Re: Is God a scientific theory?
- From: Christopher A. Lee <calee@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Wed, 23 Sep 2009 14:03:32 -0400
On Wed, 23 Sep 2009 16:35:24 GMT, petebarrett@xxxxxxxxxx (Pete
On Wed, 23 Sep 2009 13:11:12 +0100, The Magpie
I think there's a problem with this formulation - specifically, what
counts as simple. "The orbit of Mercury is irregular because God wills
it so" is (to some people) simpler than General Relativity. Certainly,
it can be stated in a single sentence, where General Relativity
Absolutely not. "God did it" is not simple because it presumes an
additional entity not required by the nature of the observation and
which remains unexplained. Occam's Razor strikes again.
I did say "to some people". By formulating it as a preference for a
"simpler" theory, without further defining what counts as "simple",
it's left open to the "will of god" proposal to be considered simpler.
The "will of god" theory requires *one* unknown entity, while General
Relativity requires an unknown mechanism by which mass changes the
curvature of space-time.
No. It simply provides a working model of reality. Confirmed every
time Mercury is seen in a telescope in the predicted place, or every
time you use GPS.
It doesn't matter that we don't know the mechanism behind it.
Scientific theory that contains full explanation for the mechanisms
and causes are less common than you might think. Evolution is one of
these, better understood than gravity because the underlying
mechanisms and causes are understood. Even atomic theory stops at the
currently known sub-atomic particles.
Now, I think General Relativity is preferable because it holds out the
hope that at some time in the future we may understand that mechanism,
whereas we wouldn't expect to understand a god. But it's not clear to
me that that makes it *simpler*.
No, it is preferable because it has greater explanatory power than
Newton. Which is a side of it that you left out.
Any new explanation has to explain more, and also explain why if the
previous one was wrong, it worked as well as it did.
Relativity does both. The orbit of Mercury was always an anomaly
because Newton's maths couldn't describe it even they worked almost
everywhere else. Einstein's math did, as well as clearing up a lot of
other things. It also explained why Newton worked so well because the
v^2/C^2 factor it introduced, was unmeasurably close to zero in the
areas where Newton worked.
Also, I don't think it really captures scientific practice. Very often
there are competing and incompatible theories which explain the same
phenomena, and which one is preferred changes as new observations are
made, and as the theories themselves are refined; eventually one or
other wins out. (A good example is the history of the corpuscular and
wave theories of light, which competed for years, with a preference
for the corpuscular theory, until eventually the wave theory won out
both theories were subsumed by wave mechanics.)
Absolutely true - and if two equally valid theories exist the simplest
is always preferable until and unless observation and experiment
eliminates it (as happened with the example you gave, for instance).
But (as I tried to point out in the next paragraph of my last post,
which you unforunately snipped), I don't think theories get *rejected*
by Okham's razor, merely provisionally set aside. My knowledge isn't
absolute, of course, and it may be that you know of theories which
have been rejected simply because they were more complex that their
compeitiors, but I haven't been able to think of any.
From a practical point of view you can't do science without Occam,because as soon as you multiply entities you don't know which one was
responsible for a result.
And if you make a claim with multiple entities you have to demonstrate
all of them.
Like somebody who said miracles were evidence for God - they now had
to demonstrate God, miracles and that God was responsible for them.
For some reason they declined to do this.
Saying "the simplest one" is itself an over-simplification. Occam
talked about multiplying entities un-necessarily.
Until an unknown is known (if you see what I mean) its probability is
always less than one, even if you don't know exactly what it is. In
other words a fraction. Each time a new one is introduced, you
multiply by another fraction, so the result gets smaller every time.
Most people realise this intuitively even before they have heard of
William of Ockham and his razor.
Although for his time he was a genius, having the kind of "Eureka"
moment and formulated what in retrospect is a "why didn't I think of
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