Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God

Terry G. Pence
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Northern Kentucky University

Charles S. Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism,claimed that there were three kinds of reasoning: deductive, inductive, and abductive. The last of these is more familiarly called reasoning to the best explanation. Two important claims which he made about abduction were that it was the only ampliative kind of reasoning and that it was essential to science. In calling it the only form of ampliative inference he meant that reasoning which can give us more information than is contained in the premises. It is essential to the growth of science because, ˛every plank of its advance is first laid by retroduction [i.e. abduction] alone˛ The question I wish to address in this paper is whether abduction or reasoning to the best explanation, as understood by Peirce, must preclude the supernatural from the explanandum. Does Peirce, for example, believe that we should rule out appeals to the supernatural agency on grounds of simplicity or requirements of empirical consequence from the explanation? The thesis of this paper is that he does not. I will endeavor to explicate Peircešs theory of abduction, show that it has no restrictions which would a priori eliminate appeals to the supernatural. I cite Peircešs own piece of abductive reasoning in ŗA Neglected Argument for the Existence of God˛ as primary evidence that, for Peirce, there is no essential hostility between the most essential aspect of scientific reasoning and broadly theistic conclusions.

Copyright © Terry G. Pence