Monday 21 March 2011

A case of explanatory impotence

In chapter 6 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, David Wood gave us "three approaches theists can take when responding to the argument from evil." I found them unconvincing, and the fact that Wood added some other unrelated arguments for the existence of God made me wonder if despite the confident bravura of his assertions, he nevertheless harbours doubts as to their cogency.

The very next chapter tends to reinforce this suspicion, as it too is by David Wood and is once again about the argument from evil. The chapter's title, "God, Suffering and Santa Claus — An Examination of the Explanatory Power of Theism and Atheism" should ring alarm bells, as any time a theist talks about the "explanatory power" of theism you know you're unlikely to get any such thing.

Wood contends that it's illogical to dismiss theism solely on the basis of its difficulty with explaining the existence of suffering in the world, when theism is so good at explaining everything else. Yes, that's right: not only is he half admitting that suffering is a problem, he's claiming that it's pretty much the only one, and that theism explains the following:
  • Why we have a world at all
  • Why our world is finely tuned for life
  • Accounts for the origin of life as well as the diversity and complexity of life we see around us
  • The rise of consciousness
  • Objective moral values
  • Miracles
And the explanation of all these things is ... Goddidit. Unfortunately Goddidit is about as far from an explanation as it's possible to be. I'll offer an alternative explanation, that "explains" the six things listed above, and the explanation is ... magic pixies did it. I'll go further, paraphrasing David Wood:
"Thus, when atheists say that magic pixieism fails to account for suffering, we shouldn't forget that, even if they're right, magic pixieism accounts for just about everything else."
Honestly, I'd expected something more substantial than this — something with a measure of philosophically persuasive force, given that this is the final chapter in the book's first section, headed "The Question of Philosophy". The next (much larger) section is called "The Question of Science" and includes chapters by Phillip E. Johnson and William A. Dembski. Let's hope they make a better fist of things than the sorry collection so far.

Surprise, surprise! — there's a version of this chapter at