why? thoughts on explaining the world


I like to ask for explanations of certain ‘fundamental’ features of the universe. They strike me (following John Lennox, William Lane Craig, Robin Collins, Alvin Plantinga and a few other philosophers and scientists who have developed and promoted these ideas) as things that really need to be explained or accounted for in some way by any Weltanschauung worth its Salz. Indeed, I think that God is the most promising explanation for a wide range of things, from moral facts to law-like regularities in the physical world; indeed, the true explanation for the totality of non-divine things.

But the atheist or, at least, a person sceptical of my argument, is likely to ask why we seek an explanation of these fundamental things. Aren’t we naïve in the extreme to demand an explanation of all that is? Sure, we can explain the facts of our everyday experience – the interactions of middle-sized dry goods as philosophers sometimes call them, with relative ease. But it’s merely the fallacy of composition to expect that we can explain the whole universe in this way, or to brazenly attempt such a thing! In fact (we may be told), we ought not to be able to expect to explain underlying features of The Whole, of Everything – so that atheism seems less useful than theism in this regard is neither here nor there!

Yet the atheist in this dialogue, it seems to me, is too quick here in at least one way. It is not at all given a priori that the physical universe is all that is and that therefore the theist is attempting an explanation of ‘all’ per se; it may indeed be that ‘the whole’, or the Most Fundamental Level, or such, has no further explanation, i.e. none beyond Itself. But the question is where this Level is – is it merely the totality of the physical universe (in whichever way this can be suitably sophisticatedly construed), or does inductive reasoning (in light of our experience of the world, including religious and spiritual claims) warrant positing something beyond this?

Note, the theist’s claim is that her system does not fall afoul of Occam’s razor, in multiplying entities beyond necessity, for God is posited precisely as being necessary (in some metaphysical, if not strictly logical sense (though see the Ontological Argument and the classical conception of God as necessary Being!)) to adequately (truthfully) account for the existence of all other entities.

The llama who reasons that her fenced-in field (and surrounding countryside) is self-explanatory, the fish who accepts no account of the origin of his pond, the lego man who considereth not the origin of plastic – each can offer only an explanatorily deficient account of their world. Those of us who’ve heard rumours of another world and taken them to heart, who’ve seen, as it were, beyond the lego box – well, we have some explaining to do – let’s get to it!

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