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 IAmAnAtheist » Parsimony


The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

An atheist and a Christian walking back to the car after seeing a movie

Harrison: The science in that movie was horrible. It was so unbelievable, I couldn’t get into it at all. What a waste of money.

Greg: I don’t know. I thought it was fun. You take science too seriously.

Harrison: I don’t think I take it too seriously, but there’s no reason not to get it right. It’s not even all that hard most of the time.

Greg: Check this out, then. You believe in science so you believe in Occam’s razor, right?

Harrison: I wouldn’t say it that way. I’d say that I think science is a useful way of investigating the world and that Occam’s razor is a valuable rule of thumb.

Greg: So you’d agree that if you have two possible explanations for something, the explanation that is simplest is the correct one.

Harrison: No. Occam’s razor says that an explanation that makes the fewest assumptions is preferable, but it’s just a rule of thumb, not a guarantee.

Greg: That’s pretty much what I said. Think about this, then: God is the simplest thing imaginable. He is pure love and omnipotent power and exists necessarily. He has no limits, origins, parts, or other complications. He’s not even material. That means that when we talk about the origin of the universe, we can say that it came about either directly by God’s action or through some complicated natural process, and since God is the simplest explanation, Occam’s razor requires that you accept it.

Harrison: That’s not how Occam’s razor works. Using God to explain the universe’s origin requires that we assume that supernatural things exist, so it makes more assumptions than a natural explanation.

Greg: No, it doesn’t. The natural explanation assumes either that there is something natural outside our universe or that universes sometimes appear out of nowhere. That’s still assuming something.

Harrison: But it’s assuming something natural. God requires that we assume supernatural things exist, and that’s a whole new field of existence for science.

Greg: So are things outside our universe. There’s no science about them.

Harrison: I’d still say that adding the supernatural makes it less favorable by Occam than adding additional material things, no matter where they are. Besides, why do you even want to go there? Wouldn’t Occam’s razor make the Christian God the least likely divine explanation? I’d think that a bunch of less powerful deities, like the Greek gods or something, would be more likely than an infinitely powerful being.

Greg: No they wouldn’t. God’s just one, while there would have to be a whole bunch of lesser pagan gods. Occam’s razor would prefer the one true God because it’s simpler than a bunch of other gods.

Harrison: You’re still not using Occam right. The quantity of things doesn’t matter; how many new assumptions there are matters. God requires that we assume the possibility of omnipotence in addition to assuming the existence of deities. That’s an extra thing.

Greg: I don’t think you’re right. One God is way less complex than a diverse group of gods.

Harrison: Let me ask you this: Do you think that it’s more likely that the pyramids in Egypt were built by hundreds or thousands of Egyptians over the course of decades, or that they were built by one really gigantic Egyptian in a few weeks? If numbers are what count, then the one giant guy is a simpler explanation than thousands of normal guys.

Greg: That’s not the same thing at all.

Harrison: It’s exactly the same thing.

Greg: No it’s not because we know that giants don’t exist.

Harrison: I know that God doesn’t exist. Or, at the very least, I don’t have any reason to believe that He does exist.

Greg: He’s the simplest explanation.

Harrison: Only for a flawed definition of “simple.” You’re making the same mistake that the movie writers make: the solution that’s easy to state and makes things go the direction you want them to go isn’t always correct, it’s just convenient.

Greg: So now I’m a bad filmmaker.

Harrison: Hey, I’m not the one who wanted to see Prometheus.


If you have a conversation that you’d like me to consider publishing on this blog or in an upcoming book, please see the conversation guidelines.

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 5:05 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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