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Omer 26: Where “god of the gaps” fails

It’s the 26th day of counting the omer. Each day I post a little something to help me count. Previously I wrote about how God loves Jerusalem. Today, a short word about the god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

Image result for universe pillars of creation

The Pillars of Creation: a build up of interstellar gas in the Eagle Nebula some 7000 light years from earth.

Naturalists oppose belief in God, saying that God isn’t need to explain the universe. They rightfully point out that while theists have used God to explain the gaps in human knowledge, those gaps are closing, thanks to Science™.

For instance, people once thought that god/gods were responsible for lightning. Thunder, the sound of Thor’s hammer. The storm an act of angry gods. This is god of the gaps reasoning: we didn’t understand lightning, so we ascribed it to gods.

But humans figured out that lightning is created by millions of tiny bits of frozen raindrops in clouds colliding, producing charged particles. And when enough charged particles build up in the cloud, an interaction between the negative and positive charges emits a giant spark – lightning.

Thor was unable to be reached for comments.

In short, what people once ascribed to the divine was actually the result of natural processes. God of the gaps. Naturalists now assume that everything in the universe can be explained apart from God.

This is a powerful argument, but I think it fails in two ways.

First, there is an implicit logical fallacy embedded in god of the gaps: a category error that conflates the workings of the universe with the cause of the universe. The outcome of this error is the mistaken believe that God is unnecessary or redundant. Glenn Peoples writes,

Take a Ford motor car. It is conceivable that someone from a remote part of the world, who was seeing one for the first time and who knew nothing about modern engineering, might imagine that there is a god (Mr Ford) inside the engine, making it go. He might further imagine that when the engine ran sweetly it was because Mr Ford inside the engine liked him, and when it refused to go it was because Mr Ford did not like him. Of course, if he were subsequently to study engineering and take the engine to pieces, he would discover that there is no Mr Ford inside it. Neither would it take much intelligence for him to see that he did not need to introduce Mister Ford as an explanation for its working. His grasp of the impersonal principles of internal combustion would be altogether enough to explain how the engine works. So far, so good. But if he then decided that his understanding of the principles of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place, this would be patently false – in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake. Had there never been a Mr Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand.

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe. In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or its upholder.

Spot the error? We understand the combustion engine works via natural processes, but mistakenly conclude the whole car itself doesn’t require a creator. This is the error naturalists make with god of the gaps.

God of the gaps conflates the workings of the universe with the cause of the universe. We can understand the workings of the universe apart from God – natural processes govern the universe – but the cause of the universe is something different entirely.

So what about the cause of the universe? The scientific consensus, as of about 50 years ago, is that the universe had a definite beginning, what’s called the Big Bang. (Earlier in the 20th century, scientists believed the universe always existed, but scientists have ruled this out for observational reasons I won’t get into in this post.) If the universe came into existence in a massive explosion, what’s the first cause; what caused the universe to come into existence, what caused that Big Bang? We identify the creator as God.

The second problem is that god of the gaps assumes that if a natural process explains a phenomenon, then God is ruled out. It’s related to the first problem, but it ignores the reality that if indeed there is a first cause to the universe – God – then that first cause would likely have rule over the natural processes He was responsible for setting up.

This would mean that yes, God can use any natural process how He sees fit. Just as we can affect the world with our thinking put to action, the intelligence behind the universe can do the same with nature.

One apologist puts it this way:

“God is a real agent who exists in time subsequent to Creation just like you and I. He can cause effects in nature like you and I, the same way that you and I can – by using our immaterial minds to affect the natural world freely… even if everything has a mechanistic explanation, that still would not rule out an intelligence acting to bring the entire universe into being fine-tuned for complex life, with certain potentialities that would unfold over time.”

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