A religious friend of mine and I were discussing the concept of Occam's Razor, and he said that when applied to faith, the 'easiest' answer would be to believe. I disagree. When faced with the mysteries of the universe that science has not yet uncovered, or figured out entirely...how would you apply Occam's Razor? My friend as well as many religious people, would suggest the 'god of the gaps' did it. 

I don't of course believe that is the easiest answer, but it by far is the laziest. lol What are your thoughts?

Can Occam's Razor be applied to matters dealing with faith? 

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This principal can be used in so many ways.Natural theology is impossible according to Occam. All we know about the god of Abraham is founded upon scriptural revelation. Therefore, the foundation of all theology is faith. Now let's apply parsimony to faith. This will negate any idea of "goddidit."

Try that one on your friends. What is happening here is that they are wanting to believe and apply the razor with that idea in mind.

I agree Michael, and some do believe that the path of least resistance means that OR is being exercised, and the two are not synonymous. lol Thanks for your thoughts.

Yes Occam's Razor can be applied to matters of faith Deidre. Occam basically stated that of two competing proposals the one with the least assumptions is the wisest choice. If we take this as our guide, and notice that the whole edifice of religious belief is based on assumption, I think we can safely take the natural proposition as being the wisest choice.

The god of the gaps argument appears almost as an embarrassment for theology. Their god in this context has the status of a universal odd job man, doing the bits and pieces that nature condescended to leave unfinished.

I don't think we really need Occam's razor to figure out the likelihood of the unknowns in the Universe being intelligently designed or naturally evolved. Everything, that has historically been attributed to miraculous handiwork,(and that means EVERYTHING) has been shown to be a work of nature. If every discovery so far has been found to have a natural cause, then it seems reasonable to assume that miracles are simply not needed. 

Thanks Gerald, excellent insight! My other thought is...the easiest answer is 'I don't know.' Science doesn't know everything of course, so why attach a deity as the answer to those mysteries. 

Here's how I view Occam's razor in regard to religion.

We say the universe poofed into existence out of nothing.

Religionists say an invisible grouchy old white guy in the sky who always was and always will be and likes human sacrifice said some magic words and MADE everything poof into existence out of nothing, and then wrote a book about it. Then he sired a child via a virgin birth to help market the second section of his book.

Which is the simpler and more likely description?

@ Bertold - lmao!! I love it. I may use this during my next great debate. :)

Certainly Occam's razor can be applied to religion, especially if you go back to its original formulation by Occam: pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate—entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. It is usually stated now as the simplest explanation is the best, but in its original form the simplest explanation called for the fewest entities. In other words it referred to ontological parsimony, to not hypothesizing a new and unnecessary entity to account for things we do not understand. The medieval hierarchy of angels—three hosts of three choirs each—is a good place to apply Occam. 

The believer's argument that it is parsimonious to accept the existence of a creator over the complexities of evolution appears formidable until you realize that a creator's existence explains nothing at all. It does not tell us how flora and fauna evolved in detail. Instead it posits the existence of an unseen world the interaction of which with our visible universe is not specified at all.

The problem with the "goddidit" argument is that it describes product without process. No great surprise, it treats the process as though it were magical. In an age where science can elucidate processes, whether simple or complex, such supposed explanations are woefully insufficient.


A good example of the ability to explain in detail—to provide process along with product—is offered by gene duplication. For a long time believers argued against evolution using the claim that DNA could not acquire new "information" but then gene duplication was discovered as an important part of the evolutionary process. It is a fruitful source of innovation and the duplicated genes can assume new functions.

That's excellent, Dr. Clark. It gives no valid explanation at all, so true. The easiest explanation still needs to be valid and make sense for everyone observing. I really like how you worded this. I guess I questioned using Occam's Razor with religion because faith/beliefs/spirituality/religion are all not based on anything factual or objectively true. It's all based on experiences and feelings of the believer, which those should not come into play when using Occam's Razor.

An atheist believes in the universe.  A theist believes in the universe and a "God."  Since beliefs should be justified, the burden of proof lies on the theist to support this extra belief in God.  Since, God has no explanatory or predictive power, Occam's razor suggests that it is more likely to be correct that God does not exist than that s/he does.

The idea behind Occam's razor is that simpler theories are more testable and thus preferable. Religion is certainly not testable. It is far simpler to say that Jesus did not rise from the dead, or ambulate across water, than to explain how miracles work.

Your friend probably thinks it can be applied to religion since Ockham was a theologian, as well as a philosopher and many other things. It that time period it was not unusual for the greatest thinkers to have also been religious.




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