God of the gaps

On the off-chance you’re here for some content rather than the humourous cat photos, you might be interested in some discussions I’ve been having with Stephen from Outside the Box. Stephen first turned up on a posting of mine about anger among de-converts from religion.

Stephen has made some interesting posts lately. I’ve commented on a couple, one on evidence for God’s existence, and the other on atheism and the god shaped hole in scientific knowledge. Stephen said some nice things about my comment on the latter posting.

According to Wikipedia’s article on the God of the Gaps, Christian theologians have specifically warned Christians off making arguments for God from scientific ignorance (it’s an obvious tactical error, because the areas of ignorance tend to get smaller). Nevertheless, you do see Christians doing it, and atheists have tended to consider all arguments of this form a fallacy. As I said in my comment to Stephen, I don’t think it’s a strict fallacy (God might have done whatever this thing is that we don’t have a good explanation for yet). But to go from there to claiming that a lack of a scientific explanation is evidence for a specific sort of God, as some Christian apologists do, is begging the question (which is a fallacy) because it assumes that “God” as a label for “whatever is in the gaps” is identical to the God that the apologist is advocating. That’s what makes the Flying Spaghetti Monster a useful tool for annoying Intelligent Design advocates.

Stephen sounds like he’d like to follow Descartes in seeing what he can find out about God from first principles. I don’t think you’ll get very near a Christian God by doing that (and I expect Christians would agree, because they’d talk about the need for revelation, whether from the church or the Bible). Nevertheless, I’ll be interested to see where that line of thought takes him.

3 Comments on "God of the gaps"

  1. Stephen here. Excuse my apparent anonymity, but I’ve never been able to figure out the OpenID thing.

    To go from there to claiming that a lack of a scientific explanation is evidence for a specific sort of God, as some Christian apologists do, is begging the question.

    I quite agree. I set out to argue only that certainty eludes us, no matter which explanation we prefer. I think many atheists have this much in common with fundamentalists: they are certain that they’re right.

    As of yet, science has no adequate explanation for the origins of the cosmos or for the revolutionary shift from non-life to life. Personally, I accept the theory of evolution as valid, because it is supported by so much hard evidence. But the evidence actually works against naturalistic explanations of origins (as I attempted to demonstrate in one of my posts). Naturalism is thus a very speculative position, and cannot be held to be certain.

    I don’t think the “God of the gaps” argument leads to a full-blown Christian conception of God. In fact, the argument is so general it leaves open the possibility of any sort of metaphysical force or entity, and may not lead to G/god at all.

    Still, it opens the door just a crack — and that’s all I set out to accomplish, against those who think science has disproven the existence of G/god.


    1. Hello Stephen. I hope you’re still looking here for replies (I really must work out something to give an RSS feed of comments on this blog). I tried to reply to your kind comment on your blog, but my comments didn’t seem to be getting though. Are comments from people without WordPress accounts still allowed?

      Anyhow. My position is naturalism plus an admission of ignorance. I’m not sure one book is enough to show that naturalistic abiogenesis is unlikely, but nobody really knows. Naturalism feels more than speculative to me, given its existing successes. I’ll admit that’s a feeling based on induction which might be undone by a single counter-example, but equally, I’ve no need of any other hypothesis at present. I think most atheists are a bit like that, really, I’ve not come across many who think that science has disproved the existence of God.


      1. Stephen again.

        I’m surprised that you had trouble posting a comment. As far as I am aware, nothing has changed. I had a comment from a “blogger.com” blogger yesterday.

        As long as a comment has fewer than three comments, it should get past the spam filter. After that, I have no explanation. Feel free to email me at stephen dot peltz at gmail dot com if it happens again.


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