Is Theism Impotent in Explanations?
Summary of Debate:
Some have argued that God is "explanatorarily impotent" regarding the existence of phenomena. Though this argued in the context of natural phenomena (to speak more generally), we all too often hear of the atheist "God of the Gaps" accusation. For instance, Dawkins speaks of irreducible complexity: "Searching for particular examples of irreducible complexity is a fundamentally unscientific way to proceed: a special case of arguing from present ignorance. It appeals to the same faulty logic as 'the God of the Gaps' strategy. . . " (Dawkins 2006, 151).
This debate is an attempt to address that question: can God explain anything? I will be answering in the affirmative, using a case that builds upon similar methods employed by scientists to see what the best explanation of a given hypothesis is. This will be drawn out further in subsequent sections.
The negative (Con) may very well argue on the contrary, perhaps to make the claim that God is in fact explanatorarily impotent, and/or that God is employed where ignorance is prevalent. I'll leave this up to the negative to build his case.
Lastly, I am not taking God's existence for granted here. In fact, I intend to show that God is the best explanation for a number of things: (1) humans, (2) the world and its order and (3) miracles and religious experiences. Given that God is the best explanation for (1)-(3), I think we have a very robust argument for theism, traditionally understood by the major monotheistic religions. With that said, I will summarize my case with a brief excerpt from Richard Swinburne (2010), "[W]e find that the view that there is a God explains everything we observe, not just some narrow range of data" (Swinburne 2010, 2).
First, I am working with a concept of God that may be traditionally conceived under the heading of traditional monotheism (*see note). While we may discuss attributes such as impassibility, impeccability, Pure Actuality, and so forth, I am sticking with the three major essential attributes of God: eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect freedom.
Swinburne contends that the latter form of explanation is something that cannot be reached in terms of the traditionally understood forms of scientific explanations. Thus, let us consider the following:
Suppose we were to ask the question, "[W]hat justifies a claim that so and so is the cause of some event and such and such is the reason why it had the effect it did?"
A claim that some proposed law is really a law of nature, is justified to the extent by which:
And to finish with this section, it is important to note that "In explaining some phenomena as caused by persons, we seek a hypothesis which leads us to expect the phenomena which we would not otherwise expect to find, as simple a hypothesis as possible, and one which fits in with background knowledge" (Swinburne 2010, 32-33).
"God, being omnipotent, is able to join souls to bodies. He can cause there to be the particular brain event-mental event connections which there are. He can do this by causing molecules when formed into brains to have powers to produce mental events in souls to which they are connected, and the liabilities to execute the purposes of such connected souls" (Swinburne 2010, 80).
The resolution is fuzzy, I assume it’s just a misnomer on Pro’s behalf on the wording of the resolution. I will use Pro’s opening statement “I can God explain anything? I will be answering in the affirmative” and centre my opposition against this statement and affirm that God is impotent in explanations of reality.
First, take Pro’s definition of God:
"God: Eternality, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Perfect Freedom"
I assume that Perfect Freedom is synonymous with ‘Libertarian Free Will’. I am not too interested in Pro’s justification of these attributes for I am only going to address whether a being with such attributes can be potent in explanations, as per the resolution.
Pro provided a number of criteria by which explanations are generally prioritized, and general characteristics of what a ‘good’ explanation would consist of, I have paraphrased it for my own purposes:
I have interchanged #4 with Pro’s #4 which was as follows:
This doesn’t work well philosophically because virtually any explanation can be conjured to satisfy the events, however #4, being scientific and empirical goes a step farther, as it leaves itself open to falsification.
When these principles are applied to theism, we essentially break every single one of these criteria:
And to satisfy Pro’s original ‘forth criteria’, God also violates this:
And lastly, even in the absence of any possible naturalistic theory (which I argue is not the case), it would be just as sound to just assert the fact as a ‘brute fact’ (such as the universe itself). I will defend each of these statements independently.
God does not necessarily entail anything
Recall the definition of God:
“Eternality, Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Perfect Freedom”
It is precisely because of this last attribute that God cannot possibly fulfil #1 of the criteria for a good explanation of reality. God is defined that he may choose to do, or not to do anything, and as such no predictions about what will and will not occur as a result of his decisions cannot possibly be made with any confidence.
Is the universe something we could expect God to choose to create? Are humans something we would expect God to choose to create? Would God choose to make the Earth a sphere or a cube? None of these questions can possibly be justifiably answered because God has ‘perfect freedom’ to choose to, or choose not to as he pleases. None of Pro’s assertions that God is an explanation for actually can be justifiably linked to something we would expect of God, for to do so would be to violate his perfect freedom.
One escape from this point could be to apply a nature to God, but this doesn’t solve anything because there is no justifiable ‘nature’ we can attach to God. Pro himself argues that God is the ultimate standard, and hence ‘Perfectly Good’, but this speaks nothing to what ‘Good’ actually is. Is creating a universe good? Is creating people good? To make this assertion we need to know what ‘good’ tangably is, and given that Pro has defined ‘Good’ according to God, it is by definition beyond experience (and arguably unknowable).
To give an analogy, we have an observation, which is a card with the number ‘42’ on it. Now we have God, who is a possible explanation for this putative ‘42’ card, but what we know about God is that he can freely deal any card between 1 and infinity (!). There is no way to say that assuming God, we would expect the ‘42’ card to emerge. If however we had an alternative explanation, which is a traditional physical card dealer, which deal cards numbered 40-45, then we have an explanation which much more precisely explains the ‘observation’ we have.
God is not Simple
Note that ‘complex’ doesn’t necessarily relate to concept complexity, but on the multiplicity of assumptions we make.
First consider, God has perfect freedom, so he can choose to, or choose not to do any action. To each thing posited by God, we can ask the question…. Why? Why would God create humans, the universe, planets? Why would God create the natural laws as they are, the universe in the configuration as we see them now, and humans with the type of consciousness they possess?
None of these automatically entail from the definition of God given, and hence additional explanations need to be added, which will inevitably be ad hoc and multiplies the complexity of God.
Secondly consider, God is omniscient. He knows everything that is and isn’t, and therefore we know God possesses a certain complexity in the information that his mind possesses. God would inevitably be at least as complex as the information he possesses within his omniscience. Moreover
he possesses perfect freedom, but in order to do anything with his freedom he needs knowledge (infinite knowledge, according to Pro), intentionality (otherwise there is no motion to ‘choose’), awareness (free will predicates consciousness, to which awareness is fundamental), and a ‘nature’.
None of this fits what we conceive as ‘simple’, and indeed philosophy of mind, psychology and neuroscience have found consciousness to be a very complex manifestation indeed with many aspects to consider. Something that is not conscious at all, and possesses no ‘free will’ in a sense would be a substantially simpler entity than a conscious entity, and hence right off the bat God is at a tremendous disadvantage as an explanation.
Furthermore we need to make an assumption that all these attributes of God are coherent when applied to the same being. For example ‘perfect freedom’ and ‘omniscience’ has problems in the form of theological fatalism, omnipotence and freedom has traditional problems with the paradox of the stone, and the Chinese spear & shield paradox. Is it coherent to state something is both immaterial and omnipresent? God has a multitude of attributes, and a multitude of assumptions in the coherency of those attributes, God is complex.
God is Beyond Experience
When proposing explanations, it is significantly more preferable to appeal to what we already know than to appeal to what we do not know. If we have plausible physical explanations of tsunamis and lightning that are consistent with known science and observation, then these explanations are significantly more preferable to something that is completely outside any notion of experience. The reasons are rather clear, since we have excellent reasons to accept that these explanations are physically possible, and thus are candidates that exist in reality.
Even for objects that are obviously outside of what we directly experience, such as dark matter, dark energy and black holes, it is significantly more realistic to posit explanations that follow from, or closely resemble known physics (for example, black holes and dark matter is composed of….. matter, and mass, and have genuine gravity) than to appeal to something completely outside of experience (na immaterial entity).
By definition God is beyond anything we have experience of. We have no experience of immaterial entities that have causal action, we have no experience of things with omnipotence, omniscience, and we have no experience of virtually all other collieries of God. Ergo, we do not have the same grounds to state that the explanation is metaphysically possible in comparison to explanations that are within our realms of experience.
Makes no predictions about reality
This mostly follows from point #1, because we cannot make statements about what we would expect God to entail, it consequently means we cannot make predictions to test the ‘God hypothesis’ like we can with explanations that are limited in nature (such as the physical laws), ergo rather than God being an explanation of everything, God is instead an explanation of anything. Because anything can be made consistent with God, it renders him untestable.
This is not to state this makes God’s existence any less likely, it only makes the point that God becomes a worse explanation than other alternatives. A similar complaint is made against string theory, which gathers considerable criticism from the physics community. The fact that a hypothesis can explain anything is exactly what makes it a bad explanation, as it’s impossible to pragmatically verify/falsify it with specific predictions. Hence we have no way to tell if it’s just elegant math or formal proposal that has any relevance to reality.
Pro needs to actually demonstrate that a separate soul exists before he before Pro can affirm God is necessary for the physical-immaterial connection. Many ontologies that do not invoke substance dualism (necessary for Pro’s argument to get off the ground), and none have gathered a strong consensus yet among philosophers, demonstrating this is a contentious issue.
I'd like to thank Con for his rebuttal. I take his major objections to be as follows:
1.1. God does not necessarily/likely entail anything.
(a) God's perfect freedom entails that he could not be a good explanation of anything (or reality), because "no predictions about what will and will not occur as a result of his decisions cannot possibly be made with any confidence."
(b) To expect anything from God would violate his perfect freedom.
1.2 God is not simple.
(a) Every action of God is not automatically entailed by the definition (or nature) of God. Hence, we will need to add additional explanations to God's action and thus, this multiplies the complexity of God.
(b) God "would inevitably be at least as complex as the information he possesses within his omniscience."
2.1. God is Beyond Experience
(a) When proposing explanation, it is (significantly) "preferable to appeal to what we already know than to appeal to what we do not know."
(b) God (by definition) lies beyond anything we have experience of. We have no frame of reference for immaterial entities with causal influence. Therefore, "We do not have the same grounds to state that the explanation is metaphysically possible."
3.1. Finishing and Concluding Argument:
"Why is God the best explanation for the world? God does not necessarily entail the world and order, God could well choose to make a ‘disorderly’ world if he so chose (why not?). Furthermore, it seems reasonable to just posit the laws of physics themselves as brute facts. The laws of physics are well within experience, exist in progressively simpler and more universal forms (cf. the putative theory of everything), and make precise explanatory predictions about reality."
Con has a fundamental misunderstanding with what is meant by God's perfect freedom. I am rather surprised that he would take issue with the concept of God, since I don't figure that it needs much attention with respect to our discussion. However, the audience should take note of his legitimate concerns here.
Regarding what is known as "Perfect Theology," the question theologians and philosophers have asked pertains to what properties can be deduced from God's perfection? Anselm, for examplee, understood God to be that than which nothing greater could be thought. Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz understood God to be a being who possesses all perfections. Alvin Plantinga more recently, has understood God to be maximally excellent in every possible world, which at least entail omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection (Webb, 2010).
However, from the four attributes I have listed above, a subsequent number of other attributes seem to follow: bodilessness or immateriality, moral perfection, omnipresence, and creatorship. Given how I have defined those four attributes, it reasonable to suppose that those other attributes would be found within the package of "theism." However, my opponent's objection to perfect freedom appears to be two-fold (see his argument above).
Therefore, my response is likewise two-fold. First, humans have their purposes influenced by prior desires, which in turn causes them to make such-and-such choice but not the other. These desires, for example, can be formed by our physiology as well as our culture.
Pro fails to demonstrate my misunderstanding of ‘Perfect Freedom’, nor do I see how it matters considering we are on the same page in that it entails Free Will. That is perfectly sufficient for my arguments to stand.
Note that some aspect of freedom, or will is required within the definition of God as one of the defining feature of God over secular explanations is that God is on some level sentient. While it could be argued that omniscience alludes to this, it is arguable that omniscience is not predicated by consciousness.
However, it is precisely because God has this attribute of free will and consciousness that precludes it from being a good explanation for essentially anything.
Either the standard for perfection is internal to God, or external .Neither source works, especially given that such a standard must be objective in order to be meaningful. If the standard is defined within God, then it becomes arbitrary, begs the question, and remains undefined (and hence the attributes Pro gave do not follow).
If the standard comes external to God, then a standards which is not contingent on God, and in essence limits & supersedes God, and is still undefined.
Non-Cognitivism of God
Given my objections to Pro’s perfection arguments of God’s being, it seems appropriate to undermine Pro’s argument by addressing how God cannot possible be sensibly talked about in terms of ‘can explain X’.
In order for God to explain anything, we need an idea of what God will do, or is in some sense likely to do. For example to posit the eighth planet (Neptune) as an explanation for the perturbations of the orbits of Uranus & Saturn, we have a proposed primary nature of the object, which is that it is a gravitational source, and hence we can make precise postulations on how it will act when in certain places in its orbit, etc.
However, with God this is not possible because we have not even established a primary nature yet. Pro has affirmed that God has ‘perfect freedom’, but this alone doesn’t postulate anything, and contrary to Pro’s assertions, it automatically follows we cannot reasonably predict, or expect what God would or would not do if he existed.
P1) “God” lacks a positivity defined attribute (A)
P2) If “God” lacks a positively defined attribute (A), then secondary (B) and relational attributes (C) cannot be justifiably applied
C1) “God” lacks a justifiable attribute (A, B or C)
P3) All attribute-less concepts are meaningless
C2) Therefore, “God” is a meaningless concept
All of the properties that Pro has attributed to God are secondary, or relational properties. They are entirely contingent on what the primary nature of God is. However, even if Pro could provide a primary nature of god, it would necessarily multiply his complexity in concept.
In order to meaningfully describe something, the primary nature of an entity needs to be established, for example to state something has “10 lbs”, it is reasonable to assert “10 lbs of what?”. It is meaningless to then response “well, you know… 10 lbs!”. The weight of something is a relational attribute, and gives no information on what the essence of the entity is. Take a chair for example, a primary attribute would be “A wooden mass with a sitting base and four posts made of wood”, here we have the material and primary attributes of a chair, we can reasonably talk about both its existence and apply secondary and relational attributes to it. More importantly we can sensibly talk about what such an entity would entail on reality.
Now let’s have a look at the attributes of God:
Omnipotence regards power, or ability, but isn’t an entity in itself. Omnipotence can be applied to anything (my sister is omnipotent) as a secondary attribute, but is meaningless without the primary essence. Omnipotence in fact is meaningless without a physical universe to relate to. The same applies to perfect freedom and eternality is either secondary or relational.
“Atemporal” and “immaterial” are not attributes, and are precisely descriptions of what God is not. The statement “I am not Barack Obama”, gives zero information about my primary nature or essence. Sans an understanding of the primary nature of God, Pro cannot meaningfully postulate it and talk about it having explanatory power of anything, thus his arguments are futile.
Pro’s first defence of God’s Perfect Freedom undermines his whole position:
“First, humans have their purposes influenced by prior desires, which in turn causes them to make such-and-such choice but not the other…”
“God on the other hand, being perfectly free, has no prior desires that might have causal influences on his choices. Hence, it is strange to say that we would "expect" anything from God..”
Exactly my point!! How can a being have any explanatory power if we cannot make any rational claims about what his choices would be?!
Pro then attempts to contradict himself by appealing to a Christian Tradition God of the kind, that God is obliged to keep primises he has made to us.
Well this raises a plethora of objections:
The most important is #3, as God can no longer be claimed to be a simple explanation with an assortment of assumptions hanging on to him.
God does not entail anything
Pro’s only rebuttal is against my objection that ‘goodness’, like God’s primary nature, is meaningless, and hence we cannot draw expectations from it, which would be required to fulfil criterion 1.
Pro offers up nothing concrete for what ‘good’ would entail, and hence is a useless attribute for giving God explanatory power. He affirms this himself:
“…it is something that transcends all categories of being”
Given this, how can God possibly be an explanation for anything if nothing arises from it? Pro attempts to contradict this again by appealing to a Judeo-Christian God (which runs into problems of unjustifiably multiplying his complexity) and his key point:
“…everything that exists contingently owes its existence to the creator, anything, to the degree that it exists, participates in the goodness of its creator"
Is Pro attempting to state that God’s goodness is contingent on his creation?! This would be a blatent contradiction of ‘perfection’ or God being a ‘brute fact’, which strongly implies God is both objective and immutable. This also runs into circular reasoning, as Pro is using the result to define the proposed parameters of the explanation. This is akin to me throwing a dart at the wall and drawing a bulls-eye around it, since God is at least partially defined according to the ‘result’ he is trying to explain.
“To finish, God is said to be "good" in the sense that he has no moral deficiency. “
Define ‘moral’, for this just begs the question.
If one pays attention to what Pro was proposing that makes his God simple, Pro only defined God according to what he is not. Aspacial, atemporal, a’non-essential’, which again runs into serious coherency problems of God’s nature (which I addressed in Non-Cognitivism), moreover Pro ignores my arguments regarding omniscience (which necessarily makes God at least as complex as the universe), and the fact that God is on some level sentient (clearly a non-essential property), Moreover Pro ignores that the paradoxes entailed by both the omnipotence paradox, and free will & omniscience necessarily require the multiplication of God’s complexity. Pro has also made multiple appeals in this God to a more highly paramaterized God, which multiplies God’s complexity.
We can always posit the exact same explanation without free will, omniscience, omnipotence and yield a simpler entity, and thus a simpler explanation than God by default. Moreover I have already shown that God needs a primary nature, which will parameterize God further, lest God becomes inpotent in doing anything.
Pro’s other objection:
“It is two different things to say or recognize that God created humans and ask why God created humans“
Very true, but it is impossible to recognise anything created anything without postulating the ‘why’ explanation first. For example, to recognise that a gun was used in the murder, we know first-hand than guns holder bullets, which are unstable and hence will release projectiles which satisfies why we would think a gun could be an explanation for a murder.
Pro’s defence is an analogy with Kepler, who postulated a putative law governing movement, however a law by definition is not an explanation, it is a description. That is what a ‘theory’ is for.
Hence it is one thing to make descriptions of reality and make predictions based off of those descriptions (laws), but it is a completely different thing to postulate an explanation of those observations/laws.
“A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experimental observations that describes some aspect of the universe.
God is the best explanation for X
Pro has dropped his original arguments that God is the explanation for humans, the universe and divine experience and Pro has only shifted the burden of proof on divine experience.
I will be omitting citations for the sake of space. Should Con or anyone else like to see the source of a passage I have referenced, feel free to message me or comment in the comment section for it.
1.0 Clarifying the Question:
Frederick Copleston in his debate with Bertrand Russell was rather frustrated with Russell's inability to concede to the legitimacy of asking "Why is there something rather than nothing?" As Russell contended, "I see no reason to think there is any [cause of the existence of all particular objects]. The whole concept of cause is one we derive from our observation of particular things. I see no reason to suppose that the total has any cause whatsoever."
Copleston, frustrated with this contention (and offering no real argument against it), simply reiterates his argument as trying to show Russell this legitimacy of asking the question "how the total, or anything at all, comes to be there. Why something rather than nothing? That is the question." At least here insofar, Copleston is right. Why something rather than nothing?
There are a number of solutions to this question. In fact, Nicholas Rescher lists a number of possible responses:
I. The question is illegitimate and improper. (Rejectionism)
II. The question is legitimate
(1) but unanswerable: it represents a mystery. (Mystificationism)
(2) and answerable
(a) though only by the via negativa of an insistence that there really is no "answer" in the ordinary sense - no sort of explanatory rationale at all. The existence of things in the world is simply a brute fact. (The no-reason approach).
(b) via a substantival route of roughly the following sort: "There is a substance [viz. God] whose position in the scheme of things is one that lies outside the world, and whose activity explains the existence of things in the world." (The theological approach)
(c) via a nonsubstantival route of roughly the following sort: "There is a principle of creativity that obtains in abstracto (i.e., without being embedded in the characteristics of any substance and thus without a basis in any preexisting thing), and the operation of this principle accounts for the existence of things." (The nomological approach).
(d) via the quasi-logical route of consideration of absolute necessity. (The necessitarian approach)
I take the best and most reasonable solution to be of the route of (c) via a substantival, that is, that Mind/Consciousness as ultimate. Borrowing from Timothy O'Connor (2009),
I have demonstrated why theism presents itself as the best explanation for why something exists rather than nothing. Not only this, but that God is the best explanation for why humans (consciousness beings) exist, the world along with its order and religious experiences and miracles. I will be extending those arguments here.
I take his non-cognitivist argument to be rather irrelevant to the whole of the debate. The non-cognitivist
position is one not widely defended today since most philosophers (Christian and non-Christian alike)
take the theistic claim that God exists (classically or "traditionally" understood) as uncontroversial -
at least in terms of coherency. Entertaining Con's arguments for non-cognitivism would lead to a
tedious discussion regarding apothatic theology and religious language; one that is unnecessary for our
Lastly, Con in his objections has not offered an argument for why there is something rather than nothing.
Otherwise stated, he has yet to even offer an alternative solution in the rejection of my argument. For, let us
suppose that Con is right: God is a meaningless concept and cannot explain anything. What are we left with?
Because we have taken God out of the equation does not of course entail that the question of the existence of
humans (conscious beings), the world and its order and religious experiences are solved. I don't think Con
is maintaining this. However, in the defense of his case he has left us with more questions than answers.
3.0 My Case, "Explanations Restated"
We must clarify what I mean by an explanation, since Con seems to not understand. I have distinguished
between inanimate explanations (i.e., initial conditions plus law of nature causing event) and intentional
explanations (i.e., events brought about intentionally by persons). The reason why I say it is "strange" that
we would expect anything from God is because I was reacting to Con's claim that if God were to be
an explanation of anything we would need some understanding of what God might do. It is incoherent
(strange, stupid, etc... you pick) to make this assertion given the distinction of affiliations I have given in
both senses of the term "explanation." I have not reiterated Con's point, as he so claims.
These two forms of explanations are inescapable in our thinking about the world. Regarding the personal-
explanation model, what we try to achieve makes all the difference to what happens. I say this to run contrary
to that old idea that persons and their purposes have no "real" causal influence to what happens; these are
just occurrences of brain events and nerve events that bring about bodily movement that further bring
about instances without persons and purposes making any difference. However, no one can consistently
think in this kind of way. Physics and chemistry, for example, work very hard (and well at times) to
provide inanimate explanations, while psychology, sociology and even detective work provide
intentional or personal explanations.
3.1 God is the Best Explanation for The World
The argument runs as follows: (1) If anything exists, there must be a sufficient reason
why it exists. (2) But this world exists and it is a series of contingent beings. (3) Therefore, there must be
a sufficient reason why this series of contingent beings exists. (4) But nothing contingent - and, in particular,
neither the existing series as a whole nor any of its members - can contain a sufficient reason why this series
exists. (5) A sufficient reason for any existing thing can only be in an existing thing, which is itself either
necessary or contingent. (6) Therefore, a sufficient reason why this series exists must be in a necessary
being that lies outside the world. (7) Therefore, there is a necessary being that lies outside the world.
In this case, what do I mean for something to be a sufficient reason? According to Leibniz, P is a sufficient
reason for Q just in case P fully accounts for Q. Otherwise stated, P is a sufficient reason for Q if and only
if "P is true" gives a full and definitive answer to "Why is Q the case?" Hence, according to this understanding
and the argument offered above, if there were no necessary being, there would be no answer to the question,
"Why does the world exist?"
3.1.2. God is the best explanation for the world and its order.
According to Aquinas regarding the orderly behavior of material bodies (i.e., their tendency to move towards
a goal), this was the basis of his Fifth Way: (1) Every agent - even a natural agent - acts for an end.
(2) Now what acts for an end manifests intelligence. (3) But natural agents have no intelligence of their own.
(4) Therefore, they are directed to their end by some Intelligence. This seems a rather uncontroversial
argument, should you accept the business of teleology along with other metaphysical factors at play here.
However, we do have good reason from experience to hold the conclusion as true.
In support of the third premise, whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it is directed
by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence. Therefore, some intelligent being exists by whom
all things are directed to their end (i.e., God). Furthermore, this argument - that the existence and regular
behavior of material objects to a God who keeps them in existence with the same liabilities and powers as
each other - satisfies very well criterion 2 (on this point see Swinburne 2010, 50). Given the goodness of
God and the existence of humans experiencing the sort of regularities that we find, we have good reason
to suppose that the regular behavior of material objects provide good evidence for the existence of God.
3.1.3. God is the best explanation for why humans exist.
The evolution of the mental life of animals involves the following: (a) there existing certain
physical - mental connections (certain physical events causing the existence of souls with certain mental
properties, and conversely); (b) there existing animals with brains whose states give rise to souls having an
advantage in the struggle for survival; (c) evolution selecting animals whose brains are wired in to their
bodies in certain ways. Darwinian mechanisms can explain (c), and possibly (b): but neither Darwinism
nor any other science has much prospects of explaining (a) (see Swinburne 2010, 79).
Theism, on the other hand, can explain this. God, being omnipotent, is able to join souls to bodies. That is,
he can cause there to be the particular brain event - mental event connections which there are.
As I have so demonstrated, God is the best explanation for why something exists rather than nothing.
Vote in the affirmation.
Framing the Resolution
I find it patently absurd that Pro would only now at the end of the debate throw in his positive arguments, that God is why there is something rather than nothing. But not to be distracted, the resolution quite clearly is “Is Theism Impotent in Explanations?”, and I have quite clearly directed my arguments in a fashion that would affirm that Theism is inherently weak at explaining anything whatsoever.
Virtually all of Pro’s opening round was framing how we would go about determining what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ explanation, and why God is defined as such. Pro’s only positive arguments for why Theism gives potent explanations is in his arguments from Miracles & Divine Experiences, from Human Existence and from the World & its order. Last round he has added a forth, why is there something rather than nothing. Given that these individual arguments are Pro’s only positive arguments to affirm the resolution in his favour, his failure to uphold these will lose him the debate.
God is inherently a Bad Explanation
There were four criteria Pro and I generally agreed on that would be the attributes of what we would expect of a ‘good’ explanation for phenomena, which I will list again:
1. Predicts with good scope the events/features that we observe
2. Proposition is simple
3. Is in line with experience
4. Makes ‘unique’, or surprising statements of reality that may be tested
All 4 of these are rather prima facie obvious and we haven’t disagreed on these. Pro concedes that Theism fails on #4, moreover Pro provides zero substantial argumentation for #1. Pro’s only rebuttals here are arguments regarding God’s goodness, but all his responses were question begging, and hence there is no reason why we would expect that God would create a universe. Nor would we expect any defining traits of the universe that would lead us to expect God did it (since he has free will).
The very fact that God has free will, and has an undefined nature precludes God from being a good explanation of anything. It is true that God could create the universe, etc, but that’s different to God being a good explanation of the universe, etc.
When you have a scientific theory for instance, we have a good idea of what we would, and would not expect within the explanation, and thus we can say with increased confidence with an increasing data set that the explanation is good. Even assuming Pro’s original wording of #1, God simply cannot fulfil this:
“It leads us to expect (with accuracy) many and varied events which we observe (and we do not observe any events whose non-occurrence it leads us to expect).”
Pro’s only defence against my objections to #3 is a misunderstanding of what it means, moreover even assuming his objections were relevant I demonstrating his analogy completely fails, since he was postulating a scientific law (which only models the facts) as an analogy when only a scientific theory would suffice (which is an explanation).
I have showed last round that Pro’s defences for #2 themselves entail numerous assumptions that themselves multiply God’s complexity, moreover he offers no response to the most contentious assumption, that God is conscious which in itself is enormously complex, and also I argued is necessarily at least as complex as the universe given he is omniscient.
Given that Pro has completely inadequately respond to these arguments, that God and Theism fails on every single criteria of what a good explanation would have, we should rightly throw out Pro’s positive arguments and vote Con.
This argument was made largely in support of my arguments for criteria #1. Pro completely drops these points, without a defined nature then Pro cannot reasonably assert what God would or could do. Pro cannot even affirm that God is coherent. His only response was an appeal to irrelevancy and appeal to authority/majority (which is unsubstantiated by Pro, too).
Pro put forth two sources of ‘explanations’, inanimate and animate explanations, which is fine but I do not see how this helps Pro’s case. Note that this is not a true dichotomy since there are many other classes of non-intentional explanations that do not fit within the ‘inanimate’ category. Since it is easy to envisage some contingent of necessary explanation that is not a natural law, just something non-conscious that has potential, or is just merely ‘explained’, including brute facts.
However whichever category an explanation is in, it is irrelevant for determine what is a good or potent explanation. Just by being an animate explanation doesn’t suddenly make it exempt from the four criteria listed, this would just be special pleading.
Hence, Pro’s assertion that I misunderstand what he means by explanation is both false and irrelevant.
God is the best explanation of…
Miracles & Experiences
Pro drops this argument and my objection that it was just an unjustified shifting of the BoP. Why should God be the best explanation of religious experiences? Pro has not defended why. While secular explanations do exist, Pro is the one who needs to support his own arguments.
Pro gives a seven point well-formed formula (wff) to argue from contingency, yet provides exactly zero support for any of his premises. First for instance, Pro’s argument fails immediately as it does not argue for God. A “necessary being” does not equal God, since it does not even distinguish between a sentient or a non-sentient explanation(!).
Moreover why should we accept premise 1, “If anything exists, there must be a sufficient reason why it exists.”? Clearly God is not subject to this premise, so either this premise is false, or Pro requires special pleading for why God is the only thing that does not require a sufficient reason for why it exists (e.g. the universe, or laws of physics being a brute fact).
Lastly, Pro’s premise 2 is a classical fallacy of composition, since the world being consisted of contingent things, doesn’t mean the universe itself as a whole is contingent.
To give counter examples with these unproven premises, it would be that the universe is entirely contingent, yet unexplained, that the universe does have a necessary explanation, but that explanation is not God, that the universe is self-explained (due to fallacy of composition) etc.
Note that it is not for me to postulate an explanation for why there is something rather than nothing, as Pro carrys the burden of proof. That is not to say I haven’t given possible reasons (brute facts for e.g.), and I have definitely demonstrated each point why making the lesser assumption of a non sentient (hence non-God) explanation is significantly better. Pro complains:
“Because we have taken God out of the equation does not of course entail that the question of the existence of humans (conscious beings), the world and its order and religious experiences are solved. “
Perhaps, but so what? Just because there remain open questions doesn’t mean we cannot start ruling out bad answers (God).
…The World and it’s Order
Pro appeals to the Goodness of God as to why the world would exhibit order, but shows no logical progression (he has also failed to address that God’s ‘goodness’ is undefined and question begging).
Pro provides zero support for the first and second premises of his argument (which we should accept as bare assertions and hence reject them). If either P1 or P2 are false or unsound, then the whole argument fails.
First, premise 1 is false, since we know that the world is not necessarily deterministic. We know that each ‘input’, or cause will not necessarily reach an ‘end’. For example take 218Po, there is no specific ‘end’ at any time, it can either do nothing, or it can decay into 218At, or into 214Pb, completely by chance and at random. The result of the decay is not affected by external factors, if there was an ‘end’ to the state of affairs then there would be one and only one possible outcome, yet there are three in this specific case.
This is a property of the entire universe as we know (due to quantum mechanics), and generalizable ends are only observed on larger scales (when statistics become significant). In fact, the only real ‘end’ that the universe and the things in it apparently possesses is to increase entropy, which is entirely a statistical phenomenon (and unintelligent). Hence P1 becomes either false, or rather very useless.
P2 is also entirely unsubstantiated, and relies heavily on euphemisms to imply some ‘purpose’ in things that occur, and makes the additional assumption that actions were ‘directed’ to a specific end as opposed to the bottom-up explanation that the ‘end’ is just a result of the conditions in place at the time.
Pro only restates his original argument, that God is the best explanation for physical-mental connections(?!). However this argument presupposes the existence of a human soul, and assumes substance dualism, and he completely ignored my rebuttals to this. I gave a plethora of mind ontologies, and the only ontology where this is a problem is in substance dualism.
Materialism, Neutral Monism, Monistic Idealism, Property Dualism, etc. do not share this problem (which God is supposed to explain) and Pro has given exactly zero reasons to accept substance dualism over any other ontology.
Ergo, Pro is presupposing a problem with contentious existence. Hence his argument is unsound.
Pro drops this debate on multiple fronts, by failed to respond to arguments demonstrating why God cannot be potent in explanations, and by giving virtually no reason to accept why God is intrinsically a good explanation for anything. Theism violates every single criteria of what we would expect from an explanation and Pro’s positive arguments are rushed and are largely unsubstantiated.
Given this, the resolution is negated, please vote Con.
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