Theistic Explanations

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Stuart Buck has an excellent post on appealing to God as an explanation, showing what's wrong with most complaints about such appeals. The argument he's responding to goes as follows.

1. We're trying to explain fact F.
2. Theists appeal to God to explain F.
3. God is a further mystery.
4. Therefore, we still haven't explained F.

or alternatively:

1. We're trying to explain fact F.
2. Theists appeal to God to explain F.
3. We haven't argued for the existence of God.
4. Therefore, we still haven't explained F.

Each argument makes a mistake, but the second one is fallacious in a fairly obvious way, and I don't think that was made clear in Stuart's post. (It just happens that one of Stuart's commenters expressed exactly the second argument as a response to Stuart, which strikes me as simply stupid, not just ignoring his point but making an even dumber mistake than the first argument.)

The problem with the first argument, Stuart argues, is that all explanations would fail to explain if this sort of argument were enough to discount an explanation. We're trying to explain F in terms of something else. That takes the explanation back a step, and we're left with a further thing to explain. Does that mean we haven't explained F? It might mean there's no exhaustive explanation, but explanations in science aren't exhaustive. We explain the falling of objects on earth in terms of gravitational attraction between masses. Have we explained gravitational attraction between masses?

As things stand, scientists haven't explained that yet. Einstein offered an explanation, one I'm attracted to. Space is bent in higher dimensions. Quantum theorists have offered other explanations involving particles called gravitons. Maybe both explanations will converge, as some think Einstein and quantum theory will one day converse. As it stands, we haven't explained gravitation, and once we do we'll have something further back to explain. If we ever arrive at an equation to unify the four forces (assuming this new stuff about a fifth force is wrong), we'll still have to ask why that equation and not others. We can observe that the equation is true, but why?

So appealing to God is like appealing to something unexplained in some ways, but so is every explanation in science. Therefore, those who complain that God can't serve as an explanation on those grouds are misunderstanding the very nature of explanation.

What about the second argument? The biggest problem here is that we have argued for the existence of God. Even if you discount the other arguments for the existence of God, which I don't (even though I don't consider them proofs, I do consider some of them good arguments), this is an argument for the existence of God. To dismiss an argument for the existence of God by saying that you haven't first given an argument for the existence of God misses the whole point.

Now there's always the question of whether the evidence offered leads to God as the best explanation, and I'm not going to get into that issue here. Design arguments, cosmological arguments, and miracle arguments can all involve alternative explanations among standard objections, and those are legitimate questions. This objection doesn't deal with that part of theistic arguments, though, and both versions of it seem to be non-starters as objections to theistic explanations.

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