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One presentation of this argument is put forward by Carl Sagan:

"If the general picture, however, of a Big Bang followed by an expanding universe is correct - what happened before that? Was the universe devoid of all matter and then the matter suddenly somehow created? How did that happen? In many cultures, a customary answer is that a "God" or "Gods" created the universe out of nothing, but if we wish to pursue this question courageously we must, of course, ask the next question - where did God come from? If we decide that this is an unanswerable question, why not save a step and conclude that the origin of the universe is an unanswerable question? Or if we say that God always existed, why not save a step and conclude that the universe always existed? There's no need for a creation, it was always here. These are not easy questions. Cosmology brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries, with questions that were once treated only in religion and myth."

Source: https://genius.com/Carl-sagan-on-god-and-gods-annotated
Or watch: The uncertainty of God (Carl Sagan in cosmos series) - YouTube

Richard Dawkins makes similar arguments:

"If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it! The Blind Watchmaker, Chapter 11 “Doomed Rivals”" (p. 316)

"A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to need a mammoth explanation in its own right." The God Delusion (p. 178)

"God, if he exists, would have to be a very, very, very complicated thing indeed. So to postulate a God as the beginning of the universe, as the answer to the riddle of the first cause, is to shoot yourself in the conceptual foot because you are immediately postulating something far far more complicated than that which you are trying to explain. [...] If you have problems seeing how matter could just come into existence - try thinking about how complex intelligent matter, or complex intelligent entities of any kind, could suddenly spring into existence, it's many many orders of magnitude harder to understand." Lynchburg, Virginia, 23/10/2006

"In the case of the cosmos, [...] even if we don't understand how it came about, it's not helpful to postulate a creator, because the creator is the very kind of thing that needs an explanation - and although it's difficult enough to explain how a very simple origin of the universe came into being - how matter and energy, how one or two physical constants came into existence - although it's difficult enough to think how simplicity came into existence, it's a hell of a lot harder to think how something as complicated as a God comes into existence" "Has Science Buried God?" Debate, Richard Dawkins vs. John Lennox, 21/10/2008

Source: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins

Are Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins right in their reasoning?

Does theism introduce an overly complicated and unnecessary extra step?

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  • Yes, I agree with both positions, the position of Sagan and the position of Dawkins. I do not see any explanatory power in the concept of God. IMO it is an ad-hoc fiction to satisfy humans’ need for answers to their fundamental questions. Hence I consider the God concept to be a candidate to apply Occam’s razor. Note. I am well-aware that my position probably prompts a polarizing echo.
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 26 at 13:08
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    fwiw (little) imho it's not just that theism is not parsimonious but the outlandishness of what it posits, with or without bibical descriptions of god etc.. in what other spehere of discourse than religion can we "explain" something by appealing to an omnipotent being that likes to drown babies?
    – andrós
    Mar 26 at 13:35
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    The statements here are evaluative, so "is X right?" is in the eye of the beholder. There is no fact of the matter to decide whether "extra step" provides added value. The answer to "why not save a step?" is that many (theists) find God to be a more satisfying stopping point than mindless depersonalized universe. Technically, the mistake of these types of arguments is reducing the decision to some desiccated notion of "simplicity" that begs the question to fast track the desired outcome. "Simplicity" is already a very bendable notion, and there are plenty of epistemic values besides it.
    – Conifold
    Mar 26 at 14:19
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    @Baby_philosopher It's simpler because the deception doesn't require modeling an entire universe, only the reduced bubble that makes you believe that an entire universe exists, whereas physicalism posits an entire universe with laws, particles, etc. In fact, the deception doesn't even require consistency, because the feeling that reality looks consistent is also an illusion. The deception can be extremely simple, whereas physicalism requires an entire universe, or even a multiverse, with very complex structure, laws, etc.
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 21:42
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    @Mark Very interesting and thoughtful points! Sure, a reduced bubble may be simpler than an entire universe. But we’re comparing a deceiver + the illusion of a universe he deceives vs. the universe with no deceiver. Intuitively, the former would still be more complex, since anyone capable of deceiving in this manner and creating such a bubble can probably do the same for a whole host of imaginable states of affairs. Thus, the total possible state of affairs that can be “created” by this deceiver will still have more ontology than just one universe. We can probably debate this forever though! Mar 26 at 21:49

4 Answers 4

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Short answer Absolutely no. The argument falsely presumes that science should end either way, and one must at some point abandon the infinite series leg of Munchausen's Trilemma, and declare a solution "uninvestigable" -- and it is better to do that with the Big Bang than with God.

But both the Big Bang, and God claims, have predicted consequences, so are investigable. We do not need to abandon the infinite series of explanations that naturalism pursues in either case.

Longer answer This rationalization to abandon naturalism could have been and likely was invoked at multiple stages in the process of naturalist instigation. Why, for instance, investigate the postulated elemental features of medieval physics/chemistry/biology? We could have just declared this thinking a brute fact, and shut down science before it ever got started. Same with atoms. Same with sub-atomic particles. And now with QM and relativity. We could-have/can shut down naturalism at any stage.

And each step of theoretical development of our physics, chemistry, etc, has itself not been an end. And per this argument, it has been an unneeded "complexity" because it still does not answer the ultimate "why" that is needed to close Munchausen.

If God claims are a useful explanation of our universe, and are investigable, then they are NOT "unnecessary", they instead are one more step in trying to understand our universe.

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  • Those analogies don’t work. Before we discovered DNA for example, we didn’t just postulate DNA as an explanation for reproduction. We had to first get evidence. If there is no evidence for DNA whatsoever to our knowledge, then yes, it is unjustified to postulate it, even if it ends up being the correct explanation. The reason God is not worthwhile as an explanation is due to this lack of evidence. Secondly, there is no mystery being solved with God since there is never a “how” proposed and the “how” is what we’re really after when we’re trying to explain things Mar 26 at 21:22
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    @Baby_philosopher There were no analogies in my answer. If you claim that God hypotheses cannot be evidenced, that is quite thoroughly untrue. If you claim that God hypotheses cannot provide useful explanations, that is likewise thoroughly untrue. If you claim that explanations require a "how" that is untrue as well, which gravity is the premier refuting test case for. Is there a useful suggestion you want to make, or are you just offering special pleading to try to dismiss God explanations?
    – Dcleve
    Mar 27 at 1:26
  • I didn’t say that the god hypothesis cannot be evidenced. I claimed that there is none. We do have a how for gravity. It comes from the curvature of space time. If you don’t like this explanation, then you must atleast acknowledge that it makes successful predictions. Where are the regularly successful predictions for god? Lastly, you simply asserted that god can be a useful explanation. I can replace God with an infinite number of entities. Is there anything that god explains that can’t also be asserted to occur from an all powerful devil? Mar 27 at 9:19
  • We need a “how” if we want a good explanation, but we don’t need a “how” if we want evidence that something atleast exists. We don’t have a “how” for consciousness but we have evidence that it exists due to our experience. Even if we didn’t have a “how” for gravity, we know that it exists since we can observe its effects, whatever we want to call it. In the case of God, we have no evidence for its existence. Mar 27 at 9:25
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    @Baby_philosopher -- the false claim that no God claims have any evidence is part of a lot of recent atheist apologism, but is blatantly false. All God claims are supported with theories with explanatory power, direct revelations, mystical experiences, miracles, life transformation stories, etc. See "The End of Faith", among the best of New Atheism books. We have a speculative "how" for gravity under GR, but it is incompatible with QM, and the efforts to push it back another step have so far failed for a century+. Is an incoherent and incomplete "how" sufficient? God claims can do that.
    – Dcleve
    Mar 27 at 18:07
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Does theism introduce an overly complicated and unnecessary extra step?

No: it introduces an overly complicated, unexplanatory "solution" that's really much worse than the question/problem it was meant to answer

Worse than an invisible heatless immaterial atemporal dragon in my garage, mind you

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  • Oh, so you agree with the "overly complicated" part but reject the "unnecessary" part? It might very well be necessary? Is God necessary?
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 13:03
  • Oh, no, I don't really reject the 'unnecessary (step)' part, I just fint it that framing it that way may sound like 'superfluous, but harmless (step)', and I want to highlight that it is in fact worse
    – ac15
    Mar 26 at 13:06
  • If you agree with both, then your answer should be "yes", not "no". Your "no" is misleading. To my understanding, 'superfluous, but harmless' is found nowhere in the definition of 'unnecessary'.
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 13:08
  • I believe this answer is stating a position of "unnecessary, superfluous, and not harmless", but of course the original poster has the final word on that.
    – JonathanZ
    Mar 26 at 14:02
  • @Mark yeah, I could have been explicit with "yes, I gree with 'overly complicated', and no, I don't really reject 'unecessary', ...", but I just went with the shorter one, so no, the 'no' is not misleading at all. Also, I said "it may sound like..." because that was one thing that ocurred to me when I read 'unnecessary', it wasn't meant to imply 'superfluous, but harmless' is a necessary (part of an) interpretation of 'unnecessary' or anything
    – ac15
    Mar 26 at 14:03
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In fact, that's what the concept of Pastafarianism is for. Without Pastafarianism, there would be no definition of being that atheists could take as a reference for solving existential problems. If problem solving shows that we have the success of non-paralogical problem solving that leads to the solution, what is wrong with doing science?

This is almost the same as claiming that UFOs don't exist. New astronomical discoveries are made every day, giving us more information about the different properties of new celestial objects. This topic does not only appeal to the idea of atheism. In fields such as mechatronics engineering, software engineering, computer engineering, astrobiology, cybernetics, military science, sociology, theology, philosophy, and physics engineering, it would be necessary to interpret how this existence could be a factor, because if we do not know what distinguishes between God and UFOs, we cannot understand in advance when there is a colonial invasion.

The more work there is, the more workload there is. If you remove God as a factor, you will not be able to play an active role in wars that can be asymmetrical, such as space warfare, except for planetary defense, and this will cause you to fall behind. This status does not prove that there could not have been another life form.

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To answer your question head on, yes. Although at this point, this topic has been discussed to death over the last week.

It is unnecessary not mainly because it is complex, for after all we have evidence of complex things causing simpler things such as humans writing books.

It is unnecessary mainly because there is no evidence for God or His inner workings. Thus in order to use Him as an explanation, one must posit Him. But then that begs the question since that is the very thing we are trying to show or prove in the first place (I.e. His existence). Note that in cases that might be explained by agents that we already know to exist, such as humans, there is nothing to postulate. Humans already exist and we know this prior to coming across anything that might be explained by humans.

The same can’t be said of God.

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    It is unnecessary mainly because there is no evidence for God or His inner workings - People who claim to have personally encountered God would probably beg to differ, see youtu.be/cC3q3qYIhdI or philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/109913/66156
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 21:17
  • Humans already exist and we know this prior to coming across anything that might be explained by humans.- How do you know that? Based on your own personal experiences?
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 21:18
  • Yes, it is based on the assumption that my experience of literally seeing and observing humans do things or learning about them is representative of reality. Presumably, you also share this assumption so I don’t see the issue with that @Mark Mar 26 at 21:29
  • So you are using your personal experiences to stop the infinite regress of the Münchhausen trilemma. So what's wrong with someone stopping the infinite regress with their own personal experience of God?
    – Mark
    Mar 26 at 21:40
  • @Mark Personal experiences of God usually occur in specific, peculiar contexts. Even the people who have these personal experiences acknowledge this, for otherwise these experiences wouldn’t be special. Since the experience of seeing humans is more ordinary and an assertion that almost all of us agree on, it has more basis. Now of course, a theist might say that His experience of seeing god is just as much evidence of His experience of seeing a human for example. In that case, sure, I cannot argue against that. That would be his intuition. But I doubt that even most theists argue that. Mar 26 at 21:43

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