How to Evaluate the Best Explanation

Philosopher C. Behan McCullagh provides the following approach to evaluate and compare multiple competing explanations that try to account for a given set of facts. This method will turn out to be crucial in evaluating what explanation accounts best for the minimal historical facts pertaining Jesus’ resurrection.

At page 19 of the book “Justifying Historical Descriptions” McCullagh reports these six tests to evaluate the superiority of a theory over another.

1) the theory has a great explanatory scope. The explanatory scope refers to who much facts you are able to explain

2) the theory has a great explanatory power. The explanatory power refers to who well you are to explain a fact. That means how much a theory makes that fact probable.

3) the theory is plausible. Plausibility refers to how well a theory is coherent and fits with background data and evidence.

4) the theory is not ad hoc or contrived. The lack of “adhocness” refers to how well a theory is able to account for data without postulating new beliefs which require an independent set of evidence. Usually, ad hoc explanations are highly speculative.

5) the theory is in accord with accepted beliefs. This means it will be disconfirmed by fewer things we hold to be true.

6) the theory outstrips any of its rival theories in meeting conditions one through five

Lots of the above wording may resemble, for the sake of precision, very closely the wording of William Lane Craig as found in his book “Reasonable Faith” chapter 8. In particular, the titles of these tests are borrowed from Craig’s defense of the resurrection in his opening statement of his debate against Gerd Luddeman which took place on September 18, 1998.

Amedeo Da Pra

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