Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Inductive versus Deductive reasoning

Since "coming out" to my family in January about my atheism, I've had a few debates with them and others about christianity versus atheism. Just the other day, two Jehovah's witness ladies came to my door, wanting to innocuously know if I believed the bible had a prophetic nature. They had no idea what they were in store for. It was a pleasant discussion, but ultimately one that had very little effect on either parties involved. A few months ago, I posed an email question to one of my long-distance friendly adversaries that said "What of science, do you accept?" They said, " I accept any claim of science reached through deductive reasoning. I disregard anything concluded as a result of inductive reasoning" This person categorized evolution as a postulate arrived at through inductive reasoning. This is interesting. Inductive reasoning (bad, for scientific truth), deductive reasoning (good, for scientific truth). My friend doesn't think evolution has occured, they think we were modeled out of dirt by the hand of god, 6,000 or so years ago, in our current form, as was everything on the earth (maybe not necessarily out of dirt, per se). They also give as one reason for their unacceptance of evolution, the statement that evolution was arrived at through inductive reasoning, not deductive reasoning.

Webster's dictionary:
induction: inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances.
deduction: inference in which the conclusion about particulars follows necessarily from general or universal premises.

Please take a moment to look at the difference between the two definitions.

To induce that something is the case, you must begin with a set of particulars, from which you can then extrapolate a more complex and wider idea. The beginning is the details.

To deduce that something is the case, you must begin with a general or universal premises, from which you can then conclude that the particular, observable micro details are direct results.

My friend doesn't accept evolution because it begins with a set of particular observations about nature a: extinction, through the observable particular of fossil remains, b: genetic mutation, through the observable particular of both laboratory DNA experiments and natural adaptive attributes of different species. My friend doesn't accept evolution, because it then proceeds with these particulars to expand a more widely-encompassing set of explanations, which arebased on the little details already observed. My friend DOES NOT ACCEPT evolution because of this.
But, my friend, accepts most everything else they encounter in life which employs the exact same process.
Take breakfast, my friend decides to have breakfast after having taken inventory of the particulars of their pantry. They start with the details. They then induce that breakfast is a possibility, so hunger and energy will dissipate and increase respectively, extrapolations based on detailed information gathered. My friend accepts inductive reasoning when it comes to breakfast being helpful, but does not accept inductive reasoning in regards to evolution. What else do they contradict themselves with? Well, how about travel? My friend goes to work each work day, and I presume they employ some method of transit to facilitate this trip, either individual car, mass transit system, paddleboat, something. Well, how do they do this. Do they begin with the universal premises that travel is a possibility? Yes and No. Yes, in that, to the short-lived human individual, confined to the particulars of past discovery, it is inevitable that to my friend, it seems a universal premises that traveling fast via non-human means is a real possibility. However, that universality is only seemingly so. The wheel was undiscovered at one point in our history, albeit well before I or my friend lived. My friend and I both enjoy the benefits of the wheel, but the wheel was at one point, an observable particular of the environment. Using this observable particular, our ancestors extrapolated that this arc-edged implement could be used to speed things up for them, and the rest is history. So in this way, the answer is no. My friend as a human being, can never begin, at the real beginning with a universal premise that faster travel is possible, they must always and forever be grateful for the particulars discovered by their distant ancestors.

Inductive reasoning is validly accepted as a way of discovering scientific descriptions of our world. Evolution could only ever have been the result of inductive reasoning, and rightfully so, that is exactly what makes it make sense. It started with details, and Darwin induced from those details that something more fundamental and unseen to the incurious, was going on.

But what about deductive reasoning? The taking of a universal premise and gathering the observed details underneath the umbrella. This is a different approach, and certainly not one that scientists regularly employ. Particle physicists sometimes employ this method, because without such a method, the unobservably small constituents they are concerned with would never have been postulated to begin with. Elementary particle such as quarks, leptons, and electrons don't leave tell-tale signs for the laymen to see, which is how each of them remained unpostulated for so very long. However, the only other arena which regularly utilizes deduction is that of religion. It makes sense to me, that my friend, a fundamentalist, southern christian conservative, would accept deduction but not induction, because religion starts with the universal premise that god exists. It then gathers under that assumption, the ideas that we are his creation and we are sinful by nature. The evidence gathered under the umbrella is done so after the macro-assumptions are made. The bible is one of the particular evidences of the truth of christianity, as is the idea of our possession of self-awareness. These two particulars of evidence are assimilated into the general idea that god exists, only after the the premise has been both postulated and accepted. This is the nature of deductive reasoning. So according to my friend's logic, they can willingly accept the inexact theories of string theory, the multiverse, and both quantum mechanics and special and general relativity (which few non physicists really understand), but they can't accept that breakfast might fend off hunger and increase productivity.
All of this is prelude to the real subject of this blog, and that is this:

If christianity were truly true, then christians should have been able to arrive at their belief system wholly divorced of the bible. Now doesn't that contradict the entire preceding section? Didn't I just get finished saying my friend arrived at their belief because of deductive reasoning? While that is true, it doesn't really counter what I've already said. Again, If christianity were really true, then evidence other than the bible should support it's claims. Christians have only the bible as external evidence that what they claims is true is so. Without the bible, for the last 4,000 years (torah and later the new testament) what grounds would the christian church have had with which to not only survive, but to flourish as it has? I say, the christian has only the bible as an external source of evidence, but what about the recognition we all have of ourselves, our self-awareness? That is not an external source of evidence but an internal one, something that is confined to the individual and cannot be rightfully used to gauge the truth of a social trend such as a particular religion. Social truths (memes) as religions claim to be, can only be found to be as such, if A: they are the result of individual(s) within the population coming to exactly the same conclusions time and again throughout the entire course of the population's existence (species), and B: if there is indeed an all-powerful controlling entity which actively participates in the lives of the individuals in such a way as to ensure that such social decisions are being arrived at. However, such a discovery is not possible, because it pits inductive reasoning against deductive reasoning. Remember inductive reasoning involves starting with the particulars and ending with the big picture, while deductive reasoning starts with the big picture and fits the details into that big picture. The problem with trying to affirm or deny god's existence by evaluating the testimonial truth of self-awareness as internal evidence, is that it requires that we start with inductive reasoning, the details being the observable, comprehensive and macro-social behaviours of the species, and the resulting arrival at the same behavioral conclusions, all of which will result in the big picture of god existing as the controller of this drama; and, it simultaneously requires that we begin with deductive reasoning: assume there is an all-powerful, active participant in our social lives, having endowed us with self-awarness, thereby granting us the ability to construct social lives, whose further activities center around ensuring our arrival at a universal set of behavioral conclusions. We must start with the big picture of god absorb all the details into this as to make them fit with our preconception. we must deduce that the details are the result of god's being in existence, but we must also induce that god exists because of the myriad of details which poin to that conclusion. This is circular. You can not have both inductive and deductive reasoning at play at the same time.
Rest assured, I am by no means suggesting that humanity, in all it's societies has actually resulted in the same universal morals, as such a discussion would require. It is painfully obvious that we as a species have exhibited throughout our history a deplorable lack of compassion for our fellow man. Genocide's existence testifies to our incapability of agreement on the universal sanctity of life, So does slavery. For that matter, all violence testifies to the one thing that makes humanity the same, we are animals. Our self-congratulatory religions might feign to celebrate the simultaneous prestige and disdain of humanity, but our behaviours illuminate our animalistic nature much more so. I suggested that christianity should have some other source of external evidence with which to support it's claims. Here are a few suggestions:
Let's see some literal stars fall to the ground (impossible since stars are bigger and hotter than the earth, and so would burn us up without being able to "touch" the ground): Mark 13:21-25.
Let's hear some mountains sing about how good god is (again impossible since sounds must utilize vibrations and mountain cannot be simultaneously the source and agent of vibrations, not to mention what language the mountains would sins in ): Isaiah 55:12
Or how about some rocks crying out: Luke 19:40.
How I'd love to see a big-ol mouth open up on Teddy Roosevelt's face at Mt. Rushmore and hear him start singing the hallelujah chorus....
There is no evidence away from the bible, for the christian to believe in christianity. Without this, it is impossible to validate the truth of christianity's claims, therefore, without taking anything else into account, the best christianity can do at this point is acknowledge that it is severely deficient in it's case for the ultimate in truth. But we must take into account many other things, for instance: a: The existence of rival religions, some of whom make almost identical claims using almost identical sources of "evidence", b: The existence of secular explanations for the issues religions concern themselves with; life, thought, feelings, etc...
When these alternative explanations are taken into account, the christians case slides from being severely deficient, to that of one of maliciously outright deceipt. It is no excuse for the christian to assert that their belief system has brought comfort to anyone, much less many billions of people over the years. Comfort with an idea is not a way of validating it's truth. I may be very comfortable with not working a day in my life, but that is no reason to believe that not working a day in my life is how I should spend my existence. It might be very comfortable for me to simply ignore the cries of my child, because I'm tired, but that doesn't mean that my child isn't hungry, just because I am more comfortable thinking that if I wait long enough, he will stop being hungry and stop bothering me. Comfort is a not only an invalid excuse it is a deplorable one. The truth of existence, will only ever be discovered, it will not be nor has it been revealed, not in the manner which religions speak of.
Christians: you have no acceptable reason to say the things you say, you have no honor in speaking of things about which you've never invested any amount of effort in trying to disprove, and you have no sympathy from those of us who recognize your false humility.
Atheists: you have a responsibility to call out your lazy religious friends and make them confront what they say they believe, but do so in a nice way, so as to make them sure that you're confrontation is a plea for reason and not an attack on a personal level.
Scientists: You have a responsibility to do your jobs, continue collecting the data, and inducing from your data, larger more encompassing explanations of our world. It is to you who the world looks for it's answers, despite what the world might say to the contrary. It is widely accepted that cars will work, we base our transitive lives around this fact, but I'm unaware of any church official who beat Henry Ford to the punch and invented the automobile before he did. Science is what we need, not religion. Keep up the work.


Anonymous said...

im not sure where you got your information from, but evolution is based purely on deductive reasoning.

Anonymous said...


There is a problem with your argument. Let atheist philosopher Bertrand describe it:

"All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true. This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. Suppose I were to say: "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone and stones are nourishing.íí If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based."

All reason must be grounded on some unprovable truth--self evident Jefferson called it.

Yours just happens to be that "There is no god." Unfortunately, your reasoning self reduces to contradiction and absurdity very quickly.

You battle two masters, chaos and order.. You insist the universe is a random event, along with all it contains, yet, you insist it is ordered / logical--yet you have no grounds to so argue.

Deduction is entirely begins with my friend, you have two masters: "Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

God bless