What the heck does Occam know, anyway?
Afterwards, Rob and I sat around and talked about Mormon doctrine (sad, but true). We began to talk about Elder Hinckley, the son of President Hinckley. Neither of us had a problem with Elder Hinckley being called to the Quorum of the Seventy. I theorized that the fact that he was well known to the Brethren was a factor that contributed to his being chosen, but it wasn't the only factor. Rob felt that God had put him in that family so that he would be known at the time that God needed to call him into the Seventy. We may be looking at two sides of the same coin, but mine feels less pre-determined to me.
In our church, we believe in an active, involved God who is responsive to prayer and action on our part. As a result, we search out connections in the events and encounters in our life in order to discern the divine meaning that they communicate to us. We are encouraged to look for signs and omens and we believe that responses to our prayers can take many forms, some obvious and others less-so.
Others choose another path, one of demystification. Events that coincide simply coincide. Any meaning that we assign such coincidences is arbitrary and, therefore, without objective meaning. The patterns in tea leaves are determined by that vagaries of fluid in motion, not the unseen pattern of the universe. That drops of water create fractal patterns is interesting, but really only for the pretty pictures created. This is the strong belief that there is no man behind the curtain, so it is fruitless to search for one.
Some find in this an enticing economy of belief. Why manufacture supernatural causation when everything can be explained by experiment, human ingenuity, elegant rationality, and sufficient time?
To be frank, I don't know if my brother or I am correct in the Elder Hinckley argument. I doubt it is statistically unusual for my brother to meet the parents of an acquaintance at an LDS medical function, but it fascinates me that of the 50 or so tables available he got seated with them anyway. It isn't that I object to the search for the science in coincidence, it is that I just don't find the answers satisfying.
In high school, we read The Stranger. I was impressed by my teacher's description of the existential hero on a tight-rope over death, refusing the safety of religion or anarchy that would be found at either end of the rope. His own honesty and clarity of vision was so important that it was more important to maintain his dangerous position than to flee to the easy answers or the complete nihilism that would be found at either end of the rope. Above all, this convinced me that Camus, Sartre, and the lot were blowhards. Never buy from the salesman who assures that anyone who disagrees with his sales pitch is stupid or insane. I am sure that they are patting themselves on the back for the bravery of saying that everyone else is wrong, but I remain unconvinced.
In truth, I love connections, coincidences, and unseen forces. James Burke recently spoke at BYU and I have long been fascinated by his ideas. I believe that there is magic in the world, a mystery beyond all our understanding. Coincidence is reflective of this. May we all have the humility to admit, as in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. This is my prayer today.