The “God of the Gaps” fallacy

Around Christmas the chatter from non-Christians always seem to increase. On a few of the blogs and discussion boards I frequent there has been numerous discussions about the existence of God. Inevitably, these discussions lead to the current hot topic debate topic…evolutionist “science” vs Christianity.

One of the main points of attack from the non-believer seems to be that “science” is somehow shrinking the role of God, as more and more is discovered about how the “natural” world works. In anything where we observe a cause and effect relationship, we are assured that nog God is needed there, and God is therefore relegated to a spectator.

Even some Christians fall into this trap when they refer to miracles as a suspension of the natural order, or where God “interfered” with natural laws to make a miracle happen.

That is where the “God of the Gaps” theory comes from, invoking God for those things we cannot explain by an observed cause and effect relationship. This is one of the arguments used by Dawkins and the other “new” atheists, emphasizing the shrinking role of God as we understand more of these natural causes and effects.

And that is a major overstatement from those who claim that God’s role is being diminished in any way by finding a cause and effect relationship in anything. In fact, it is a shallow and ignorant statement. To follow just one of the arguments used by atheists to its logical conclusion, all that it leads to is a discussion about primary and secondary causes. If gravity is the cause of what keeps us glued to the planet, what caused gravity? (Just like the “What caused God/” argument) And is that cause of gravity then really what keeps us glued to the planet? It gets into an infinite regression pretty quickly.

Ah, but it is the underlying properties of the causal agent that really is the cause, we often hear. Which is no answer at all, since either the properties were caused by something, or they arose out of thin air, not a very “scientific” answer. Many try to isolate themselves from this problem by erecting artificial boundaries around the topic. The origin of life issue as “not a part of evolutionary biology” is a good example of that.

The key question to be answered in cases like that is whether we can understand the whole by understanding some parts, or whether we can only understand the parts if we understand the whole. Science, by its very methodology, falls into the first category, and some try to deify that limited understanding by extrapolating the parts to the whole.

Practical science, the understanding of how causes and effects work in what we can observe in parts, are, in the words of Thomas Kuhn, very useful in solving puzzles. Flight, medicine, utilities etc could not have come as far as it did without the puzzles being solved. But is that the final word as regards a comprehensive ontology of the whole? Not even close.

In the meantime, God stands gloriously unaffected by any of this. He alone is the ultimate cause of everything, at every moment. We confirm this in Scripture:

Heb 1:3  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Col 1:16  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.
Col 1:17  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

So while some may argue that God is being painted into an ever-shrinking corner, or that He “interferes” in His creation to effect miracles, the opposite is true. Since God is upholding everything, and holds all things together, there is no “natural” order to be interfered in, only different ways in which God chooses to act while holding things together. Sometimes patterns can be detected in how that happens, and sometimes there cannot.

How God chooses to act is His sovereign and holy choice, and we, from our observation of the parts, cannot understand the whole of His acts. We can solve some puzzles by observing regularity in how He chooses to uphold the universe, but it is still based on a limited, but reasonable, assumption that things will act the same way tomorrow that they did today.

Therefore, there is no “God of the gaps”. God is actively involved, every moment of every day.

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One response to “The “God of the Gaps” fallacy

  1. Right on. That’s why I always ask for clarification when the subject of “natural law” comes up. The term means different things to different people, and unfortunately many Christians tend to treat natural law in a simlar fashion to deists. God isn’t only the “God of the gaps”, but the God of everything between the gaps, not the God of only the “unexplainable”, but of everything that has been explained.

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