Chapter 6: Explaining Explaining
A6 ‘Historically, religion aspired to explain our own existence and the nature of the universe… In this role it is now completely superseded by science.’
‘Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.’
‘Religion can only provide facile, ultimately unsatisfying answers. Science is constantly seeking real explanations.’
Poole makes his goal clear when he says,
A common mistake is to regard explanations of processes as alternatives to explanations about the acts of agents, human or divine, rather than as compatible accounts. In connection with science-and-religion issues, this tendency sometimes manifests itself not simply as contentment with one type of explanation but in denying the need, the validity, or both, of other types of explanation. […] Surely, saying “God did it” is logically compatible with saying how it came about, isn’t it? (52-53)
Poole argues that “both can be true,” meaning the scientific facts about our world and acts of god. For example, according to the author evolution could very well be true, but that does not mean that god couldn’t have helped to guide it in some way.
The issue with this type of argumentation is that there is not one shred of evidence for any gods and there is no evidence of any tinkering by any supernatural agent. Due to the lack of evidence the supernatural explanations are not rejected because they are not liked, or some other reason, but because there is an enormous lack of evidence for such things.
Next, Poole claims that atheists use what he calls a “Gap of a God” and says,
But here we are confronted with something like an atheistic converse of the God of the Gaps. This is the belief that scientific explanations oust explanations of the agency of God, which I shall call Gap of a God. (55)
Once again, where is his evidence for such a belief? The supernatural has never been proven, despite much scientific study.
The reason scientific explanations supersede religious ones is simply because the scientific explanations actually explain the phenomenon while religious explanations simply “beg the question” by making one wonder how or why god did this or that. Religious explanations leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to god. On the other hand, science can explain most phenomenon while taking into account all the how and why questions. This is something that religion can’t do when it comes to their pet explanation: god. But there is more than mere practical reasons to disregard religious explanations, there are philosophical reasons too. To quote Donald R. Prothero,
[S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don’t exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because […] once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.  (emphasis in original)
1. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero, Columbia University Press, 2007; 11