You’ve probably heard of Inductive Bible Study. I don’t like it.
I think the thing itself is just fine. My criticism is for the label. “Inductive” is just not the right term for it.
Harvey Bluedorn summarizes the common perception well when he states:
A deductive approach moves from the rule to the example, and an inductive approach moves from the example to the rule.
Bluedorn’s article is quite excellent, apart from this near-fatal assumption that drives his use of terminology. But Bluedorn’s terminology faithfully represents the popular wisdom. So “inductive” Bible study often gets billed as the way to allow the details of Scripture to shape our thinking, since we eliminate preconceptions, begin with the details of a passage, and build a belief system from there.
The problem is that inductive reasoning does not work this way. The difference between induction and deduction has little to do with whether one begins with particulars or with generalities.
From my college logic textbook (Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 6th Ed., Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1997):
The distinction between inductive and deductive arguments lies in the strength of an argument’s inferential claim. In other words, the distinction lies in how strongly the conclusion is claimed to follow from the premises (p. 32).
Deductive arguments are those that involve necessary reasoning, and inductive arguments are those that involve probabilistic reasoning (31).
There is a tradition extending back to the time of Aristotle which holds that inductive arguments are those that proceed from the particular to the general, while deductive arguments are those that proceed from the general to the particular…It is true, of course, that many inductive and deductive arguments do work in this way; but this fact should not be used as a criterion for distinguishing induction from deduction. As a matter of fact, there are deductive arguments that proceed from the general to the general, from the particular to the particular, and from the particular to the general, as well as from the general to the particular; and there are inductive arguments that do the same (36-37).
Here’s another one for you:
The difference between inductively strong and deductively valid arguments is not to be found in the generality or particularity of premises and conclusion but rather in the definitions of deductive validity [certainty] and inductive strength [probability] (Brian Skyrms, Choice & Chance: An Introduction to Inductive Logic, 3rd Ed., Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1986, p. 15.).
And one more:
Some logicians have sought to distinguish between deductive and inductive arguments on the basis of the generality or particularity of their premisses and conclusions. Deductive inferences, it has been said, ‘move from the general to the particular,’ while inductive inferences ‘move from the particular to the general.’ But this way of distinguishing the two families of argument proves unsatisfactory, as a closer analysis will reveal (Irving M. Copi & Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic, 10th Ed., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998, p. 27.).
I’ll stop there. Suffice it to say, we’ve mistakenly co-opted a wonderful term from the realm of logic to describe a beautiful thing wrongly.
My wife thinks I’m too much of a curmudgeon on this issue. Perhaps she’s right. Since popular usage rules the roost, my crusade is doomed to crash and burn. I’ll just sit here weeping silently and exuding remorse for what might have been. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!