Ockham’s Razor And Simplicity

The ‘simplicity’ argument of Ockham’s razor can be deceptive in how we use it. Is the simplicity required a function of the actual thing used to explain, or is it a function of the simplicity the explanation gives to our actual observances?

The usual argument is that naturalism is supposed to be preferred over theism, because naturalism posits less number of things to explain what is. But this itself can be questioned. For if the universe is, as it appears to be, a great number of things, then positing that as an ultimate brute fact, rather than a single being of God, is actually a more complex explanation quantitatively. Of course we can also reduce naturalism to a single being by referencing the singular ‘thing’ from which the big bang flowed. But on the scale of numerical simplicity, naturalism would be on a par with God for an ultimate explanation of existing reality.

But suppose we flow with the idea that the universe is more simply explained on the basis of its own existence, so that ‘adding God’ makes the explanation more complex. Why don’t we apply this reasoning in a different context and see how it fairs?

Suppose as you are driving into the city of Calgary where I live (coming to the Calgary Stampede I suppose!) and you see on a hill, formed with white rocks, the words ‘Welcome To Calgary’. What would explain this pattern of rocks? We might be tempted to say some people climbed up on the hill and formed them into those words. But there is a simpler explanation. This is that the rocks were perched at the top of the hill, and over time gravity caused them to roll down the hill. Where they sit right now is where they have rolled up to this point in time.

Isn’t this second explanation simpler? It is if what we are seeking is an explanation that could accommodate the evidence before us, without adding any more entities than necessary to explain what we see. Why add reference to intentional beings, when naturalistic causes could adequately accommodate the evidence before us? Ockham’s razor, right? And we certainly cannot assert the impossibility of this naturalistic explanation, can we? So should it not win by default, for being the simpler explanation?

Then why do we find ourselves uncomfortable with this ‘simpler’ explanation? (I may be assuming too much in assuming anyone else’s discomfort with this ‘simpler’ explanation, but I sure know I find it an uncomfortable one!) I think the reason we find it uncomfortable is precisely because of the principle that Ockham’s razor indicates.

This ‘simpler’ explanation simply is not simpler. It does not seem as plausible an explanation of the features we see before us than does an intentional explanation, even though the latter is less simple. It is not quantitative simplicity we are wanting, it is qualitative simplicity. It is just a qualitatively simpler explanation of the pattern we see before us, to suggest the quantitatively less simple fact that an intentional being caused it. The quantitatively simpler naturalistic explanation does not seem as plausible an accommodation of this evidence.

I believe the above indicates why theism is such a persistent presence in our thought patterns, as we behold the realities of existence. It is not because theism appears absolutely undeniable, nor because naturalism could not possibly be true. It is because naturalism does not seem as qualitatively simple as theism. Quantitative simplicity is not the core of Ockham’s reasoning, at least I do not find this to be so. On a qualitative basis of consideration, I find theism to be a much stronger view than naturalism, as it much more naturally accommodates the quality of evidence we see before us. I find naturalism less plausible as an explanation of the overall evidence. I do not find it an impossible view, but I do not find it the simpler view, when simplicity is expressed in the terms I have above.

Copyright 2019 Kel Good. This publication may be copied freely as long as no alteration is made to the text. For more information write: Kel Good via What I Believe This Week (www.whatibelievethisweek.com)

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