A naturalist will often appeal to Ockham’s Razor in support of their naturalism over, say, a Christian supernatural explanation (for example, a naturalist will always appeal to a naturalistic explanation/hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection no matter how contrived and weak it is. She will not entertain the possibility that God really performed a miracle via the resurrection). It was William of Ockham, a devout Christian (1), living in the 13th century who presented this tool as a common sense principle. Essentially it’s used to select an explanation that possesses the fewest assumptions. For example, consider a broken fence on a property. What would explain this broken fence? Was it an elephant that barged through it, or was the fence old and thus fell apart? One, using Ockham’s Razor, might favour the latter option because it is more simple in explanation. It is likewise a common method used in science where simple explanations are considered more appropriate than more complex ones (2). The naturalist will thus be quick to assert that his worldview is more rational than my Christian theistic one because it possesses fewer assumptions.
However, in my response I’d say that the naturalist (or anyone) would do well to exercise caution here, especially in using Ockham’s Razor as a tool to decide which is the best worldview. Why? Simply because the best worldview is not necessarily the simplest one, but rather the one that best explains reality. If the best worldview were the simplest one then we may as well all accept Solipsism; which is essentially the worldview that denies the existence of the external world outside of one’s own mind. That sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? But is it rational? Thus by this naturalist’s criterion the atheist and the Christian should both become Solipsists.
Secondly, it’s also debatable how many fewer assumptions the naturalist claims he has. Naturalism has many unverifiable assumptions for, to name a few, he assumes the unchanging natural laws exist, the rational intelligibility of the universe, that the physical universe is all that exists, and that God and the supernatural does not exist etc. Both Christian theism and naturalism have many assumptions. Thus assumptions do not negate either worldview, instead it is which one best explains reality. I’ve detailed in a further series why I believe that Christianity’s explanation of reality is far superior to naturalism’s, especially in response to things like the origin of the universe, teleology, value, first life, personhood, and rationality etc.
1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2015. William of Ockham. Available.
2. Hoffmann, R., Minkin, V. & Carpenter, B. 1997. Ockham’s Razor and Chemistry. International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 3, p. 3–28.