Monday, February 09, 2009

Criticizing Theories and Weighing the Alternatives

A quote from Millard Erickson's Christian Theology had a significant impact on me the first time I read it several years ago:
. . . In criticism it is not sufficient to find flaws in a given view. One must always ask, "What is the alternative?" and, "Does the alternative have fewer difficulties?" John Baillie tells of writing a paper in which he severely criticized a particular view. His professor commented, "Every theory has its difficulties, but you have not considered whether any other theory has less difficulties than the one you have criticized." (p. 61)
The following little clip of Phil Donahue interviewing Milton Friedman is a good example of this principle at play. Now I happen to think that Friedman is right on the merits--but the important point is that it's insufficient to find weaknesses in a theory without considering whether or not the weaknesses of alternate theories are worse.