The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Thursday, March 29, 2012

David Hume, John Locke, and a Pool Table








MARCH, 2012

            I strode into the bar. It was past eleven now, and my nerves were on edge. My church history oral presentation and final paper would be due in a few short hours, and I had yet to postulate what to talk about and what to write. After pacing about in my room and realizing I was fresh out of ideas, I figured the rational thing to do was hit up the bar and have a beer or two to calm my nerves. After all, drinking seemed to always have that effect on me.
            “What can I get for you?” the girl at the bar asked. As she spoke, two other men scooted in, each looking a bit disheveled and flustered with one another. They were garbed in strange clothing, like something you might expect from near the time of the Revolutionary War. Halloween was last Friday, so I chuckled to myself, thinking these fully grown men had gotten their dates crossed.
            “Um, hello sir?”
            “Oh, yes, sorry, I’ll have a Sam Adams, please.”
            “Excellent choice, they are part of our 2 for 1 special tonight.”
            As the girl left to get my drinks, I felt the keen glare of the two funny dressed men pressing down on either side of me. They had each taken the empty stools to my left and right.
            “Boy, did you say Sam Adams? That fanatical Puritan that I keep hearing about?”
            “Oh come off it Hume, The Massachusetts governor isn’t that crazy, he is only following the most reasonable of all religions.[1] Besides, this lad must be referring to some other Sam Adams. Getting caught in this futuristic parallel universe after you slammed me into that wardrobe during our last argument sure has gotten us into a pickle.”
            “Hah! Reasonable you say? It’s a shame you never got to read any of Voltaire.[2] Well I guess we shall have another go at just exactly what is and is not reasonable, harrumph!” The flustered man pushed away from the bar and hurried over to the unoccupied pool table. He placed the cue ball on the table, then grabbed a pool stick and waited for his companion to join him. His companion rose, but rolled his eyes and ribbed me with his elbow.
            “Boy, I’ve seen this argument from him fifty times now. Notice, I said I have seen it. He’s gonna hit the cue ball into the other ball, which will subsequently cause the other ball to move. Something has to be struck in order to move, that’s plainly seen. But oh no, no sirree, Mr. Hume here is going to tell me that I haven’t really seen the law of cause and effect, but rather that is simply what my dumb mind tries to make of it, and thus I can’t actually prove that his striking the cue ball caused even the cue ball to move, let alone the cue ball impacting the other ball to cause the other ball to move!”[3]
            “Glad to see your starting to pick up on my pure reason,” Hume retorted. Come here boy, I’ll teach you something valuable for your strange world with flashing lights, tall buildings, piped in music, and scrumptious chicken wings!”
            Hume was motioning me over. The bar girl just returned with my two Sam Adams, which I picked up and carried to the pool table with the other funny dressed man walking beside me. This was very confusing, but then, as if all the stars in the sky and planets suddenly aligned, it dawned on me. I was talking to none other than David Hume, the most important philosopher ever to write in English,[4] and I was about ninety-nine percent certain who the other guy beside me was too.
            “My, you are David Hume, and this, this must be John Locke, one of the great champions of reason and empiricism during the Enlightenment.[5] You said you arrived here through a…wardrobe?”
            “Yes,” Hume huffed. “We were in some strange world where there was snow and a lamppost; we stumbled across a strange creature named Mr. Tumnus, and then, believe it or not, Arius and some cranky old man with big glasses named John Gerstner. Apparently they were enemies but had recently rectified their differences.”
            “Never mind all this,” Locke interjected. “The boy here can settle our dispute. Soon he will see that reason and observation can lead us to truth, and should be used to lead us to uncover more and more truth.”[6]
            Hume then squared up his shot and struck the cue ball, which collided with the red ball and sunk into the corner pocket.
            “Nice shot,” I said. “Way to cause the red ball to go into the pocket. The cue ball struck it at just the right angle. Besides I figured you’d go for the red ball, it stood out to me.” A look of dismay fell over Hume’s face, but Locke slapped me on the back jollily and laughed.
            “Now, I expected you to say that; the red ball stood out to you because of individuation, but that’s for another time,”[7] Hume said. “You have been conditioned by experience to make a leap in logic. Because you have seen billiards played so many times, and because every time the cue ball runs up against another ball and the other ball starts moving, you infer from that that the cue ball striking the other ball is what caused the other ball to move, and the movement of the ball is the effect of it being struck by the cue ball.[8] See, there are two definitions for cause that I have come up with- the external and the internal. The external, which you just saw, is this: an object, followed by another, and where all objects similar to the first are followed by objects similar to the second. Now the internal is what you have processed from years of observing billiard balls striking one another: an object followed by another, and whose appearance always conveys the thought to that other.”[9]
            “You’re gonna lose him with all this mumbo jumbo Hume,” Locke retorted.
            “Just wait,” Hume replied impatiently. “Perhaps this will rationalize things for you. You see kid, if we could scrub your brain of all memories of things being struck by other things, and then you saw me perform this experiment, you would not conclude that the cue ball hitting the other ball is what caused the other ball to move. This connection you would only make after repetition.[10] Maybe after the third, or fourth, or fifth time, you may begin to believe that the cue ball hitting the red ball is what caused the red ball to move. But the cue ball moving is one conjunction, and the red ball moving is another conjunction. It is only after that internal process of seeing this repeatedly that your mind begins to believe that the cue ball hitting the red ball is what caused it to move. What you need to understand however, is that no new data has been added, it has only been repeated. So since you would not make this connection the first time, the argument of it being true simply because of repeatability isn’t a proof of anything. We are only hearing a sound when the two balls approach one another, and then the other one begins to move. But we do not actually witness cause and effect here. It is just two separate conjunctions. Your mind is making an irrational leap.”[11][12]
            “Bah humbug,” Locke snorted. “Suppose one of those fast moving vehicles that these people call cars were to strike you Hume, would you not conclude that being struck by the car is what caused your pain and likely death?”
            “No, how would I know that?” Hume said.
            “Wait a minute,” I cut in, taking a swig of my Sam Adams. “I’m not sure I agree with you Hume. Say you did scrub my mind. The first time I saw a pool ball being struck, I think I would likely conclude that the second ball moved because the first ball hit it. I probably would not need that repeated, except to make sure nothing fluky happened the first time, something that my sense perception somehow missed or didn’t pick up on. But the reason I would make this connection the first time is because there is a basic reliability of the sense perceptions.[13] Not that everything we see is always accurate, for instance we see a bent oar under water when it is not in fact bent. So I may wish to see the billiard struck again to make sure that something else isn’t interfering. Perhaps the lighting somehow distorted my vision and what I saw did not take place. But once I saw this again, I could be quite certain that what I saw the first time in fact was not an illusion. The question isn’t that the first experience was inconclusive, it’s rather a matter of making sure nothing was interfering with my vision.”[14]
            “Ah and that is your problem boy. You can never, never be absolutely certain that your sense perceptions are absolutely reliable, only quite certain. Perhaps there is a distortion in your vision, an invisible distortion, or an invisible force that moved the ball. You cannot rule that out.”[15]
“But we both know you won’t be jumping out in front of cars anytime soon, because at the very least, that seems to trigger the invisible fairy monster that kills you every time someone jumps in front of a fast moving car. So in the least, when you struck the cue ball and it moved, and when the cue ball struck the red ball, those events had to at least prompt the invisible cause that you postulate to activate and take over, yes?”
            “I will grant that for the time being, sure,” Hume replied.
            “Fine then. That’s God, Mr. Hume.” Hume opened his mouth but didn’t have anything to say.
            “Well now, timeout.” It was Locke cutting in this time. “I’m more with Thomas Jefferson, let’s remove the miracles from the Bible. I don’t think God really gets involved with things anymore. He stands aloof, unconnected with the world he wound up and started. To say God made the red ball move is absurd; it is far more reasonable to simply assume the cue ball alone is the cause of the red ball’s motion.”
            “Wait, you died before Thomas Jefferson was born, how do you know about him?” I queried.
            “Read about it on my iPad in the car. We’ve been here for a little while now, you see.”
            “Ah, okay,” I said. “Well Mr. Locke, couldn’t God still be involved with this planet?”
            “I suppose, possibly,” Locke conceded.
            “And could not Hume at least be right in saying that an invisible force is what caused the red ball to move?”
            “Yeah and the tooth fairy could actually put coins under children’s pillows,” Locke said. “Read about the tooth fairy too, by the way.”
            “Well gentlemen, the Bible says that in God we live and move and have our being. For anything to be in motion, something must have set it in motion. In order to get the cue ball to move, Hume had to strike it, at least to activate the invisible force, yes?” Both men nodded in agreement. “So then, at the beginning of time, something had to set the universe in motion. And at the top of the pyramid must be the eternal, self-existent God. Now if he set us in motion, and we continue to be in motion, then He must be sustaining our motion. Since our being is simply derived from his being, He must always energize us from the power of His being so that our existence can be sustained. If He ceased to exist, or pulled His being away from our universe, our universe would cease to be as well. Further, when Jesus performed miracles, He went against the laws of nature that God instituted and maintains to validate Him as a prophet from God, and a prophet from God cannot utter falsehood. So when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, it must have been true, since the Bible is a reliable source historically and records Jesus doing and claiming these things. And then when Jesus prophesied that He would die for sinners, that must have been true too.
You guys have helped me think more biblically through your observations, I do appreciate it. But I think both of you should take my two Sam Adams here, the beer, kick back and think things through a bit more yourselves.” I placed one of my mugs in Hume’s hand, and the other in Locke’s.
            “I must go now. I have a paper to write for church history class. You guys have given just the material I need to complete the paper and do the oral presentation, though I doubt anybody will believe my story when I tell them. And that Sam Adams guy was on the right track. Maybe if you drink the beer that bears his name you will develop the Puritan theology that he had too. Worth a shot, right? Ha, you get it? A shot. I made a pun. Did you have puns back then? Ah, never mind.”
            With that I exited the bar and headed home to write my paper.  

5 New Words: Definitions from
Postulate: To assume or assert the truth, reality, or necessity of, especially as a basis of an argument.
Cue: Games A long tapered rod with a leather tip used to strike the cue ball in billiards and pool.
Scrumptious: Splendid; delectable
Rectified: To set right; correct
Humbug: Nonsense; rubbish

[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed ed. (Oxford: Prince Press, 1999), 189
[2] Professor Adamson, “The Enlightenment Continued and Romanticism” (lecture, Reformation Bible College, Sanford, FL, March 15, 2012).
[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed ed. (Oxford: Prince Press, 1999), 192
[4] Morris, William Edward, "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[5] Uzgalis, William, "John Locke", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[6] Uzgalis, William, "John Locke", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[7] Professor Sproul Sr., “Hume (part 1)” (lecture, Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, FL, Date unknown), (accessed March 29, 2012).
[8] Morris, William Edward, "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Morris, William Edward, "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[11] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day, Prince Press ed ed. (Oxford: Prince Press, 1999), 190
[12] Morris, William Edward, "David Hume", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.
[13] Professor Sproul Sr., “Lecture 7, Reliability of Sense Perception” (lecture, Ligonier Ministries, Sanford, FL, Date Unknown), (accessed March 29, 2012).
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid. 

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