Update: I’ve done a video version of this post on my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/anselmhart
Occam’s razor is
“a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness used in logic and problem-solving. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected”. [Wikipedia]
Richard Dawkins applies Occam’s razor in the “central argument” [Ch.4, p.157] of his book, The God Delusion:
“The key difference between the genuinely extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability. The multiverse, for all that it is extravagant, is simple. God, or any intelligent, decision-taking, calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain.” [Ch.4, p.147]
Dawkins goes on, further down the page, to talk about the theologian Richard Swinburne. Dawkins disagrees with Swinburne’s views, but before explaining why, Dawkins states that
“He begins by showing that his heart is in the right place by convincingly demonstrating why we should always prefer the simplest hypothesis that fits the facts“. [Ch.4, p.147]
I quote these mainly to show that Richard Dawkins must think that Occam’s razor is a sensible principle to use, as the central argument of his book relies on it in stating that the multiverse hypothesis (or other such naturalistic explanation) should be preferred over the so-called God hypothesis.
Now, let’s see what Dawkins has to say about the life we see on this planet.
On page 1 of his book, The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins wrote:
“Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose”.
In The God Delusion, he states that:
“We live on a planet where we are surrounded by perhaps ten million species, each one of which independently displays a powerful illusion of apparent design“. [Ch.4, p.139]
In the summary of the central argument of this book he states that:
“The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself”. [Ch.4, p.157]
Of course, he doesn’t go on to do this, but what happens if we apply Occam’s razor to the situation that life, in Dawkins words, gives the appearance of having been designed for a purpose? What is the simplest hypothesis that fits the fact that life gives the appearance of having been designed for a purpose? Surely it is that life actually has been designed for a purpose! Any other hypothesis must be more complex than this as it would have to take on the extra task of explaining why the appearance of design is deceptive. The so-called God hypothesis doesn’t have to do this as it automatically fits with the fact and so is inherently the most simple.
1. Occam’s razor is a sensible principle to use (as Dawkins acknowledges).
2. Life looks designed (as Dawkins acknowledges).
3. The simplest explanation that fits the fact that life looks designed is “because it was designed”.
4. Applying Occam’s razor to the question of why life looks designed, the explanation “because it was designed” should be preferred.
In arguing against God’s existence, Dawkins has to abandon this application of Occam’s razor and instead choose a more complex explanation for the apparent design in life. He can do that if he wants to, but if he’s going to abandon Occam’s razor here, why does he insist on its use in the central argument of his book? If Occam’s razor is unreliable, why trust his main argument? Furthermore, why does he so often dismiss the “God hypothesis” as ridiculous when it is clearly at least a reasonable explanation, as shown.
Note that my use of Occam’s razor in no way relies upon a knowledge of who the designer is or how the designer came to be. That’s a completely separate issue to the question of whether there was a designer or not. To use the traditional watch analogy, if I find a watch on the ground, the simplest explanation of the existence of the watch is that it was made by a watchmaker. I may have no idea about who made the watch or where the watchmaker came from, but that doesn’t affect the situation that my simple “watchmaker” solution is still the best. Using Richard Dawkins’ reasoning, he would have to say about my hypothesis regarding the watch I found: “you’ve just made the situation more complicated without explaining anything – first you had to explain how a watch came to exist, now you have to explain how a watchmaker came to exist! Watchmakers are even more complex than watches so you’ve gone backwards!” He might even throw in a “who made the watchmaker?” for good measure. These may be interesting questions to ask, but even if I have no idea about the answers to these questions, they don’t do anything to alter the situation that the best explanation for the existence of the watch is still the simplest explanation – that it was made by a watchmaker.
Back to the God hypothesis, as a Christian I can also answer the extra questions raised in the watch example above, because the Bible makes it clear that God is eternal and therefore he requires no designer himself. Because he has always existed, the question of how he came to exist doesn’t arise. Simple.