Are Christians guilty of arbitrarily suggesting a "God of the gaps" when they argue that God created the universe? Or are atheists guilty of "science of the gaps"?
Let’s talk about the “god of the gaps” complaint. This is a complaint that comes up in discussions in certain areas of science, particularly in origin issues like the beginning of the universe, or problems of the origin of life, and possibly the development of life by a Darwinian mechanism. There are problems with all these from a materialistic perspective and, of course, these are the places where Christian thinkers have been weighing in and offering explanations that seem to meet the need. The complaint that comes up is the Christian/Intelligent Design crowd is committing the fallacy of “god of the gaps.” This is an especially frustrating objection because this objection is not just coming from the materialists. It is coming from other Christians who do science.
There are a couple of things going on. One of them is the assumption that science is the only thing that gets to weigh in on these kinds of issues. If you bring God into the discussion, then this is ‘religion masquerading as science.’ Basically, the view is: you have an explanation for something that doesn’t cover all the bases—the materialistic explanation—and so there’s a gap that’s in place, and you can’t stick God in there as a plug because that’s something that science will eventually resolve.
In the past, there have been gaps and science has filled them in. People have sometimes stuck God in there, out of ignorance, and consequently they might have impaired the process of science, eventually properly filling it with a materialistic explanation. So that’s the backdrop. Notice the underlying theme here—that this is kind of a tacit declaration that the only place for God to fill is for gaps of ignorance. So God is in the ignorant spaces. Science is lined up with knowledge. How do we respond to this?
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First of all, this is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a gap. Science is saying, “Hey, we can’t fill this, or at least not yet. We hope to do it in the future.” Second thing to keep in mind is when Intelligent Design people—unlike folks in the pre-scientific era—offer Intelligent Design as an explanation, it is not to plug a hole. It isn’t like, “Well we don’t know what this is all about. Science hasn’t been able to come up with an explanation so let’s just take ‘God’ and stick it in the hole.” No, this isn’t what is going on. This is a straw man fallacy. They misrepresent the actual case.
ID guys have written huge books explaining the reason why God is a better explanation given the evidence. It’s not a, ‘god of the gaps.’ It’s God based on evidence. It’s Intelligent Design that is suggested by the nature of the evidence right there. This is the kind of thing that is overlooked constantly as if the people who claim this is ‘god of the gaps’ haven’t even read a word of what the ID guys have written. Now, it might be that the ID guys are mistaken and their scientific conclusions based on the evidence they think they can infer design from are wrong. But that’s a different kind of discussion. In this particular case, their ideas are dismissed out-of-hand as “god of the gaps.”
Here’s the third thing. Notice that when science says, “that’s ‘god of the gaps,’” they are committing a ‘science of the gaps!’ They are saying that there is a gap of knowledge there and they are assuming and hoping that science will fill that gap. Now what evidence do they have that science is going to fill that gap? For that particular gap, none! That’s why there is a gap there. So now they are doing gap filling with science without justification where at least the ID guys are filling the gap with God with justification. There is evidence that Intelligent Design best explains this particular gap of knowledge.
This is actually an example of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is when you presume your point of view in the process of trying to argue for your point of view. When scientists claim that any ID reference is going to be an example of a ‘god of the gaps,’ they’re presuming that there is a gap of knowledge there. But there’s only a gap if you presume a materialistic explanation. “There’s no materialistic explanation for it—and there must be one—and so there is a gap that you shouldn’t put ‘god’ in because we’ll come up with an explanation later.”
Notice the, “there must be one”? They are presuming that materialism is correct when that’s the very thing under consideration in this whole discussion. Is the materialistic, mechanistic view of the universe adequate to explain all of these kinds of things? It doesn’t look like it. But they are presuming it is, and so there’s a gap of knowledge because there is no materialistic explanation. Turns out, I don’t think there is a gap there because there is an explanation that fits the evidence.
The basic rule is: follow the evidence where it leads. Don’t do a ‘science of the gaps.’ Don’t do a ‘god of the gaps.’ If you are missing an explanation for something and the evidence suggests a materialistic explanation, go with that. If you are missing an explanation and there is evidence suggesting Intelligent Design, you can’t disqualify it with this lame dismissal called, ‘god of the gaps.’ You’ve got to follow the evidence where it leads if you are going to be intellectually honest.