I am interested in knowing whether there is a version of Occam’s razor that deals with how many questions a certain explanation brings.

Let’s take the example of God. Many theologians consider this explanation simple. Swinburne even argues that this explanation is more likely to be a brute fact than even the universe! He is after all composed of no parts.

But when we bring in the notion of how many questions an explanation brings up, this seems to falter. For one, how can a purely immaterial being exist? Two, how can this immaterial being cause physical effects in the universe, especially given the causal closure principle in physics? Three, how does he cause things from “outside” of time? Four, how does He know everything, when all conscious knowledge ever has been biological and requiring a biological, and thus physical, mind? Five, how does He know everything given quantum indeterminism? And so on and so forth.

Note that in the case of the universe, if one posits that the universe is a brute fact, we are not bringing in any additional questions apart from the question of perhaps why something or that universe exists in the first place. Of course, in this universe, we also have many unanswered questions. But those unanswered questions will still remain unanswered with God in the picture. Thus, the totality of the number of questions of existence arguably only goes up with God.

Is there a principle like this that matters? Should it matter? I suppose one could argue against this by stating that the number of questions one wonders about is subjective, but so is the notion of “simplicity” and many other hotly debated concepts in philosophy. Overall, I wonder if there is any sense of this in the philosophical literature.

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    Does it really matter? Occam's razor is only a guiding principle, it isn't a law or a rule. Number of questions raised is a good consideration for determining whether a hypothesis is a simple one though. On the flip side it would be worth considering the number of other questions that the hypothesis also answers (i.e. consilience) Sep 8, 2023 at 12:31
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    It suppose it depends on what you mean by “simple.” Swinburne argues that god is simple even though there is no explanation given for how he does things, or even how he can exist. Lastly, of course it is not a law, but there is no unalterable law of reasoning in philosophy apart from perhaps the rules of logic. All we can do is speculate upon the truth of theories to the best of our ability. Lastly, yes, I agree that consilience should matter a lot.
    – user62907
    Sep 8, 2023 at 12:37
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    I think there is ... there should be ... yes, there is.
    – Hudjefa
    Sep 9, 2023 at 0:46
  • what sort of questions? explanatory incompleteness is probably a thing, same as incredulity, but not wonder
    – user67675
    Sep 9, 2023 at 2:11
  • This is actually a fairly good question. If you want some formal treatments of this kind of issue, at least, I'd recommend looking into inquisitive semantics and inferential erotetic logic (the syntactic moment of the metatheory, I think), where evocation of questions is a function that is well-explored (how new assertions can elicit new questions, and even some questions can elicit more of themselves...). Sep 9, 2023 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


Occam's Razor originally was formulated a bit differently from how scientists use it today. Occam was a nominalist (i.e., no essences exist, no Platonic Forms, etc.), and an oversimplification of his concerns with realism concerning essences is in virtue of Occam's Razor: do not multiply entities in your ontology unnecessarily. Note: Occam was also very much a theist.

Jump centuries forward: in science Occam's Razor is modified to mean that, if two hypotheses have equal predictive power and experimental support, go with the one that makes the fewest posits. So unlike Occam, there are major caveats one has to consider before employing Occam's Razor to discard a hypothesis in science.

Now onto God. Since God is not typically treated as a scientific hypothesis, it's difficult to ascertain exactly how Occam's Razor is applicable here. "God exists" doesn't suggest any experiments that would really falsify the hypothesis (see creationism in the context as an alternative to evolution). So, the scientific version seems inapplicable here since "God exists" doesn't have predictive power like a scientific hypothesis does.

I am interested in knowing whether there is a version of Occam’s razor that deals with how many questions a certain explanation brings.

I'm not aware of a version of Occam's Razor (historically or scientifically) that operates in this way. Every hypothesis poses new questions to be explored: that's part of the scientific process it seems (as Kant noted in the Critique of Pure Reason). The point of Occam's Razor is to avoid wasting time on the near infinity of hypotheses someone can conjure up. Since historically God is a pretty popular idea (for many reasons), I'm not sure discarding "God exists" with any version of Occam's Razor is going to be persuasive or useful.

The only context I could see employing a very generic form of Occam's Razor to theism would be to filter through the enormous versions of theism that have existed. How that would work in a way that wouldn't be deeply controversial, is anyone's guess.

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    +1. Very much a theist could be strengthened
    – Rushi
    Sep 9, 2023 at 2:43
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    @Rushi Nice quotes there! I hadn’t seen those before. You’re definitely right in saying I could strengthen my statement here.
    – Hokon
    Sep 9, 2023 at 2:53
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    @Rushi Yes, his Razor was in the service of his theism. I’ll do further research here.
    – Hokon
    Sep 9, 2023 at 2:59

You can practically ask an innumerable number of questions with regard to any statement of fact or theory. If you're really dedicated in increasing the score of questions you can probably use almost everything as a starting point for asking how the universe and everything works and given that so far we haven't found our "42" or if we found it haven't understood it to the extend that we are satisfied, there's no shortage of questions to be asked.

So it doesn't seem to introduce any utility to compare theories by how many questions you might ask surrounding them?

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