The fundamental question [is] what do you mean by 'explaining' something? And I think Richard Dawkins assumes there's only one sort of explanation, and that is scientific explanation. But there are other sorts of explanation. . . . He assumes that God would be a scientific explanation. [With] that sort of explanation you have to be able to measure quantities, you have to be able to have a regular law, you have to be able to predict what's going to happen next. None of these things is true of God creating the universe. If God creates the universe it's not a scientific sort of explanation.
Ward says (rightly, I think) that Richard Dawkins doens't believe there is any other kind of explanation. But, says Ward, most philosophers do, and one of those is what he calls "personal" explanation.
Personal explanation . . . talks about consciousness, values, and purposes. . . . Science doesn't deal with any of these. It has never dealt with consciousness with any adequacy, though it's sometimes tried. Never dealt with values. It's value-free, just says "this is what happened." Never dealt with purposes. You just say "here there are laws." There's no purpose. That doesn't mean these things don't exist. My basic response to Dawkins is, "why do you miss out the most important thing in human life?", consciousness, value, and purpose, and say that the other stuff that science quite properly talks about is all that there is? Now God would be . . . the ultimate personal explanation of the universe.
Ward also emphasizes that he doesn't believe that personal explanations can be reduced to scientific or material causes. This is actually where a lot of the debate in philosophy is still raging today. Because of the brevity of the podcast, he didn't get into this argument much at all. I don't know if his book, Why there almost certainly is a God, covers this topic in detail, but it would be interesting to see. Ward is obviously an accomplished professor and philosopher with much to say about it. So far I've only been able to find his book for sale on Amazon U.K. (not U.S.) and in the bookstore of the "Unbelievable?" website.
Nevertheless, I think Ward's distinction is a helpful one, because it reminds us of the limitations of science. For many people scientific materialism has become a substitute for traditional religion. The problem is, it makes a lousy religion because it doesn't actually have an answer for any of the big questions in life, or even give you any means of determining if there is an answer. This is one of the points I raised in my post, "Why science can't explain everything."
Ward also spent some time talking about the argument from religious experience. This is another interesting area of study that I'm currently doing some reading up on with the book, The Spiritual Brain by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O' Leary. They attempt to make the case that empirical evidence actually supports the argument that in religious experiences the mind of the believer is actually in contact with a supernatural entity. I'll have more on that after I finish the book. Ward simply asks the question, "why should I think I'm deluded if I believe that I've experienced the presence of God?"
It's a good question. My first real experience with the presence of God occurred when I was 15 years old. I had read a book on the trustworthiness of the Bible based on fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament that could not be explained naturally. At the end of the book was a section on how to become a Christian. After I had read it (I didn't do anything else, I just read it) I suddenly and quite unexpectedly felt a warm, loving presence in my room. I can only describe it by saying that I felt as if a 1000-watt lightbulb had been turned on inside of me. I actually really thought to myself, "this is weird. Is this some sort of psychological thing?" I didn't quite know what to make of it. A few days later during football practice (I was trying out for our school's football team), the coach put me in front of the rest of team, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "this is a man who's hitting [ie. blocking and tackling in football parlance] has improved 100 percent in the last three days." On my way home I thought to myself, "what's been different about the last three days?" Then I realized that was how long it had been since I had had this experience in my room. It was such an experience that it made a difference in my life that was actually observable to others even though I didn't notice any difference myself.
One could argue, of course, that people from lots of religions claim to have spiritual experiences, and many of these religions teach things which are contradictory. That's true, and it's an objection that was brought up by the atheist on the podcast. But that's where objective evidence-based arguments come in. We can discern the truth between religions by examining their truth claims. Only Christianity has the claim of the Resurrection, and only Christianity has the evidence to back it up. Christianity does not deny that people in other religions can have spiritual experiences. But Christianity does teach that only through Jesus Christ do we encounter the one true and living God.