Friday, 12 December 2008
"One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything."
This is one of the various translations for Occam's famous saying. The more familiar phrasing that one usually sees is that the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation. What it means is that one should eliminate as many assumptions as possible in order to reach the best explanation. If two competing hypotheses are trying to explain the same phenomenon, and both work equally well, the one that has the least assumptions behind it would be preferred. Also, the one that adds the least amount of entities would be preferred, and adding complexity to the problem is not preferred.
It's ironic, then, that Occam was a friar, because his very simple argument is not at all beneficial to theism. Some theists claim that Occam's Razor is supportive of their faith, that evolution and science are complex and that positing a god is the more simple route, and therefore preferred. This is a gross misunderstanding of the idea, however, in that positing a new layer that is more complex than any other is not the preferred explanation for anything, and god is the most complex, unnecessary layer that one can add. (Note, I've also seen theists claim that goddidit seems like the simplest explanation to them, so therefore they use Occam's Razor to affirm their belief, but this falls into the same problem as above, and also adds an extra layer of subjective assumptions and hence is an even worse formulation.)