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Summary in 400 words or less:
Also known as “best explanation” apologetics, cumulative case apologetics involves a somewhat informal, abductive reasoning approach. In the worldview sense, the approach aims to demonstrate that Christianity makes better sense of the evidence than do all other competing worldviews. Basil Mitchell, an early proponent of this view, is often credited with giving this approach its name. Historically, apologist C. S. Lewis made early attempts at cumulative cases for things such as the true identity of Jesus.
According to cumulative case advocates, the nature of the case for Christianity might not be best viewed as a formal argument. Instead, as Steven Cowan noted, the case seems “more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law or that a literary critic makes for a particular interpretation of a book. It is an informed argument that pieces together several lines or types of data into a sort of hypothesis or theory that comprehensively explains that data and does so better than any alternative hypothesis.”
As such, the cumulative case is most like criteria-satisfaction methodology. However, such methodology need not be directed at establishing Christianity as the only viable explanation, but rather, simply as the best explanation. In that paradigm, we can view the model that Christianity provides with regards to what we observe in the universe, the objective nature of ethics, consciousness, limited free will, the nature of God, the testimonies concerning Jesus Christ, and the human need for purpose.
Unlike some inductive methods, the cumulative case approach is not inherently predictive. Instead, the focus is historical and diagnostic. Like a detective, the cumulative case apologist moves from the witness testimony and circumstantial evidence to the theory. Like the mechanic, the apologist moves from identifying problems to seeking and applying solutions.
A solution may be simple, complex, or anywhere between. However, as with other argumentation, the cumulative case must be logically valid and avoid unwarranted assumptions. The case in some sense must be testable and correspond to the raw data. Ideally, the case has, as Kenneth Samples noted, “genuine explanatory power and scope.” It explains the most data and can bear the burden of proof to explain that data.
As objectively as possible with a macro-level view of the argumentation and evidence, one compares Christianity’s model to models from other worldviews, secular and religious. If successful, one will find that Christianity is clearly the best, most intellectually persuasive worldview.
Scripture for YouVersion:
Acts 9:21-22, Luke 7:35, Psalm 37:30-31, and Proverbs 4:7-8
Hendrik van der Breggen. “A Cumulative Case Argument for Christian Faith – by Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8v-zhkZ36wM.
This video concerns one example of how a cumulative case could be made, though it leans a bit more toward a classical approach than other attempts may be.
Three questions (1 fill-in-the-blank, 1 multiple choice, and one discussion question):
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Discussion Questions: How similar is the Cumulative Case approach to the Evidentialist apologetics approach? How different?
Eric Chabot. “Comparing Four Apologetic Systems-Classical, Historical, Presuppositional and Cumulative Case Apologetics.” 16 Nov. 2011. https://chab123.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/comparing-apologetic-methodology-classicalhistorical-and-presuppositional-apologetics. Accessed 28 Apr. 2015. Web.
Kenneth Richard Samples. “Best Explanation Apologetics.” Reasons to Believe. 1 May 2012. http://www.reasons.org/articles/best-explanation-apologetics. Accessed 1 May. 2015. Web.
Russ White. “Review of Apologetic Methods.” 2011. http://thinkinginchrist.com/media/papers/REVIEW%20OF%20APOLOGETIC%20METHODS.pdf. Accessed 28 Apr. 2015. Web.
Steven B. Cowan. “Five Views on Apologetics.” ApologeticsIndex. 7 Sept. 2001. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/a108.html. Accessed Apr. 2015. Web.
References for further reading:
Kenneth Richard Samples. 7 Truths that Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas. Baker, 2012.
Steven B. Cowan and Stanley N. Gundry, eds. Five Views on Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000.
Collaborators: Z.E. Kendall
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