As a detective, I have an interesting job. I have to enter the crime scene and assess the evidence in front of me: is this a natural death or a homicide? If it's a homicide, which suspect best explains the evidence at the scene? While there may be a number of potential suspects that account for some or most of the evidence we see, one suspect will usually emerge as the "best" in that he or she most completely (and most reasonably) explains the evidence. This suspect simply makes the most sense of what I am seeing. I then "infer", from the fact that this suspect provides the best explanation (given the evidence) that the suspect is, in fact, the true killer. This process of "inferring to the best explanation" is sometimes called "abduction". I understand the importance of examining a number of potential solutions (suspects) and carefully assessing which of these solutions best explains the evidence. When I utilize the process of abduction, I end up with an explanation that is simple and coherent and adequately explains the evidence in question. Is it "possible" that I might have the wrong suspect? Sure, especially if I grant that anything and everything is possible. But is it "reasonable" to believe that someone else committed this crime when my final suspect accounts for all the evidence at the crime scene? No. And that's the beauty of utilizing abduction in this manner. I arrive at a place of "evidential sufficiency" and I'm able to make sense of what I am seeing. (MP3 Audio | RSS | iTunes)
Detectives aren't the only people who employ abductive reasoning to make sense of their environment. All of us want to make sense of our world. As a result, each of us holds a view of the world (something we refer to as "worldview") that attempts to explain the situation we find ourselves in. That's fair; all of us observe the world around us and begin to think about potential explanations for what we are seeing. We then find ourselves offering the most reasonable explanation that would, if true, explain the evidence we have in front of us. We are "inferring to the best explanation"; employing the process of "abduction".
The longer we live, the more we recognize life's "big questions". These questions beg to be answered and have motivated theologians, philosophers and scientists to explore and investigate their world. Every one of us develops a particular worldview in order to explain the reality of our lives and answer life’s most important questions. Along the way we make a decision between two potential realities: a world in which only natural forces are at work (an atheistic worldview known as Philosophical Naturalism) or a world in which supernatural forces are at work in addition to natural forces (as represented by Theistic Worldviews). Given these two possibilities, "abductive reasoning" can help us to decide which view best explains the reality in which we live. I hold a theistic worldview because I believe it best explains the world around me, and it does so in a way that simply cannot be equaled by the philosophical naturalism inherent to atheism. In the ten most intriguing and important questions that can be asked by humans, Christian theism continues to offer the best explanation, especially when compared to philosophical naturalism:
- How Did the Universe Come Into Being?
- Why Does There Appear to Be Design (Fine Tuning) in the Universe?
- How Did Life Originate?
- Why Does There Appear to Be Evidence of Intelligence in Biology?
- How Did Human Consciousness Come Into Being?
- Where Does Free Will Come From?
- Why Are Humans So Contradictory in Nature?
- Why Do Transcendent Moral Truths Exist?
- Why Do We Believe Human Life to be Precious?
- Why Does Pain, Evil and Injustice Exist in Our World?
Finally, it's important for us to recognize that no solution will explain the evidence completely (without leaving some limited number of unanswered questions). I've never worked a homicide case, nor presented a case in front of a jury, that didn't have some unanswered question. But this cannot prevent us from moving toward a decision, and it has never prevented a jury from coming to a verdict. We've got to understand that "certainty" can reasonably emerge from what I call "evidential sufficiency". At some point, the evidence is sufficient to cause us to believe that our hypothesis is the true explanation for the evidence under consideration. We cannot expect that every question will be answered, but the hypothesis that explains the evidence the most powerfully, the most exhaustively and the most consistently must sufficiently satisfy our need for certainty. This is the case with the Christian Worldview in light of the ten big pieces of evidence "in the room". The Christian Worldview is the best explanation.