Ben Wallis responds to “induction again” (Updated)

Ben Wallis has responded to the post found here.


You offer several quotations from me on induction, and suggest that they are contradictory. But how? What contradiction exactly do you see? Because I confess, I cannot find any. Perhaps you think that having something new to say about induction constitutes a change in view…? I hope that’s not the case. It just means that I’m trying to find more effective ways to communicate the point, and raising other points which might bear on it. After all, there are different problems on the table, here, and they all demand different responses.

The following two statements from Ben constitute a contradiction:

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

“…induction is quite easily and plainly justified on a secular view.”

In his latest post he states something similar to the latter of the two claims above:

“…induction is justified…”

This statement likewise contradicts his statement:

“…we have no epistemic justification for induction…”

Further, the various answers that are being provided are not the same answer to the problem of induction. For example, an a priori solution to the problem of induction is not the same as a pragmatic solution to the problem of induction, however Ben has used both. This is not necessarily a problem insofar as the attempted answers are consistent with one another, but I am not sure Ben is even aware that he is offering multiple answers, and whether or not they are consistent with one another is debatable.

As I said in my debate with you—in our first substantive encounter—induction is justified insofar as we simply MUST use it. There is no choice to be made, here. We will use induction, whether or not we want to use it. Furthermore, induction is the only way we know to make sense of experience. Without induction, we would be lost in a sea of disconnected and incoherent ideas.

Ben has offered this response several times now, and has had the refutation of this solution spelled out for him, but perhaps he has forgotten it or it was unclear:

  1. It is not necessarily the case that we must use induction. There are other methods of reasoning we could use, such as deduction. There are even people who would suggest that we do not and/or should not use induction at all, such as some Clarkians and hypothetico-deductivists. So it has not been established that we necessarily use induction.
  2. Even if we grant that we must use induction it does not follow that induction is epistemically justified. The presence of some form of reasoning does not merit our saying that such reasoning is epistemically justified, even if we reason that way of a necessity. We can grant that we reason inductively and we can even grant that we must do so, but the question of whether or not we are epistemically justified in doing so is a different matter altogether.
  3. The claim that we must use induction is itself an inductive conclusion. Even if we grant that in every case up until now humans have had to reason inductively, it does not follow that this will be the case in future experience. We would need to rely upon induction to come to such a conclusion, extrapolating from our present circumstance to some circumstance in our future experience. But we cannot make such a leap to future experience (that we have not yet experienced, since it is future) without induction. So, we need to justify induction. But we cannot, according to Ben, justify induction unless we do make such an inductive conclusion. Ben found this out during cross-examination in our debate, but maybe he did not grasp how devastating this problem is.
  4. To point out consequences of using induction if it is not epistemically justified as though these consequences constitute justification for induction becomes an argument from consequences which is a fallacy.

In any event, Ben seems to think that I am suggesting that we are standing back from this tool of induction, questioning whether or not we should use it and requiring justification before we choose to use it. But this is a massive misunderstanding of what I am suggesting. I am suggesting that we do use induction already, and that we are epistemically justified in using it. However, I am also suggesting that if one rejects the Christian worldview, then he is not justified in induction in terms of that worldview, though he already relies upon it. Strictly speaking, it is not a matter of whether or not we are going to “choose” to use induction or “choose” to continue to use it. My point is that if we use induction, and we do, then we must ask if we are epistemically justified in doing so, and there is nothing coming from Ben’s worldview which would suggest that we are.

But you will insist that this does not solve our problem. So I took to wondering, maybe you have a different problem in mind. Maybe you just want to ground induction in pure deduction. (This is what I meant by the “epistemic” problem.) If that’s the case, then I agree we can never accomplish such a task. Inductive inferences are not deductive. If we observe a regularity, we cannot deductively infer that the regularity should continue beyond the scope of our direct experience. In other words, there is no solution to this version of the problem. But that’s okay! We don’t NEED to ground inductive inferences in deduction. Maybe you WANT to do it, but you cannot. Nobody can—not even by appealing to an unembodied mind which created the universe using supernatural powers.

I do not know why Ben thinks I want to bring deduction into this. I am talking about a problem with induction, not deduction, and I am not faulting induction for not being deduction. Thankfully Ben finally joins me (and Hume) here in dismissing a priori justification for induction, namely by stating that we cannot deductively infer anything about regularity.

So it is that we don’t limit rationality to merely deductive inferences. If someone makes an inductive inference which is not deductively grounded, we don’t accuse him of irrationality! (Well, maybe YOU do, but you’re in a tiny minority there, I should think.) That’s what I mean by “a priori” justification for induction—as Strawson observed, we take induction to be “justified,” or “rational,” etc., as part of what we MEAN by those terms. To my knowledge, Hume did not address this point, and none of your quotations of Hume deal with it. And I can’t find any objection on your part other than the fact that you think (incorrectly, it would seem) that Hume argued against it. Well, suppose he did. What was the substance of his arguments? What makes them compelling? Suppose we can’t ground induction in deduction. In that case, why should we refrain from taking inductive inferences to be rational? Why is it that you think justification for a position on, say, the force of gravity on earth, cannot consist of a strong inductive argument? I just don’t see how you could possibly defend that kind of position.

Strawson did not observe that we take induction to be “justified” or “rational” as part of what we mean by those terms, because “we” do not in fact do so. I certainly do not, and the bulk of other philosophers throughout history have not either. So I am not sure what Ben is getting at here, and I am not sure that he knows either. By “rational” or “justified” I do not mean “induction,” and to state “induction is justified” so that it is true by definition allows me to do the same with respect to any problematic, fallacious method of reasoning. Or, I might suggest that Christian revelatory epistemology is justified as an a priori truth. For Ben to deny that my Christian revelatory epistemology is not justified is for Ben to deny something which is analytically true and so he contradicts himself. However the case could also be made that if Ben grants this analytic truth, as he must since he does so in the case of induction per Strawson, then he must also grant that his own position is irrational per the a priori justification of Christian revelatory epistemology. I’m sure we could think through any number of scenarios here. I am familiar with Strawson’s response, but I have been alluding to problems with it that I have repeated here and worked some more out in my last post with respect to Ben’s response concerning convention. Additionally, we do not know that induction will continue to successfully conform to the inductive standards etc., whatever they are, in Strawson’s scheme, unless we already assume induction, but this is begging the question. Finally, we can just flat-out reject Ben and Strawson’s stipulation that induction is justified and/or rational since it is arbitrary.

As for the inconsistencies I mentioned between induction and Christianity, you’re right that I’m taking for granted that, say, the evidence strongly supports geologic time, or biological evolution, or the forgery of Biblical texts, etc. Obviously I don’t expect you to agree. But that’s not the point. Rather, I’m trying to show you some various possibilities for where your position might go wrong. So, if you happen to be mistaken about any one of these points, it means your view would be inconsistent with induction. In my experience, Calvinists often believe that it is impossible they should be wrong about such things. Maybe that’s what you think. But such a position is precarious to the extreme.

The reason that my position cannot possibly go wrong (meaning, be shown false as a whole) with respect to the age of the earth, biological evolution, or the forgery of Biblical texts is that transcendental arguments establish the possibility of an intelligible position on the age of the earth, biological evolution, or the forgery of Biblical texts regardless of what one’s position is on these matters. Science, history, and the like is only possible within the Christian worldview, so even the denial of one of its tenets presupposes the Christian worldview. Hence my position cannot in an ultimate sense be established or refuted by such scientific and historical claims. This is not to say anything of whether or not the assertions Ben made were or were not consistent with the Christian worldview. It is also false, by the way, that Calvinists often believe that it is impossible they should be wrong about such things. In fact, I only recently changed my position on the age of the earth because I believe that I was wrong on at least one of the things Ben mentioned.

Of course, we don’t need to posit Christianity as rational a priori unless it lacks inductive or deductive support. Now, if you’re willing to grant that Christianity doesn’t have any inductive/deductive justification, then that’s great! (Recall that I regard abduction as a kind of induction.) Apparently you think that there exists a kind of “transcendental” justification which goes beyond induction and deduction. I have no idea what that would be, but okay. If you can live without inductive or deductive support for Christianity, then good luck with that. But I cannot.

My point was that we can posit Christianity as rational a priori since Ben allows us to posit induction as rational a priori, and this creates a problem for Ben that he cannot surmount. He has unleashed all manner of nonsense “rational a priori” methods of reasoning, positions, and other beliefs upon the world. Suppose I were to suggest that purely fallacious reasoning, in contrast to valid and/or sound reasoning, is definitionally rationally justified  as Ben has suggested here with induction? What would Ben’s objection be? He might boast that he is not going to “follow” me in my “convention,” but why not? His position would be every bit as arbitrary as mine.

We can posit Christianity as rational a priori regardless of whether it lacks inductive or deductive support or not. Ben apparently thinks it is a necessary condition of positing something as a priori rational that it has no inductive or deductive support, but this is simply a bare assertion. I’m not willing to grant that Christianity does not have any inductive/deductive justification, and I never suggested such a thing. Inductive or deductive justification are irrelevant to the overload objection I am making to Ben’s arbitrary claims.

Further, if Ben still wants to insist that a necessary condition of positing something as a priori rational is that it lacks inductive or deductive support, we would require an argument for such an odd and seemingly irrelevant claim. Additionally, we would point out that his own solution allegedly from Strawson supposedly relies in the end upon deductive support since Strawson is essentially stipulating the rationality of induction as an analytic truth. Since denying an analytic truth results in a contradiction, Strawson’s solution is ultimately deductive in nature. Finally, I would note again that Christianity does have both inductive and deductive support, but that ultimately it is proven transcendentally. Even the nature of the exchange here, where Ben wants to stipulate this or that concerning induction, should indicate why we need to go beyond the categories of induction and deduction when it comes to a clash between two antithetical worldviews each with their own respective epistemologies. Mine is consistent, his is not, and mine makes sense of the induction Ben wants to bring to the table, whereas Ben’s does not. Ben cannot argue against the Christian worldview or even have this discussion without presupposing the Christian worldview, and there is his transcendental argument.

Thanks for the response. Take care.





Time is short, so I’m just going to run down a few brief points…

When I say that induction is justified but not epistemically justified, that is no contradiction. Obviously I am distinguishing between different kinds of justification, here. In particular, by “epistemic” justification I was talking about grounding induction in deduction. Apparently we agree on this point—that induction does not need to be grounded in deduction in order for it to be justified.

+ + +

By now I have lost the context of these statements, but I will leave this issue be for now. I believe I remember addressing the issue of substituting another sort of “justification” for epistemic justification, and I believe I remember addressing the issue of whether or not I am asking for some deductive justification. If the readers want to they can trace back through the discussion in the links which were provided.

Regarding your four-point response, (1) you may think you can get by without induction, but you can’t;

1a. This is for Ben to show, and he has not.

1b. Deduction was suggested as being another method of reasoning we could use instead of induction, and so Ben must show why it is the case we cannot use deduction. (I’m not sure what he is thinking here, as he seems fine with using deductive reasoning.)

1c. The arguments of Clarkians and hypothetico-deductivists would need to be addressed as objections to what Ben still needs to do in 1a.

So again, Ben has not established that we must use inductive reasoning. (There are also different senses of “must” and I am unclear about which sense(s) of the term he is using.)

(2) what does it mean to be “epistemically justified” that we would be irrational to use induction unless it was so?

I do not understand this response. I will restate the point:

Even if we grant that we must use induction it does not follow that induction is epistemically justified. The presence of some form of reasoning does not merit our saying that such reasoning is epistemically justified, even if we reason that way of a necessity. We can grant that we reason inductively and we can even grant that we must do so, but the question of whether or not we are epistemically justified in doing so is a different matter altogether.

(3) there is nothing contradictory, circular or “devastating” in using induction to discover that we must use induction;

Um…yes, there is. Ben is using this “discovery” in an attempt to justify induction. He is assuming the point to be proven. There is a problem of arbitrariness, circularity, or infinite regress, depending upon how we set the question up and how it is answered.

 (4) consequences don’t immediately bear on rationality, but they can motivate us to use certain standards of rationality—and that’s all we require.

No, consequences cannot rationally motivate us to use certain standards of rationality. For example, it is still fallacious for someone to embrace fallacious reasoning just because of the consequences of reasoning logically. It is not reasonable for someone to believe in Allah because she is forced to at gunpoint. She certainly would be motivated to believe in Allah, but she would not thereby be justified in her belief.  Motivation is not all we require when it comes to the reason giving game. We need a reason for coming to the inductive conclusions that we do or for using induction, and appealing to consequences is a fallacious stand in for such a reason.

Of course I would be happy to elaborate on any of these four points on request.

+ + +

Regarding “epistemic justification,” I think perhaps you had better explain what exactly you mean by that term. I myself was referring to grounding induction in deduction. Perhaps that was an inappropriate use of the term; if so I apologize for any miscommunication. But I still need to know, what does epistemic justification mean to you?

+ + +

Broadly I mean some reason, evidence, etc. for reasoning as we do. I want good reasons for thinking that induction gives us knowledge about the world, is rational to use, etc.

If you read Strawson’s Logical Theory, in particular the chapter on induction, you will see that he does in fact take induction as justified in the way I have described. I even quoted Strawson in one of my earlier comments. Here is one especially relevant snippet:

“So to ask whether it is reasonable to place reliance on inductive procedures is like asking whether it is reasonable to proportion the degree of one’s convictions to the strength of the evidence. Doing this is what ‘being reasonable’ means in such a context” (pp256-7).

I am aware of this.

And clearly the vast majority of philosophers regard inductive inferences as justified. You do too—it’s just that you think God somehow (how?) does the justifying.

+ + +

It is not clear that the vast majority of philosophers regard inductive inferences as justified. In fact I have read many who do not. I have read others who believe that it is, but their justifications fail on any number of accounts. I do regard inductive inferences as justified, because this is God’s orderly world and He desires for us to know it. The future will resemble the past. There are regularities in nature. We know these things generally and specifically by virtue of the revelation of God. Hence we have reason to take the premises of an inductive argument to be connected to one another and the conclusion.

Clearly taking induction as rational is not arbitrary, since we all use it,

It is arbitrary in the sense of being rationally arbitrary. That we all use induction has nothing to do with whether or not we justifiably do so. The constant equivocation is not helpful.

and indeed we MUST use it,

This has not been established. See above. It also has nothing to do with whether or not induction is rationally justified. See previous point.

and since induction has already been taken as rational by the civilized world.

This is not true, as the philosophers who have written on this problem for hundreds of years were members of what we typically designate as the civilized world. Further, this has nothing to do with whether or not induction is rationally justified. See previous point. There is also an appeal to the majority or appeal to authority fallacy lurking in the shadows.

On the other hand, taking Christianity as rationally justified by definition is not going to be the least bit persuasive to either of us, even if it might satisfy some folks out there.

Persuasion is irrelevant to the validity or soundness of an argument, so the concern about persuasiveness or lack thereof is irrelevant to the point in question. Taking induction to be rationally justified by definition is not the least bit persuasive to me, however, given that taking induction to be rationally justified by definition is supposedly persuasive to Ben, I would like to know why he does not likewise believe my suggestion that we take Christianity to be rationally justified by definition to be persuasive. There is no difference between the two that I can see, aside from Ben’s irrelevant concerns about what we allegedly “must” do and the fact that we already do it.

And, as pointed out before, Christianity is inconsistent with induction.

+ + +

I’ve already addressed these bare assertions, and for the record, they still do not establish that Christianity is inconsistent with induction.

I never asserted that “it is a necessary condition of positing something as a priori rational that it has no inductive or deductive support.” I’m not sure where you got that.

+ + +

This is fine.

Nothing in Christianity or Calvinism adds to the discussion about induction. Your religious beliefs do not help you make sense of induction. And this is evident from the fact that, in our lengthy exchanges, you have never given any coherent and uniquely Christian justification of induction.

We are in exactly the same boat.

+ + +

Take care,

I have done so in my debate with Ben, probably in subsequent discussions, all over the place on this website, and in this updated post. Ben and I are certainly not in the same boat. I am justified in the context of my worldview in believing that there is a uniformity of nature, whereas he is not justified in believing the same within the context of his own worldview. The uniformity of nature carries with it profound implications for what we say about inductive reasoning, as shown here and in the other post regarding Ben’s question about induction with respect to gravity.

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