Is a presupposition of cause-effect a legitimate requisite to honest inquiry? 

Recently I had someone claim the following.

Acceptance of premise ‘X’ on the basis of evidence ‘y’ demonstrates your acceptance of the principle of cause and effect, logically prior to the observance of those regularities.

This is misguided. 

Observation is needs no commitment to any cause-effect paradigm. It could be the case that observed regularities lead to no predictive power. No commitment to a cause/effect paradigm is logically necessary, and, in fact, woud be epistemically dishonest. 

The rational mind will commit to cause/effect only after there has been some validation of that notion. The validation of cause/effect is the predictive and explanatory power that is noted after the observation of regularities. 

Most of us go through this stage of validating cause/effect when we are very young, when the validated expectation of cause/effect is deeply sublimated, leading many to assume cause/effect is a necessary presumtion for exploration of the world to get off the ground. It is not. It is entirely possible that the regularies we perceieve have not predictive poweer, thus making the notion of cause/effect impotent and essential false. 

Most of us have rationally determined, without presuming, that cause/effect is a justified belief due to its predictive and explanatory power. But because the predictive and explanatory power legitimating accepting cause/effect comes after the observation of regularities, it would be epistemically dishonest for anyone to begin a quest for truths with a mere presumption that cause/effect existed. 

One might be tempted to claim that this is self-defeating in that finding predictive efficacy itself requires an unlegitimated commitment to cause/effect. Nonsense. Rationality is simply following what we perceive to work to the degree that it works for as long as it works. Irrationality is following what we perceive not to work. To observe a corrrelation between A and B, and to observe that the greater the correlation, the greater the chance of C, is not presuming cause/effect. It simply observing the necessary correlation that legitimates belief in the efficacy of the notion of cause/effect.

Imagine you find a metal detector laying on the beach. You don’t need to nor should you presume that metal detector is accurate and well calibrated. You test its signal against its successes detecting metal. The same holds for the potentially useful notion of cause/effect. If we are to remain rational, we test it for predictive power before placing confidence in it.

This notion that scientists and rationalists must hold presuppositions is a common tactic of theists who would like to level the playing field with tu quoque arguments. It is a dishonest attempt to make religious belief equivalent in quality to scientifically established belief. 

To the degree that theists do this intentionally, to that degree they are dishonest. To the degree that they do it unintentionally, to that degree they are ignorant of the nature of rational belief. 

No presuppositions are necessary. Only follow what you honestly percieve to be providing predictive power, including fundamental notions such as cause/effect. 


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