Unbelief or Common Sense?

I have a hypothesis, based on my own recent observations, that thinking too much makes you stupid. This is not necessarily a new or groundbreaking thought; in fact, it fits well with the well-known and generally accepted principle known as Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor, which I’ll talk about in a moment. First, take a look at this, from USA Today’s website under Science & Space:

“Scientists, educators and policymakers have long been concerned about American adults’ resistance to certain scientific ideas,” note Yale psychologists Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg in the review published in the current Science magazine. In 2005 for example, the Pew Trust found that 42% of poll respondents think people and animals have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, a view that is tough to reconcile with evidence from fossils. Many people believe in ghosts, fairies and astrology. “This resistance to science has important social implications because a scientifically ignorant public is unprepared to evaluate policies about global warming, vaccination, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and cloning,” the psychologists say.

Okay, let that sink in for a moment.

Occam’s Razor, named after a 4th century Franciscan friar, William of Occam, states that “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” It’s been translated from Latin, but it still may need some interpretation. Isaac Newton restated the rule as “we are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” This has been further adapted by scientists today to mean that all things being equal, if you have the option between 2 explanations for something, the simplest one is probably correct.

Now, consider that old William (of Occam) was first of all, a Catholic friar. Furthermore, note that he used this principle to argue, among other things, that the only entity that need exist is God. He also argued that God’s existence cannot be proved exclusively through reason; we will only know that through revelation. For William, the “simplest” explanation would be God. Fast forward a few hundred years, and we have the materialists using the Razor as a basis for dismissing all talk of God; the Razor has evolved to say that if there is a materialistic explanation for something (whether it is “simple” or not), God is the “excess” entity that we don’t need to consider. I suspect that the logic used to turn the razor inside out is flawed, as it is now used to support overly complex and occasionally illogical theories and to exclude more simple and obvious theories.

Now, consider that Occam’s Razor is only a method for deciding between competing theories of equal merit – the key to the rule is “all things being equal.” And, it doesn’t mean that the simplest answer is necessarily true; it’s just a rule based on probability. The more complicated an answer is, the greater the probability that there is some defect in the analysis. It’s like a new car with all the extras vs the old VW bug. The new car has way more things to go wrong, and the chances that you’ll need to take the car to a shop is far greater.

Looking back to the quote above, I have to ask the question, “could it be that people can’t accept some of science because they are asking people to violate Occam’s Razor in order to accept it?” Perhaps the problem isn’t in people’s “resistance” to accept that everything a scientist is true” (the 50’s are over, people!) but is rather that sometimes it just defies common sense? Maybe, for instance, people see a disconnect in being warned against eating genetically altered food, but encouraged to genetically engineer people? Perhaps it’s not the “findings” of science itself, but the fact that there are competing worldviews, and materialism doesn’t cut it? Or, perhaps it’s just that materialism as science can’t see the gaps in what it presents?

Granville Sewell, mathematics professor at the U of Texas El Paso, states:

SCIENCE HAS BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL in explaining natural phenomena that the modern scientist is convinced that it can explain everything, and anything that doesn’t fit into this model is simply ignored. It doesn’t matter that there were no natural causes before Nature came into existence, so he cannot hope to ever explain the sudden creation of time, space, matter and energy and our universe in the Big Bang. It doesn’t matter that quantum mechanics is based on a “principle of indeterminacy”, that tells us that every “natural” phenomenon has a component that is forever beyond the ability of science to explain or predict, he still insists nothing is beyond the reach of his science.
– from A Second Look at the Second Law

So, William of Occam, how would you use your razor here?

3 thoughts on “Unbelief or Common Sense?”

  1. I think you are overthinking this. 🙂

    Quixote, I am not sure what part of science insists that the problem is in the system itself. The defiance which led to the Uncertaincy principle is driving physicists to more observations and analysis so that we can someday hope to understand what the heck is going on.

    The whole idea of what makes up gravity is a spanner in the works for subatomic theory, but that doesn’t mean that the observations of dark energy’s effects are mistaken. It just means that there is so much more to learn.

    Back to Alden’s original point. Occam’s razor was developed at a time before there was any sort of useful scientific process of discovery. Hell, even Hume despaired that he had no natural justification for his atheism because at that time there was no understanding of how nature could design new features.

    Now that we understand how it can be done, we can in a scientific process shave the designer argument from evolution. Scientifically, the designer is an extraneous variable, in a sense. Whether or not one can prove or disprove the Creator through the scientific method has moved to its own magisteria, as Gould put it.

    DesCartes tried in his own way to do what Occam did.

  2. Ever since the discovery of the quantum world, “common” sense has been under severe challenge. Many of the behaviors of subatomic particles, etc. seem to defy what we would expect. Science insists that the problem is in the system itself, not in our observations or assumptions. This, of course, is arrogant and dangerous. If we’re not careful, Ockham’s razor just might slit our theoretical wrists.

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