Monday, September 26, 2005

knowledge by inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning is where you reason from the specific to the general, unlike deductive where you reason from the general to the specific. Inductive reasoning depends on assumptions such as that the future will be like the past and that the universe is uniform. The scientific method is based on induction. It assumes that the future will be like the past. Experiments are performed and repeated over and over, and when a large enough sampling is taken, scientists conclude that the results that have been reached so far will also be manifest in the future. So, for example, if things always fall when we drop them, and they’ve always done that in the past, then they will probably also do that tomorrow.

As David Hume and many others before him have pointed out, the assumptions of the scientific method cannot be proved by the scientific method. How would you go about proving that the future will be like the past? The temptation is to say, “Well, the scientific method has always worked in the past, so surely it will work tomorrow,” but that begs the question because whether or not the future will be like the past is the thing we’re trying to prove. So the only way the scientific method can give us true information is if we assume the future will be like the past. It’s not even provable in principle. The scientific method is the least reliable way we can know things because it depends on the previous ways we can know things. It depends on the reliability of our sensory experience to give us true information about the world, and it depends on our intuitive knowledge of the uniformity of nature. No conclusion can be more reliable than the premises upon which it rests.

That’s why scientism is self-refuting. Scientism is the belief that scientific knowledge is the only knowledge we can have. If something is not demonstrated by the scientific method, then it can’t be known. That’s a self-refuting claim because the claim itself cannot be demonstrated by the scientific method.

It seems like we are well-justified in trusting inductive reasoning in general and the scientific method in particular to give us true information. What is remarkable is the fact that it seems we can be more certain about our knowledge of immaterial things than about material things since our knowledge at the intuitive level—the most reliable level—is full of knowledge about immaterial things like logic, minds, propositions, numbers, etc.

There are other ways we know things (e.g. knowledge by analogy is how we know solipsism is false), but those are the four major ways as I see it. Of course epistemology is a fairly broad area of philosophy.

Next: More on self-refutation


At 9/26/2005 5:47 PM , Blogger Jeff Travis Henderson said...

Hey, I mentioned your blog in my Podcast located at My podcast is on philosophy and religion, so it's right up your ally. However be warned, it's my first attempt, so I might not be the best at getting ideas accross right now.

At 9/26/2005 7:20 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - I completely agree about being humble about science. But thats the key difference between religion and science.

Religion assumes to be true facts which are necessarily unprovable, whereas science developes claims which can be altered and adjusted over time.

Newtonian physics worked great for 200 years, until that little German guy changed everything with the theory of Relativity.

Science has the capacity to change, but religion often resists change on the basis that it holds some absolute truth that objectively rests outside the material world.

How can one even begin to discuss a religious claim, since its spared the scruiteny we give to scientific arguments?

I would love to see the day when religious articles are discussed are refuted with the same regular ferver as scientific journals. But that will never happen!

At 9/27/2005 12:53 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Not everything can be revisable, but people often do revise their religious beliefs in light of new information. Religious claims are not immune to scrutiny.


At 9/27/2005 2:40 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well even if their are minute differences of opinion that change over time, like some people saying the 6 days the world was created (and the seventh god needed to rest... i dont know why), now they say that a day in gods time could be millions of years instead of literal terms. Ok fair enough, thats different from what they thought 2000 years ago.

But on all the important issues, such as the trinity, the virgin mary, and most major aspects of religion, they are all out of bounds for questioning.

By comparison, science is far more dynamic than religion. From my perspective, religion seems ahistorical or static at times when compared to how much the scientific view of the world has changed from flat and the center of the Universe, to round and part of gravity wells in space-time.

At 9/27/2005 3:25 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


Why would you expect religious claims to change in the same way scientific claims change? They both change in light of new evidence, but neither ever totally changes.

Individuals, however, do change their beliefs both about religion and about science.

There are no religious claims I know of that are out of bounds for questioning, and that includes the trinity and the virgin birth.

At 9/27/2005 3:35 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Jeff, I just listened to your podcast. What a neat idea! Thanks for the link.

At 9/27/2005 8:19 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

Steve, some of your points I'll grant. Such as the fact that religion is more static. The reason for that is that it's primarily concerned with things that don't ever change such as God's nature, His relationship to mankind, His plans for the future, His prescribed rules for us...
And since this truth isn't being discovered (as in science), but rather revealed directly to us via special revelation (namely the Bible) it's just not the type of information that we are likely to find changing over time...nor should it.
However, you contend that we have nothing akin to the scientific method in theology and that's wrong. The scientific method is born out of logic and logic is also applied to Biblical interpretation. The reason you see things like the virgin birth not being questioned much is that it has been demonstrated, against claims to the contrary, over and over again with such authority that it's just as foolish to question it as it is for us in this day to question the scientific belief that the earth is round.
The 'science' behind theology is the grammatico-historical hermeneutical approach. And I have seen point/counterpoint argumentation on important issues of theology that when the day is done, shows one side prevailing with an iron-clad victory.
I don't mean to say this is true about every issue because there are limits to what has been revealed.

At 9/27/2005 12:42 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Sam - I dont expect religious claims to change as much as scientific ones, im simply pointing out that religion, by design, is less capable of change.

If religion were as dynamic as science, for example, then it would have difficulty attracting followers and inspiring people to do things (good or bad).

Science provides a lot of grey answers, a lot of this is true as far as we know right now due to such and such a study based on these procedures. That doesn't translate well to the masses.

But you make the world into black and white, believers and nonbelievers, and its really easy for people to decide between going to heaven and going to hell.

The nash equilibrium, the safe choice, is to believe in religion because if you're right you're good, if you're wrong you're good.

But I digress. I feel like religion always tries to makes the world more simple, and science makes it more complex. And part of that is because religion offers us those absolute answers, and science cant do that. Even the "law" of gravity isn't absolute since as you pointed out in this post, we dont know it will always be true and it could be something we simply misunderstand!

I wish religious evangelicals could say the same thing "I possibly misunderstand the meaning of life" rather than "know thy truth"


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