Cumulative Cases Make the Strongest Arguments

As one who has spent most of his life “pre-Internet,” I can really appreciate how radically the Internet has transformed daily life—both positively and negatively. On the positive side is the ready availability of thought-provoking podcasts. I’m a podcast junkie and I lean heavily toward podcasts related to apologetics. In addition to RTB’s productions, I enjoy Unbelievable?, an apologetics podcast out of the UK. Unbelievable? often features atheists and Christians debating such questions as the source of apparent design in nature and which worldview best explains objective morality. Whether the topic is scientific or philosophical, cogent arguments can be made for both atheistic and theistic views.

The skeptics who participate in such podcasts are often articulate and thoughtful about the reasons for their view. As a Christian, I think that the arguments for Christian theism are superior to the atheistic arguments, but in such debates of limited scope as those presented on Unbelievable?, I must admit that it is no “slam dunk” in favor of Christian theism. Yet, to continue with the basketball analogy, the game is not won with just an occasional 3-point shot or even a slam dunk. It’s the final score that counts, and here is where I think theism—and particularly Christian theism—wins by a big margin.

Seeking the Best Explanation
As we engage in such discussions, Christians need to remind ourselves constantly that it is a cumulative case, involving an “inference to the best explanation,” that wins the day. Reality simply doesn’t give one the luxury of picking and choosing pet issues upon which to base one’s worldview. To be complete, any worldview needs to be able to make sense of all we observe in the universe. Skeptics may think that the “no-God” option makes the most sense out of a particular subset of the data we have before us (such as their reading of troubling parts of the Old Testament), but can it explain the origin of the universe out of absolutely nothing or the origin of life from nonlife or the origin of consciousness? The God-or-no-God discussion is a package deal. Cherry-picking should not be allowed—even though a debate on one aspect of the total picture, in effect, does just that. Thus, when engaging a skeptic on a limited theme, Christian apologists should take the opportunity to remind their opponent that inferring to the best explanation applies to the entire range of data and not just the aspect currently under discussion.

This same principle applies to all origins models, ranging from young-earth creationism to naturalistic Darwinian evolution. There is only one true history of life on earth, and our job is to try to figure out what that true history is. Each proposed model is ostensibly trying to do that, but to truly be viable, a model should be able to explain all the data we are presented with. This is where the principle of inference to the best explanation comes in. There are awkward fits of some data points in all models, including the RTB model. Thus, ongoing testing of one’s model and an unwavering commitment to truth—hallmarks of Reasons to Believe—are essential.

Testing Is a Continuous Process
In looking at the various models that have been proposed, it is clear to me that the RTB model has far fewer awkward fits to deal with than any of the other origins models. When it comes to atheistic versions, biblical data, of course, doesn’t even enter the equation, but for those that purport to be Christian, it does. If a model simply explains away a tricky set of data points (whether biblical or from the record of nature), then it doesn’t rise to the level of best explanation. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that, at least in this life, we will never reach the point of having a final and complete explanation. We will continue to be challenged by awkward fits that need to be tested. That testing involves both testing the data itself to make sure it is valid as well as testing our model to see what non-ad hoc adjustments can be made to better account for all the data. Our mantra should be that of 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “but test them all; hold on to what is good.”