Ben Wallis, induction again, and a desperate attack on Christianity
My favorite philosopher, the Scottish skeptic David Hume, did more than just a little damage to traditional religious views in terms of their philosophical justifications. Unfortunately, those who appeal to Hume for solace in their anti-theistic battles often overlook that Hume destroyed much else besides the aforementioned philosophy of religion. Hume was a skeptic through and through, so much so that he was skeptical of his own skepticism. This general consistency with Hume with respect to skepticism came as a result of his rejection of the self-authenticating Christ of Scripture and has driven more than one unbeliever to take desperate measures to erect defenses against what follows from rejecting the Christian worldview. Ben Wallis has, I believe, resorted to desperate measures as well in response to the problem.
It has been interesting to watch Wallis attempt to counter Hume on the problem of induction; the specific skeptical worry popularized by Hume and used in my debate with Wallis. Not too long ago a post on the Hubner Wallis debate generated some comments from Wallis, who essentially contended that my reading of Hume on induction is mistaken. (1) Not only is my reading of Hume mistaken, but it is almost completely wrong! My contention was that Hume dismisses a priori justification of induction, but Wallis believes that he does not. (2)
Wallis goes on to provide yet another new answer on the problem of induction. Those who have followed this discussion throughout his debate with me and the subsequent exchange will note that there has not been one firm answer coming forth from Wallis on this issue. For example, he has stated, “I do agree that we have no epistemic justification for induction.” At the same time he holds that, “[C]ontrary to what Mr. Bolt claims, induction is quite easily and plainly justified on a secular view.” He has also stated that, “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.” Yet he concedes, “It’s quite true that we need induction to draw the conclusion that induction is required for acting in the world.” He then suggests that, “we can live comfortably with a pragmatic justification for induction.” The many conflicting attempts Wallis has made at answering the problem of induction will make one’s head spin, but the links are provided above to the entire context so that the reader can check that Wallis has in fact been this inconsistent throughout our exchanges on induction. One person commented, “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.” I agree.
Now in response to my question of how he justifies induction Wallis writes yet another new answer. He writes, “In reply, I would simply say, as did Strawson, that inductive inferences of sufficient strength are justified by definition. That is part of what I MEAN when I talk about justification, rationality, reasonableness, etc.”
In response I wrote that, “by the same reasoning I will take Christianity to be rational a priori. In the context of Christianity it is only reasonable to be a Christian. Or if we want to nitpick, I might say that my revelational epistemology is rational a priori and it likewise defines the non-Christian as irrational.”
To this Wallis responded, “If you want to re-define the word ‘rational’ in that way, then you are welcome to do so, though I will not follow you in your peculiar convention.”
Wallis appears to regard rationality as a matter of convention, but then he has no reason to say that I “re-define” what we mean by “rational.” Convention allows me to arbitrarily define “rational” any way I would like, and further, I am using Wallis’s understanding of how rationality works anyway! He also has no reason to not follow me in my “convention,” let alone arrogantly label it “peculiar.” I have no problem with calling particular positions peculiar, in fact, the many positions of Ben Wallis on induction are peculiar, but I am not relegating everything to convention as Wallis is apparently doing here, and convention does not merit his use of believing some other convention to be inferior in any sense to his own. We can imagine a convention of hallucinating drug-using teenagers who are nevertheless rational in their beliefs about themselves and the world and we will have no objective place to stand and make any other judgment. Wallis is demonstrating for us how foolish the non-Christian worldview is.
Wallis also wants to speak of inductive inferences “of sufficient strength” as though this means anything at all when he is being asked for the supposed connections between the premises of a line of inductive reasoning or argument and continues to dismiss the need for providing any of them. There is no strength in inductive inferences given that Wallis has nothing by which we may move past present experience in our reasoning. That’s the problem!
Wallis may be hinting at another alleged solution to the problem. Suppose we ask where the justification for inductive inferences is to be found, and it is answered that justification for inductive inferences is inductive inference conforming to our own use of inductive inferences, or conforming to what we believe they should conform to. This alleged solution is a textbook example of circularity that does not solve any problems. If anything, it creates many more, and I hope it is not what Wallis is suggesting.
Interestingly Wallis then wants to accuse me of inconsistency. Recall that I wrote, “by the same reasoning I will take Christianity to be rational a priori.” He writes in response, “The result, however, is a great inconsistency, unless you jettison some of the word’s current meaning.” So Wallis wants to relegate rationality to convention and then arrogantly judge the conventions of others as I have already mentioned. He wants to say that the conventions of others concerning rationality are inconsistent, when they are no such thing according to those conventions. He also wants to pretend that there is some “current meaning” to “rational” that exists apart from convention, or else confine the “current meaning” to his own convention, but again this only tells us about the ego of Wallis in thinking that his convention is somehow superior to others with respect to its definitions. Additionally, I am reasoning according not to what the Christian worldview says about these matters, but according to what Wallis has so dogmatically asserted about them. Wallis wants to make absurd claims about rationality and the way he thinks induction is justified, and when he is pressed into following these claims through consistently he cries “foul.”
Finally Wallis rather disappointingly attempts some pretty weak attacks on the truth of Christianity. He writes, “In particular, induction compels us to accept truths which are plainly at odds with your form of Christianity.” Well unfortunately Wallis has not justified induction yet in terms of the non-Christian worldview, whereas I have in terms of the Christian worldview, and so his complaints here are empty anyway. He may respond that he has justified induction by defining it as justified, rational, etc., but then I will just define my arguments against his alleged justification as justified, rational, and sound. Wallis is really in a pickle here, and I hope by now he will recognize it. He has not provided us with any real justification, but a mere “because I say so” answer that allows for anyone else to define anything as rationally justified upon the basis of say so, and that is too high of a price to pay by virtue of the slippery slope and inconsistencies alluded to above.
Wallis does not have the luxury of relying upon induction to attack Christianity as has been demonstrated in our debate and subsequent discussion about that debate, but I will briefly address his rather desperate attacks on Christianity anyway. What are the great inconsistencies of the Christian worldview coupled with induction?
“…for example that the earth is billions of years old”
This is merely an assertion. Wallis would need to provide exegesis of relevant passages of Scripture which exclude the possibility of the earth being billions of years old in addition to some type of (presumably) scientific justification for his claim that the earth is billions of years old. Really I am in no place to make his argument for him. Finally, Wallis would still need to justify his use of induction upon which such claims would rest.
“…and that we evolved from lower forms of life.”
This too is merely an assertion and would likewise require exegesis, evidence, and justification of induction.
“Induction shows us that prayer is ineffective in curing disease”
Well again induction does not show Wallis anything, because Wallis has stated before that, “we have no epistemic justification for induction.” He needs to provide one prior to making such baseless assertions concerning prayer. But again one is left wondering what he is talking about here. There is no exegesis of the text of Scripture provided by which we may say that Scripture does in fact teach that prayer should be effective in curing disease, and there is no scientific or other evidence provided to support the assertion that prayer is ineffective in curing disease. I am not even sure how someone would begin to show this, though I am aware of various “tests” which have been carried out with varying results concerning this issue.
“…and that at least a few of the books of the New Testament were forged.”
I do not really know what Wallis means by saying that at least a few of the books of the New Testament were forged, but at any rate this is yet another mere assertion.
“Even if we are able to somehow resolve these inconsistencies”
Unfortunately Wallis has not established that there are any inconsistencies here. For some odd reason unbelievers often mistake assertions for arguments, and Wallis has done so here. If he truly believes that he has provided examples of inconsistencies in his thin assertions, then I will resolve them as follows. Inductive conclusions should tell us that the earth is not billions of years old, we did not evolve from lower forms of life, prayer is effective in curing disease, and none of the books of the New Testament were forged. I am not saying that I would actually respond to specific details of actual arguments Wallis might present here in a similar fashion, but rather highlighting the fact that Wallis is just preaching assertions akin to those of the New Atheists, and I think he’s more reasonable than to continue to do that.
Finally Wallis asks, “what hope have we of escaping the skepticism which almost inexorably wells up once we realize that some belief has neither pure deduction nor inductive evidence to support it? If you can manage that, I will congratulate you; though I doubt you could possibly be satisfied with it.”
What Wallis says here is indeed “peculiar,” since he has heard many times by now that some beliefs, such as our belief in God, are not strictly speaking deductively or inductively justified, but rather transcendentally justified.
Hopefully Wallis will in the future write something on his blog about which of the many different answers to the problem of induction provided by him will be the one that he decides to go with. Until then there is only enough time and space to briefly point out some of the problems with the views Wallis espouses on induction. Should he ever decide to stick with one answer we can finally run through it in greater detail and demonstrate why, unless he presupposes the truth of the Christian worldview, he cannot use it.
(1) His comment in full is as follows:
C.L.Bolt wrote: “It is silly to suggest that what Hume is doing in the passages you are quoting from is continuing to try and establish that induction is not a priori.”
Well I guess I’m just going to have to be silly, then, because I can do no other than stand by what I regard as a plain reading of Hume, that inductive inferences require the assistance of experience.
C.L.Bolt wrote: “But why assume that this experience will resemble our previous experience? That is the problem that Hume has put forth, and that you have been unable to answer.”
Hume regarded as “the conclusion of the whole matter” that inductive inferences are born of instinct, and that the mind is necessarily carried to draw such inferences when brought under the right circumstances (Enquiry, 5.1;34). But you will insist that this answer is insufficient, apparently because you want to know what “justifies” inductive inferences. (And this is an additional question from anything I can find in Hume.) In reply, I would simply say, as did Strawson, that inductive inferences of sufficient strength are justified by definition. That is part of what I MEAN when I talk about justification, rationality, reasonableness, etc.
C.L.Bolt wrote: “Are you really suggesting that Hume believed that induction was justified a priori?”
No, but neither did he deny it—at least, not that I can find, and not in any of the passages you’ve quoted. As far as I know, Hume did not address that point at all. I can find no mention of the definition of words like “justification,” “rationality,” “reason,” etc. However, since he contrasts “custom” (i.e., induction) with “reason,” it seems fair to suppose that he understood “reason” to refer to DEDUCTIVE reason only. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps the word had a different meaning in Hume’s day; or maybe he adopted a narrower definition out of convenience for contrasting the two different forms of inference. But the vast majority of persons living today do not share his apparent sense of the word. I certainly do not.
C.L.Bolt wrote: “…so by the same reasoning I will take Christianity to be rational a priori. In the context of Christianity it is only reasonable to be a Christian. Or if we want to nitpick, I might say that my revelational epistemology is rational a priori and it likewise defines the non-Christian as irrational.”
If you want to re-define the word “rational” in that way, then you are welcome to do so, though I will not follow you in your peculiar convention. The result, however, is a great inconsistency, unless you jettison some of the word’s current meaning. In particular, induction compels us to accept truths which are plainly at odds with your form of Christianity, for example that the earth is billions of years old, and that we evolved from lower forms of life. Induction shows us that prayer is ineffective in curing disease, and that at least a few of the books of the New Testament were forged. Even if we are able to somehow resolve these inconsistencies, what hope have we of escaping the skepticism which almost inexorably wells up once we realize that some belief has neither pure deduction nor inductive evidence to support it? If you can manage that, I will congratulate you; though I doubt you could possibly be satisfied with it.
(2) For example, I wrote, “It is silly to suggest that what Hume is doing in the passages you are quoting from is continuing to try and establish that induction is not a priori.”
Wallis responded, “Well I guess I’m just going to have to be silly, then, because I can do no other than stand by what I regard as a plain reading of Hume, that inductive inferences require the assistance of experience.”
My contention was that Hume immediately dismisses a priori justification of induction. Wallis says rather that Hume is simply showing that inductive inferences require the assistance of experience. While this is true, it is not the whole truth of the matter. The famous “fork” of relations of ideas and matters of fact are presented and inductive reasoning is confined to the latter category, but Hume goes on further to speak of how cause, connection, and the like are not known a priori and hence a priori considerations concerning the justification of induction will not do. How Wallis misses this is beyond me, but I will assume that he just has not given his study of the topic enough time. Wallis is disagreeing not only with what I take Hume to be saying, but with what those I studied under take him to be saying, and with what the vast majority of philosophers I have read on the subject take Hume to be saying. By his own admission Wallis lacks formal training in philosophy, and so I have to question his understanding of the text here on other grounds than just attempting to rebut it by virtue of my own work in the area. In any event, I don’t think it is necessary to get into the text and debate over what Hume is saying here, because as I have mentioned to others before who questioned whether or not this-or-that person was reading Hume properly, it does not matter since the skeptical worry presented, whether Hume’s or not, is the one that needs to be answered.
Wallis writes, “you want to know what ‘justifies’ inductive inferences” and adds the parenthetical, “this is an additional question from anything I can find in Hume.” When I asked, “Are you really suggesting that Hume believed that induction was justified a priori?” Wallis responded, “No, but neither did he deny it—at least, not that I can find, and not in any of the passages you’ve quoted.”
As far as I know, Hume did not address that point at all. I can find no mention of the definition of words like “justification,” “rationality,” “reason,” etc. However, since he contrasts “custom” (i.e., induction) with “reason,” it seems fair to suppose that he understood “reason” to refer to DEDUCTIVE reason only. I’m not sure why that is; perhaps the word had a different meaning in Hume’s day; or maybe he adopted a narrower definition out of convenience for contrasting the two different forms of inference. But the vast majority of persons living today do not share his apparent sense of the word. I certainly do not.
Interestingly Wallis appears to suggest that for Hume to be talking about something like justification or rationality, etc. then Hume had to use those specific terms, but this is simply not the case. Philosophers coming after Hume and commenting upon his work have used these terms to describe what Hume is after because they recognize his discussion of such topics without his explicit use of the terminology. So this objection is a bit odd, but note that Wallis goes right on to assume that Hume is speaking of “deduction” even though Hume does not use that term either. Wallis is using a double standard. Finally, Hume is not using reason to refer to deductive reason only either. That’s not what Hume is talking about at all. Deductive and a priori reasoning pertain to reasoning concerning relationships of ideas, and that is on the complete opposite side of “Hume’s fork” as Hume sets forth for us in the introduction to this part of his work. The contrast Wallis notes between custom and reason is extremely significant in that it directly pertains to another error Wallis makes that is about to be discussed.
Wallis continues to charge me of misreading Hume. He writes, “Hume regarded as ‘the conclusion of the whole matter’ that inductive inferences are born of instinct, and that the mind is necessarily carried to draw such inferences when brought under the right circumstances (Enquiry, 5.1;34).” This much is at least partially correct. He continues, “But you will insist that this answer is insufficient, apparently because you want to know what ‘justifies’ inductive inferences.”
Well yes, I will insist that this answer is insufficient, because it is insufficient, and Hume believed it to be insufficient as well. Consider again the conclusion in Hume’s own words, “What, then, is the conclusion of the whole matter? A simple one; though, it must be confessed, pretty remote from the common theories of philosophy. All belief of matter of fact or real existence is derived merely from some object, present to the memory or senses, and a customary conjunction between that and some other object.” By speaking of instinct or habit or custom in our inductive inferences Hume did not intend to offer anything like an epistemic justification for induction. He emphasizes this when he writes, “For wherever the repetition of any particular act or operation produces a propensity to renew the same act or operation, without being impelled by any reasoning or process of the understanding, we always say, that this propensity is the effect of Custom. By employing that word, we pretend not to have given the ultimate reason of such a propensity. We only point out a principle of human nature, which is universally acknowledged, and which is well known by its effects.” To essentially suggest that there is no problem of induction in Hume’s discussion of the matter is rather far off the mark and this is hardly an opinion that only I hold. I am not arguing here by virtue of the fact that the majority of philosophers agree with me on this that I must therefore be right, but rather that such a majority of authorities on the topic should give someone pause in considering an alternative position offered by someone who has no training in the area. I have, additionally, provided some direct quotes from Hume which I believe support my reading, and further have noted that what Hume said is really irrelevant anyway to the problem that I have raised concerning the justification of induction.
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