THE PROBLEM OF UNIFORMITY

The Problem of Uniformity by Greg L. Bahnsen

Now the problem that arises for the unbeliever is in accounting for the uniformity of nature. Since the unbeliever is so enamored with science and the scientific method, this is a good place to demonstrate his worldview crisis. You must present your standard apologetic challenge to the unbeliever: ―Which worldview may reasonably expect that causal connections function uniformly throughout the universe or that the future will be like the past?‖ We are asking, in other words, which worldview makes human experience intelligible and science possible? All sane people assume uniformity, but only the Christian worldview can account for it. Unbelievers claim: ―We only know things based on observation and experience. We only know things that are results of sense experience in the material world.‖ But the problem arises: We have no experience of the future, for it has yet to occur. Therefore, on this experience-based scientific method, how can we predict that the future will be like the past so that we may expect scientific experiments to be valid? The unbeliever will attempt to respond: ―We know the future will be like the past because our past experience of the oncoming future has always been thus.‖ But this statement still only tells us about the past, not the approaching future we now must anticipate.

Furthermore, you can‘t expect the future to be like the past apart from a view of the nature of reality that informs you that events are controlled in a uniform way, as by God in the Christian system. Even the renowned atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) admitted the principle of induction (that we can take past experiences and project them into the future, that we can know the future by gaining knowledge of the past) has no foundation in observation, in sense experience. Therefore, it has no ―scientific‖ foundation. Yet all formal science and all rational human experience assumes uniformity. Russell‘s exact statement is as follows:

 It has been argued that we have reason to know that the future will resemble the past, because what was the future has constantly become the past, and has always been found to resemble the past, so that we really have experience of the future, namely of times which were formerly future, which we may call past futures. But such an argument really begs the very question at issue. We have experience of past futures, but not of future futures, and the question is: Will future futures resemble past futures? This question is not to be answered by an argument, which starts from past futures alone. We have therefore still to seek for some principle which shall enable us to know that the future will follow the same laws as the past.

* * * * *

The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life. All such general principles are believed because mankind has found innumerable instances of their truth and no instances of their falsehood. But this affords no evidence for their truth in the future, unless the inductive principle is assumed.

Thus all knowledge which, on a basis of experience tells us something about what is not experienced, is based upon a belief which experience can neither confirm nor confute, yet which, at least in its more concrete applications, appears to be as firmly rooted in us as many of the facts of experience. The existence and justification of such beliefs—for the inductive principle, as we shall see, is not the only example—raises some of the most difficult and most debated problems of philosophy. 3

 

Ultimately, Russell ends up falling into subjectivism as he recognizes he cannot account for the objective world as it is:

In ontology,4 I start by accepting the truth of physics. . . . Philosophers may say: What justification have you for accepting the truth of physics? I reply: merely a common-sense basis. . . . I believe (though without good grounds) in the world of physics as well as in the world of psychology. . . . If we are to hold that we know anything of the external world, we must accept the canons of scientific knowledge. Whether . . . an individual decides to accept or reject these canons, is a purely personal affair, not
susceptible to argument.5

Another philosopher of science speaks of the paradox of induction:

The paradox of induction is the problem that in all scientific reasoning we form conclusions, called laws, that are of a general nature; however, the evidence we have for those laws is based upon particular experiences. For example, we form the conclusion that all rays of light will bend as they pass from air into glass, but we have only ever observed a finite number of instances of this law. On further reflection we see that there is no necessary connection between something happening on one occasion and the same thing happening in like circumstances on another occasion.

 

We are not directly acquainted with the “power” behind events that ensures the uniformity of nature throughout space and time. The general law encompasses a potentially infinite number of instances that no amount of observation could possibly affirm. The problem is usually expressed as a problem of inference from past to future, but strictly this is only an instance of the problem; unobserved past events are also subject to the paradox of induction— we can never be sure that any general law has applied uniformly even in the past. No general law can ever be certain.6

Furthermore, another complication arises for the non-Christian: How do we know assuredly that the universe is in fact uniform? Has man investigated every single aspect of the universe from each one of its smallest atomic particles to the farthest flung galaxies and all that exists in between, so that he can speak authoritatively? After all, as Kilgore Trout amusingly observes: ―The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest. Does man have totally exhaustive knowledge about every particle of matter, every movement in space, and every moment of time? How does man know uniformity governs the whole world and the entire universe? As ‘The Paradox of Induction’ laments: ―We have no way at present of being sure that the universe is uniform. We have only sampled physical nature in our own limited portion of the universe. . . .[W]e are wanting the laws of the universe to be such that we can understand them, but there is no reason offered as to why the universe should be like this.‖7

In addition, since man claims to have an experience of external things, how do we know our experience is accurate and actually conforms to reality as it is, so that science may function? How do we know that we are not free-floating minds? Or simply one mind? We saw these problems in earlier chapters on metaphysics and alternative worldviews. Such questions are not commonly asked but are nevertheless vitally important. This point demonstrates that any and every attempt to prove uniformity in nature necessarily requires circular reasoning. To prove uniformity one must assume or presuppose uniformity. If I set out to argue the uniformity of the universe because I can predict cause-and-effect, am I not presupposing the uniformity and validity of my experience? How can I be sure that my experience of cause-and effect is an accurate reflection of what really happens? Furthermore, am I not presupposing the trustworthy, uniform coherence of my own rationality— a rationality that requires uniformity?

 

The issue boils down to this: Since man cannot know everything he must assume or presuppose uniformity and then think and act on this very basic assumption. Consequently the principle of uniformity is not a scientific law but an act of faith which undergirds scientific law. Thus, adherence to the principle of uniformity— though absolutely essential to science and the scientific method—is an intrinsically religious commitment. Here the problem of the unbeliever‘s ultimate view of reality collapses into absurdity. He is committed to the notion that chance explains the universe. For instance, the Big Bang model of the beginning of the universe ―represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden, abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing. It represents a true miracle—transcending physical principles. It teaches that The Big Bang view of the origins of the universe dominates the scientific community so much that ―today, virtually all financial and experimental resources in cosmology are devoted to Big Bang studies.‖10 Elsewhere we read: ―Physicist Gregory Benford is even more enthusiastic: ‗It is as though prodigious, bountiful Nature for billions of years has tossed off variations on its themes like a careless, prolific Picasso. Now Nature finds that one of its casual creations has come back with a piercing, searching vision, and its own pictures to paint.‘

 

Nobel Prize-winning French molecular biologist Jacques Monod puts it bluntly: ―Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, [lies] at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution…. The universe was not pregnant with life nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo game.‖12 Evolutionist K. Rohiniprasad comments in his ―The Accident of Human Evolution‖: ―As the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould puts it, humans arose as a fortuitous and contingent outcome of thousands of linked events. We should humbly acknowledge the fact that any one of these events could have occurred differently and sent history on an alternative pathway.‖13 Regarding four evolutionary turns, she goes on to state in the same article: ―It is important to realize that the above four incidents were totally unrelated and random. Like every other phenomenon or catastrophe that changed the course of events on the earth, biological evolution trundled along without any pre-ordained plan or purpose.

 

Unfortunately for the non-Christian cosmology, chance involves randomness and unpredictability.14 As the source of all being, it undercuts the uniformity of all material reality, for a ―singularity‖ (such as predicted of black-holes as well as for the beginning of the whole universe) ―is a point where physical laws break down, where matter is infinitely dense.‖15 The unbelieving worldview requires faith in miracles, yet without a reason for those miracles. Life arises from non-life. Intelligence from non-intelligence. Morality from that which is a-moral. These are faith claims for explaining our world and how it came to be. The world becomes like Mark Twain‘s (1835–1910) introductory comment in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: ―Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.‖ The uniformity of nature is perfectly compatible, however, with the Christian worldview. The absolute, all-creating, sovereignly-governing God reveals to us in Scripture that we can count on regularities in the natural world. The Bible teaches that the sun will continue to measure time for us on the earth (Gen. 1:14–19; Eccl. 1:5; Jer. 33:20), that seasons will come and go uniformly (Gen. 8:22; Ps. 74:17), that planting and harvest cycles may be expected (Jer. 5:24; Mark 4:26–29), and so forth. Because of this God-governed regularity in nature, the scientific enterprise is possible and even fruitful.

 

 

Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen. DeMar, Gary (Ed.) Powder Springs, GA. American Vision. 2007