Ockham's Razor and the virginal conception (was Re: [asa] Lawrence Krauss Defends New Atheism)

From: Murray Hogg <muzhogg@netspace.net.au>
Date: Sat Jun 27 2009 - 14:55:22 EDT

Hi Merv,

To be precise, Ockham's Razor should be applied to explanations of data sets, not to data sets themselves.

So it can't, as an operative principle, be used to dismiss the biblical accounts of the virginal conception on the basis of "simplicity."

Taking the science lab as an analogy, we wouldn't think much of a scientist who dismissed certain experimental results because this is "simpler" than taking them on face value.

This is not to say that data - whether scientific or biblical - are beyond question, only that Ockham's Razor should not be used as a replacement for rigorous analysis of the data.

But we need to be clear that it's actually the atheist who wants to introduce additional speculations about processes who is offering a more complex explanation of the data. Thus it is the atheist who runs afoul of the Razor, not the biblical literalist who simply (!) takes the biblical record at face value.

In this I don't deny that there are perhaps good reasons for questioning the idea of a virgin conception. But simply appealing to Ockham's Razor because one thinks it would be "simpler" if there were no biblical miracle accounts to explain isn't an argument. It's not even a valid application of the Razor. The fact is that such "data" does exist and the "simplest" explanation is the one Christians have traditionally given.

Blessings,
Murray

Merv Bitikofer wrote:
> Iain, I totally agree with you that special divine activity of this
> [virgin birth] sort is out of reach for any speculative probability
> assessment. I wasn't trying to set up a formal Occam's razor
> comparison, but was in a less formal sense saying that other simple
> explanations do exist. I shouldn't have used the comparative form
> "simpler" since it is comparing apples and oranges. It ends up being
> merely an expression of what your bias is prior to any science coming on
> board. Some would claim that the science *is* the source of their bias
> in this, and they can claim that kind of inductive support. But to
> strengthen it to a logical proposition that is proven is a classic
> logical fallacy.
>
> In reply to Schwarzwald, I also don't dispute that the allegedly
> "scientific" objections to special events like virgin birth are just
> silly nonsense. All science can say is that we have never observed such
> an event and may not have any speculation on how such a thing could
> happen. Which logically doesn't begin to touch the *entirely different*
> assertion: "such a thing never happened". Most folks on this site
> hammer away at this point (and very correctly so.)
> --Merv
>
> Iain Strachan wrote:
>> On Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 1:55 PM, Merv Bitikofer<mrb22667@kansas.net>
>> wrote:
>>
>>> Alexanian, Moorad wrote:
>>>
>>> The virgin birth is peanuts compared with the notion of a Creator God. I
>>> never quite understood why that issue is ever brought up. The virgin
>>> birth
>>> must be something to be doubted only by atheists.
>>> Moorad
>>> ___
>>>
>>> Playing atheist's advocate here...
>>>
>>>
>>> Yes, but it's also peanuts for hyperbole, hagiography, and general
>>> "story
>>> growth" to work its way into cultural "memory" even over a single
>>> human life
>>> span. Atheists don't doubt that an existing God could do what he wants.
>>> What they doubt (other than His existence obviously) is that the event
>>> actually happened as recorded in some of the gospels. To atheists,
>>> it's a
>>> matter of choosing the simpler explanation.
>>>
>>>
>>
>> It really depends on what you mean by simpler! Choosing the simplest
>> explanation, ie the appeal to Occam's Razor, can ultimately be framed
>> in probabilistic terms. The simpler explanation is the more probable
>> explanation (I can even point you to the paper in David J.C. MacKay's
>> (son of Donald MacKay of "Clockwork Image" fame) PhD thesis that
>> shows this if you're interested! Now if one adopts a purely
>> naturalist view then it's clear that this is the right thing to do (or
>> the best bet if you will). This is because one can apply
>> probabilistic reasoning to the natural world. However, if one
>> postulates a supernatural realm with a Creator God who intervenes in
>> the action, then there is no way one can invoke probability, or
>> speculate about the probability of existence of such a being. That is
>> why God is not found in speculations about Intelligent Design, but
>> through revelation of himself through special events like the
>> incarnation, virgin birth, speaking to the prophets etc. None of
>> these, I suggest can be assigned probabilities, and hence aren't
>> amenable to the "picking the simpler explanation" argument.
>>
>> Iain
>>
>
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Received on Sat Jun 27 14:56:06 2009

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