Saturday, December 12, 2009

Defying Occams Razor

Noahs Ark - Schagen, The Netherlands 2009.

Of course, it's only a replica of the biblical Ark, built by Dutch Creationist Johan Huibers as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible.
The ark is 150 cubits long, 30 cubits high and 20 cubits wide. That's two-thirds the length of a football field and as high as a three-story house. Life-size models of giraffes, elephants, lions, crocodiles, zebras, bison and other animals greet visitors as they arrive in the main hold. A contractor by trade, Huibers built the ark of cedar and pine.

Suddenly in the middle of the night a blinding light sears through the curtains. Big scary shadows dance on the bedroom ceiling. There is a roaring sound of an engine. Half asleep, a number of possibilities race through your mind. 1 - A 747 Jumbo Jet has overshot the runway in Reykjavik, Iceland, and is landing in your New Zealand backyard? 2 - An Alien spaceship has arrived to abduct you and invasively poke and prod you with rude sharp instruments, a situation you will only realise on your return from space when you undergo repressed memory therapy with Uncle Looneytunes the local UFO psychologist? 3 - The next door neighbours son is coming home very late in his noisy car with the headlights on high beam ? (a dangerous and irritating thing to do in certain circumstances).
Of course being a nimble and logical thinker you cross your fingers and choose possibility number 3. ---- And in doing so you have proved the principle of 'Occam's Razor' ------ let me explain.

Occam's Razor is a principle that states: Where two or more hypotheses are offered to explain a given phenomenon, it is reasonable to accept the simplest one - the one that makes the fewest unsupported assumptions.

Of course the simplest explanation is not always the correct one in every instance - A saying that expresses the logic and sentiment of Occam's Razor states that: "When you hear hoof beats, don't expect to see a zebra", which of course would be true for most people except those living on the Serengeti Plains in deepest Africa or the local zoo keeper.

I came across this exception to the rule of Occam's Razor myself during my recent sojourn in The Netherlands. While photographing a rather large yacht in the port of Hoorn on the Ijsselmeer a hasty passer by commented, "If you want to see a really large boat, go to Schagen" - A number of possibilities came to mind; A very large traditional 'Botter'? A huge tugboat up an impossibly narrow creek ?(I had already seen this several times); Noah's Ark? Maybe a supertanker moored in a huge inland canal?

When I did get to Schagen, a small pretty little town with a canal that leads to the inland sea (Ijsselmeer) the last thing that I expected to see was Noah's fecking Ark!
It was fecking huge, jaw droppingly fecking huge -

- and if another hasty passer by had commented, "When you hear hoof beats, don't expect to see a zebra", I would have replied, "Of course I would expect to see a zebra, that's the fecking ARK for Gods sake".

Occam's Razor is named after William of Occam, a 14th century English philosopher. The 'razor' comes from the idea of shaving off any unnecessary assumptions from a theory.


Katherine said...

I had this phenomenomenon in the back of my mind, and the words, but had never put the two together. Thank you Pal.
And also for showing us a wonderful 'folly'. But does it prove that the bible should be taken literally? I suspect The Bishop would say not.

VenDr said...

The dutch guy had the zebras and crocodiles on the ark. Presumably he had 6 zebras ( one pair of each species) and 46 crocodiles (there are 23 species) But what about the moa? The Bible says that 7 pairs of every kind of bird were on the ark. There were 13 species of moa. That means that there were 182 moa. And presumably they walked home from Mt. Ararat, swimming the China sea and the Tasman, without pausing to breed on the way. There are 90 species of antelope, which as clean animals also had 7 pairs each on the ark. That's 1260 antelopes who had to find their way to Africa and America amongst other places. And we won't even go near the fauna of Australia. Hmmmm... let's think now.... literal truth or spiritually instructive myth? It's a hard one!

VenDr said...

And, Katherine, what a wonderful word phenomenomenon is.

Alden Smith said...

On the surface it would seem that taking the Bible literally is the simplest explanation but this literalism is but a shroud hiding a huge complexity that is intellectually untenable - so on close observation Biblical Literalism becomes as fanciful as the idea in my story (that it is a case of Alien abduction rather than simply car headlights) - thus in my opinion the shroud hides a dead idea.
I suspect the Bishop would agree with me although considering his musings recently about Win7 its hard to know when he is talking literally as opposed to metaphorically.

Alden Smith said...

Ah, and in the intervening time between posting comments I see that the Bishop elect comes down on the side of myth and metaphor - he is obviously more equipped to deal with Windows 7 than I ever thought - he will make a superb Bishop (but don't tell that to the fundamentalists).

Katherine said...

And of course, that means we don't need to take into account the fact that once we get down to only two individuals, the gene pool is so small, that chances of the species surviving let alone flourishing is almost nil.

Interesting that you (Pal) also introduce the possibility of other life-forms in the universe in this same post.
This could get big.

Katherine said...

And shrouds. Even bigger.

Alden Smith said...

Beware of fundamentalists bearing shrouds, its bound to signify a cover up.

日月神教-向左使 said...