Wallis Debate Recap Continued: Induction

Mr. Wallis claims that, “we simply must use induction, because we have no other means of planning for action in the world.” An interesting claim to be sure, but it is not clear what Mr. Wallis means by this statement or how Mr. Wallis could know that it is true. He nevertheless concludes from this statement that, “no epistemic ‘problem’ of induction need cause us an abundance of concern.” Even more strange is that Wallis offers these statements as constituting an “objection” to the following argument that he quotes from me from our debate:

“Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational. However, everyone reasons inductively. The conclusion is that humans are irrational. [10:35]”

First of all we should consider what Mr. Wallis means when he states that “we simply must use induction.” It is not entirely clear what sort of “must” Wallis has in mind here, but the reason he gives for this alleged need to use induction is that “we have no other means of planning for action in the world.” I doubt that this statement is true given that human reasoning is not limited to inductive reasoning but utilizes other types of reasoning as well (e.g. deductive, transcendental, etc.). So I am not entirely clear on what he means when he says that we must use induction. Secondly we should consider how Mr. Wallis knows the claim in question anyway. Even if all instances of induction in past experience have been obligatory or determined in whatever way Mr. Wallis thinks they have been obligatory or determined (“must”) we are left with the question of how Mr. Wallis knows that any instance of induction in future experience will be likewise obligatory or determined. The claim that “we have no other means of planning for action in the world” is not only a universal negative, but it is arrived at through inductive reasoning. However, I pointed out during the debate that the Scottish skeptic David Hume popularized the ancient “Problem of Induction” and that this problem calls into question the very induction Mr. Wallis is trying to use here. Attempting to answer a skeptic’s attack on induction by making bold claims reached through induction does not in any way substantiate a sufficient reply to the problem. Finally, Mr. Wallis is not actually objecting to the argument he claims he is objecting to anyway. Recall that in the small argument above I affirmed along with Hume and many others that “everyone reasons inductively.” While we have pointed out some problems with the claim Mr. Wallis makes that “we simply must use induction, because we have no other means of planning for action in the world;” the claim is in and of itself not inconsistent with the argument Wallis is responding to. One could affirm both the argument (“Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational. However, everyone reasons inductively. The conclusion is that humans are irrational. [10:35]”) and the “objection” from Wallis (“we simply must use induction, because we have no other means of planning for action in the world”) and so the objection is not an objection at all! In fact, the claims Mr. Wallis makes, if true, would only lend support to the premise of the argument which states that, “everyone reasons inductively.” So far Mr. Wallis has not provided us with any reason to reject the argument in question.

Recall that Mr. Wallis claims, “we simply must use induction, because we have no other means of planning for action in the world” and then concludes from this statement that, “no epistemic ‘problem’ of induction need cause us an abundance of concern.” However, the latter statement does not follow from the former at all. Perhaps it is true that we must use induction and that there is no other means of planning for action in the world. Does it follow that when an epistemic problem with induction is identified that it need not “cause us an abundance of concern?” Only if someone does not care about whether or not we are rationally justified when we use induction! Mr. Wallis apparently thinks that he has provided a sufficient response to the very serious epistemological problem of induction when all he has really done is to set up the very first steps of the problem and then dismissed the unacceptable results. Remember that the argument Mr. Wallis is engaging is, “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational. However, everyone reasons inductively. The conclusion is that humans are irrational. [10:35].” He has not even attempted to reject a premise of this argument. Instead he has provided questionable support for the premise which states that “everyone reasons inductively.” Thus Mr. Wallis would have us to accept the argument as it stands. However he also wants to assert that “no epistemic ‘problem’ of induction need cause us an abundance of concern.” Yet the conclusion of the argument is that humans are irrational. Let’s be clear about what Mr. Wallis must say here: that humans are irrational need not “cause us an abundance of concern!” If Mr. Wallis really believes this then he has established my case. Non-Christianity is shot through with irrationality, and Mr. Wallis does not believe we should be the least bit concerned! Yet Mr. Wallis wants to hold me to being rational. He is embracing irrationality while demanding rationality from me.

Mr. Wallis writes of me, “However, he appeared not to take my point that such an epistemic problem does not threaten nontheism.” Of course Mr. Wallis can repeat many times over and in different ways that he need not be concerned about the problem of induction, but this does not constitute an answer to the problem or an explanation as to why he thinks this is the case. He continues, “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction.” There are a host of worries with this response. Recall yet again the argument that Mr. Wallis is responding to. It claims, “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational. However, everyone reasons inductively. The conclusion is that humans are irrational. [10:35].” In stating that “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction” Mr. Wallis has not provided any reasons to reject any of the premises of the argument above. Thus the conclusion of the argument still follows, “humans are irrational.” Thus Mr. Wallis (a human) only irrationally asserts “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction.” In fact it would appear that every Mr. Wallis ever says is completely irrational, but if he is “comfortable” with this then all we have left to do at this point is to pray for him. My thoughts are that Mr. Wallis is not actually comfortable with irrationality and that we should pray for him to see why this is the case.

It is possible to explain the aforementioned acceptance of complete irrationality in greater detail. When Mr. Wallis claims that, “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction” he is saying something that is completely irrelevant to the problem in question. Mr. Wallis is completely dodging the problem I am highlighting and offering something else that has nothing to do with what I have presented to him. Remember that Mr. Wallis has asserted that “such an epistemic problem does not threaten nontheism.” We have already seen that this is not the case unless one embraces irrationality (any such acceptance of irrationality is a concession in debate). However, the problem to be pointed out here is different from the aforementioned problem. Mr. Wallis not only merely dismisses the epistemic problem of induction (and hence must embrace irrationalism), but he goes on to import something foreign to the discussion. He writes that, “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction.” The problem of induction is an epistemic problem. Hence Mr. Wallis introducing anything even related to a so-called “pragmatic justification” for induction has nothing to do with the discussion. Wallis has employed a Red Herring. Insofar as Mr. Wallis wishes to object or stand by the potentially rhetorically persuasive element of his use of the term “justification” he equivocates on the term “justification.” When epistemic justification is the topic at hand it will not do to mention pragmatic justification. Therefore Mr. Wallis is guilty here of either a Red Herring or Equivocation.

The problems for this response are even worse than what is described above because given the epistemological problem of induction one cannot affirm the pragmatic response. That which one must affirm in order to present the (irrelevant) “pragmatic justification” of induction cannot be affirmed since it is only known (if it is known at all) through the induction that is called into question by the epistemological problem of induction! Mr. Wallis agrees when he states, “It’s quite true that we need induction to draw the conclusion that induction is required for acting in the world.” However he then makes the confusing claim that he is “not trying to reach induction from some more primitive position.” By making this statement Wallis hopes to stave off any objections that he is engaging in fallaciously circular reasoning. The claim is confusing and it is not clear from the statement alone why Wallis thinks he is not reasoning fallaciously, but he adds, “I want to point out that, from our current induction-using perspective, we may recognize the fact that we simply can’t give it up.” But this response is completely insufficient. Wallis is grasping for some justification for his clear use of fallaciously circular reasoning and is coming up empty handed. Fallacies are fallacies whether they are the basis upon which some argument, principle, behavior, etc. is initially accepted or whether they are the basis upon which some argument, principle, behavior, etc. continues to be accepted. Mr. Wallis has hit the wall here. (I think he knows it and I want to emphasize it.) He writes:

“Inductive reasoning is not something we can just discard if it grows too uncomfortable for us. So it’s not as if we have a choice to make—as if we must decide whether or not to continue to use induction. Rather, we simply will do so, because we have no alternative.”

Precisely Mr. Wallis! This is exactly what the argument Mr. Wallis is attempting to object to states as one of its premises. Everyone reasons inductively. No one is asking whether or not we should begin to use induction. No one is even asking whether or not we should continue to use induction. The question is much more fundamental than that. Are we epistemically justified in using induction? If we are not then we are irrational. I do not believe that we are irrational, but I have a worldview wherein I can make sense of that. Mr. Wallis does not.

Wallis stated in the debate that, “it doesn’t help us to trade in one unjustified assumption for another, because if that’s all we do, then we’re still going to have unjustified assumptions on our hands. [28:20]” He is apparently referring to my worldview here, but the Christian worldview is hardly an “assumption” on the same level as the assumption of the uniformity of nature, much less an “unjustified assumption.” Mr. Wallis is missing the presuppositional nature of the argument over entire worldviews. On the basis of my worldview there is no problem of induction. On the basis of his worldview there is. My worldview is sufficient to account for human intelligibility. His is not. Since human intelligibility is assumed in rational discourse and debate Mr. Wallis lost by showing up. Perhaps I will return to this subject in the future as time allows.


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