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Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The "problem of induction"

Much is made by presuppositionalists of the "problem of induction". Materialists, it is said, cannot justify their use of induction. They cannot explain why we should expect that the Sun will "rise" tomorrow, for instance, even if it rose a million times before (I'm not going to keep putting quotation marks around "rose"- we all know it's a figure of speech). Only divine will, they say, can solve such problems.

Induction is nothing more than the act of deriving principles from specific instances. People in the past observed that the Sun always rose, and thus were justified in thinking it would keep doing so. Now that we understand how orbits work and the nature of the Sun, we have a much stronger basis for such inductive reasoning. Nevertheless, the basic principle is the same. The accumulation of scientific understanding does not change the fact of induction, but rather makes our inductive reasoning more accurate.

If we're going to examine this claim that we have a "problem of induction", we must first examine what is needed for induction to be valid, or any epistemic principle for that matter. Well, the first thing is that to discover principles or applications or instances of principles, those principles need to already exist. The name we give to these principles is "natural law". Natural law is the foundation of epistemology, science, and morality.

So what do we need to have natural law, and by extension, justify induction? We need:

1. A causal system. Things change in accordance with their nature.
2. A self-contained system. No transcendental agent can exist, and materialism must obtain.

These points may seem complicated, but they are in fact pretty simple : you need a universe where things work by cause and effect, and where there is nothing outside that universe that can change things without cause and effect. If you have these two things, you have natural law, because everything works by cause and effect and things that have a certain property will behave in a certain way.

The simplest example of a natural law is the law of gravity - anything that is material follows this law, because it is a causal fact about the basic property of "having mass". "Having mass" is expressed in having a gravitational field. Thus causality ensures that, for example, orbits obtain.

If we don't have a causal system, then there can be no principles. There would be no correlation between "having mass" and gravity, and therefore we would have no reason to expect orbits to obtain. In fact, we would have no reason for anything to obtain.

An even worse problem is that our sensory perception is in itself a causal chain. I can only "see" an object because photons are reflected off its surface and hit my photo-receptors. If causality does not obtain, then all of this falls apart, and sensory perception is no longer a valid cognitive tool. So eliminating point 1 makes all cognition an impossibility (which is itself a contradiction). Fortunately, we live in a causal universe!

What about point 2? If there exists a transcendent being - a being which can change material facts without using causality - then there is no more natural law. I'm not talking about a god here but any transcendent entity, say, an angel or a ghost.

Suppose an angel can change any material facts by magic. In this scenario, it could make it so that the Sun does not rise tomorrow. So now our inductive reasoning is confronted with an impenetrable barrier, and we would now live in a fantasy world. And in the fantasy world of the Bible, the Sun can stand still (Joshua 10:12-13)! A person, living in this fantasy world, who would make the inductive reasoning that the Sun would rise, would have been wrong in this instance. But what recourse would he have? No fact could possibly explain such an event. So all the consequences of the actions of this transcendent agent would throw up inductive reasoning, and we would have no reason to trust induction as a valid principle.

I can see an objection coming: what if a supernatural entity acts but is not transcendent? But this is plainly impossible. If this entity acts within cause and effect, then its effects are observable and measurable, making the entity material by definition.

Now, what ideologies deny 1 or 2? Certainly not ours. While atheism does not directly imply 1 or 2, they are perfectly compatible with a rational atheistic worldview. My naturalistic worldview demands that 1 and 2 both be true, for reasons I explained before.

If God is presupposed, however, 2 must be false! As I noted, a supernatural agent must necessarily be transcendent. Since God is a supernatural agent, it must be a transcendent agent. And if this is the case, then induction becomes invalid, and now we have a "problem of induction". But it belongs squarely to the Christian worldview!

But God is more than a transcendent agent- it is a sovereign agent. The existence of the universe and all material facts within it, is wholly subjective to God's will. Since God is Creator of everything, there can be no objective factors existing outside of God's will. And there is no doubt that in this scenario no knowledge is possible, including knowledge about God. This has the unfortunate (for Christians) consequence that the existence of God-believers is contradictory.

This can be easily seen in the fact that no believer, having accepted the existence of this transcendent agent, can reject the possibility that this agent is deluding him into believing what he believes. Once you open the door of subjectivity by allowing the existence of a transcendent Creator, everything goes, epistemically speaking.

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49 Comments:

At 7/26/2006 7:52 AM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

I'm not so sure we do need a causal system. A natural law could state that planets orbit stars in ellipses. This says nothing about causality.

Causality seems to me a derived rather than a fundamental concept when considering natural laws.

 
At 7/26/2006 8:29 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

A timely and excellent article.

 
At 7/26/2006 10:17 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"A natural law could state that planets orbit stars in ellipses. This says nothing about causality."

And how exactly would that work without causality?

 
At 7/26/2006 10:27 AM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Very very interesting Franc, thank you for this. What really fascinates me about the lack of understanding of inductive reasoning as a tool is that presuppositionalists will turn around and try to use it themselves, but invariably fairly ineptly. I always want to ask them "do you understand the difference between weak and strong induction?", since they invariably are trying to use weak induction, and don't seem to see the distinction.

-olly

 
At 7/26/2006 11:44 AM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

Can you tell me why there is something (a universe) rather than nothing?

You say that "those (epistemic) principles need to already exist". Where do those come from?

 
At 7/26/2006 12:42 PM, Blogger Hellbound Alleee declaimed...

"Can you tell me why there is something (a universe) rather than nothing? "

BWAAAAH HA HA HA HA HA! *wipes tears.*

I love it, thanks.

 
At 7/26/2006 2:18 PM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

"And how exactly would that work without causality?"

No idea. You're asking me to speculate on what a universe without causality would look like. All I'm saying is that it could have natural laws. Laws that describe how things are if not how they "work".

 
At 7/26/2006 2:34 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"No idea. You're asking me to speculate on what a universe without causality would look like. All I'm saying is that it could have natural laws."

No it couldn't.

 
At 7/26/2006 2:35 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Can you tell me why there is something (a universe) rather than nothing?"

There is no such thing as nothing.


"You say that "those (epistemic) principles need to already exist". Where do those come from?"

Reality.

 
At 7/26/2006 6:16 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Glove,

True "Nothing" is an incomprehensible concept. And as the website Everything Forever explains, the appearance of nothing is actually an illusion; it is something.

By the way, I once wrote about the problem of induction but I took a much different tack than Franc did with it. Here is the article I wrote: The Problem With the Problem of Induction.

 
At 7/26/2006 6:44 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

I'm curious as to the various thoughts your group may have as to big bang cosmology?

I also wonder if Francois could elaborate on what is meant by reality?

 
At 7/26/2006 6:45 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"I also wonder if Francois could elaborate on what is meant by reality?"

You gotta be fucking kidding me.

 
At 7/26/2006 8:04 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

As Philip K. Dick said, "That which continues to exist when you stop believing in it."

 
At 7/26/2006 8:32 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

I have come to think of induction as a mental process of applying the law of causality to entity classes - i.e., to conceptual categories that we have formed on the basis of our perceptions. In this sense, induction is essentially an extension of the process by which we form concepts in the first place. Concept-formation thus provides a working model for induction. Just as a concept integrates units without stipulating their specific measurements, an inductive generality integrates causal implications without stipulating their specific characteristics. The concept 'man' for instance includes men who are six foot two, balding, clean-shaven and dressed in three-piece suits, as well as men who are five foot four, longhaired and whiskered and wearing Bermuda shorts and tank tops. Similarly, the inductive principle that an object in motion tends to stay in motion can apply to golf balls, packages of frozen vegetables, automobiles, shrapnel, meteorites, etc. The open-ended nature of the inductive generality "objects in motion tend to stay in motion" is afforded by the concept 'object', which subsumes all these things and many more. The concept 'object' includes all characteristics and measurements of the entities it subsumes, but it does not specify what those characteristics must be or the measurements in which their attributes must exist. We then integrate this concept with other basic concepts that we have formed, such as the concept 'causality' - the idea that an entity's actions are based on its nature, to form general statements about the class of things included in the master concept 'object'. None of this would be possible without perception, which is the means by which we have awareness of the things that serve as the content of the concepts we form.

See, no gods required.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 7/26/2006 9:09 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

"That which continues to exist when you stop believing in it."

Thanks for the answer.

Let me ask this: Did mankind invent logic or discover logic?

 
At 7/26/2006 10:23 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Both. Concept formation is both an investigative and inventive process.

By way of explanation, I could ask this counter-question:

Did mankind invent gravity or discover gravity?

 
At 7/26/2006 10:42 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

So 1=1 was invented?

If it takes logic to invent logic, logic must already exist.

And where does it exist?

 
At 7/27/2006 7:51 AM, Blogger Joe Otten declaimed...

Francois: "No it couldn't."

Am I understanding you right? Are you saying that a universe with natural laws but without causality is a logical impossibility?

Are all natural laws equivalent to a statement of the form "X causes Y"?

But surely they aren't. A natural law could state "X can coexist with Y", or "X can exist" or "X cannot exist". What would be wrong with such laws?

And can you name me a natural law that is stated in terms of causality? (Rather than causality between phenomena being a deduction from the law.)

 
At 7/27/2006 8:42 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

The concept was invented, based on the fact of reality which was discovered.

 
At 7/27/2006 8:52 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

A natural law could state "X can coexist with Y", or "X can exist" or "X cannot exist". What would be wrong with such laws?

None of these describe the behavior of matter or energy. "Photons exist" is not a natural law. "The energy of photons is equal to the product of Planck's constrant and the frequency of that photon" is a natural law.

See the difference?

 
At 7/27/2006 10:13 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Joe: "A natural law could state 'X can coexist with Y', or 'X can exist' or 'X cannot exist'. What would be wrong with such laws?"

Joe, in addition to Zach's point that the statement "photons exists" does not constitute a statement of natural law, I would also point out that the very act of formulating a statement of natural law itself requires causality. By causality here I mean the necessary relationship between an entity and its own actions. The formulation of a statement of natural law is an act of consciousness, and consciousness is an attribute of the man who does the formulating. The action of his consciousness depends on the nature of his consciousness, and this relationship is a causal relationship.

Causality is essentially the law of identity applied to action. So unless the entities populating the universe do not act, causality is indispensable.

Not sure if that speaks directly to your concern, but it does speak to the points that I've seen brought out here.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 7/27/2006 12:44 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

"Am I understanding you right? Are you saying that a universe with natural laws but without causality is a logical impossibility?"

Yes.


"Are all natural laws equivalent to a statement of the form "X causes Y"?"

Yes.


"But surely they aren't. A natural law could state "X can coexist with Y", or "X can exist" or "X cannot exist". What would be wrong with such laws?"

Ontological considerations are not the issue here.


"And can you name me a natural law that is stated in terms of causality? (Rather than causality between phenomena being a deduction from the law.)"

False dichotomy.

 
At 7/27/2006 5:25 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Glove,

"I'm curious as to the various thoughts your group may have as to big bang cosmology?"

I cant speak for anyone else here, but I myself believe that the big bang theory is likely true in one form or another.

I cant give you more specifics about my big bang beliefs until you ask more specific questions though.

Glove, Im curious as to the various thoughts you may have as to big bang cosmology?

 
At 7/27/2006 10:57 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

As front and center as Big Bang Cosmology has been and still seems to be in the scientific community, I have questions about its validity to really explain anything. It only begs the question.

Here are a few:

-how does a big bang create the laws of physics that govern the universe or any order at all?

-how does a big bang account for the constants of nature that exist on a razors edge in order for me to type this?

-how does an impersonal big bang account for personality, conscience, will?

-trite but true, if someone pulls the trigger on a handgun in a crowd, people immediately look to see who pulled the trigger. Why would it be any different with a big bang? Who pulled the trigger on it?

1)Philosophically an uncaused effect is absurd, 2) the oscillating universe model doesn't work, 3)an infinite regress does not solve the question of source, but merely makes the effects more numerous. And how can the Cosmos explain itself by a mere yet massive explosion. I don't believe it can.

 
At 7/27/2006 11:12 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

I'm not aware of any claims that the "Big Bang created the lays of physics."

It's also unintelligible to talk about causality before the Big Bang, since the current theory posits that time began concurrently. Thus, there is no such thing as "before" the Big Bang.

 
At 7/28/2006 1:07 AM, Blogger Francisco Rodriguez declaimed...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7/28/2006 1:08 AM, Blogger Francisco Rodriguez declaimed...

How does causality fit in the quantum level?

 
At 7/28/2006 8:16 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Natural laws do not describe quantum-level behavior. However, a type of quantum causality has been demonstrated by the physicist V.P. Belavkin. His explanation is beyond my expertise, but he suggests that quantum events can be accurately predicted.

 
At 7/28/2006 8:40 AM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Causality does not "explain" anything. We explain things. Causality is a fundamental principle of reality and everything we do must assume its truth. Which is why Christianity is so absurd.

 
At 7/28/2006 8:43 AM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

I understand that time would begin concurrently with the big bang, yet we are talking about "before", not in a chronological sense, but a prime reality logically prior to the "explosion".

 
At 7/28/2006 9:39 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Glove,

I personally do not hold to the "big bang" theory. I cannot prove that it's not true, but I'm not convinced that it is true, either.

At any rate, in my view, the universe is eternal. I don't think that the "big bang" theory necessarily contradicts the view that the universe is eternal. See my Responding to Pavielle for details.

Also, in Basic Contra-Theism I explained why I reject the notion that the universe is an effect of something beyond or before it.

What I emphatically reject is the notion, so central to theism, that the universe is a creation of consciousness, a view which is obviously suffocating in terminal subjectivism. Such a view results in the cartoon universe premise, and theism cannot avoid its attendant absurdities. Logic, reason, science, morality and justice all presuppose the non-cartoon universe of atheism.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 7/28/2006 9:52 AM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

You say "At any rate, in my view, the universe is eternal."

But how do you square that with the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics?

 
At 7/28/2006 10:06 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Causality is dependent on time. It makes no sense to talk about an atemporal "cause" of the Big Bang.

 
At 7/28/2006 10:26 AM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

glove: "But how do you square that with the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics?"

I'm not sure what you're asking. Do you think that the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics are incompatible with existence? If they're not incompatible with existence, then they are not incompatible with the sum totality of existence, i.e., the universe. And yet, it is only within the context of existence that these laws can obtain in the first place. What's probably the case is that you have misapplied these laws. Therefore I suggest that you check your premises, for therein lies your problem.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 7/28/2006 11:39 AM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

"Causality is dependent on time. It makes no sense to talk about an atemporal "cause" of the Big Bang."

Then how do you explain it?

And to Burner, how do you sustain it?

Hydrogen atoms appearing out of nothing violates the first law of thermodynamics and that we are running out of usable energy (the second law of thermodynamics) prohibits the possibility that the universe is eternal. It would have flickered out an eternity ago. The universe is finite. It cannot explain itself.

 
At 7/28/2006 12:19 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

"Then how do you explain it?"

I don't.

 
At 7/28/2006 1:32 PM, Blogger Bahnsen Burner declaimed...

Glove: "And to Burner, how do you sustain it?"

How do I "sustain" what?

Glove: "Hydrogen atoms appearing out of nothing violates the first law of thermodynamics and that we are running out of usable energy (the second law of thermodynamics) prohibits the possibility that the universe is eternal. It would have flickered out an eternity ago."

As I thought - you're misapplying SLOT. In addition, I'd question your conception of 'universe'. Did you read the blog entries I linked to? Or, are you more interested in raising hell than in understanding the positions of those with whom you've engaged yourself?

Glove: "The universe is finite. It cannot explain itself."

Anything that actually exists is necessarily finite. The concept 'infinite' can only refer to a hypothetical potential (such as the potential to continue extending a series), not to an actual. The actual is always finite because to exist is to be something specific. The universe exists. No matter what it comprises or how big it is, it is what it is.

See, Glove, you need to do some more premise checking.

Regards,
Dawson

 
At 7/28/2006 2:34 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

How am I misapplying SLOT? Is our sun going to burn out one day or is it not?

 
At 7/28/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Who ever said that the universe is eternal?

 
At 7/28/2006 5:01 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

Bahnsen Burner thinks the universe is eternal (see 7/28/2006 9:39 AM).

I do not believe that the universe is eternal.

 
At 7/28/2006 5:50 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Ah, yes. Dawson is referring to the "universe" as "the sum total of all that exists." I would refer to that as the "cosmos," since there are potentially multiple universes in existence. Given that disccrepancy of definition, I would agree with him.

I suppose it also depends what is meant by "eternal." As Dawson phrases it, it means, "outside of time." But it seems as if you're meaning it as "neverending." In this definition, I would agree with you- there is no "beginning" or "end" to time within this universe. Space and time are combined together into the fabric of the universe, and are neverending AND finite. Just as there is no beginning or end to the surface of the Earth, and yet it is a finite area.

 
At 7/29/2006 1:31 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

When I say the universe is finite, I am including a finite amount of time, that the universe had a beginning (some call it a big bang) and will have an end (1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics lead to this conclusion). In other words, left alone as a closed system, the universe will die a heat loss death, no life or energy whatsoever. A multiverse scenario, while interesting, seems to solve very little in the way of source (where did these cosmos' come from or what caused them to begin, why are they ordered and what ordered them etc.). Without dispute, there is vast complexity in our universe including our own self-conscious and intellect. Thus, without an intelligent Prime Reality greater than ourselves and any Cosmos, insurmountable problems remain to explain the aforementioned.

 
At 7/29/2006 10:38 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

Assuming your Intelligent Prime Reality (IPR) is a natural entity, that just moves the problem back a step. However, if your IPR is a supernatural entity, the problem becomes not only unanswerable, but unintelligible.

 
At 7/30/2006 12:40 PM, Blogger Glove declaimed...

I agree with your first sentence. However, not your second sentence. Without a supernatural explanation, there are no answers nor any meaning.

 
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