Does Ockham’s Razor Preclude a Libertarian Interpretation of 1 Peter 1:3?


May 7, 2017

Summary: In my essay “How Should a Molinist Understand 1 Peter 1:3?” I defended the idea that 1 Peter 1:3 underdetermines whether libertarian free will (LFW) or divine causal determinism (DCD) obtains. One way one could attempt to adjudicate between these competing theories is to appeal to Ockham’s razor. Specifically, one could argue that a determinist rendering of the relevant verse (and verses relevantly like this) are preferable to libertarian understandings of the texts since determinism has the advantage of being explanatorily parsimonious. In this essay I argue that while determinist renderings of the relevant text are indeed simpler, nevertheless, this objection errs in that it assumes that simplicity tout court is a sufficient condition in adjudicating between competing hypotheses. This further implies that the objector has misapplied Ockham’s razor.

An Explanation of Ockham’s Razor
Ockham’s Razor is the principle that states that we should not posit explanations beyond necessity. More specifically it states that when the evidence for two or more competing hypotheses that sufficiently explain something exists ceteris paribus, we should prefer the theory that posits the least amount of hypotheses or entities.

For example, suppose there is a phenomenon, P,  according to which there are two competing hypotheses, H1 and H2. The evidence we have for both hypotheses are equivalent. Further, both hypotheses sufficiently explain P. H1 does this by positing entities E1 and E2. H2 does this through positing the same entities plus entity E3. In this case, Ockham’s razor would compel us to prefer H1 since it is the hypothesis that sufficiently explains P while positing the least amount of entities.

Why Simplicity Alone Isn’t Sufficient In Adjudicating Between Two Competing Theories
Concerning verses such as or relevantly similar to 1 Peter 1:3, the determinist could run the argument that Ockham’s razor can be applied to exclude Libertarian interpretations. This is because a Determinist hermeneutic is simpler than a Libertarian one in so far as DCD either does not (1) posit agent causation (2) posit agent causation outside of God Himself (3) posit incompatibilism or (4) posit some medley of 1-3. In this respect, we admit that DCD is indeed the simpler hypothesis.

That said, what needs to be understood here is that simplicity alone isn’t sufficient in adjudicating between which, of any competing hypotheses, is best. For if a theory were always better than its competitor(s) simply by virtue of positing less entities while taking no other criteria in to consideration, then we would be compelled to accept many false theories irrespective of their lack of explanatory power, scope, plausibility, inter alia.

To illustrate the point, consider the competing theories purporting to explain the resurrection of Jesus. Of these theories, one of the simpler one’s is the one that affirms that Jesus died without resurrecting and there was no involvement of any supernatural entities whatsoever. Now, if simplicity were a sufficient condition in deciding which theory is best, then we would be compelled to accept the superiority of this naturalistic explanation despite the evident shortcomings of this view. This is because the naturalistic explanation is simpler than the supernatural one in so far as the former view not posit the existence of the ultramundane. Hence, one can see that when simplicity by itself is taken as being a sufficient condition for adjudicating between competing hypotheses that the relevant criteria would render Ockham’s razor impotent since the relevant principle would compel us to accept a theory irrespective of any explanatory follies that may befall it.

So, with respect to 1 Peter 1:3 (and verses relevantly like this), Ockham’s razor would only be applicable to our understanding of this verse (and verses relevantly like this) if we’ve already presupposed that the evidence for both LFW and DCD exist ceteris paribus – something which adherents to both parties would surely disagree with. Thus, if the determinist is not to beg the question against LFW by their appeal Ockham’s razor, they will first need to establish the fact that the evidence on balance for both LFW and DCD exist ceteris paribus.

In conclusion, I began this essay with an explanation of Ockham’s Razor. I then argued that this principle can only be successfully employed when the evidence for competing hypotheses exist ceteris paribus. For if this were untrue, Ockham’s razor would be impotent in that it would compel us to accept a theory as true, disregarding any other criteria we should be taking in to account when evaluating that theory. So, if the determinist wishes to properly employ Ockham’s razor in order to infer that DCD is taught in Scripture, they must first demonstrate that the evidence on balance for both LFW and DCD is equal.


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