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Friday, February 12, 2010

Occam's Razor

In his book God is Not Great, Christoper Hitchens makes excellent arguments against God.

One of Hitchens' first arguments deals with Laplace, who, when asked where God stood in his cosmology, simply said there was no place for God, and in fact, no need. The simple fact is, if we attempt to explain the universe in terms of a creation of God, we must first demonstrate that there is or was actually a God to create it.

Hitchens then goes into the arguments known as Occam's Razor, or Ockham's razor, developed by one William of Ockham. Ockham developed what was recognized as a "principle of economy", stated simply as "Do not multiply entities beyond necessity".

If you watched the movie "Contact" the idea of Occam's Razor was employed quite often. If two or more competing theories attempt to explain a theory of existence, the one that explains the most with the least effort and unnecessary detail will probably be the truth. (I quote from memory. I'm sure there are better explanations).

To quote from Hitchens' book, "Ockham stated that it cannot be strictly proved that god, if defined as a being who possesses the qualities of supremacy, perfection, uniqueness, and infinity, even exists at all....'It is difficult or impossible(wrote Ockham) to prove against the philosophers that there cannot be an infinite regress in causes of the same kind, of which one can exist without the other'. Thus the postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator".

Stated in a popular fashion by such people as physicist Paul Davies, "it's turtles all the way down". I hope you're familiar with that story.

I like Hitchens' statement just a paragraph later: "If one must have faith in order to believe something, or believe in something, then the likelihood of that something having any truth or value is considerably diminished."

So, if I tell you "there is a God", the only possible "explanation" can come up with is that it was "revealed".

Big problem: how does one prove a revelation? Only one way it can be done, and that is to prove it by some method that demonstrates beyond any doubt, by reason, logic, or physical demonstration. But that presents a further problem: if I can prove it by reason, logic, or demonstration of physical example, I don't need a revelation! it would be a fact of existence!

Ockham, therefore, has left us with the realization that existence, and the reason we discover within existence, simply cannot rely on revelation, since the very process of explaining the revelation makes it unnecessary in the first place.

However, this leaves us right in the same position as I mentioned earlier: I will add a qualifying statement to it. If there is a God, any facts of evidence we present to demonstrate existence could not depend on unproven revelations, since the very proof of itself would be contained with no necessity for such a revelation. It would simple "follow" from the proofs inherent in the explanation.

So, if there is a God, it would stand to reason that such a God would either exist within the proofs stated by reason, or that "God" cannot exist within those proofs, leaving us with exactly the same statement made by the apostle Paul in Romans 8:7: the natural mind is enmity against God, and cannot be subject to "his" laws.

And that places us on a par with Occam's razor, since the results achieved IF the mind is enmity against God, will produce no evidence of God, and further would produce no decision procedure by which we may demonstrate any relationship to God.

And that is precisely what Paul said in Romans 9:16-22. Further, if we try to apply definitions of "God" in any human sense, both Occam's Razor and Romans 8:7 would lead logically to the same results: a multiplication of entities trying to define "God" outside the power of human reason.

But Ockham says that such multiplication of entities is unnecessary, and would prove absolutely nothing. Therefore, with both Paul's statement and with Occam's Razor, we are left with one unavoidable conclusion: there is no need to follow or believe in any religion that claims to represent God. That is just what Jesus said in Matthew 24:23.

Prove me wrong.


Byker Bob said...

Well, a few salient points come to mind. One would be that in reality, only God can prove that He exists.

The only way one would be able to discern whether revelation were valid would be if somehow, the witness of God accompanied the revelator, or whatever was revealed. Scripture describes Moses, the prophets, Jesus, and the disciples, among others as having had this substantiating witness. Unfortunately, charlatans attempt to fake it today in our own era.

I've believed for some time now that God reveals himself to each of us, individually. This is not government from the top down, it is government from the bottom up, with one heart being changed or transformed at a time. Really, when you think about it, it's the only thing that makes any sense. God continues to "knock at our door", through events in our lives, providing us with opportunities to answer. Any and all such experiences we might have in such a process are going to be highly personalized, and therefore subjective. This causes a visceral reaction on the part of Randian objectivists, who tend to filter out or invalidate anything of a personal nature, or anything which they label as "subjective".

I've found God to be highly personal. And, He's got numerous ways of maintaining anonymity to keep our free will in play. Probability, and the existence of random circumstances and events certain come to mind.


Ralph said...

Of course personal definitions of God cannot be discounted. This is one of the conclusions that emerged several years ago in studying the nature of artificial intelligence(AI).

If a message is given, to have real social value, it must be somehow communicated to others, which requires language. But if it is translated to language, it is subject to algorithms and programming, which means it can be reduce to a process of government in some form.

There is yet another aspect to this, known as the Church-Turing thesis, named after Alonzo Church and Alan Turing.

Basically, their thesis, which cannot be proven, so it reamins a thesis, but with strong support that it is true, is this:

the human brain is no more than a computer, because it is subject to the laws of physics. If it is no more than the laws of physics, at some point, it will be possible for scientists to model the human brain mathematically, so that a computer will be equal in all respects to the brain.

Can God reveal something to you that would not be accessible to the computer? Only if it is revealed in such a way that it cannot be translated into language, which would probably mean that it was revealed in a way that was not in the form of language.

So you see, to prove the truth of a revelation, you will be forced to reduce it to that which can be programmed into a computer.

This realization takes us right back to Paul's statement in Romans 8:7. The natural mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to God.

The traditional christian says "yes, but God reveals himself to us by the Holy Spirit".

Define Holy Spirit, but be very careful, because if you can, you have just reduced the Holy Spirit to a mechanical function as well, so that a computer can embody the Holy Spirit too!

If either "God" or "Holy Spirit" is subject to human definition, the you can program a computer to embody the qualities of both "God" and "Holy Spirit"!

So, if this is ridiculous in regard to computers, it is equally ridiculous to believe that any religious organization of humans, based on rules and laws, can truly represent God, since both are based on the same idea.

Jesus pointed out the the jews that God the father was hiswitness and he bore witness of himself, taking us to the "two witness" rule of Deuteronomy 17 and 19.

But you will also notice that jesus said they could not believe him because they did not receive the same witness.

It would seem that Jesus was referring to the same problem I described above. To be "called" is not in any way to be acknowledged by any human knowledge systems.

Byker Bob said...

By definition, and our relative position as compared to a supreme being, the limiting channels by which we perceive are going to limit anything pertaining to the deity.

String theory posits additional dimensions, often imperceivable by we humans.

We know that scientific devices can be manufactured to perceive things which we would have no other ways of even knowing about, such as radio waves. And, that's just the beginning!

Can God broadcast revelation to specific human brains whose owners have made their channels open? We've seen computers go wireless, so what would be the logical destination for computer technology? Are humans simply figuring out what God already knows, and getting better and better at it everyday, often while denying He exists? Will science one day rise to the ability to actually perceive God? It would appear that many possibilities still exist in terms of human evolution!