Here is some handy linkage on coincidences. Thanks to a coincidence. I was reading the The #Skeptic’s Daily News and in it, by coincidence, were two separate papers on the subject of coincidence. Though only one was labeled such; the other, just happened by coincidence to be about the same thing.
I have written on coincidences before. How they mess with the heads of some epistemologists when they try to make sense of Gettier Problems (where coincidence can coincidentally cause you to believe a true statement for what is only technically a justifiable reason). And they have an epistemological and methodological role in Bayesian reasoning—for example, because effects “by coincidence” are less probable than “effects that are predictably caused,” and a lot of attempts to deny causation rely on pretending coincidences are more likely. So you have to be able to know when that’s not true.
Although, sometimes, coincidences are just as likely as causation, or near enough as to make no visible difference in our math, or even more likely the case. And thus we can’t rule them out. But sometimes we actually can. So you have to know when is which. Like when we look for evidence of meaningful literary emulation in ancient texts (Proving History, pp. 192-204). Or when some hucksters tried to claim we found the tomb of Jesus. Or when we look for evidence that the Jewish scholar Philo understood a character named Jesus in Zechariah 6 to be the same archangel Paul thinks his Jesus is, by noting that the alternative explanation requires so many coincidences to have occurred as to be extraordinarily improbable (On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 200-05), including the fact that Paul and Philo assign all the same unusual attributes to the same figure, and the fact that Philo said he made the connection because the archangel in question was already known to him as the Son of God and the High Priest, and the only person in the Zechariah passage he quotes who is identified as the Son of God and the High Priest, is Jesus. Or how coincidence actually better explains the conversion of the Apostle Paul than the Christian thesis that he “really saw Jesus.”
Coincidences are also an important hypothesis to test and understand when criticizing pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, paranormalism, “miracle claims,” and all sorts of things of interest to atheists and skeptics.
So the two papers that have come up lately will interest you, if you are interested in any of those things! [Read more…]