Saturday, March 15, 2014

Simplicity and theism

I have argued elsewhere, as my colleague Trent Dougherty also has and earlier, that when we understand simplicity rightly, theism makes for a simpler theory than naturalism. However, suppose I am wrong, and naturalism is the simpler theory. Is that a reason to think naturalism true? I suspect not. For it is theism that explains how simplicity can be a guide to truth (say, because of God's beauty and God's desire to produce an elegant universe), while on naturalism we should not think of simplicity as a guide to truth, but at most as a pragmatic benefit of a theory. Thus to accept naturalism for the sake of simplicity is to cut the branch one is sitting on.


MiloŇ° said...

This remind me on Robert Koons's fantastic article ''Naturalism and scientific realism''. Scientist generally use extra-scientific methods (not purely empirical) to evaluate their own theories (simplicity, beauty, even elegance) but it seems very hard for naturalist to defend such attitude. Naturalist can appeal to pragmatic theories of truth but if we accept some belief for pragmatic reasons only it is hard to see why we should not accept theistic views on such grounds? Or naturalist can accept non-realist view about science (some kind of empiricism) but it, on my opinion, undermine basic resource for naturalistic metaphysics.

Dr Pruss, I have one question for you: I very enjoy your work in philosophy of religion and I wonder do you plan to collect your smaller works (articles, reviews etc) into single volume? It would be great news for us outside academic world

Alexander R Pruss said...

One day, maybe. But I am too young for this yet.

Secular Outpost said...

Another theist, Robin Collins, argued precisely the opposite. According to Collins (see here, we should expect reality to be valuable (which frequently requires complexity), not simple.

MiloŇ° said...

I think that Dr Pruss don't argue in this post that reality should be simple according to theism but that Theism is simpler metaphysical theory than Naturalism. So, if we value simplicity as guide to truth and if Theism is simpler than Naturalism we have positive reason to believe Theism over Naturalism (or something like that).

I have not read this Collins article but in some his earlier writing he argue for non-reductive approaches to nature which can be (and I think should be) adopted both by theist and non-theists alike (and there are many non-theist who hold such views).

To Dr Pruss: Thanks for reply, I will continue to follow your wokr.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Simplicity is one value. Diversity is another. We should expect simplicity, but not simplicity at all costs. We should expect a diversity that is structured in a simple and elegant way.

Alexander R Pruss said...

A different route to the thought on theism simplicity is a guide to truth is that just as when you read a novel by a good author, you can figure out enough about genre to get the hang of it, so too God is likely to make the genre of the world such that we can figure out enough about it. And in the scientific revolution we have figured out that the genre of the world is such as to involve mathematical elegance.

This line of thought is compatible with the thought that God could just as likely have authored a world with a different genre, but still it probably would have been a genre at least significantly accessible to the world's denizens.