Pope Francis, Kim Davis and Occam’s Razor


Pope Francis, photographer unknown

Pope Francis, photographer unknown

Photo by Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Photo by Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis reportedly met with scofflaw Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who achieved her 15 minutes of fame by refusing to discharge her duties. Allegedly because her religious beliefs required her to discriminate against gays. Davis surprised folks by announcing she had been granted a 15 minute private audience with Pope Francis. She claimed he had blessed her, given her a rosary and told her to “be strong.”

Such a meeting and such an action was very surprising. It was inconsistent with Pope Francis’s message of inclusiveness, his comments before his visit and his comments during his visit. It would be signal from a pontiff who works to be politically neutral that he was aligning himself with one side in a hot-button national political debate. And it would be a serious distraction from Pope Francis’s main messages during his American visit on poverty, immigration, the environment and inequality.

After some mixed signals from both the U.S. papal nuncio and the Vatican, we’re hearing a significantly different version of events from the Pope. Davis, the Vatican says, was one of “several dozen” guests. Pope Francis, the Vatican says, was unaware of Ms. Davis’s controversial status. Some Vatican commentators suggest Ms. Davis may even have been slipped in by opponents of the Pope’s messages, that she was a “ringer”. It is clear that Pope Francis had a semi-private meeting with a former student of Pope Francis, Yayo Grassi, who said he had been granted a meeting with the pope. Mr. Grassi is an openly gay man living in Washington, and he said he had been accompanied by his partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus, as well as four friends.

So who do you believe? Kim Davis or Pope Francis?

In one sense, the question sort of answers itself, at least for WC, even without resort to papal infallibility. Let’s apply Occam’s Razor to the question.1 First, remember what Occam’s Razor is.

Among competing hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of differences in predictive ability—the fewer assumptions that are made, the better.

One hypothesis is that we believe Pope Francis: a private meeting did not occur, he did not know who Davis was and conferred no special blessing on her. The Pope’s position is consistent with everything else he did, said and intended on his visit here. Pope Francis has an international reputation for truth and candor.

The other hypothesis is that Kim Davis is telling the truth. That requires us to assume Pope Francis sabotaged his own mission, that he admires Davis so much that he would jeopardize the purpose of his visit, and that everyone associated with Vatican who denies a private meeting between the Pope and Davis occurred is lying. We are also required to believe that a person who has lied – Davis broke a solemn oath to uphold and defend the laws of the United States and Kentucky when she refused to follow the court mandates – is this time telling the truth.

Occam’s Razor requires we conclude that this self-aggrandizing woman is lying again. Or at least lying by omission. She says she met with the Pope. Yes, but with a couple dozen other people present. She spent 15 minutes with him. Yes, but with another couple of dozen people. He told her to “stay strong.” Yes, he said it to the other couple of dozen people.

She’s like the Quitter; if the media spotlight isn’t on her she has to do something to get the public’s attention. It’s always, always about Kim Davis. WC extends his sympathies to the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, who are ill-served by this person.


  1. Technically, some would argue we are misapplying Occam’s Razor, which they say is properly reserved only for philosophers who argue in opposition to metaphysical theories that involve an allegedly “superfluous ontological apparatus.” Why should philosophers have all the fun? 
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8 thoughts on “Pope Francis, Kim Davis and Occam’s Razor

  1. WC

    It’s Kim Davis, not Linda. Fire and brimstone will rain down upon you from the Linda Davises of the world. Quick…..take cover !!

    Check the news today regarding the reports of his declarations at the opening of the synod on the family in Rome. He may have gay friends and ex-students whom he welcomes, but that remains a matter of personal conduct while the official conduct lends itself to her attempt to characterize his intention and purpose. Yes, he’s personally welcoming but that’s as far as it goes.

    Paul Eaglin

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