Occam’s (Ockham’s) Razor
Many skeptics maintain that no matter how inconceivable or inadequate a natural explanation may seem, a naturalexplanation is always preferable to a supernatural one.
Ockham’s Razor aka Occam’s Razor is a principle of reasoning on which skeptics often rely in proposing naturalexplanations are always simpler and, therefore, preferable to supernatural explanations. More precisely, the principle states simpler theories are preferable to more complicated theories unless reason demands that simplicity give way to greater explanatory power.
This article explores how Christian apologists respond when skeptics rely on Ockham’s Razor to argue against God’s existence, Jesus’ resurrection and other Christian beliefs.
Isn’t it Always More Rational to Believe a Natural
Explanation Rather than a Supernatural Explanation?
Ockham’s Razor aka Occam’s Razor is named after the medieval theologian and philosopher William of Ockham (1287-1347) who frequently relied on the principle in his writings.
The principle of Ockham’s Razor assumes the elimination of unnecessary causes will more likely to lead to the correct explanation. Simply put, the principle states that causes should not be multiplied beyond their necessity.
Christian apologists reject the proposition that natural explanations are always preferable to supernatural explanations and raise the following points when skeptics rely on the principal of Ockham’s Razor to support naturalistic arguments:
Point No. 1: Ockham’s Razor only eliminates a supernatural explanation if an adequate natural explanation is offered skip to
- Point No. 2: Incorrect simple explanations are never preferable to more complex yet correct explanations skip to
Ockham’s Razor Only Eliminates a Supernatural
Explanation if an Adequate Natural Explanation is Offered
As maintained by Christian apologists, Naturalists have failed to offer adequate natural explanations with respect to the following:
Why something exists rather than nothing;
How anything, much less something as complex as the universe, could come out of nothing (no space, no time, no energy, no matter);
How life could have come from non-life;
What caused the universe (which has not always existed) to come into existence,
Why the universe contains hundreds of exquisitely fine-tuned design features which make life in the universe possible;
Why objective morality exists;
Why all men have an innate sense of significance, meaning and purpose if no significance, meaning and purpose exists as is the case if atheism is true.
Likewise, Christian apologists maintain no natural explanation has been offered that adequately explains all of the relevant historically documented evidence surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.
In the view of Christian apologists, since the atheistic worldview does not provide an adequate (much less a rationally compelling explanation for such things), it is unreasonable to rule out the workings of a supernatural being (like the God of the Bible) whose attributes are consistent with what logic and science teach to be true about the cause of the universe (more>>).
Moreover, not only is God’s existence consistent with what logic and science teach to be true about the cause of the universe, God’s existence adequately explains why the universe exists, how life came into being, why objective morality exists and why men have an innate sense of significance, meaning and purpose. Additionally, it is the only explanation that adequately explains all the historically documented evidence surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.
Incorrect Simple Explanations Are Never
Preferable to More Complex Yet Correct Explanations
While it is true that simpler explanations are generally preferable to more complex explanations, it is also true that incorrect simple explanations are never preferable to more complex but correct explanations.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler — Albert Einstein
In the view of Christian apologists and philosophers, whereas no naturalistic explanation has proven to be adequate, God’s existence does adequately explain all of man’s important “why” questions: why the universe exists, why the universe exhibits fine-tuned design, why objective morality exists, why men intuitively believe their lives have meaning, value and purpose, etc. God’s existence also adequately explains the totality of the historical record concerning Jesus’ resurrection.
Consequently, Christian apologists and philosophers maintain God’s existence is the simplest adequate explanation.
Although some skeptics, such as atheist Dr. Peter Adkins, have been quick to allege that anyone who believes in the existence of God is an intellectual simpleton not willing to do the hard work of looking for an adequate naturalexplanation, the allegation is certainly unfounded. Many well-known, hardworking and respected philosophers, thinkers and scientists have come to believe God exists (e.g., Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, etc.)
While not professing a belief in God, other well-known and respected thinkers and scientists, have admitted the facts scientists have discovered about the universe reasonably imply something supernatural. Consider the following statement by Stephen Hawking (a well-known theoretical physicist whose contributions to science include space-timetheorems of general relativity):
The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous…. I think clearly there are religious implications whenever you start to discuss the origins of the universe — Stephen Hawking
[Stephen Hawking, quoted in Fred Hereen, Show Me God: What the Message from Space is Telling Us about God, Wonders that Witness, vol. 1, pg. 186 (Wheeling, Ill.: Searchlight Publications, 1995)]
Atheist, Richard Lewontin (who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Harvard University, a master’s degree in mathematical statistics and a doctorate in zoology from Columbia) has candidly admitted atheist scientists are committed to natural explanations not because they are the most persuasive explanations, but because of a prejudice against anything other than a natural explanation:
“Our [referring to naturalists] willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spiteof the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. (Italics in original; bolding added) [Richard Lewontin, Review of Carl Sagan’s ‘The Demon-Haunted World’, in New York Review of Books, Jan. 9, 1997, pg. 31]
Many Christian apologists and philosophers contend that skeptics who insist atheism is preferable to theism because it requires one less entity (i.e., God), demonstrate a misunderstanding of the principle of Ockham’s Razor.
Ockham’s Razor does not say that simpler theories are always preferable to more complicated theories. This is because the principle recognizes that explanatory power can never be sacrificed on the altar of simplicity. Ockham’s Razor only advises against postulating more causes than are necessary to explain a particular effect. Because reality is not always simple, a more complex theory may be necessary.
As contended by Christian apologists, because naturalists have failed to provide adequate explanations for many of life’s important questions and because there are good reasons to believe God exists, it is not only unfair for skeptics to claim Christians are intellectual simpletons, but it is intellectually dishonest to write off belief in the God of the Bible as mere foolishness as many outspoken atheists on college campuses are passionately driven to do.
Based on the following, Christian apologists maintain there is no compelling reason why belief in the God of the Bible is not a rational belief, if not the most rational belief possible:
The God described in the Bible has the attributes which logic and science teach to be true about the cause of the universe (more>>),
God’s existence best explains all of the following:
Why anything exists rather than nothing
The cause of the universe coming into existence (more>>)
All the mind-boggling, just-right design features scientists have discovered exist throughout the universe which make it possible for life to exist in the universe (more>>)
The existence of objective morality and
Man’s search for, and innate belief in, meaning, purpose and significance.
Additionally, God’s supernatural resurrection of Jesus is the only explanation that adequately accounts for all of the historically documented evidence surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (more>>)
Paul argues in the Book of Romans that men have no good excuse for not believing God exists and those who do not believe are subject to God’s righteous wrath because God has provided men with clear evidence of his existence and his existence has been plainly understood by them.
According to Romans 1, the reason why men do not believe in God is simply because they don’t want to believe so they suppress the truth which eventually causes their thinking to become futile and their hearts darkened:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.”
John 3:19 says that men love the darkness more than they love the light. Men suppress what they intuitively know about God because they want to live their lives the way they see fit without worrying they will be ultimately held accountable by an omniscient, sovereign, holy and righteous God. When men choose to suppress the truth and exchange the truth about God for a lie, God eventually turns them over to their foolish thinking — thinking that says something can come from nothing, that life can come from non-life, that all the fine-tuned design observed throughout the universe is only an illusion, that there really is no such thing as “good and evil” or “right and wrong” and that there is ultimately no significance, meaning or purpose to any person’s life.
The good news presented in Scripture is that every person’s life has great value, meaning and purpose and those who choose to hold onto the truth and really want to know God can know him in a very real and personal way through his son, Jesus Christ (more>>).
In the biblical worldview, men can either enter into a loving relationship with God and submit to his sovereign authority or they can continue to live their lives in rebellion against God’s authority.
In the biblical worldview, men are free to carry out the desires of their flesh and either choose to believe God doesn’t exist (so there is no just, holy and righteous God to hold them accountable) or, they can choose to believe that if God does exist, he can and will negotiate away his perfect justice, holiness and righteousness and give them a “free pass.”
This is what Jesus said in John 3:16-20 (NLT):
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: Nov. 13, 2013 / Last Updated: January 18, 2015
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision(Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook; New Edition, 2010)
Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God(Navpress; 2 edition, 1995)
Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists(Zondervan, 2008)
IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING
Slideshow Photo: Image of Occam’s Razor was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
William of Ockham: This image is a photograph taken of a stained glass window in a church located in the County of Surrey in southeast England. Ockham is a small village located within the county of Surrey. This image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.