donderdag 21 november 2013

The Razor's Edge

A short reflection on Occam's Razor with reference to the great Australian Hard Rock band AC/DC*.
A few days ago I came across an article in the Journal of Biological Education, entitled Students' arguments on the science and religion issue: the example of evoutionary theory and Genesis. I started reading it and on the 8th page I had to stop reading to reflect. The authors quoted one of the participating students:

"Someone who wants to form an opinion on this topic is overwhelmed by the number of scientific facts [about something] which is unimaginably big, happened on an unimaginably long time ago and is beyond all imagination of everyday life. Religion is more familiar."
So this student adheres to a religious explanation for the biological diversity we see around us, just because it is more simple. I am not saying that religious people are "simple minds" , but rejecting an entire theory because the "alternative" is more simple doesn't seem to indicate a high level of intelligence.

But then I hit me (I was Thunderstruck!). Scientists do it all the time, they prefer the simpler explanation. Think of parsimony or Aikake Information Criterion (AIC). So, fellow scientists, you should not Fire Your Guns at Creationists on this issue. This time, you should agree with them (If You Dare). But if a scientist huddles together with Creationisme, he puts his reputation on the line and risks losing his funding. And as we all know, Money Talks in science...

Where did this preference for the most simple explanation in science comes from? Are You Ready? Well, from William of Occam, an English Franciscan friar. So, a religious philosopher has a huge impact on the way we do science today. They Got You By The Balls! But don't worry, science does not rely solely on this principle. Other philosophers, such as Karl Popper, have directed science into the position it is now. I should thank my PhD promotor, Herbert Prins, for pointing this issue out to me during a coffee break. I should give him a Mistress for Christmas... This points out the importance of coffee breaks (and good music) in science.

*All the bold phrases are tracks on the 1990 album The Razors Edge by AC/DC

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