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Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor which asserts that the burden of proof in a debate (the onus) lies with whoever makes the (greater) claim; if this burden is not then met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents do not need to argue against it. It is named, echoing Occam's razor, for the journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens, who, in 2003, formulated it thus: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
Hitchens's razor is actually a translation of the Latin proverb "Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur", which has been widely used at least since the early 19th century, but Hitchens's English rendering of the phrase has made it more widely known in the 21st century. It is used, for example, to counter presuppositional apologetics. This quotation appears by itself in God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, a book by Hitchens published in 2007.
Writer Richard Dawkins, also an atheist, formulated a different version of the same law at a TED conference in February 2002: "The onus is on you to say why; the onus is not on the rest of us to say why not."
Dawkins used his version to argue against agnosticism, which he described as "poor" in comparison to atheism, because it refuses to judge on claims that are, even though not wholly falsifiable, very unlikely to be true.
- Christopher Hitchens, "Mommie Dearest" – slate.com. October 20, 2003.
- Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) p.150. Twelve Books, New York.
- Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), p. 101.
- e.g. The Classical Journal, Vol. 40 (1829), p. 312.
- Richard Dawkins, Militant Atheism, ted.com, February 2002.
- Richard Dawkins, "The Poverty of Agnosticism" in: The God Delusion (2006). Bantam Books, London.