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Occam's Razor and God

Updated on April 11, 2019
jasonlpetersen profile image

I've been studying philosophy since 2011, and I am currently studying at the International Miracle Institute in Pensacola, FL.

What is Occam's Razor?

Occam's Razor is a principle that posits that simpler solutions are more likely to be true than complex solutions. In this article, this principle's application to religious matters will be addressed. William of Ockham (1280-1349 A.D.) is the one who introduced this principle to humanity. 1

Who is William of Ockham?

William of Ockham was a friar in the Catholic church, and he was a contemporary (and opponent) of Thomas Aquinas, and he was very fond of the Greek philosopher Aristotle's views. Ockham adhered to a realist variation of empiricism, and his thinking was predicated upon simplicity. Ockham believed that the most simple explanation is most likely to be the correct explanation.

Occam's Razor and God

Today, many atheists use Occam's Razor as an argument against belief in God. In Occam's Razor, simplicity is defined as involving less speculation.2 It is ironic that a principle that was introduced by a man who believed in God would be used as an argument against God. There is, of course, the possibility that others may understand the implications of Ockham's thought as it pertains to God better than Ockham did, but it is unlikely.

Recall that the principle of simplicity involves having less speculation. What then, would be more speculative? The notion that a supreme being, God, created everything and has a will that always comes to pass (Genesis 1:1, Acts 17:32, Psalm 115:3) or that there is a collection of natural causes that have lead up to the events of today? God's decree is eternal, and therefore, has no beginning or end. Every event in this world is the product of God's eternal decree (Romans 8:28, Lamentations 3:35-37). What then, requires the least amount of speculation? Clearly, it is not the notion that there are a bunch of natural causes that lead to this point of time, after all, we do not even know what all of the causes are, whereas we know that God's eternal decree has brought all things past, present, and future, to pass.

This puts the atheist who applies Occam's Razor to God in an awkward position. They can either deny Occam's Razor (thus invalidating their objection to God) or they can assert that multiple causes, which they do not know about, resulted in everything that is happening at this point in time. Clearly, attributing effects to unknown causes is as speculative as one can get, in particular, when it is approximately 13.7 billion years worth of causes.

Issues with Occam's Razor

Despite my position that Occam's Razor is more of a problem for atheists than it is a help to atheists, there are some issues with building a philosophical system on the basis of Occam's Razor, in particular, when Occam's epistemology is taken into consideration.

First, Occam's Razor is inductive in its reasoning. In inductive reasoning, the truth of the premises does not guarantee the truth of the conclusion. Therefore, at best, any conclusion drawn as a result of Occam's Razor can be considered tentative opinion because the conclusion can be wrong. Attempting to build a theory of knowledge off of this principle necessarily leads to the conclusion that nothing can be known at all if Occam's Razor cannot definitively distinguish a true proposition from a false proposition.

Second, William of Ockham was an empiricist and he was a direct realist. He believed there are real objects that are perceived by our mind. This is an indemonstrable claim because one cannot go outside of the mind that perceives to verify the realness of objects that are perceived. Empiricists start with sensory perception, and because of this, it is impossible for the empiricist to leave the realm of perception.

Third, it would seem that Occam's Razor is not even compatible with his epistemology, for how can an abstract concept such as simplicity be perceived if it is not detectable by any of the five senses? Moreover, how can perceptions even be inferred from sensory data if there is no rule of inference in logic that allows for a proposition to be inferred from a non-propositional source such as sensory experience?


An Inadequate Cliche

I do not find Occam's Razor to be an attractive principle at all. The name may sound cool, and perhaps those who do not know of its issues may hear the term and think that the person who brought up the principle sounds smart. As far as I am concerned, Occam's Razor is wrought with problems, and the principle is given more weight in philosophical discourse than it deserves. As far as I am concerned, Occam's Razor is nothing but an inadequate cliche.

References

1. Kaye, S. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.iep.utm.edu/ockham/

2. Occam's razor. (2018, December 28). Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor

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