God of the shrinking gaps

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A god of the gaps argument is an argument from ignorance: it boils down to "We do not know how X happened, therefore X was caused by a god." However, ignorance is never an argument for something. It merely means we do not (yet) know the cause of the phenomenon.

To see why this argument is a fallacy, we can consider similar arguments could have been made at different points in human history:

  • 2000 years ago: "We do not know what causes lightning, therefore it must be a god throwing lightning bolts from the sky."
  • 1000 years ago: "We do not know what keeps the planets in their courses. There must be angels pushing them along."
  • 500 years ago: "We do not know what causes diseases, therefore they must be punishments from God."
  • 200 years ago: "We do not know how the many species of plants and animals could have appeared, therefore God must have created them."
  • 100 years ago: "We do not know how the universe started, therefore God must have done it."
  • 60 years ago: "We do not know how genes are passed from parent to child, therefore traits must be imprinted upon the soul."

As new explanations emerge, the gaps in our knowledge shrink, leaving less and less room in which to fit a god. Since human knowledge keeps growing all the time, it does not seem like a safe bet to assume that any given gap will remain one for very long.

Further examples[edit]

"A word of caution is needed when inserting specific divine action by God in this or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking. From solar eclipses in olden times to the movement of the planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this "God of the gaps" approach has all too often done a disservice to religion (and by implication, to God, if that's possible). Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps."

Francis Collins, The Language of God

"What I see is the trend over history is if you have two horses in a race, one wins a thousand races and every single race its won, the other horse has never won any of those thousand races yet. Any remaining questions in which we can't explain something, you put those two horses against each other, which horse are you going to bet on? Obviously they are going to be on the winner of every one of its thousand races and you are not going to bet on the horse that's lost every race its run. So when we come to the things we can't explain yet, I'm looking at the trend and the trend is giving a very high prior probability is we are going to see the explanations come out as naturalism rather than theism."

Richard Carrier[1]

"In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it."

St. Augustine

Counter arguments[edit]

Some things science can't explain[edit]

Many philosophers consider things like morality to be beyond what science can explain. Others writers, such as Sam Harris, argue that science can answer moral questions.

Naturalism doesn't necessitate God's non-existence[edit]

Even if we accept naturalism's success in explaining phenomena, that doesn't necessitate God's non-existence. It merely means God is not supernatural. However, this is incompatible with many religions and their theologies.

References[edit]