Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Terminology Tuesday: Simplicity

Simplicity: Two senses: (1) hard-to-describe but desirable lack of complexity in scientific theories; (2) the divine attribute of being completely unified and having no distinct parts. In philosophy of science, it is widely accepted that scientists choose among a plurality of theories equally consistent with the facts on the basis of simplicity, though there is little agreement as to what counts as simplicity. The criterion of simplicity is also employed in other fields epistemologically. For example, some theologians argue that thinking of God's knowledge and power as infinite is preferable because it is simpler that the attribution of some finite, but arbitrary, amount of power and knowledge to God. In theology simplicity is one of the more mysterious of the properties attributed to God by the medieval Scholastics, since it seems to imply that no distinction can be drawn between God's existence and his essence, between his will and his intellect, or indeed among any of his properties.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 107.


Neil Shenvi said...

Part (1) was especially interesting. I think it's possible that by "simplicity", many scientists actually mean something like "aesthetic appeal" or "beauty". While "beauty" is an even more subjective concept than "simplicity", it deeply informs the search for new theories, especially in physics.

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