Conflicting narratives beat upon us everywhere, in politics, religion, and even science. One person’s conspiracy theory seems to be another’s self-evident truth. But how are we to decide—what makes one interpretation of the world better than another? Weighing Interpretations in Science, Biblical Studies, and Life: The Quest for the Best Explanation argues that theories and interpretations are trying to explain the world, and hence the better theory is the one that better explains the data of the world. But this raises questions. What is an explanation? How are we to rank them? What kind of inference allows us to find and reason about these explanations? This book provides a full description of this Inference to Best Explanation (IBE) and shows how IBE is at work in science, Biblical studies, and even everyday life. Matthew B. Joss offers a new method of diagramming and weighing explanatory arguments for competing interpretations. In particular, the book focuses on Biblical studies, showing how this method can help in assessing and dialoging about interpretations, walking through case studies in detail. Finally, the book concludes by gesturing towards some theological implications of IBE. Namely, IBE lends itself to a bottom-up way of theologizing that is consistent with core Christian doctrines.
Matthew B. Joss is University and 20-Something's Ministry Coordinator at The River Anglican Church in Blacksburg, VA.
Chapter One: Confirmation
Chapter Two: Explanation
Chapter Three: Inference
Chapter Four: Best
Chapter Five: From Lab to Library
Chapter Six: IBE and Biblical Studies
Chapter Seven: Processing Paradigms
About the Author
Dr. Joss picks up on Polkinghorne’s emphasis that inference to the best explanation (IBE) is the logic of good reasoning. Dr. Joss presents a persuasive case that IBE is a sound methodology that can be applied in the field of biblical studies to provide new avenues for assessing entrenched debates. The engaged reader will come away with a rich understanding of the merits of confirmation theory, the ability to use this tool in a variety of contexts, and the knowledge of how it is applied in biblical studies. This is an excellent contribution to the continuing engagement between science and religion.
Matthew Joss offers us an analytic theological account of the thorny problems of confirmation and his remedy: inference to the best explanation (IBE). This is both a primer on the various logics of confirmation (especially IBE!) and a fresh approach to weighing theologies and biblical interpretations. While readers might quibble with the specific uses within theology, and I would certainly be one of those quibblers, his thesis tackles the oft-ignored difficulties of confirmation and makes Weighing Interpretations another requisite entry on the topic for theologians and biblical scholars.
Epistemological studies that pay attention to biblical studies are extremely rare. The field thus owes Joss great gratitude for addressing this issue head on and with great care. His theses are of interest for biblical scholars and theologians alike. Everybody who is interested in methodological questions will profit from this work - Bayesians and others.
How are interpretations compared against each other? What virtues make one interpretation better than another? And furthermore, are the answers to such questions the same across disciplines? Having chosen as his guide the eminent physicist and theologian Sir John Polkinghorne, Matthew Joss develops new answers to old questions about weighing and evaluating interpretations. Drawing on recent philosophy of science, Joss argues for an “explanationist” theory of confirmation or, more precisely, for a methodology of inference to the best explanation (IBE). While the appeal to IBE, all too often, has remained a vague slogan, Joss elaborates detailed theories of confirmation, explanation and inference to make the idea work. Finally, he tests and defends it by applying it to cases from everyday life, science, and biblical studies. The wide-ranging book can be recommended across disciplines to anyone interested in theories of confirmation and their application in rationally weighing and evaluating interpretations.
Matthew Joss has written a very stimulating and provocative book on criteria for confirmation in critical inquiry. Based upon the work of the physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, Joss assesses a range of critical theories and then argues for his own exductive inference-based method. One of the important findings of his work is the applicability of confirmation criteria across the range of disciplines, from the sciences to biblical studies. In support, Joss offers interesting examples from biblical studies and theology that illustrate the potential of his method. I strongly recommend this book.