On 12.19.07 Daniel Wesley wrote these pithy words:
While I agree it’s cute and good for a laugh, it’s not exactly something to be used seriously. For one thing, Theism doesn’t necessarily coincide with Christianity, and the line representing atheism isn’t quite so simple either.
I once read on the internet what I think is a very good explanation of why this isn’t a very good application of Occam’s Razor by a man named Charley Wingate:
“Occam’s razor is only usable when you don’t care that the explanation that
it indicates is wrong, in the sense that the explanation produces the
observations, but is not in fact what produced the original observations.
In science this is not a problem, because we are only concerned with the
predictive power of the explanation. You have to be able to re-test the
explanation. I am hesitant to allow its use in history, because the
explanation stands entirely in isolation and cannot be shown erroneous
without introducing new data– and there is not an infinite supply of new
historical information. With regard to the claims of christianity, it
is quite obvious that selecting the “wrong” explanation is quite devastating.
While claims that the gospels are lies and claims that the resurrection
actually happened as stated may explain the beginnings of christianity as
it is recorded, the truth of one versus the other produces quite different
implications. In this case, Occam’s razor is less useful, because we do
care whether or not the explanation is the same as the actuality, as well
as caring that it explains the data.”
I’m sure Occam himself must have been aware of this since was also a theist, a Franciscan monk, I think.
An interesting read Paul, but this is a joke. And as with all jokes, there is a kernel of truth.
It is a simpler explanation that there is no omnipotent being pulling strings that things simply “are.” It is less comforting to humans to contemplate that, but that discomfort doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
I know it’s a joke, but I don’t think there’s a kernel of truth in this one. Your explanation may or may not be simpler, depending on the questions being asked and the implications of the answers given. Where historical events are concerned, the simplest explanation imaginable is rarely the true one. If the implications of the answer matter much, simplicity can’t be the only criteria for truth. That is one of the biggest arguments against capital punishment, for example. Even in science, the simplest explanation may not be the true one in a particular instance, it is only most likely true, and experiments can be repeated to verify them.
I don’t know what your point is about comfort and discomfort, but I would say that neither has any bearing on the truth of one’s beliefs.
I can say in my personal experience, overly complicated explanations of situations tend not to be true. That’s the kernel of truth. We disagree, that’s fine.
The point about comfort is it is an enabler for people to believe the unbelievable because it’s easier. Despite our differences, in our present environment it’s clearly easier to go with the pack and believe that there is some god like figure at a minimum rather than risk the ire of the masses.
Saying that overly complicated explanations tend not to be true is different than saying that the simplest explanation is true. In your own experience, the simplest explanation for who left that rude message on your blog was me, not someone else with the same name as me. But the truth was a little more complicated. Where the facts of a particular incident are concerned you wouldn’t want to bet your life, or even a significant sum of money, on what appears to be the simplest explanation.
The point about comfort is still lost on me, I’m afraid. Comfort depends on what pack you happen to run with, whether they agree with your beliefs or not. Has much less to do with the truth or falsity of those beliefs. Some people find the idea of God very discomforting. I think that’s as it should be. Those who primarily find comfort in their concept of God are mostly likely serving a God of their own making, in my opinion. Do you think that Anthony Flew, changed his mind because he thought, after all those years, that belief in God was more comfortable than his atheism? Rather, I think he found atheism too simple.
WRT to the blog incident, I apologized for that and, I thought, you accepted. With regard to simplicity, perhaps an example is in order. When a person has, say syphilis, and prays to be healed and the first stage sores disappear, is it more likely that the person’s prayers have been answered and they are now healed or that the disease has progressed into a stage where it is no longer visible to the human eye? The situation of the disease is complicated and took study to determine how it behaved. The explanation is simple and Occam’s Razor is correct.
Now, and Anthony Flew, I’m afraid I don’t know the example that you’re referencing and don’t have time now to research it. So, no response to that. On the comfort aspect, you likely don’t understand because society in the US at least (and if you’re of a different faith, say Isalm and in Arabia it would be the same thing) is geared around your belief system. It cuts against the grain in a society to differ from core tenets of what that society believes and thus creates enormous pressures to conform. Thus, there tends to be a higher comfort level in conformity to these beliefs even if an individual has cause to doubt them.
Finally, I have to wonder why we’re even having this exchange? Though I guess it could be deemed interesting to some. What is it you hope to achieve in this discourse?
I didn’t mean to bring up the mistaken identity to fault you. I thought it was a very good example, in your own experience, where Occam’s Razor failed. In fact, the simplicity of the explanation is exactly what made it an understandable mistake. I take no offense.
My reason for keeping up this exchange is that I’ve found it interesting. It’s very often more interesting to discuss things like this with people who hold differing views than may own. You apparently don’t find it interesting. That’s OK. This is my last response and I’ll keep it short.
Your example about disease is derived from science and I think that’s a fair application of Occam. In a way the outcome makes no difference. Either possibility is acceptable to me. You’ll find the story of Anthony Flew in his book, There Is A God. Flew is a brilliant philosopher, a long time proponent of atheism. Now he’s a theist (not a Christian). Finally, you might be surprised at how uncomfortable I very often feel in our cultural context because of my particular beliefs… but still I don’t think it makes much difference as whether those beliefs are valid or rational, or true. One can be uncomfortably wrong for comfortably right.
Thanks for indulging me. If you have another response I will read it, but this is my last on this topic.
Sorry Paul, I didn’t intend to alienate with my last comment. I will read the book and who knows, perhaps it will even spawn a blog entry. I have ~60 hours on airplanes coming up over the next two weeks…..
I’m surprised to read that you feel uncomfortable when belief in a deity in the US is expected. How does this manifest itself?