Project Overview

This project is funded by the John Templeton Foundation and explores the concept of 'explaining away' both theoretically and in terms of its relevance to the relationship between Science and Religion. The project runs from June, 2013 to May, 2015.

To take a simple example, suppose that my car will not start and two possible explanations spring to mind: a flat battery and an engine problem. When I discover that the battery is flat, this counts against the alternative explanation that there is an engine problem. The flat battery is said to have explained away the evidence for an engine problem. The reason the flat battery counts against the engine problem is not because of an incompatibility between the two explanations; it is certainly possible that the battery is flat and there is an engine problem. Instead it occurs because there is no need to infer two explanations when one will do. Explaining away provides an instance of Occam’s razor.

While the above example is a straightforward case of explaining away, it is important to note that explaining away does not always occur when there are two possible explanations. In some cases the explanations can mutually enhance each other. The goal of this project is to explore the concept of explaining away using probability theory as well as investigating explaining away in social groups using mathematical models and complex networks. As such the project is very interdisciplinary in nature as it relates to artificial intelligence, formal epistemology / philosophy of science, mathematical modelling and complex networks as well as the interaction between science and religion.

A futher aspect of the project is to raise awareness to a lay audience that scientific explanations need not undermine religious explanations. This means that in addition to academic publications and an interdisciplinary workshop, the project will also involve an event for interested lay people and publication of popular articles.