Parsimony with that Salad?
I am watching in amusement as the mythtics, in some exasperation, encounter the problem of parsimony for the first time.
The “father” of the word, William of Ockham (Occam), was a famous Franciscan logician when the two words were not considered a contradiction in terms. He actually stole the idea from Aristotle, but keep it quiet.
His tri-partite axiom is that “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate” (Complexity should not be extended without necessity); that “Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora” (It is useless to posit many things that can be explained by a single thing); and ”Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” (Things [causes] should not be multiplied beyond necessity).
Only one of these formulations (the first one) is his. It means that when you have two competing predictive theories the simpler one is the better. It has been used as far afield as philosophy and quantum physics, as with Stephen Hawking’s famous comment in Brief History of Time, “We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it. However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us mortals. It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam’s razor.”
In the later history of philosophy, the principle is known as economy (Ernst Mach) and by its more common name, “parsimony.”
It is interesting that the mythtics do not see that arguments from distant analogies and might-be or might-have-beens are needlessly complex and hence violate this principle.
They repeatedly try to stick the fallacies of “straw man” and “circular reasoning” to my comments, presumably because these are favourite recourses and the only fallacies they know.
Another they might want to know is iterari assertionem, a form of wishful thinking that operates on the principle that if you say something often enough, people will think you’re right. It is notable that they do not see that a simple statement–that the gospels present material typical of their time and place and that the figure they present is a typical figure of his time and place–is a parsimonious statement accounting for the existence of the gospels. I can’t entirely blame them for this since for almost two thousand years theologians argued that Jesus violated all of these categories and that the gospels were a unique species of literature unparalleled in the Hellenistic world.
My argument is not an argument for the divinity of Jesus. It is not a conclusive argument for the historicity of Jesus. Instead, it constitutes an aporia against the argument that Jesus was not historical. It also requires any alternative theorist to present a more plausible and economical explanation of the existence of the gospels, and to defend the suggestion that they are fabrications against the parsimonious observation that they are, at least with respect to their primary subject matter, telling the truth. Such an argument, just to save time later, does not consist in the repeated assertion that stories of other gods are made up because these other stories are not gospels and don’t even look very much like the gospels.
This is not propositional truth, obviously–which is why tests like Bayes’s theorem fall flat in testing it–but truth as being a generally accepted statement of events as they were perceived by observers and reported under the conditions of their time and place. Historians have to rely on this rather modest definition of truth all the time, and much of our general theory of history is built on it, figure to figure, movement to movement, and place to place. It is not infallible, but then neither are the general theories of physics: it would be a pretty dim scientist who thinks that if he could actually witness the event of the Big Bang he would not need to make adjustments to his theory. If that is true, think of all the history that would need to be re-written if we could send historians in to record the death of Socrates, Marco Polo’s audience with the Khan, or (assuming it happened) the crucifixion.
The multiplication of analogies and difficulties violates this basic principle in the same way that metaphysical explanations of the world’s causation violate it in modern cosmology.
Of course no one is arguing that the law of parsimony is a substitute for insight, careful reasoning and the full operation of the scientific method. However, attempting to substitute the weakest form of argument–analogy–for more transparent and compelling approaches does not set the stage for meaningful discussion.
The three C’s I have invoked, therefore, have to be addressed not by counter-propositions (and trivial, mainly useless appeals to “logic” as the mythics have come to use the word) but by evidence: The mythtics need to provide positive evidence that a character “like” Jesus (or if they prefer, one imported from another myth, Greek, Jewish, or other, adapted to use) explains the existence of the gospels and their central message more adequately than the economical view that an historical individual named Jesus, who was typical of his time, culture and background as we know it, is the source of artifacts dating very close to the time he is reckoned to have lived.
Alternatively, they need to show what events, causes, and conditions may have led first century writers, of no apparent skill, to fabricate the basic elements of their story. This may seem elementary because it is.