Is Statistical Induction a Proof?

@swamidass & @jordan:

How do we explain to Prof. Behe (and other ID supporters) that a statistical induction is NOT A PROOF?

Should we post this paragraph on Statistical Syllogism as an example of INDUCTION, and how FLAWED “Inductive Conclusions” can be?!

Read the paragraph below and tell me if I’m on the wrong track?

Statistical syllogism

A statistical syllogism proceeds from a generalization to a conclusion about an individual.
[1] 90% of graduates from Excelsior Preparatory school go on to University.
[2] Bob is a graduate of Excelsior Preparatory school.
[3] Bob will go on to University.

This is a statistical syllogism .[6] Even though one cannot be sure Bob will attend university, we can be fully assured of the exact probability for this outcome (given no further information). Arguably the argument is too strong and might be accused of “cheating.” After all, the probability is given in the premise. Typically, inductive reasoning seeks to formulate a probability. Two dicto simpliciter fallacies can occur in statistical syllogisms: “accident” and “converse accident”.


When you listen to Prof. Behe’s debate with @swamidass, it clearly shows that Behe believes “Inductive Reasoning” is a scientifically viable conclusion.

And perhaps, in some ways, it can be.

But it is not a definitive form of logic… INDUCTIVE Conclusions can be erroneous … but Behe doesn’t seem to account for this.

I believe it is because he is rarely challenged on the point that he is using INDUCTION, rather than DEDUCTION!

Deductive proofs can be erroneous too…


Well, of course…

SO: all the more to “go after” Prof. Behe on his INDUCTIVE conclusions!

What specific inductive argument of Behe’s are you referring to?


I’m glad you asked!

In the YouTube copy of the debate, the relevant part of the OPEN TRANSCRIPT reads like this:

"It’s gears but it’s gears we
see that the parts are in relationship
to each other for a purpose and that’s
always in our experience the result of a
mind. So that’s one thing … "

"And the
the second thing is that we use the same
logic to conclude design that we use for
any other science and that is inductive
reasoning whenever we see a purposeful
arrangement of parts."

And we know the
causal chain we always find that it’s
due to a mind here unexpectedly we have

The part of the transcript I have put in bold font specifically
highlights his reliance on this part of his explanation …
the INDUCTIVE part!

I think you’ve given a good example of the dangers of blindly using inductive reasoning, but I’m not sure that is Behe’s problem. I also don’t know that he’d disagree with anything you said there. He’s not trying to prove ID, he’s usually just trying to create “reasonable doubt” in “Darwinian evolution”.

I think @swamidass was wise to not follow Behe down the road of trying to “explain” features of nature Behe is incredulous about. I share Behe and Tour’s incredulity when I see bacterial flagella and the bug “gears”. Unlike Behe and Tour, I readily acknowledge that biology is not intuitive to me and I work hard to try to figure things out.

I see my incredulity as a defect in my understanding, not a reason to reject science. In other words, I try very hard to not use my ignorance as an argument against believing experts in their field. My lack of understanding is not a reason to put biologists to an unreasonable test by asking them to explain things they are not asserting.

@gbrooks9, I do see your point though that Behe/ID generally argue inductively when trying to poke holes in evolutionary science. I think biologists a probably a lot more deductive concerning the same things, i.e. “we know that complex function can be generated through evolutionary mechanisms (including neutral theory), so we assume that’s happened in this case”.



The point Behe is attempting to make is pretty unequivocable. He doesn’t say maybe. He says “If this, then definitely that.”

**Can you show me in the discussion where his words could be paraphrased as: **
“This isn’t necessarily the way it is … but it’s a possibility!”

He’s not “poking holes” of uncertainty in Darwinism… he is saying: we can SEE the design… therefore there IS a designer!

Yeah, and i was saying:

It does look designed, and it was designed, but that is not how science works and it isn’t an argument against evolution.


I have to say that I have no idea what you mean by that. It was designed and looks designed, but science doesn’t work like that so it still evolved (thus wasn’t designed?). What are you really saying here?

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Yes, but my guess is if you pressed him on it he would fall back to something like “it may not be 100% proof, but you guys can’t even show how bacterial flagella work so there is plenty of room to doubt”

I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just not sure that pointing out that Behe is using inductive reasoning and that’s not always reliable is going to have much effect on him or the audience. For instance, what if your statistical syllogism was more like:

A statistical syllogism proceeds from a generalization to a conclusion about an individual.
[1] 99.9999% of graduates from Excelsior Preparatory school go on to University.
[2] Bob is a graduate of Excelsior Preparatory school.
[3] Bob will go on to University.

Would you really blame people for assuming 3 is true in this case? Inductive reasoning can fail, but rhetorically it can be hard to argue against.

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@Rumraket, I think there is a real question for Christians who affirm evolutionary science (CASE) as to whether design and evolution are mutually exclusive. This is what @gbrooks9 harps on a lot, and is really worth deep consideration for Christians. And would science be able to tell the difference? In what cases is might it and what cases might it not?



I would suggest that your words, as summarized above, appears more like “dancing” to the YEC mind-set.

What if you had said something like this: “It does look designed, but this is an INDUCTIVE CONCLUSION, and INDUCTIVE CONCLUSIONS are frequently in error because they do not produce “Logically Entailed” conclusions.”?

Wouldn’t that have been a more precise challenge to the rhetoric Behe excels in?


Christian Evolutionists don’t have to prove a godless way for Evolution to work.

All they have to do is prove that ID is not scientifically compelling enough to be considered science. I.D. falls in the same category as “Proofs of God”.

If we would highlight this vulnerability more, we would sound less like word-mincers, and more like people who best understand the role of science.

EDIT: Typo in first sentence - - a missing “DON’T”.


I think you provide an excellent example! I would laugh if someone said they KNEW that Bob would go to University! It’s a statement of probability - - no more!

And so are all scientific statements, whether explicitly or implicitly. Why is that a problem? And if it is, why isn’t it a problem for all science?

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@swamidass & @jordan & @Rumraket

A better counter-argument for the unwashed masses to hear would be:

"It does look designed, and it WAS designed… but I make that conclusion based on my Christian faith … and not the other way around. I do not look at molecular gears and say, “There must be a God”. Such a “wager” is based on probabilities, not on entailed logic. That’s why I.D. is not conclusive.

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Alright, thank you. Now the problem with this argument is not that it is an inductive generalization. The problem is that it violates the inductive rule of total evidence, and thus commits the fallacy of exclusion. Fallacy of Exclusion and Suppressed Evidence | Illogic at

When making an inductive argument you must include all relevant evidence. This argument excludes the evidence that things known to have been designed, were designed by humans.
When this information is included in the argument, the conclusion becomes that the object being considered must have been designed by humans. But we know it can’t have been designed by humans(humans are among the things design-arguments are trying to account for), thus the argument implies a contradiction and hence must be false. Done.

No reason to toss out the baby with the bathwater. Induction is fine in scientific inference, you just need to do it properly.

This is an interesting point. I don’t think CASE have to prove a “godless way for evolution to work” to have Christians accept evolution as a possibility (i.e. to remove YEC as the only way), but I do think it makes a poor basis to do science, or make arguments based on science, if our argument focuses on God’s guidance or providence.

I think I agree with you that ID falls in the same category as “Proofs of God” but what do you mean about “scientifically compelling enough to be considered science”?

I’m a little confused about the inductive vs deductive argument because I see a lot of science working inductively. It also often works deductively. I don’t think there’s only one form of logical argument that is “scientific”. Could you explain more?

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@gbrooks9, I think I like that a lot. :slight_smile: It at least “feels” right to me from my own experiences.