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Thread: The Explanatory Impotence of Goddidit

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    the baby-eater
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    The Explanatory Impotence of Goddidit

    One often hears some variation of the following argument from theists:

    1. Atheists cannot explain X.
    2. My religion says that God did X, therefore my religion is better at explaining the universe than science.
    3. Therefore my religion is true.

    (where X is some natural phenomenon).

    The universal problem with this argument is that the explanation offered by religion is devoid of explanatory power. When science asks why, science is really asking for an explanation of how that thing came to be; it's a request for details regarding the cause.

    For example:

    Question: "Why do things fall to the ground?"

    A useful answer might explain that:
    1. Things with mass are attracted to each other
    2. The strength of this attractive force varies: it is equal to the product of the two object's masses divided by the square of the distance between them.
    3. Therefore the Earth and objects above it are pulled towards one another and we perceive this as objects falling.
    4. The Earth barely moves because it is so massive and has a lot of inertia, so the tiny attractive force between the falling object and the Earth barely nudges the Earth.

    This explanation has labels such as gravity, inertia, force, mass etc. but these labels are only as useful as the descriptions that they stand for.

    On the other hand, Goddidit is a completely useless answer, because it consists of nothing but an empty label. It tells us that an agent has acted to make things fall to the ground but does not tell us how that agent acted. And without the how, it is not an explanation.

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    Veteran Member James Brown's Avatar
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    One atheist explained something similar to me.

    When a scientist or an expert explains something, he decreases the complexity by a factor. "Why does this happen?" "Because of X, Y, and Z."

    When discussing a situation with her peers, the complexity might be decreased by only one level. When teaching a graduate course, it might be decreased by two levels. A decrease of three levels might be needed for a pop-sci magazine article, and four levels might be needed when speaking to her kid's class during "Take Your Parent to School" day.

    But when someone explains something by invoking a deity, he increases the complexity. "Why does this happen? "Because God made it so." No matter what phenomenon in the universe is being discussed, a creative God responsible for the phenomenon must be more complex by definition.

    But that's a terrible way to explain something, and it fails even if we're discussing non-supernatural events. "How does the rocket go to Mars?" "The rocket scientist makes it go there." That's not an explanation; that's an increase in complexity, and thus is not compelling.

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    What I can't understand is why they do it in the first place. History shows repeatedly that when a goddidit explanation is inserted into a knowledge gap, that gap is closed by knowledge at some point, thus disproving the deity and discrediting its followers. So it is inevitable that current goddidit explanations will go the same way. Why don't they see that?

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    Content Thief Elixir's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AJ113 View Post
    What I can't understand is why they do it in the first place. History shows repeatedly that when a goddidit explanation is inserted into a knowledge gap, that gap is closed by knowledge at some point, thus disproving the deity and discrediting its followers. So it is inevitable that current goddidit explanations will go the same way. Why don't they see that?
    Same reason that they don't see that people worship thousands of gods, and the odds that they happened to select the only one that exists are long, even if it is assumed that a god exists.
    They are in desperate need of a father figure, and what could be better than one that is omniscient and onmipotent?
    It is useful to remember that one cannot use logic to disabuse someone of a position at which they did not arrive by logic.

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    I think it's more complex than needing a father figure or fearing death. Those are part of it, but there's a bigger picture to theistic religion. And here's my hypothesis about it.

    Christians cling to a personal god because he’s both fact and value in one. God is one being that creates the universe AND creates the moral order. So he’s the ultimate explanation for reality and also the ultimate justification for moral behavior united in one person. Theists can make it out to be just a "first cause" or other purely metaphysical argument when addressing the one aspect (cosmology). But note that when they do that, they usually hint or say outright that it's a first step to what they want to argue later: that their "prime mover" is actually a personal God and a very specific one (because everything being consciously intended is necessary to their values and sense of meaning).

    It's why they tend to conflate the Why's and How's. The universe should provide the meaning, they don't want to be left to find it alone. And understandably. Modern culture gives no good alternative to their unified though ancient and obsolete mythos.

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    Veteran Member Lion IRC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AJ113 View Post
    What I can't understand is why they do it in the first place.
    Me either.
    It's a deplorable excuse for an argument.

    Thankfully it's seldom used.
    Very few theists actually claim that... "There's a gap therefore this proves God."

    Usually it's the non-theist saying..."we don't know" (the gap) and the theist saying...I think God did it. And the theist then immediately gets shouted down for opening their mouth.

    The GOTG accusation from counter-apologists is typically just sour grapes and resentment in my opinion.

    And I don't know why it is that the person who has no idea is somehow in any position to tell others that their ideas aren't welcome or plausible. How is "I don't know" necessarily better than "I think I do know" ?

    Quote Originally Posted by AJ113 View Post
    History shows repeatedly that when a goddidit explanation is inserted into a knowledge gap, that gap is closed by knowledge at some point, thus disproving the deity and discrediting its followers...
    I think science is actually discovering more gaps than it is eliminating.

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    the baby-eater
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    And I don't know why it is that the person who has no idea is somehow in any position to tell others that their ideas aren't welcome or plausible. How is "I don't know" necessarily better than "I think I do know" ?
    Your non-explanation is unwelcome because it is worse than useless; it introduces added complexity and explains nothing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by AJ113
    History shows repeatedly that when a goddidit explanation is inserted into a knowledge gap, that gap is closed by knowledge at some point, thus disproving the deity and discrediting its followers...
    I think science is actually discovering more gaps than it is eliminating.
    As Michael Shermer has pointed out, every time a new fossil discovery bisects a gap in the fossil record, it creates two new gaps!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    Me either.
    It's a deplorable excuse for an argument.

    Thankfully it's seldom used.
    Very few theists actually claim that... "There's a gap therefore this proves God.”
    Phenomena explained naturalistically don’t support a case for the supernatural very well. Pointing at lightning and saying “There is a supernatural being or force that makes the lightning happen” is a weakly supported claim because it has a stronger contender: a natural explanation. To keep supporting theism in the face of ever-shrinking places to fit it into, theists make a stink about what science doesn’t know to make resorting to the supernatural seem less far-fetched and even necessary. But if it's possible to make a strong case for the supernatural explanation, it requires focusing on the positives of that case and not on the negatives of the contender explanations or lack thereof. "You don't have an answer, so mine is the main contender" is a weak argument.

    It’s very common that creationists do this. That you don’t have awareness that you do it is a problem for you to solve.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    Usually it's the non-theist saying..."we don't know" (the gap) and the theist saying...I think God did it. And the theist then immediately gets shouted down for opening their mouth.
    Actually what happens is the theist is asked to show some good reasons or evidence for what he “thinks”, if that’s the right word for it, and the response is bare assertions and evasive tactics like shifting the burden of proof, claiming to not care if anyone believes him, claiming to ‘just know’ because of some alleged experience unavailable to others. We ask for reason and evidence and just get belief and bitching instead. (And for weeks on end).

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    The GOTG accusation from counter-apologists is typically just sour grapes and resentment in my opinion.
    The GOTG is accurately descriptive so your opinion is wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    And I don't know why it is that the person who has no idea is somehow in any position to tell others that their ideas aren't welcome or plausible.
    All it takes to be in that position is a modicum of ability at skeptical reasoning, it doesn't require a belief or knowledge about origins to oppose against your belief about origins to know what you say is implausible.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    How is "I don't know" necessarily better than "I think I do know" ?
    Because if you “think” you do know and then make a display of how you actually don’t know, then you’re kidding yourself. Skip the “atheists don’t know” stuff and just support your claims if you feel a need to make them. Show God actually explains anything.

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    Elder Contributor Keith&Co.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    And I don't know why it is that the person who has no idea is somehow in any position to tell others that their ideas aren't welcome or plausible. How is "I don't know" necessarily better than "I think I do know" ?
    Because it appears to us that the difference is between:
    "there isn't sufficient evidence to say we know, therefore we don't know"
    and
    "there isn't sufficient evidence to say we know, therefore we know it's my god"
    It's a non sequitur.

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    Formerly Joedad
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    God just tastes too good

    The magic spaceman crowd already has magic and woo as part of their ontology. It's not like they're about to question something that they cherish and is comfortable and never give a second thought. It's not like they're thinking about it either, it's emotional. To someone like me this thing they call a god is a the biggest gap imaginable in knowledge, regardless how comforting. It's something I want to know more about. But nothing more can be known that isn't more of the same woo.

    The classic example is asking why the moon goes through phases. The classic no-more-information answer is that it's in the nature of the moon to go through phases.

    So it is in the nature of the woo crowd to find answers when there is no more knowledge. To me it is like trying to explain the value of nutrition to someone who doesn't get it. They'll come back with response after response about their illness and injuries and how the doctors can't fix them when all the while the problem is pepsi and donuts instead of peas and potatoes. God just tastes too good.

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