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The Problem of Induction

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Empiricist philosopher David Hume created what he called the problem of induction. This problem casts doubt on casual relations between the cause and the effect to any given event. Hume says that because we cannot know the future at all we cannot say that A causes B necessarily. He said that A is a separate event and B is a separate event. There is no necessary link between the two. That is to say, what we know today about the laws of nature might not be the same in the future. They might not be necessarily constant. The same applies to the past. Because we cannot know the past, we cannot know that everything is at the same constant speed as the present time.

For example, while we know what the speed of light is presently we do not know if that speed is necessary. For all we know it could be contingent. There is just no way to test the future and see if the speed will stay the same.

This is a problem for the naturalist. It seems to create much skepticism for any type of induction or scientific claim. It forces the naturalist to uses probabilities instead of absolutes for future causal events. But how would a believer in God respond to this question? Well, a theist would say that we can know with certainty that things such as the laws of nature are constant. We know this because God exists and God upholds all reality. For Him to change the laws of nature would be somewhat deceitful.

The theist must accept God as the foundation of all knowledge. In order to remove any type of doubt about causal certainty or induction, God must be accepted first.



  1. Andre says:

    Found this as I’m writing an essay on the topic for Phil. of Science. Was useful, thanks. It turns out that even ‘probabilities’ for future events can’t be stated (or assumed) if we’re basing them on a simple inductive move. If our observations are finite and the unobserved situations we’re generalising to (e.g. with a law) are infinite, the probability our extrapolations will be true will be zero, or perhaps indeterminate. If we accept that theism is true, it seems we have *some* reason for thinking that nature will be regular and comprehensible i.e. we have a reason to trust science. Atheists can (and do) still accept science for various reasons, including ‘because it works’; but it’s not clear they can justify their faith in it. Which is quite ironic really!

  2. I find Hume’s argument to be extremely compelling. The first time I came into contact with this idea, it forced me to rethink almost everything I believed I knew. Few things in my life have so completely and totally stopped me in my tracks and made me go in a different direction. If you have not accepted God, as in my case, the idea throws the world into a complete state of chaos. At first, I found this situation deeply disquieting, but I have grown to find an incredible sense of freedom in the feeling of not being locked in to an endless cycle of cause and effect. Hume made the impossible possible for me. I feel a great sense of gratitude to Hume for seeing and expressing this idea.

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