Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dawkins' argument from simplicity

What Dawkins argues is that a real explanation explains that which is more complex in terms of that which is simpler. Explanations of anything in terms of God necessarily explains things in terms of that which is still more complex, and so such explanations are nonstarters, since they fail to explain the more complex in terms of the less complex.

The logic of this position is that evidence for God is impossible, for if there were evidence of God, it would provide us with an explanation of the more complex in terms of the less complex. But this is impossible by definition. The search for such evidence is doomed at the start.

20 comments:

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "The logic of this position is that evidence for God is impossible, for if there were evidence of God, it would provide us with an explanation of the more complex in terms of the less complex. But this is impossible by definition. The search for such evidence is doomed at the start."

You (imagine my surprise!) entirely misunderstand Dawkins.

The observation is mundane that god explanations are predictably non-explanations -- they are more complex (among other things) than the simple observation of the event itself.

This is an observed feature (and in the case of explanations, this feature is a failing) of god hypotheses.

God explanations aren't doomed from the start. They all just end up as they are -- which is less comprehensible and predictable, etc. than the event to which they are attributed.

Joe Hinman said...

you can pretend he;s really saying something, all hes saying is this does not tell me the stuff i want to Bellevue so it's not an explanation. Also it doesn't make me look like a genius so it doesn't explain.


Nov here is something that really does explain things, it had great application to the current situation even though I wrote it in 1998 for the academic journal i used to publish, about Marcuse.

Albert Schweitzer and the Death of Civilization

Jo F said...

@Cal,

"The observation is mundane that god explanations are predictably non-explanations"

and your evidence for this is:

"they are more complex (among other things) than the simple observation of the event itself."

That's interesting. You think the supposed best explanation provided for something must not be more complicated than the observation they are meant to explain, as it evokes another explanation. Whelp, this argument is its own defeater: if an explanation, when determined as being the best, is given, it does nothing to the veracity of that explanation to object that there is now more to explain. After all, if every explanation required an explanation of its explanation in order to be valid, then it would require an explanation of its explanation of its explanation, and an explanation of its explanation of its explanation, and so on ad infinitum--bankrupting the search for truth all together.

There's another reason it's not clear to me how the inference to an Intelligent Source from some natural phenomena that cannot otherwise be plausibly explained is necessarily lacking, namely, that 1. such a hypothesis is simple, 2. explanations need not always be less complicated than what they are posited to explain, and 3. the degree of a hypothesis' simplicity is only one of many characteristics used to test the plausibility of a hypothesis.

1. Note that the hypothesis is really quite simple: an Intelligent being did this. Such an inference need not commit the one making it to explaining how God is simple, he need only show that the action of God in that particular instance is the most plausible. Of course, I reject your assumption that God is necessarily more complicated than His own creation. A mind can be can produce thoughts more complicated than itself. Say there is an instance whereby we have no plausible naturalistic explanation--it does little more than complain to deny the obvious because you incur upon yourself the need to "explain the explanation." At this point, the defender of Dawkin's argument comes off as biased and closed to persuasion.

2. I reject your assertion that an explanation must be less complicated than what it's posited to explain. If an archeologist finds an arrowhead under the sand somewhere, he's not wrong for positing the existence of some archaic human population to explain it--even though these people are emphatically more complex than the simple artifact, and even though this explanation evokes another explanation, namely, "where did they come from and who are they?"

3. Here I have two crucial points. First, there seems to be no reason to think that the simple is more likely to be true than the complex outside of theism. As Alvin Plantinga has argued, either this is a completely arbitrary assumption, or it is a reflection of God's proclivities in us. Second, there are many cases in which one hypothesis or theory cannot be assessed on one indication of validity (such as simplicity), for example, there are several empirically equivalent interpretations of quantum mechanics that use the same evidence and explain it in different ways according to different explanatory mechanisms. One method is not often useful for all valid explanations, and simplicity is one of many of these (in addition to: degree of ad-hocness, predictive contribution to further explanations, plausibility, explanatory power, etc...and there are yet even more theoretical virtues used to test the adequacy of a hypothesis).

Joe Hinman said...

The observation is mundane that god explanations are predictably non-explanations -- they are more complex (among other things) than the simple observation of the event itself.

This is an observed feature (and in the case of explanations, this feature is a failing) of god hypotheses.

God explanations aren't doomed from the start. They all just end up as they are -- which is less comprehensible and predictable, etc. than the event to which they are attributed.


this supposed to be parsimony. By the time you get through explaining what parsimony iss it's a lot more complex than not using it. There are different kinds of parsimony and different uses of simplicity Atheists often conflate two different kinds to argue about God's simplicity Dawkns does this trick when he makes the 747 argument and the God is coplex argument.

When atheists make the criticism that God arguments don't explain things they usually mean that they don't provide scientific answers to scientific questions,They also think in terms of science as the only kind of thing that needs answering,

that is myopic and self ghettoizing it depends upon what you want explained, atheists usualky ignore the kind of thing blekevers seek answers to,.

Callum said...

Dawkins isnt referring to Ockham's razor here, is he? Because that would be a silly argument.

Joe Hinman said...

If you think Parsimony just means Ocam's razor you are indeed silly.what did i say?I said explanations are where you find them. Meaning weather nor it is one depends upon the kind of explanation you are looking for. How do you get out of that anything about Occam's razor?

Cal Metzger said...

Jo F.: "That's interesting. You think the supposed best explanation provided for something must not be more complicated than the observation they are meant to explain, as it evokes another explanation."

I don't mean they're more complex by definition. I mean they are inevitably ad hoc (which is more complex, by definition). God explanations don't have to be ad hoc, but they always are.

E.g.
God Believer: "God exists, and he is all powerful, and he loves us completely."
Skeptic: "Then how do you explain the horrifying, natural death of infants?"
God Believer: "Well, my god is still the things I said, but also you have to consider.... "

In other words, god (and really, all supernatural explanations) are natural explanations PLUS something else (a god, or spirit, etc.), PLUS reasons why the god or spirit doesn't behave consistently.

That what I think Dawkins means. VR hasn't provided a quote, but I'm guessing that was what he was explaining.

Joe Hinman said...

E.g.
God Believer: "God exists, and he is all powerful, and he loves us completely."
Skeptic: "Then how do you explain the horrifying, natural death of infants?"
God Believer: "Well, my god is still the things I said, but also you have to consider.... "

In other words, god (and really, all supernatural explanations) are natural explanations PLUS something else (a god, or spirit, etc.), PLUS reasons why the god or spirit doesn't behave consistently.

That what I think Dawkins means. VR hasn't provided a quote, but I'm guessing that was what he was explaining.

December 12, 2016 2:05 PM


in other words ideology before truth, you are calling ordinary logiocal answers more complexity,

Atheist, there is something rather than nothing because the universe popped into existence out of nothing


Believer how did something come from nothing?:

Atheist there is eternal vacuum flux

believer: where t\does that come from?

Atheist: It just is eternal.


now that;s more complex, you have to ad an answer so it's more complex.


Joe Hinman said...

Cal the idea o simplicity as decision making paradigm is parsimony. But which kind of parsimony are you using? you appear to be saying the true answer will have fewer words no one really uses that as a guide to parsimony.

Jo F said...

@Cal,

For starters, I'm skeptical that this is really what Dawkins' "central argument" of his book boils down to. It seems to me that his third chapter in The God Delusion is an invalid argument by form, and when otherwise considered is a culmination of statements purported to probabilistically invalidate God's existence as highly improbable. Dawkins's primary case comes down to, indeed, an argument to reject God for "lacking simplicity" and for begging the question of "who designed the designer," with the prospect of a plausible naturalistic explanation to come in soon enough time (just as one came for the diversification and development of biological organisms).

Now, it seems you are admitting by asking for a quote that you are not actually familiar with Dawkins' position, so I'll take this argument as your own rather than try relating it to Dawkins' cumulative case.

You said something to the effect of, "theists cannot give adequate explanations of naturalistic phenomena *because* this entails the denial of other realities, such as that of the existence of evil, to fabricate an appealing predetermined conclusion"

The example you gave:

God Believer: "God exists, and he is all powerful, and he loves us completely."
Skeptic: "Then how do you explain the horrifying, natural death of infants?"
God Believer: "Well, my god is still the things I said, but also you have to consider.... "

In other words, god (and really, all supernatural explanations) are natural explanations PLUS something else (a god, or spirit, etc.), PLUS reasons why the god or spirit doesn't behave consistently.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Essentially, your denial of the derivation of theologically significant conclusions from observations of natural phenomena is an ad hominem argument against the theist's tendency to use the information derived for their predetermined purposes.

Now, at no point do I feel that you gave a reason to reject the endeavor of inferring God's existence from observations of the natural world as being inherently invalid--rather, you simply are complaining of the theological systems developed by theist's who happen to come to these conclusions.

You're apparently unaware of the way they come to these conclusions--and I see this in a mischaracterization that you give, revealing your deep misimpressions. Emphatically, ****not all theistic arguments aspire to proving the existence of God via deducing a being with all of the traits God is orthodoxly conceived as possessing.**** The existence of evil, and *all successful theistic arguments* are to be considered in light of the *total* evidence. One explanation--such as the existence of a moral law giver undergirding our moral experience which is contrary to naturalism--is arrived at without reference to other theological traits, but simply the existence of a God that is the locus of all absolute moral value. Now, each distinct, relevant observation of the natural world--formulated into arguments for the discussion--ought to be considered in tandem with each other for the objective observer to make his/her conclusion.

Jim S. said...

Divine simplicity.

Jim S. said...

The observation is mundane that god explanations are predictably non-explanations -- they are more complex (among other things) than the simple observation of the event itself.

Isn't that true of explanations in general? It's simpler to just posit an effect rather than a cause and an effect. It's simpler to posit a bare fact rather than a fact along with something else that explains it.

Cal Metzger said...

Jim S.: "Isn't that true of explanations in general?"

No. All explanations simplify.

Jim S.: "It's simpler to just posit an effect rather than a cause and an effect."

Try predicting without explanation. Explanations allow us to simplify, and explanations allow us to predict.

Jim S.: "It's simpler to posit a bare fact rather than a fact along with something else that explains it."

An observation is simpler than an observation without an explanation, I'll give you that. But an explanation simplifies multiple observations, and simplifies them in ways that can be used to predict. And that's what god explanations fail to do.

B. Prokop said...

This whole conversation reminds me of the following, from the Gospel of Matthew:

[And Jesus said] "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'"

Callum said...

Was that reply to me?

Joe Hinman said...

. Prokop said...
This whole conversation reminds me of the following, from the Gospel of Matthew:

[And Jesus said] "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.'"

December 12, 2016 7:53 PM


why?

Joe Hinman said...

all explanations do not simply, Simplification is a function of clarity not truth, It's a matter of understanding not accuracy. Principa Mathenaticus by Russell and Whithead is one of the most complex books ever written only a handful of people in the world have readmit let alone understand it.

the books is a massively complex explanation of the logic that proves 1 + 1 = 2.

It has it;s critics but is basically considered right on. an explanation much more complex than the thing it explains.

B. Prokop said...

Joe,

(In answer to your question "Why?")

Because atheists like Cal are forever playing the game of "Heads I win; tails you lose!"

Evidence becomes not-evidence, explanations become non-explanations, arguments become "special pleading", eyewitness testimony becomes "stories", goalposts are moved, words redefined out of all usefulness, and reason becomes optional.

Just look at this gem from Cal (you can see it in context up above):

I don't mean they're more complex by definition. I mean they are inevitably ad hoc (which is more complex, by definition).

I must surmise that Cal has never seen the wonderful movie Lincoln, in which the president is musing on Euclid's theorem "If two things are equal to the same thing, they are equal to each other." In light of that bit of wisdom, re-read Cal's statement and see what happens.

Jo F said...

rvation without an explanation, I'll give you that. But an explanation simplifies multiple observations, and simplifies them in ways that can be used to predict. And that's what god explanations fail to do."

@Cal,
Would you mind reading and responding to the response I already wrote on your arguments? Anyway,

Not all hypotheses must yield predictive contribution to the sciences or knowledge in general. 5 especially with a being such as God, who is a free willed agent that does as He pleases and Who's choices you'd have to somehow predict. However, predictive contribution is only one of numerous theoretical virtues of a verificar hypothesis or theory. As for theistic explanations, I find that they satisfactorily answer the most basic data in human experience whereas atheism (and its attendant, suiting Naturalism) fails to either provide a probable explanation or one at all. For example, the development of consciousness from inorganic materials is inexplicable on Naturalism.

Now, you'lol have to explain in what ways it is that theistic explanations fail--even when they provide answers where other world news cannot.

Furthermore, you seem to be confusing the informational connections explanations give with the notion of simplicity. I take it you could only meany three assertions by this. 1. If you mean to say that all explanations require explanations, you're own argument is self defeating, as this principle would bankrupt the entire endevour for truth if adopted. 2. If you mean exactly that--that all explanations must actually provide simplified data of observations made--then you'll have to substantiate that. If you mean 3. The explanation of God should be ruled out because God is more complicated than what it describes, then I suggest you look into the vast amount of literature on the simplicity of God in addition to the fact that explanations can, even if God were more complicated, be more complicated than what they describe so long as they are more apt, plausible, descriptive (etc.) than others (because again, there are numerous other virtues of an explanation's adacuacy, -and theistic explanations need not be expected to make predictive contribution to the sciences in light of God's being a free willed agent)

Having an explanation for some phenomena that is not yet explained or is more complicated than the phenomena it explains makes no difference if the explanation is simply true.
, and these qualities should not impede one in considering it in the end.

Miguel said...

It's just downright absurd and uninteresting.

1- many arguments for the existence of God are deductive, and so it doesn't matter an inch if you think "God" is "explanatory" or nor; it simply follows deductively. Leibnizian, Thomistic, and Kalam cosmological aruments are all like that. Some teleological arguments, like the thomistic one, are like that, too. Some arguments from the soul can also be like that. And so on;

2- simplicity of explanation isn't actually everything that matters in inductive reasoning. It doesn't matter that you find that the concept of "God" raises more questions. If it happens to be the only explanation, or really best explanation, for something like the fine tuning of the universe (for example), then we ought to go with it. Would make more sense to just admit that even if we don't quite understand God that well, He still exists because of bein the only, or best, explanation of X. We do that all the time in science. Heck, we still don't really have an idea of how to even reconcile QM with relativity (not to mention each of these also bring many unanswered, and sometimes seemingly bizarre, questions), that doesn't mean we should doubt them or discard them as explanations;

3- God isn't actually complex at all, He is simple. You can see that in many ways. Classical philosophy shows it deductively with Divine Simplicity. Some modern philosophers would also insist on the distinction between a mind's existence (as an analogy) and that mind's ideas (see Craig for instance). Some, like Swinburn, arrive at a simple God with infinite power (which is simple, against mysterious arbitrary limits) and show it step by step through inductive reasoning. The objection is a non-starter