Thursday, October 04, 2012

McGrath on Inference to the Best Explanation

Our backyard

For any Christian theist who is interested in the relationship (if any) between science and religion Alister McGrath's Science and Religion: A New Introduction is essential reading.

McGrath, who has a Ph.D in biochemistry and another Ph.D in theology, is big on "inference to the best explanation." (See also McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology.) In my MCCC logic text Lewis Vaughn has an entire chapter (uniquely so) dedicated to inference to the best explanation (IBE).

Here's McGrath on the increasing relevance of IBE as related to the fading approach to scientific verificationism as exemplied by, e.g., Richard Dawkins. McGrath writes:

"Recent years have seen a growing interest within the philosophy of science in the idea of“inference to the best explanation. ” This represents a decisive move away from older positivist understandings of the scientific method, still occasionally encountered in popular accounts of the relation of science and religion, which holds that science is able to – and therefore ought to  – offer evidentially and inferentially infallible evidence for its theories. This approach, found at many points in the writings of Richard Dawkins, is now realized to be deeply problematic. It is particularly important to note that scientific data are capable of being interpreted in many ways, each of which has evidential support. In contrast, positivism tended to argue that there was a single unambiguous interpretation of the evidence, which any right -minded observer would discover." (Science and Religion, 52)

Nice. And helpful.