A redated post.
I am linking to Doctor Logic's presentation of the Placeholder Fallacy.
This is a very critical issue in the debate between theists and atheists. Theists point out the explanatory difficulties in materialistic explanations. Atheists acknowledge these problems, but then point out that bringing theism, or a soul, or something not materialistically helpful isn't going to help. They contend that we're stuck with materialism, because to offer, say, a theistic explanation is not to explain anything at all, but rather to provide a placeholder for the real explanation.
Here's the problem I see with this kind of argument. I watch Sunday Night football with church friends most weeks. One of them, Butch, is as Dallas Cowboys fan. I know a number of things about Butch that enable me to converse with him. I know that he is an English speaker. I know that he is a Christian. I know he likes the Cowboys, so if Romo throws a touchdown pass, I know he'll be pleased, and if he throws a pick-6, I know he won't be happy. I know that he acts for reasons. Now, since I happen to be a dualist, I think that these teleological explanations are basic explanations and these explanations of his behavior can't be reduced to neurophysiological explanation. But even if I were a materialist, it seems to me just insane to say that the explanations that I employ in order to form expectations about what Butch will say and do are just placeholders for mechanistic explanations that might be supplied by brain science, or for the explanations that might be provided at the level of basic physics. These are real explanations, and if dualism is true, I can still use them.
But what about God. After all, God's not an embodied being the way Butch is. But people do seem to know what they are praying for when the pray, for example. It stands to reason that a God who is infinitely intelligent should want there to be other intelligent beings in existence. I may not get much detail in my predictions about God's conduct, but I can form probabilistic expectations concerning what God can be expected to do. I may see through a glass darkly, but I'm not completely blind. I simply do not see that "God raised Jesus from the dead to vindicate his ministry and show him to be God's own Son" is a placeholder. Of course it's a false explanation if Jesus never rose from the dead, but it isn't a placeholder.