Apologetics to the Glory of God

An Informal Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics: Part 30 – Uniformity of nature.

By C.L. Bolt

The Christian believes that God has created the world, controls it, and wants us to have knowledge concerning it. God has established an order in the cosmos that is representative of His own character. God has revealed to us general and specific claims that there is a uniformity of nature. Certainly there have been occasional signs (miracles) in history which were caused by God as a part of His revelatory acts and interpreted by Him, but the abnormality of these signs supposes that there is and will be norms in place, else they would not have possessed the odd character that they did. As we have already discussed, there is not an absolute uniformity of nature, but there is uniformity of nature according to the Christian worldview.

There are a number of similar ways to describe the uniformity of nature; nature is uniform, nature exhibits regularities, the future will be like the past, there is order in nature, there are patterns, things tend to behave in the same ways that they always have, entities act in accord with their own natures and properties, laws of nature, physical laws, etc.

We have looked at a number of examples of responses to the problem of induction and noted that they all rely in some way upon the assumption of the uniformity of nature. The uniformity of nature is proposed as a means of connecting premises to one another for the sake of establishing an inductive conclusion in order to go beyond present experience. We can weaken our inductive conclusions to being probable, but here too we rely upon the uniformity of nature to establish that the premises are related to the conclusion to establish its probably being true. To say that induction will continue to work beyond our present experience of it working likewise assumes the uniformity of nature. Finally, to ditch induction for an approach which essentially starts with the conclusion and then attempts to disprove it assumes a uniformity of nature especially with respect to that which has already been tested. In some way then, each of these rather different attempted answers to the problem of induction relies upon the uniformity of nature.

We started with an overview of induction and answered some surface level concerns about the practice. We then presented the problem of induction as a problem of connection which calls into question the possibility of rationality and knowledge through induction and then looked at a number of popular responses to the problem. Finally, we noted that each of these responses, though operating differently, assumes the uniformity of nature. As mentioned before, the uniformity of nature fits in and follows from the Christian worldview. Can the unbeliever say the same thing about his worldview? We’ve made the entirety of induction to rest upon the uniformity of nature, but what reason is there for assuming the uniformity of nature?

One argument we might make for the uniformity of nature is that in past experience, the uniformity of nature has held. Since the uniformity of nature has held in past experience, it will continue to do so in future experience. But note that this argument also assumes the uniformity of nature! The argument assumes something about future experience based upon prior experience. But we can only say things about future experience based upon past experience if the future resembles the past, and we do not know yet that it does.

A response to this might be to say that while we do not know that there is uniformity of nature, we have no reason to assume that there is not.  Maybe we don’t know that the future will resemble the past, but why should we assume that it won’t? Unfortunately, there is a significant problem with this response. We can grant that there is no reason to assume that the future will not be like the past, but this is simply missing the point of our concern. We want to know why we should assume that the future will be like the past. Without the uniformity of nature, the whole of our practice of induction and all of the disciplines that rely upon induction are either irrational, do not give us any knowledge, or both. So while it may or may not be true that there is no reason to assume the opposite of the uniformity of nature, there has not been anything provided yet by way of reason for evidence for assuming it either. In fact there is just as much reason for assuming that future experience will not resemble past experience as there is for assuming that it will, and that is a serious problem!

One last ditch effort might be made in order to justify the uniformity of knowledge and save induction. It is just plain common sense that since things have tended to behave in the same way in past experience, they will do so in future experience as well. Unfortunately, this does not provide us with any additional reason beyond what we have already looked at to assume the uniformity of nature. One might say also that the natures and properties of things ensures that there is such a thing as the uniformity of nature, but unless someone has examined every instance of everything and can exclude every factor that might work against the uniformity of nature there is simply no basis upon which to make such a bold claim. Only God has that sort of knowledge, and we do not, but He has revealed much to us, and something He has revealed to us is that this is His world that He governs and intends for us to know.  

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