Bahnsen’s TAG IV

[Map: Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI]

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?


17 Responses

  1. the Uniformity of Nature is the assertion that the physical world is governed by unchanging laws

    How is believing in mother Nature all that much different from believing in father God. (Different phonemes, different content, same ontological kind of operation).

    Is mother Nature just another part of what exists?

    As an athiest, I would have to reject all this as so much mythology. I will admit, though, that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer and at times my athiesm suffers from prolonged moments of horrifying weakness.

  2. For one, it depends on whether you think Mother Nature defines universal, absolute, and invariant Laws of Morality.

    You gotta learn to spell athEIst. Yer buggin’ me! I before E, unless you don’t believe in God. Is that another form of TAG?

  3. I know the content is different – morality etc. You dodged my real question. I am asking about the leap outside of what exists on the physical,temporal plane. Which is what this mother Nature bit is, or so it seems to me.

    The dyslexic atheist doesn’t believe in DOG and can’t spell.

  4. Then I guess it depends on whether your concept of “Mother Nature” is just an anthropomorphism for the cold, heartless, uniform universe (i.e. doesn’t really exist except in our minds), or a mystical, new-agey Gaia-ish personality (does exist).


    Ok, what I have provided here is this. The first link is an explanation of David Lewis’ possible worlds. The second two links are from wikipedia, and are nice little summaries about possible worlds and Lewis’ modal realism. Finally, the last link is an explanation of the explanatory power of possible worlds.

    Relevance: the atheist can simply state that literally, for every possibility, there is a possible world in which it happens. There IS a possible world in which I do not make this post. There IS a possible world in which Socrates didn’t die until later in life in his sleep. There IS a possible world in which there was no flood, etc.

    Why would the atheist do this? Simple: we happen to live in the possible world that is ordered and uniform. There are other possible worlds within the multi-verse that are neither. In that way, literally everything is random, because everything, every possibility, takes place somewhere, and you simply HAPPEN to live in the world where this set of events have taken place.

    Once you assert the real existence of possible worlds, you no longer have any need for God whatsoever, because there’s even a possible world without the laws of logic. Of course, you’re still left with one question: how did the multiverse come to exist in the way that it does? But atheists wouldn’t ask such questions. But if they did, they’d probably simply say that it’s eternal. And furthermore, there couldn’t be a multiverse transcendent “location” of any kind, so we can’t talk about there being a Creator of the multiverse, because everything that exists is within the multiverse, which must be then eternal in some mysterious way. When you tell them that that’s less than satisfying, they will tell you that a self-existent God is too.

    Please take some time to skim through those articles. Read the WIkipedia first though, and read about Lewis in the top link if you want. I know you’ll find it interesting, and you’ll be even more enthralled with Jet Li’s “One”. hehehe

  6. I haven’t read yet, but my first instinctive response is: “What is ‘possible’? I reject the ‘possibility’ of the nonexistence of the laws of logic”. My second question would be “Whatever, but for THIS universe that we anthropically find ourselves in, how do we know that this universe has UN? How do we know we’re not in one a universe that has UN up until A.D. 2007, and chaos after?”

  7. Just a point on your blog in general…”views” are often much higher than “comments” — I’ve had hundreds of hits on my “cannonball baptism” video, but very few comments. So there are probably a lot of people reading…

  8. Hi

    Isn’t the foundation of deductive logic inductive logic?

    If there is no basis for inductive logic, then true statements about something cannot be uttered, right?

    Just a thought.

  9. I don’t think so. Inductive logic would be the foundation of Deductive logic only if you thought that the laws of deduction were experimentally-derived.

    With or without inductive logic, “All men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, together imply that Socrates is mortal” is a deductively true statement that can be uttered.

    In inductive-land, we still do not have true certainty; our understanding of natural laws are always merely unfalsified hypotheses. But when Newtonian physics failed, it was not because the universe changed, it was because the all-along uniform behavior of the universe was understood better by us. It is because of UN that we can make observations, and make (reliable) inferences from those observations.

  10. OK, now that I’ve skimmed, some more replies to Echo’s links and comments about “Possible Worlds” (and my previous replies still stand).

    there’s even a possible world without the laws of logic.

    It seemed to me that one of the main points of this possible world theorizing was to isolate the possible from the necessary — there is some stuff that is true in all possible worlds, and that would include the laws of logic.

    there couldn’t be a multiverse transcendent “location” of any kind, so we can’t talk about there being a Creator of the multiverse, because everything that exists is within the multiverse

    Each possible universe is “spatiotemporally isolated”, but since God is not spatiotemporally bound, I don’t see why he couldn’t exist independently of the multiverse. Besides, to assert that “everything that exists is within” posits a material (within=spatiotemporal) definition of existence, which doesn’t even allow for the laws of logic. See here for the whole discussion of material vs. immaterial existence.

  11. I though that unless the laws of induction hold, it is not possible to utter universal truths like “all men are mortal”.

    In a world governed by blind mechanical forces, who knows what propositions are true or false from one moment to another?

    Probably i am wrong though.

  12. Rube,

    Re: 10

    You’re right, it started out trying to explain necessity and possibility. But who’s to say that logic isn’t part of this (actualized) universe?

    If logic is OF the universe, then it is OF this universe, and it is possible that the universe could have been illogical. Saul Kripke affirms this, and goes on to define “necessary truths” not as true in all possible worlds, but true in all worlds that have this or that property. So logic would only be true in the possible worlds that have logic.

    I mean, the question comes down to this. Do possible worlds comprise ALL possibilities, or possibilities that we have the ability to conceive of? Who’s to say that there couldn’t be a universe without logic? I agree, it’s difficult for us to conceive of such a universe, but is that the measure of truth? Perhaps we cannot perceive of such a universe because logic is part of OUR hardwiring. We think logically, so we can’t conceive of anything illogical actually existing.

    But we can’t conceive of a universe without time or space, and surely it is possible for there to be such a thing. I mean if literally everything just HAPPENS to be the case, then there is no governing at all going on from the perspective of the multi-verse trascending vantage point. Pure chaos from that vantage point. (It wasn’t my argument that you couldn’t have a multi-verse transcending vantage point, but the atheists.) Every possibility, every brute possibility is realized in some universe. This cannot be limited to our imagination.

    We do not have a definition of what it means “to be” such that it necessarily includes logic. Logic is not necessary for existence, so far as we know. We cannot conceive of any such thing, that’s true, but according to this philosophy, we have to acknowledge that all possibilities are somewhere actualized. We do not know what that means because we cannot go there and look. We cannot say that there is a universe without logic because we don’t know if that’s part of this universe of a necessary precondition for a universe to exist.

    The universe does not merely consist of material objects. It also consists of laws. Laws are true about the universe as far as we know. We do not have any way of knowing that laws apply to things outside of this universe.

    As Christians, we say that this universe is the entire creation. Well, there is also heaven, but that’s a separate issue. The point is, this universe is not merely material. You have a soul, after all, and that is not material, and that is part of the universe. The laws of this universe, math, logic, etc, are part of this universe. We cannot make any claim beyond that. To say that logic is not part of the universe is meaningless and strange. Is logic God? no. Is there some universe-transcending angel named Logic? no again. Logic is part of the universe as a property of the universe. As a property of the universe, it is part of the universe. It is part of what makes this universe what it is. It is furthermore created by God. Space and time are likewise part of the creation and thus part of the universe. You might even want to include angels and thus heaven and hell as part of the universe too. I don’t know.

  13. What is true deductively is “IF all men are mortal, and IF Socrates is a man, THEN Socrates is mortal”. What is true regardless of the laws of induction is “IF P->Q AND P THEN Q”; logic is “contentless” in this way. So Inductively speaking, we can’t know for sure that all men are mortal. But we can be sure that the only way that Socrates can be not mortal is if “all men are mortal” turns out to be false.

    The Uniformity of Nature, however, allows inductive inference to be useful. Since all men have been mortal, we inductively assume that all men are mortal. We have to consider in reserve the possibility that we are wrong, and there is a rational reason that explains why we were wrong all along, and if we had enough observations from the beginning, we could have been right all along.

    But what we don’t have to worry about is today we are right, but (lacking Uniformity) tomorrow Nature is totally different, so tomorrow we are wrong.

    Not sure if that clarifies or muddles.

  14. […] knows that page one or two of the TAG playbook tells the Christian to attack the materialist on the Problem of Induction.  For the Christian agrees with Bertrand Russell that “without this principle […]

  15. To the one who wrote the original post: Are you saying the Uniformity of nature, and thus inductive reasoning are not rooted in something outside of reason? If that is the case how does one accurately interpret scripture? I would gather that inductive reason may not always yield accurate results, such as Newtons understanding of gravity as something being pulled and Einstein’s view as something being pushed. But this does not mean that the fundamentally process/elements that make up the system for inductive reasoning is outside the scope of Bahnsen’s argument. That is to say, inductive reasoning is a logical system that requires data and that data to be tested. This does not mean that all data that is pushed the inductive system is going to yield accurate results not does this mean that the inductive method is false, it does assume that there may be more data to be collected to tested to give an accurate result. Since both Newton and Einstein used the inductive method for understanding this thing we have titled gravity does not means that something is wrong with the method used but the quality/quantity of data that is pushed through the system.

  16. I’m not sure I’m understanding you, but I’ll give it a shot…

    Are you saying the Uniformity of nature, and thus inductive reasoning are not rooted in something outside of reason?

    UN and induction and reason are all rooted in God. More specifically, induction works because nature is uniform, because God upholds it by the word of his power. I guess induction also works because reason (the laws of logic) flow from God’s consistent, truthful nature.

    Newtons understanding of gravity as something being pulled and Einstein’s view as something being pushed

    Other way around maybe?

    This does not mean that all data that is pushed the inductive system is going to yield accurate results not does this mean that the inductive method is false, it does assume that there may be more data to be collected to tested to give an accurate result.

    But since it is impossible to feed the inductive system all the data (especially data from the future), the inductive system has an inherent weakness. And without UN, that inherent weakness is a fatal flaw. With UN, if we feed induction enough of the right data, we can have confidence in the results (as confident as we are that we have accurate and fully representative data). Without UN, we can feed induction all the data we want, and at the end of the day, we’re left with nothing but skepticism.

  17. I believe that you answer my question.

    Let me restate your answer:

    Since we don’t know/have all the possible data then conclusions may very and may be incorrect. But as for the system of inductive reasoning it is not a convention. I appreciate what you said that inductive reasoning works because God upholds the uniformity of nature by the word of his power.

    The question came up as I was thinking about Miracles. The conclusion was that miracles do not change the uniformity of nature but the laws of nature of set aside. Thus inductive reasoning, laws of logic and morality can be absolutes such as Bahnsen stated.

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