Friday, March 31, 2006

Still clueless after all these years

John Loftus has responded to my critique. It’s clear that Loftus remains as clueless as ever. Let’s begin with a statement of the problem. As Dr. Anderson summarizes the issue:

“More generally, what reason do we have to believe that our conclusions about observed instances may be extended (even with probability) to include unobserved instances? The same basic question is most frequently framed in temporal terms: What reason do we have to think that we can draw reliable conclusions about future (unobserved) instances on the basis of past (observed) instances?

Hume’s conclusion was that, regrettably, we have no good reason to think that such inductive inferences are justified. The problem of induction, then, is the problem of answering Hume by giving good reasons for thinking that the ‘inductive principle’ (i.e. the principle that future unobserved instances will resemble past observed instances) is true.

The need for such an answer is immeasurable, since the majority of scientific research is based on inductive reasoning — not to mention most of our everyday inferences about what to expect in the world.”

http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/induction.html

Now, this is how Loftus responds to my critique:

“But think on the following for a minute: what kind of justification is needed for anyone to believe something? I believe in the uniformity of nature and that the future will resemble the past because every experience I have ever had justifies this belief. Any experiment or any job I ever performed supported my belief in the uniformity of nature, of induction and in natural law. What else do I need?

Do I need to be certain of that which I believe and/or can justify? I think that's what he asks of me. If I don't need to be certain of what I justify then there's no problem, for I can justify most all of my beliefs. But if I/we must be certain of what I/we justify, then no one has a sufficient justification for believing anything--NO ONE!

When it comes to whether of not I’m absolutely certain the future will resemble the past, I’m not. But I’m not absolutely certain I’m actually even responding to one of my critics, either. Maybe I live in my very own inner world in some coma-like dream state where I am pounding on my computer to answer a critic who doesn't exist. So, what!? No one can be certain, absolutely certain of anything, much less that it can be believed with certainty that the God espoused by my critic exists. And if this God cannot be believed with certainty to exist, then I do not need to be certain about the laws of nature, of induction, and the uniformity of nature either before I act in acordance to those beliefs.

Neither Hume nor I stated that miracles cannot happen. But for a miracle to take place, as far as my whole experience in this life goes, this is about as likely as that the future will be found out to NOT resemble the past. Sure, what I believe here might prove in the end to be false. But I can only judge the future based on the present (and this goes for the past too; I can only judge the past from the standpoint of the present). To ask me to do otherwise is to ask me to suspend my judgment.”

i) To begin with, my critique was never predicated on the assumption that Loftus’ argument is unsound unless it can meet some apodictic standard of proof.

It’s true that his argument falls short of certainty. But that’s the least of his worries.

For the further problem is that he has no fallback.

He wants to downshift from certainty to probability. But that misses the very point. Unless he can justify induction, he is not entitled to mount a probabilistic argument.

For a probabilistic argument assumes induction, assumes the resemblance between the past and the future.

Loftus lacks certainty, and he also lacks probability.

In his response he has fallen right into Dr. Anderson’s trap by offering the “naïve” inductive response to the challenge. As Anderson puts it:

“The reasoning of such a reply may be spelled out in more detail as follows. Whenever we have observed instances in the past, and have drawn conclusions about (at that time) future unobserved instances, our conclusions invariably turn out later to be confirmed via direct observation (i.e. once we get round to observing those formerly unobserved instances). Since it has always been the case that unobserved instances have been found to resemble observed instances, we can confidently conclude that (at least probably) all unobserved instances will resemble observed instances.

The trouble with this answer, as Hume was at pains to point out, is that it begs the question. The reply itself takes the form of an inductive argument — reasoning about the future on the basis of the past — and thus must presuppose the very thing it aims to establish: the inductive principle. It is therefore guilty of fallacious circular reasoning. As Hume succinctly puts it:1

To say [the inference that the future will be like the past] is experimental [i.e. based on experience], is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future, all experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance.”

And if that were not bad enough, it gets even worse, for you also have Loftus taking refuge in his individual experience.

I guess that’s his last-ditch argument. Like a man swallowed feet-first by a python, we watch Loftus wave his little flag as he disappears, inch by inch, from public view.

And yet, as should be needless to say, individual experience is totally inadequate to justify the principle of induction.

By that criterion, if I live on the equator, and someone tells me about the existence of snow, I should dismiss his testimony out of hand.

So let us restate the dilemma confronting the secular critic of miracles:

The critic needs the principle of uniformity to rule miracles out of court, as too unlikely to be believable.

In order to justify the principle of uniformity, the critic needs to justify induction.

But the secularist has no non-question-begging way to justify induction.

The only principled way to justify induction, as Anderson, as well as Nancy Cartwright (“No God, no Laws”), point out, is by grounding the laws of nature in God’s providential preservation of natural kinds.

But, of course, once he has to invoke God, then miracles come back in through another opening.

The secularist cannot disprove miracles without natural law, and he cannot disprove miracles with natural law.

Without natural law, he lacks a principle of uniformity.

With natural law, he pays the price of a divine Creator whose providential conservation of the natural order is the only principled basis for the cycles of nature.

But since God is a personal agent rather than a recursive program, this opens the door for miraculous intervention.

If he tries to plug the inlet for miracles by denying the existence of God, he forfeits any justification for induction, and with it, natural law—the absence of which unplugs another inlet for miracles.

But if he tries to plug the inlet for miracles by invoking natural law, then the only justification for this move is the existence of God, a God who can overrule the “uniformity” of nature, which unplugs another inlet for miracles.

I’d add that our hardheaded debunker continues to miss the point of the rather elementary distinction between the identification of the occurrence of an event, and the identification of the nature of an event.

You don’t have to identify an event as miraculous before you can identify the occurrence of an event which happens to be miraculous.

Moreover, there is, in Scripture, no categorical or qualitative difference between a miraculous and a non-miraculous event.

In Scripture, the God who sends the flood of Noah also sends the spring rains. The God who instigates the virgin birth is also the God who opens every womb.

In Scripture, every event is, at least in part, an act of God.

The point at issue is not how we characterize the event in our classification scheme. That’s a semantic question.

The main point is whether the event, as described in Scripture, ever took place.

Loftus is a very funny man. Only one problem: he’s the only guy not in on the gag.

Doesn’t’ anyone over at Debunkers have a long-handed cane to pull their hapless entertainer offstage?

1 comment:

  1. Anderson: Since it has always been the case that unobserved instances have been found to resemble observed instances, we can confidently conclude that (at least probably) all unobserved instances will resemble observed instances.

    I can confidently believe I am awake right now too. I can confidently believe I can trust my senses too. But this doesn't mean I might be wrong. Only that by placing my confidence in these beliefs I can adequately function in the world. I have no other choice.

    The trouble with this answer, as Hume was at pains to point out, is that it begs the question.

    What one person claims begs the question, another person claims the question is to be begged. When it comes to the claims of miracles by Catholics, or witchdoctors, or Muslims, or Mormons, you too beg the question. And you beg the question of how your God could always exist without a beginning. At that point we're debating whether something is circular or viciously circular.

    He wants to downshift from certainty to probability. But that misses the very point. Unless he can justify induction, he is not entitled to mount a probabilistic argument.

    For a probabilistic argument assumes induction, assumes the resemblance between the past and the future.

    Loftus lacks certainty, and he also lacks probability.


    Here you have merely switched my claim from induction itself to probability. Now you're asking me to prove with certainty that what I consider to be probable is probable. And again, my answer is that I cannot do this, and neither can you.

    Moreover, there is, in Scripture, no categorical or qualitative difference between a miraculous and a non-miraculous event.

    In Scripture, the God who sends the flood of Noah also sends the spring rains. The God who instigates the virgin birth is also the God who opens every womb.

    In Scripture, every event is, at least in part, an act of God.


    Ahhhhhh. Don't you realize what you've just admitted? You have just admitted that ancient people did not have the firm conviction in the unalterable laws of nature. God controls it all, like a puppet on the string.

    But if this is the case for them in the ancient world, then anything can happen, and any believable story could be true in the absence of evidence, especially if it conforms to previously held beliefs and is told by a sincere person.

    Today this is not how we view nature, not even among Christians. For us there is an macro unalterable world of nature that operates according to discoverable natural laws. And it is precisely this modern scientific belief of ours that causes us to be skeptical of any claims of a miracle. Why? Precisely because with this modern view of nature it forces the believer into the double burden of proof I had mentioned on my Debunking Christianity Blog in the first place! Previously, Christians didn't have to prove that an event was unlikely, because God did it all, and anything can happen in such a world.

    But in today's world if we have a toothache we see a dentist and seek to fix the problem that occurred naturally. We don't think God specifically sent the tootchache to get our attention or punish us for our sins (such examples can be multiplied for every waking hour of our lives).

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