Arguments

Creationist Argument #11


Argument

"Occam's Razor is a scientific principle which says that when faced with two theories, we should always choose the simplest theory. Evolution theory requires billions of years of chemical reactions, environmental effects, and genetic mutations. Creation theory simply says "God did it". Creation theory is obviously simpler, therefore Occam's Razor demands that we must select Creation theory on scientific grounds."

Rebuttal

To illustrate the fallacy of this argument, let us imagine someone asking how the telephone system works. An engineer might give a long, complicated answer explaining how telecommunications networks simulate the end-point analog communications protocols invented more than a century ago while internally converting the signals to travel on a packetized network as optical data, while a second person might simply say "electricity makes it happen."

So the second explanation is better because it's simpler, right? Well, one problem obviously comes to mind: it doesn't actually explain a damned thing. It just makes vague reference to "electricity" and doesn't enlighten us on its operating mechanism at all. So it is with the "God did it" explanation. It is not an explanation at all, since you know nothing more about the operating mechanism after the so-called "explanation" than you did before.

So is Occam's Razor bunk? No. "Choose the simplest theory" is simply a gross oversimplification of the concept, which is still sound. Occam's Razor is named after the 14th century philosopher and theologian William of Occam. It might strike some as strange that a scientific principle might have come from a theologian, but good scientists do not practice appeals to authority or ad hominem attacks. If an idea makes sense, it doesn't matter who it came from.

In any case, he argued that we should never "multiply entities unnecessarily". In other words, if you can successfully explain something with three terms, then why add a fourth? Or, to take another example, if you can't completely explain something with three terms but a fourth term doesn't actually help, then what's the point of adding it?

Occam originally used this principle in order to show that it was impossible to deduce God's existence through reason alone, so one would have to take it purely on faith. It is, after all, quite impossible on principle to explain anything by invoking the name of an inscrutable entity. The irony here is that a theologian realized that there was no logical basis for God's existence more than 600 years ago but modern fundamentalists still can't figure it out, and actually use his name to "prove" the exact opposite of what he himself argued!

For those who cannot appreciate the simplicity of Occam's Razor in its original form, Isaac Newton restated it thusly: "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances." Stephen Hawking also took a crack at an explanation, saying "Cut out all the features of the theory which cannot be observed." (taken from A Brief History of Time).

When you remember that scientific theories are really explanations of things and that an "explanation" which does not actually explain the operating mechanism is really no explanation at all, it becomes rather obvious why Occam's Razor does not favour "God did it" (which tells us who, but not how) over any scientific theory. It can only be used to choose between two theories that both successfully explain the data, not between one theory which offers an explanation and another one which basically says "ummmm, I dunno, but God did it somehow".

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Page generated: 2020-05-31


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