Providence, Preservation, and the Problem of Induction

God’s providence provides a basis for science: God has made and continues to sustain a universe that acts in predictable ways. If a scientific experiment gives a certain result today, then we can have confidence that (if all the factors are the same) it will give the same result tomorrow and a hundred years from tomorrow. The doctrine of providence also provides a foundation for technology: I can be confident that gasoline will make my car run today just as it did yesterday, not simply because “it has always worked that way,” but because God’s providence sustains a universe in which created things maintain the properties with which he created them. The result may be similar in the life of an unbeliever and the life of a Christian: we both put gasoline in our cars and drive away. But he will do so without knowing the ultimate reason why it works that way, and I will do so with knowledge of the actual final reason (God’s providence) and with thanks to my Creator for the wonderful creation that he has made and preserves. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 316-317).

God’s work of preservation also means that we can have confidence in the regularity of the created world. It is possible to plan and to carry out our lives because there is constancy to our environment. We take this fact for granted, yet it is essential to any sort of rational functioning in the world. We are able to sit down in a chair because we know it will not vaporize or disappear. Barring a practical joke by someone while our back is turned, it will be there. Yet from a purely empirical standpoint, there is no real basis for such an expectation. In the past, we have found that our expectations of the future proved true when that future became present. Thus, we assume that our present expectations of the future, because they resemble previous expectations of now past futures, will be fulfilled. But this argument assumes the very thing that it purports to establish, namely, that future futures will resemble past futures. That is equivalent to assuming that the future will resemble the past. There really is no empirical basis for knowing the future until we have had a chance to actually experience that future. While there may be a psychological tendency to expect a certain thing to occur, there are no logical grounds for it, unless there is a belief that reality is of such a nature that it will persist in existence. The assumption that matter persists, or that the laws of nature will continue to function, brings us into the realm of metaphysics. The Christian’s belief at this point is not in a material or impersonal ground of reality, but in an intelligent, good, and purposeful being who continues to will the existence of his creation, so that ordinarily no unexpected events occur (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 394).

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The Problem of Induction stated by Daved Hume:

Let it be temporarily granted, then, that the production of one object by another in any one instance implies a power, and that this power is connected with its effect. But it has already been proved that the power doesn’t lie in the perceptible qualities of the cause, yet all we have present to us are its perceptible qualities. So I ask: why, in other instances where those qualities have appeared, do you presume that the same power is also there? Your appeal to past experience
gives you no help with this. The most it can prove is that that very object which produced a certain other object was at that very instant endowed with a power to do this; but it can’t
prove that the same power must continue in the same object (collection of perceptible qualities) ·at other times·, much less that a similar power is always conjoined with similar perceptible qualities ·in other objects·. You might say: ‘We have experience that the same power continues ·through time· to be united with the same object, and that similar objects are endowed with similar powers’; but then I renew my question about why from this experience we form any conclusion that goes beyond the past instances of which we have had experience. If you answer this in the same way that you did the previous question, your answer will raise a new question of the same kind, and so on ad infinitum; which clearly proves that this line of reasoning had no solid

Thus, not only does •our reason fail to reveal to us the ultimate connection of causes and effects, but even after experience has informed us of their constant conjunction we can’t through •our reason satisfy ourselves concerning why we should extend that experience beyond the particular
instances that we have observed. We suppose, but can never prove, that objects of which we have had experience must resemble the ones that lie beyond the reach of our discovery. (Daved Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature Book 1, Part III, Section VI)


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