Notes from lecture:
J.P. Moreland: A Contemporary Defense of Dualism
Dualist interactionism: there is a distinction between the brain and the mind, the mind is immaterial and synonymous with the soul, there is a two-way street between brain and mind. Mind can cause changes in the brain and brain can cause changes in the mind. Psychologists have recognized the most successful treatment for people with OCD are for the person’s mind to make changes in the person’s brain through neuroplasticity. Where the mind is able to resist the impulses of the brain, the brain telling the mind to do various things. Most of us believe that we resist impulses to do various things. We think our brain or nervous system tells us to eat this, buy this and we often times resist these impulses. Dualists say this proves that mind is separate from the brain. Brain can also affect the mind. In Alzheimer’s disease the brain limits much of what the mind is able to do so that the person cannot access parts of their mind that they cannot have access to for various things. They act differently than they normally do.
Moreland defends dualistic interactionism, arguing that the mind is distinct from the mind. This is different from Cartesian Dualism.
Cartesian Dualism says there is a mind which is separate from the brain. However, the mind only affects the brain and not vice versa. Moreland also believes that physicalism is a defective worldview.
He compares physicalism, the view that the only thing that exists in the universe is matter, with substance dualism, the view that mind is separate from matter.
He thinks physicalism is false as a worldview. What are some reasons why Moreland thinks that physicalism is false as a worldview? If theism is true, you are not going to be a physicalist, because there is at least one entity in the world that is non-physical. If you think that numbers and other abstract objects exist, then obviously numbers are non-physical things. They may manifest themselves in various ways in physical worldview but the number 2 isn’t a physical object nor are things like the laws of logic physical objects either. If these things exist then physicalism as a worldview is false.
If you reject physicalism as a worldview, you will typically reject physicalism for a person. Some people do reject physicalism as a worldview, but still accept physicalism for the person.
He gives several reasons for rejecting physicalism and accepting dualism and claims that the idea of dualism is best understood from within a wider metaphysic, such as theism.
Law of Identity:
For any entities (X and Y) X is identical to Y, if for any property P, if X has P, then Y has P, and if Y has P, then X has P.
Moreland thinks LOI proves that dualism is true. Is there anything true of the mind that is not true of the brain? Suppose I was feeling sad. It would be correct for me to say that “I feel sad.” Would it make sense to say “My brain feels sad?” If the brain is just a chunk of matter, then how could a chunk of matter feel sad? The person has a brain, rather than being the same thing as the brain.
I can feel a certain way, it doesn’t make sense to say my brain feels that way. My brain is just a physical object. I believe something. Does it make sense to say that my brain feels something? There are certain mental events that are different from physical events.
J.J.C. Smart: A Contemporary Defense of Physicalism
Smart argues that science is increasingly giving us a viewpoint whereby organisms are able to be seen as physico-chemical mechanisms. Suppose Smart is right, what implications might this happen with our relationship to other animals? Would there be any distinctions between us and other animals? Smart would say that we are more complex in terms of our reasoning, language skills, relationship ability than other animals. However, we are made of the same stuff as other animals. One could use this as an argument that animals deserve rights. Humans innately have rights, animals are made of the same stuff. How might a dualist argue that animals don’t have rights and we ultimately do? If you think that human beings are distinctly made in the image of God and that the image of God means having a soul, then you could say that rights attached to having a soul and therefore animals aren’t entitled to the same rights that humans have.
Smart thinks we should use Ockham’s Razor to shave away any need for a mind distinct from the brain. You’re not allowed to multiply causes beyond necessity. If you have a certain number of causes for a phenomena, and those causes are enough you, are not allowed to go beyond that and propose unnecessary causes. Neuropsychologists neurophysiologists have shown that for every mental event you might have, there is a physical correlate that goes with it. If it is true that for every mental event, there is a physical event that goes along with it, then why can’t we just say that the mind is the brain? So because of this correlation between mental events and brain events, Smart thinks Ockham’s razor shaves away any need for mind distinct from the brain.
Smart claims sensations are nothing over and above brain processes. Any sensation that you might want to make is nothing distinct from physical events.
Smart uses the theory of time slices as a way to preserve a measure of identity over time. If I take this desk and I gradually replace all of its parts with new parts that look just like it, so that at the end of the process I have a desk that looks just like the old desk but has different parts. Is it the same desk?
What is the case concerning human beings and recycling parts? Our cells regenerate every 7 years. 7 years ago there is not a single cell now, that I had then. All of my cells have been replenished. How do you retain personal identity unless there is a soul?
Smart uses theory of time slices to answer this question. Time slice says even though literally you are not the same person as you were 7 years ago, nevertheless, legally and ethically, you should be treated as the same because you have spatio-temporal continuity with the time slice of yourself that existed 7 years ago. Time slice is just that portion of who you are that exists at any moment that is continuous with who you are at any other moment. As long as you have all of these time slices in space/time alignment, then you can refer to the person as the same.
“First there is cultural relativism or descriptive relativism. This is the descriptive, factual thesis, often expressed by anthropologists, sociologists and historians, that societies do, in fact, have disparate views on basic ethical judgments. A basic ethical disagreement is one that remains when all the factual issues are agreed upon and when two cultures mean the same thing by the same ethical concepts like “right” and “wrong,” but disagree as to what acts are right and wrong. Thus a basic ethical disagreement will be a value difference. Cultural relativism, then, amounts to the thesis that what is considered right and wrong or the way moral principles are weighed relative to each other varies from culture to culture…
Two things should be kept in mind when evaluating cultural relativism. First, it is not a moral thesis at all. It is not a prescriptive statement of morality, but a descriptive, factual statement about morality…it does not follow from cultural relativism that there are no moral absolutes that are true for all people, nor does it follow that these absolutes cannot be known. Different cultures differ over the shape of the earth, but this does not imply that no one is right about the earth’s shape or that no one is rational in believing one’s view about the earth’s shape. The same line of reasoning applies to cultural relativism.
Someone could respond that sometimes the fact that people cannot agree about something shows that there is no real fact of the matter at stake, that is, that no one is right and no one is wrong. On the other hand, from the simple existence of unresolved disagreements about something it still does not follow that no one is right. This further conclusion needs to be argued for, not merely asserted. Moreover, if a case can be made for true moral values, then the presence of disagreements in moral views shows something other than the relative truth value of moral statements – for example, that people often form their moral views for self-serving, sinful reasons. Finally, ethical differences may not be as widespread as many people think. This leads to a second observation…
When due consideration is given to factual clarification, many apparent moral differences turn out to be merely factual, not moral. This lends support to the claim that cultures exhibit widespread agreement regarding basic values; for instance, no culture has valued cowardice in battle. So it may well be that many cultural differences turn out to be factual differences. The Christian doctrine of general revelation and the idea of natural moral law – the notion that there are true, universally binding moral principles knowable by all people and rooted in creation and the way things are made – lead us to suspect at least some widespread agreement about moral values. On the other hand, there do appear to be genuine disputes among cultures about basic ethical judgments. And the biblical doctrine of original sin should lead us to suspect that cultures can become morally twisted and repugnant depending on the degree to which that culture lives and thinks in light of general or special revelation.”
(Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 409-410)
“Metaethics is defined as that branch of philosophy that analyzes the meaning of certain moral terms (right, wrong, good, bad, ought, worth, and so forth). Certain moral statements make reference to persons or actions. With regard to persons, one might affirm the moral statement “Persons ought to be treated as ends in themselves” or “Persons have intrinsic value and dignity.” With regard to actions, one might affirm that “The act of loving your neighbor is morally right” or “Murder is wrong.” In general, many moral statements are of this form: “X is right (or wrong). X has value (or fails to have value).
The major options in metaethics can be summarized as follows:
I. Noncognitivist Theories
II. Cognitivist Theories
A. Subjectivist Theories
- Private Subjectivism
- Cultural Relativism
B. Objectivist Theories
- Ethical Naturalism
- Ethical Nonnaturalism
“Noncognitivism denies that moral statements “(e.g., “X is right”) are indicative statements that can be either true or false. Consider the statement “The apple is red.” This is an indicative statement. It asserts an alleged fact which has ontological implications. It asserts that there is an apple that exists and has an existent property, redness, in it. So indicative statements have ontological implications. Furthermore, they can be either true or false. In this case, if the apple really is red, the statement is true. If the apple were green, it would be false. So indicative statements are cognitive in the sense that they can be either true or false, and they have ontological implications because they assert that some state of affairs obtains in the world.
Noncognitivist theories of moral statements, however, deny that moral statements are either true or false and that moral statements have ontological implications. Emotivists hold that the meaning of moral statements consists in the expression of emotions: “X is right” really means “Hurrah for x!” Statements like “X is wrong” really means “Ugh! x!” For example, when someone says that murder is wrong, emotivists hold that the person is merely expressing the feeling “Ugh! I hate murder!”
“Imperativalism/prescriptivism agrees with emotivists that moral statements are not indicative statements of fact. But they do not think that moral statements are expressions of feeling. Rather, they hold that moral statements are merely moral commands whose sole function is to guide action. “X is right” is merely the command “Do x!”
“Noncognitivist theories of moral statements fail to do justice to the nature of morality. At least three objections can be raised against both views.
First, moral judgments can occur in the absence of feelings or in the absence of commands, and some expressions of feelings or some commands are not moral judgments. For example, one can form the judgment “Killing rats is wrong” without feeling or commanding anything. But if a moral judgment is just an expression of a feeling or the issuing of a command, then it would be impossible to have a moral judgment without feeling or without commanding. Feelings and commands may be a part of a general theory of morality, but they do not exhaust the nature of morality. Similiarly, someone can express a feeling when he stubs his toe on a table (Ugh! I hate tables!), but this expression is not a moral judgment. So moral judgments can occur without feelings or commands and vice versa…
Second, emotivism and imperativalism imply that there is no such thing as moral education (since there is no cognitive information to learn) and there is no such thing as moral disagreement. Consider two people who appear to be having a moral disagreement about abortion. Person A says “Abortion is right,” and person B says “Abortion is wrong.” Emotivists analyze statements such that A is saying “Hurrah! I (A) love abortion!” and B is saying, “Ugh! I (B) hate abortion!” According to emotivist (and imperativist) translations of the statements, there is no disagreement occuring, since neither person is making a factual claim that could be true or false. Disagreements occur when one person asserts that some claim is true and another asserts that it is false. So emotivism and imperativalism imply the impossibility moral disagreement. But any view that implies such an implausible assertion as this is inadequate as a general theory of moral meaning.
Finally, some moral statements seem to stand in logical relations with other moral statements. For example, the statement “I have a duty to do x” seems logically to imply the statement “I have a right to do x.” But emotional utterances or mere imperatives do not stand to other emotional utterances or mere imperatives in logical relationships to one another. So emotivism and imperativalism fail to account for this feature of morality.
An imperativalist may respond to this last argument as follows. Consider this syllogism:
- All promises being kept, please.
- This is a promise.
- This promise being kept, please.
The imperativalist may argue that moral imperatives may be expressed by sentences like (1) which contains two components: a descriptive component to the left of the cmma (“All promises being kept”) and an imperative component to the right of the comma (“please”). The descriptive component describes a state of affairs, in this case, a world in which all promises are kept. Now a possible world in which all promises are, in fact, kepy, would logically imply that some specific promise is kept. So in a sense, (1) and (2) do imply (3) even though, strictly speaking, none of these propositions is either true or false. But if we allow that there seems to be sense in which the first two premises imply the conclusion, then the imperativalist can argue that this is enough to show that moral imperatives stand in logical relations to other moral imperatives.
Does this imperativalist rejoinder work? The answer seems to be no. As the argument stands, given that (1) through (3) are neither true or false, it is not clear that (1) and (2) logically entail (3). The only sense in which this could be true is if one removes “please” from (1) and (3) to form the following:
1′. All promises are kept.
2′. This is a promise.
3′. This promise is kept.
In this case, (3′) does follow from the premises. However, syllogism B no longer contains moral statements because on the imperativalist view, what makes a proposition a moral one is its imperatival force expressed in the word please. It is “please” that gives (1) through (3) their action-guiding potential. Thus the only way that the moral propositions in syllogism A can be said to stand in logical relations to each other is if we drop their distinctively moral component to generate syllogism B. Since B is no longer composed of moral propositions, this response fails.
Cognitivism holds that moral statements make truth claims because they are indicative statements that convey descriptive factual information: the statement “x is right” can be either true or false. Nevertheless, cognitivist theories of the meaning of moral statements differ in what they identify as the object that ethical statements describe.
Subjectivism holds that moral statements covey information about the speaker of the moral statement. According to private subjectivism, “x is right” states the psychological fact that “I like x.” This differs from emotivism. Emotivism holds that moral statements merely express feelings. Private subjectivism, however, holds that moral statements do not express feelings but describe the psychological state of the speaker. An expression of feeling cannot be false. But if person A says “I dislike x,” then this can be false if A really likes x but does not want to admit it. Cultural relativism is the view that statements like “x is right” state the sociological fact that “We in our culture like x.”
…few philosophers hold that these metaethical theories are adequate treatments of morality. The main reason is that they make moral statements into nonmoral statements. The statement “x is right” appears to be a moral statement that makes a normative claim about right and wrong, and it implies a statement about what one ought to do. But the psychological and sociological translations of this statement, “I like x” and “We in our culture like x,” make no normative claims whatever. They assert what people happen to like. So they do not translate moral statements; they transform them inappropriately into nonmoral statements. Thus private subjectivism and cultural relativism cannot be adequate understandings of moral meaning.
Objectivist theories agree with subjectivist theories of moral meaning in holding that moral statements assert true or false statements of fact. However, rather than focusing on the speakers of moral statements, objectivism holds that moral statements are stating facts about the acts of morality themselves or the objects that are said to have value.
The statement “The apple is red” says something about the apple. The statements “Persons have value” and “Murder is wrong” say something about persons and acts of murder. Just as “The apple is red” asserts that the apple has a property (redness), so moral statements assert that persons or moral acts have certain properties. In short, objectivist theories hold that moral statements convey information about persons or moral acts by describing properties of those persons or acts.
It is here that agreement among objectivists ends. The two major versions of objectivism – ethical naturalism and ethical non naturalism – disagree over the nature of the moral properties that moral judgments ascribe to persons or acts. The debate between them is over the issue of moral reductionism (i.e., over whether or not moral properties can be reduced to or identified with nonmoral properties). Ethical naturalists say that such a reduction is correct, and ethical nonnaturalists say that moral properties are unique and cannot be reduced to nonmoral properties.
Ethical naturalism is a reductionist view that holds that ethical terms (goodness, worth, and right) can be defined by or reduced to natural, scientific properties that are biological, psychological, sociological or physical in nature. For example, according to ethical naturalism the term right in “X is right” means one of the following: “What is approved by an impartial, ideal observer”; “What maximizes desire or interest”; “What furthers human survival.” The important point here is that these moral terms and moral properties are not irreducibly moral in nature. Moral properties (e.g., worth, goodness, or rightness) turn out to be properties that are biological or psychological.
Furthermore, according to ethical naturalism, these properties can be measured by science by giving them operational definitions. Consider an example. Suppose “X is right” means “X is what most people desire,” and one goes on to argue that the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain is what most people desire. A scientist could measure the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain by defining such a state in physiological terms – the presence of a certain heart rate, the absence of certain impulses in the nervous system, slight coloration of the skin. “Rightness” means what is desired by most people; what is desired by most people is the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain; and pleasure and pain can be defined by certain physcal traits of the body. Thus the moral property of rightness has been reduced to a natural property that can be measured.
Two major objections can be raised against ethical naturalism both based on its moral reductionism. First, it confuses an is with an ought by reducing the latter to the former. Moral properties are normative properties. They carry with them a moral “ought.” If some act has the property of rightness, then one ought to do that act. But natural properties like the ones listed do not carry normativeness. They just are. Second, every attempted reduction of a moral property to a natural one has failed because there are cases where an act is right even if it does not have the natural property, and an act can have the natural property and not be right. For example, suppose one reduces the moral property of rightness in “X is right” to “X is what is approved by most people.” This reduction is inadequate. For one thing, the majority can be wrong. What most people approve of can be morally wrong. If most people approved of torturing babies, then according to this version of ethical naturalism, this act would be right. But even though it was approved by most people, it would still be wrong. On the other hand, some acts can be right even if they are not approved of (or even thought of, for that matter) by most people.
Ethical nonnaturalism is the only view we have considered that holds that irreducible moral facts and properties really exist as part of the furniture of the universe. In additional to natural properties (redness and so forth), there are moral properties (rightness, goodness, worth), which persons and acts have and which moral statements ascribe to persons and acts. “X is right” ascribes an unanalyzable, irreducible moral property to X, just as “The apple is red” ascribes the natural property redness to the apple. Most Christian theists have advocated some form of ethical nonnaturalism since they hold that God himself has certain morally relevant value properties (goodness, holiness and so forth), that persons made in his image have worth and dignity (as he does) and that some acts have the property of moral rightness.”
(Moreland & Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 397-402)
Notes from Summary of Transcendental Arguments lecture from Greg Bahnsen:
Take p (feature of human experience) and show q is the precondition of p. Q is necessary to explain the possibility of P. Not that Q is deduced or induced from P , but Q is the necessary presupposition of P. Q is the Christian worldview. Take any aspect of human experience and show that if Christianity is not true, you wouldn’t be able to show that P is possible. How do we demonstrate that?
Not Q (Christian Worldview) implies an absurdity or renders the operational feature impossible. If you deny the Christian worldview, it would imply an absurdity or contradict P which is undoubted. When we argue, we start with something that is not doubted. When we argue with someone, we start with something that he doesn’t doubt. Take what is some undoubted operational feature and show that if you deny the Christian worldview, you either have an absurdity or you are led to contradict the P which you didn’t have any doubt about or you render the operational feature that you’re talking about (scientific methodology, abstract objects), you render that feature impossible. Ask the unbeliever what are they willing to assert, from that show that the Christian worldview if denied, that operational feature is either impossible or the P that you’ve taken for granted is in fact false. You take the opposite position and show that it creates this intellectual difficulty.
Take P and show that it implies Q and show that the denial of P implies Q as well. We can take the opposite of P and show that it shows that God exists too. What if P is “God exist?” and not-P is “God doesn’t exist?” If God exists then that implies that God exists. If you argue that God does not exist that also implies that God exists. Take any experience and any point of view, even the atheistic point of view, to argue that point you have presupposed the existence of God.
The transcendental method is useful on either interpretation of transcendental argument:
Conceptually, if you wish to argue at all, then you must presuppose the existence of the Christian worldview to make sense of your own argument. The “must” is a psychological interpretation. If you want to make sense of your reason you must psychologically presuppose the Christian worldview.
The Existential interpretation says if you want to give an account of your ability to know anything, then your explanation must presuppose truth of the Christian worldview. The “must” here isn’t psychological (you can’t escape thinking about the Christian God when you argue). The explanation must include a reference to the Christian worldview.
Transcription of Youtube dialogue with a moral relativist:
Chad: So Ben do you believe in right and wrong?
Chad: Why is that?
Ben: It’s purely subjective. It mean it’s never really straight up and down if that makes any sense. It’s kind of the best way that I can explain it.
Chad: So when you think of something like torturing babies for the fun of it, you can’t say that’s black and white wrong? That it’s open?
Ben: I’d say it’s cruel but I mean that, torturing babies for the fun of it, I don’t believe in right and wrong but I’d stop you if I saw you doing it? I don’t think you’d go to hell if you did it though. I mean even if you did go to hell, you could find heaven in hell.
Chad: When you use a word like “should” and “ought” are you not assuming there’s a certain way that things should or ought to be?
Ben: Hmm…in my own personal ideals I have an ideal world but I believe that other people disagree with me about what my ideal world is and they could be just as right as I am and you could be just as right as I am.
Chad: So you think that each individual person has their own truth value and it’s equivalent to one another. I have my opinion, you have your opinion and neither of us has any more truth value than the other?
Chad: Just yes or no.
Chad: So your truth value, your opinion, has no more weight or bearing than a child molester or rapist?
Ben: They still believe what they believe you know. Like think about how many rapists were priests.
Chad: The question was though you believe by your standard that their moral opinion is just as valuable not any less valuable than yours. It has just as much weight.
Ben: Yea they’re still human beings. Everybody has their right to have their moral opinion. Now the rest of the human race and the world and maybe the rest of the universe and nature itself try to stop that because it’s something that goes against the well-being of everything around it, but I still think they’re entitled to do that just like…I’m probably going to regret saying this but I have to just like I think Hitler’s entitled to do what he did but I still would have fought against him.
Chad: Why would you fight against him?
Ben: I don’t agree with the taking…I don’t believe in genocide. It’s just like the right versus wrong. It’s like sying because you’re you you’re wrong.
Chad: That’s only your opinion and your opinion ultimately has no more value than a child molster’s or rapists.
Ben: Pretty much.
Chad: Isn’t there something within you that screams “this is wrong but I can’t explain it from my worldview?”
Chad: Isn’t there something within you that screams “raping and child molestation isn’t only subjectively wrong. It’s not just wrong because it’s my opinion, but it’s absolutely wrong but with my worldview I just can’t explain it?”
Ben: Hmmm…something along those lines.
Chad: That’s what happens when you give up belief in God when you suppress the truth.
Greg Bahnsen’s Opening Statement in his debate with Edward Tabash:
“Tonight’s debate is kinda like going to a movie after it’s started. Say midway through the screening of the movie in order to understand and assess the conflict or the struggle that you’re presently seeing you have to catch up with the background the you haven’t seen. Which explains and actually develops what’s now going on presently on the screen and I think that’s true about tonight’s debate as well. You really can’t understand and evaluate what you see and hear up here until you look into the unspoken beliefs which are really the context of what’s going on.
There’s a crucial and a determinative intellectual background to tonight’s public conflict between the theist and the atheist, a background which involves radically different underlining philosophies about reality, knowledge, human value and conduct. On the one hand you have the view that says the world is at base matter and motion and over against that the view that says the material world is actually the creation and is controlled by a sovereign and all-knowing personal God. These different ultimate perspectives or world views are the context in terms of which each proponent reasons. What he takes to be relevant, what method and standards of reasoning he employs, how evidence is recognized, how it’s assessed and how it’s applied.
Mr. Tabash has a fundamental philosophy of life, an underlying world view which he brings his background baggage to the debate tonight. So do I. We each have as yet unspoken beliefs about the nature of reality, human experience, the possibility and methods of knowing, and how we should live our lives. And when all is said and done, these two opposing world views will guide and always be at work in our respective arguments or our appraisals of evidence. For example, atheists can be undaunted when Christians show the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, pointing to it and saying, “See there’s a miracle!” But you see, given the atheist’s naturalist presuppositions, he believes that someday or he can believe someday, scientific explanation of that event is theoretically possible, in which case than it’s not a miracle. On the other hand, theists are not dissuaded when atheists point to the evidence of natural disasters or children suffering in the world. For you see, giving their presuppositions God has a morally sufficient reason for ordaining such events, and thus they are not contrary to his goodness and his power given those presuppositions. In both cases the underlying world view is the controlling factor in the reasoning and the conflicting conclusions to which the proponents come and thus progress can be made in the atheist/theist debate, only if we recognize that we all have as it were coming into the movie midway and we must confront the philosophical background to our disagreements. Tonight’s debate comes down to a choice between the conflicting world views in terms of which we will be reasoning and arguing tonight.
Now I believe that the existence of the Christian God is an objective reality which is rationally provable. Please note four things though about what I just said: First of all, notice that I am defending Christian theism specifically; I don’t believe there is any unambiguous and coherent notion of theism in general. I’ll be defending the Christian version of theism. Secondly, our concern here tonight is with the question of the truth of atheism or of theism. Not with psychological motivations, not with subjective desires, or the social functions or the personal character of theist of atheist. The truth about God either way and the truth about devotees to theism or atheism, again either way, maybe happy or it may be sad, it may be useful or counterproductive, it may be corrupting or may be un-nobling, but regardless whatever the truth is, it remains the truth. Thirdly, remember that an argument need not be accepted by everyone for it to be nonetheless conclusive. We must obviously distinguish between proof and persuasion. Personal persuasion is subjectively qualified, proof is not. We say that something can exist, for instance, cancer, for which the doctor has proof. Something can exist even though a person is unpersuaded that he has cancer and even offers reasons, maybe avidly reasons against the possibility that he has cancer. We are dealing here with proof, not persuasion tonight. And fourthly, many hearers need to disabuse themselves of an old canard that goes something like this: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t true. Or faith takes over where reason leaves off.” Faith is not something that stands over against reason, whether above reason or contrary to reason or however you wish to put it. Rather reasoning itself rest upon the presupposition of faith and collapses arbitrary without it. Now to make this point I have chosen to look not to what committed Christians have reasoned or said which you might feel is too easy and partisan on my behalf. But rather to have us consider what our hostile opponents have pointed out about a central problem in philosophy. We’ll look at an issue treated by David Hume, the eighteenth century Scottish skeptic, and also by Bertrand Russell, twentieth century English philosopher. Both of these men wrote in strong opposition to religious faith and especially to Christianity. The problem we’re going to look at for a few moments here is the problem of induction.
Among the expectations through which we encounter experience and encounter the world is the expectation that uniformity can be found between the diverse events, things, or experiences in the world. This expectation may in some cases be quite explicit and self-conscious but it need not be. For instance when we learned to drive a car or speak a foreign language we usually pay close attention to what is the regular function of certain parts of the car, or of the grammatical rules and ordinary word usages of the language. But we eventually come to do these things more automatically or more habitually and we no longer consciously think about the expected uniformity in our use of cars or our use of language. Our learning and reasoning tacitly assumes that the universe is such that uniformities are expected and exhibited in similar things even though they are separated by time and space – that the way things happen can be viewed as instances of general laws and what has occurred in the past is a reliable guide for predicting and thus adjusting to the future.
Now this can be described in an elaborate and abstract way, but not many of you are philosophy majors and would not want me to do that. The fact is each of us is very familiar with what I’m talking about from personal experience. We’re all quite acquainted with the process of moving from particular facts in our experience to general truths which are exhibited by those particular experiences. For instance, children don’t merely conclude from their pain that a particular case of flame is burning them, they usually project that fire in general, or if you will, all fire, any fire, will burn as well. From observed regularities or associations, we infer universal regularity even in the unobserved cases or yet future cases. In popular parlance we say we assume the uniformity of nature. The method of generalizing from observed cases to all cases of the same kind is called induction. The basic guiding principle here is that future cases will be like past cases – that similar things will behave similarly.
So for instance, if certain conditions and events bring about a certain effect today, the same factors will cause a similar effect later. I’ll give you a down-to-earth example: Why do we expect toothpaste to spurt from the tube when we squeeze it? You might call this the toothpaste proof of God’s existence, okay? We support that expectation in terms of two things: One, our past experience with toothpaste tubes, and two, the belief that nature is uniform – that the future is like the past. Without that second belief, we would not be able to learn from experience. We will not be able to use language, we will not be able to rely on memory, or advanced science. All of which involve observing similarities and projecting them into the future.
Moreover our belief about uniformity or the inductive principle is a very firmly entrenched belief. When scientists found that there were deviations in the expected orbit of Uranus they did not draw the conclusion, “Okay nature is not uniform after all, ” that just impelled them to start looking for another factor as yet unknown that was influencing the orbit of Uranus. They did not give up the inductive principle, but rather hypothesized the body which by the way we now know to be the planet Neptune. And so from toothpaste to the planets we believe in reason in terms of the inductive principle.
Now David Hume’s question was this, and I quote: ” What is the nature of that evidence which assures us of any real existence and matter-of-fact beyond the present testimony of our senses, or the records of our memory?” By what logical right, he was asking, do we claim to know that some empirical generalizations are true? What, asked Hume, are we warranted in asserting on the basis of our experiences? And he said to be very strict in his empiricism, “Only that in the past or in the cases so far observed such and such has been the case.”
But Hume said we have no basis for projecting that into the future. And I quote him again: “If you insist that the inferences made by a chain of reasoning I desire you to produce that reasoning.” Now of course many people make the mistake of responding to Hume saying, “Hey listen. We all assume the future will be like the past.” Hume said that he understood that, there is no question that in practice we act that way, but as he said and I quote him again: “I want to learn the foundation of this inference.”
And then there are people who say, “Well we know it’s very probable although it may not be very certain. “But that misses Hume’s point as well. Hume knew very well that we don’t have certainty about all matters of science. His point is that we have no logical right to affirm on the basis of our past experiences that even probability is true of the natural order. And so that the principle of induction is left without a foundation.
Bertrand Russell, the 20th century philosopher, said that we cannot justify our belief in induction on the basis of the past success we’ve had in believing that the inductive principle is true because that too assumes that what happened in the past is going to be like the future. Let me quote Russell here: “The inductive principle is equally incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience. Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards to the cases that have been already examined but as regards unexamined cases it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which on the basis of experience argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present assume the inductive principle. Hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question.”
So now do we have reason for believing the inductive principle? We need to set the Christian worldview, the theistic world view side by side with the atheist world view and ask which one comports with the inductive principle and thus provides the preconditions for science, language, learning, and any intelligible human experience. And I will say it’s certainly not atheism. Atheism’s view of reality and historical eventuation cannot provide a cogent reason for what all of our reasoning takes for granted. It is debunked by its philosophical arbitrariness at just this point as even men like Hume and Bertrand Russell realize. Accordingly, it is most reasonable to believe in God and entirely unreasonable not believe in God, for God’s existence is the precondition of all reasoning whatsoever.”