Our unicorn overlords

I thought it might be helpful to take a step back and look at the Loser’s Compromise in a more neutral context. So let’s consider a couple different hypotheses: the Autonomous Hypothesis, which declares that humans control their own governments and are therefore responsible for the current state of world affairs, and the Unicorn Hypothesis, which states that the various major world governments (at least) are under the control of magical unicorns.

The Unicorn Hypothesis might seem at first to be absurd, but let’s tweak it slightly. Despite their magical nature, unicorns are relatively few in number, and would likely lose the battle in the event of any direct, focused efforts by the more numerous humans to throw off their dominance. Thus, the Unicorn Hypothesis proposes that magical unicorns are not only running the governments of the world, but that they are deliberately creating tensions and crises and other distractions in order to keep human attention diverted from the subject of unicorns. And naturally, they are also using their magical powers to “fix” the visible, verifiable evidence to be perfectly consistent with the consequences that would result from the non-existence of unicorns.

As a further refinement, let’s also modify the Autonomous Hypothesis to declare that there is no such thing as a magical unicorn, and therefore human governments are under human control, and humans are responsible for the state of affairs in the world (at least, as much as anyone is responsible).

What we’ve achieved, in other words, is a pair of hypotheses which both produce exactly the same consequences. The lack of evidence for magical unicorns is predicted in the Autonomous Hypothesis by, well, the lack of existence of unicorns, while the Unicorn Hypothesis predicts an equal lack of evidence due to the unicorns’ magical powers and desire to remain undetected by their human thralls.

Is there anyone who would say that we are justified in concluding (as a provisional conclusion) that the major world governments are all secretly under the control of magical unicorns who are manipulating world events in order to further their own, selfish ends? We have contrived a situation that precisely matches the conditions which some say are sufficient to justify either conclusion as an equally justified belief, but does that make the idea of unicorn overlords any less silly?

I think we’d pretty much all agree that there’s no reasonable basis for concluding, even provisionally, that we’re being secretly controlled by a one-horned oligarchy. But how do we know this? If we’ve managed to contrive a hypothesis that (along with the Autonomous Hypothesis) predicts exactly the same consequences as we see in the real world, we can’t claim that the evidence rules out the possibility of magical unicorns. So how do we know that the whole idea (and a whole host of similar fanciful conspiracy theories) can best be described as nonsense?

A big part of the answer is Occam’s Razor, but I’m going to take it a step further. The basic idea of the Razor is that, when the evidence supports two explanations equally, the correct explanation is most likely to be the one that avoids needless multiplication of agencies. Or you might hear slightly different variations of that idea, e.g. that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct.

Occam’s Razor is really just a practical application of the principle that truth is consistent with itself. When we say “avoid needlessly multiplying agencies,” what we’re observing is that the more complex factors we propose in our explanation, the more opportunities we’re creating for inconsistencies and self-contradictions. “Tell the truth,” says the pundit, “it’s easier.” The more we throw in complications and speculations and rationalizations, the more likely we are to trip ourselves up. The self-consistency of the truth creates an economy that favors efficiency and parsimony: if we increase the complexity of the causes, the effects are going to similarly increase in complexity, in order to maintain consistency. Therefore the explanation that covers the existing effects with the fewest causes is always the most likely to be the most correct.

Thus, in any scenario where we manage, by hook or by crook, to contrive a hypothesis that exceeds the minimum required number of agencies, while simultaneously asserting that the evidence fits all alternatives equally, the conclusion we are justified in reaching, the conclusion which is most consistent with all of the available evidence (including Occam’s Razor) is the conclusion that best avoids multiplying agencies needlessly.

For our two hypotheses above, that rules out the Unicorn Hypothesis and justifies the Autonomous Hypothesis, and for our broader discussion that rules out the Gospel Hypothesis (and any variation contrived to produce consequences equal to the Myth Hypothesis) and justifies the Myth Hypothesis. The Myth Hypothesis is the only hypothesis that both produces consequences uniformly consistent with real-world evidence and also succeeds in predicting real-world conditions without introducing needless additional agencies with no observable role or impact.

Under the circumstances, it would be as reasonable to believe in unicorn overlords as to believe in the existence of an all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Creator Who loved us enough to become one of us, dwell among us, and die for us so that He and we might enjoy a genuine, eternal, personal relationship together—even if we could rationalize our way into thinking that such a deity would produce the exact same consequences as would result from the Myth Hypothesis being true.

 
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Posted in Evidence Against Christianity, Loser's Compromise, Unapologetics. 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Our unicorn overlords”

  1. John Morales Says:

    I gave some consideration as to whether the Unicorn hypothesis could, even in principle, produce falsifiable predictions that the the Autonomous Hypothesis could not.

    I myself can’t offhand think of any, any more than I can for the GH vs. the MH.

    I challenge any reader to think up one that’s sustainable!

  2. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    I do notice, DD, that you’ve moved away from the “both are equally UNjustified” stance a bit… though I think the usage of parsimony covers your bases on that one, don’t be surprised if SOMEONE mentions the shift.

  3. R.C Moore Says:


    I challenge any reader to think up one that’s sustainable!

    I accept that challenge, and will try to respond after work!

  4. Eneasz Says:

    RC – isn’t that impossible by definition? Since part of the unicorn definition includes “covers up or alters all evidence so it is harmonious with the autonoumous hypothesis”?

  5. Hunt Says:

    Wait, we’re not being controlled by unicorns?

    :-)

  6. R.C Moore Says:


    RC – isn’t that impossible by definition? Since part of the unicorn definition includes “covers up or alters all evidence so it is harmonious with the autonoumous hypothesis”?

    Such trivialities have not stopped generations of theologians. I will still give it a shot.

  7. John Morales Says:

    Ahem. Invisible Pink Unicorn.

  8. exrelayman Says:

    Unicorn overlords are ridiculous. But there really is a ‘one eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater’. It’s existence was revealed only by a song, which of course angry atheists will dispute as valid evidence. I don’t know how the song slipped through, as being hidden is one of it’s attributes, since a clear and obvious manifestation would interfere with our free will.

  9. cl Says:

    What we’ve achieved, in other words, is a pair of hypotheses which both produce exactly the same consequences.

    No, what we’ve achieved is another silly, impertinent scenario, if nothing else, simply because a single sample is seldom sufficient. Here, you offer two hypotheses each with a single consequence that both permit. So, of course I agree with you that “there’s no reasonable basis for concluding, even provisionally, that we’re being secretly controlled by a one-horned oligarchy.”

    Your UH differs very, very significantly from your GH. Think about the GH for a moment – my intense distaste for it aside – its depth of scope and definition at least theoretically allows for a decent subset of nuanced consequences in more than one area of reality – you have lists of things we’d expect to see in several different areas of reality were the subject of your GH to exist in actuality. OTOH, think about this UH for moment. The only consequence we can reliably deduce is that if the subjects of your UH exist, we should see tensions and crises. Problem is, the singular prediction of the UH is an absurdly high-order abstraction, nothing near the nuanced, myriad abstractions of your GH in predictive or explanatory power.

    Under the circumstances, it would be as reasonable to believe in unicorn overlords as to believe in the existence of an all-wise, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful Creator Who loved us enough to become one of us, dwell among us, and die for us so that He and we might enjoy a genuine, eternal, personal relationship together—even if we could rationalize our way into thinking that such a deity would produce the exact same consequences as would result from the Myth Hypothesis being true.

    I disagree, for all the reasons I just described.

  10. John Morales Says:

    cl:

    The only consequence we can reliably deduce is that if the subjects of your UH exist, we should see tensions and crises.

    Not so. The Unicorn Hypothesis uncannily predicts New World Order conspiracy theories.

    The existence of such conspiracy theories is a different consequence to the existence of tensions and crises, hence by counterexample the latter cannot be the only consequence.

  11. Hunt Says:

    cl,

    Think about the GH for a moment – my intense distaste for it aside – its depth of scope and definition at least theoretically allows for a decent subset of nuanced consequences in more than one area of reality – you have lists of things we’d expect to see in several different areas of reality were the subject of your GH to exist in actuality.

    Then what are these things that we are expected to see, and how are they out of accord with what we expect to see under the MH?

    I do have a quibble over Occam’s Razor, and it’s simply what is noted briefly in this post: that even though OR provides efficiency and parsimony, there will never be any guarantee that it identifies the truthful explanation. This discussion tends to move toward probability theory, so to use that terminology, even though OR may provided the expected value, there’s no reason it implies the most probable outcome in a the entire field of possibility. We know as a fact that reality is sometimes more complex than our intuitions predict.

  12. John Morales Says:

    I see I erred during the link copy. It should be:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_Order_(conspiracy)

  13. Deacon Duncan Says:

    cl—

    I think you’ve rather missed the point. I’m not saying that the Unicorn Hypothesis proves the Gospel Hypothesis, nor even that they’re necessarily all that similar (apart from suffering similar Razor cuts).

    The main point of this post is simply the issue that is the primary topic of discussion within the post: whether we are “justified” in reaching conclusions whose sole virtue is that they have been contrived to “predict” the exact same consequences as some other hypothesis. There may be many such contrived hypotheses, and they may all differ from one another in various greater or lesser degrees, but their differences do not mean we cannot address the issue of whether or not they truly justify the conclusions they purport to support.

  14. cl Says:

    [Moved to the forums.]

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