Wallis Debate Recap Continued: Theism, Presuppositionalism, and Induction

Mr. Wallis writes that, “theism is just as ill-equipped as nontheism to answer the epistemic problem of induction.” In this statement is an apparent acknowledgement that non-theism is unable or at any rate “ill-equipped” to “answer the epistemic problem of induction.” We will set aside this concession regarding the problem of induction in a non-theistic worldview and go directly to the objection to justifying induction in the context of the Christian worldview.

The problem Mr. Wallis has with attempting to justify induction in the Christian worldview does not concern the content of the answer Christian theology provides. Rather Mr. Wallis objects to the actual move of appealing to the Christian worldview for justification of induction. Mr. Wallis writes, “If we want to justify our assumptions, for example our assumption of induction, then it won’t do to invoke new assumptions, unless those new assumptions are themselves justified.” Thus the reason Mr. Wallis gives for claiming that theism is “ill-equipped…to answer the epistemic problem of induction” is that it is merely another unjustified assumption. Before attempting to satisfy the criteria offered by Mr. Wallis we should examine his assertion to see whether or not he provides us with any reason for accepting it and to see whether or not it stands up to its own standard.

Consider the statement, “If we want to justify our assumptions…then it won’t do to invoke new assumptions, unless those new assumptions are themselves justified.” If the statement itself is an assumption then it will need to be justified. We might want to say that the statement is an argument or conclusion of an argument, but any argument or conclusion at the end of an argument will again involve assumptions which will each need to be justified. Whatever justification is provided for the statement offered as justification will likewise need to be justified, and whatever justification is provided for that statement will also need to be justified, ad infinitum. An infinite regress of justifications means that the original statement cannot be justified. The original statement leads to an infinite regress of justifications by its own criteria of justification. Thus if the statement is true then we cannot ever know that it is true. If the statement is false we likewise cannot ever know that it is true. One of the most fundamental tenets of the epistemology of Mr. Wallis is therefore fatally flawed. He not only asserts his principle concerning the justification of assumptions without any justification for doing so, but his principle cannot ever actually be justified and so it fails its own test. There is no reason to attempt to satisfy the demand Mr. Wallis makes upon any assumption that would be justified according to him, because his demand cannot itself be justified or known to be true.

Mr. Wallis continues, “In other words, 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]” In light of this we must ask Mr. Wallis how he can ever know anything. Even when it comes to the center of his epistemology as it pertains to the rules for justifying assumptions Mr. Wallis finds that he is doing nothing more than trading in “one unjustified assumption for another.” Thus by his own program Mr. Wallis cannot ever justify anything. Thus if the position of Mr. Wallis is true then he cannot know that it is true; he cannot have knowledge at all! If the view Mr. Wallis presents us with is true then knowledge is impossible. Yet in coming to the debate Mr. Wallis assumed that knowledge is possible. Therefore in showing up for the debate Mr. Wallis lost the debate.

If knowledge is possible then there must be in an epistemology some end to the infinite chain of justifications unlike that which is entailed by the kind of system Mr. Wallis presents to us. If we are going to have epistemology at all then we must all start somewhere epistemologically. We might call an epistemological starting point an ultimate assumption or a presupposition. One bases his or her entire worldview upon this fundamental assumption. Facts, evidence, arguments, and the like are all interpreted in terms of the presupposition and its respective worldview. When these presuppositions are themselves called into question as they were in the Bolt/Wallis debate there initially appears to be no way to settle the dispute since one cannot go any “further back” than these presuppositions. However, an internal critique of each worldview may be performed in order to see which worldview is consistent with itself.

Recall that I believe in the God of the Christian Bible. It may be said that I subscribe to the Christian worldview. My epistemology is revelational. Mr. Wallis assumes epistemological autonomy.  He claims that human experience is intelligible apart from God’s revelation to us. He rejects what I affirm and subscribes to the non-Christian worldview. Discussing the problem of induction has brought to light that the Christian worldview has no problem of induction whereas the worldview Mr. Wallis subscribes to does. Induction does not itself provide a sufficient epistemological starting point because it is nowhere near broad enough or related enough to other central features of an epistemological scheme. The non-Christian worldview adhered to by Mr. Wallis is inconsistent with itself and unable to provide the preconditions for intelligible human experience. This failure was especially illustrated through induction during the debate, but there have been other illustrations offered as well. One worldview or the other must account for the debate. That worldview is the Christian worldview.

It is not as though I am beginning with the same epistemology that Mr. Wallis is beginning with that will include the same problems. I am not even beginning with the same worldview. The reason that Mr. Wallis has the problems in his epistemology that he does (like the problem of induction) is because he rejects my worldview. Mr. Wallis wants to begin to try and make sense of the world apart from what God has told us concerning it, but one of the things God tells us about the world is that we cannot make sense of it without Him. Thus I am by no means trading one unjustified assumption for another. The assumption of the uniformity of nature necessary for induction is not something that has ever been unjustified in the Christian worldview. Mr. Wallis should ‘keep his problems to himself!’ Induction or the principle of induction will not suffice as an epistemological starting point for human intelligibility because it does not provide a broad enough foundation for all other kinds of human reasoning and aspects of experience. These are the kinds of worries one runs into when he or she rejects the authority of God.

Transcendental arguments pertain to the preconditions of intelligibility. I submitted during my opening statement of the debate and I submit now that the Christian worldview is the precondition of intelligibility. The intelligibility of human experience is a given in the context of a debate and so is induction. If we are not going to be concerned about rational justification in such a central feature of our epistemological scheme as induction then there is certainly no need to be concerned about debates on the existence of God. On the other hand if we are to be epistemically justified in using induction and not tumble headlong into irrationality then we must believe that the Christian worldview is true and God exists.

Now it is clear why Mr. Wallis is mistaken in thinking that I am “offering ‘faith’ as an alternative to induction.” I am not. Faith is that which makes reasoning possible. Since I have faith in God (which faith is rational and placed in God and His Word; not a “blind faith” at all!) I am justified in my use of induction. I do not have to conclude as Mr. Wallis does that humans are all irrational and then try to handwave that conclusion with all that it entails and pretend that it is of little concern(!). The “justification” for faith is that without it reason is impossible. Faith is justified in that without faith there is no justification.

Induction needs to be rationally justified if we are not going to all be utterly irrational, and Mr. Wallis has not provided any such justification. In order to argue that the Christian worldview is not true or that God does not exist one must assume that it is and He does. Unbelievers must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to argue against it. In coming to the debate Mr. Wallis lost the debate.

Credo ut intelligam.


5 Comments

Mitchell LeBlanc

This is all far too loosey-goosey. Why limit Wallis to foundationalism? What is his theory of truth, what is his theory of justification, etc. I mean, maybe you know for a fact that he’s a foundationalist (if so, I apologize). If he’s a coherentist with regard to justification he will just reject (and rightly so) your regress argument.

But even if he is a foundationalist, you would have to criticize his basic beliefs with his own criteria for forming basic beliefs. It’s difficult to see how, if he takes a particular set of propositions to be basic, you could offer any constructive criticism. If he’s a coherentist then the point is just moot, he does not need to worry about any sort of inferential chain.

Basically, you said: “If knowledge is possible then there must be in an epistemology some end to the infinite chain of justifications unlike that which is entailed by the kind of system Mr. Wallis presents to us. If we are going to have epistemology at all then we must all start somewhere epistemologically.”

But this isn’t obviously true!

Hope all is well. =)

C.L. Bolt

Hi Mitch,

I am not sure where I limited Wallis to foundationalism. Interesting thoughts on basic beliefs given that (to your credit) you have attempted to critique them in the past. I apologize for being “loosey-goosey,” but I only have so much to work with in terms of content and ability to be succinct and clear. 🙂

K. Tanner Barfield

Phenominal article. I am thoroughly enjoying this continued break down of the debate you did with Mr. Wallis. Autonomy always leads to absurdity.

Ben

Chris,

Thanks for responding to my blog recap! I certainly appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into this. However, I think maybe I should give you some clarification on my position.

First of all, yes, I do agree that we have no epistemic justification for induction. However, this “problem of induction” is not limited to nontheism. Calvinist Christianity is just as unable to provide any justification, for two distinct reasons (labelled (2) and (3)) which I will discuss momentarily.

My full response to the induction version of TAG is three-pronged:

(1) 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.
(2) Knowledge of the existence of Yahweh would not provide us with justification for induction.
(3) The alleged falsity of (1) and (2) would not constitute justification for assuming the existence of Yahweh.

I spent time in the debate defending (1), and I wrote a bit more about it in my blog recap. In your latest response, you object by claiming that “induction will not suffice as an epistemological starting point for human intelligibility because it does not provide a broad enough foundation for all other kinds of human reasoning and aspects of experience.” The implication here is that I think induction is all we need to get us everything else, but that is not what I’m suggesting! Rather, I’m pointing out that induction is an unshakable assumption, and that we need not be troubled by using it, even though it’s epistemically unjustified. While I can see that you vehemently disagree with this position and continue to insist that it is problematic, you have not given me any reason to reject it.

Regarding (2), aside from an off-handed comment in my blog recap, I haven’t really said much of anything about it until now, since I preferred to focus on (1) and (3), which I think are easier points for most people to appreciate (remember that we have an audience full of people without philosophical training. ; ) ). However, I want to mention it more explicitly now in order to respond to the following comment you wrote: “The problem Mr. Wallis has with attempting to justify induction in the Christian worldview does not concern the content of the answer Christian theology provides.” I’m sorry if I gave you that impression, because 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. 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. But this is a tricky point, and I don’t expect a few sentences to communicate it adequately. Just please be aware that any admission from me that Yahweh gets us induction will only ever be for the sake of argument, or as part of a counterfactual.

Regarding (3), I had pointed out in the debate and again in my blog recap that “If we want to justify our assumptions, for example our assumption of induction, then it won’t do to invoke new assumptions, unless those new assumptions are themselves justified.” In this latest response, you objected to my criticism by saying that it’s “merely another unjustified assumption.” Am I to understand that you think the statement is false? To deny it is to claim that invoking unjustified assumptions can constitute justification for some other assumption. Surely you would not suggest such a thing! But then what is your response to the criticism? In our debate, you appealed to faith, and in my blog recap I explained why I find such an appeal to be unhelpful. But what are you offering in its place? A criticism of my epistemological standards? That might be an interesting topic to pursue on another occasion, but it’s just not relevant unless you genuinely doubt my statement is true—i.e. unless you think that maybe we can sometimes justify assumptions merely by invoking new unjustified assumptions. Do you think that’s acceptable? I sure don’t!

You seem at times to agree, instead denying that assuming the existence of Yahweh is unjustified. But what is your justification? You wrote (emphasis added):

“The reason that Mr. Wallis has the problems in his epistemology that he does (like the problem of induction) is because he rejects my worldview. Mr. Wallis wants to begin to try and make sense of the world apart from what God has told us concerning it, but one of the things God tells us about the world is that we cannot make sense of it without Him. THUS I am by no means trading one unjustified assumption for another.”

I’m sorry to report that I do not see how the second sentence follows from the first, or indeed anything else you wrote previously. It seems to me that you’re missing some important steps, here.

Anyway, I hope that helps to clarify things, both for you and for whatever audience we may still have.

Thanks again for the dialog,

–Ben

C.L. Bolt

I have responded to Mr. Wallis’s comment here –

http://www.choosinghats.org/?p=1518

Thanks!


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