A Dialogue on Induction

And the Christian's Commitment to Uncertainty

by Anton Thorn

 

 

Presuppositionalist apologists claim that the existence of the "triune Christian God of the Bible" is necessary for the validity of induction, and that non-Christians must "borrow" from the Christian worldview in order to assume the validity of inductive thought. [1]

The dialogue below is not intended to address how Objectivism resolves the so-called "problem of induction." [2] Instead, this dialogue is intended to show briefly how the arbitrary premises of religious belief in general, and Christianity in particular, commit its defenders to inescapable epistemological uncertainty.

The basic outlay of my argument for this entails the following:

Since Christian theism posits a universe-creating consciousness, its believers must always be open to the possibility that "anything can happen." The "Christian triune God of the Bible" is well known for its ability to cause miracles to happen. In the dialogue below I allude to Jesus' miracle of transforming water into wine at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11. This water was transformed into wine without the prior knowledge of the guests of the wedding, save Jesus, which is the human incarnation of the "Christian triune God of the Bible." These wedding guests were "mere mortals" who were neither omniscient nor essentially different from you or me, or any Christian believer today, degrees in divinity notwithstanding.

I argue that, unless the believer claims to have exhaustive knowledge of God's "plan" - which would require the believer to claim omniscience for himself, he cannot be certain that God will "sustain" the identity of entities as he might expect them to be. Since the believer must always allow for the option that the identity of the existents around him might change without his notification, just as the water was turned into wine in the gospel of John, his ability to assert certainties about reality must always be accompanied by the reservation that A can become non-A at any moment. The constant allowance for this reservation, amounting to the admission "A is A, so long as God wills it, but God is free to will otherwise without notifying me," compromises one's ability to assert certainties, and thus ironically results in his constant uncertainty.

 

With this in mind, I open the following dialogue.

Situation: Two acquaintances, a Christian apologist and a non-believer, meet over coffee and discuss their philosophical differences. Any ordinary setting can be imagined as the backdrop.

This dialogue [3] begins in the midst of their conversation with the following:

 

Christian: Only the Christian triune God of the Bible can account for the laws of logic and the uniformity of nature. Therefore, for you to use induction, you must presuppose the existence of the biblical God, since your use of induction is no more valid than the laws of logic it incorporates.

Non-believer: What does the God part do?

Christian: As creator and sustainer of the universe, God guarantees the laws of nature.

Non-believer: So, in essence, you hold that God is required for A to be A?

Christian: That's basically correct. [4]

Non-believer: Then what's your guarantee that God won't transform A into non-A?

Christian: What do you mean? God does not change.

Non-believer: Is this the God of the Bible?

Christian: Yes.

Non-believer: The Bible claims that its God is capable of miracles, of violating or suspending the laws of nature. In essence, God can make A into non-A if he likes, just as Jesus transformed water into wine at the wedding at Cana.

Christian: That is true. God can perform miracles if He wills it.

Non-believer: So what is your guarantee that God won't turn A into non-A, or make A behave like non-A, thus confounding your trust in Him to sustain the universe as you know it and consequently compromising your inductive certainty?

Christian: God's unchanging nature is our guarantee.

Non-believer: But you already admitted that God can make A do non-A, just as the Bible claims. What guarantee do you have that my coffee won't suddenly be turned into wine by God when I'm drinking it?

Christian: We have the surety of God's plan to guarantee that God will act in accordance with his divine will.

Non-believer: Is not God's will the author of his plan?

Christian: Yes, God's plan is God's will in action.

Non-believer: So then your hopeful guarantee is somewhat circular, isn't it?

Christian: In a sense, it is divinely circular. God's plan guarantees that A is A because God's will guarantees it.

Non-believer: And God's will is guaranteed by God's unchanging nature?

Christian: That's right. God's nature does not change.

Non-believer: Does God's plan change?

Christian: No.

Non-believer: What is God's plan?

Christian: God does not reveal the fullness of his plan.

Non-believer: So, you don't know if God intends to transform this cup of coffee into a glass of wine when I'm drinking it, do you?

Christian: I have faith in God's will.

Non-believer: But you don't know the fullness of God's will in action, which is the essence of God's plan, as you stated. So you can't claim to be certain, can you?

Christian: I am certain that whatever happens is God's will.

[End dialogue]

 

And there you have it, the final admission which the Christian must ultimately confess. His certainty is grounded in his own ignorance of his alleged God's alleged plan.

On page 108 of his book Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist [5], author Dan Barker asks: "If the answers to prayer are merely what God wills all along, then why pray?"

Similarly, if reality is subject to God's miraculous intervention at all times (since he has "creator's rights," apologists claim), then why think? Any thought would have to assume only what the theist thinks he knows given the present state of affairs. But if that state of affairs is held to be "contingent" upon God's will, and God's will is always free to incorporate the miraculous into the "continuum of reality," then whatever thoughts the theist might have are tentative at best, and never able to achieve certainty. The only way out of this self-suffocating position is for the believer to claim omniscience for himself, and thus set himself up as God, or acknowledge that, given his premises, any claim to certainty will always be unjustifiably presumptuous and tentative.

If the Christian believes that his worldview is the only way to "make sense of the world," as so many claim, he couldn't be more wrong.

 

Anton Thorn

_______________________________________________________________________

Notes

[1] See for instance apologist Sean Choi's challenge to the non-believing members of the Apologia Egroups list, in which he states:

Given atheism, is there a rational justification for the uniformity of nature? Can the atheist, *within his metaphysical assumptions*, provide a rational justification for the inductive principle? Does he have an answer to Hume's problem? I am claiming that he doesn't (but I remain open to possible suggestions). Although athe*ists* believe and act like real laws of nature exists, their athe*ism* provides no rational justification for their belief. But this entails that if atheism is true, then science would be without any rational justification. But since the atheist believes that the methods of science *is* rationally justified, their atheism actually provides a defeater for their belief in the rationality of science.

Mr. Choi has a page on his personal website which is dedicated to this discussion thread, titled Atheism and the Problem of Induction.

[2] For this, I recommend Dr. David Kelley's two-part lecture "Universals and Induction," (1999), available at Principle Source, which explains precisely how induction can be justified by appealing to the Objectivist axioms.

[3] The intercourse of this dialogue is an integration of many such discussions I've had with presuppositionalist apologists, and of many similar discussions which I have read between presuppositionalists and other non-believers.

[4] At this point, one could ask the stumper question, "By what means does God make A be A?" Any attempt to answer this question would necessarily have to presuppose the law of identity, that A is A, in order for it to be at all intelligible. But this would expose the apologist's stolen concepts.

[5] Madison, WI: The Freedom from Religion Foundation, 1992.

 

© Copyright by Anton Thorn 2000. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Posted to ATOA November 4, 2000

 

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