The Problem of Explanation

Sorry that it has been a while since I posted anything. The end of the semester has been rough. With teaching my class at church (the class begins here), finishing school projects and finals, my brain needed some downtime as well as the opportunity to look for new projects to start, like a potential book to write.

Something caught my eye, as is usually the case, that I thought needed a review and a response to: a post over at the Godless Mom blog titled, “How Do Atheists Explain Anything?” I thought that it might shed some light on how atheists think and I can say that I was not disappointed with what I found.

Skipping down from her profane introduction centered on the lyrics of a song, Godless Mom Courtney writes,

I’ve got this line in my head, because nothing is more fun than when theists demand an explanation for the unexplained, or the insufficiently explained phenomena that saturates our world, and that’s what’s on my mind. You’ve heard the questions before:

“As an atheist, how to do you explain consciousness?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain miracles?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain thoughts?”

“As an atheist, how do you explain all these amazing coincidences I experienced with no witnesses?”

You see? So much fun.

I think that she doesn’t see the problem, but she continues,

I think the absolute saddest thing about these questions – we’re talking a level of sadness that compares to Johnny Football’s pro career – is that with just one moment of reflection, you’ll see the flaw in them pretty quick. Asking said questions, is, for the theist, a willing admission that they believe that in the current moment in our unfolding history, we should be able to explain everything.

Um, no.  But she continues,

Not some things.

Not most things.

Everything.

I would argue that she misunderstands the nature of the questions. But she goes on,

Imagine that… seriously, just for a moment, imagine living as though there is no mystery left in our cosmos. Imagine living as though we know the answer to everything and there’s nothing more to learn or explore. No more frontiers, no more breakthroughs, no more mind-bending discoveries. I don’t know about you friendly folks, but to me, that worldview is devastatingly empty.

Seriously? Is that what she thinks?

I mean, think about it: If we, collectively, know everything already then this is the best we’re ever going to do. The state of the world right now is the best it will ever be. There will never be any new understandings that will allow us to cure the world’s many woes. There will be no further tech to help us help each other. No new medical breakthroughs, no new clean energy sources, no new ways to feed our growing human population and overcome famine.  How completely devoid of hope that idea is. That worldview is so bleak and depressing, I don’t know how anyone who actually believes this can even begin to cope with it.

Okay. She continues,

The theist who asks this question, of course, doesn’t really realize that this is what he is saying when he poses this question. He also doesn’t realize that he’s trying to assert that the only way he, himself, can be stumped about anything, is if something magical was the explanation. Instead, he’s caught up in vacuous gotchas. What he thinks he is so cleverly pointing out is that in an atheistic worldview some things cannot be explained, therefore said things must be attributed to god.

Skipping an unnecessary and condescending paragraph,

The goal here, of the theist, is to have the atheist suddenly realize that without god, there are some things we can’t explain. What the theist has not prepared for is that atheists don’t mind not knowing things. Atheists are okay with admitting there are gaps in our knowledge. Atheists don’t need to fill those gaps with illogical nonsense and magic creatures from the great beyond. Why? Because atheists prefer the feeling of hope, wonder and mystery that occupies those gaps.

Straw man, aisle 3.

Theists are missing the mark with these sorts of questions because the fact is, even if I couldn’t explain anything, it still doesn’t prove there is a god.

As I said, she doesn’t even understand the question being asked. It’s a question of epistemological grounds. What are “woes” and why do they need a “remedy” and why does it matter? That is what needs to be explained. The atheist might appeal to evolution, the problem is not that it doesn’t explain anything, rather it explains too much, and doesn’t provide the necessary justification for any beliefs, much less the belief in and of itself. Hence, it’s not that, “…without god, there are some things we can’t explain,” rather it’s that apart from God we cannot explain ANYTHING. All explanations, even an explanation for the ability to make an explanation, presuppose the existence of God, the Christian God, as the rational creator and sustainer of the universe to make such things possible.

Courtney continues,

Asking, “as an atheist, how do you explain…” in any form, is intellectually lazy because with just a moment’s thought, even the most devout theist can see the flaws.

Oh?

It’s an indication that the asker has not questioned anything to do with their own beliefs really – they’ve not thought them through on any real, meaningful level.

Pot, I’d like you to meet kettle.

Courtney believes that the person asking the question hasn’t questioned their own beliefs. Has she thought through her own beliefs? She needs to provide a meaningful grounding for being able to ask or answer any questions at all.

She continues,

In reality, we will never be able to explain everything – the atheist has come to terms with that and the sort of theist who poses these questions has not.

How about explaining why we can explain anything? I’ll take just that.  Why does the atheist have to come to terms with an inability to explain everything? Why do they have to come to terms at all? How does she explain what “reality” is or is not? She accuses the theist of not accepting this, but she doesn’t explain why that matters.

It’s sad, because saying “I don’t know” can be freeing and it opens up a path to discovery. If you admit you don’t know, you can still seek the answers. If you admit today that you don’t know, perhaps one day you will know.

Why is it sad, Courtney? Explain why saying “I don’t know” can free you to find a path for discovery. Explain why seeking answers matter. Explain why anything matters, given your worldview.

In closing, she wants her readers to let her know about the most absurd, “how do you explain” question that has been posed to them. Given the atheist worldview, her entire post is absurd. Ultimately, she fails to answer her own question, but then maybe she did, admitting that atheists cannot actually explain anything without admitting that they need God, confirming that they are actually suppressing what they know to be true.

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