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(c) Lior Arditi

Another of the favourite arguments put forward by the New Atheist movement is in response to using God as an explanation for anything. Not in a God-of-Gaps type way – which is where anything we don’t yet know or understand is explained by saying “God did it”. What happens is: as we learn and discover more about the universe this gap in our knowledge that we used God to fill gets filled by a non-supernatural, normal-earthly-processes explanation. And so our God gets smaller and smaller as the number of gaps in our understand get smaller and smaller. This God-of-Gaps is a silly strategy for Christians to take for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons is because God is involved in everything that occurs in the universe. Even very mundane and normal processes happen because God explicitly wants them to happen, such is the extent of his sovereignty over creation.

This isn’t what the argument is about.

Christians will normally say God is the explanation behind either the coming into being of “something” from “nothing”, miracles or prophecy in the sense of the future being prophesied about hundreds of years earlier and the prophecies coming true. Christians will say, “God is the only explanation that fits with these incredible events.”

Take the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The historical evidence is strong – very strong to the extent that it is a reliable and defendable historical fact – that Jesus came out of the tomb alive again and appeared to multiple people in differing sized groups over a period of time. The explanation: God raised him from the dead.

The atheists usually object that the explanation is even more incredible than what is being explained. The resurrection is a very unlikely occurrence. The existence of an infinitely powerful, infinitely wise God who has existed forever is even more unlikely and implausible that the reality of the resurrection. The explanation needs an explanation. And therefore the explanation cannot be true, because it is even harder to explain and is more incredible than the original problem.

Here’s why the argument is flawed and why Christians have a certain reason for our hope: the argument creates an infinite regress. If, in order for an explanation to be valid, you need to be able to explain the explanation, then you would also then need to explain the explanation of the explanation. But then you’d need to also explain the explanation of the explanation of the explanation. And then it would continue on into infinity so that you couldn’t actually explain anything.

You don’t need to be able to explain the explanation for it to be a true and valid explanation.

The thing to note is that if this argument is accepted – that an explanation is only valid if you can explain the explanation – it destroys the entire scientific enterprise. If you always had to explain the explanation then science cannot happen. “Why are we able to see things?” “Because of light.” “Explain light. Is it a wave or a particle?” “We don’t know.” “Well then you’re explanation of why we can see is not valid.” The scientist would rightly say that this line of reasoning is absurd.

And it’s equally absurd when it comes to God. You don’t need to be able to explain the explanation for it to be valid. In our case we do have lots of things to say that he has revealed to us int he Bible. For us we just can’t fully explain God. But that is no barrier to our argument and it is no barrier to our rational belief in God.

We have reasons for our hope.