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Where-ever God is posited to explain anything, such as the origin of life, the origin of the universe, fine tuned constants, religious experiences, etc. why can’t we simply assume that if there is a further explanation for those things, it simply does not involve God?

Of course, if one can show that there is an explanation for any of those things, and that the explanation must involve God, then we have something going for it. But since this has never been done, why can’t someone just fill every gap in knowledge with a “godless” theory than god?

One may argue that details for this need to be fleshed out but details for God have never been fleshed out to explain anything. The question to be more specific is that if one is willing to accept a God theory that has never been fleshed out, then can this same person say anything against another person who accepts a godless theory that hasn’t been fleshed out?

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11 Answers 11

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Because some people already believe in God

For someone who already believes in God, then God doing or having done something is the simplest explanation.

Suppose that you don't know why the sun rises in the morning (and have similarly weak knowledge of astrophysics and gravity), but you do know that God exists. In this case, "God lifts the sun" is a simpler explanation than the scientific one. Similarly, "God probably lifts the sun," is a sufficiently likely explanation that saying "we don't know" would be silly.

This is why arguments about Occam's Razor fail to convince theists - because, to a theist, God already exists, so presupposing God's existence does not add to the complexity of any theory.

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    Unfortunately, it also doesn't explain anything in a useable way. When I was a young child, the next door neighbor said that an invisible fairy lit the post lamp in the front yard every night. But then I wondered what the little round thing was, put my hand over it and the lamp came on. Fairy: -1, Personal experiment: +1. You could do worse than to try the obvious.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 24 at 22:51
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    That’s not really a detriment to Occam’s razor. That just highlights how people are dogmatic. If one already “knows” that god exists, then no argument can convince them otherwise
    – user74135
    Commented May 24 at 23:18
  • @ScottRowe Do you think that neighbor really believed it was a fairy that turned the light on? It seems likely to me they just didn't want to enter a lecture about solar sensors with a ~6 year old.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented May 25 at 20:34
  • @Ryan_L he was retired, so I'm pretty sure he knew something about electricity. People say funny things to children, but perhaps he couldn't have known how interested I would be in electricity, reading all the books I could find when I was 8. Or, maybe he did know, and realized that his cryptic statement would pique my desire to learn more? Who can say, about something that happened a half century ago? The important thing is that it actually doesn't matter what he thought, because I found the answer for myself. No one's ignorance impedes you except your own. Thankfully, you can overcome it.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 21:02
  • Did (scholarly) people who knew that God exists ever believe that God lifts the sun? AFAIK Medieval people believed that the sun and stars circled the heavens because they were personally motivated by filial love towards God. Which of course is primitive superstition, us much wiser and more logically consistent moderns know that the sun and stars circle the heavens because they are non-persons who are personally motivated by civic duty which they don't feel towards a legislature which doesn't exist.
    – g s
    Commented May 26 at 15:14
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Why "... and end the debate"? Why stop making philosophy? Why avoid discussing ideas?

Our existence implies an inevitable antinomy: the existence of God, which explains it all, but for what we don't have any objective proof, and its non-existence, which also explains it all, but which leads to multiple logical inconsistencies.

So, the debate is necessary until we find some answer, which seems impossible.

Your proposition is quite naive, that would be accepting all of us a unique position (pantheism) and end the debate. So, we must all accept your truth?

No.

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  • Something that has no proof is not an explanation. People can make up any old thing, we are not obligated to notice or care about it. Bring something to the table and then it cam be discussed. Things with predictive power, not just past explanatory power, are preferred.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 14:07
  • @Curious Haha, nice try: 1. Pantheism is about god, not the Tooth Fairy; 2. We have objective proof of it; 3. Such literary figure demeans the intention; 4. You give additional arguments not to accept your truth.
    – RodolfoAP
    Commented May 26 at 7:34
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    What logical inconsistencies are implied by the non-existence of god? Commented May 26 at 23:42
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The only aim of a theory is to explain some phenomena. Hence it makes no sense to play off one “theory” without explanatory value against another “theory” without explanatory power. And a “theory” which has not been fleshed out, isn't a theory at all.

With this stand of affairs I propose to abstain from answers at the present time, and to call for a new approach.

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    Again, the question is not whether a theory without evidence is a valid one. The question is whether it should be preferred over an arguably more complex theory without evidence. If the answer is yes, and it seems so, then it seems to give a de facto reason for never preferring any sort of supernatural explanation by default
    – user74135
    Commented May 24 at 23:20
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    Imagine before Darwin the hypotheses "God created all varieties of living things" vs. "some naturalistic process created them, but we don't know what process". Neither is more explanatory, but the latter is more useful scientifically since it motivates people to find out. And empirically, the latter often turns out to have been correct.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 25 at 10:23
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    @kaya3 Not often but more like every single time
    – user74135
    Commented May 25 at 17:16
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    @kaya3 Many of the great scientific minds from history (and many in the present) were (and are) motivated to find out how "God did it." Showing the naturalistic explanation for something doesn't get rid of the need for God.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 26 at 4:09
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    @ScottRowe I meant it as logical/philosophical necessity.
    – Jed Schaaf
    Commented May 27 at 1:36
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I'm certainly no theist, but I can't imagine anyone from that side of the aisle accepting your proposal. The "problem" you eliminated in an effort to condense/simplify is the most crucial component of their position & the entire reason they stand firm on the position to begin with. Their argument necessarily begins with the knowledge that a god exists. Without that epistemology, they would not only be without the foundational tenants at the core of their ideology, but also the main component responsible for informing their entire worldview.

Not to be completely reductionist about it, but you might as well be saying, "Why not just abandon your beliefs & ignore any related convictions so everyone can pretend to agree with one another?".

If only Hitchens would've said that 30 years ago...

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    We would get along better if everyone abandoned their (unsupported) beliefs and ignored (unfounded) convictions, keeping firmly to the ones that are supported and well-founded. That knowledge comes only from deep personal experience and no one can help you in the slightest with that enterprise. "You have to cross that lonesome valley, you have to cross it by yourself. No one else can cross it for you, you have to cross it by yourself." Which is why no one should even think about religious ideas before age 35, or more. 50?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 26 at 23:12
  • Replace god with fairy and theist with fairy believer and tell me if this answer makes sense
    – user74135
    Commented May 27 at 0:29
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Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which although applied primarily to mathematical constructs, nonetheless demonstrate that there is a fundamental incompleteness to all reasoning. Let me illustrate just how devastating that is. We assign meaning to the square root of negative one although no such thing exists, and call it an imaginary number. As it turns out, that lack of existence does not prevent us from defining complex numbers, the sum of both real and imaginary numbers which sums are very useful as we can start with a real problem, do operations in the complex domain, and return a real answer.

Because of the incompleteness of reasoning I propose the following as axiomatic. God does not have to exist for the concept of God to be indispensable for explaining certain problems. Or, to put it another way, if there were no God, people would invent one anyway, out of necessity. So, just like the concept of an imaginary number being literally not real, the question of whether God is real or not is itself not real, i.e., it is meaningless. Some people call religion a "crutch," but religion actually has legs and one cannot prove that religion is not useful; too many people use religion for any supposed lack of utility to be plausible.

Finally, to answer to the question "Why can’t God just be replaced by a naturalistic alternative and end the god debate?" is that the natural alternative to God is god and the question of the existence of God is like asking if the square root of negative one exists, the answer to which is both yes and no.

Not convinced? Try it this way. René Descartes said "Je pense, donc je suit," or if you wish, "Cogito, ergo sum," or "I think, therefore I am." Talk about incompleteness. Therefore, I am what exactly? What this addresses is the completely incomprehensible fact that I find myself thinking about my own existence for which I really have no firm explanation. That existence is a mishmash of a completely unique point of view interpolated into a universe so vast as to harbor an incomprehensibly large number of potential points of view, that is, the likelihood of my point of view is so incomprehensibly small as to be vanishingly unimportant, and yet, I am. To put it another way, your existence is an imponderable which for some people causes them to be religious and which in any case must give us pause.

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    Why do you say that the square root of negative one doesn't exist, but that real numbers do exist? Have you ever seen a minus 2? Have you ever touched pi? Where in the world can we find 10^10^40000? What is three?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 25 at 13:47
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    Incompleteness theorems do not demonstrate fundamental incompleteness of all reasoning. It tells that a system, of a sufficient complexity, is either incomplete or inconsistent. Many reasonings are inconsistent. Maybe it sounds very problematic to opt for inconsistent systems, but actually it is not always that bad (paraconsistent is a good type of inconsistent). Looks like even you are adhering to it in this answer: "... is both yes and no".
    – Nemanja
    Commented May 25 at 13:59
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    Complex numbers are used in AC electric systems and Radio Frequency systems, so their effects are very real and very useful. Try running everything including the Internet with only DC.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 14:14
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    @Nemanja Yeah OK, but rephrasing Descartes, "I cannot but think." That is, I can only imagine that the real world exists. So, what is the basis of everything? Is it my imagination or "reality" and does that even matter, as without one of them, there is no other?
    – Carl
    Commented May 25 at 14:21
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    @ScottRowe Yes, I know, I learned the J-operator in third grade. I never said imagination was not useful, in fact, it's the only way one can estimate reality.
    – Carl
    Commented May 25 at 14:39
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As Weather Vane commented, the premise is wrong, you can perfectly adopt some naturalistic alternative and not care about this.

If I understand the last paragraph, you are basically asking, "if someone is an agnostic theist, then can they oppose someone who is an agnostic atheist?"

I don't see why not. It has happened, so it can happen. Most of the point of philosophy is dialogue.

I'm curious why you want a long running debate to finally and ultimately end.

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    Because we like to have answers so we can move on to other things, since time and energy are not infinite for humans?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 25 at 14:10
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Why would a natural alternative matter in a debate about the existence of god? If it were a 1:1 alternative, wouldn't it just be a god in every way except nominally? Ending the debate about the existence of a god would require a definitional repudiation, which is probably impossible considering most people define their gods differently.

Just think about this. Imagine if you could replace your father with a natural alternative in a complete 1:1 fashion. You haven't explained him out of existence. Instead, you've found an identical instance of your father.

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  • I guess it depends on whether you and others that you know have seen your father in person. Does he have a government ID number? Bank accounts?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 26 at 14:06
  • @ScottRowe That's a different argument entirely. Commented May 30 at 13:14
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The core human tension is that we know there are things we do not know: things we do not understand and cannot control. The aphorism goes back (at least) to Socrates, whose philosophical posture was to start with the idea that we don't know even what we think we know and begin looking into that. The point, though, is that we all have to address this void. We don't have the grace of animals who just accept the conditions they find themselves in. We anticipate good times and bad, joys and threats, comforts and dangers, and we're constantly trying to grab the one and avoid the other.

That effort demands faith, in the loose sense that we trust in something beyond what we know and control. Faith in God(s), faith in karma or the dao, faith in the Laws of nature, faith in the meaninglessness of existence… We need something to plaster over that fearful existential void.

The belief in God places that faith in a manageable social relationship. God knows everything we don't, and God can be appealed to; that's a comforting position to hold. The belief in systematic regularities like karma, dao, or natural law is also comforting, imbuing the universe with a sense of 'rightness'. Even the belief in the meaninglessness of existence is a comfort, because it relieves us of the need to worry. But these comforts are not interchangeable. One can't trust in God at breakfast and then trust in a Godless clockwork universe at brunch; trust has to be developed, contemplated, and maintained. Trust implies trust over time.

The worst part of the seemingly endless science v. religion kerfuffle (from my point of view) is that too many people on both sides are trying to destroy the other side's trust in the universe. People who find their existential trust under attack become angry, arrogant, vicious, even violent. Eventually cooler heads will prevail, I know — they always do — but we're speaking in philosophical time, and the philosophical short-term can be a decidedly long time, on the order of centuries. It makes me unhappy.

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    This is a very good answer. The only (small) quibble I have is the breakfast and brunch. Eg. Hindus do manage to accept karma + God. Eg. In the Bhagavad Gita dharma is what Krishna suggests ie the normative dimension. Karma is what Krishna describes ie the descriptive dimension. In the former he speaks as God, in the latter as guru
    – Rushi
    Commented May 26 at 17:33
  • Someone told me long ago that the primary human problem is that we nurture expectations. If, like you say, with the "grace of animals" we didn't expect things, it would go much better for everyone. Individually we would each be less troubled, and we also would have more empathy for the people around us. A positive adaptation is quite achievable, and goes back to the Buddha, or Lao Tzu, or the book of Ecclesiastes. No one can plead ignorance. Only unmastered ego stands in the way. So, cheer up!
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 26 at 18:29
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You could go in a different direction, nobody said there are only two alternatives.

Nonduality and the Buddhist and Daoist ideas say that these areas of experience cannot be described or conveyed to someone else. Even if you 'know' something in these areas, Zen practitioners in particular will mock you for making any definite statements about something which is considered ineffable.

When you reach a complete impasse, it is time to try something different. I would urge everyone to do that (except that my Zen friends would mock me) (wait, I don't have any Zen friends?)

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  • Who was that guy who famously said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent"? Some crackpot I guess.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 26 at 12:56
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    You mention Buddhists but not any major religions present in the West. Have you considered what Abrahamic faiths say concerning this? Your statements aren't representative of more grounded faiths. Commented May 26 at 13:49
  • Grounded faiths 🤣. As someone had said here in the comments a while ago: "Monotheism is a compromise ½ (or ⅓) stop to monism ie. nonduality"
    – Rushi
    Commented May 26 at 15:15
  • @Rushi If you don't think it's grounded, then take a look at this paper: yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/… Commented May 26 at 15:59
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"Where-ever God is posited to explain anything, such as the origin of life, the origin of the universe, fine tuned constants, religious experiences, etc. why can’t we simply assume that if there is a further explanation for those things, it simply does not involve god?"

  1. The scope of science is limited to physical statements. Science makes no statement about the actions of a God that influences nature. Since Science is limited in that regard, explaining phenomena like the low probability of the fine-tuned constant, there is no reason that naturalism takes precedence before a God-based worldview like Christianity. I mean why shouldn't we assume that the explanation for those things simply involves God and be done with the debate?

  2. God-based worldviews are worldviews like any other including naturalism.

    Just to define it:

    A worldview (or Weltanschauung in German) is a comprehensive perspective through which an individual or a group interprets and interacts with the world. It encompasses a set of beliefs, values, and assumptions that shape how one understands reality and makes sense of life experiences.

    Just like Christianity, naturalism also just makes presuppositions that it can't prove, so ending the debate can only happen if naturalism can show A. that it can prove its presuppositions and B. that it is a complete worldview such that it can explain the whole reality, life experiences and more.

"Of course, if one can show that there is an explanation for any of those things, and that the explanation must involve god, then we have something going for it. But since this has never been done, why can’t someone just fill every gap in knowledge with a “godless” theory than god?"

I am not sure what your standard of "showing" is here, but I would state that the explanations for those phenomena that include God (the Christian one in particular) are the most plausible. Excluding God would exclude "intent" therefore making every phenomenon directionless, thus you either require a natural mechanism or chance to explain those phenomena. The issue with the natural mechanism is, that it will fall into the same question of "It's so complex and fine-tuned. How did this mechanism come to be? Chance on the other hand has the problem that the probabilities for the phenomena are so low that using chance as an explanation arguably requires at least the same amount of faith to believe in a God.

"One may argue that details for this need to be fleshed out but details for god have never been fleshed out to explain anything."

What is your standard of being fleshed out? There are whole libraries dealing with theology. There should also be a lot dealing with theologic positions regarding scientific or phenomenological topics.

"The question to be more specific is that if one is willing to accept a god theory that has never been fleshed out, then can this same person say anything against another person who accepts a godless theory that hasn’t been fleshed out?"

On the one hand: Everyone can say anything against anyone.

But I think you mean something like "I am right and you are wrong", to which I also would answer technically yes, but claiming something to be false also requires good reasoning similar to defending a certain worldview.

But claiming it to be finally wrong like saying it's "proven" wrong is intellectually not possible, which is the case for every worldview including Christianity btw.

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  • It doesn't have to be a "complete worldview", it just has to do better at answering questions in the subject area. I know a great Welding instructor, but I wouldn't necessarily have him do any Plumbing for me.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 26 at 21:39
  • Fair enough, however, you will just end up with syncretism where you combine various philosophies, theories, and parts of other worldviews. If that is a better way to build your worldview remains to be seen, because it's not clear if the things you choose to combine are compatible with each other or at least don't contradict each other.
    – telion
    Commented May 26 at 22:04
  • I think we have a different standard of completeness regarding worldviews. What I meant was that there is a list of fundamental questions/disciplines that need to be addressed by a worldview. I didn't actually mean that there needs to be an answer for everything and anything. Also "music, dance, poetry, prose, movies, tv shows, blogs" is simply covered by freedom of expression in the confines of morality at least in Christianity. This happens everywhere anyway so I don't get your point here exactly. But I do agree that the number of denominations paints a bad picture, (part1)
    – telion
    Commented May 26 at 23:56
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    , however so is the nature of of humans, which is that they are finite, morally fallen, and confused. Their understanding and love for each other will always be limited, therefore they need God's forgiveness.
    – telion
    Commented May 26 at 23:59
  • As long as they take God's forgiveness and so forgive others, I have no quarrel with that.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 27 at 0:12
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Of course, if one can show that there is an explanation for any of those things, and that the explanation must involve god, then we have something going for it. But since this has never been done, why can’t someone just fill every gap in knowledge with a “godless” theory than god?

It has been done. The holy books of the different faiths are considered to be evidence of the truth of that faith's message. For example, here's a paper on the analysis of the Islamic message (Yaqeen Institute).

The position of these faiths is that by necessity God must exist, and the books are evidence of this. How, with such evidence, can God be replaced with a naturalistic alternative? You'd have to refute the evidence first.

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    "You'd have to refute the evidence first." Except that the holy works of the various religions are the claim, not evidence.
    – Corey
    Commented May 26 at 10:54
  • @Corey I was mainly focused on the part "god theory that has never been fleshed out"; that the theory HAS been fleshed out. If one wants to produce a counter-claim with a godless theory, then part of that would be to produce arguments for why the god theory is not possible. For example, the Abrahamic faiths all refute polytheistic/atheistic ideology, meaning if true, they cannot co-exist with e.g. Hinduism. That's the proof by contradiction, in essence. Commented May 26 at 11:03
  • @ScottRowe Take a look at the link in the answer if you want details. Indeed, it isn't rocket science. Commented May 26 at 13:20
  • @ScottRowe One quick example: webpages.uidaho.edu/~msa/tour/…. Commented May 26 at 15:57
  • @ScottRowe Why did you delete your comments? Feel free to DM if you'd like. Edit: Actually I don't think you can DM on SE... Commented May 26 at 22:56