Hitchens's razor

Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor (a general rule for rejecting certain knowledge claims) expressed by and named after journalist, author, and public speaker Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011). Hitchens has phrased the razor in writing as "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."[1][2][3] It implies that the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, then the claim is unfounded, and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it.[citation needed] Hitchens used this phrase specifically in the context of refuting religious belief.[3]

AnalysisEdit

The dictum appears in Hitchens's 2007 book titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.[4][3] The term 'Hitchens's razor' itself was coined by atheist blogger Rixaeton in December 2010, and popularised inter alia by evolutionary biologist and atheist activist Jerry Coyne after Hitchens died in December 2011.[5][6][7]

Some pages earlier in God Is Not Great, Hitchens also invoked Occam's razor.[8] Michael Kinsley noted in 2007 in The New York Times that Hitchens was rather fond of applying Occam's razor to religious claims,[9] and according to The Wall Street Journal's Jillian Melchior in 2017, the phrase 'What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence' was 'Christopher Hitchens's variation of Occam's razor'.[10]

Hitchens's razor has also been called 'a modern version of the Latin proverb quod grātīs asseritur, grātīs negātur ("what is freely asserted can be freely deserted")',[11] also rendered as "what is asserted without reason (or proof), may be denied without reason (or proof)",[12] a saying attested no later than the 17th century.[13] Another comparable saying is the legal principle attributed to Julius Paulus Prudentissimus (c. 2nd – 3rd century CE), Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat[14]—"Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies".[15] This principle has traditionally been connected to the presumption of innocence in English law, but in the 1980s philosopher Antony Flew argued that it was also an adequate preliminary axiom in debates about the existence of God, claiming that "the presumption of atheism" was justified until a theist could come up with good evidence in favour of the existence of a god.[16]

Hitchens's razor has been presented alongside the Sagan standard ("Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence") as an example of evidentialism within the New Atheism movement.[17]

CriticismEdit

Academic philosopher Michael V. Antony (2010) has argued that despite the use of Hitchens's razor to reject religious belief and to support atheism, applying the razor to atheism itself would seem to imply that atheism is epistemically unjustified. According to Antony, the New Atheists (to whom Hitchens also belongs) invoke a number of special arguments purporting to show that atheism can in fact be asserted without evidence.[17]

Philosopher C. Stephen Evans (2015) outlined some common Christian theological responses to the argument made by Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and the other New Atheists that if religious belief is not based on evidence, it is not reasonable and can thus be dismissed without evidence. Characterising the New Atheists as evidentialists, Evans counted himself amongst the Reformed epistemologists together with Alvin Plantinga, who argued for a version of foundationalism, namely: 'belief in God can be reasonable even if the believer has no arguments or propositional evidence on which the belief is based.' The idea is that all beliefs are based on other beliefs, and some 'foundational' or 'basic beliefs' just need to be assumed to be true in order to start somewhere, and it's okay to pick God as one of those basic beliefs.[18]

See alsoEdit

  • Alder's razor – A philosophical razor devised by Mike Alder
  • The Demon-Haunted World – 1995 nonfiction book by Carl Sagan
  • Evil God Challenge
  • Falsifiability – Property of a statement that is written in an empirical language and contradicts some observations, realistic or not, that can be described in that language.
  • Hanlon's razor – Philosophical heuristic to never attribute to malice what is explained by stupidity
  • List of eponymous laws – Links to articles on laws, principles, adages, and other succinct observations or predictions named after a person
  • Russell's teapot – Analogy devised by Bertrand Russell
  • Philosophical razor – Principle that allows one to eliminate unlikely explanations

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. (2016). Oxford Essential Quotations: Facts. Oxford Reference (4 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191826719. Retrieved 4 November 2020. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.
  2. ^ McGrattan, Cillian (2016). The Politics of Trauma and Peace-Building: Lessons from Northern Ireland. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 2. ISBN 978-1138775183.
  3. ^ a b c Hitchens, Christopher (6 April 2009). God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Kindle ed.). Twelve Books. p. 258. ASIN B00287KD4Q. And remember, miracles are supposed to occur at the behest of a being who is omnipotent as well as omniscient and omnipresent. One might hope for more magnificent performances than ever seem to occur. The “evidence” for faith, then, seems to leave faith looking even weaker than it would if it stood, alone and unsupported, all by itself. What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. This is even more true when the “evidence” eventually offered is so shoddy and self-interested.
  4. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (2007). God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York, NY: Twelve Books. p. 150. ISBN 978-1843545743.
  5. ^ Rixaeton (1 December 2010). "Hitchens' Razor". Rixaeton's Space Adventures in Space and Other Places. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  6. ^ Rixaeton (2 January 2012). "Correcting Hitchens' Razor to Hitchens's Razor". Rixaeton's Space Adventures in Space and Other Places. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  7. ^ Jerry Coyne (25 December 2011). "Readers' tributes to Hitchens: The final day, with music". Why Evolution Is True. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  8. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (6 April 2009). God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Kindle ed.). Twelve Books. p. 119. ASIN B00287KD4Q. [William Ockham] devised a 'principle of economy,' popularly known as 'Ockham’s razor,' which relied for its effect on disposing of unnecessary assumptions and accepting the first sufficient explanation or cause. 'Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.' This principle extends itself. 'Everything which is explained through positing something different from the act of understanding,' he wrote, 'can be explained without positing such a distinct thing.'
  9. ^ Kinsley, Michael (13 May 2007). "In God, Distrust". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2021. Hitchens is attracted repeatedly to the principle of Occam's razor: that simple explanations are more likely to be correct than complicated ones. (E.g., Earth makes a circle around the Sun; the Sun doesn’t do a complex roller coaster ride around Earth.) You might think that Occam's razor would favor religion; the biblical creation story certainly seems simpler than evolution. But Hitchens argues effectively again and again that attaching the religious myth to what we know from science to be true adds nothing but needless complication.
  10. ^ Melchior, Jillian (21 September 2017). "Inside the Madness at Evergreen State". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 June 2019. Mr. Coffman cited Christopher Hitchens's variation of Occam's razor: 'What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without' [evidence]
  11. ^ Jaroszkiewicz, George (2017). Quantized Detector Networks: The Theory of Observation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 282. ISBN 9781108547413. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  12. ^ Translation from Stone, Jon R. (2005). The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations: The Illiterati's Guide to Latin Maxims, Mottoes, Proverbs, and Sayings. New York: Routledge. p. 101. ISBN 0-415-96908-5.
  13. ^ Annaniensis, Juvenalis (1686). Solis intelligentiae, cui non succedit nox, lumen indeficiens, ac inextinguibile ; illuminans omne hominem venientem in hunc mundum. Typis Simonis Uzschneideri. For 19th-century usage see, e.g., The Classical Journal , Vol. 40 (1829), p. 312.
  14. ^ "Digesta seu Pandectae 22.3.2". Grenoble: Université Pierre-Mendés-France. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  15. ^ Watson, Alan, ed. (1998) [1985]. "22.3.2". The Digest of Justinian. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1636-9.
  16. ^ McLelland, Joseph C. (1989). Prometheus Rebound: The Irony of Atheism. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780889206960. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  17. ^ a b Antony, Michael V. (2010). "Where's The Evidence?". Philosophy Now. No. 78. pp. 18–21.
  18. ^ Evans, C. Stephen (2015). Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic. p. 16–17. ISBN 9781493400225. Retrieved 21 August 2021.

External linksEdit

Listen to this article (1 minute)
 
This audio file was created from a revision of this article dated 25 October 2019 (2019-10-25), and does not reflect subsequent edits.