Occam's razor, Hickam's dictum and Christianity

Occam's razor is that principle that is often understood being that "among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected." To put it another way, all things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.

Needless to say, Occam's stranglehold on how we understand God is rather strong. It is how theologians talk about the mystery of something like the atonement but we teach it by way of 3-4 theories. Or we talk about the mystery of the trinity but boil it down to that like an egg or water (see here for a silly little video on why those metaphors are "heretical")

Christians try our very best to try to communicate to the world the vast mystery of the creator of the world can be understood and, the most simple explanation tends to win out because we all prefer Occam to Hickan.

"Hickam's dictum is a counterargument to the use of Occam's razor in the medical profession. The principle is commonly stated: "Patients can have as many diseases as they damn well please"." (wiki)

This sounds weird but the point that Hickam was trying to make is that patients can have many different symptoms that are unrelated and cannot be diagnosed under one simple, elegant explanation for instance Saint's triad.

Christians are not unlike other people in the world in that we desire a simple answer to the questions of the world. We long for someone to just tell us why something is the way it is or what we are supposed to do. We willingly accept someone citing scripture at us, giving us a response that is so tight that is might as well be a package tied up with a bow. The answer looks nice, it is elegant and makes sense. Classic Occam's razor.

The reality is, if Occam's razor does not hold for medicine then it surely does not hold for theology. No matter how elegant the answer may be, when we are talking about God - it is never that simple. Cite me the chapters and verses, point out the creed, quote the theologian, articulate the church council, all of these actions are efforts to prove the razor.

The preachers and teachers that give you a razor's answer provide great comfort. I am a razor pastor myself. However, in my more antithetic moments I will share that I don't have the simple answers. And in my even more truthful moments I will share I don't have the simple answers because no one has them.

Simple answers don't exist when we are talking about God. They never have.

Hickam's dictum was introduced to me via this wonderfully fantastic podcast episode of "Reply All" - Boy Wonder

How Where's Waldo exposes a problem with Christianity

Where's Waldo may not be the cultural icon it was when I was a kid of the 1990's but I still see this little guy around sometimes in the bookstore (also seemingly a dying icon of my childhood). In case you are not aware of what "Waldo" is all about, it is a book where you search different scenes and try to find the "Waldo" character. Frustratingly simple and boy did I love it.

I would race my brother to determine who was the best Waldo-finder in our house. To this day I secretly assess if the person I am looking at a Waldo scene with it smarter then me based on how quickly they find him. Most of the time, everyone finds him before I do and thus I feel less smart by the end of the book. 

Where's Waldo is a fun little thing to do and I marvel at the imagination of the artists to draw such crazy scenes. There is also a sense of excitement when you begin to look, a sense of challenge sets in after a few minutes. Frustration can set in when you begin to convince yourself that Waldo is not in this scene at all and then the moment you find Waldo there is a sense of satisfaction and affirmation that you are encouraged to go through the whole process again and turn the page. It is the search that makes Waldo fun. 

Which is why one of the worsts gifts you can give is a Where's Waldo book with Waldo circled on every page in thick black marker. Sure the other person will always be able to quickly "find" Waldo in every scene, but you also have removed the joy of the search. 

Large parts of Christianity have become fixated on sharing our faith with others but doing so with all the answers already given. Some Christian communities tell you what the answers are to every question. When people are searching for the "real Noah's arc" they believe that in finding it they will answer the question and thus bring more people to the faith. I contest that in "proving" all sorts of things in Christianity surmount to marking up the faith with a thick black marker. Sure, you can see the "answer" but then the joy of the search is removed. 

Give me a blank Where's Waldo book anytime.