God Mode

When I was younger, like many teenagers growing up in the suburbs, I devoted a large amount of my time to video games. One of the most favored games to consume many hours of my youth was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. The game pitted armies of orcs against humans in real time strategy. Many of the later levels in the game were quite challenging and could take hours to beat. For an impatient teenager wanting to see the ending cinematic, the game could often be tedious and frustrating, but fortunately there were cheat codes. The player could type in a minor cheat to increase his lumber stockpile or larger cheats, such as seeing the whole map or unlocking all the weapon upgrades. But what was the ultimate cheat code of them all? God Mode.

“God Mode” made all of your character units invincible and enabled you to kill enemy units with one swing of the sword, axe, or ogre punch. Once you had God Mode turned on, the rest of the game was a snap and you could quickly annihilate your enemy. Quite a handy trick! Too bad that no such thing exists in the real world … then again, in debates between naturalists and apologists, it does.

Apologists for theism have one unit in their debate arsenal that can explain anything: God. God can begin the universe. How? Because he is God. The naturalist is stuck explaining string theory and the multiverse through a natural process that requires an immense amount of knowledge and work to understand. God can create an objective moral ontology. How? Because he is God. The naturalist is stuck with the lengthier explanation of how evolutionary traits like reciprocal altruism can actually breed unselfish behavior, how neuroscience can explain empathy in sapient beings, social contract theory, and the foundations of secular moral philosophy. God can account for miracles in history. How? Because he is God. The naturalist must actually explain the nature of hearsay, how people hallucinate or misinterpret their senses, the nature of placebo effects and mass superstations, such as hundreds of people consistently testifying to having witnessed and been healed by Asclepius.

For every natural explanation it requires 10x the amount of work, knowledge, and organization to convey how things work in the physical world. Why? Because the naturalist must “play be the rules” of nature. However, the apologist need only assume an omnipotent deity, capable of making new rules as they go along, and then they can weasel their way out of any otherwise impossible situation. The word “omnipotent” is derived from the Latin words omnis (“all”) and potens (“capable”). However, I think a more precise description for God would be “all explaining.” Take William Lane Craig’s arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, for example. Craig touts that his theory of a supernatural resurrection has the most “explanatory power” to account for the factors surrounding Jesus’ burial and rumored resurrection. But whenever does a supernatural explanation not have the most explanatory power? Through being “super” natural, one need no longer abide by any standard of evidence that would otherwise apply to a natural claim.

Take a similar analogy with the Loch Ness Monster. I have very high confidence that there is no monster, despite there being thousands of eye-witness testimonies. Why? 1) The fact that a lake that size could never support an organism that big, 2) the existence of several other lakes around the world with similar monster myths, 3) the fact that there would have to be two monsters with an already limited food supply to reproduce, and 4) the possibility that people who claim to see the Loch Ness Monster could be lying, hallucinating, or misinterpreting their senses.

But all of these objections need only apply if we analyze the “natural” case for the Loch Ness Monster. Suppose instead that one were to turn on “God Mode” and argue that the Loch Ness Monster is a “supernatural” being. Suddenly, all of the objections raised before can be circumvented through shortcuts: 1) the supernatural Monster does not need food to survive, 2) the other lake stories are only deceptions put forth to lead us away from the true Monster! 3) the Loch Ness Monster is eternal and does not need to reproduce, and 4) the only reason the Loch Ness Monster has not appeared to you is because you have been proud and not sought Him!

Such arguments, of course, sound utterly ridiculous … but are they really any different than the same shortcuts apologists use with “God”? All the same natural objections could be applied to the resurrection of Jesus: 1) the fact that a human body once pierced in the side and dead for three days cannot resuscitate, and that decomposition would have rendered Jesus’ body a dysfunctional rotting mess, 2) the existence of several other historical figures, such as Elvis Presley, who likewise have stories about post-mortem appearances, and 3) the convenient appearance of Jesus to primarily those who previously knew and believed him (except a visionary appearance to Paul), and his convenient refusal to physically (only spiritually) appear to us today.

However, once we turn on “God Mode” and assume supernatural causes, immediately all those impossibilities vanish and shortcuts are made open to us: 1) God can do anything, surely he can revive a rotting corpse (even though I can’t explain the biological mechanics of how this would work, whereas a naturalist would have to), 2) only the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are true, whereas the many other historical figures with similar claims are just made up (special pleading), and 3) Jesus WOULD appear to you if you already believed in him! (a rather circular appraoch).

Such arguments are, again, ridiculous, but apologists get away with them, since “God” is conveniently located always within the gaps of our scientific, historical, and philosophical understanding. Apply “God Mode” instead to areas where we do have concrete understanding: “What causes lightning?” “God, he can do anything!” Well … maybe, but doesn’t electronic discharges in the atmosphere now explain that? “What causes volcanoes?” “God, he can do anything!” But doesn’t plate tectonics and ruptures in the earth’s crust explain that now quite nicely?

Such arguments, in light of fuller evidence and understanding, appear wildly absurd. Nevertheless, the same arguments are used in cosmology, morality, history, and other areas where data is less available and where we are now only at the cusp of better understanding. The ancient uses of “God Mode” given above are absurd to us today. Only imagine how the “God Mode” used by modern apologists will appear in a couple centuries. As naturalists actually do the work, follow the rules of nature, and explain in more depth how phenomena works, “God Mode” must retreat further and further into the gaps of our knowledge.

For every Warcraft II level there was a way to beat the map without cheat codes. They weren’t all simple. Very often the player would make a mistake, lose the level, and have to start over from scratch. But with time, hypothesis, and experimentation, a solution could be found to every problem through the normal rules of the game. Technically, the “God Mode” cheat in Warcraft II was a part of the game’s programming and could be considered a mechanic and “rule” of the game. After all, even though it was a cheat code, “God Mode” could produce the tangible results of invincibility and unlimited power for your players.

Does applying “God Mode” in real life ever produce such tangible results? The science and technology that brought Neil Armstrong to the Moon did not begin with “God did it,” but through the painstaking and ingenious pursuit of astronomy and physics. One does not resuscitate a heart that stops beating with “God did it” (like Jesus), but through the modern medicine made possible through countless hours devoted to the study of natural biology.  The equipment that makes this blog universally accessible on the Internet was not made with the technology “God did it,” but through computer science and the engineering made possible through, yes, the study of natural forces.

If God can “explain” everything, it is incredible how he apparently “does” nothing (except, of course, in the gaps of our knowledge). There is no “God Mode” in the external world, but only in the fictional concepts of human thought. “God Mode” may allow for intellectual laziness, or assuage our fears about the unknown, or even preserve a sense of mystery that some want in the universe, but it can point to no tangible achievement of the human species (the effects of human belief in God being an exception), all of which were made possible through the study and application of natural rules (without divine intervention like miracles).

Naturalism, in many ways, is not really an explanation (except in the sense of being an over-arching explanation), but a tool set for finding explanations. The naturalist has hard work in front of of her. A naturalist must investigate causes, not merely assume them, explain them with data, not orthodoxy, and for every new theory that steps on the toes of previous religious beliefs, there will be apologists fighting tooth and nail to resist new and unorthodox knowledge. But it is this very pursuit that has made the incredible, modern world we live in possible and holds the keys for a better future.

-Matthew Ferguson

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