Monday, April 03, 2006

At the end of his tether

John Loftus is clearly at the end of his tether. He continues to misstate and evade the problem of induction.

“So, to quote Hume, for instance, as saying we cannot ultimately justify induction, means that we have no certainty that the future will resemble the past. According to Hume, to ultimately justify my belief in induction is to prove with certainty that the rules of probability (and or induction) can be ultimately trusted, and I cannot do this. But the point that misses my critics is that theists cannot do this either.”

I have pointed out on several occasions now that this is not the issue. The problem of induction, according to Hume, is not that we lack certainty that the future will resemble the past. The problem is far more radical than that.

The problem, according to Hume, is that we also lack a non-question-begging reason to believe that the future will probably resemble the past.

It’s not merely that we lack certainty; we even lack probability.

“Theists will conclude that if I cannot ultimately (and certainly) justify my belief in induction, that somehow they win their case when I say it’s improbable that miracles have occurred, for I’m basing my belief upon induction and probabilities for which I have no ultimate justification.”

Yes, that’s what we conclude, all right. If he’s using a probabilistic argument even though he can’t justify a probability calculus, then he’s running on empty.

“But maybe my memory fails me? Maybe I’m dreaming? So?

Let’s say that I have a completely chaotic memory and/or I’m dreaming. In this particular dream of mine induction still applies, and my memory is all I have to go on—I can do nothing other.

And it appears that my memory is correct and my dream gets me through my dream world (if it really is a dream). It gets me by….”

Once again, he’s attempting to deflect attention away from “his failure” to discharge “his burden of proof” for “his operating assumption” by teasing the reader other paradigm-cases of scepticism. This is a smelly red-herring, planted in the path of the bloodhound to throw it off the scent.

“In my whole life that’s what I have experienced during every waking moment of my life (assuming for the moment I haven’t been in one very long dream). I punch a key and the letter appears on the computer screen multiple times every time I get up to the computer.”

Several basic problems with this appeal:

i) It is downright solipsistic. The sampling of one man’s personal experience cannot possible justify belief that the future will resemble the past. The lifespan of one individual justifies a sweeping claim about the uniformity of nature? How absurd can you get—especially from a guy who presumably believes in a universe billions of years old and billions of light-years across.

ii) As far as personal experience goes, just as there are individuals like Loftus whose individual observation has never witnessed anything out of the ordinary, there are other individuals whose individual observation bears witness to the paranormal.

iii) There is no epistemic parity between having an experience of x and not having an experience of x. If I’ve never see snow, inexperience does not cancel out the experience of someone who has seen snow. A lack of personal experience is not equivalent to positive evidence of nonexistence.

iv) In fact, Christians do believe that the future generally resembles the past. They believe that miracles have happened in the past. And they generally believe that miracles continue to happen.

v) Of course, this doesn’t mean that we credit every miraculous report, any more than we credit every non-miraculous report. One still must judge on a case-by-case basis.

“Again, neither Hume nor I said miracles are impossible. But based upon my memory and based upon my life (whether dreaming or not) miracles don’t happen as a regular occurrence in a cause and effect world run by the principles of induction and probability.”

How is this relevant to the case for miracles? A Christian doesn’t contend that miracles happen on a regular basis, in the same sense that gravity operates on a regular basis. That’s no part of the claim, so evidence to the contrary is no disproof of the claim.

“What Anderson and others are asking me to do is to forgo all of my experience—all of it—and believe instead, that miracles can and do happen.”

Why not? How is personal experience the measure of what is possible or actual? Historical knowledge is not founded on personal experience. Rather, it is, in large measure, founded on testimony.

“Earlier I said that theists do not have a justification for believing in the principle of induction. They don’t, just like me, although unlike me, they claim they do. Why do they claim this? Because they claim God provides for them a basis for believing in induction. But where is their certainty when it comes to the Triune everlasting barbaric God of the Bible who sent a son to be a man and atoned for our sins, will come again and punish the unbeliever in an everlasting hell? For them to justify the principle of induction they must justify their God. And if the standard is the same one that Hume was seeking, then they must show that their God certainly exists. But they obviously cannot do this. For if this were possible, why don’t more people believe in their God?

This only thing we have is probabilities, even if what one considers to be a probability is person related. They think it’s probable that their God exists and that he does miracles, even though none of them have ever seen a man born blind who was instantaneously healed, or a dead man who arose from the grave, or an amputee whose limb was restored before their very eyes. I think, on the contrary, that it’s probably true that there have been no miracles in our world, based upon what we have all experienced—all of us—believer and unbeliever alike.

So it should no longer be a question of whether I can ultimately (and certainly) justify induction, since Christians cannot ultimately (and certainly) justify their God.”

Loftus is making a number of wild claims here.

i) Christians vary in their personal experience. Nothing out of the ordinary ever happens in the lives of some Christians, while others bear witness to some extraordinary experience or another.

ii) Christians also vary in their religious epistemology. Some argue that you can absolutely prove the existence of God, while others argue that you can probably prove the existence of God.

Christians who favor an empiricist epistemology limit themselves to degrees of probability while Christians who favor a rationalist epistemology believe that apodictic proof is possible.

Even if you subscribe to the weaker thesis, if God probably exists, and if such a God is the guarantor of ordinary providence, then the future probably resembles the past (allowing for miraculous exceptions), which is a sufficient to warrant induction.

iii) It isn’t necessary to have a separate argument for every act and attribute of God in order to justify God’s role in ordinary providence. It is only the acts or attributes of God that have a direct bearing on the nature of the claim which are relevant to the argument.

The Trinity, Incarnation, atonement, Second Coming, and hell are not germane to the question of whether God is the guarantor of ordinary providence.

Once again, Loftus is trying to change the subject.

iv) Needless to say, there is a vast literature in polemical and philosophical theology defending these propositions, even though that's beside the point.

v) Just today I ran through a number of theistic proofs, with links to more detailed expositions.

To say that Christians cannot justify their belief in God in the face of all this sophisticated argumentation to the contrary, for which Loftus offers no rebuttal, is mere hand-waving.

vi) To say that we “obviously” can’t do this, for if we could, more people would believe in our God is a non-sequitur.

a) To begin with, many unbelievers have never studied natural theology or philosophical theology or apologetics. They don’t even know their way around the arguments.

b) In addition, evidence alone is insufficient to convince anyone in the absence of a predisposition to believe the evidence. There are men and women who deny the Holocaust ever happened. Is this due to a lack of adequate documentation?

“The question is whether or not we should believe contrary to all of our known experiences throughout our entire lives…”

Notice the utterly tendentious characterization of universal human experience. Loftus is nothing if not egotistical.

“That's all I can say.”

For once I agree. He’s shot his wad.


  1. For those who want to read what I wrote they can go here .

    I just find it interesting that I don't call you stupid for beleiving what you do. For you repeatedly insinuate that I am. I guess when you're losing an argument you can just act like the other person is stupid. Maybe you think that makes up for your weak arguments to the contrary.

    I find it interesting because you would argue against all of the same claims to miracles, and prophecies in other religions, along with psychics, diviner's knowledge, and magic, like I do.

    I just doubt the miracles you claim happened too.

  2. I don't know if anyone reads old posts...

    But i have a philosophical conundrum. The Bible affirms that nature will behave generally lawlike until it is no more.

    In this way, on Christian presuppositions, induction is warranted.

    But we still have the possibility of miracles.

    So, can i know that the sun will rise tomorrow? There is always the possibility that God will stop the sun as in Joshuas day. Then my belief will be shown false.

    But i can't know something false. It would seem that i cannot know that the sun will rise tomorrow, i can only believe it. But would this amount to some weaker form of justification, one that does not count as knowledge even though it is justified?