Monday, March 9, 2009

Ockham's Razor and Truth

By T. Furman

Gimbel tells us that Plantinga’s attempt to show that Christianity and evolution are compatible is a red herring. After all, supposing that Christianity is compatible with evolution, one must then decide which theory to endorse. And this is supposed to be a no-brainer given Ockham’s Razor: Evolutionary theory is simpler than the Christian competitor, evolution directed by a divine will.

I agree with this to a point, so long as the evolutionist isn’t actually claiming more than she is entitled to. Ockham’s razor doesn’t tell us which theory is actually true. So, if this is what the evolutionist is actually pushing for, when she argues that Evolutionary theory is to be preferred, then I protest the over reaching conclusion.

And here is a funny thing. Just suppose that God did create the universe and guided evolutionary selection. The universe would probably look much as it does now. But notice this, given our scientific deference to all things empirical, our approach to understanding our origins would preclude us from hitting on the truth of the matter. And I think that scientists ought to really ponder this fact, as it shows that science is not as objective as it is usually made out to be.

Finally, there might be a reason for preferring Christian/Evolutionist view of things over the straight Evolutionist as the Christian Evolutionist can explain certain phenomena that the plain Evolutionist can’t: Miracles.


Hanno said...

Well, the miracles suggestion at the end begs the question. Of course, if there are miracles, then there is a God. But there will be little if any evidence for a miracle because the idea of something beyond the laws of nature can simply be adjusted to an error of our understanding the laws of nature. 'What goes up, must come down' gives way to a new law when we see things not obey that 'law.' the notion of a miracle is simply our not understanding the actual workings of the laws of nature.

Sure, that might not be true, but you can't argue against it without begging the question.

Anonymous said...

One could adopt the perspective you suggest:

the idea of something beyond the laws of nature can simply be adjusted to an error of our understanding the laws of nature. 'What goes up, must come down' gives way to a new law when we see things not obey that 'law.' the notion of a miracle is simply our not understanding the actual workings of the laws of nature.

but this supposes that everything in the universe has a natural explanation when it seems as if we ought to at least allow for the possibility that there are supernatural events....


Hanno said...

Its not taking my comment:

Why? Show me one good reason for thinking that such a thing really is possible.

Matthew Butkus said...

It's nearly 1 AM, so this will be really brief (and, no doubt, argued more extensively at Darrell's on Wednesday), but I really hate the term "Evolutionist". It's like saying "Mathematician" is a religion, and seeing whether mathematics is compatible with Presbyterianism.

If agents of causality aren't to be multiplied (Yay for Ockham), then the model with the fewest agents of materialistic causation is to be preferred (since non-materialistic causation cannot be measured and therefore can be neither supported nor disproved, let alone the whole Cartesian material/immaterial interaction problem), which supports the evolutionary paradigm. If folks want to have a "Nature +1" model, I've got no problem with it, just so long as they appreciate the nature of parsimony and derive further laws and theories based upon principles of materialistic causation.

I'm sure there will be more argument, but it needs to wait until I'm much more caffeinated than I am right now.

Hanno said...

you seem to be complaining about the leap from simpler (or better) theory to one we have better reason to accept.

But you target a leap from simpler (or better) to 'is true.' That is a strawman, for almost any but the empiricists who equate better to is true, ala Putnam/Rorty. And they will attack your whole notion of truth as somehow beyond us.

Hanno said...

I also think Steve is not quite right in suggesting the only question is theory preference. Down here, many are taught that evolution is inconsistent with Chistianity. This feeds into an anti-science view. Steve is worried about sneaking theology into science, but there are genuine worries about the wholesale rejection of science based on religious objections. When Plantinga shows the two are consistent, that is a cause of celebration, as it releases science from being anti-religious. Now if Plantinga goes on to say that there are naturalistic reasons why evolution plus god are preferable to simple evolution, then Steve's critique hits home.

The blog makes it impossible to say, since the reporting of the argument is so poor. It focuses more on facial expressions than arguments, and the bad arguments as opposed to the good ones, that it is impossible to say.

ce said...

Of course, if there are miracles, then there is a God.

Or gods, or spirits, or faeries get the idea. That still doesn't give us monotheism. I'm not convinced it even gives us theism. An act of hobgoblin might well look precisely the same as an act of God to the casual observer.

Steve Gimbel said...

The argument runs this way (you can find versions of it in Michael Friedman and in John Earman):

Suppose you have two theories T1 and T2 that are empirically equivalent, that is, they predict all the same observable phenomena given all the same initial conditions. Is there any way we can prefer one to the other?

Step 1: axiomatize the theories, set out the basic presuppositions by enumerating the foundational claims.

Step 2: From those axioms look at the metaphysical baggage that comes with them. What are they positing by asserting the axioms to be true of the world.

Step 3: Determine degree of evidential support from that which we have observed. The idea here is that more ontological claims require more evidence to get to the same degree of confirmation. Metaphysical presuppositions in scientific theories are like loans you take out and repay through empirical support. T1 and T2 are supported by all the same evidence, but they are not equally supported because T1 (evolution sans God) has less of a metaphysical debt burden and therefore has more confirmation in the bank than does T2 (evolution plus God) after they both have received the same paychecks from Observational Savings and Loan.

As such, given all the same evidence, there is reason to prefer theory T1 to T2. (The argument, by the way, was originally set up to address versions of gravitation theories with flat and curved space-times.)erinben

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