Non-believers often claim that God is not an appropriate explanation for any philosophical or scientific problem. The purpose of this article is to refute this charge, and show that God is sometimes an appropriate or perhaps even necessary explanation for a given problem.
What is the Claim, Specifically?
When an atheist claims that a theist is guilty of using the fallacy of “God-of-the-gaps”, they are claiming that God is being used as an explanation unnecessarily and/or out of ignorance. They charge that claiming “God-did-it” has little explanatory power. Furthermore, they may argue that science will one day uncover the mystery that the theist proposes can only be solved by invoking God.
What about the claim that God has little explanatory power? The atheist claims that God is essentially mysterious and unable to be measured or tested scientifically. It is often claimed that God isn’t even coherently defined. Moreover, it is claimed that, if we invoke God for the cause of something, we end up creating more questions than answers. Why did God do it? How did He do it? Will He do it again? Etc.
Is the Claim Valid?
Here, I will break down each individual claim.
1.) God is not even coherently defined.
2.) God is mysterious and is not able to be tested or measured scientifically.
3.) The God hypothesis brings up more questions than it answers.
4.) Science will probably one day uncover the answer without reference to God.
Now I will thoroughly investigate each claim and demonstrate that it is faulty.
God is not even coherently defined.
I have offered an article HERE that answers this objection.
God is mysterious and is not able to be tested or measured scientifically.
While it is true that God cannot be tested or measured, this does not demonstrate that God has no explanatory power. Since God can be defined as possessing certain characteristics, it is easy to show that God is the best explanation if the characteristics of God are necessary in the solution to the question (for example, this seems to be the case in the origin of the universe, see HERE). There are many things that cannot be tested or measured scientifically, yet there are few that doubt their existence. For example, when asked why a father would give his heart and life so that his son could live (such as in the movie John Q.), it might be considered rational to answer that the father loved his son. Yet, love is rather mysterious and cannot be tested or measured scientifically. This demonstrates that it is logical to claim God did a certain thing even though He cannot be tested or measured.
Furthermore, it is easy to turn around atheistic claims and show that they refute their own methodology. For example, to answer the question of why the universe exists and why it is fine-tuned for life, atheists often propose that “Super-cosmos” or “alternate universes” exist which are responsible for the creation of our own universe. However, it is obvious that such “alternate universes” cannot be measured or tested scientifically. The fact that nonbelievers are quick to assert that such alternate universes exist show that they are not always entirely consistent with regards to the “God-of-the-gaps” charge.
The God hypothesis brings up more questions than it answers.
This objection is quite common, yet it is completely fallacious. This can be demonstrated by writing out the implicit premises of the argument:
1.) Any explanation that brings up more questions than it answers is not valid.
2.) The God hypothesis brings up more questions than it answers.
3.) The God hypothesis is not valid.
The fallacy can be seen easily in the first premise. It is obviously untrue that any solution that brings up more questions than it answers is invalid. This can be displayed with an analogy. Consider a favorite of nonbelievers- the theory of evolution. Purportedly, the hypothesis of evolution answered many questions, such as “Why are some creatures more complex than others”, and “Why is there such an extensive fossil record.” However, the theory of evolution raised almost an infinite number of questions. “How did the brain evolve”, “What did chameleons evolve from”, “How did multi-cellular creatures form”, etc. (I realize that evolutionists may claim to have discovered the answer to some of these questions, but that is only from further study, the bald hypothesis of evolution leaves an extremely large amount of questions unanswered.) Now, let us insert evolutionary theory into the premises of the atheistic objection:
1.) Any explanation that brings up more questions than it answers is not valid.
2.) Evolution theory brings up more questions than it answers.
3.) Evolution theory is not valid.
As can be seen, few atheists would be willing to hold to the objection once they realize the implications of their argument. (Note: The atheist may claim that evolution, unlike God, is able to be tested and measured scientifically. While this may be true in some instances, evolution theory attempts to reconstruct events in the past. Evolution theory is largely based on informed speculation. Therefore, evolution theory is in the same boat as the God hypothesis when it comes to difficulty in actually measuring or testing scientifically. It can clearly be seen that the atheist is using a double-standard if they wish to argue that the God hypothesis should be rejected on the basis that it raises more questions than it answers, and on the other hand still regard evolution theory as true.)
Science will one day uncover the answer without reference to God.
I have dedicated an entire article to this claim HERE. It should be noted, however, that this is nothing but blind faith in science. As such, it should only be regarded as an evasive tactic used to avoid dealing with the issues at hand.
Should God be Rejected Without Being Considered?
One major problem with the “God-of-the-gaps” claim is that it rejects out of hand a potential truth from the realm of possible truth. Since God is not considered an answer to anything, we are therefore forced to limit that explanation from the pool of possibility. But what if it really is true that God is responsible for something? What if it is true that God created the universe? Having rejected that explanation, the entire human race will search for an answer in vain as long as we are still investigating. All the while, the obvious and simple explanation lies right under our nose; God is responsible.
Non-believers often claim that God ought to be rejected as a possible explanation because it limits our understanding of the world. They claim that, if we accept God as the answer to a particular problem, then science will be stopped in its tracks and we will return to the mysticism and scientific ignorance of past millennia. Contrary to this claim, though, admitting that God is the best answer to a problem will not stop science in its tracks. Nobody has ever claimed that, if we establish God as the likely cause of a certain event, we would then close any other investigation of other possibilities on the issue. On the other hand, the scientific forum would still be open, and we would be allowed to continue to propose unique ideas, while maintaining that God is the best explanation for the given phenomenon for the time being.
This is the standard approach for any other issue. For example, although most people believe that the “Big Bang” theory accurately portrays the developing stages of the universe, that does not prevent other scientists from offering alternate theories. As with any discipline, the current majority view does not go unquestioned. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the same situation would arise if God were proposed as the best explanation for a given phenomenon. Because of this, we see that there is no reason to dismiss the God hypothesis out of hand. In fact, such a limitation can only take away a possible truth from the list of all potential truths. Therefore, it is only harmful to science or philosophy if we don’t accept God as an explanation under any circumstance.
Rather than simply cry out “God-of-the-gaps” whenever a theist states a reason for believing in God’s existence, an atheist would do better to offer evidence that a naturalistic solution to the question can be reached. Failing that, it would be helpful if at least evidence is provided that it is likely that a naturalistic solution will be forthcoming, by highlighting trends in the particular field or noting that naturalistic solutions are gaining more evidence. However, the “God-of-the-gaps” claim is rarely substantiated with such data, so it is hard to take it seriously. Indeed, it is quite apparent that the charge is nothing but an attempt to eliminate God as a possible solution and clear the way for a narrow scientism or methodological naturalism.
Is it Ever Right to Charge “God-of-the-gaps”?
In a few instances, nonbelievers are perhaps correct to charge “God-of-the-gaps”. For example, if a theist claims that the only explanation for the existence of an extra-solar planet with peculiar characteristics and orbiting patterns, then it may be a little premature for the theist to claim that this is evidence that God exists since, supposedly, only He could have caused such a phenomenon.
However, in other issues, such as the origin of the universe, the theist is within reason to assume that God is the most likely cause for the universe coming into being. This is because the question involved requires an answer which possesses the same characteristics as God (see HERE for the article).
So, when is it valid to claim that a theist is using “God-of-the-gaps”? Generally speaking, when the problem does not require a cause that possesses the same characteristics as God. Therefore, the origin of the universe seems to require the characteristics of God, while the extra-solar planet does not. However, in my experience, theists are very rarely actually guilty of using such a “God-of-the-gaps” technique. Usually, the atheist just claims it out of mid-air, complaining that the God hypothesis has little explanatory power, which is an objection I have refuted previously.
Why do Atheists Use this Charge?
It seems extremely hypocritical for atheists to give theists the burden of proof, and then turn around and say that God is not an appropriate explanation for any phenomenon. What are we supposed to prove? It is clear that this is a “win-win” situation for the atheist. I accept the burden of proof gladly, but the charge that God cannot be used as an explanation is unfair and illogical.
In my opinion, atheists charge “God-of-the-gaps” because it is an easy way out of a problem. If a theist creates a detailed proof for God’s existence, the atheist will reply with the charge of “God-of-the-gaps” and claim that science will one day be able to understand the problem the theist attempts to solve using the God hypothesis. Ultimately, the “God-of-the-gaps” charge is little more than intellectual laziness.
It is plain to see that the common “God-of-the-gaps” charge frequently used by nonbelievers is irrational. A more thorough investigation of these issues must be taken, one cannot simply repeat an intellectually lazy one-liner, claiming that such refutes all of the effort put forth by theists to demonstrate that God’s existence is likely or perhaps even necessary to find a solution to a given phenomenon.