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.
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