The validity of "God explanation" for natural phenomena

Q: Why does an apple fall to the ground?

A: God makes it fall

Q: Why do magnets attract/repel each other?

A: God makes them attract/repel

Q: Why do electric charges attract/repel each other?

A: God makes them attract/repel

Q: Why does it rain?

A: God makes it happen


Now, consider the alternate explanations

Q: Why does an apple fall to the ground?

A: Due to the gravitational force between the earth and apple.

Q: Why do magnets attract/repel each other?

A:  Due to the magnetic force

Q: Why do electric charges attract/repel each other?

A: Due to the electric force

Q: Why does it rain?

A: Evaporated water condenses and precipitates in the form of rainfall


Problems with the "God explanation"

Readers, even the religious ones, will immediately realise that the second set of explanations that invoke "forces" are correct and make more sense than the first that invoke "God". In other words, even the religious people don't invoke the "God explanation" for phenomena like gravitation, magnetic force etc.

Why is it that the "God explanation" doesn't seem to make sense in these cases? Let's think through it. It's because of several cognitive and logical reasons.

1. Interaction of scientific explanations and cultural beliefs: We don't have deeply held cultural beliefs regarding the causes of "fall of apple". Lack of such beliefs makes it easy to accept gravitation as the cause of apples falling down. 

In all such cases, where there are no strong cultural beliefs regarding natural phenomena, scientific explanations are accepted and deeply ingrained. Its the reason, the instinctive response to "Why does apple fall down?" is "gravity", even amongst the most religious people. It's the reason God explanation for apples falling down seems ridiculous. 

Similarly, the places where God explanation is emphasized the most are areas where the scientific explanations challenge the deeply held cultural and religious beliefs like evolution etc, of which some are cases where there is a scientific explanation but resisted, and some are cases where there isn't a scientific explanation yet and hence God is imputed. 

In cases, where there is a scientific explanation but is still being resisted, it has simply to do with our difficulty to shed our deeply held cultural and religious beliefs. In other cases, where there isn't a scientific explanation yet, God explanation isn't still a valid explanation. Read on for why it's the case.

2. "God explanation" is non-falsifiable: It means that you can't actually test for it. You could replace "God" with anything in that explanation and make the same argument. Consider an alternate explanation - "A microbe in a distant galaxy is making apples fall, charges and magnets interact". The "Microbe as the explanation" is no different from the "God" as an explanation. How are you going to determine which one is correct? You can't.

The same goes for the "falsifiable statements but practically impossible to falsify" statements. Bertrand Russel has a term for it, popularly called "Russel's teapot": It's an argument where one says that there's a teapot revolving in our solar system. Since it's nearly impossible to falsify it, they would reason "because you are not able to NOT prove me wrong, I am right". This would eventually mean that one should accept that there is a teapot revolving in our solar system.

The beauty of non-falsifiable hypotheses is that one can justify anything using them because they are either non-falsifiable or too difficult to falsify. Hence, they are NOT accepted as reasons.

3. "God explanation"does NOT have explanatory power: We would expect scientific explanations to have explanatory power. By this, we mean that such explanations should account for all the observed phenomenon (data) and give additional information about the phenomenon. In cases where there are competing explanations, that explanation which has most explanatory power is considered the most appropriate.

For instance, the scientific explanation of gravity merely does not say that Earth attracts the apple. It gives a formula for calculating the speed of motion, the direction of force and so on. It also accounts for all the observed data.

"God explanation" as an explanation for "apple falling down", on the other hand, does NOT do any of this. It gives no additional information on the motion of the apple. God explanation is thus said to have zero explanatory power.

4. God explanation prevents scientific and human progress: If we were satisfied with the "God explanation" for an apple falling to the ground, we would have never progressed to Newton's laws, and hence we would never have had engineering! "God explanation" is thus antithetical to the progress of science.

5. God explanation does NOT have a good history of being correct: People invoked "God explanation" in the past for many things - God creates cyclones, God creates floods, God created humans etc. As science progressed, we understood these phenomena and scientific explanations replaced 'God explanation'. What was once thought to be the realm of God is the ream of science today. One should hence note this point while invoking God explanation. What some may now attribute to God may become Science in the future.

In short, a "God explanation" is no explanation.

Apart from the cognitive reasons, there are logical loopholes with the "God explanation".


Characteristics of an acceptable explanation for natural phenomena

If "God explanation" is not acceptable, what are the characteristics of an acceptable explanation? Let's flesh out some properties of an acceptable explanation from the above discussion. An acceptable explanation should be

1. Explain the observed phenomena: A scientific explanation should account for all the related observed phenomena. For eg: The explanation for an apple falling to the ground should also explain a ball falling to the ground. Any explanation that applies only to apples and not to balls is either incorrect or incomplete. We choose that explanation which has the maximum explanatory power. God explanation and non-falsifiable hypotheses in general figure lowest on this metric. They have zero explanatory power.

2. Internally consistent: Internally consistent logic means that the logic doesn't contradict itself. For instance, if you calculate the mass of earth from the speed of a freely falling ball, using a proposed formula for gravitation, it should come out same as the mass of the earth, when calculated using the motion of another freely falling object, let's say book. If the formula gives two different masses for the earth in two different cases, the proposed scientific explanation is NOT internally consistent.

3. Falsifiable: An explanation should be testable. If you say that like charges attract, you should be able to design an experiment to verify it.

4. Make predictions: Usually, a scientific explanation is proposed based on some observed phenomena. Such explanation should also ideally say something about the consequences of such explanation. For instance, if I say that earth is revolving around the Sun due to gravity, I should also give some prediction, saying that a mass of certain mass would revolve around the sun in a certain manner. If we were to ever find such mass, its motion should agree with the numbers given by the proposed formula.

God explanation makes no prediction.

5. Explain new observations: In case, if any new observation is made, an acceptable scientific explanation should also be able to explain such new observation. If not, it's time to revise the scientific explanation. Alternatively, one should also be able to list a few criteria, which if satisfied, would be a challenge to the scientific explanation.

The process is straightforward for physical laws. You just show an experiment or a case, where objects don't follow Newton's laws, you have successfully challenged the Newtonian theory, for the objects of that scale. In other cases like evolution, if we say that evolution is the scientific explanation of species, we should also be able to list out the nature of the evidence which could disprove evolution.

God explanation gives no such criteria to disprove because it's not a falsifiable explanation.


Applying the metrics of an acceptable explanation to "God as an explanation for the origin of humans"

Let's apply these learnings to another concept, the origins of humans.

Q: How did humans originate?

A: God created!

Boom Boom Boom

Such explanation is NOT acceptable, as we discussed. "God explanation" to the origin of humans is as unreasonable as "God explanation" for an apple falling to the ground. A reasonable explanation should explain the some of the observed phenomena

1. The close similarity between the genes of Humans and Chimpanzees

2. The similarity between genes of a wide variety of species

... and so on

"God explanation" explains none of this. You can still invoke God saying that God created similarity in Genes but like the case of gravitation, "God explanation" is an unfalsifiable explanation, which is no different from other explanations like "microbe on a distant planet has created humans on the earth". Not only does it not explain the observed phenomena, it also doesn't give any additional details and predictions.

Hence, here again, "God explanation" is not an acceptable explanation for the origins of humans.

The only scientific explanation we have now, for the origin of humans, that has the greatest explanatory power, is the "Darwinian evolution". It explains the observed phenomena like the similarity of genes between species, it made some predictions on the existence of new species which we could found and so on. The evidence supporting the Darwinian scientific explanation for the origin of species is overwhelming.

Within the evolutionary paradigm itself, there are other alternatives proposed for the mechanism of evolution like Lamarckism etc., but the Darwinian explanation has the greatest explanatory power. 
We hence say that Darwinian explanation for the origin of humans is the best available scientific explanation and is acceptable, while the "God explanation" and other explanations are NOT.


God explanation for the "Origin of Life"

Darwinian evolution tells us how a single-celled organism can evolve into complex creatures like humans but it doesn't go into - how did the first ever living organism come up from non-living material? God is popularly imputed as an explanation here.

One must note that the resistance to Darwinian explanation in the above case is due to cultural and religious beliefs but the imputation of God, in this case, is different. It is the case of imputing God where Science hasn't progressed enough.

God explanation is NOT an acceptable explanation for the Origin of Life for the reasons discussed earlier

1. God explanation is non-falsifiable. God explanation for the origin of life is as much lacking in meaning as the God explanation for apples falling onto earth.
2. God explanation does NOT have any explanatory power.
3. God explanation is only a gap-holder that vanishes once science illuminates.

Further, settling for God explanation for the origin of life prevents the valuable scientific pursuit to understand it.


The Big Bang: The "God explanation" is no explanation

The same principle of "God explanation is no explanation" applies to the origin of Big Bang too.

The progress of science has currently explained the origins of the Universe back to the Big Bang event. Some are then enthusiastic to bring up "God explanation" to say that God created the Big Bang.

Again, as discussed above, "God explanation" is no explanation. One can replace "God" with anything and make the same argument. There's no way to falsify it.

Just as the satisfaction with "God explanation for apples falling" would have prevented us from understanding the gravity, leaving us without many aspects of modern day life; the satisfaction with "God explanation" for the origin of The Big Bang would do the same. It hinders scientific progress and human progress as a result.


Sometimes the scientific progress challenges our deeply held personal and cultural beliefs. It would have definitely been shocking when we first knew that Earth is not static but is revolving and rotating, which is against our everyday experience. But one has to accept and come to terms with it.  If not, we would still be in our soothing and comfortable thinking of "Earth is static", which suits our everyday experience. As much soothing as it is, it is a fool's paradise. Accepting even the seemingly counterintuitive things in the light of evidence is the process of evolving and maturing as a civilisation. God explanation to natural phenomena hinders such progress.

In cases where there isn't yet scientific progress, God explanation is still no explanation. Science may not know many things but the way to know it is through the scientific method. Imputing non-falsifiable theories like God has many loopholes like - we can impute anything in that place (microorganism in the distant planet) and make the same claim, and there is no way to know which one is true. It further doesn't have explanatory power. Settling for God explanation curtails the human progress. Here again, God explanation doesn't stand up to scrutiny and hence God explanation is no explanation.

So, next time, whenever you come across a natural phenomenon that you don't understand yet, think twice before invoking "God explanation"! "God explanation" is "no explanation".