Creationist Wisdom — Example 78: Occam’s Razor

WE present to you, dear reader, a letter-to-the-editor titled Occam’s razor disputes the logic of evolution, which appears in the Cape Cod Times of Hyannis, Massachusetts.

We’ll copy today’s letter in its entirety, omitting only the writer’s name and city, while adding our Curmudgeonly commentary between the paragraphs.

But first, because the letter discusses Occam’s razor, let’s make sure we’re all together on this. According to Wikipedia:

Occam’s razor … is the principle that can be popularly stated as “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.”

[…]

Occam’s razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (translating to the law of parsimony, law of economy or law of succinctness).

There are numerous examples of this principle, but in terms of evolution we could say that if separate breeding populations of a species exist, as on various islands of the Galapagos chain, genetic differences that are observed in each island’s individuals are the result of successful mutations that have been passed on to succeeding generations of those isolated populations. Thus, Darwin’s finches.

A violation of the principle would be to add an additional cause — that an invisible and undetectable agency intentionally played an incomprehensible role in producing the biological distinctions we observe. Such an addendum could be appended to the explanation of any natural phenomenon, adding not one scintilla of explanatory value.

Now that we’re all together, let’s read today’s letter-to-the-editor. The bold font was added for emphasis:

Space limitations preclude correcting every error espoused by local evolution disciples (“Evolution vs. creationism, Oct. 20). However, Phil Dunham’s argument can be refuted fairly briefly.

Oh goody! The letter-writer is going to be brief. For context, here’s a link to Dunham’s letter. He was responding to someone’s earlier letter which claimed that there’s no evidence for evolution. Dunham gave the peppered moth as an example of evolution which has been observed to occur. That’s a classic example, and creationists hate it. We wrote about those moths before: The Peppered Moth is Turning White Again.

Let’s read on in today’s letter:

The darkening of pepper moths in England, as well as Darwin’s much-touted finch beak variations study, violate an axiom known as Occam’s razor. This, roughly paraphrased, posits that the simplest explanation for observed phenomena is to be preferred until disproved.

So far, so good. We continue:

It’s far more logical to assume that any species’ physical traits that come to dominate a locality were always genetically present, and simply unobserved previously, rather than hoping that somehow, some way, these creatures’ DNA learned from failure and improved. Science is based on observation, and the fact is these moths and finches remain just that.

Glorious! The letter-writer simply dismisses the observed evidence and declares that things were always so. And he invokes Occam’s razor as his justification.

Now — too soon! — we come to the letter’s end:

Ironically, Mr. Dunham argues for stability of species when he discusses animal breeding. Even schoolchildren are aware how quickly the sterility of hybrid animal offspring prevents further variation outside primordially present species.

[Writer’s name and city can be seen in the original.]

We’ve read the Dunham letter, and we don’t see where that argument was made. But perhaps today’s letter-writer has deployed Occam’s razor to read more into it than is readily apparent.

So now you’ve seen how Occam’s razor is wielded in the hands of a creationist. It has two somewhat unconventional uses for them: (1) it requires the dismissal of facts which refute one’s pre-conceived notions; and (1) it permits the addition of facts to support such notions. Isn’t creationism grand?

Lesson learned: Never give a sharp instrument to a child — or a creationist.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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11 responses to “Creationist Wisdom — Example 78: Occam’s Razor

  1. The Curmudgeon sums up:

    So now you’ve seen how Occam’s razor is wielded in the hands of a creationist.

    Indeed — they wield it in the fashion of Sweeney Todd…

  2. Great Claw says: “Indeed — they wield it in the fashion of Sweeney Todd…”

    The role model for all slashers.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    It’s far more logical to assume that any species’ physical traits that come to dominate a locality were always genetically present, and simply unobserved previously, rather than hoping that somehow, some way, these creatures’ DNA learned from failure and improved. Science is based on observation, and the fact is these moths and finches remain just that.

    It’s not that he’s dismissing the evidence. He doesn’t understand what it means.

    He thinks that “Darwinists” are claiming that the peppered moths spontaneously developed the DNA for being melanistic when they needed it.

    He is claiming that couldn’t possibly have happened-he’s right. He’s claiming that the melanistic genes must have already been present-he’s right.

    He thinks this somehow disproves evolution, and he’s wrong. He thinks “evolution” spontaneously created genes for things as they are needed.

    He’s arguing against his own ignorance, because he never bothered to find out what evolution actually is.

  4. Gabriel Hanna says: “It’s not that he’s dismissing the evidence. He doesn’t understand what it means.”

    Perhaps. But it was fun to talk about Occam’s razor, so it all works out.

  5. Gabriel Hanna observed

    He’s arguing against his own ignorance

    And may the most ignorant man win!

  6. Gabriel Hanna

    Well, his use of Occam’s razor would be reasonable if biologists actually believed that evolution creates new DNA to help a species solve its problems; likewise the people who argue that you can’t assemble a Boeing 747 from a tornado in a junkyard have a a very compelling argument against the random assembly of DNA. But biologists are not claiming DNA was ever assembled in such a way.

    This guy has the wrong target, not the wrong method.

  7. Gabriel Hanna says: “This guy has the wrong target, not the wrong method.”

    But he never stops to think that if it’s so ridiculously easy to discredit a major field of science with a simple, off-the-shelf bit of logic, then maybe — just maybe — he’s missing something.

  8. Gabriel Hanna

    But he never stops to think that if it’s so ridiculously easy to discredit a major field of science with a simple, off-the-shelf bit of logic, then maybe — just maybe — he’s missing something.

    No; people like him don’t. They assume scientists are so stupid and dogmatic they can’t figure it out.

    It’s not just creationists though–almost every layman seems to do the same. Remember one of my very first posts here, the gravity guy? And all the people who don’t believe in global warming say exactly the same kinds of things.

  9. Maine Operative

    I’d offer to enlighten him on sound argumentative methodology–perhaps it would help “allelevate” his ignorance…

  10. Maine Operative says: “I’d offer to enlighten him …”

    I find that virtually all adult creationists are beyond help. Save your efforts for young people who still have potential to learn.

  11. I understand the desire of these poor souls for things to be simple, and that, being poor, simple souls they don’t quite understand the irony of needing a mystical, magical “creator” to do the whole Deus Ex Machina thing to get speckled moths to speckle and de-speckle, as opposed to natural selection, because that’s not simple at all.

    Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind things to be simpler either, I’m writing doing summaries of the geological history of the Bowen Basin for a client at the moment and being able to say “It all happened in the Flood” would make my life considerably easier…..