Intelligent Design

The Multiverse Would Have Horrified William of Occam

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News recently brought to our attention an article by Tom Rudelius in which he asserts that Occam’s razor does not militate against the existence of the multiverse.  Rudelius writes:

The other argument against the multiverse that I find unconvincing is an appeal to Occam’s razor: it is absurd, some would argue, to hypothesize an infinite number of other universes just to explain our own. It is simplest to assume that only one universe exists. Incidentally, atheists will often say the same thing about God, claiming that it is simpler to assume that just the natural universe exists rather than postulate a complicated entity like God to explain fine-tuning. The problem with both of these arguments is that Occam’s razor does not say that the simplest idea is usually the right one— it says that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

The problem with this analysis is that Rudelius does not, apparently, know what Occam’s razor actually says.  The most commonly cited formulation of the razor is “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate” (entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity)*.

Yes, the razor is often shaved down to the “simplest explanation is usually the right one,” but that is not the classical formulation, which speaks of multiplying  “entities” beyond necessity.

Now I ask you, is there any greater multiplication of entities than the multiverse?  If “infinite universes” does not multiply entities beyond necessity, it is hard to imagine what would.




*In Summa Totius Logicae, i. 12, Ockham also wrote “Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora” (It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer).

11 Replies to “The Multiverse Would Have Horrified William of Occam

  1. 1
    Fair Witness says:

    If I have a factory that is capable of making cars, does it take more information to make a thousand cars than it does to make one ?

    If the physical properties of water allow a snowflake to emerge, does it make things any more complex for a million snowflakes to emerge?

    If a process exists that can give rise to a universe, does it complicate things for many universes to emerge?

  2. 2
    asauber says:

    Fair Witness,

    1. Yes.

    2. Yes.

    3. Yes.

    Are you suggesting that a Universes Factory that made many universes is more likely than no factory for one universe?

    Your comment is more wishful thinking for a Universes Factory than it is substance.

    Of course, it’s a perfect comment in many other universes.


  3. 3
    Axel says:

    ‘Of course, it’s a perfect comment in many other universes.’

    Pass ! (I’m not saying anything…)

  4. 4
    EugeneS says:

    #1 & #2

    It all depends on the particular notions of information and complexity being used.

    As regards the ‘process’ of generating universes, hmm, it is an interesting process indeed… A process without any matter/ energy to operate on, just a pure principle, and yet being able to generate matter/energy. Strange indeed…

    I agree with the OP. The multiverse conjecture throws away the principle of parsimony. It is a naive and crude attempt to talk difficult things away.

  5. 5
    lukebarnes says:

    Is the following a valid objection to atomic theory?

    Occam’s razor says that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. Atomic theory implies that the air in this room is composed of trillions of trillions of unobservable entities called “atoms”. If air is continuous, on the other hand, there is one extended entity in this room. So Occam’s razor tells us that atomic theory is probably false.

  6. 6
    harry says:

    Who needs evidence for all those Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) universes? Science perverted by atheism asserts that whatever is required to affirm atheism’s claims must be true.

    They needed all those FSM universes to explain away the fact that it was virtually impossible for the Universe to have been mindlessly and accidentally fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. So there must be a bajillion universes, one of which had to win the fine-tuned-for-life lottery — and we were the lucky winner!!

    The very definition of the new science is: That which affirms atheism.

    That definition is handy for atheists, because that which does not affirm atheism is then obviously unscientific drivel. Just get used to the idea that science no longer has to be rational and you will be fine with the new science.

  7. 7
    conceptualinertia says:

    Fair Witness,

    Good argument but I don’t think it holds. The idea of the multiverse is not that all of the universes have the same basic properties but that they all have different properties. It allows scientists to solve the “fine-tuning” problem by arguing that there are a near infinite number of other universes with less optimally tuned properties that we don’t exist in.

    Once each universe has to be different, it does become a gross logical violation of Occam’s Razor.

  8. 8
    Barry Arrington says:

    luke at 5.

    Your argument does not work. Multiplying entities is not the problem. Multiplying entities beyond necessity is the problem. There is overwhelming empirical evidence of the existence of the molecules that make up the air. Therefore, positing their existence is not only not unnecessary, it is absolutely necessary.

    There is absolutely zero empirical evidence for the multiverse; moreover, such evidence cannot, in principle, ever exist, because, by definition the only universe we can test empirically is the one we live in.

    The purpose of the multiverse is to get around the fine-tuning problem. There are much more parsimonious theories that address that problem. Multiplying entities to infinity to get around those other explanations is the very acme of multiplying entities beyond necessity.

    Finally, as has been demonstrated many times, the multiverse destroys science, because if anything can happen through sheer chance because there are infinite probablistic resources, then anything can be explained by “chance.”

  9. 9
    Fair Witness says:


    The fine-tuning argument concerns the idea that physical constants could take on different values, which would have serious consequences for what the resulting universe would look like and what kind of life could exist.

    This is a twiddling of the same knobs, not an invention of new knobs.

  10. 10
    critical rationalist says:

    You might want to specify which multiverse you are referring to. The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the result of simply taking the quantum wave function seriously. It’s a realist conclusion.

    Specially, a single multiverse is divided into what appear to be single classical “universes”. We can only experience one of those classical universes because we too are subject to the wave function.

    IOW, you have to add something to quantum mechanics that says observers play a special role, which simply isn’t present in the theory, because it seems counter intuitive to you.

    It’s unclear why reality should reflect our intuitions (including those intuitions that are reflected in theological beliefs)

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    The other end of the saying is “beyond necessity.”

    Occam gives us no reason to exclude God as not necessary, contrary to what most atheists seem to think.

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