Sunday 17 May 2009

The myth of "explanatory power"

A few weeks ago I watched a BBC TV programme entitled "The Narnia Code" in which Dr. Michael Ward, a C. S. Lewis expert, expounded his theory that Lewis's Christian allegory series of children's books, The Chronicles of Narnia, contain disguised references to medieval cosmology. It was fascinating stuff, as far as it went, though blown out of all proportion to its somewhat peripheral literary significance. But Dr. Ward has a book to promote, so I don't blame him for opportunistic hyperbole.

The TV show is due to be repeated tomorrow (May 18) at 7:30 pm on BBC Four:

Unfortunately the final ten minutes of the show goes unnecessarily god-cute, bringing on such dubious luminaries as John Polkinghorne, who beamingly mumbles some trite non sequiturs – in particular the irrelevant notion that the idea of God as Creator is more "explanatory" than the naturalistic model.

What, pray, does the idea of a creator-god explain? The naturalistic thesis attempts to propose mechanisms of how things happen (or happened), to suggest explanations in terms of scientific knowledge we already have, in an effort to further that knowledge. How does saying "Goddidit" explain anything? At all? Tell me, please – I really would like to know.

Polkinghorne and other god-bods often use the phrase "explanatory power" when contending that the god hypothesis is more useful than scientific uncertainty, but it's high time such vacuous buzz-wordology was challenged and sent packing. I've no objection, in philosophical terms, to people of faith holding to their idea of a first cause for the universe – I think there's no evidence for such a view, though I appreciate some people subscribe to it. But if anyone says such a view offers any kind of "explanatory power" my response will be, "give me an explanation."

Saying that for whatever reason we can't possibly understand the supreme transcendent complexity of God's act of creation does not offer even a scrap of "explanatory power", and theists should stop claiming it does.