Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Case For The Cumulative Case

This post builds upon my short series on building a cumulative case (Parts 1, 2, 3) and on last week's post about authorities.

The other day I was speaking with someone who claimed that inductive reasoning was superior to abductive reasoning, and even went as far as to say that inductive reasoning destroyed the need for abductive reasoning. By "abductive reasoning" I am talking about a cumulative case- taking lots of evidence and developing an interpretation that explains it all consistently.

Everyone uses appeals to authority, because no single person can know and understand all true statements, not to mention the interactions among and implications of all those true statements.

We base our trust of an authority upon a cumulative case of past reliability. We look at an authority's previous work and determine if the majority of it is valid and accurately reflects reality. Some object to this notion based on the fact that the past cannot guarantee the reliability of the future (just because an authority has been reliable in the past, does not mean that they will be reliable in the future). I agree; however, if we take that to the extreme of tossing out the past, we only have the present to determine reliability. Unfortunately, if we were to operate like that, all academic degrees (up to and including the Ph. D.) would be useless, because they are granted and maintained based on past work. If we wish for a degree to hold value, then we must recognize that its value is based on a cumulative case for the recipient's reliability based on the recipient's past reliable work.

Everyone uses a cumulative case (abductive reasoning) to fundamentally support how they can know and react to certain truths. This argues powerfully for abductive reasoning being the most important type of reasoning. Unfortunately, some in the scientific and skeptical communities argue that the abductive reasoning (cumulative case) used to conclude the existence of God is invalid. In the process, they unwittingly undermine their own appeals to authority and foundation for knowing truth, that they personally have not investigated thoroughly, by trying to destroy the value of abductive reasoning.

All scientific experiments depend on the truth of prior information that the experimenter is not responsible for discovering on their own. Without even getting into philosophy, we can show where the majority of experiments are performed in the context of a reigning paradigm within the scientific community. The paradigm was established by people in the past, and will not be 100% directly verified (duplicated) by current scientists. Further (now into philosophy), the entire scientific method depends on the truth of laws of logic (discovered by past people, but rarely verified by scientists- and not by scientific methods). Science depends on the value of philosophy, authorities, and abductive reasoning to be meaningful.

If skeptics are to accept the foundational value of abductive reasoning (cumulative cases) to establish their own foundation for knowing things they haven't investigated firsthand, then they must possess another reason for rejecting the cumulative case for the existence of God. I have no problem with skeptics holding that a cumulative case is not supported, but to deny it based on the form of reasoning used is to be inconsistent in one's worldview. They are welcome to do this, just as long as they are not under the delusion that they are being consistent.


  1. "Unfortunately, some in the scientific and skeptical communities argue that the abductive reasoning (cumulative case) used to conclude the existence of God is invalid."

    Could you elaborate more?

  2. Samuel,
    What are your specific questions?


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