Making judgments about hypotheses

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by Neil Godfrey

What makes an historical or scientific explanation a good or bad one? I’m thinking in particular here of the various hypotheses applied to biblical studies and early Christian history.

  • Of course there are many competing hypotheses about the origins of Christianity, the nature of Jesus, and how biblical texts should be read and understood. (See for starters Peter Kirby’s Historical Jesus Theories page.)
  • If my blog stats are any guide, Bauckham’s hypothesis that the gospel authors drew on eyewitness reports to compile the gospels still holds strong ongoing interest.
  • It has been a long time since I have bothered to visit fundamentalist blogs whose authors seem unable to refrain from insulting and talking down to those who dare question their hypothesis that the Bible is the word of God and as such cannot contradict itself or be falsified in any way.

David Lewis-Williams has set out a very convenient list of criteria for making judgments between hypotheses in The Mind in the Cave. He is directly interested in evaluating explanations for Upper Paleolithic cave art, but in the course of this discussion he discusses scientific hypotheses at the theoretical level and draws on specific examples from both the physical, life and social sciences.

Of course there are many discussions about what makes a good scientific hypothesis but I am referencing this summary by Lewis-Williams here for convenience. I happen to be reading his The Mind in the Cave at the moment and so his discussion falls easily at hand.

I have broken the quote (indented and in bold type) from Lewis-Williams (pp 48-49) below with a few comments that relate to certain hypotheses in the area of biblical studies: Continue reading “Making judgments about hypotheses”