nature of God must take into account far more than the evidence for miracle claims. That is not to say that they could not be an important or even, under certain circumstances, a decisive piece of evidence; it is simply that neither a positive nor a negative claim regarding the existence of God can be established on the basis of evidence for a miracle claim alone, without any consideration of other aspects of the question.

For the evidence for a miracle claim, being public and empirical, is never strictly demonstrative, either as to the fact of the event or as to the supernatural cause of the event. It remains possible, though the facts in the case may in principle render it wildly improbable, that the testifier is either a deceiver or himself deceived; and so long as those possibilities exist, there will be logical space for other forms of evidence to bear on the conclusion. Arguments about miracles therefore take their place as one piece—a fascinating piece—in a larger and more important puzzle. LINK.
David Hume's supposed lack in his famous miracles chapter, is that Hume failed to take into consideration modern probability theory, specifically Bayes’ Theorem with regard to background information, or background knowledge in assessing miracle claims. This is one of John Earman's criticisms. McGrew mentions this at the end of his article without offering a good counter-response as an expert would usually do, something which he can find in chapter 3 of The Case against Miracles.

I have space for publishing just one of my responses, the third one:
My third response to Earman’s objection has to do with the whole notion of background information, background knowledge, and plausibility frameworks. Since they refuse to discuss the honest question of whether Jesus came back from the dead separately from their god, Craig and Moreland claim the hypothesis, “God raised Jesus from the dead” can be “highly probable relative to our background information.” By this, they mean the sum total of everything they were raised to believe inside their religious cultures. This cultural background information provides them with the justification for sidestepping the E[xtraordinary] C[laims] R[equire] E[xtraordinary] E[vidence] principle requiring objective corroborative evidence to confirm human testimonies to miracles, by trusting the ancient mariner’s tales. At this point they’re already assuming their Christian god exists and is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, for if the hypothesis was that “Allah raised Jesus from the dead,” we already know the answer—of course not! Nor would it be the Hindu god, any of the pantheistic gods and/or goddesses, a deistic god, or even the Jewish god, since overwhelming numbers of Jews don’t believe in the Christian god.

Indeed, it’s true that our general background information about how the world works plays a part in assessing whether a miracle has occurred. For when we talk about the probability of some event or hypothesis A, that probability is always relative to a body of background information B. So, we cannot merely speak of the probability of A without taking into consideration that background information, B, all of it. Got it! No one can evaluate miracle claims without using previously acquired background knowledge. But what shouldn’t count as background information are unevidenced indoctrinated beliefs we inherited from parents, who in turn blindly accepted what they were told. Only background knowledge should count. Previously acquired knowledge of how the world works is based on sufficient objective evidence commensurate with the type of information being sought. Otherwise, culturally inherited indoctrinated background information can and will lead people to believe in delusions against any and all objective evidence to the contrary.

If Christians object then they should stop playing the hypocrite by allowing Muslims or Orthodox Jews, or Hindu’s, or Satanists to use their own specific background information to determine whether Jesus was raised from the dead. I’ve argued extensively for The Outsider Test for Faith to help establish a standard for how we should think of the other guy’s miracles. It’s a non-double standard based on the golden rule: to treat your own miracle claims the same way you treat others from the perspective of an outsider, a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject. Treat your own indoctrinated faith just as you treat the religions you reject. It’s the only way to know which religion is true, if there is one. It’s the only way to help eliminate a whole host of cognitive biases that keep believers inside their delusions. So when it comes to background beliefs, background information, or plausibility frameworks, the only ones that count are based on objective evidence which we would properly call background knowledge. Plenty of people have misinformed background beliefs that need to be subjected to the same objective standards as the outsider test for faith. [Pages 107-108].
Either McGrew didn't know of this counter-response, or he's an evangelist with an agenda unbecoming of what we would consider an expert, or authority.

This isn't all I said. In my chapter 6 I show the abject failure of Christian apologetics and how that many apologists don't even agree with the claim that arguments for God's existence succeed. Richard Swinburne doesn't think ontological arguments or moral arguments have any force. Neither Alvin Plantinga nor John Feinberg think god arguments can convince outsiders, and if so, apologetics itself is doomed [No wonder Christian apologists don't like the outsider test for faith, which is the only reasonable standard for judging religious faiths]. Most apologists reject evidentialism, which all by itself is very telling! What then becomes of any background knowledge when apologists themselves rightly disagree on these crucial defenses of faith? I'll tell you. It disappears. But you probably wouldn't know this from what Timothy (or Lydia) McGrew has written.


One way to say it succinctly is that if we were having a discussion about the resurrection of Jesus and Timothy McGrew was walking by, I would not stop him to ask what he thinks, because I don't think he would say anything helpful. Does this clarify anything for my readers?

Now in fairness to Timothy McGrew he says he doesn't consider me to be "a serious contributor to the discussion" even though he admittedly has not read my new anthology on miracles, and even though I have almost the equivalent education as does the former president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. Tom Gilson first claimed McGrew was an "international expert" so I responded. I actually think we shouldn't bicker over who the expert is, but stick to the arguments and counter arguments. In the end I don't expect to be taken seriously by McGrew. He is fodder. He cannot be helped.