At what point do we cast away Ockham’s Razor?

25 01 2008

OzAtheist poses a great question: “What would convince you that God is real?” I don’t want to steal his thunder, so I suggest commenting on his blog if you want to answer his question directly. But here is part of my contribution:

IMHO, answering the question “What would convince you that God/Jesus is real?”, from a non-theist point-of-view, implies answering at least the first two of the following:

1. Under what conditions is it reasonable to suspend methodological naturalism and parsimony in accounting for unexplained phenomena?
2. If there is an unexplained phenomenon in regard to which we must suspend methodological naturalism, why should “God did it” be considered the default explanation?
3. If there are conditions under which we must accept “God did it” as a viable explanation for a hitherto unexplained phenomenon, how do we know “God” = “The Christian God?”




6 responses

26 01 2008
Jon McKenzie

I think the first question has a non-obvious, and completely natural, answer. If attempting to explore some unknown phenomenon might cause severe damage to our planet or to our species, it might be well worth suspending methodological naturalism in that case. In other words, if it’s going to blow us all up, maybe we shouldn’t research it.

Of course, it’s not exactly what your question was after. What you really wanted was a situation where methodological naturalism as a method of discovery should be discarded in favor of a different method. I don’t think that’s conceivable. Assuming we’ll never know all there is to know about the natural universe, we can’t ever say without a doubt that there isn’t a natural explanation out there somewhere for the unknown phenomenon.

Practically, I think that if some other method, say religious revelation for example, provides as much as or more progress in our society than science has, that that method would be considered valid. It’s impossible, for me at least, to think of one which wouldn’t include naturalism. Religious revelation certainly hasn’t produced progress in any physical sense, and it’s arguable wherther it’s produced social or moral progress.

I think the last two questions don’t make any sense, in light of my answer to the first. I can conceive of situations that would convince me that a supremely powerful being exists. I can’t conceive of situations which would convince me that such a being is a god, let alone a particular one. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, as Clarke put it.

26 01 2008

Jon–I agree, and that’s why I found OzAtheist’s hypothetical so difficult to address.

I think the last two questions don’t make any sense, in light of my answer to the first.

You’re right, the questions can’t be addressed separately–there has to be a sufficient answer to the first before the second and third can begin to be addressed.

26 01 2008
Jon McKenzie

Asking “What would convince you that God is real?” is a little bit like asking “What would convince you that Gandalf is real?”. We have mythological accounts of both God and Gandalf, and that’s it. What would it take to convince me Gandalf is real? I don’t know, it’s a silly question. 😛

26 01 2008

Ockham’s Razor?
Would it have to apply?
I think ,YES!
Well for me, the answer to Oz’s question is that absolutely nothing could convince me that god is real. And here is why.

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

And thus, “Any being from a sufficiently advanced technological world is indistinguishable from a god .”

So just because a being appears to have “magical” or “god like” powers is no reason to assume that that being is deserving of “god like” worship.
So the simplest answer would be “advanced technology” even if we could not distingwishe it from “god like ” powers and that would conform to Ocam and his razor.

29 01 2008
The Worst of Perth

And really, reasons given for God not actually making himself clear are ludicrous. Instead of getting the cosmic loudspeaker out and just plain telling everyone, “I’m here, and here’s some proof that there can be no question about. ” He faffs around, sends his son down to be tortured, and still doesn’t give any kind of impression that he might actually exist.”

29 01 2008

You’re right, even my scenario could be accomplished by advanced technology.

I really can’t see any situation where we should give up using our cognitive abilities and just say “goddidit”.

Evolouie and Jon, thanks for reminding me of Clarke’s quote, I’ve been racking my brains for days trying to remember it.

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