The quest for confirmation : inference to best explanation in science and theology
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Whether politics or religion, murder mysteries or household havoc, life is replete with riddles. There are always differing interpretations, competing theories that are vying to explain the data of our world. But this raises important questions. What is the relation between theory and data? How do we know which theory is better? Even if there are good replies to these queries, do they apply universally? This thesis seeks to answer these questions. It first examines John Polkinghorne’s view that science and religion are cousinly endeavors. Both are truth-seeking enterprises using the same basic means to find and confirm theories. Polkinghorne identifies this means as the inference to best explanation (IBE). This provides a set of answers to the three questions posed above, (1) theories gain support from data by explaining them, (2) the best theory is the one that best explains, and (3) this holds true universally. It is this thesis that is examined, tested, and applied here. In particular it seeks to create and defend a way of analyzing confirmation arguments that is suitable for application to Biblical studies and theology. To do this, it directly examines theories of confirmation (chapter 2), ultimately affirming IBE. But each part of IBE raises questions. What kind of inference? What is best? What is explanation? Chapters 3-5 deals with these issues and creates a foundation for application. Chapter 6 shows how IBE is used in both everyday life and science moving on to defend its use in textual interpretation. Chapter 7 discusses IBE in Biblical studies and shows how it can help analyze arguments using the debate about belief in John 20:8 as a case study. In chapter 8, the role of paradigms is examined and a method of cross-paradigm evaluation explicated. However, this creates concerns about its compatibility with Christian theology, particularly the knowledge of God. Chapter 9 sketches a short response, concluding that some form of explanationism is consonant with orthodox Christianity and the Biblical witness.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2027-02-02
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Restricted until 2nd February 2027
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