God-of-the-Gaps?

10 December 2005

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.


Conclusion:

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.






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  1. mmm.. I have a problem can you help? there are so many religions and Gods to choose from I just dont know which one is right for me. How do most people choose one religion from another. However I have noticed a strong trend geographicly, can someone explain this trend.. if i follow the trend geographicly I should be a christian, should i settle for this. Just not sure if I should study all the other religions… you know to be fare to the other religions.

    How did you choose your religion, after all it worked for you.


    Albert Einstein    Apr 15, 04:36 AM    #
  2. as usual, you people show a total lack of understanding of the theory of evolution. go and read some books, if you still think it creates more questions than it answers, you still have not understood it. I’m sorry, but it is that simple.


    andy    Jun 14, 05:00 AM    #
  3. You think something can come out of nothing, given “enough” time? As usual, you evolutionists show a total lack of sanity on the origin of things. Knock some sense into your brains if you still think it even begins to answer something all. I’m sorry, but it is that obvious.


    — lou    Jun 20, 08:55 PM    #
  4. A strange argument. We sometimes argue that someone does something because of Love, which is uncompletely understood. Therefore it is logical to argue that God did this or that.

    Where’s the connection ?

    Couldn’t I just as well say: We sometimes argue that people did this or that because of love, which is incompletely understood. Therefore it is logical to claim that a green goat living on mars did this or that.


    Gunnar Lou    Jun 26, 12:45 AM    #
  5. These are some terribly weak arguments. Thank you for giving me material for my critical thinking class project.

    Your mistakes will provide me with fantastic marks, I’m sure :)


    — Chris    Sep 1, 03:22 PM    #
  6. God of the gaps is a logical fallacy because it’s an appeal to ignorance – which is one ‘reason’ you didn’t cover.

    Just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean ‘god did it’.


    — Jesse    Nov 20, 01:34 PM    #
  7. “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.”

    Here is the problem with your argument – You’re saying that declaring ‘God did it’ is sufficient proof when an Atheist states that the burden of proof lies with the Theist. It isn’t.

    “Ultimately, the “God-of-the-gaps” charge is little more than intellectual laziness.”

    How is “God did it” less lazy than “Science will someday explain it?”


    Brad    Jan 23, 06:42 PM    #
  8. It’s a two-way street, isn’t it? God-of-the-gaps vs. science-of-the-gaps? It would seem the accusation depends on which side you’ve decided for already.

    God bless :-)


    — TTM    Apr 7, 01:13 PM    #
  9. god-of-the-gaps? why not unicorn-of-the-gaps? how about Zeus did it??? we have our choice of feel good nonsence, why limit youself to one god???


    dane griffith    May 18, 06:03 PM    #
  10. Personally I think it’s completely wrong to think of God as a “hypothesis”. I’m afraid I’m not going to explain this very well, but I’ll give it a shot… Science and religion attempt to provide insight on the same reality, right? Even if science explains every observable phenomenon, that doesn’t change what everything means. Science may answer every “what” and “how” but I don’t think science can give you any sort of “why” (thus the methodology forces you to assume there is no “why” to existance). If every biological process behind my thinking and cognition is explained, it doesn’t change the fact that I am a conscious entity who interacts with other things. Isn’t the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Now if you can say “god did this” how can you possibly say “god didn’t do this”? I would argue that God is far closer to you and more involved in every facet of existance than you could possibly imagine. I’m of the belief that science is NOT the direction to be looking for God, because science can never be holistic enough. I am sick of everyone placing science at odds with religion when they’re not applicable in that sense. Science may explain every phenomenon without regards to God, but that does not say there is no God. It’s sort of like light; if you only look at light one way it appears to be a particle, you must look at it another way altogether to see it appears as a wave. To me “god-of-the-gaps” thinking shows a childish and uninsightful conception of God, it is idolatry. Saying “god did this” or “god didn’t do this” is like attempting to control God. While I definitely agree that “god of the gaps” is a loaded phrase and can be misused, I don’t see how that way of thinking is acceptable or insightful. Hopefully that made any sense.


    — kfred    Apr 25, 01:11 AM    #
  11. Hello “Albert Einstein”!
    I will argue using logic which religion is the correct one. First of all if you do not agree about the existence of a Creator this is proven in my blog bloganders.blogspot.com (see the right menu).

    All incidents of orderly patterns – for example a formal logical proof or a programming code – we know of has its origin in an orderly set of thoughts in a sentient being.

    By induction an orderly pattern requires an orderly set of thoughts in a being (at least until monkeys produce and type into a computer a previously undiscovered mathematical proof).

    The development of DNA occured because of the initial conditions (including the laws of physics) initiated by the Prime Cause. DNA is an orderly (non-random) pattern (governed by the laws of physics). Thus by deduction, the design of DNA must have its origin in an orderly set of thoughts in a sentient being – the Prime Cause; i.e. the Prime Cause is orderly.

    Being logically consistent (orderly), the orderly universe must mirror its Prime Cause —Who must be Orderly ; i.e. Perfect.Therefore, no intelligent person can ignore that our purpose and challenge in life is learning how we, as imperfect humans, may successfully relate to a Perfect Creator without our co-mingling, which transcends the timespace of this dimensional physical universe, becoming an imperfection to the Perfect Creator.

    An orderly Prime Cause necessarily had an Intelligent Purpose in creating this universe and us within it and, being Just and Orderly, necessarily placed an explanation, a “Life’s Instruction Manual,” within the reach of His subjects—humankind.

    It defies the orderliness (logic / mathematics) of both the universe and Perfection of its Creator to assert that humanity was (contrary to His Tor•âh′ , see below) without any means of rapproachment until millennia after the first couple in recorded history as well as millennia after Abraham, Moses and the prophets. Therefore, the Creator’s “Life’s Instruction Manual” has been available to man at least since the beginning of recorded history. The only enduring document of this kind is the Tor•âh′ —which, interestingly, translates to “Instruction” (not “law” as popularly alleged). [Quote for parts of the post and further reading of how to relate to the Creator: www.netzarim.co.il]

    The fact that the Creator is perfect implies that He isn’t self-contradictory. Therefore any religion that contradicts Torah is the antithesis to the Creator.


    Anders Branderud    Nov 14, 01:43 AM    #
  12. “They charge that claiming “God-did-it” has little explanatory power.”

    You don’t seem to understand this argument. It has no explanatory power because you can almost never make a prediction about what a being that can do anything would do.


    Zoetherat    Apr 27, 12:30 PM    #
  13. Saying “God did it” at any point isn’t useful because we don’t learn anything new. If “god did it” is the answer for rain, it doesn’t tell us how it rains. “goddunit” is an argument from ignorance, and if people kept using instead of venturing into the field of the natural sciences, we’d know nothing about our world. You say “goddunit” is a valid answer when a mystery necessitates the answer being a god. This is silly because we can never understand a situation well enough to know that a god is necessary. It’s the epitome of intellectual laziness.

    It seemed perfectly obvious to a person of biblical times that disease was caused by curses or demon possession and so on, and that a holy blessing would in time cure the person (unless god didn’t want to). It would never occur to them that disease was caused by a flurry of biological reason, mainly due to life so small it’s invisible covering our environment. The necessity of turning to a supernatural answer only happens when we’re ignorant and can’t imagine an inconceivable reason. It wasn’t until a few hundred years back when someone had the coincidentally lucky but ultimately wrong idea that disease was spread by bad smells.

    As for the universe, we can’t know what caused the universe to exist (even though some top men of today feel it was caused by nothing), but for all you know this one was created by a black hole in another universe pouring pure energy into a new void. Even if after an arbitrary number of universe generations backward, there was eventually a god setting things in motion, it would still make you wrong about god making this universe simply because you do not know anything about the beginning of the universe. And if you’re going to define your god to be eternal, then I have as much reason to define the universe to be eternal. There’s no sense in hedging bets when we don’t know anything, which is why the god explanation doesn’t explain anything.


    Mike Wolfe    Jul 1, 06:06 AM    #
  14. God of the gaps

    I will begin this article with two postulates: 1) God has created this universe, 2) He has brought man in this universe with some purpose. I am not claiming here that these two postulates are true, or that I can prove them to be true. But I want to show here that if these two postulates are true, then God will always be the God of the gaps. Anyone who will be reading this article should not forget that there is an “if” clause in the last sentence. Now I will begin with the supposition that God has created this universe. If God has created this universe, then He could have created it in four different ways: 1) He created it in such a way that there was no necessity for Him to intervene in it after creation, 2) After creation He intervened in it, but these interventions were a bare minimum, that is, He intervened only when these were absolutely necessary. In order to clarify my point here, I will say that He intervened only when He found that without His intervention the universe would come to a standstill, 3) He created the universe in such a way that in order to keep it going He had to make very frequent interventions in it, 4) God’s total intervention after creation. If it was the purpose of God to keep mankind crippled in every possible way, then He would have adopted either the third or the fourth way while creating the universe. This is because in these two cases man, in spite of his having sufficient intelligence and reasoning power, will fail to unveil the secrets of nature, because in almost every phenomenon of nature that he will decide to study he will ultimately find that there always remains an unknown factor, for which he will have no explanation. For him the book of nature will thus remain closed forever. But if it were God’s purpose that man be master of His creation, then it is quite natural for Him that He would try to keep the book of nature as much open to him as possible, so that with the little intelligence he has been endowed with man will be able to decipher the language of nature, and with that acquired knowledge he will also be able to improve the material conditions of his life. In that case God will try to adopt the policy of maximum withdrawal from His creation. He will create the universe in such a way that without His intervention the created world will be able to unfold itself. However that does not mean that He will never intervene. He will definitely intervene when without His intervention the created world would become stagnant. In such a scenario man will be able to give an explanation of almost all physical events in scientific language. But in those cases where God has actually intervened, he will fail to do so. So I think there is no reason for us to be ashamed of the “God of the gaps” hypothesis. Yes, if God has created the universe, and if God’s purpose was that man be master of His creation, then He would try to keep as little gap in His creation as possible. But the minimum gap that would be ultimately left can never be bridged by any sort of scientific explanation. God will also reside in that gap. Why should we be ashamed of that? The whole matter can be seen from another angle. Those who strongly believe that God has created this universe also believe that He has created it alone. Now is it believable that a God, who is capable of creating such a vast universe alone, is not capable enough to keep a proof of His existence in the created world? So I think it is more reasonable to believe that while creating the universe God has also kept a proof of His existence in something created. This proof is open to us all, but we have not found it, because we have not searched for it. So even if it is the case that God has never intervened in the created world after its creation, still then there will be a gap in this natural world, purposefully left by God, for which science will find no explanation. This will be the ultimate gap that can only be filled up by invoking God. Therefore, I can conclude this article in this way: If God created this universe, and if God wanted man to be the master of His creation, then God would willingly choose to be “God of the gaps”. A theistic God will always prefer to be the God of the gaps.
    Udaybhanu Chitrakar    Aug 9, 10:06 PM    #
  15. My fellow naturalists tell the truth. Supernaturalists depend on the arguments from personal incredulity and from ignorance. Why is the Cosmos as is betrays the begged question of purpose with the ignorance God. Google lamberth’s naturalistic arguments about God, morgan lamberth’s blogs and skeptic grigsy to see why God cannot exist! He is no more than a square circle and no more needed as Primary Cause than gremlins or demons. TI’s to no avail to prattle that those two for the sake of argument in the Cosmos inteads as He is outside it as per Reichenbach’s argument from Existence, as Existence is all, no transcenendt God can exist. And the point is as far as explanations go, He explains nothing1 William Swinburne and Billy Lane’s personal explanation as is theism itself no more than reduced animism that is as superstitious as is full animism or polytheism, one spirit behind all Nature instead of the many behind its forces.No category mistate ensues,because the point is that no intent comes forth as Lamberth’s teleonomic/atelic argument notes, and to put forth that divine intent contradicts what science finds instead of complementing it. Thus, theistic evolution is no more than an oxymoronic obfuscation.


    Carneades of Ga.    Feb 25, 02:54 PM    #
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