Well, my hiatus from this series has caused unprecedented levels of activity on this blog (with posts on tongues, sufficiency of scripture, and “free” will netting over 300 comments and 800 views (by about half a dozen people)). But the people have spoken (overall, the people did a lot of speaking yesterday…), and it’s time to settle down, and return to less popular topics.
Another weapon in the TAG armory is the “Problem of Induction“. Induction is the type of reasoning that infers “truth” from previous observations (as opposed to deduction, which synthesizes “new” truths from previously-known truths). Originally framed by David Hume, the problem asks “how do we know that the future will be like the past?” Hume’s answer is that there is no logical necessity for the future to be like the past. Attempted answers to the question always seem to boil down to some form of “so far, the future has always been like the past,” to which we can instantly ask “but just because ‘the future was like the past’ in the past, how does that guarantee that ‘the future will be like the past’ in the future?” That circularity shows that this answer begs the question, and is no answer.
The Problem of Induction is closely related to the question of the Uniformity of Nature (UN). While the Problem of Induction focuses on the legitimacy of Inductive Reasoning, the Uniformity of Nature is the assertion that the physical world is governed by unchanging laws (without which, Inductive Reasoning cannot be reliable). For the moment, at least, I will identify the two concepts, and call them just UN. The question becomes: “on what basis do you believe in UN”? A seemingly different line of argument tries to solve this problem with a magic wand of statistics, like this: “Since we have observed N times that property X holds (and we have observed 0 times that property X fails) our estimate of the probability that X is true is N/N=1, and the uncertainty around that estimate approaches 0 as N increases.” However, this approach suffers from circularity as well, since the validity of probabilistic sampling relies on the assumption that the sample (of necessity, drawn only from the past) is representative of the entire population (including the future).
The Christian has an easy answer to these questions: Nature is Uniform because creator God is in control. From Heb 1: “he created the world,… and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” And from Acts 17, Paul quotes even Greek philosophers to the Athenians, leveraging their common belief that “in [God] we live and move and have our being.” But the atheist is easily drawn into lines of questioning that cause him to circle the logical drain illustrated above. Witness this brief excerpt from the Bahnsen-Stein debate (in the context of Hume and the Problem of Induction):
Bahnsen: What is the basis for the uniformity of nature?
Stein: The uniformity of nature comes from the fact that matter has certain properties which it regularly exhibits. It’s part of the nature of matter: Electrons, oppositely charged things attract, the same charges repel. There are certain valences that can fill up the shell of an atom, and that is as far as it can combine…
Notice how Stein’s first sentence there is not only circular in logic, but even in definition — is not the “regularity of matter” just a synonym for Uniformity of Nature?. I’m really surprised Bahnsen didn’t pounce on this.
But the atheist’s out for UN and the Problem of Induction is hinted at by this quote from famous atheist Bertrand Russell: Induction is an “independent logical principle, incapable of being inferred either from experience or from other logical principles, and … without this principle, science is impossible.” True dat, boo — what Russell is really trying to say here (or perhaps trying not to say?) is that the validity of Inductive Reasoning is a presupposition. Indeed, for the atheist, why can’t UN be a presupposition? It might even be the only presupposition required in the atheist worldview.
One of Bahnsen’s favorite catchphrases is “If you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, then you can’t believe anything,” meaning that God is the basis for UN, therefore without God, all epistemology is shot. But the atheist can parallel that pragmatic reason for believing in God with “If you don’t believe in UN, then you can’t believe anything.” Indeed, Russell’s quote above highlights the pragmatic nature of the belief in UN. And when the TAG’er asks “But WHY is there UN?”, the atheist can (I believe rightfully) say “I don’t ask WHY of my presuppositions any more than you do: WHY is there God?”
To sum up, I think that virtually any scientist (or person, for that matter) does believe in the Uniformity of Nature. It is therefore just a matter of teasing out whether this belief is a foundational presuppostion, or (as in the Christian worldview) the logical consequence of an antecedent presupposition. And getting the atheist to communicate in presuppositional language in this way is necessary to the goal of acheiving true dialogue with presuppositional apologists.
Two closing notes. First of all, once agreement on the Uniformity of Nature is agreed upon, the problem becomes to explain the Non-Uniformity of Nature (NUN?): given a godless, mechanically-dependable, uniform nature, how to explain organization, creativity, apparent design/purpose in the universe, the appearance of life from non-life, etc. But as we noted recently, “here we go again…” This question is older than the debate on abortion, and everybody has heard everybody’s arguments over and over again, so I doubt that much progress can be made on this front.
Finally, it is clear (to me, at least), that universal, invariant, and absolute Laws of Nature (LoN) are taken care of by an assumption of UN. This leaves, however Bahnsen’s other two categories: Laws of Logic (LoL), and Laws of Morality (LoM). I was originally thinking of granting LoL to the atheist, as a co-consequence with LoN of a presupposition of UN. But now I’m thinking that would be ceding too much. Another way of saying it: UN gives a foundation for inductive reasoning. But what is the foundation for deductive reasoning? And if the atheist agrees that LoL have actual (but immaterial) existence, is there any succint way to presuppositionalize this other than enumerating the LoL?