The Fallacy of Induction

19 Jul

Another thought-provoking video, as always, from Jerry Johnson and the folks, about the limits of the scientific method.


I might add, that the very falsifiability of scientific claims (thank you Karl Popper), renders the very concept of a ‘confirmed scientific fact’ as a logical absurdity, since it’s always conceivably possible that later empirical observation may overturn a hypothesis or even a law – so nothing held by science can ever be completely absolute.  Science always works that way, and that is why, for example, despite how strongly scientists once held to classical mechanics, and considered it absolute, it has since been overturned by quantum mechanics (at the micro level, anyway).  Ever hear about phlogistonCaloricLuminiferous etherQuintessential ether?  Science once proclaimed the existence of all these things; all of which have been discarded, rendered obsolete by improved understandings.  Remember how the dinosaurs were understood for years to have been ‘cold-blooded’?  Now paleontologists understand them to have been ‘warm-blooded’.  Light was considered to be particles; then waves; now it’s considered to have both particulate and wave properties.  The sun was previously understood as revolving around the Earth; now we understand the Earth revolves around the sun.  And so on.

There are no absolute absolutes, if one can put it that way, in science.  Every scientific understanding, every consensus even, is open to the possibility of future change, as our understandings improve.  We shouldn’t therefore regard scientific explanations therefore as necessarily completely, absolutely true; all science can do is provide decent explanations for how things work, but not ones that might not change, over time.

And that is why science can never, and should never, be held as any ultimate authority.  There is only one – God, who created the universe, and all the laws under which it operates.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” – Psalm 19:1.


Posted by on July 19, 2012 in "science",


42 responses to “The Fallacy of Induction


    July 19, 2012 at 12:04 am

    You had me until “God”!

  2. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Well, we are a Christian blog here.

    But using logic alone, one can recognize the limits of science; one needn’t be a believer, to do so. Watch the video, and see where he quotes Bertrand Russell, the well-known atheist, on the shortcomings of induction.

    • YOHAMI

      July 19, 2012 at 12:09 am

      Yes Im aware of the limits. Logic needs a box to operate, and the box is arbitrary. Great post.

  3. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:10 am


  4. jg

    July 19, 2012 at 1:06 am

    When I was a Physics grad student, everything was fine in QM until I got into QFT and QED in the next couple of semesters . It through me into a tailpspin because there was battle between the where the physics ended and where the math began and viceversa. It made me wonder on certain days in class, if I was learning metaphysics. The math is beautiful when used to express the physics and one could get easily lost in either. It also made me wonder if this was in the realm of god’s country?

    • YOHAMI

      July 19, 2012 at 1:33 am

      jg, do they get to question 1+1=2?

  5. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:33 am

    @ jg: Indeed; I’ve always thought quantum mechanics is God’s rebuke to the hubris of 19th century rationalism. 🙂

  6. jg

    July 19, 2012 at 2:52 am

    @Yohami: In the area of Real Analysis, one of the 1st things a student learns is the basic operartions of the real number system. In which the student learns from some very interesting arguments why 1+1 =2. In addition for example the “additive identity” is ‘0’ and you can prove that 1+0 = 1 say via logic. Remember, ‘0’ was reffered to as an additive identity and not zero!! It can also be proven that this identity is unique by tagging another additive identity 0* and showing that 0*=0. There is a similar counterpart for multiplication as well. You have “additive and multiplicative inverses” as well.
    @Will: I came out of my quantum classes pretty angry and confused because it turned some of my foundational knowledge of matter and hence the world upside down. I realized that as one goes down the scale to the smallest constituent of matter it is all mathematics in the end and its existence can only be established by capturing its unique energy, momentum signatures and probabilistic profile obtained via scattering. In Classical Mechanics momentum is real and in QM momentum is complex and it is counter intuitive. One things though as an aside, Schroedingers equation allows one to see the beauty and symmetry of nature. The SE is in itself is a beautiful work of art/mathematics. It is as though god spoke through Schroedinger.

  7. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:17 am

    @ jg: Quantum mechanics has, IMO, re-established the element of mystery that the rationalists had thought they had banished. Thanks to classical mechanics’ neat and tidy answers, easily grasped, the rationalists thought, esp. in the light of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and according to their ideology of progress, that we were well on the way, as a species, to understanding and knowing all there is to know. They’d forgotten the wisdom of Aristotle: “All that I know is that I know nothing”; they were hubristic in the extreme.

    And then along came quantum mechanics, introducing wave-particle duality, the idea of energy being quantized rather than infinitely divisible, and the incomprehensible unpredictability of, for instance, the behaviour of an electron going about a circuit: where, when you give it two paths around a circuit board, put detectors in both, it appears that half the charge goes to one spot and half to the other, which seems impossible; only by shutting off one detector can you find that the electron either at the other detector or not there… Or the nodes of atomic and molecular orbitals, where the probability of the electron being there is supposedly zero, despite the fact that electrons freely move between the ‘cloud’ regions of orbitals where they may be found, but apparently not traversing the nodes? It all boggles the mind – as it should. We know far less than we think we know. All of a sudden, just like that, the rationalist certainties came crashing down; no doubt leaving them as angry and confused as you were at having the world turned upside-down.

    Mystery is back – with a vengeance. And instead of rationalism killing off faith altogether, as they oh-so-confidently had predicted it would, instead, while Christianity has certainly waned in the West, a thousand new forms of supernatural and superstitious beliefs have arisen, from New Age religion, to belief in UFOs and ETs, to the grown of Eastern philosophy and spirituality in the West; Wiccanism, the rebirth of Asatru, the fascination with the occult and mythical creatures like vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. Meanwhile, religion thrives in the Third World: Christianity is growing there at a rapid rate, but Islam has not abated there, either – and is vigourously planting itself into the West, thanks to high rates of Muslim immigration… In India, despite the growth of the irreligious middle class, Hinduism remains a potent faith in everyday life, and has had a resurgence, with the R.S.S. and their ‘Hindutva’ ideology… The rationalists are therefore now farther than ever from achieving their goals. No wonder the likes of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, et al., are so angry. They’re losing.

  8. The Man Who Was . . .

    July 19, 2012 at 3:58 am

    I’d be wary of this kind of argument, because it can be used to destroy anything. Really nothing is provable in the strict sense, including religious claims, but that doesn’t mean some things aren’t more probable than others.

    Mystery is back – with a vengeance.

    None of it has anything to do with quantum mechanics though. The physicist/theologian John Polkinghorne has cautioned against Christians using quantum mechanics as an all purpose answer to materialism.

  9. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:21 am

    “I’d be wary of this kind of argument, because it can be used to destroy anything. Really nothing is provable in the strict sense, including religious claims, but that doesn’t mean some things aren’t more probable than others.”

    True, but faith is a different thing from reason, resting on other grounds, even though obviously an intelligent, properly understood faith, will not be anti-reason, and will make use of it… “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen”, as Hebrews 11:1 puts it.

    “None of it has anything to do with quantum mechanics though. The physicist/theologian John Polkinghorne has cautioned against Christians using quantum mechanics as an all purpose answer to materialism.”

    Oh, I realize laypeople don’t know or give a shit about quantum mechanics, since it doesn’t change the price of bread, or anything else in their lives. But it matters enough to scientists… I certainly don’t think it’s any sort of all-purpose answer to materialism, but it has knocked the wind out of the sails of various individual materialists…

    And indeed, it isn’t quantum mechanics that has brought back superstition, etc.; it’s the decline of the faith in our society. I forget whether it was Chesterton or Lewis who noted that it isn’t the case that people who give up the faith end up believing in nothing, but rather, they end up believing in anything and everything; precisely because they lose the ability to discern… So rationalism ended up undermining itself, ironically, in attacking the Faith.

  10. jg

    July 19, 2012 at 4:23 am

    @will: Well the buddhists are trying to make the connection between relativit and their faith. In particular, the attainment of the state of enlightenment or nirvana can be look at as a mass energy conversion or even some sort of warping of the space-time continuum. Buddhism is very metaphysical and it cannot be considered a religion as such but some kind of philosophy. I think even hindhuism has that metaphysical well. It is from hindhuism that the notion of “zero” or “shunya” was contemplated. They actually thought of the state of nothingness or the void 5000yrs ago…
    I am no philospopher but I am vary of people like Dawkins…

  11. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:28 am

    I have heard that there has been a small trend, amongst some in the physics community, towards embracing of Eastern religions and concepts, which I find fascinating; again, one might have expected them to have been more rigidly materialist. There are also some high-level physicists who are Christians, too, I’ve heard, as well… No doubt the rigid materialists who still predominate in the biological sciences, like Dawkins, are most dismayed at their physicist brethren…

  12. electricangel1978

    July 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

    OK, William Gerard S, we need to invoke the kraken from down under. No, not David Collard, but he’ll do. I refer, of course, the the author of the manosphere masterpiece (before there WAS a manosphere) that goes by the title “The Intellectual Capacity of Women.”

    D. C. Stove wrote a number of books attacking what he called “The Plato Cult” and specifically the “Jazz Age Philosophy” of Karl Popper and his acolytes, including Feyerabend and Kuhn. Here’s the problem with attacking induction: you have now enabled EVERY feminist who spouts NAWALT. I do not choose to hand them the NAWALT club with which to beat me. Stove also shows that falsifiability is not falsifiable. It’s some nice intellectual taking down.

    Take a look at this book. I’d send you my copy, but I sent it to a colleague who has never returned it.

  13. YOHAMI

    July 19, 2012 at 9:30 am

    @gd, thing is 1 itself is an illogical / arbitrary concept. 1 is the foundation of logic, but 1 is beyond logic. Logic cant prove 1 exists, 1 is accurate, or that 1 is identical to another 1, which would be needed to say 1+1 is 2. Its all arbitrary.

  14. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:36 am

    @ EA: I indeed seem to recall reading an extract from David Stove, taking on Popper; it may have been Matthew who pointed me to it.

    “Here’s the problem with attacking induction: you have now enabled EVERY feminist who spouts NAWALT. I do not choose to hand them the NAWALT club with which to beat me.”

    Interesting; can you elaborate a bit?

    I was focused on the worshipers of science, who treat science as an omniscient, omnipotent authority – which it clearly isn’t.

  15. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

    @ EA: Okay, I don’t recall whether I actually read much by David Stove about Popper, apart from the little bit mentioned in the essay Matthew linked in this old post of his:

  16. Peter Blood

    July 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    David Stove’s contribution to philosophy was the rehabilitation of induction as a legitimate tool, when used properly (true of any tool). Induction itself is not fallacious. He’s certainly entertaining, he’s a polemical philosopher. How can you hate a guy who wrote “The Intellectual Capacity of Women” where the answer is, “not as much as men’s, for sure”?

    In fact, falsifiability is so utterly modern in its rejection of truth. In the Victorian age there was a rock-solid certainty about Newtonian mechanics, which was an optimistic excess of induction. Einstein and his theory shook that foundation, and shook up scientific certitude, and Popperism (falsifiability) came about, scientists weren’t going to be certain about anything, that’s for sure. So it was an overreaction.

    Science just staggers from excess to excess. Built on a foundation of materialist reduction, it is doomed always to learn but never come to a knowledge of the truth.

  17. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

    “Science just staggers from excess to excess. Built on a foundation of materialist reduction, it is doomed always to learn but never come to a knowledge of the truth.”


  18. sunshinemary

    July 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    And that is why science can never, and should never, be held as any ultimate authority. There is only one – God, who created the universe, and all the laws under which it operates.

    A separate but related issue regarding relying too heavily on science as the ultimate authority: scientific misconduct. While waiting for my children at their dentist appointments today, I picked up the latest issue of “Discover” magazine and started thumbing through it. Scientific fraud is more common than people realize, according to a brief article I read. I found a link on the website if anyone is interested.

  19. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Indeed, Sunshine.

  20. The Man Who Was . . .

    July 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    The problem with science is that it can’t take in the entire universe, so it usually isn’t much use in solving broad philosophical/theological/moral problems, though it can sometimes provide information about how philosophy should be applied in the real world. For example, science can’t really tell you if there are essences or not, but it does have something to say about whether certain specific things, like species, have essences.

    • YOHAMI

      July 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Nope, science cant even say anything specific about a specific thing.

  21. Will S.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    @ Thursday: What do you mean by ‘essences’? I don’t follow.

  22. Peter Blood

    July 19, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    He means our precious bodily fluids.

  23. Will S.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Uh, yeah…

  24. Will S.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:23 am

    I have seen Dr. Strangelove; took me a minute to remember. 🙂

  25. kyle

    July 20, 2012 at 2:44 am

    thank you for the post and your great intentions, but please note:

    Thinking that the movement of the Sun across the sky is due to Apollo flying in his chariot, then thinking that it is due to the Sun revolving around the Earth. these claims are both wrong, but they are not wrong by the same amount. the latter is more accurate than the former because it is consistent with the existence of space, the existence of gravity and the implication that there are large celestial bodies far beyond Earth that nonetheless can influence and be influenced by Earth’s presence.

    While the Sun revolving around the Earth may be a laughable mistake now, if we take a step back a thousand years, we can say that this was a fairly remarkable inference from the evidence and equipment they had at the time. It was a surprisingly large departure from ‘Apollo must be flying across the sky in his chariot’, which is, of course, even more wrong. You can even say that the scientists then were halfway correct, which is a lot more than ‘Apollo in his chariot’ theories.

    It is not simply ‘if you are not totally correct, you must be totally wrong.’ Wrongness has an element of extent that should not be ignored. It is in shades of grey, not simply black and white. So this is how science works, we go forward one step at a time, we don’t get the luxury of reaching the perfect answer in one shot.

  26. Will S.

    July 20, 2012 at 8:36 am

    @ Kyle: You mistake my intent: I wasn’t ridiculing geocentricism; I was merely pointing out how it has been superceded. Of course geocentricism is more accurate than the Greek myth.

    The problem with many scientists, though, is how dogmatically they proclaim the truth as they perceive it, at a given moment. There were scientists in the late 19th century who were convinced that airplanes could not fly; that such was impossible; the Wright brothers shut them up. There are scientists who were convinced, back in the ’70s, that the world was entering an era of global cooling; that a new ice age would be upon us, and that anyone who disagreed with them was a dangerous fool; now there are scientists who have the same opinion of their detractors, but promote the idea that the world is warming up…

    Many scientists remain far too confident in whatever is the scientific consensus about something at a given time. I work in science, BTW (chemistry), and I can hardly be said to be anti-science. But I recognize its limits, and the all-too-human biases of scientists.

  27. Will S.

    July 20, 2012 at 8:38 am

    @ Paul Murray: “The scientific consensus is always subordinate to the facts of the natural universe. It holds, at it’s core, humility as a supreme value. Acceptance of truth.”

    I’m not so sure of that. I wish it were always the case… But people have biases, even scientists, and they can’t help but let them shine through…

  28. Optimum Awareness™

    July 21, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Man was created in the “zelem” of God, . Zelem means essence, and God’s essence is intellect : which is what the sages who wrote the torah were trying to say.
    about science, there is no absolutes, that is why there is the bible which was written by man in the past who hold an ultimate faculty not achievable by man of this day- this is the reason why man can find many truths in the bible which are just being discovered by science TODAY, but since it was written in the bible that means that those who wrote the bible already KNEW that fact several thousands of years ago.
    My point is it is not necessary that science and religion must go against each other, science only confirms what God has already taught to us thousands of years back then through our ancestors’s brains, then through the scriptures to us.

  29. Will S.

    July 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Does ‘zelem’ also mean ‘image’, the way Genesis states it?

  30. kyle

    July 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm


    Ok that’s true. Moving on, while human science is imperfect, I feel that the teachings of the Christian God cannot bridge the gap in knowledge. Christianity/Catholicism contains some nice moral teachings if read properly, but the scripture’s tendency for hyperbole and allegory and metaphor makes for a difficult read even for English Lit majors and can easily lead an unsophisticated mind to unhealthy, extreme views. I believe that’s all the scriptures contain, a lot of good morals taught through tall tales. Because of a lack of enlightening explanations for dinosaurs and gravity, for example, it is difficult to buy the case that the Christian God contains ALL the answers.

  31. Will S.

    July 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    You’re at a Christian blog here, kyle; so we beg to differ. 🙂

    The Bible is not meant to be a science text; it exists to teach us about God, so that man can know the way to salvation, and gives guidelines for living. I don’t see its failure to discuss gravity as a failure at all; it also doesn’t discuss trichinosis in raw pork, but commanded the Jews, in the days before refrigeration, to avoid pork, wisely.

    BTW, the Bible does perhaps mention one dinosaur, at least: ‘Leviathan’ is some sort of sea lizard, possibly a dinosaur.

  32. Will S.

    July 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    As for it not discussing gravity, what of it? One needn’t know about gravity for it to work upon oneself; again, such has nothing to do with good living or one’s salvation. Hence why the Bible ignores it.

  33. Optimum Awareness™

    July 23, 2012 at 4:54 am

    no tselem means essence. Toar is used to refer to physical image. just clarifying.
    my point is human words is always imperfect and cannot reflect the gravity of the Glory of YHWY accurately.

  34. Will S.

    July 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

    No doubt.

  35. Optimum Awareness™

    July 24, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Some have been of opinion that by the Hebrew ẓelem, the shape and figure of a thing is to be understood, and this explanation led men to believe in the corporeality [of the Divine Being]: for they thought that the words “Let us make man in our ẓelem” (Gen. i. 26), implied that God had the form of a human being, i.e., that He had figure and shape, and that, consequently, He was corporeal. They adhered faithfully to this view, and thought that if they were to relinquish it they would eo ipso reject the truth of the Bible: and further, if they did not conceive God as having a body possessed of face and limbs, similar to their own in appearance, they would have to deny even the existence of God. The sole difference which they admitted, was that He excelled in greatness and splendour, and that His substance was not flesh and blood. Thus far went their conception of the greatness and glory of God. The incorporeality of the Divine Being, and His unity, in the true sense of the word–for there is no real unity without incorporeality–will be fully proved in the course of the present treatise. (Part II., ch. i.) In this chapter it is our sole intention to explain the meaning of the words ẓelem and demut. I hold that the Hebrew equivalent of “form” in the ordinary acceptation of the word, viz., the figure and shape of a thing, is toär. Thus we find “[And Joseph was] beautiful in toär (‘form’), and beautiful in appearance” (Gen. xxxix. 6): “What form (toär) is he of?” (1 Sam. xxviii. 14): “As the form (toär) of the children of a king” (Judges viii. 18). It is also applied to form produced by human labour, as “He marketh its form (toär) with a line,” “and he marketh its form (toär) with the compass” (Isa. xliv. 13). This term is not at all applicable to God. The term ẓelem, on the other hand, signifies the specific form, viz., that which constitutes the essence of a thing, whereby the thing is what it is; the reality of a thing in so far as it is that particular being. In man the “form” is that constituent which gives him human perception: and on account of this intellectual perception the term ẓelem is employed in the sentences “In the ẓelem of God he created him” (Gen. i. 27). It is therefore rightly said, “Thou despisest their ẓelem” (Ps. lxiii. 20); the “contempt” can only concern the soul–the specific form of man, not the properties and shape of his body. I am also of opinion that the reason why this term is used for “idols” may be found in the circumstance that they are worshipped on account of some idea represented by them, not on account of their figure and shape. For the same reason the term is used in the expression, “the forms (ẓalme) of your emerods” (1 Sam. vi. 5), for the chief object was the removal of the injury caused by the emerods, not a change of their shape. As, however, it must be admitted that the term ẓelem is employed in these two cases, viz. “the images of the emerods” and “the idols” on account of the external shape, the term ẓelem is either a homonym or a hybrid term, and would denote both the specific form and the outward shape, and similar properties relating to the dimensions and the shape of material bodies; and in the phrase “Let us make man in our ẓelem” (Gen. i. 26), the term signifies “the specific form” of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his “figure” or “shape.” Thus we have shown the difference between ẓelem and toär, and explained the meaning of ẓelem.

    I have included this in this comment for your reading pleasure. this is one of my favorite books- guide for the perplexed.
    Will we may disagree with some respects in our values, for I value reason over anything else for it is God’s will; but we agree upon one thing aside from being both Noahides; that God is beyond our words and to rate his greatness in our words is like praising a king for having500 silver coins when in reality he possesses a million golden coins
    Long live the intellect, and long live your advocacy, Will

  36. Will S.

    July 24, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Cheers, OA.

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