The God of the Gaps Reasoning

Victor Reppert and the folks at Christian Cadre are both highlighting an article by Robert Larmer on the God of the Gaps reasoning. It's an interesting discussion to me. Below are some of my brief comments:

Isn't it interesting that before the rise of modern science when people could not explain much at all, theists would often utilize the very god of the gaps argument that they now want to distance themselves from? Whatever could not previously be explained they resorted to saying, "God did it," or "God explains it." The list of such things is probably endless, from a healing, to the rain, to the birth of a child, to winning a war.

I admit that the the god of the gaps epistemology is a logical failure when used by either side. But if the standard of belief is logical proof, then there isn't much any of us can believe, because most all of the time we're only talking about probabilities. The real question is who must retreat more often to the "merely possible" in order to defend their views.

Christian philosopher W. Christopher Stewart objects to the “god of the gaps” epistemology because, as he says, “natural laws are not independent of God. For the Christian theist, God upholds nature in existence, sustaining it in a providential way.” From his perspective this is true. But his rationale is a bit strange. He says, “To do so is to make religious belief an easy target as the gaps in scientific understanding narrow with each scientific discovery,” in “Religion and Science,” Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael Murray (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., Co., 1999), p. 321-322. Why should he be concerned with this unless science truly is leaving less and less room for the supernatural? He’s admitting the evidence does not favor his faith. He’s trying to explain away the evidence. If he lived in a pre-scientific era before science could explain so much he’d still be arguing this is evidence that God exists!

The fact that Christians have abandoned the god of the gaps defense when they previously used it so often, it a testimony to the fact that the evidence in nature does not support the belief in God. The evidence from nature is that there is no active supernatural being in this world. Now God might exist anyway, but there is no evidence of his activity in our world. That's what Christians have learned to give up by abandoning the god of the gaps defense. Others like me simply say that if there is no evidence of God's activity in our world, then it's likely there is no God (given this information alone). This is a reasonable conclusion to make.


zilch said...

I'll have to take issue with you, John, for claiming that the "God of the Gaps" argument is logically faulty. As exapologist pointed out at Victor's site, the problem is not with the principle, but with the practice: while God could be hiding, in principle, behind every raincloud, or at the base of every flagellum, the historical fact is that such hiding places are becoming scarcer and smaller all the time. As I've said before, the pressure on God must be getting tremendous! But in practice, the idea that some unexplained bit of order or beauty demonstrates that God must exist, so He can tweak natural law, has not been very productive of long-lived explanations.

Lamer's defense of ID, where he seems to swallow their claim that they know enough about evolution to point out examples of order (such as the flagellum) that could not have evolved, is particularly weak. As we all know, science abounds with cases of confidently asserted proofs or disproofs of this or that, which were subsequently overthrown when new knowledge came to light.

Lord Kelvin's dismissal of the evolutionary timescale on grounds that the Sun can only have been illuminating the Earth for a hundred million years at the most comes to mind. What Lord Kelvin could not know is that the Sun is burning nuclearly, not chemically. Similar comeuppances are in store, or are already here, for the IDers.

There's nothing logically wrong with the God of the Gaps argument. It simply has no more explanatory power than the Unicorn of the Gaps argument.

Dan Marvin said...

Commenting too much altert! Oops I wrote this in a comment on the last post so I will copy this part here:

"The evidence from nature is that there is no active supernatural being in this world."

Bold and false statement friend. Romans 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

John W. Loftus said...

Zilch, read what exapologist and I wrote again. We do not disagree with each other.

In fact, science itself progresses on a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent:

If P (a scientific theory) then Q (an experiment will obtain).


.: P

Knowing this doesn't stop science from progressing, does it?

But I liked you Unicorn analogy, so much I'll use it sometime myself.

zilch said...

John, I don't think we two disagree either, really. But I will stick to my guns and insist that the GoG argument is not logically faulty: it's just bad science, unproductive, and unfalsifiable.

Dan- John didn't say "The evidence from the Bible" but rather "The evidence from nature". If you want to argue that there is evidence from nature for an active supernatural being in this world, a Bible quote is not terribly convincing. I could just as well argue that there is an active magical evil being in this world, quoting The Chamber of Secrets: "I am Lord Voldemort".

Shygetz said...

john, I hate to nitpick, but science is performed inductively. We do not affirm the consequent in the sense of formal logic because we do not form firm conclusions. That is why all science is tentative and subject to further evidence.

I'm sure you meant this when you wrote, but I wanted to make sure the point was clear to anyone else reading.

John W. Loftus said...

Shygetz agreed. When science is expressed deductively what we have is an invalid argument though.

Thanks for commenting recently. Want to join us?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Shygetz,
I'd like to see you join as well.