More on causality which leads into the reliability of sense perception
Welcome again to Christian apologetics. We are in the middle, now, of looking at those elements of knowledge, of the science of epistemology, that are essential to coming to a sound defense of the truth of theism.
Last time we dealt with the Law of Causality and we were careful to show that the proper definition was very important. Which is defined in this way, that for every effect there must be an antecedent cause.
Today we will look at the more critical analysis of this Law that was offered by an 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In his inquiry into these matters of causality made some important observations.
Customary relationships or relationships of contiguity
What we observe when we see things happening around us are what he calls relationships that he calls customary. Customary relationships or relationships of contiguity. As a property line between to pieces of property are said to be contiguous along that line of the two different properties.
So when we see events take place or transpire in the external world, when one thing follows another, and we assume that the one thing causes that which follows it. Because they follow in sequence on a regular basis. So for example, on a regular basis it rains and when it rains the grass gets wet. So there is a customary relationship between raining and wet grass. It happens in such regular intervals that we come to the conclusion that the causes of the grasses becoming wet is the rain which precedes it.
Now you look at me and think to yourself, Is this guy (Sproul) really raising such an obvious conclusion. Because everybody knows that the rain is the cause of wet grass. In ordinary experience that is the way we think because that it is the way it seems to us with our naked vision. We also are accustomed to thinking in this way.
But how do we know that in between -- the falling of the rain and the dampening of the grass -- some invisible cause comes in and intercedes for the rain and is the real cause for the effect of the grass becoming wet.
Isn't this an utterly stupid assumption to make? Isn’t it obvious?
From a philosophical consideration and in light of 17th and 18th century penetrating questions that were being asked about understanding external reality and the forces that are in effect -- making happen what makes it happen. In regard to Descartes school and his theory of Interactionism or Spinoza or Leibniz in other areas of the world. For they postulated invisible causes that were not seen for that which you observe empirically. There was and is a great controversy, in philosophy, about actual causes.
Let’s try an illustration: What is it that makes us sick from time to time?
When this happens we might go in to get blood tests , throat cultures and such which are placed under microscopes. Where we find that antibodies are at work infecting our well being that are invisible to the naked eye. Without the discovery of microscopes we would of never imagined that the causes for our diseases were what they are presumed to be today. It was not that long ago that people were talking about animal spirits invading our bodies and going up and down our arms and so forth.
The microscope has opened up a whole new world to realities that are truly there and are making an impact on our lives. But is a ‘bug’ we pick up seen by us? No.
What Hume was doing, from a scientific analysis was -- there are all sorts of things going on that we don’t perceive. We don’t ever see from our senses.
So we make assumptions -- because one thing follows another -- therefore that is the cause.
Causal thinking, ladies and gentlemen, is at the heart of the scientific inquiry. It is at the heart of medicine also. We are asking a medical staff, when unknown circumstances hit, to determine and ascertain what is the cause of our illness. We want a determination of the cause so they can come up with a treatment that will cure the disease we have. If we can’t determine what is wrong and don’t have a proper diagnosis it is very difficult to find the proper remedy. This is also the case in biology and chemistry and astronomy.
The principle of Causality is presumed… constantly.
To say it another way, Casual thinking is at the heart of natural sciences. Now you can imagine the crisis that came about in the 18th century when this very learned scholar in Scotland raised questions about scientific ability to determine and isolate causes. Hume used a famous illustration that is called the “pool ball illustration.” Which if you can imagine the flat green table with pockets in the corners and sides and a queball and the object ball. You get this ball in the corner pocket by your arm swinging the stick which strikes the que which strikes the 8-ball which is deposited in the pocket that you aimed for. A sequence of causal actions was necessary for this to happen. Does anybody see the invisible force from stick to ball? Do you see a force when the one ball strikes another? No. What we see is one thing following another. This is what is called a Customary or contiguous Relationship.
What Hume is saying is you don’t see causality. You see actions in sequence. The example you may have heard, which is a fallacy, is when a rooster crows and, then, the sun comes up. The farmer, oddly, thought the sounds of the rooster was the cause of the sun rising. Is the farmer wrong?
post hoc ergo propter hoc
This is the informal fallacy in logic called ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc.’ Which translates, after this therefore because of this. Just because something happens after something else does not mean that the previous thing had anything to do with that which came after. Things seem connected but that doesn’t establish a relationship of causality!
This is a brief analysis of David Hume’s work on the problems with types of causality. Since then, you have had all sorts of people assuming (a leaping and attaching meaning in their minds from the events of Hume; in itself a possible fallacy) what Hume did with his analysis was demolish the very Law of Causality. Which, Sproul states, he did not do. He actually came to the conclusion… It is one thing to say that there are forces that I can’t see or that I don’t know are causing something. But it is another to say that ‘nothing’ caused this thing to happen.
When we apply the Law of Causality to the external world we have to face the limitations of sense perception that David Hume sets forth. We don’t have to jettison the principle of cause and effect because of perception limitations. It still is a fact that if something is an effect then, indeed, it was caused by something other than itself. That has to be true no matter how many experiments you make. This is a formal argument (from the last paper).
On to the third principle: Basic reliability of sense perception
This is the 3rd principle we will talk on, the basic reliability of sense perception. We can show that we don’t have ‘perfect’ perception of reality. This is why machines are used to heighten our senses in perceiving things. Why Sproul describes here what Hume worked out is he shows these very limits of human sense perception and the power of that ability. Hume shows those limits.
So we find we cannot penetrate to the invisible realm. Where, perhaps all sorts of unseen forces are at work. Not the least of which is the power of God. Scripture says in Him we move and breath and have our being. Take the part where “in God we move…” One of the assumptions of Christian truth is the principle that ‘nothing can move in this world apart from the power of God.’ We can say that I, as a human, have the power to drop something out of my hand down onto the floor but I am, at best, a secondary cause. I can’t even open my finger to start my action apart from the power of God. The power of God is invisible.
So this analysis of Hume is compatible to Christian theism in that there are limits to human perception thru the senses. There can be no power except for God, which is the power-supply for all motion and because he is invisible no amount of empirical research will get to the heart of the matter. That’s it , the statement is -- to get to the heart of matter -- to get to the heart of the motion of matter.
So this analysis of Hume is compatible to Christian theism in that there are limits to human perception thru the senses. But he took it to a place where he tried to reduce it to a place where all science that depends on sense perception to a place of outright skepticism. It is said of Hume that he was the graveyard of British empiricism. Hume’s description of the skepticism of perceiving forces went to the demolition of causal thinking.
For if you take away causal thinking, you take away both Christian theism but you take away science also.
These factors made Immanuel Kant spend the latter parts of his life in resurrecting the validity of causality and basic reliability of sense perception as it related to science and theism.
My senses cannot give me a comprehensive view of reality.
BUT, the only link I have, though, from the interior chamber of my mind -- my thinking part -- to the external world, the only transition I have from the mind to you (the external world) is through my senses. My body is the bridge from my body to my mind to the world.
What is Mind?
Dr. Gartner used to answer that question with his quip, “what is mind?…no matter… what is matter, then?…never mind.” This thought says there is a fundamental distinction between materiality or corporal reality and that which is nonphysical. And an idea or thought in mind maybe linked to a physical cause with it’s physical stimulation of synapses’ and the like in the physical part of the brain but it is one thing to say that the physical brain gives rise to thinking it is another to say that thinking itself is physical. We don’t want to do that.
My thinking, my conscious awareness of things is nonphysical. I cannot have any thoughts about you (in the external world) or about the world outside in my mind except through my senses. So as imperfect as my senses maybe that is the only avenue I have to physical reality outside of myself.
I can retreat into my own mind and make deductions about what may or may not be out there. But I have no real contact with the world out there except through my senses. That is why it is axiomatic that in modern science and Biblical studies is to operate with the assumption that our basic equipment, that we have, the faculties of knowing, that God has given us; such as the five we might have in their full abilities, is reliable enough for us to act upon. I might think that this or that caused a yellow light is going to turn red but I trust my senses and their reliability that I well stop for the light, even if I think that a demon turned it red.
This is the way the Bible speaks when Peter refers to the reason not to believe in craftily and cleverly devised myths and fables. But we believe what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our hears. Here is a biblical presentation of this basic reliability of our senses being able to be trusted. Even the assumption, in scripture that we can see causal relationships in this world. It is assumed throughout the entirety of scripture.
These 3 principles, we have discussed so far, are non-negotiable to Christian apologetics.
Addendum: and to use for everyday situations and thinking
Post hoc ergo propter hoc, It is often shortened to simply post hoc and is also sometimes referred to as false cause, coincidental correlation or correlation not causation. It is subtly different from the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc, in which the chronological ordering of a correlation is insignificant. Post hoc is a particularly tempting error because temporal sequence appears to be integral to causality. The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors that might rule out the connection. Most familiarly, many superstitious beliefs and magical thinking arise from this fallacy.
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