Best Explanation Apologetics

By Kenneth R. Samples

What is the best way to show that the historic Christian faith and worldview are true? Christian apologists through the centuries have taken different approaches, but a powerful method gaining acceptance among Christian thinkers today is called best explanation or cumulative case apologetics.1

Most people recognize two basic forms of logical argumentation: deductive and inductive reasoning. But logicians sometimes speak of a lesser-known way of thinking called abductive reasoning. This third form of reasoning attempts to arrive at the best explanation for an event or series of facts. Unlike deduction, abduction provides something less than total certainty in its conclusion. Similar to induction, it yields only probable truth, and yet it doesn’t attempt to predict specific future, probable occurrences the way inductive reasoning does. Rather, it seeks to provide the most plausible broad, explanatory hypothesis.

Who Uses Abductive Reasoning?

Diagnosticians: moving from facts or data or events to a coherent, plausible explanation.

Detectives: evidence theory
Historians: facts explanations
Scientists: data hypothesis
Physicians: symptoms diagnosis
Mechanics: problem solution

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Abductive reasoning can be helpful in efforts to determine which argument for a given event is best. For example, one may use an abductive approach to decide which explanation best settles the controversy surrounding these two provocative apologetics issues:

1. What is the best explanation for Jesus Christ’s true identity? Was He man, myth, madman, menace, mystic, Martian, or messiah?

2. What is the best explanation for complex life on planet Earth? Was it more likely the result of divine creation or naturalistic evolution?

Criteria of Judgment

While logicians have formally set forth no hard and fast testing rules, they generally accept that the best explanatory hypothesis meets the following six criteria…

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