The Problem With Using God as an Explanation

Actually there are many problems with using God as an explanation. Let me highlight what I consider one of the most important problems. It's this: it explains too much. It explains everything, and so it explains nothing. What do I mean by this? If every problem can be solved by a single solution then the solution has too much explanatory power. It becomes a simplistic solution.

I've already made this case with regard to Calvinism, where I quoted these words:
"But is it always rational to accept a simpler theory? It is true that simpler theories always have greater explanatory scope. But there is a point where a theory can have too much explanatory power in which it explains everything, and actually doesn't really explain anything because there is no observation or fact which it cannot explain. Such a theory, having too much explanatory power ceases to be a simple theory and becomes simplistic." Link
There are some fatal problems with regard to how a timeless bodiless Trinitarian personal God has always existed who created the universe in time and who never learned anything new. There are fatal problems for how such a God could create a material world and why he did so knowing that billions of his creatures would end up in hell. There are additional problems harmonizing the current concept of the Christian God with the tribal God we find in the Bible. There are even more problems when we ask how this God could become incarnate in Jesus and why his death on the cross saves us from sins. Additional problems are why this God chose to reveal himself in the ancient superstitious past where claims of miracles were abundant and hardly ever doubted before the rise of modern science. Still more problems concern why this God did not reveal himself such that his words would not be misunderstood by believers down through the centuries, which caused wars among Christians themselves. And there is the fatal problem of ubiquitous suffering, both among humans and animals.

But all of these problems (and more) are answered simplistically with the God concept. You see, God is mysterious and so are his ways. Christians believe he knows what he's doing. He's beyond comprehension because he is God. He is infinite. We are finite. How can we expect to understand him? We can't. So he revealed enough about himself so that we should accept that he exists and that his ways are reasonable and good.


Believers opine that just because we cannot comprehend a timeless bodiless personal existence of a trinitarian Supreme being doesn't mean such an existence is impossible since God is an infinite being. Okay. Possibly. They pontificate on each and every one of these problems with similar answers. Just because we cannot understand the incarnation, or the atonement, or why such a God created anything at all doesn't mean God does not have his good reasons for doing so. Okay. Possibly. Just because we find a tribal God in the Bible doesn't mean that an infinite God doesn't exist who was progressively leading believers to a more informed perspective on just who he is. Okay. Possibly. Just because we cannot understand how a perfectly good God can be reconciled with the total amount of human and animal suffering from the very beginning doesn't mean that such a God doesn't exist who knows what he's doing. Okay. Possibly. And the list of problems goes on and on. For each one of them their God concept is the answer.

Christians demand that the skeptic must show some logical impossibility with any and all of these problems. And skeptics have risen to this challenge seen in this book: The Impossibility of God. But Christians always seem to find some strange extremely remote ad hoc possibility that escapes these arguments. So they continue to believe and think it's still reasonable to do so even though to answer these arguments they must continually retreat to what I call the "mere possible" defense time after time; that so long as what they believe is possible then it's probable even though this is a huge non-sequitur informal fallacy.

My claim is that the more often Christians must retreat to this defense in order to believe then the less likely their God exists. My argument is that for us to believe such a God exists we must know enough of his ways to conclude his ways are reasonable and good. But we don't. Not by a long shot. Not even close. Why would God create us with minds, ask us to use them, and not provide us with what we need to believe? I've already described what it would take for me to believe. Why doesn't God provide any of this?

And that is the problem. This God concept ends up being a simplistic answer to all problems. It explains everything and so it explains nothing. It is non-answer.


Adrian said...

Playing Devil's Advocate for a second, is it the "God hypothesis" too sweeping or is it something else? If God is really benevolent and powerful then I think we can make predictions and we can potentially falsify it. The problem arises that all of these descriptions of God are easily falsified leaving theists the choice modifying their hypothesis (dropping the 'benevolent' bit, as Calvinists do, or dropping the 'poweful' bit by introducing an equally powerful Satan), or rejecting their hypothesis by saying there is no god.

What I see instead is that people (including including academics who should know better) want to preserve both attributes. They say god is "mysterious" and sometimes admit this is a "paradox", as if this isn't a tacit admission that they recognize a big conflict. It's not so much that the theory can explain everything but that they've started talking nonsense, erasing all meanings from the words they use so "benevolent" and "powerful" don't mean anything anymore. I hesitate to say that their theory can encompass too much because I don't know if it's even recognizable as a theory. Or even as English.

But if we're being charitable and pretending that they're talking sense, I would agree. If Christians have perverted the meaning of the words "benevolent" and "loving" so that it is consistent with atrocities, suffering and horrific birth defects, then where is the point where we say "that crosses a line"? They're clinging to emotive, powerful *words* while removing any meaning from them.

shane said...

I find this to be true as well, its almost as if theists are just being intellectually lazy!

If any theist (Christian, Muslim, etc) expects the other to believe them, and expects athiests/agnostics to believe them, then they need to show us all how their theology is right and best explains the misteries of life!

If they cannot do this, then their theology is useless as an explanation!

shane said...

Good point can pastors, ministers, and priests, teach us about (God) and claim to have the knowledge of the truth, when they cant even rationally explain the nature of their God anymore?

Lazarus said...

If "God" is the answer you misunderstood the question.

shane said...


If God is the answer you misunderstood the question?????

Care to elaborate a little?

NiVeKeR14 said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Andre was making a tongue-in-cheek, but oh-so-very-true play on words.

As in, if I ask you where deers came from and you answer God, you misunderstood the question.

Its a clever way of saying God is the wrong answer.

Jon Hanson said...

The oddest thing about the Christian argument is that they claim their trinitarian God is the simplest with explanatory value when it seems to me the only thing the trinity explains is how the Christian scriptures might possibly be salvaged. If we're looking for the simplest God hypothesis it seems clear to me it's not the Christian God since it's easy to shave off all the complexities that have no logical basis.

shane said...


Ooook, I thought for a second it was addressed to my post?
I thought maybe I didn't explain it

But yes I agree. It can be seen by comparing the anthropomorphic manlike God in the OT, sitting on a throne in the sky...... to the God of the gaps christians harbor now, just how they keep posing "God" for every question that hasn't been explained yet!
And when it is explained, they simply pose God as the answer to the next puzzling question, and on it goes!

DavidA said...

The funny thing about the so-called "new atheism" is that as Nietzsche once warned -- "He who choses the weaker opponent is himself made weaker." The new atheism is much weaker in many regards than the old. That's because the old atheists at least had a philosophical foundation through which to challenge the theist.

I am reminded of one simple truth of spirituality: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."

I recognize that there are many theists out there content to offer you in triplicate their answers, and to prop those up as non-negotiable truths. But these types are much different than what I see here. They just live on the other side of the divide.

I'll play the real devil's advocate for you. The problem with using science as an explanation for morality is that it doesn't work. No matter how much they really "MEME" it, they are forced to don Platonic clothes to even speak of it -- either that or just deny that it exists altogether, which is both illogical and unreasonable, not to mention just flat out hollow.

You see the great atheists -- men like Camus, Russell, and Neitzsche -- they knew this was true. They knew that all world views begin as tautologies. And that the materialist world view could in no way ever capture human morality, choice, or dignity. The new atheists are still playing catch-up.

C.S. Lewis was more right than he could have possibly imagined in "Abolition of Man."

Chuck said...

Interesting tangent David but I fail to see how it has anything to do with the topic.

The "new atheists" simply posit that the social taboo regarding religious criticism should be abrogated because superstitious folk like yourself too often think you are advancing society through appeals to authority.

You don't seem to know what the new atheists arguments are so why comment on them?

Gandolf said...

David Allred said .."You see the great atheists -- men like Camus, Russell, and Neitzsche -- they knew this was true. They knew that all world views begin as tautologies. And that the materialist world view could in no way ever capture human morality, choice, or dignity. The new atheists are still playing catch-up."

Dear David .. what is it you are actually suggesting here? ...That these great atheists were not atheist?

And please... would you mind expanding a little on how you say it is evidence actually proves "materialist world view could in no way ever capture human morality"

DavidA said...


Not at all. I am saying these atheists were great because they were superior thinkers who recognized the boundaries of their own tautologies and used those to unravel their opponents from the inside out.

As to why science fails to speak meaningfully about morality, I've already stated. To do so it must dress up in Platonic clothes.

And Chuck, as I mentioned to you below in another posting, I've scarely mentioned God, my superstitions, or my theology in any post I've ever made here. I've simply stated, where appropriate, why alternative modes of thought that I've read here are intellectually distasteful and not nearly as reasoned as they assume.

I see no reason to posit onto me what you assume my belief structure to be until I've fully disclosed it. Such argumentation borders on an ad hominem fallacy.

I've never spelled out what I believe or why. But I can tell what I don't swallow, and that a fair portion of what I read here, which often seems a lot to me like the sound of one hand clapping.

I do very much enjoy reading people's thoughts however. Some great sermon material in here. ;)

DavidA said...


Russell is probably the place I would go regarding Platonic clothes, in case the was too obscure a statement for you to do anything with.

I've no desire to re-outline for anyone here Russell's struggle, but it is by far the best one out there. I looked for some quotes I could link without having to type out what I've underlined, the best I could do was find this through Google:

I've read this summary before, not in entirety, but enough of it to see that this author did a decent job of trying to get into Russell's head on these matters.

Hope that helps.

Chuck said...


You fail to understand that your arguments here are garden variety christian apologetic rhetoric and are transparent to your ideas and intention. You also misrepresented the new atheists which is an ad hominem and a tangent to the post.

Gandolf said...

David Allred said... "Gandolph,

Not at all. I am saying these atheists were great because they were superior thinkers who recognized the boundaries of their own tautologies and used those to unravel their opponents from the inside out."

Thanks David ,well im not so sure it was the plan of all new atheists to try and match the superior thoughts of folks like Camus, Russell, and Neitzsche .Just as maybe its also not really the plan of many folks of faith to try matching superior thinkers than themselves.But we dont expect faithful folks to simply shut up because their thoughts might happen to be a little insuperiour than others,either.

The thing is David,you can put forward any ammount of philosophy you wish, but when the chips are cashed in at the end of the day, it isnt going to do much at all to help boot a Popes butt into finally taking some proper action! into stopping bullshitting and simply carring on moving molesting priests around like they did do for many years for instance is it.No ammount of philosophy for many years actually helped the Pope change his mind about matters did it....And it wasnt the "wonder of philosophy", which finally broke the camels back and brought about some long awaited change with regards to slavery in the U.S.A either was it.It took action! and loud voices of many people, people not so very unlike the new atheists.

So maybe it is you misjudge the reasons we actually now also have these folks known as the new atheists.Im not sure that they even honestly are trying to match the superior thoughts of folks like Camus, Russell, and Neitzsche.Many of them are simply speaking their mind about how they personally see things.Whats changed a little, is they no longer are prepared to simply shut up,like maybe many faithful for many years were used to expecting them to do.

Yes i agree with you philosophy is a really great thing and we humans do need it.But at the end of the day we can talk and talk all manner of philosophies until the cows come home,but they still dont supply any milk without a little action also taking place.If a bird has a song that he sings hopefully he sings it for the reason of actually acheiving somthing.

David said .."As to why science fails to speak meaningfully about morality, I've already stated. To do so it must dress up in Platonic clothes."

Plato sure had a great philosophical career no doubt about it.But i suggest what maybe hindered people like Plato a little, is there was still much they never quite understood because science had not yet learned many things about many aspects of life that these philosophers tried understanding.

Id still be interested to hear more exactly what it is you feel a scientific method fails to speak meaningfully about morality?

And David regarding what you said about all world views begin as tautologies ..Im not sure if the verdict is thats always correct.I know most likely wikipedia is no real great authority on anything,but its usually quite good for a quick reference and gets updated quite often as people debate matters, did you check out what their page on survival of the fittest states about Is "survival of the fittest" a tautology.Because the thing is "survival of the fittest" really is a kind of incomplete account of the mechanism of natural selection.There is just so much more to it than who`s the toughest or fittest or biggest etc.Many beings are also attracted to each other for looks or attitudes or intelligence etc as well.

It seems to me many faithful folks try to seize this idea of it only revolving around "survival of the fittest" ..As a type of propaganda, to try to simply paint it all in a real nasty nihilistic totally distructive light, thats totally void of any feelings.

What do you think David.

Gandolf said...

Sorry forgot to post link

DavidA said...

Here's what I think --

The world is too complex to use a single paradigm. There are times when a philosophical paradigm is needed, times when an existential one is needed, times when a scientific one is needed, times when a moral one is needed, times when a practical one is needed, times when a poetic one is needed, times when a deductive one is needed, times when a inductive one is needed, times when linguistics are needed, and and times when we have no idea which one is needed.

Beyond that, I can't say much. I certainly can't say anything about the tautology of survival of the fittest on wiki, because I've never heard of such a thing.

Lazarus said...

David raises a point which I run into quite often. To my hearing it translates into "Those old atheists played nicer than you".

David fails to see that the so-called "New Atheists" are building on the foundations of the old ones. There is no need to restate the points Russel et al made. The delusion remains to have an influence, so new tools are necessary. And it is there that the internet, deconverting Christians, seminars, books and so on come into play. And it is because of that that the New Atheists are so effective. It is for that reason that Christianity will never be the same again, why the golden years are over.

Now I can well understand why David would want us to stick to the "philosophical rigour" of the past. In war, soldiers would wish to fight using Napoleon's rules, where everyone wears their own defined colours and we stand in organized lines when we start fighting. But that was Waterloo.

Nowadays a single person can influence the war / debate in more effective ways.

And let's not be too pretentious about the old days, shall we. The old arguments used to counter those staid old Anselmian / Thomist beauties of the unmoved mover and such relics, but then Christianity started changing, re-defining god, giving god a makeover on the fly. Most of what would pass for mainline Christianity nowadays would have been regarded as heretical not a century ago.

David, you remind me of my grandpa who constantly criticized the rest of our family for not doing Christianity "the right way". It didn't help his cause, and your line is not going to help yours.

The age of communication (not science) is bringing down the walls of this musty old castle. Nothing to do about it, but weep. Or applaud.

Adrian said...

Just jumping in a bit...

re "survival of the fittest". I'll be more sympathetic towards any tautology argument when I see someone understand that natural selection is NOT survival of the fittest but differential reproductive success. Some individuals are more likely to reproduce than others. Absolutely no tautology.

re camus & new atheists - I know very little about these philosophical atheists of the past and have little interest. To my view what appeals to me most about the "new" atheists is their lack of philosophical pretentions and instead their focus on bluntly stating there's no evidence for gods and plenty of reason to disbelieve and refusing to get drawn into abstruse arguments of theological bickering which has no relevance to the way religion is practised in day-to-day life. The Courtier's Reply is a great example of this and exemplifies what I think is best about the movement. When theists or anti-atheists start giving tips on how atheists should present their message, it feels patronizing and very self-serving, like a homophobic preacher giving tips to the GLBT movement on how to present their case. You'll pardon me if I don't believe you have anyones interest at heart but your own.

Anonymous said...

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."

This presents the opportunity to explore what a rational, valid explanation is. How did it come to be that a bird has a song? Why do birds sing in the first place?:

These are explanations based on probabilities founded on repeated, universal observation within the entire schema of nature. How stark the contrast vis a vis theology and religious explanation!

GearHedEd said...

On a more serious note...

"International Talk Like a Pirate Day" falls on a Sunday this year.

Spread the Word!

GearHedEd said...

Paraphrase of

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."


"A preacher does not preach because he has an answer. He preaches because he has an old book full of stories."

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

You're right.

I just thought I'd stop by and offer a completely irrelevant link to some pirate-team logo..