In response to a particular podcast in a “counter-apologetics” series now offered by Ben Wallis a commenter asks:
Why should we believe that we will experience the force of gravity on earth a second from now? I have not listened to the entire podcast on causality, but I have not heard this very simple question answered there in what I have listened to thus far. Thanks.
This seems like an easy enough question to answer, but Ben dodges in his lengthy response:
You asked a good question, “why should we believe that we will experience the force of gravity on earth a second from now?” The most immediate answer is, because gravity has held on earth in our past experience, and inductively we infer that it will continue to hold into the future. But of course that’s probably not going to be satisfying, because it raises additional questions. These additional questions are multiple and complex, and I can’t anticipate them all in a single comment post, much less respond to them. So if you wish for me to address a specific one of them, please feel free to let me know and I will do my best. In the mean time, I can give you a general outline of my view:
(1) As Michael pointed out in the podcast, we don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter of whether to use induction or not. We can be inductive skeptics in a limited sense, but in the end none of us really deny that, to borrow your example, gravity is going to hold through the next day. It’s just a psychological fact about us that we trust inductive inferences.
(2) Also as Michael pointed out in the podcast, we haven’t got any alternative to induction for developing strategies of living. If we want to be actors in the world, induction is the only game in town. So, again, it’s not as if we have much of a choice for whether or not to use induction, because there aren’t different alternatives to choose between!
(3) Induction informs our standards for justification. (Michael alluded to this in the podcast but we didn’t really explore it too much.) So, induction is part of what we MEAN by justification, just like deduction is also part of what we mean by justification. Not too many folks doubt deduction, though, because we can’t even conceive of deductive inferences failing to hold. But just because we can conceive induction failing us isn’t reason enough to toss out induction as one of our canons of epistemic justification.
So I hope that helps. If you have any other concerns feel free to let me know, and I will address them as best I can.
“The most immediate answer is, because gravity has held on earth in our past experience, and inductively we infer that it will continue to hold into the future.”
The commenter was not asking *if* we inductively infer that it will, but *why* we inductively infer that it will (assuming that we do this inductively to begin with). Ben did not answer the question.
Why should we believe that we will experience the force of gravity on earth a second from now?
(1) a. It is odd to say that we don’t have a choice to use induction. This is just patently false and wishful thinking on Michael’s part.
b. How does Ben know that none of us deny that gravity will continue to hold? I highly doubt that he has asked everyone the relevant question to determine this, so why is he making claims about things he has no knowledge of?
c. It is certainly possible for a person to deny that gravity will hold in the future!
d. It is also not a psychological fact that we must trust inductive inferences. I could think of all sorts of examples of people not trusting inductive inferences. For example, I don’t trust Ben’s inductive inference about the psychological fact he cites here.
(2) Contrary to Michael’s claim, there are many other ways to reason than inductively. One can rely upon intuition, or deduction, or any number of other methods of reasoning for developing strategies of living, so again Michael is mistaken.
(3) Assuming I have understood Ben correctly, this is viciously circular.
Recall the question: Why should we believe that we will experience the force of gravity on earth a second from now?
Ben has not even begun to answer. Neither Ben nor Michael appear to be very familiar with the problem of induction or the answers to the problem that have been proposed and refuted. This, in and of itself, is not a fault. However, it is a problem when they make lengthy podcasts where they pretend to resolve the problem without actually doing so; waving their hands and repeating the same statements over and over again without a substantial response to the problem that was brought up.
When someone cannot provide a straight answer to why we should believe that we will experience the force of gravity on earth a second from now there are some pretty serious concerns about whether or not that person is qualified to make the comments he does concerning much more crucial questions of eternal significance.
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