Pressing the Point: More on the Wallis debate

Proof and Persuasion

An important distinction to be made in apologetics is the one between proof and persuasion. One may offer a perfectly sound argument pertaining to some position that accomplishes everything it promises and yet have a recipient of that argument completely unmoved by it. It does not follow from the fact that an individual(s) is allegedly not accepting of an argument that the argument in question does not constitute a proof. On the other hand someone may be presented with a completely invalid and false argument and still be moved to accept the conclusion of the argument, but it does not follow that the argument in question constitutes a proof. There is a difference between proof and persuasion. We should strive in our apologetic encounters to offer proofs that are also persuasive while recognizing that not everyone will immediately or inevitably accept them.

In his latest response to me Mr. Wallis appears to fall into the camp of those who simply are not persuaded by what is presented to them even though what is presented constitutes proof. The proof in question has not had a substantial objection raised against it. Mr. Wallis seems ready and willing to accept the premises of the reductio ad absurdum raised against his position without feeling its force. It could be that I am not clear enough in my presentation. Therefore, I have continued to try and emphasize my points further in these most recent posts and will do so again here.

Reductio Ad Absurdum

Mr. Wallis clearly concedes to a major part of my argument as follows:

“I do agree that we have no epistemic justification for induction.”

I will not repeat the argument that I already provided in the debate and that Mr. Wallis subsequently quoted in his responses to me which takes this admission from Mr. Wallis and concludes that humans are irrational. Let’s be very, very clear that according to Mr. Wallis and his respective worldview we are not epistemically justified in our use of induction and are hence irrational. During my opening statement of the debate I quoted Bertrand Russell on what the implications of this admission are and during Mr. Wallis’s first rebuttal period Mr. Wallis explained how much of our experience relies upon induction (apparently not understanding that when induction is irrational so are all of our respective practices built upon it). Not only is the entirety of science a completely irrational enterprise, but our average day to day activities from eating eggs for breakfast instead of gravel to putting our contacts in instead of a skewer. In Mr. Wallis’s view the person who eats the gravel or shoves the skewer in is no less epistemically justified or irrational than the person who eats the eggs and puts the contacts in. Science is epistemologically impossible. We can know nothing at all that comes as a result of inductive reasoning. If these considerations do not clearly illustrate the Bible’s claims concerning the foolishness and futility of non-Christian thought then I do not know what does. Maybe Mr. Wallis is just not making the connection here (pun not intended).

The reader must understand that aside from the absurdity of what has been suggested by Mr. Wallis he has absolutely no reason to hold himself or anyone else accountable for being rational. He holds that humans are irrational and yet came to rationally discuss the topic of the existence of God. He holds that humans are irrational and yet continues to make statements as though to rationally affirm them. In short, the position Ben Wallis holds is absurd and ineffective against any other. Anything that Mr. Wallis talks about that involves induction at all can be forthrightly dismissed as insane if his position is true. If Mr. Wallis is not “troubled” by his own admission that he and everyone else he knows is utterly insane then there is not much left for me to say here. There comes a point at which we are no longer engaging in apologetics (a reasoned defense of the faith). It is worth pointing out that the skepticism and irrationality that Mr. Wallis leaves us with cannot even provide a basis upon which to affirm itself as being skeptical or irrational. The view Mr. Wallis presents us with is reducible to absurdity. If Mr. Wallis does not think that this is giving him any reason to reject his view as problematic then it is due again not to the very old and well-established epistemological problem presented to him but to his own mistaken categories of what is rationally acceptable in the context of debate and life.

Thankfully Mr. Wallis appears to be turning over a new leaf in his most recent response to me. He writes, “It is not always irrational to operate on unjustified assumptions; in particular, it is not irrational to use induction, even if it is epistemically unjustified.” It appears that while Mr. Wallis is fine with conceding that induction is epistemically unjustified he nevertheless thinks that it does not follow that it is irrational. Mr. Wallis believes that invalid reasoning is still reasonable at least in some cases. In response it should be pointed out that this simply was not the answer he offered in the debate. Additionally he has not given any more detailed explanation of what should and should not be considered reasonable or rational even when there is no epistemic justification provided. For example he appears to think that induction is just fine without being epistemically justified (even though traditionally this means too that we cannot actually know anything as the result of inductive reasoning since justification or warrant is an element of knowledge) but not belief in the existence of God (I am not here saying that belief in God is unjustified but Mr. Wallis would). However, the biggest problem with this response is that it is not an argument. Merely asserting that it is not irrational to operate on unjustified assumptions or that invalid reasoning is not unreasonable or that it is not irrational to use induction etc. does not suffice as an answer to the argument that was offered toward the conclusion that humans are irrational in using induction. If one can actually know anything through induction, be rational in thus using induction, be reasonable in accepting invalid argument, etc. then it is not immediately clear how this is the case nor does one intuitively think it is true. Mr. Wallis has not provided any reason for us to reject the problem of induction. It clearly applies to his position, he gave no reason in the debate for us to think that it does not, and he still has not given us a reason for thinking that it does not.

Theistic Justification

With no reason to think that he has any place to stand and do so Mr. Wallis nevertheless proceeds to object to the Christian (or what he calls “Calvinist”) justification of induction in a way that he did not object to it during the debate. He writes:

“I most certainly do have serious problems with the content of the Calvinist’s would-be answer to the problem of induction! Namely, you appeal to God’s causal powers when you try to get induction from God’s existence.”

Unfortunately Mr. Wallis does not quote where in the debate I make “appeal to God’s causal powers.” In fact I must confess that I do not know what he is talking about when he speaks of “God’s causal powers.” I will assume that Mr. Wallis is referring to God’s being the Creator and Sustainer of everything, but so far there are no “problems” with saying that God is Creator and Sustainer of everything so the objection Mr. Wallis is trying to raise must not be here. Mr. Wallis also writes that I “try to get induction from God’s existence.” By this I assume he means something like “try to [justify] induction [by appealing to] God’s existence.” Otherwise Mr. Wallis appears to be thinking that God in some sense bestows the practice of induction upon humans at some point in time and they are then justified in using it, but that’s not exactly what I’m saying. (In any event I hope that Mr. Wallis is not attempting to use an argument offered by one of the listeners subsequent to the debate which conflates several of Hume’s arguments concerning causation as I listened in on that conversation and the argument offered appears to rest on a confusion of categories.) So far there are no worries and I think Mr. Wallis means to raise his objections in what follows:

“However, in order to talk about causation we must first make inductive inferences, which means you have induction all along, and thus you’re not getting induction from God.”

Note first of all what it means for the position Mr. Wallis holds when he says that in order to even talk about causation we must make inductive inferences. It means, frankly, that everything said by Mr. Wallis pertaining to induction is wholly unjustified. Perhaps I have made this point clear enough by now.

Now then I am perfectly happy with accepting that in order to talk about causation we must make inductive inferences. I am likewise happy to accept that we have induction all along. However I have no idea how it follows that I am “not getting induction from God” or for that matter what it means to say that someone is or is not “getting induction from God.” Certainly I can get power from my electric company, use the power for various tasks, have it all along, and yet still get the power from my electric company. However I am not really talking about “getting induction from God” anyway. What I am saying is that induction is justified in the context of the Christian worldview. Christians have a reason for believing that nature exhibits regularities whereas non-Christians do not. We all use induction all the time. I will grant that. The question is as to who is actually justified in using it. Now I see no reason to think that Mr. Wallis has provided an objection to justifying induction by appealing to the existence of God as Creator and Sustainer and he certainly has not justified his own use of induction. His objection appears to be, “You are using induction!” but this is not an objection. Perhaps his objection is more like, “You are using induction to justify induction!” but this is not what we are doing either, and if this is an objection then it applies equally to his own position. Mr. Wallis is apparently forgetting the end of my opening statement during the debate where I presented Alvin Plantinga’s suggestion that, “perhaps we do indeed have a priori knowledge of contingent truth: perhaps we know a priori that the future will resemble the past.” To be fair Mr. Wallis writes, “But this is a tricky point, and I don’t expect a few sentences to communicate it adequately.” Perhaps he can explain this point in greater detail in the future and prove me wrong, but it appears to be pretty far off the mark. Insofar as it is related to what one of those commenting on the debate subsequent to it I can assure Mr. Wallis that it is a misguided approach to responding to my argument. So then Mr. Wallis has not given us any reason for rejecting the Christian theistic justification of induction either during the debate nor afterward. The justification for Christian theism is that without it nothing can be justified.

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