Occam’s Razor

Copyright 2015 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.02.10

Occam’s Razor is a problem-solving principle, simply stated:
“Other things being equal, simpler explanations are generally better than more complex ones.”


Among competing hypotheses that fit the facts, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.
The principle isn’t meant to say which hypothesis is true/false, but which one to examine first. A simpler hypothesis is easier to disprove.

An important phrase to note is “fit the facts”. If one hypothesis, however simple, does not fit the facts or explain the observed phenomena, then it can be tossed straightaway.

For example, if you press the power button on your computer and nothing happens, you could assume that someone sneaked into your house and replaced your computer with a seemingly identical but non-working version. But it is far more likely that (and easier to check whether) the power cord is unplugged. The next-simplest hypothesis might be that a circuit breaker was tripped.

While the complex conspiracy theory could be true, it is certainly the least probable, and would be much harder to prove/disprove. You can prove/disprove the simple ideas by checking the power cord and visiting your circuit breaker panel.

Another example, which happens at my house several times a year: I arrange the four deck chairs on the back porch around the table, but in the morning one or more of them is lying on its side or scattered in the back yard. Simplest hypothesis: the wind knocked them down. Next-simplest: wild or stray animals got into the yard and knocked them down. Conspiracy theory: Persons unknown to me came into the fenced back yard during the night and moved the chairs.

I have applied this principle to the story of Noah’s Ark, regarding its veracity, taking into account known facts. The simplest explanation is that it just didn’t happen, that it was allegory, used as a teaching tool. A close second is that a person or family did survive a localized but scary flood, perhaps on a raft or small boat, and then the legend grew as it was retold. The least-simple explanation is that it happened exactly as the Bible said it did, which requires God to have performed thousands of miracles, both small and large, to make today’s facts fit the narrative.

Read more: Occam’s razor (Wikipedia)

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