Nothing is Proven When Occam’s Razor Cuts Up the World

Nothing is Proven When Occam’s Razor Cuts Up the World May 17, 2016

By self-created (Moscarlop) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Moscarlop [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
You’re wrong – because Occam’s Razor says you are wrong!

Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate.

Do not multiply entities without necessity.

How often is it I find someone saying this, thinking they have made their point and won a debate by it.

A common way this principle is used by positivists is to use it to suggest why they believe God does not exist: The world exists, and it seems to be working with its own rules and standards, with its own principles. That is, science explains how the world works. God is not found in the natural order of things. Therefore, God does not exist, because his existence is shown to be unnecessary.

But it is also common for theists to use it as well. After all, William of Occam, whose name has been unnecessarily added to the principle, was a theist (the principle existed before him, and was named long after him, so William himself really is an unnecessary addition to its foundation). A way some theists employ it is to suggest that creation – all of it — was made in an instant. That is, God being omnipotent would not need the addition of extra days to establish any principle form within creation, and so to suggest he created the world over a length of time is to create unnecessary entities (days) for creation. Why, then, did Genesis seem to suggest otherwise? Because it was what was best understood by the primitive audience; it was not meant to be seen as a literal presentation of how God created the world, but to give to the reader a way to understand how things logically relate to each other. To add extra days to creation, to see it anything other than an instantaneous creation, is unnecessary unless God is not omnipotent. But he is omnipotent. Therefore, Occam’s Razor would suggest everything was created at once. From this follows arguments using Occam’s Razor to denounce many claims coming from science, such as the theory of evolution. Evolution multiplies entities without necessity – each species can be made directly by God. Scientists are wrong because they needlessly make the formation of the world and the beings within it more complex than is necessary. The direct action of God is enough, anything more than that, will be shown to fall into error by Occam’s Razor and so should be dismissed.

Occam’s Razor, therefore, can be used by both atheistic positivists and metaphysical theists to reject each other’s claims. Occam’s Razor is a tool which everyone can use to slice up and dice up each other’s arguments. Everyone will be able to find a way to suggest the other fails to meet the criteria presented by Occam’s Razor. Nothing, in the end, then can be proven because all arguments will be cut up and turn to nothing.

How is this possible?

Because Occam’s Razor is not an objective tool at all. It is a highly subjective device. That is, when entities are really being multiplied beyond necessity is not so easy to determine. What does it even mean “without necessity?” Different answers will be developed by people with different metaphysical and philosophical presuppositions. It is, in reality, a bluff, because when pushed, those who argue that their model of the world is simpler than the other, will find that the more they explore the ramifications of their model and modify it according to the world as it is before them, the more complex their model will become, leading to someone else denying it for being too complex, using Occam’s Razor to denounce what they have presented.

We like nice, simple, pact answers. We seek them out. They are efficient, and we like efficiency. Redundancy is inefficient. Multiplying entities, subjects and objects in the world, in order to explain the world, seems, and feels inefficient. New philosophical schools come out of the desire to refine older ideas, to simplify them.

But the fact is, no matter how simple we would like the world to be, it is not simple. Indeed, we are simple in relation to it. The world and what is in it is a complex matrix of entities, a matrix which transcends our ability to actually comprehend. The objects in it transcend our ability to enumerate. And if we add to the world subjects with various levels of freedom, that is if we find subjects with free will, then how they act is by definition not limited to necessity and so placing them into models of the world will reflect the complexity such freedom brings. Nonetheless, we will do what we can and try to establish models of the world which takes into account all that we know of it, and in doing so, we do gain access to the world through them. But no model created by a limited, contingent being will be able to explore and present the world as it is in its absolute form. The truth transcends all forms of modeling. And so the form which we use to conventionally represent the truth at best will point to it and yet will require all kinds of complexity despite our desire for simplicity.

Because we tend to like things simple, especially in the work which we do, that is, because we like things to be efficient, Occam’s Razor shows itself to be valuable, reminding us not to add to our work what is not necessary and inefficient. As pragmatic advice, Occam’s Razor is shown to work. We can improve our output if we remove unnecessary, inefficient steps from our activity. It is because many find Occam’s Razor to be a useful tool that they end up thinking its principles hold universally. But, again, all we need to do is explore the world beyond our models, and we find it is not so simple as Occam’s Razor would suggest. C.S. Lewis is right when he said:

After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of-all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain-and, of course, you find that what we call “seeing a table” lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of.[1]

Continuing his common sense presentation, Lewis hits it on the nail when he explained:

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies-these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.[2]

When trying to use Occam’s Razor to create a model of the world, we end up over-simplifying the world itself. It becomes something which a limited, contingent being might suppose, and yet that is exactly what the world cannot be. It is greater than us, and so, in that fashion, cannot be comprehend by us – it comprehends us. What Occam’s Razor shows us the prejudices and presuppositions of the one who employs it – and so in the end, instead of offering a conclusive, logical argument, it only establishes ways someone can argue against the one who wields the razor. Indeed, if the user is not too careful, they will create logical inconsistencies in their arguments and end up destroying their own argument by the tool they use!

In the end, when we try to delineate the world, and why things happen as they do, whether or not we follow positivism or some metaphysical explanation, our explanations will end up complex and violate some other person’s notion of “necessity.” There could, and will often be good reasons for such violation. For example, redundancy in nature should show us how what is not necessary can be useful ad in and through such use, establish a diversity of unnecessary entities. And that is what we find with the world at large: it is full of entities which are not necessary, but which reasons for their being can be found. This is why it is also troublesome to argue based upon necessity. Even if we can find objective criteria by which we can judge what is “necessary” or not, the world and what is in it does not always follow the ugly logic of strict, cold necessity. When we see the word and experience it outside of the ideas in our head, we find it is, after all, too beautiful for all that.


 

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Company, 1965), 46.

[2] Ibid., 47-8.

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