Is God an Explanation?
[This responds to remarks by Autumnal Harvest, and some by P. Coyle, that appear in the Comments section below my posting entitled “Magic: Divine and Human.”]
A. H. and P.C.,
Welcome back. You ask me to say “what constitutes an explanation.” American Heritage Dictionary gives this definition: “explain: 1. to make plain or comprehensible… 3. To offer reasons for; justify.” The God hypothesis does make the origin of the universe comprehensible; more comprehensible, for me, than any other explanation I have heard. It does offer reasons for:
(1) the existence of a material world, which once did not exist;
(2) the complex structure of the cosmos, the laws that govern it, and even of the atom (that structure appears to be the work of a brilliant inventor and, on the God hypothesis, it is).
It throws light on the purpose of the cosmos, of human consciousness, and of the human struggle to prevail over adversity and even death.
The Only Rational Way Out
So the God hypothesis is an explanation as dictionaries define one. It is not a scientific explanation, which is the kind you seem to demand (“the mechanism by which the universe came to be…”). It does not give a progression of mechanical details, because a transcendent Being is not accessible to the empirical method. You can apply that method, I contend, to every cause but the First Cause, which by its nature is uncaused. An uncaused First Cause is the only way out of an infinite regress of secondary causes (A was cause by B, which was caused by C, which was caused by D, etc., etc. ad infinitum). Science can deal only with such “secondary causes.”
If there is the First Cause that Aquinas and others have posited, he is beyond the probing techniques of science. To the extent he can be explained at all, it must be by non-empirical speculative disciplines like philosophy and theology. And no, they don’t provide scientifically verifiable certainty. As a Believing Agnostic I contend that on the ultimate questions such certainty cannot be had. Since we can’t know what is true, we must either take no position, or one that is in essence an opinion, which is to say, a belief. Theism is a belief. Atheism too is a belief.
First Cause Durability
Unlike attacks on evolutionary theory, the First Cause argument is not a “God of the Gaps” argument. It aims not at weak links in the scientific chain, but at the foundation of all reality. Nor does it depend on the Big Bang theory being true. Aristotle toyed with it in the fourth century B. C. Aquinas refined and solidified it in the thirteenth century A. D. It applied equally to the geocentric theory of Ptolemy (d. 165 A.D.), to the heliocentric theory of Copernicus 1400 years later, and to the “steady state” cosmological model that was eclipsed by Lemaitre’s Big Bang hypothesis. I have applied it to Big Bang theory because that is now the most widely accepted cosmological view.
If Big Bang dies with a whimper, its successor will face the same dilemma: An infinite regress of secondary causes is the only alternative to a First Cause. New Atheist Victor Stenger has recently argued that the universe, or the singularity it came from, may have popped out of nothing in the natural course of things. Well, that’s one way out of an infinite regress. Proponents of the God hypothesis say the world was created from nothing. Now a New Atheist says it was created by nothing. Stenger is right to this extent: When you look for a First-Cause that is not a Divine Intelligence you find… nothing.