Concluding Remarks on the Wallis Debate

Chris,

I have a few final clarifications for you…

First of all, I’m not sure what premises you think I’m accepting, but let me assure you that I do NOT agree using induction without epistemic justification is irrational. You object to this assertion by complaining that it is not an argument, and indeed you are correct, it is not. What we decide to call “rational” or “irrational” depends on whatever standards of rationality we are using, and so it suffices for me to point out that my standard does not impose any such requirement for the epistemic justification of induction. But why use such a standard? What makes my standard “better” than yours? Well, in the debate I spent a good deal of time discussing my motivation, which includes among other observations the fact that we can’t shake induction as an assumption, and also the importance I see in always being willing to go question it and other assumptions—a willingness you seem not to share.

Allow me to expound even further by responding more directly to one of your criticisms from the debate: You claimed that if we reason “invalidly,” then we are guilty of irrationality. I could interpret this in one of at least two ways: First, by “reasoning invalidly” I can take you to mean attempting to use deductively valid reasoning, but making a mistake in so doing. If this is what you think is going on, then allow me to be clear that I am not claiming induction is a form of deduction. As you no doubt know, induction and deduction are two entirely different forms of inference, and I certainly recognize that. So, on this interpretation, I’m not reasoning invalidly because I’m not intending to use deduction when I use induction. But there is a second possible interpretation of your criticism, which is that any non-deductive inference should be taken as invalid and therefore irrational. But if that’s what you’re saying, then I would simply reject whatever standard of rationality leads you to make that judgment. Non-deductive reasoning, e.g. inductive reasoning, is not irrational simply because it’s not deductively valid—at least, not by my standard. (Notice also that if you think non-deductive reasoning is always irrational, then you had better be able to re-cast any inductive argument as a deductive argument. Are you?) But whatever you are using as a standard of rationality, I must insist that on my standard, there is at least one form of non-deductive reasoning which is perfectly rational: inductive reasoning.

I may remind you that you haven’t presented an argument, either, for regarding all epistemically unjustified assumptions as irrational. You just claim that it is so—and I suppose by your standard it is. However, there can never be an argument showing that your standard of rationality is “correct” or “incorrect,” because standards are not matters of fact. You can observe that by your standard, I am irrational, and maybe I am. But the reverse is also true: by my standard, you are guilty of an error in reasoning (and therefore in some respect irrational). The real question is, what standard do we want to use?

In addition to the serious problems I see with your standard (e.g. it means we are all irrational, even on Calvinism, due to points (2) and (3) from my previous post), it seems motivated almost exclusively by a desire to justify your religious beliefs. This I find extremely suspicious, and it makes your standard quite unattractive. In contrast, the standard I use is psychologically satisfying, at least to me, and integrates very smoothly with other satisfying standards (e.g. certain linguistic standards).

So, to summarize, you needed, among other things, to either show that I am irrational BY MY OWN STANDARD, or else win me over somehow to embrace your standard. I think it’s fairly evident that you can’t do the former, because one of your key premises quite clearly conflicts with my standard. As for the latter, that too seems unlikely, since your standard appears motivated by unattractive religious dogma. You also needed to show that you can get induction from the Calvin/Bolt conception of Yahweh (and from nowhere else), and that assuming the existence of such a God is itself epistemically justified. Unfortunately I remain unmoved by your arguments on those subjects.

I think this may be my last post on the subject, but I thank you again for the dialog. I hope it was as fun and interesting for you as it was for me! As anticipated, I found your case for theism to be very weak; it’s clever, to be sure!—but it has a fair number of serious flaws which I don’t think can be mended. However, our discussion has forced me to think carefully about my own position, even modifying it slightly, and for that I am grateful. I hope that my comments have similarly helped you, even if you don’t accept my case as a whole. It was nice to exchange ideas, even if we don’t agree with each other.

Take care,

–Ben

In his latest response Mr. Wallis has taken a somewhat different approach to the problem of induction. During the debate his contention was that, “[C]ontrary to what Mr. Bolt claims, induction is quite easily and plainly justified on a secular view. [28:25]” He then sought to provide this alleged justification. During this very helpful post-debate discussion Mr. Wallis quoted the argument in question and wrote, “In response to this argument I offered two objections, the first of which is that we simply must use induction, because we have no other means of planning for action in the world; so, no epistemic ‘problem’ of induction need cause us an abundance of concern…My second objection to Mr. Bolt’s argument for the existence of God pointed out that theism is just as ill-equipped as nontheism to answer the epistemic problem of induction.” (I have dealt with both of these “objections” in a previous post.) It is plain that what Mr. Wallis offers here is new; it is not something he offered either in the debate or post-debate discussion until now. We should take a closer look at it.

One of the premises of the argument Mr. Wallis is attempting to respond to is, “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational. [10:35]” Mr. Wallis writes, “let me assure you that I do NOT agree using induction without epistemic justification is irrational.” In other words Mr. Wallis denies that reasoning invalidly is unreasonable! Let’s be clear that Mr. Wallis is suggesting that he rejects one of the most fundamental elements of traditional epistemology. A massive area of formal agreement between the vast majority of understandings of epistemology is that we must have some sort of justification or warrant for our beliefs. Rejecting this leads to extremely serious consequences epistemologically speaking. In attempting to save his position from a reductio ad absurdum Mr. Wallis has in effect offered his own reductio. If it is perfectly reasonable to reason invalidly then any arbitrary belief, claim, assumption, etc. is just as good as any other and any agent just as rational/irrational. It does not matter whether the premises of some argument or reasoning process guarantee the truth of the conclusion or not. It’s all arbitrary. I would suggest to Mr. Wallis and to the readers that this is absurd.

However the problems go deeper for Mr. Wallis. While he suggests to us that reasoning invalidly is perfectly rational he also suggests that it is not. For example, participating in the debate itself constituted an acceptance of the justificatory element of knowledge and rationality. Anyone who consistently held to the epistemological scheme of arbitrariness described in the previous paragraph would not care at all for debate or anything else for that matter. Additionally Mr. Wallis repeatedly referred to the “problem of assumptions” throughout his opening statement. He also made the statement (which he has recently quoted) 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]” So while Mr. Wallis on the one hand claims to reject the premise which states, “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational” his actual practice in coming to the debate, expressing other epistemological principles, and holding me accountable to provide some valid reason for believing in God (all good things) is inconsistent with his claim. Just looking at some of the things he has quoted from the debate in his responses to me yields even more inconsistencies on this point. For example he stated that, “We should always question our assumptions [34:15],” but the only reason to “question” one’s assumptions is if there is a possibility that those assumptions are based upon faulty epistemic justification or invalid reasoning and the only way to question one’s assumptions is to examine the epistemic justification and reasoning that those assumptions are based upon! Yet while promoting this very nice-sounding approach to epistemology we are also told that it is not true that “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational!” Mr. Wallis also stated, “I don’t think that blind faith is ever a good idea [36:00].” But what is “blind faith” if not some assumption or conclusion being accepted wholly apart from reason – that is – some assumption or conclusion accepted without justification or warrant?! So when Mr. Wallis writes, “you needed, among other things, to…show that I am irrational BY MY OWN STANDARD…I think it’s fairly evident that you can’t…because one of your key premises quite clearly conflicts with my standard” he is correct that I need to show that he is irrational by his own standard, but he is not correct to imply that I have not been holding him to that standard in the reductio. It is worth noting as well that my argument is not something that Christians came up with, but something that extremely vocal and well known non-Christians like David Hume and Bertrand Russell have developed. The way that Mr. Wallis states his case gives the impression that I am critiquing his view simply by virtue of the fact that it does not comport with my own, but this is not at all what I have done. His inconsistencies are evident in the discussion above, and while he may continue to claim that he has some standard of rationality that solves the problem of induction and does not fall prey to the inconsistencies outlined above he has not been able to provide it for us.

Of course the objection to the arguments above will be that it is generally the case that “Reasoning invalidly is not reasonable at all; it is irrational,” but not in the case of induction. Wallis writes, “What we decide to call ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ depends on whatever standards of rationality we are using, and so it suffices for me to point out that my standard does not impose any such requirement for the epistemic justification of induction.” The response to this contrived answer is, “Why?” Why should induction be exempt from the typical standard that Mr. Wallis would use elsewhere? Wallis tries to explain, “Well, in the debate I spent a good deal of time discussing my motivation, which includes among other observations the fact that we can’t shake induction as an assumption, and also the importance I see in always being willing to go question it and other assumptions—a willingness you seem not to share.” Unfortunately this hardly answers the question as to why induction is exempted from the standards of rationality used elsewhere in Mr. Wallis’s epistemology. “[T]he fact that we can’t shake induction as an assumption” has nothing to do with whether or not that assumption is justified, nothing to do with whether or not unjustified assumptions are rational, and nothing to do with why induction is supposedly exempt from the standard of rationality used elsewhere in Wallis’s epistemology. He also introduces a problem for himself in mentioning, “the importance I see in always being willing to go question it and other assumptions.” This is a problem for Mr. Wallis because he has already forfeited needing any justification for induction so that there is no importance in questioning the assumptions and conclusions of inductive reasoning – all are equally reasonable according to the position Mr. Wallis presents to us. I should briefly note that the comment Wallis makes here about my alleged unwillingness to question induction and other assumptions is purely rhetorical and false. Perhaps I should remind everyone that I am the one who originally presented the arguments which do question such assumptions. It is strange for Mr. Wallis to state in response to these arguments that we cannot “shake” induction and then retort that I am unwilling to question it!

Even setting aside the question of whether or not unjustified inductive reasoning can nevertheless be rational (an untenable suggestion for the reasons given above) Wallis runs into other epistemological dead ends. Let’s continue to suppose as Mr. Wallis suggests that induction really is not and/or need not be justified. The manifold problems of taking such a position have already been explained during the course of the debate and elsewhere. If nothing else taking the view that induction is unwarranted leads us to the conclusion that we cannot know anything through induction. Our day-to-day activities using induction not to mention our scientific endeavors have not yielded one iota of knowledge. Even though we can know virtually nothing we have proceeded to make important decisions and attempted to build more knowledge upon what we mistakenly thought was knowledge obtained through induction. In the end it turns out that even the person who lights himself on fire thinking that it will make him taller is no less rationally justified than the person who avoids doing anything like that at all costs and thinks the man who behaves in such a strange and dangerous way is nothing short of insane. These are only the beginnings of the birth pangs concerning the consequences of Mr. Wallis’s view.

Mr. Wallis has some interesting things to say about “standards”. He writes that, “What we decide to call ‘rational’ or ‘irrational’ depends on whatever standards of rationality we are using.” Of course I mostly agree with this claim. He also writes:

“You can observe that by your standard, I am irrational, and maybe I am. But the reverse is also true: by my standard, you are guilty of an error in reasoning (and therefore in some respect irrational). The real question is, what standard do we want to use?”

Again I mostly agree with what he has written here. Unfortunately he goes on to write, “However, there can never be an argument showing that your standard of rationality is ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect,’ because standards are not matters of fact.” Somehow Mr. Wallis has missed that transcendental argumentation does exactly what he thinks can never be done. Transcendental arguments pertain to the preconditions of intelligible human experience assumed by – in this instance – debate. Thus some undoubted general principle or operational feature – in this instance induction – is evaluated in light of a worldview and its denial. Only one worldview can in the nature of the case provide for the principle or feature selected for the purpose of illustration. Thus when Wallis asks, “But why use such a standard? What makes my standard ‘better’ than yours?” with respect to anyone’s standard the answer must be given in terms of a transcendental clash of worldviews. Mr. Wallis claims that, “it suffices for me to point out that my standard does not impose any such requirement for the epistemic justification of induction.” However, we have seen in this post that this claim leads to further absurdity in the Wallis position. With all due respect, Mr. Wallis has taken the ad hoc route to digging a deeper epistemological hole. It should additionally be pointed out that Mr. Wallis should not really be calling his “standards” by that label since they are not “standards” at all (also consider what he may mean by “standards are not matters of fact”). They are in effect subjective opinions and I might add subjective opinions that run afoul of the findings of most philosophers throughout all of history. In the end the argumentation Mr. Wallis has presented boils down to an inconsistent subjectivism. He does not like that God exists, but that certainly constitutes no argument against the truth that God exists.

If Mr. Wallis had asked me during the debate what I mean when I say that inductive reasoning is “invalid” I would have answered, but this concern of his is also new. Certainly induction is deductively invalid, but my point is that it is invalid on various conceptions of so-called inductive validity as well. Roughly put; in an inductive argument the truth of the premises does not guarantee that the conclusion is even probably true. That is a very serious problem that has faced philosophers for centuries and one that Mr. Wallis should but unfortunately does not also take very seriously. Of course if we have some independent justificatory reason for accepting that “the future will resemble the past” or other similarly stated premises which connect otherwise wholly independent premises then the problem is solved, but as I have argued there is no such answer available to the non-Christian.

Wallis complains that my “standard” that invalid reasoning is unreasonable has “problems” and “seems motivated almost exclusively by a desire to justify your religious beliefs.” He writes, “This I find extremely suspicious, and it makes your standard quite unattractive.” This complaint carries only some rhetorical force for those not paying very close attention. You see, the “standard” that invalid reasoning is unreasonable and that epistemically unjustified conclusions are irrational is not one that was “motivated almost exclusively by a desire to justify…religious beliefs.” Rather, it is that standard proposed by ‘non-religious’ philosophers like David Hume and Bertrand Russell! Additionally this understanding of the matter is shared by a pretty overwhelming number of philosophers and other people since history began. Also the problem that Mr. Wallis refers to is that on this understanding everyone is irrational. Well, yes, that is the problem. What is his answer? We have already seen where an arbitrary rejection of a pretty common sensical, widely accepted understanding of the need for warrant leads. To paraphrase Van Til, the frank acceptance of the authority of God is philosophically our very salvation. Wallis has nicely illustrated this truth for us here.

Wallis unfortunately continues to insist that given the problem of induction, “we are all irrational, even on Calvinism” but does not tell us why he thinks this is the case. He states, “You also needed to show that you can get induction from the Calvin/Bolt conception of Yahweh (and from nowhere else), and that assuming the existence of such a God is itself epistemically justified.” It needs to be made exceedingly clear that I have already done so both in the debate and afterward in the posts which precede this one. Mr. Wallis apparently thinks that repeating what he has written above even after I have explicitly addressed his concern suffices as a response to how I handled his questions and objections. He writes, “Unfortunately I remain unmoved by your arguments on those subjects.” But insofar as Wallis presents this as a reason for rejecting my responses he confuses persuasion with proof. They are not the same thing. That Wallis remains “unmoved” by my arguments and explanations is an interesting autobiographical claim, but it has very little if anything to do with offering reasons in the context of debate and subsequent discussion. Wallis has shown nothing wrong with my justification of induction from within the context of the Christian worldview. He may not like my argument, but that does not mean that there is something wrong with it.

Wallis concludes, “As anticipated, I found your case for theism to be very weak; it’s clever, to be sure!—but it has a fair number of serious flaws which I don’t think can be mended.” Yet again this says much more about Mr. Wallis than about my arguments. Review the debate and the discussion which followed and ask yourself in what way my case is “weak.” Obviously one’s case can always be clearer and perhaps even stronger, but it was pretty thoroughly illustrated that the rejection of theism leads to the epistemological mess that Mr. Wallis says that he finds “psychologically satisfying.” Review the material again and ask yourself where Wallis has pointed out these alleged “flaws.” Not only have I not seen any such flaws, but I would remind everyone that at least two of my arguments in the debate were never addressed.

Finally I must say that I have intensely enjoyed this exchange with Ben Wallis. I do not have any animosity toward him nor am I somehow otherwise upset with him. I hope that he can still say the same about me even after such rigorous examinations of our ultimate commitments. I want to thank him once again for the opportunity and hope that he (as well as others who have listened and read) will continue to think through these important topics. It is my sincere prayer that God may yet grant Ben repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth for His glory. (2 Timothy 2.25b)


One Comment

ZaoThanatoo

Following this discussion gives an insightful example of an ever-progressing rationalist-irrationalist dialectic. By the end Mr. Wallis’ position has been so thoroughly ad hoc that the only thing which remains constant about his position is that it belongs to him.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply to ZaoThanatoo Cancel reply