Occams Razor

Occam’s razor and theology

I’ve been thinking about my approach to the Bible. The first five weeks of college have been pretty intense for me – but probably not as intense as they have been for other people who possibly feel like the rug has been pulled out from under their feet a little when it comes to the way theologians treat the Bible and the interaction between the historical context and theological truths. Here is my thinking…

My overarching understanding, or first principle, is that the Bible is the clear word of God, our job is to make sense of it based on what we know of the original audience, the way God communicates, and ultimately the work of Jesus. This understanding colours my understanding of everything from Genesis to Revelation, and each form of biblical literature.

Theology is like science – we’re constantly moving to a more perfect understanding of each part of the Bible as we build our picture of the lives of the original hearers and readers of the word. We’re unlikely to ever completely overturn our current “theories” based on this evidence, but we will gain a slightly more nuanced picture of the meaning of different writings if we learn something new about what was going on in the first century (NT) or in the history of Israel.

So understanding that “this current distress” that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7 may refer to a massive famine in the Corinthian region means we don’t have to assume that Paul was a failed apocalyptic prophet who thought the world would end in his lifetime, but rather that he thought it wise for couples not to marry if they couldn’t feed likely offspring. Revelation makes more sense if you understand that Nero was on the scene around the time it was written, that the number 666 was particular to Nero, and that Rome was persecuting Christians around the time it was written… this makes more sense to me than some sort of dispensational premillenialism.

Which leads me to this point of applying Occam’s razor to every “theological” position. If there’s a better explanation that requires less jumps, that is consistent with the rest of scripture, and preferably magnifies the work of Christ – then I’ll be pretty prepared to take that explanation quickly – rather than fighting to hold on to ingrained presuppositions.

Again, I don’t think this is rocket science or revolutionary – it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Poe’s Law

I love satire. Of most colours. I like it when Christians satirise our own culture, and when non-Christians do it too. Satire is revealing. It is good for teaching. It makes me laugh.

LarkNews is one of my favourite satire sites, I know of a few people who have fallen for its satire in the past…

People reposting satire as real news is pretty funny – like when a couple of mainstream news outlets picked up an Onion piece that reported the moon landing was fake.

Poe’s Law didn’t make the Wikipedia list of eponymous laws I mentioned previously – but you can read it on this page – RationalWiki’s page.

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

It’s one of those Internet subculture things particular to debates with atheists (along with the No True Scotsman Fallacy) that comes up all the time. It’s a shorthand thing that prevents any real discussion taking place springing from an extreme position. The problem is that sometimes extreme positions may be correct. This is my biggest problem with all the conversational threads I’ve read on the atheist blogs I follow. If it turns out that God exists (as I believe he does) they’re going to look like idiots. This is the problem with Occam’s Razor, and in fact any other eponymous law that becomes common parlance. There are times when there’ll be a complex explanation for something that is true while a more simple explanation with less steps may be wrong. There are times when it’s appropriate to reference Hitler in an argument (Godwin’s Law). There are times when someone will be claiming to be a Scotsman when they’re not (the No True Scotsman Fallacy).

Using these laws in conversations who don’t know about them makes you look like a prat. Especially if you end up quoting them and being wrong.

I’m going to posit my own eponymous law – and I’d like it to catch on. Campbell’s Law. It states:

“As the length of argument on the internet increases the probability of referencing an irrelevant eponymous law or incorrectly identifying a fallacy approaches one.”

I’ll posit a second law.

“Just because someone, somewhere, has described a common phenomena as a “law”, it does not necessarily render the practice a transgression.”

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