Simplicity, Theism, and Naturalism

Simplicity, Theism, and Naturalism March 22, 2014

In a recent post on his blog, Alexander Pruss presents an interesting argument regarding simplicity, theism, and naturalism. He writes:

I have argued elsewhere, as my colleague Trent Dougherty also has and earlier, that when we understand simplicity rightly, theism makes for a simpler theory than naturalism. However, suppose I am wrong, and naturalism is the simpler theory. Is that a reason to think naturalism true? I suspect not. For it is theism that explains how simplicity can be a guide to truth (say, because of God’s beauty and God’s desire to produce an elegant universe), while on naturalism we should not think of simplicity as a guide to truth, but at most as a pragmatic benefit of a theory. Thus to accept naturalism for the sake of simplicity is to cut the branch one is sitting on.

 I shared Pruss’s post with Paul Draper. Draper sent me the following reply, which he has graciously allowed me to publish here.

Simplicity is, of necessity, a prima facie theoretical virtue.  If, however, theism is true, then simplicity is not an ultima facie theoretical virtue.  If theism is true, we should expect reality to be valuable (which often requires complexity), not simple.  So exactly the opposite of Pruss’s position seems correct.

In a follow-up email, Draper attributes this point to Robin Collins. I’m not sure if this is what Draper had in mind, but Collins seems to develop this point in the Secular Web’s Great Debate (see here, skip down to “Beauty and the Laws of Nature”).

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