Last time we met up, I noted that our guest-starring Creationists didn’t like the scientific method. They didn’t like it because it involves deductive reasoning. See, these two Creationists vastly prefer inductive reasoning, and a very strange form of it at that. Today, let’s explore why they prefer it, why real science doesn’t use it the way they’d like, and what their struggle is really about.
(This post went live on Patreon on 2/6/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too!)
Two Creationists (sorta) insist ‘the scientific method is wrong’
In a video uploaded January 25, Eric Hovind and Danny Faulkner complained about the scientific method:
As it turns out, they didn’t actually say the scientific method is wrong. They just don’t like that it is the only method of science-ing that is taught to schoolchildren in publicly-funded schools’ science classes.
More than that, they don’t like that it is presented as the only way researchers themselves practice science.
No, they simply want public schoolchildren learn about another, very different form of reasoning in their science classes. And then and more importantly, they want those children to place this other form of reasoning on the same mental shelf as the scientific method.
Inductive vs deductive reasoning
In learning about the world, people can go about it in two basic ways.
To use deductive reasoning, they note an observation, ask questions about it in the form of a hypothesis, test those questions, and either confirm or contradict their hypothesis. Deductive reasoners end this process with a conclusion.
- Testing prediction (experiment)
- Conclusion: experiment either confirms or refutes the theory and/or prediction
If an experiment refutes the theory and prediction, researchers devise a new theory/prediction. They then test the new one. Slowly, they winnow out explanations that do not account for their growing bank of data. After much testing, they devise an explanation that accounts for the data with no contradictions. But they always leave the door open for future testing to expose a new, currently-unknown contradictions to their explanations.
By contrast, inductive reasoning involves noting an observation, fitting it in with other similar observations to form a pattern, and then using that pattern to make a hypothesis about why it’s happening. Rather than test a hypothesis, however, inductive reasoners simply drill down on their beliefs at the end.
- Generalization of pattern
- Belief confirmation
If an inductive reasoner notices an observation that really defies the pattern they’ve decided explains something, they must either devise a pattern that accounts for it or alter their belief about that pattern. That’s probably the source of baraminology (archive), the surprisingly-technical Creationist study of animal “kinds.” Creationists didn’t want to give up the idea of Creationism just because it’s staggeringly clear that evolutionary theory, not divine magic, explains why life on Earth looks like it does. So they dove headlong into baraminology. To them, this new thing confirms the pattern they’ve crafted out of all of their observations.
You might also notice that deduction starts at ground level. It begins with an observation, then makes a prediction about it. Then, deduction requires a test of that prediction. By contrast, induction starts at the top with a conclusion, then works its way down to fit those observations into a generalization that confirms a pre-existing belief.
Evangelicals have always preferred inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning provides the backbone of most evangelical beliefs. For example, consider this line of thinking:
- Gosh, a lot of people are deconverting these days. (Observation)
- The Bible says that anyone who deconverts was never really a true believer in the first place, as per 1 John 2:19. (Worldview pattern)
- Therefore, ex-Christians were never true believers. They were either sinful somehow and in rebellion to the truth, or else they believed the wrong things. (Conclusion/Belief confirmation)
Inductive reasoning is exactly why evangelicals get so tetchy when presented with someone who did believe the exact same things they do—especially if that person admits to no dealbreaking sins that could disqualify them from TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. They need, desperately, to figure out how that person still fits into 1 John 2:19. If someone deconverts and doesn’t at all fit into that verse’s offered pattern, that could topple their entire house of belief-cards.
Deductive reasoning tackles the growing numbers of deconversion in a different way:
- Gosh, a lot of people are deconverting these days. (Observation)
- Why are they deconverting? Is it because they don’t believe anymore? (Hypothesis)
- Let’s ask them why they’re deconverting. (Experiment/testing)
- Well, some of them said they don’t believe anymore. Others gave very different reasons. We must rework the hypothesis to account for these varied reasons. (Conclusion)
Inductive reasoning isn’t always invalid, of course. It’s just extremely prone to biases of thinking and perception (archive). Because inductive reasoning never involves or requires or even (done the Creationist way) wants testing of any kind, it is extremely dependent upon the generalization being true. If it’s not, then the conclusion probably won’t be either. Worse, if an observation really flies in the face of the reasoner’s generalization, then inductive reasoners in Creationism can always find a way to make it all fit together so their beliefs won’t be contradicted after all.
How the “Cow Experiment” works as an inductive reasoning experiment
In the video we discussed last time, Creationist (scare quotes) “astronomer” Danny Faulkner presented us with a thought exercise about brown cows.
[Y]ou may have never seen a cow before. And you see a cow, or someone says this is a cow, what a cow looks like, and get an idea of cow-ness. And you notice the cow’s brown.
Later on, next day, you you see another cow. After about 10 or 20 cows, they’re all brown. You say, I’ve got a hypothesis that all cows are brown.
How would you test your hypothesis? Well, go out looking for more cows, and keep looking. But how many brown cows would you have to see to know that all cows are brown? Well, to know with complete certainty, you would have to see every cow. Yeah and the world’s pretty big, and that’s not practical, is it?
So can you be pretty convinced after 10 cows, or 20, or 100, or 200? How many cows it take to convince you? And of course, it takes only one non-brown cow to disprove.
This is pure inductive reasoning.
- Confirmation of belief
Faulkner’s thought exercise does not actually explain anything. It doesn’t theorize, for example, that cow genetics do not express in any other coat color besides brown. It just declares that well, all cows are brown. That’s just how things are!
And of course, the literal only way to disprove the “hypothesis” given is to literally go and look at every single cow in the universe. Since nobody can do that, evangelicals feel free to insist—without any further testing or inquiry—that all cows are brown. They believe that after a certain point, their observations add up to a certainty that the pattern they’ve perceived is accurate.
In the wild: Inductive reasoning and apologetics
In the 1700s, David Hume, a philosopher who also rejected miracle claims, wrote about inductive reasoning (archive). He said that it was impossible to arrive at “a causal inference” through its use. People can move forward to make guesses about future experiences with it, but can’t use it to establish a cause for what they’re seeing or experiencing.
Many philosophers agree with Hume, but obviously Christian apologists can’t accept such a vibe-harsher. Calvinists, in particular, love to claim that they are “uniquely situated” (archive) to solve Hume’s challenge. If you’re wondering, their love of presuppositional apologetics leads them to mistakenly imagine that they’ve solved it. As the “uniquely situated” guy puts it:
God knows that nature is uniform precisely because he is the author of nature and continually sustains it (Jer. 31:35–36). Furthermore, God is the creator of human beings, including our cognitive faculties, which allow us to “think God’s thoughts after him.” As such, our inductive inferences are reliable precisely because God has designed them to be reliable.
See? It’s that easy. They don’t suffer from biases at all. Nope! That’s impossible. But their critics sure do!
Around the same time as Hume, we learn from Bible.org (archive; see also this page), another Christian created an apologetics approach that used the same inductive reasoning that scientists at the time often used:
To combat deism apologists began constructing arguments defending the supernaturalism of biblical Christianity that were modeled after the sciences. The idea was essentially to fight fire with fire—to show that a scientific approach to the Christian truth claims would vindicate their rationality. The dominant work of apologetics to appear in this context was Joseph Butler’s Analogy of Religion (1736). [. . . It] inspired a proliferation of apologetic works emphasizing inductive reasoning analogous to that used in science. Indeed, Butler can arguably be called the father of evidentialism, even though, as we will see, his apologetic was only a precursor to the evidentialist approach.
In order to offer a case for the inductive problem of evil, we need to study the beginning of evil, as well as the end of evil, in order to live in the middle of evil. Or, in other words, we need to see how evil originated in the past and how it will be defeated in the future, in order to suffer victoriously in the present. If we were just considering an argument against an all-powerful and all-loving God, then evil might be good evidence. However, if we include all of the Christian doctrines about the fall, the cross, and the restoration of the world, we find that the Christian God becomes far more probable.
No, it doesn’t. Evil still completely destroys Christians’ claims—and when they try to take a long view of evil to make their claims sound more plausible, they only make their own claims sound less likely. An omnipotent god who allows evil to harm people and animals for any reason, in any context, for any length of time, in any time-period is still a god who either cannot stop evil or doesn’t want to do so. Inductive reasoning doesn’t help Christians escape that fact, nor any others.
The funny part: Creationists actually kinda know better
Even Answers in Genesis knows the basic difference (archive) between deductive and inductive reasoning, even if they completely misrepresent what deduction actually is and how it works:
Sure, with enough details and data points, we can use the scientific method (which by the way, is based on deductive reasoning and was formulated by the creationist Sir Francis Bacon) to reach a pretty reasonable conclusion. But in historical science we can’t repeat the past and necessarily prove that our conclusion is the absolute truth.
Their writer wants readers to believe that “historical science,” meaning paleontology in this case, must ultimately rely upon inductive reasoning.
And that’s not quite how things work.
In fact, paleontologists, like all scientists, craft hypotheses to explain and account for data, then test those hypotheses in a variety of ways. They use the scientific method to winnow out false explanations and avoid their own potential biases. Here’s one of many examples I could name that occurred just within the past year: “Dinosaur feathers reveal traces of ancient proteins” (archive). Here’s another example (archive), this time involving a refinement of chemical-measuring techniques to estimate the damage climate change dealt to Earth life during the big KT Extinction Event 65M years ago (archive).
‘Inductive’ reasoning argues from observed data to inferred theory. However, any theory that is arrived at by this method cannot be tested by the same method. Testing needs a different method, ‘deductive’ reasoning, which proceeds in the opposite direction from inductive reasoning. [. . .]
It is clear that, in any type of scientific enquiry, both types of reasoning are needed. There is, however, an important difference between the two: inductive methods are a matter of trial-and-error, and so are difficult, if not impossible, to describe coherently – deductive methods are a matter of drawing conclusions from premises using well-defined logical processes.
But it’s very clear that paleontologists and other natural sciences’ researchers use inductive reasoning very differently from Creationists. Creationists stopped caring many years ago about ever testing their guesses about reality. Real scientists never really stop testing everything.
And they still completely strawman inductive reasoning
Further, Answers in Genesis’ writer allows only for logical fallacies to invalidate the conclusions Creationists draw using inductive reasoning:
However, the problem with inductive reasoning is that little pieces aren’t always enough to lead us to the right big picture. For example, we could inductively argue,
All dinosaurs have toes.
Kittens have toes.
Therefore, kittens are dinosaurs.
As cool as dino-kittens might be, the point is that induction doesn’t always work. It’s logically fallacious! But you know—historical (or origins) science is based on inductive reasoning. So, historical science can be ultimately fallacious.
Interestingly, their writer doesn’t offer any examples from “historical science” that have proven fallacious. I’d venture to guess that she can’t, because “historical science” doesn’t use inductive reasoning the way Creationists must. Even fields of history dealing in more recent eras don’t work quite like this Creationist imagines.
It’s usually the semi-pros and dabblers who use it that way. For instance, I saw a lot of arguments in the costuming community back in the 2000s about whether or not Renaissance women wore underwear, meaning panties and brassieres. Since such clothing is never depicted in paintings or art, a large contingent of costumers argued that underwear didn’t exist, not even to catch menstrual flow. I argued in favor of Renaissance undies, but even I knew I had no contemporary evidence to support my stance. Then, historians began finding caches of 15th- and 16th-century panties and bras (like this one that was announced in 2012; archive). Whoops!
But we weren’t professional historians by a longshot. We were costumers. Professional historians were busy turning out stuff like this book chapter about “the demographics of death” (archive) in Renaissance Venice and papers analyzing epidemics in Renaissance Florence (archive) based on entries in the city’s “Dowry Fund” for girls. So historians rarely use induction by itself. Instead, they use observations and as many contemporary sources of information as possible to build their theories.
Why evangelicals like inductive reasoning better than deductive
Authoritarians in general aren’t completely opposed to questions. They just want them asked in the proper ways and to go through the proper chains of command. But evangelicals, particularly their leaders, are overwhelmingly dysfunctional authoritarians. They’re power-obsessed. As a result, they’re evangelical only because evangelical groups offers them a route to power that is easier and faster than any other group could offer. Not only that, but evangelical groups can be counted upon to protect and shield their leaders from the consequences of their own hypocrisy. These groups are a predator’s playground by design.
Dysfunctional authoritarians don’t like questions much at all. Softball questions, the easy ones to answer, the ones that are Just Asking Questions (archive) to get a desired indoctrinated response, those are fine. But honest questions represent curiosity and a potential willingness to explore those questions to their conclusion. Since Christianity contains nothing but untrue claims about both itself and reality, any honest questions raised about it have the potential to destroy the questioner’s entire belief system.
Most ex-Christians have experienced that dysfunctional authoritarian dislike of questions. Many of us asked questions while we were Christian, and we quickly sensed that difficult questions were unwelcome (archive). Persisting in those questions created awkward chills in the room and marked us as doubters. And doubt, like questioning, is acceptable only within extremely limited channels (archive). Evangelicals constantly try to corral doubt into safe enclosures (archive) and control how it may be expressed. If a group member’s doubt or questioning lasts too long or doesn’t resolve the way the group likes, the rest of the group’s members exert powerful social pressure on that person to stop talking about it.
Creationist-style inductive reasoning avoids all of that mess. It is a curiosity-destroyer. It doesn’t deal with doubt, but rather steamrolls it and silences it. A silent doubter might as well be a nonexistent one, in dysfunctional-authoritarians’ view.
What, do you think miracle claims are false? Have you heard every single one? Well, then you don’t know that, now do you? There might be a real one out there! Now shut up!
What this push for inductive reasoning is all about, as always
There’s a reason why our two guest Creationists specifically want inductive reasoning taught in taxpayer-funded science classes. They don’t single out history classes, nor civics, nor even health classes. Nor do they offer any suggestions about teaching their methods to adults. No, they only want this taught in public schools’ science classes.
And that’s because their brand of inductive reasoning makes their religious claims sound slightly more plausible. Actual science and the scientific method blow their claims out of the water from the get-go. It doesn’t play nicely with anything Creationists want to do or say. If any of it did, they’d never shut up about it!
But humans are pattern-makers and conclusion-drawers by nature. We can make a pattern out of anything at all, and often that’s exactly what we do. So Creationist-style inductive reasoning comes very naturally to a lot of people. This is exactly how evangelicals manage to fall into so many conspiracy theories and wackadoodle pseudoscience groups. All their hucksters and grifters need to do is master a few simple rules of presentation using inductive reasoning, and evangelicals will be helpless against them.
If Creationists can get science teachers on board with teaching a way of learning new information that doesn’t actually work, one that accepts the supernatural and imaginary and magical as potential explanations for real-world phenomena, then those teachers’ students will learn a worldview that has opened the door to Creationism. Those kids don’t even have to be converted there on the spot. They can be absolute heathens raised by heathens on sheer heathenry, for all Creationists care. They just need to accept a worldview that is friendly to Creationist claims.
Once they have that, then the rest can follow at Creationists’ leisure. It’s just a matter of which Creationist can get to them first with a well-honed recruitment pitch using the same faulty information-gathering tools the kids have already learned to accept as valid.
Creationism has largely lost whatever cultural power it ever held. To most Americans, Creationists are completely irrelevant. I suspect that even most Christians don’t know or care much about the movement. But their grifters ain’t gonna change gears just because of that.
They are fighting for the souls of the next generation. If they can prepare today’s schoolchildren to be vulnerable to Creationist tactics, that’s almost as good as converting them directly.
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