Atheists often appeal to Occam’s Razor when debating Christians. Occam’s Razor is a philosophical principle that argues we should accept a solution to a problem that requires the least amount of assumptions. To be fair, not all atheists appeal to Occam’s Razor. The atheist fundies that think highly of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens are normally the ones who will invoke this principle. The purpose of Occam’s is to alleviate in any unnecessary causes or entities from an explanation of an effect.
There are, however, atheists who attempt to use this principle when making an argument. For instance, they will argue that it is unnecessary to posit a god who created the universe because it assumes less to say that the universe is uncreated. Of course, the notion that God created the universe involves no more assumptions than it does to say the universe is uncreated. 1
Why Occam’s Razor is Flawed
Nevertheless, Occam’s Razor’s standing in the history of philosophical discourse will depend on its merits. When having a philosophical conversation, the goal is often to find out which competing idea is true. In order to demonstrate that a proposition is true, you must have a conclusion that necessarily follows given the truth of what you are arguing. Many fundie atheists will treat Occam’s Razor as if it is some incontestable logical principle. Occam’s Razor, however, can never be a logical principle. Logic in this article is defined as the science of necessary inference. In the case of Occam’s Razor, it could only be a logical principle if its implementation guaranteed the truth of the conclusion.There is no way to demonstrate that the competing idea with the least amount of assumptions would be the true idea. 2 This is because Occam’s Razor is void of any logical form. If there is no discernible logical form to a principle, it is not a logical principle, and therefore, the Christian is not obligated to accept it.
The previous objection is a bit abstract so I will give a more practical example. Phillip Ball, an editor of Nature’s Magazine, has argued against Occam’s Razor by pointing out that the solutions to problems in science has historically been the most elegant ones. 3 He also argues that Occam’s Razor’s role in the history of science is embellished and gives a few examples. He points out that the examples (such as Copernicus’s heliocentric model being replaced by Johannes Kepler’s model) given from the history of science by proponents of Occam’s Razor don’t take into account that the two competing theories that they were comparing were dealing with different datasets, and therefore, Occam’s Razor was not applicable to that scenario. In order for Occam’s Razor to be applicable in scientific inquiry, the datasets for both theories must be the same. Even within an empirical context, Occam’s Razor fails to establish itself as a set-in-stone philosophical principle.
Both in logic and science, Occam’s Razor is not quite as potent as some atheists would like you to believe. In logic, Occam’s Razor cannot be a principle because it is void of a logical form. In science, Occam’s Razor has played very little part in the progression of science and when one looks at the history of science, superseding theories rarely use the same data sets as the theory it is replacing thereby making Occam’s Razor irrelevant. At this point, we can conclude that Occam’s Razor is nothing more than an unsubstantiated assertion.
1. See this article on the question, “Who Created God?” for the answer to this objection.