Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Divine Induction

Note: My blog post is sandwiched between the i53 Network’s original video and You Tube Member Websnarf’s (not connected to me) response video. Websnarf’s response was included because I realized it touched on some ideas I presented in this post and is a more easy to follow response then my pedantic blog post.

Kelly Tripplehorn, through the i53 Network (which he founded), is offering a $1000 challenge to anyone who can justify inductive inference without god. Tripplehorn describes induction in the simplified, classical fashion of moving from specific cases to general rules. He proceeds to say that non-theists cannot justify induction, citing the Problem of Induction which, despite centuries of debate, lacks an uncontroversial and universally accepted solution.

Induction assumes the uniformity of nature, and saying induction is justified because it “worked in the past” (in classic pragmatic style) is begging the question.

So, to solve the problem Tripplehorn cites the bible, where god says he made the world with order (uniformity). He then offers $1000 to anyone who can solve this challenge without invoking god and goes on to make the (outlandish) suggestion that atheists should be kicked out of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences because they can’t justify induction.

To be precise, Tripplehorn says that anyone who gets their solution added into the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy will get the $1000. This challenge is absurd, not the least bit because the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy doesn’t accept ideas simply because they’re “true”. Your solution to the problem of induction could be the best, end all debate, solution there is, but until it’s discussed in academic circles and philosophy journals, it won’t be added to the Encyclopedia.

Tripplehorn should also know that the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy article on induction doesn’t reference his divine solution to the problem, never mind accepting it as the end all solution to the problem or the only possible way to make sense of induction. Aside from the section on Creationism, religion isn’t referenced at all in the article.

Its absence is for good reason, too. The divine solution to the problem of induction is really just an extension of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God, an outgrowth of Presuppositional Apologetics. Claiming god designed the universe uniformly, to explain induction, explains little and confuses the matter more.

Tripplehorn’s divine explanation adds an extra entity, a no-no for anyone who cares for the principle of parsimony. This is why academic philosophers have avoided using god; it doesn’t clarify or add to our understanding of induction and is a typical sky-hook.

A sky-hook is any explanation which confuses matters, by trying to explain something with a mysterious unobservable entity.

To give you an example (hat tip to PZ Myers), let us imagine a particle called “Regulon”. It’s an infinitesimally small, sub-quantum particle. It ensures all higher-level particles and forces behave uniformly. Any unprejudiced thinker would realize that I’ve pulled a fast one on you and added a mysterious entity to our ontology. This is similar to what Tripplehorn is doing, shifting the mystery from induction to god.

If Tripplehorn’s dystopian dream of excluding atheists from the National Academy of Sciences was actualized, the academy would lose some of its best members and scientific progress would be inhibited.

Tripplehorn, if anything, has done a real disservice. As websnarf pointed out, Tripplehorn’s challenge is contrary to the Encylopedia’s educational mission and it’s practically impossible to get a new idea into the Encylopedia. Nevertheless, I’ll try, as an ontological naturalist, to add some insight into this problem: if the universe wasn’t uniform, it wouldn’t contain beings capable of wondering why it was uniform (and hence, why induction works).

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