What Qualifies as the Best Explanation?

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Think Apologetics. Tabernacle of David considers this resource trustworthy and Biblically sound.


Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians by [Foreman, Mark W.]

If you like philosophy, Mark Foreman’s  Philosophy, An Introduction for Christians is a good introductory on the topic. Foreman says the following:

“Logic is about evaluating arguments. Deductive arguments are evaluated as either valid or invalid. Inductive arguments are either strong or weak. If the conclusion follows from the premises, then it is either valid (if deductive) or strong (if inductive). Our first argument above is a valid deductive argument and the second is not. When it comes to the propositions within the argument we evaluate them according to their truth value: whether they are true or false.

Rarely does anyone argument answer every problem. It is important to remember that few controversial issues have perfect solutions with no problems. Almost every solution has some problems. The goal is not to find the perfect solution but to arrive at one you can live with, to discover which view offers the best explanation with the least number of problems. For example, I believe Christian theism explains certain facts in the world better than naturalism, such as the existence and design in the universe as well as consciousness and the presence of absolute moral obligations. However, I also recognize that there are aspects of Christian theism that are problematic and difficult to explain, such as why God allows specific evils to occur in the world or why he often appears as silent.3 Despite these problems, I believe that naturalism is much more problematic than theism. Theism offers a better overall explanation than naturalism in explaining a number of aspects of the world we live in.

What does it mean to offer a best explanation? First, the best explanation will have the largest explanatory scope.

Explanatory scope considers the quantity of facts accounted for by an explanation. The more facts accounted for, the more likely an explanation is correct. Second, the best explanation will have superior explanatory power. The explanation that can be understood with the least amount of effort, vagueness and ambiguity has the best explanatory power. You should not have to force facts to make them fit with the explanation.

A third aspect of the best explanation is plausibility. This has to do with the explanation fitting with our background knowledge. The explanation that is more plausible given the background knowledge we already have is better than the one that seems implausible in accordance with background knowledge. A fourth condition is that the best explanation is minimally ad hoc. Ad hoc means an explanation that is created for the situation at hand. It is usually an explanation that would not generally apply,  but is necessary for this particular situation. It often employs the use of creativity and imagination to arrive at an explanation beyond what the evidence tells us. Generally, ad hoc evidence is not looked on…

Sometimes the best explanation not only will explain the particular question under consideration but also will address a host of related questions and issues. For example, the resurrection of Jesus does not just best explain the facts of reports of his appearances and the empty tomb, but also it supports his claims to deity and the other claims of the miraculous in his life. ” – Mark Foreman’s  Philosophy, An Introduction for Christians, Pgs, 177- 178.

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