Nature of the Gaps

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here, and I hope anyone who has come recently hoping to find a new blog hasn’t been too disappointed and left my blog entirely. The holiday season has been a crazy one, to be sure. But life keeps on chugging, so hopefully I’ll be able to get back on here more frequently and talk about some of things God has been doing in my life, as well as some of the things He continues to show me.

This blog is courtesy of Systematic Theology, Volume 2 by Norman Geisler. In his chapter titled “The Sustenance of Creation,” he makes an interesting argument about the differences between origin science and operation science.

Before I get into his points, let me back up and explain to anyone not familiar with the term “God of the gaps.” This is a term that has a rather negative connotation to theists. In a sense, non-theists state that theists will use God to explain anything that doesn’t have an already-determined explanation for its cause. This is used of anything that may not have a foolproof naturalistic explanation as to its cause; although the answer may not be there, it’s not right to insert God as the answer for what we don’t know.

This is where the arguments of origin science vs. operation science begin to take place. Operation science is much of what we consider modern science today. Operation science is rooted in observable regularities, meaning something that we can see taking place, and that can be repeated and deemed as a process. The scientific method is based off of these basic principles, taking something scientific to be observable, measurable and repeatable. Anything that can be deemed an observable regularity is considered to be part of operation science (examples: the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the 3 changeable states of water). If it is something that can be seen as part of a natural process and repeated, it is operation science. It is true that God of the gaps has no business in operation science, and we can all agree.

The counter-argument to that is the idea of “nature of the gaps.” Just like God of the gaps, nature of the gaps is the misconception that whatever we don’t know, we should insert the belief that a natural cause is responsible. This is applicable to origin science, which is based upon unobservable singularities. This is an event that happens only once, therefore it cannot be repeated, which means modern science cannot hope to measure it, study the process of it, and therefore determine its cause. The ultimate conclusion is this: God of the gaps has no place in operation science, and nature of the gaps has no place in origin science.

Perhaps when I get home and can get to the book I will edit this post and let Geisler put it more eloquently than I just did. But I think it’s safe to say that to be too presumptuous about any area of science we don’t completely understand is a tenuous position to hold, and we ought to step back and consider what place our argument really has weight. When we fully realize we are not as smart as we think we are, only then are we truly in a position to understand and learn.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Udaybhanu Chitrakar on August 26, 2011 at 3:29 AM

    God of the Gaps Argument-From a New Perspective

    I will begin this article with two suppositions: 1) God has created this universe; 2) He has brought man in this universe with some purpose.
    I am not claiming here that these two suppositions are true, or that I can prove them to be true. But I want to show here that if these two suppositions are true, then God will always be the God of the gaps. Anyone who will be reading this article should not forget that there is an “if” clause in the last sentence.
    Now I begin with the supposition that God has created this universe. If God has created this universe, then He could have created it in four different ways: 1) He created it in such a way that there was no necessity for Him to intervene in it after creation, 2) After creation He intervened in it, but these interventions were a bare minimum, that is, He intervened only when these were absolutely necessary. In order to clarify my point here, I will say that He intervened only when He found that without His intervention the universe would come to a standstill, 3) He created the universe in such a way that in order to keep it going He had to make very frequent interventions in it, 4) God’s total intervention after creation.
    If it was the purpose of God to keep mankind crippled in every possible way, then He would have adopted either the third or the fourth way while creating the universe. This is because in these two cases man, in spite of his having sufficient intelligence and reasoning power, will fail to unveil the secrets of nature, because in almost every phenomenon of nature that he will decide to study he will ultimately find that there always remains an unknown factor, for which he will have no explanation. For him the book of nature will thus remain closed for ever. But if it were God’s purpose that man be master of His creation, then it is quite natural for Him that He would try to keep the book of nature as much open to him as possible, so that with the little intelligence he has been endowed with man will be able to decipher the language of nature, and with that acquired knowledge will also be able to improve the material conditions of his life. In that case God will try to adopt the policy of maximum withdrawal from His creation. He will create the universe in such a way that without His intervention the created world will be able to unfold itself. However that does not mean that He will never intervene. He will definitely intervene when without His intervention the created world would become stagnant. In such a scenario man will be able to give an explanation of almost all physical events in scientific language. But in those cases where God has actually intervened, he will fail to do so.
    So I think there is no reason for us to be ashamed of the “God of the gaps” hypothesis. Yes, if God has created the universe, and if God’s purpose was that man be master of His creation, then He would try to keep as little gap in His creation as possible. But the minimum gap that would be ultimately left can never be bridged by any sort of scientific explanation. God will also reside in that gap. Why should we be ashamed of that?
    The whole matter can be seen from another angle. Those who strongly believe that God has created this universe also believe that He has created it alone. Now is it believable that a God, who is capable of creating such a vast universe alone, is not capable enough to keep a proof of His existence in the created world? So I think it is more reasonable to believe that while creating the universe God has also kept a proof of His existence in something created. This proof is open to us all, but we have not found it, because we have not searched for it. So even if it is the case that God has never intervened in the created world after its creation, still then there will be a gap in this natural world, purposefully left by God, for which science will find no explanation. This will be the ultimate gap that can only be filled up by invoking God.
    So it is quite logical that a God who will create man with some purpose will always prefer to be the God of the gaps. Yes, if we were really created by some God, and if it was not God’s desire that we be some sort of semi-savage beast, then it makes quite a good sense if I say that in that case God would try to keep the book of nature as much open to us as possible (policy of maximum withdrawal). In such a case man will also be able to explain almost everything of nature without invoking God. But then this “ability to explain almost everything of nature without invoking God” will not prove that there is no God, because it might also be the case that this ability itself is God’s design, God’s plan.
    Here I will give an example in order to make my point more clear: Let A be one most obvious fact of nature, and let D be one natural phenomenon that follows from A. Let us also suppose that D does not directly follow from A, but there are some intermediate steps. A causes B, then B causes C, then C causes D. In order to be more precise here let us say that A means dark clouds gathering in the sky, and that D means lightning. We know very well that lightning does not always take place whenever there are dark clouds in the sky. So we will modify the above chain from A to D in this way: A causes B, but B does not always cause C. Instead of C, it sometimes causes C1. When B causes C1, there is no lightning. But when B causes C, in that case only lightning occurs. Now it might be the case that there is a God, and that after creating the universe He has not intervened in it at all. So all the processes from A to D will be natural. In that case if man wills then one day he will be able to understand the whole natural process here. He will understand what lightning is, how and when it occurs, and with that knowledge it can be hoped that one day he will also be able to protect himself and his property from lightning. Now let us suppose that after creation God has frequently intervened in his creation, but his intervention was not total, but only partial. Let us also suppose that God has chosen the above case of lightning for His intervention. That means lightning can never take place unless He wills. When He decides to punish mankind by sending lightning, then only B can cause C, otherwise in every other case B causes C1. In this case the whole chain from A to D will be broken at B. Man will never understand how B can naturally cause C, and so he will never understand how D naturally follows from A. So lightning will forever remain a mystery to him. Now let us suppose that God’s intervention in this universe is total, that is, behind every natural phenomenon there is hand of God. In that case man will understand nothing of nature, and he will remain as ignorant as a savage. In this world his fate will be no better than birds and beasts, and his condition will remain as miserable and helpless as those birds and beasts in the face of natural calamities. But if God wills that man be almost equal to Him in the knowledge of things in nature, and if He also wills that man live in this world with some dignity and not just like birds and beasts, then He will create the universe in such a way that almost all the phenomena in nature can take place naturally without His intervention. In that case He will adopt the policy of maximum withdrawal. He will intervene only in those cases where His intervention is absolutely necessary. One such case is genetic code. Genetic code is information code, and those who believe that there is a God try to make a point here. They say that information code cannot naturally arise from space, time, force, field, matter, energy. Some intelligence is required, and nature does not possess that intelligence. Only God possesses that intelligence, and therefore only God can generate information code. If what they are saying is true, then I will say that man will never understand how information code can arise from space, time, force, field, matter, energy. It will forever remain a mystery to him.
    Moreover my thesis presented here can successfully explain as to why nature has opened her secrets to man, whereas proponents of accidental origin of man cannot give any reason as to why nature has done so.

    Reply

    • Udaybhanu,

      I understand where you’re coming from and agree in most part with your thesis. The problem is that “God of the gaps” is an atheistic argument, and in order to prove that God of the gaps is OK in your thesis, you have to grant two suppositions that no atheist would grant you. Your position is good for preaching to the choir, but not for reaching out to those unaware of the truth. Still, thanks for sharing!

      Reply

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