Monday, July 17, 2006

Induction or deduction?


Anonymous said:

"Barker/Loftus also act as if the absence of evidence were positive evidence against the existence of something. But that’s a non-sequitur."

Hi Steve,

I think this comment confuses induction with deduction. Does it "necessarily" follow that simply because we have no experience with talking snakes that talking snakes must never have existed? Well no. But inductive arguments (and all arguments about historical fact are inductive arguments) are about probabilities, not necessities. He's saying it's probably not historical. That's reasonable. It is not a fallacy.

Take a claim from a different religion. Mormons say the Ephraimites came to South America around the time of Christ. A little earlier I believe. There is no archeological evidence for this. Is it a fallacy to point this out? Are you satisfied if the Mormon says in response "Non evidence is not evidence against anything. You've committed a non-sequitor." You wouldn't accept that response. Neither do we.

Anonymous said:

Hi slaveofone. I'm Jon by the way.

The issue is not whether or not there are additional evidences against the book of Mormon. And the issue is not the veracity of the Book of Mormon vs the veracity of the Bible. The comparison is between belief that snakes talked and the belief that the Ephraimites lived in South America. Also the issue is about confusion between induction and deduction.

Steve is confusing deduction and induction. Forget about the Bible and the Book of Mormon if need be. I don't want you to confuse what the issue is here. Take belief in leprechauns around the moon. We have no experience with them. So it is not a fallacy to say that this is good reason to doubt their existence. That's a fact.

Now, if that's true, then the same reasoning applies to talking snakes. We have no experience with them. Does this prove that it is impossible that they would exist? Of course not. But we're not doing deduction. We're doing induction. All we can say is that it is very unlikely that they exist. Now, if we had tons and tons of evidence that it really did happen, this might overturn our initial doubt. Barring that, it is irrational to believe it happened.


Hi Jon,

i) I thought slaveofone handily dispatched the Mormon comparison, so I’ll skip it. Anyway, you’ve dropped that part of your argument.

ii) Loftus is the one who brought “necessity” into the discussion by saying that “Such a story goes against what the principle of induction tells us can happen.”

What he really means, in relation to Gen 3, is that induction tells us what cannot happen.

But induction does nothing of the kind. It only tells us what has happened.

iii) I also disagree with his illicit attempt to convert nonevidence into “overwhelming evidence against the story told in Genesis 3, as well as other Biblical claims.”

He’s trying to turn a negative into positive evidence to the contrary.

iv) Now, the absence of evidence may be good reason to doubt an existential claim if reported event is the kind of thing we’d expect to leave trace evidence, or if it’s supposed to be a periodic phenomenon, like the life-cycle or the comet Halley.

v) Now, I’ve already shown that the identification of the serpent with a talking snake is not the only available interpretation, or even the best available interpretation.

vi) But let’s assume that it is. What’s the context of Gen 3? It moves within the framework of conditions that no longer obtain.

Indeed, that’s the point of the temptation. If the temptation succeeds, it will forever alter the status quo ante.

The fall is a unique, unrepeatable, and unparalleled event.

vii) In addition, all that Loftus ever does is to tacitly gloss the principle of induction naturalistically.

If you operate with a materialistic, closed-system viewpoint, then you’re going to find Gen 3 unbelievable. Christians understand that just as well as infidels.

Of course, Christians find a materialistic, closed-system viewpoint just as unbelievable.


  1. Now, if that's true, then the same reasoning applies to talking snakes. We have no experience with them.

    We have plenty of experience with snakes. We also have plenty of experience with the biological requirements that is required to produce human speech.

    Snakes don't meet these requirements. Not even close.
    Snakes are deaf, they can't hear sound, thus they can't learn language. Snakes don't have a brain large enough to produce lanaguage, and snakes have no voice apparatus.

    If you want to claim some mythical creature spoke to your mythical first woman, who was made out of the rib of the mythical first man who was made out of mud...please call it something else...the word "snake" is already in common use in our lexicon.

    Claiming that a snake can speak human language is incoherent. It's a form on insanity.

  2. Hey Steve,

    I can see your point when you say Loftus has brought up the issue of necessity. Not that I disagree with what he's said, but I think what he's said could be misunderstood to mean he is referring to logical necessity. Let me explain.

    The law of gravity is something known through induction. Our experience and all tests we are aware of indicate that if you drop an apple it will fall. That's our universal experience.

    So if you were to tell me that you released an apple and it sat suspended in the air (assuming there were no extra causes of it, such as an upward blast of air or magnetics), in that case it is fair to say that this goes against what induction tells us can happen.

    That's the sense in which Loftus said that induction tells us this doesn't happen. We've seen gravity work a billion times. It's never failed us. But then you could respond and say "Just because it's been true a billion times and in all observable instances, this doesn't prove that the laws couldn't change at some point." Sure. Gravity isn't a logical necessity. That's the nature of scientific claims known through repeatable experience. This is induction. Your answer is known with a certain probability.

    By claiming Loftus has committed a fallacy you suggest that he's doing deduction by implying that he's saying his conclusion follows with necessity. He's not saying that. He's simply saying that it's so unlikely as to be virtually certainly false. But we're open to your contrary evidence. Show us an apple suspended in midair and we'll consider rejecting the law of gravity.


  3. Yes, Steve, let's see your contrary evidence instead of your childish game-playing. We know what you "believe." But can you show what you believe is TRUE? We're waiting, but you're not making much of your opportunity to show us.

  4. Ted, I'd suggest that asking someone for an immediate comment at two minutes to five o'clock in the morning is a mite unfair.

    You may well, like me, be commenting from abroad, but do check the time. In all probablity Steve went off-line some time before nine at night.

    Just interested in fairness, laddie. Anon, Steve has addressed the point that the serpent was clearly possessed. Someone was speaking through it. You don't believe in the supernatural. Fine. Tell me why I should believe YOU.

  5. "Unfair"? Are you serious? Steve can respond whenever he wants. I made no demand for "an immediate comment." He has all day to do so, and seems to make blogging his full time job. But to date, I've not seen any evidence to support his supernaturalism. Instead, I see rhetorical games, sly evasions and snide condescension. Steve himself has stated that he's addressing the choir anyway. I doubt anyone who hasn't already bought the bull finds anything he says very persuasive. Maybe I'm wrong?

  6. Laddie, your beligerent tone, coupled with the words 'I'm waiting', below two e-mails making exactly the same point as you reeked of imatience in the same way that Grimsby reeks of fish.

    Two people had already made your point and day had not yet dawned in the United States (it had in Britain, where I am). So no, I was not kidding.

  7. Anon, Steve has addressed the point that the serpent was clearly possessed. Someone was speaking through it.

    LOL if Steve "addresses a point" by making things up that aren't in the original myth, I guess that clears that up!

    Hey...maybe Steve is possessed and someone is speaking through him!