Naturalism and Induction

Excerpt from a friend’s lecture notes of Greg Bahnsen’s Introduction to Biblical Apologetics lecture.

1.) Will The Future Be Like The Past?
Everyone assumes that the future will be like the past, that there is a uniformity to nature. They prove they assume this by engaging in regular habitual behavior and expecting consistent results from unchanging laws of physics (e.g., filling their car with gas and expecting it to work, taking medications and expecting them to heal, getting up in the morning and expecting gravity to hold their feet to the ground, etc). This makes predictability, scientific experiments and such possible. But how does the unbeliever know that the future will be like the past? Here’s an example of how to go about asking an unbeliever (in this case an atheist) why he believes the future will be like the past, and how the conversation may play out:
‘Christian: “Why do you believe the future will be like the past?”

Atheist: “Doesn’t everybody?”

That’s when you’ve got him. You can reply….

Christian: “Everyone believes it, but not everyone has the right to.” (i.e., not everyone’s worldview provides reason to believe it).

Atheist: “What do you mean a ‘right to’?”

Christian: “Well, on your view of the universe you don’t have any reason to expect that Monday’s going to be like Saturday, or this week like last week, or this month like last month. You don’t have any reason to believe that at all. I agree with you that the future will be like the past, but, you see, you’re really talking about a Christian view of the world when you say that. I believe in a sovereign God who controls all things. He’s an orderly God and a good God, and He made this world so that we could master it and have dominion under Him and so on. God told Noah that sea time & harvest time will follow each other in regular succession (Genesis 8:22). God is lord of the seasons and will keep nature uniform. He did that before Noah’s time, of course, but in that covenant we have reference to that. That’s the kind of God we have. But now what I want to know is, why should you believe in the uniformity of nature? On your view there is no God that controls everything. On your view everything happens randomly. Basically, on your view, putting gas into your car is a crap shoot, because you can’t guarantee of the regularity of nature.”

You know that the unbeliever will not give up because of that. They almost always say….

Atheist: “It’s always been that way in the past, so I have good reason to expect it to be that way in the future.”

At that point you have to gently point out that they are begging the question. The person who gives that answer has forgotten that the question doesn’t have anything to do with the past. It has to do with the future. The fact that the past was a certain way is irrelevant. The question is why the future will be like the past.

Christian: “I’m not disputing that it’s been that way in the past. What I’m asking is, why do you count on it being that way in the future?”

Atheist: “I count on it being that way in the future because it was that way in the past.”

Christian: “That’s the question all over again. Why do you believe that the future will be like the past? That the past has always been like that is no proof that the future will be.”

Atheist: “It’s a primitive fact about the universe.”

Christian: “If it’s a primitive fact, then it’s a fact that it doesn’t have to be that way at all. It’s random, and tomorrow, just as random matter, the facts of the universe could change. The universe’s overall character doesn’t have to be unchanging.”

We have to be meek, kind, gentle, and loving when we talk to unbelievers, but we can’t let them weasel out of their philosophical problems either. So you’re going to learn the discourtesy of pointing out to unbelievers that they’re begging the question.

Christian: “You do assume something about the nature of reality here, and it turns out you have no reason to assume that. In fact, what you’ve told me elsewhere, that you don’t believe in God, would make it really inconsistent for you to believe this thing about the world.”

And now you’re going to hear the pragmatic cop-out….

Atheist: “Well, everybody’s gotta believe that or we couldn’t live.”

Christian: “Exactly. We must believe it because this is God’s world and He controls it, and if we don’t live according to the truth in His world we’re not going to get along well. And so you are really guilty before God, aren’t you? Because you know the truth, but you won’t admit it.”

You need to have the courage to tell your friends and your neighbors that they’re rebelling against God and they’re running away from Him.

Additional thoughts:
• The next time someone says they believe in nature, you jump on that and say….

Christian: “Nature? Isn’t the scientific concept a concept of nature? The pagans & Greeks had a concept of nature, and their concept of nature was that the gods filled everything, or that there was a logos that really ran through the universe, and the stoic idea of the logos was not all these little gods like Thales had in everything, but there was one grand cosmic principle that ran through everything. Nature was really just a pagan idea of there being supernatural forces. So you really want the idea of nature, you sophisticated, modern person you?” That’s a great way to generate a discussion about nature. Nature is just used as a way to secularize a concept that is only legitimate within the Christian worldview, the concept of the uniformity of nature.

Question: What if someone claims that things in the universe change, but not randomly?

Answer: To say that things don’t change randomly is to say that we live in a causal nexus, that we can explain everything that’s happened. But scientists can’t explain everything that’s happened. In fact, the more they investigate, the less they can explain what happened. But even if they could explain the way things have happened, the question is….

Christian: “Is the universe of such a nature that you can say ahead of time that it will always be that way, that you’ll always be able to explain what happens in the universe?” So really the unbeliever is saying….

Unbeliever: “Well you take your explanation to God, why can’t I just leave it at the level of the universe? Why can’t I say that that’s just the way the universe is?” And the Christian response is….

Christian: “Because if that’s ‘just’ the way it is, then tomorrow could ‘just’ be the opposite. You’re not really telling me that things just happen to be this way today by chance, yet somehow you know for a fact that they’re just gonna happen to be that way tomorrow, are you?” In philosophy, the “Just because” answers are always reversible because they’re arbitrary. That argument from the unbeliever commits the “Taxicab Fallacy” (following the logical implications of one’s view only as far as they want, instead of as far as they actually go).”


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