God of the Gaps: Five Problems with a Terrible Slogan

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Perhaps the most amusing trait of internet atheists is their tendency to dismiss every evidence of God’s existence as a “God-of-the-gaps” argument. Their concern is that “goddidit” is a lazy man’s approach to explaining phenomena; can’t every mystery be erased by invoking an all-powerful, all-knowing creator? It is much better to wait for science to provide a naturalistic solution for each and every puzzle.

It is difficult to take the McAtheist’s concern seriously for at least five reasons.

1)      Atheist and philosopher of physics Bradley Monton points out that we cannot be confident that every puzzle has a scientific answer:

Just because gaps in the past where filled in with further naturalistic scientific investigation, it doesn’t follow that every gap in the future will be similarly filled in. [An] argument to the contrary is a relatively weak inductive argument. To see this consider an analogous argument. If one looks at the history of science, one sees that all scientific theories before the ones that we currently favour have been shown to be false. Does it follow that the scientific theories that we currently favour will be shown to be false too? Seeking God in Science (Broadview Press :2009) p115

 2)      There are persistent gaps that have never been filled in, and might never be filled in, by naturalistic science:   What is consciousness? How does the brain produce conscious experience?  Why did the universe begin to exist? Furthermore, there are questions that naturalistic science simply cannot answer because it has not got the tools. Why is nature governed by laws? Why can the human mind comprehend the physical world? Are there objective moral truths? What is true love? What is a good life?

3)      It is obviously false that theists invoke God to explain every phenomenon. There are examples of waste and suffering which a good, powerful and knowledgeable creator would not have reason to bring about. This is why philosophers of religion have debated the problem of evil for centuries!

4)      However, if there is some evidence that does not fit neatly with theism, then there is an abundance of evidence which theism can account for. For example, take our finely-tuned universe and the living world around us. Each is extremely unlikely to have happened by chance, so each is unlikely if atheism is true. However, we know that rational agents bring about complex states of affairs – and God would be a rational agent. We also know that human life and the beauty of the natural world are valuable states of affairs (how odd that we should have to remind humanists of this fact!) So God neatly explains the natural world when atheism cannot.

5)      Finally, and comically, if an atheist stubbornly persists to meet every theistic argument with the mantra “God-of-the-Gaps”, his  atheism becomes unfalsifiable! No matter what evidence that atheist encounters, he will simply assume that a naturalistic explanation will turn up sooner or later. One wonders if that atheist might respond on judgment day, “All these signs and wonders seem to indicate that there is a God; but I am sure that science will produce a better explanation if we give it enough time…”

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