The Gravitas of Gravity

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.

–Ben

“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.


6 Comments

Ben Wallis

Chris,

I don’t know quite what to make of your habitual misrepresentations of me. I might think it was deliberate, except that you quoted my response in its entirety so that people can see plainly that your criticisms don’t apply. So it must be unintentional. Perhaps, then, if I can only get you to *see* my view, I can win you over to it. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to be clearer than I have been already. Still, I have hopes that I break through to you one of these days.

Take care,
–Ben

C.L. Bolt

If you want to accuse me of misrepresenting you then you need to show where I have done so. I do not believe that I have misrepresented you, and in fact I am a bit puzzled as to how you could whine about misrepresentation when I quoted everything you wrote! I am disappointed by your response. You merely complain about my allegedly misrepresenting you, and then act as though you are on some plane of enlightenment that I have not yet reached. I see everything you see Ben, and I have studied this topic at length. The question is simple, and you have continued to dodge it in your reply here as well. You are making it ever more evident that the problem is that you do not want to come to grips with the implications of your rejection of the truth.

taco

It is interesting that Mr. Wallis keeps misrepresenting you Mr. Bolt. Mr. Wallis keeps wanting to set you up as saying that man cannot use induction when you are saying no such thing. Yet, the very point that we *do* use induction and that it is part of how we think and interact with the world gives your argument, Mr. Bolt, even more “gravitas.” In admitting that man *must* use induction without a rational justification (note I did not say motivation), or basis as to “why” man can trust such inferences, Mr. Wallis has shown his position to be lacking credibility. Mr. Wallis who seems to be set on saying, in summation, that inferences of type X MEAN justification of inferences of type X make me wonder if Mr. Wallis is purposefully being obtuse.

In contradistinction to Mr. Wallis, Karl Popper seemed to understand that induction was a problem in his secular thought as he said on page 42 of Science: Conjectures and Refutations: “I approached the problem of induction through Hume. Hume, I felt, was perfectly right in pointing out that induction cannot be logically justified.” as well as “I found Hume’s refutation of inductive inference clear and conclusive.” Which can be found here.

C.L. Bolt

Yes, unfortunately Ben is all hung up on this old response from P.F. Strawson back when linguistic analysis was popular, but rationality is normative, and so Ben’s parroted response will not do. There is no way to draw the conclusions that Ben wants to by virtue of mere conceptual analysis of “rational.” What he is really doing is employing criteria that have no basis in anything. Anderson uses a reductio here from a community that accepts wishful thinking as rational. There are all sorts of problems with what Ben is saying. It may be that I need to draw these problems out in more detail in a post when I get some time.

You are correct that Popper conceded to Hume, and even (despite complaints from Ben and Michael) suggested that we not use induction in the traditional way it is thought of as being used. Unfortunately, Popper’s proposed solution has problems too, but Ben and Michael have closed themselves off from appealing to Popper anyway because of their insistence upon the alleged fact that “there is no other alternative” to induction.

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*Updated* - Responding to the call for debate opponents (Ben Wallis)

[…] last exchange Ben and I had was concerning his dodging a very simple question about gravity to which he responded that I was […]


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