The tables are turning in the case of an oft-parroted accusation against biblical theists. I’m speaking about the familiar “God of the Gaps” argument.
The kind folks over at RationalWiki provide the following explanation:
God of the gaps (or a divine fallacy) is a logical fallacy that occurs when Goddidit (or a variant) is invoked to explain some natural phenomena that science cannot (at the time of the argument). This concept is similar to what systems theorists refer to as an “explanatory principle.” “God of the gaps” is a bad argument not only on logical grounds, but on empirical grounds: there is a long history of “gaps” being filled and the gap for God thus getting smaller and smaller, suggesting “we don’t know yet” as an alternative that works better in practice; naturalistic explanations for still-mysterious phenomena are always possible, especially in the future where more information may be uncovered.
Though it’s been discussed ad nauseum by thoughtful Christian thinkers—such as here and here—I’ll resist the urge to add my own critique.
However, as the ironically philosophical view known as scientism grows, we see more and more examples of the pot calling the kettle black. Proponents of naturalism want to argue that it’s more reasonable to just say “I don’t know” when confronted with natural phenomena we’ve no explanation for.
At one time this might have been acceptable.1
However, the crucial question is whether or not the naturalist is holding out for his view in spite of evidence to the contrary. Recent advances in modern scientific inquiry suggest that, in fact—he is.
Science—A Necessarily Brief History (And What Darwin Didn’t Know)
Historians and philosophers of science readily admit that the enterprise itself arose out of a Judeo-Christian context.
The usual hand-waiving qualification to this is, “but, back then, everyone was a Christian!”
This may be true, but it is a sort of “genetic fallacy.”
There were plenty of smart folks around. And while most of them were Christian by cultural conviction, many of them were not.
More plausibly, the scientific enterprise arose out of the belief that we live in a logical, orderly universe—a direct implication of the existence of God, and a truth taught explicitly by the Bible (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3).2
Fast forward to Darwin in the late-1800’s.
Darwin’s Origin was a clear attempt to explain the biodiversity of Earth without God.
The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. … Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.
We’ll table the discussion of his conclusions.
For now, let us note that Darwin was not working with hard scientific data when making these assertions. Darwin saw striking—but clear—correlations between certain life forms, and formulated the complex hypothesis we know today.
Here’s the issue:
Darwin simply did not have the tools to argue his conclusions adequately. Mind you, I don’t indict Darwin for his effort. We make predictions today that cannot be verified until new technology is developed. My indictment is to those who ignore that we do have the proper tools today, and they show something very different from Darwin’s hypothesis.
It’s only now that we’ve got the tools to test the hypothesis Darwin offered at the molecular level—that is, the only place where it really counts. And the results are in, as discussed in my interview with Dr. Michael Behe. Put lightly, it doesn’t look good for Darwin.
But how can this be, given that evolution is such an incontrovertible fact that, to use Dawkin’s prose, renders its critics “ignorant, stupid, or insane”?
Ironically, the answer lies in another reflection by none other than Richard Dawkins: “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, [he] made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
In other words—there’s an underlying moral quality to this entire enterprise. For many, whatever (allegedly) makes possible the notion of God’s non-existence is factual, evidence notwithstanding.
Such disastrous (not to mention extremely misguided) rhetoric has led to the wide-ranging public acceptance of scientism, which we mentioned briefly earlier.
Scientism is a sinking ship—it is self-refuting.
Consider the logic: The hard sciences alone can provide us with true knowledge. In the parlance of infamous internet infidel Aron Ra, “If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.”
His mistake should be obvious to you. Can Ra or anyone else “show” that only the hard sciences produce truthful conclusions? Of course not, because this position cannot be tested by the hard sciences!
It is a philosophical statement.
Thus, all who make such claims are sawing off the branch they’re sitting on, committing the logical fallacy of self-refutation. These claims fall under the weight of their own demands.
The real irony is that although there are numerous contributing and guilty parties, this faulty view can easily be traced back to the influence of Darwin himself; and, as we’ve seen, Darwin simply was not working with hard evidence. His speculations were just that—speculations.
He even made provision for the falsification of his theory, and such requirements have been met time and again.3
A further irony is that this discussion opened with the creation and success of the scientific paradigm, which depended upon the truth of theism. The scientistic view therefore undercuts itself not only in that it is philosophically self-refuting, but in that it claims to have no more need for the very foundation which was necessary for its rise.
So, where does that leave us?
The Success of Intelligent Design Theory
In a moment, we’ll ask who’s really creating imaginary answers in the “gaps” of our knowledge. First, though, we should briefly note the success of Intelligent Design (ID) theory in the face of failing evidence for naturalism—particularly Darwinian evolution.
In 2007, religious writer and former atheist Frank Pastore gave us a helpful way to think about the success of intelligent design in his article, Why Atheism Fails: The Four Big Bangs.
According to Pastore, these are:
- the Cosmological (the universe “just popped” into existence out of nothingness);
- the Biological (life “just popped” into existence out of a dead thing);
- the Psychological (mind “just popped” into existence out of a brain);
- and the Moral (morality “just popped” into existence out of amorality).
ID, as a teleological theory by definition, is able to answer some of these questions. There are multiple steps required to attach the Christian God to the “designer” role of ID theory; nevertheless, to accomplish what it intends to, ID must simply show that “design” is a better explanation of the evidence than “no design.”
Can it be brought to bear?
Let’s first try to understand what ID theory is. According to Drs. Michael Behe and Stephen J. Meyer,
Our minds recognize the effects of other intelligent beings when we see the purposeful arrangement of parts, such as the letters and words in a book. Or, the intentional design of something like Mt. Rushmore. We know from our own experience that such things as books and art only come from one source, a mind. So, when we see intentionally designed systems, purposeful arrangement of parts, we know that at an intelligent agent, a mind, must be the cause.
To be sure, there are detailed arguments and nuances required to move from Pastore’s problem of “The Four Big Bangs” to the existence of God; however, broadly speaking, it’s easy to see how ID theory (i.e., the purposeful arrangement of parts) can explain the evidence we have for at least three out of four of them.
I will hit on this point again below, but as you read the following, keep in mind that these are not conclusions being reached by appeal to the absence of a naturalistic explanation, but rather, to the existence of specified complexity—the hallmark of design.
Applied then, we see the following:
The Cosmological “Big Bang”
Although there is a cosmological “big bang theory,” don’t let that confuse you. We’re not referring here to a scientific theory; rather, the existence of something rather than nothing.
This fact alone renders naturalism suspect. From whence came the big bang? That is the age old question. For something to pop into existence out of nothing is, as William Lane Craig reflects, “literally worse than magic.”4
And of course, the universe could not have created itself, for that is equally absurd. We’re left with our intuition that “whatever begins to exist has a cause for its existence.”5
But then one must notice that our universe is not a mere “something”; rather, it is a precisely fine-tuned universe.
Several facts about the universe suggest that, were it not designed in the way it was, we (that is, conscious observers of it) could not exist in the first place. Here are just a few according to the folks at The Discovery Institute:
- If the strong nuclear force were slightly more powerful, then there would be no hydrogen, an essential element of life. If it was slightly weaker, then hydrogen would be the only element in existence.
- If the weak nuclear force were slightly different, then either there would not be enough helium to generate heavy elements in stars, or stars would burn out too quickly and supernova explosions could not scatter heavy elements across the universe.
- If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, atomic bonds, and thus complex molecules, could not form.
- If the value of the gravitational constant were slightly larger, one consequence would be that stars would become too hot and burn out too quickly. If it were smaller, stars would never burn at all and heavy elements would not be produced.
The significance and implications of fine-tuning are staggering; perhaps this short video will help you begin to grasp its gravity (no pun intended).
Thus, we not only have some thing rather than no thing—we also have a degree of specified complexity (another way of saying “the purposeful arrangement of parts”) that leaves little doubt whether a designer is the responsible party.
The Biological Big Bang
On this point ID theory enjoys a one-two punch. Pastore’s intent was to highlight abiogenesis. By definition, abiogenesis is the impossibility of life’s arising by itself.
The law of biogenesis essentially holds that life only comes from other forms of life by means of reproduction. It is the very antithesis to “spontaneous generation.”
There are two wide-spread and important misunderstandings here. One is the fault of creationists, the other the fault of evolutionary apologists. The former errs by conflating abiogenesis with the theory of evolution. The latter by using the creationist’s error to support the equally erroneous view that they’re inseparable.
In other words, while the evolutionist is absolutely correct to point out that abiogenesis and the theory of evolution are two different things, this does not mean that evolution does not depend on abiogenesis.
The evolutionist appeals to the evidence for Darwinism and attempts to establish it on its own merits. The problem is that the process couldn’t get started (there’d be nothing to “evolve”) without abiogenesis taking place!
Therefore, the existence of life, to begin with, remains an insuperable problem for naturalism.
But, it gets worse.
As biological and molecular science improves using newer tools and more precise methods, the evidence for Darwinian evolution is virtually disappearing.
New research by ID advocates is confirming the long-argued creationist hypothesis that evolutionary mechanisms (natural selection working on random mutation) cannot produce change above the level of Family in most populations. At the same time, it demonstrates that nothing novel at all can arise by Darwinian processes—Darwin’s mechanism is fundamentally deleterious.
So at the end of the day, we find that naturalism’s best theory can account for neither the existence or novel development of life.
Of course, what we do find at the molecular level is breathtaking. Examples abound of gears, motors, block and tackle pulley systems, etc., the likes of which cannot have possibly hoped to come about by chance.
In fact, each one of these “irreducibly complex” machines is made up of even smaller irreducibly complex parts. The further we dig into the building blocks of life, the more obvious to us becomes the “purposeful arrangement of parts” it exudes.
The Psychological Big Bang
In 2012, atheistic philosopher of mind Thomas Nagel wrote a book called Mind and Cosmos which bears a subtitle that would make even Richard Dawkins blush: “Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False”.
Even the Amazon.com description of the book’s premise is telling enough:
The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.
This is yet another aspect of ID theory where a one-two punch is in play.
First, it is instructive to consider what kind of thing “mind” is. It’s the sort of foundational concept that one can deny only at the expense of his own rationality. By definition, if there is no mind, then “you” are not reading this. Frankly, “you” don’t exist.
Philosophers argue that one of the primary means of acquiring knowledge is introspection. That is, the legitimate awareness you have of your very own existence is arguably more certain than even the existence of other minds.
Once one abandons such a core premise for obtaining knowledge, what more can be said? If you cannot even be sure that you exist, how you can be sure of anything else? This destroys the possibility of rationally affirming anything, and is therefore self-defeating. Since ID posits the existence of a creator-mind, that we possess one makes sense as well.
Second, on Darwinism, the best one could hope for is a sort of “collective consciousness” which arises out of the material “stuff” (protons, neutrons, and electrons). This view would demand that the “mind” is merely an illusion,6 and all that really exists is the “physical brain meat.”
The problem—as usual—is that there’s no evidence whatsoever that evolution can produce this kind of thing, and no indication that it will ever be able to.
To borrow a phrase from Behe, if “Darwin’s mechanism of random mutation and natural selection strains to explain even the very simplest molecular example of cooperation (called a “disulfide bond”),” how on earth could it ever hope to explain the existence of conscious life!
Again, this is no problem for ID theory, but a retrodiction of it.
The Moral Big Bang
I’ll not spend much time here since “morality” is not something that’s a part of Intelligent Design proper. This is because morality is not recognized by the “purposeful arrangement” of its parts.
Nevertheless, three important considerations give us reason to think that morality exists only in a world which was intelligently designed.
First, the scientific enterprise requires laws of morality. ID advocates and naturalistic evolutionists are all scientists. But what requires any of them to report accurately of their data? It seems to me that the assumption of objective morality must be operating.
Second, since evolution cannot produce “mind” (which reflects on immaterial things like morality), it follows that an intelligent designer better explains the moral compulsion one feels to accurately report her scientific findings.
Third, and underpinning the two points above, is the notion that theism is the kind of worldview necessary in principle for objective moral values and duties to exist.78 Such a notion is absurd on naturalism, which is why most atheists are moral relativists, and consistently so.
Let me once again reiterate that these conclusions are not inferred by the absence of a naturalistic argument, but rather, provide positive evidence for the reality of both design and purpose in the world and universe around us (and within us)!
With a discussion of the evidence behind us, we can answer the all-important question: Who’s attempting to fill gaps, anyway?
God-of-the-Gaps vs. Science-of-the-Gaps
Lying in the background of arguments against God is a pretense that, today, our knowledge is absolute.
While we know this isn’t the case, we still act practically as though it is. And so it goes that today’s science is “definitely the way things are.” Ever heard that before? “Evolution is a fact.” Ultimately, there’s nothing new under the sun.
The argument is that ignorant goat herders put the Bible together and spouted ludicrous assertions about the nature of the cosmos. But why listen to them? Not only were they illiterate (so the argument goes), but evolutionarily, they were in an earlier stage of human development. We have knowledge today that trumps theirs. Therefore, they’re wrong, and we’re right.
Well, not so fast.
As common as this understanding is on Youtube, atheist blogs, etc., it is fundamentally mistaken on at least three points.
First, all of the evidence seems to indicate that Israel was unlike any other ANE nation. They took history very seriously, believed their actions in history had serious and measurable consequences in the future, and believed in a God that was other than the cosmos. Beliefs such as these made them utterly unique amongst their neighbors.
This point does not prove the Judeo-Christian worldview, or any of its claims, true. It does, however (1) demonstrate that this worldview means to be grounded in reality, giving no leeway to the notion of fanciful storytelling and (2) that many of its claims can be tested against history recorded via other means and be verified or falsified.
Second, this notion is grounded in the assumption that something like Darwinian evolution is true. Notice that in order for this objection to hold any water, it depends upon the truth of an “evolutionary development” scenario. This is problematic, however.
For one thing, we’ve already shown that there’s good evidence to think that evolution is incorrect and that Intelligent Design is more likely to account for the evidence we have. Under this new assumption, we’d have to look for a worldview which posits an Intelligent Designer, rather than mindless evolutionary processes. But when we do this, our options become limited, frankly, to only two: Some form of deism, or the Judeo-Christian God.
It’s also problematic because it assumes, outright, that the biblical view is incorrect. On the biblical view, humanity developed rapidly after creation.
Just hundreds of years after creation we have cities being constructed, musical instruments being built, etc. And just a couple thousand years after the entire world was created, Noah had the skill and technology to build a massive boat that was not only seaworthy but capable of carrying and sustaining the lives of thousands of animal representatives.
Further, historians inform us of well-documented ancient intricate devices, odd structures, and complex archeoastronomy works that simply defy credulity on the evolutionary scenario. On the biblical view, though, these things make sense.9
Finally, the scenario is ironic considering it’s this “ludicrous” ancient wisdom that is able to comprehensively explain the data. And it’s not as if this is going to change any time soon. All of the latest science continues to confirm what these so-called “ignorant goat herders” wrote down roughly 3,000–4,000 years ago.
By contrast, evolution—an idea only about 150 years old—crumbles further and further with each new piece of evidence and every new technique developed.
At its core, a “God of the gaps” argument holds that we just say “God did it!” anytime we find something unexplainable. As I’ve attempted to stress heavily throughout this piece, there’s nothing to suggest this sort of move. We’ve not said, “evolution can’t, so God must have.” We’ve said, “the evidence suggests all the marks of design—Intelligent Design can account for that and the best naturalistic scenario can’t, by definition.”
By contrast, what would a “science of the gaps” argument look like? It seems to me it’d look something like, “I don’t know, but we’ll find out one day!” In fact, many say just that. An appeal is made to the wonder and amazement of human progress, achievement, and exploration, which ultimately leaves us with “but wait, there’s more!….eventually.” Thus, it places the discovery and examination of natural phenomena—i.e., science—in the gap of “I don’t know.” Thus, “science of the gaps.”
Editor-in-Cheif of Skeptic Magazine, Dr. Michael Shermer, often anticipates this move in his debates and attempts to parry the argument with a sly rhetorical move—“I don’t know, and you don’t either!” He says it in a forceful tone, inciting both laughter and cheers from atheists—and even some Christians—who are in attendance.
But it’s nothing more than lifeless, empty, rhetoric.
See, it’s a fact that we don’t know, on naturalism. One Shermer is forced to admit. But it’s merely a philosophical belief of Shermer’s that we (Christians) don’t know either. It sounds good, but facts are facts: we can explain the evidence, and he can’t. Even if we granted that could change in the future, that’d do nothing to undermine the facts as we have them today.
For the naturalist, the evidence is damning: Each new piece of evidence demonstrates the success of ID theory, and the failure of naturalistic theories.
We’ve seen in this piece that the scientific theory of Intelligent Design (ID) has more explanatory power on the most recent scientific evidence to which one can appeal that any form of naturalistic theory, including Darwinian theories of evolutionary development.
It seems that atheists who assert that Christians and theists appeal to a “God of the gaps” have failed to reckon with the implications of ID theory, they misunderstand the history of science, and base their objections on faulty presuppositions that aren’t supportable by the biblical or scientific data.
In sum, the argument that Christians and theists serve a “God of the gaps” not only fails, but it turns out that it is the naturalist who appeals to the “science of the gaps” that must come to terms with the implications of his beliefs.
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- And still may be, in certain cases of observational science.
- See J. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths for expansion of this point.
- See the works of Mike Behe, especially Darwin’s Black Box for a comprehensive introduction.
- Craig, On Guard.
- Ibid; This is premise one of William Lane Craig’s “Kalam Cosmological Argument.”
- This strikes me as odd considering that illusions are only the kind of non-physical things that happen to “minds” in the first place!
- Refer to Craig’s On Guard for a lay-accessible defense of this assertion.
- Even though we’ve argued with vague terms like “theism” and “intelligent designer” throughout this post, the Bible explains in great detail why we all have a moral intuition. See Romans 2:14-15 for starters.
- For lots of great information on ancient cultural achievements and technology, see Mortenson et al., Searching for Adam, Chapter 14: Ancient Man: Genius, or Primitive?
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