William of Occam is the source for one of the most often quoted aphorisms used to argue against the existence of God. William was an Englishman and arguably one of the most influential philosophers of the 14th century. He was also, ironically, a Franciscan monk and theologian.
Occam is the great-grandaddy of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) by virtue of his assertion that: Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate [Plurality must never be posited without necessity] (from Sentences of Peter Lombard)
This has come down to us in its most common form as: Entia/Essentia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. [Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.]
But is the Razor an argument against the existence of God? William of Occam apparently didn’t think so. And though he was unafraid to argue vehemently against the authority of the Pope and the church, he was by no means an atheist.
As I pondered weak and weary over a over many a quaint and curious postulate of my atheist confreres, I considered the application of Occam’s Razor to faith and physics. I realized as I looked at the idea of an Intelligence in the Universe that, far from multiplying entities, a belief in God minimized them.
Consider, for example, Krishna’s description of the Cyclic Universe now favored by many physicists: “…the vast day of Brahma, the Lord of Creation, ever lasts a thousand ages; and … his night lasts a thousand ages… When that day comes, all the visible creation arises from the Invisible; and all creation disappears into the Invisible when the night of darkness comes.” Bhagavad Gita 8:17, 18
Scientists also noticed that the observable mass in the Universe (I use the term loosely because obviously it’s not all observable from where we sit) could not account for the total mass. Scientists posited the existence of an entity they called dark matter to explain this. This dark matter was the invisible source of the gravity, or attractive forces that were holding the Universe together. Scientists also had to posit a particle that dark matter was composed of. They settled on WIMPs. This is an acronym, not a taunt. It stands for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. Like the dark matter they comprise, they cannot be detected directly.
The Universe exploded “from the Invisible” billions of years ago and, by the laws of physics, should have slowed down. In fact, it did slow down. Then it speeded up again. Dark matter could not be held accountable for this reckless behavior on the part of the Universe, so scientists posited the existence of a repulsive force they called dark energy. They have also postulated something called quintessence to cover the gaps left by the previous postulates. The term “quintessence” is a nod to the concept of aether (a substance that fills the universe but cannot be seen or measured) which was considered in the 19th century, but which has since fallen out of favor. Quintessence refers to a theoretical fifth element. Oh, I forgot about gravity (silly really, since I’m in a constant state of warfare with it). This entity (to use Occam’s terminology) must be composed of something, so scientists have posited that it is composed of particles called gravitons. Other possibilities that might help explain the behavior of the Universe are MACHOs (MAssive Compact Halo Objects) which hypothetically occur in dark matter halos.
Let’s pause for an entity count. On one side we have “God” (aka, the Invisible). On the other we have dark matter, WIMPs, quintessence, dark energy, gravitons, dark matter halos and MACHOs. That’s one entity to seven. And we have yet to answer any questions about where these hypothetical physical entities have come from or why they operate as they do. For every entity science proposes to solve one problem (mass of the Universe, say) they then must propose another to explain the previous one and to solve problems its existence causes.
At the end of this process, we are seeking an answer to the question of how these things happened randomly, accidentally, and without design and yet sprang forth from the Big Bang (or the Invisible) with a set of smoothly functioning laws for us to discover.
I am not, by the way, arguing against science or scientists. I am fascinated by their work. I hang on their every discovery. I think they’re doing great things for humankind in exploring our physical universe. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they’re doing God’s work. One of our older scriptures—the 19th Psalm of David—says that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.Yet their measuring line goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” If that is not an invitation to do science, I don’t know what is.
I’m not proposing that we should ever mistake scripture for scientific documentation. In fact, I think both believers and atheists are equally in error when they do so. What I am proposing is that Occam’s Razor in no way cuts God out of the Universe. In fact, I find it (as I suspect William Occam did) a good argument FOR God’s existence. I’m further proposing that to use the Razor to support scientism (as opposed to using it as a cautionary rule within a scientific context) is to misapply it.
Physicist Hong Sheng Zhao recently proposed that dark matter and dark energy might be “two faces of the same coin.” Friar William would no doubt think he was on the right track to cut down on the number of entities in the scenario. If we combine the physicists’ quintessence with Krishna’s Invisible, the good friar might even crack a smile.
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