Sunday, September 15, 2013

Non-Belief, Pt. 13: The Explanatory Power of God

I've often wondered about the explanatory power of God. Does believing in God actually explain anything? If you don't just assume that God exists, would postulating his existence - or the existence of any god - solve any problems or answer any questions?

Christians often tell me that science can explain 'how,' but not 'why.' Of course, that's not true. 'Why' is a big part of science. But when it comes to the universe, we don't know 'why.' And when it comes to each of us as individuals, 'why' might be meaningless in any real sense.

But does 'God' help?

I don't know why I was born, though I think that my parents wanted kids (for whatever reason). Still, maybe I was a complete accident. Maybe their birth control failed, I don't know. But what would that mean to me?

Heck, maybe they wanted a supply of organs in case they ever needed a transplant. Maybe my reason for existing was so I could be a potential organ-donor. In a sense, that would have been my 'purpose.' But if so, should I consider that to be my purpose now?

My parents' reasons for having children did affect my life, no doubt. But whatever their reasons, is that really my 'purpose' in life? Of course not. Their reasons are their own, not mine.

So, does 'God' help? Assuming that a god exists, do his reasons for creating me define my purpose in life? If he wanted another slave to worship him for eternity, should I accept that as my 'purpose'? Why? Why would his purpose make any more difference than my parents' purpose in creating me?

Of course, God really screwed up if he did want a worshipful slave. So if he really does exist, and he really is omniscient and omnipotent, I assume he just wanted another soul to torture for eternity in Hell (billions are not enough, apparently). Should I accept that as my 'purpose,' then? (Indeed, if that were the case, my becoming a Christian would be going against God's will. But that's a paradox I'll leave for another time.)

My point is, how can any other being define my 'purpose' for me? If my parents can't, how can a god? I know that my parents created me - maybe not the people I think are my parents, but someone. If they had a reason for that, why would that define my 'purpose in life' now? If I have a purpose, it's something I must define for myself.

And 'God' makes absolutely no difference to that.

Likewise, I have theists ask me why the universe exists. (I don't know.) Why does anything exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? (I don't know.) Why did the Big Bang happen? (I don't know.) Why are these the physical characteristics of the universe and not some other characteristics? (I don't know.)

Obviously, there's a lot I don't know. There's a lot that we don't know. But does 'God,' as an explanation, actually help? Is there any explanatory power to 'God'?

You tell me that God created the universe, so that's why it exists. OK. You don't have any evidence of that, so I don't know why you'd believe it. (That's why I don't believe it.) But assuming that it's true, who created God?

If 'God' is the reason why there's something rather than nothing, then why is there a god rather than nothing? If God caused the Big Bang, then who caused God? If God created a universe with precisely these characteristics, then who created a God with precisely his characteristics?

Christian apologists try to get around such questions by answering that God always existed. But if a god can always exist, then so can a universe. (It doesn't have to be this one, but could be a precursor universe. Or a 'multiverse.') If God doesn't need a cause, then the ultimate cause of the Big Bang, whatever it is (assuming a 'cause' at all), also doesn't need a cause, not necessarily.

And if a universe with precisely these characteristics is unlikely, then a god with precisely the characteristics needed to make such a universe out of nothing has to be even more unlikely. You're not solving any problems by answering 'God,' you're just making the issues even more difficult to explain.

'God' seems to have no explanatory power whatsoever. Is there any question you can answer with 'God' which actually helps solve the problem? 'God' can't be the ultimate answer to 'why,' because that just makes the problem bigger. 'God' as an explanation just begs the question.

This is Pt. 13 in my Non-Belief series. The others are here.

Edit: I debated with myself about adding this postscript here, since it has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but... OK, here it is.  Re. my ending statement that "God as an explanation just begs the question," yes, I know that begging the question is a known logical fallacy with a completely different meaning.

Technically, "begging the question" means to assume a premise which would automatically make your conclusion true. Since you haven't demonstrated that your premise is true, this does nothing to demonstrate the truth of your conclusion, but that's not always obvious. This is a common logical fallacy.

But in modern usage, as Wikipedia points out, "begging the question" is often used to mean "raises the question," and that's how I'm using it.  'God,' as an explanation, just pushes the question back a step, rather than answering anything. If 'God' is the answer to why there's something rather than nothing, then why is there a god rather than nothing? See?

Purists don't like this usage, but it just sounds better to me - and apparently to many people. In Latin (again, according to Wikipedia), that logical fallacy was called petitio principii, "assuming the initial point." I don't know how we got "begging the question" out of that! But, hey, English is a living language, so I'm going to use what sounds best to me.

But after debating this awhile, I finally decided I would explain myself. (More than you wanted to know, huh?)


Gregg said...

I'm sure a lot of people have wondered why you were born. I'm guessing it was for practice.........

I don't see how god is the answer to any serious question. It just seems like it's a quick, mindless response. The nice thing is, it doesn't matter what the question is - God is the answer.

WCG said...

I don't know, Gregg. Mom and Dad were encouraged to have even more children after they had me. After you, they decided that maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all. :)