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Is it reasonable to rule out God as an explanation for the mystery of the origin of life even though we do not have a current natural explanation? Note that this is under the assumption that we haven’t ruled out natural explanations for the origin of life. It is one thing to say that we don’t know a natural explanation for the origin of life. It is another to say that it is impossible for it to have occurred naturally. I am assuming the former since the latter has not been proven.

With that being said, my proposed argument would be an inductive one, assuming that God is not bound by the current laws of physics.

1.) Every physical process that we’ve observed has a physical cause

2.) Life is a physical process

3.) God is not a physical cause as per traditional conceptions of God

4.) Therefore God did not cause the origin of life

Note that in statement 1.) I do not say that a physical cause is the only cause. One may try to attack it by pointing out that I may use my mind or mental states that may arguably be non physical to move my hand. But there would still be a physical cause for my movement in two ways: a) in the fact that my mental states wouldn’t exist without the physical brain and b) the sequence of events that lead to the mechanical movement of my hand would be physical.

My second argument would be to argue to rule out God even if He was physical and only worked with physical causes (although I recognize this isn’t often argued). The argument would be as follows:

1.) If god caused the origin of life physically, this must have happened through some physical process

2.) Whatever physical process He would use to create life must be itself less complex than God Himself, given that He is proposed to be an infinite, all knowing, and all powerful Being

3.) God is assumed to be a brute fact, a Being with certain kinds of infinite attributes that exists without reason

4.) If G is for God and P is for the physical process, two possible explanations for the origin of life now are (G+P) and P by itself

4.) As per Occam’s razor, given the complexity of God, if one had to pick between (G+P) and P, it is more reasonable to simply believe that the physical process that would be bound by physical laws just existed as a brute fact that caused the origin of life

5.) Therefore, it is reasonable to rule out God as an explanation

If this kind of reasoning works, can this be applied to any other mystery of the universe as well? If it doesn’t, I’m interested in the weak points of these arguments.

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  • Can you define exactly what you mean by "physical" ? Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 20:53
  • An explanation answers the questions why or how something was done or happened. I would say that "God created life" does not answer those questions and so does not explain anything. Would you say that "Rodin created the statue called 'The Thinker'" explains anything?
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 21:44
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    We have already the frequently cited but potentially apocryphal discussion between Laplace and Napoleon: Asked by Napoleon about the absence of God in Laplace's system, Laplace answered: "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là. (I had no need of that hypothesis." Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 7:23
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    You're taking the question backwards. The problem is not to rule out that God created life (rationally, we can't), but that there is no valid reason to think it is the case.
    – armand
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 10:42
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    It depends what you mean by "rule it out". It you mean "affirm it's false" (what I thought) then having no reason to think it's true does not imply that it's false. Right now you have no reason to think I have 3 coins in my left pocket, but it doesn't mean it's false. If you mean "not consider it as an hypothesis and focus on others to investigate" then you are right. Note that in some cases not investigating at all is also a viable option: why should you care how much coins I have in my pocket? Sometimes "I don't know" is the rational position.
    – armand
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 23:20

5 Answers 5

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1.) Every physical process has a physical cause

3.) God is not a physical cause

Almost nobody who believes in god/s believes this; you've functionally defined God out of existence in your premise. Your conclusion follows from the premise, but the premise is one which no-one who doesn't already believe your conclusion will grant, so the argument is not useful.

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    No proof that happened
    – user62907
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 21:53
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    There is no evidence that Jesus bodily ascended into heaven. So at best, it is disputable. But there is evidence that every physical effect we’ve directly observed the cause for was physical.
    – user62907
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 22:05
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    @Armand can I make this more obvious by taking religion out of it? Suppose I want to convince you that Santa Clause doesn't exist. Taking "All presents come from non-Santa sources" as one of my premises is an informal fallacy: it does follow therefrom that Santa doesn't exist, but Santa is the magic man who delivers presents, so I've packed my conclusion into my premise, begging the question. Everybody who believes in Santa believes that they have seen presents that Santa delivered.
    – g s
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 15:51
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    The truth or falsehood of the premise is irrelevant to its uselessness for supporting the conclusion: the premise and the conclusion are identical, so it's the premise which needs defending in the first place.
    – g s
    Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 15:54
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    ...am I being accused of trying to defend my deeply held belief in Santa now?
    – g s
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 0:26
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Comments on argument 1:

1.) Every physical process that we’ve observed has a physical cause

This is correct, though the trajectory of this argument, from this premise alone, seems to be taking that of an inductive argument, which cannot definitively rule out a logical possibility.

2.) Life is a physical process

This is correct, no further comments.

3.) God is not a physical cause as per traditional conceptions of God

Once again, this is correct, though I must note that in some religions, such as Islam, there are prominent sects that believe in physical gods (though you do deal with this in your second argument).

4.) Therefore God did not cause the origin of life

As mentioned in the first premise, this does not follow, in essence, you are claiming that since all physical processes that we have observed have a physical cause, then all physical processes have a physical cause, and that simply does not follow.

Comments on argument 2:

1.) If god caused the origin of life physically, this must have happened through some physical process

This premise must be argued for, it is not primitive, nor established.

2.) Whatever physical process He would use to create life must be itself less complex than God Himself, given that He is proposed to be an infinite, all knowing, and all powerful Being

This is also incorrect, basic theology states that God, as an entity, is a simple, non-complex being. Being all-knowing and all-powerful does not entail being complex.

3.) God is assumed to be a brute fact, a Being with certain kinds of infinite attributes that exists without reason

This is a peculiar characterization of God. Most theologians would argue that God is a necessary being, not a brute fact and that God's attributes are necessary, and according to some, identical to him (I am coming from an Islamic paradigm, but I'm sure Christan theology is similar enough with its concept of divine simplicity).

4.) If G is for God and P is for the physical process, two possible explanations for the origin of life now are (G+P) and P by itself

I'm not confident that this dichotomy holds, but we'll go with it.

5.) As per Occam’s razor, given the complexity of God, if one had to pick between (G+P) and P, it is more reasonable to simply believe that the physical process that would be bound by physical laws just existed as a brute fact that caused the origin of life

This doesn't follow, you would be choosing between one of two: A brute fact that explains the process, or a necessary fact that explains the process (never mind the implication of necessitarianism here, we are simply comparing the merits). A brute fact isn't an explanation, necessity is.

6.) Therefore, it is reasonable to rule out God as an explanation

See the comments above

-Feel free to engage if you have any questions, thanks.

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We can't rule it out. And further, even if we have a good model of every step, we can't rule it out. But, we can say as Sean Carroll does here, that God is not a good theory. Science is tentative, nothing is totally ruled in our out, we just look at what the evidence is, and what explanations best account for it. A science-plausible deity is not going to be an interventionist deity, I'd say Deism is the closest you can expect to get. It's pretty unclear what the claim is too, whether god created the potential and put things in motion towards certain ends, or directly acted at the beginning, or guided with miracles that were unlikely but not impossible.

We can also note things about any such deities character, like as JBS Haldane quipped, it must have an “inordinate fondness for beetles.” And, must be very fond of the vast panoply of biodiversity, that we are currently destroying - 50% of all species on Earth gone extinct in the last century, and accelerating.

In this answer I talk about understanding religion as about enactment of shared values, over and above thinking of it as speculative Cosmology: Is there such a thing as weak evidence? With such having helped conceptualise ideas about rights, and natural laws, and with continuing power in principle to inspire people to live well together. I'd look there for a justification of a deity: is belief helping you live well, and well with others?

For me, I have found the religious people who wrote profound music, or dedicated themselves to striking stained glass work, or to truly celebrating our natueal world like Ethiopian Church-forests, or the Sagrada Familia with it's catenary-tree-pillars & zooplankton shaped columns, far more inspiring than a frankly implausible hypothesis about the origin of life, even if that can't be ruled out. The difference between god creating a cosmos with potential for life, and one that specifically did our abiogenesis, is really pretty negligible. There are better things to think about, like appreciating the life on Earth.

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No, gods can obviously serve as a fill-gap explanation for any event which we cannot fully explain. Who killed JFK, why did the chicken cross the road, how did dinosaurs go extinct, why do men have nipples, how can the bumblebee fly, how did Mary got pregnant without sex with a husband, where does this new virus come from? Any question that you cannot answer with a physical explanation yet can be answered with "God done it" until such a day when you do find a better explanation.

That's the most prominent feature of any god. Occam's razor only comes into play once we do have a suitable alternative explanation.

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Well, no, how could you rule out God per se?

Also, such a question had better not be contingent on how well a "natural explanation" we have. That's the God of the gaps; but even in those cases where we do have a perfectly God-less explanation (we think) there is no reason the explanation could not be simply wrong - and it was God-did-it after all.

Logical arguments based on God's surmised properties are slippery and do not really get you anywhere.

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