God of the Gaps
A reader sent me an interesting message that, in essence, said there’s nothing wrong with God being a “God of the gaps” (GoG). I’d love to reprint the message here, but unfortunately I appears to have been copied from another site (Google found it on this page, in the August 10, 2011, comment by Udaybhanu Chitrakar, but its origin might be elsewhere).
Essentially, the argument is that God most likely created a universe in which he occasionally intervenes, and that “these interventions were a bare minimum, that is, He intervened only when these were absolutely necessary.” In such a universe, so the argument goes, some things will be inexplicable by the laws of nature since they are the actions of God, and these GoG moments are not problematic, but to be expected.
I have a number of problems with the argument. One relatively minor disagreement is that I don’t see why God — assuming that God has the usual properties of omnipotence, omniscience, etc. — would ever have to intervene in the universe. Since every possible scenario would be known to God, and assuming that God is going to intervene at “a bare minimum,” then God would never have to intervene because there is no possible scenario that God could not have prepared for during the universe’s creation. The minimum intervention is none.
But much more importantly, this article at best argues that if God exists and created the universe that there will be some things science can’t explain because they are beyond human inquiry. Nowhere does it explain why a rational, thinking person should make the leap from “I can’t explain this” to “therefore God did it.”
Sure, if there are things that appear to be inexplicable, it’s possible that they are God-worked miracles. It’s also possible that they are the work of super-intelligent aliens or time travelers, or that they are flaws in the Matrix, or that — banish the thought — they’re just a puzzle that humanity hasn’t worked out the solution to but may in the future. Obviously I think that last possibility is the most likely (of a great many).
From a practical standpoint, there are two big dangers with GoG thinking. First, there are no guidelines regarding where you can use it. It must be God that makes magnets work. Without God, how would the tide come in and go out? If I can’t find my keys, maybe God stole them. If I come down with a cold for no apparent reason, maybe God wants me sick. We haven’t got a clear solution to the Jack the Ripper murders, so perhaps God disemboweled a bunch of prostitutes in 1888. We can’t directly investigate the Big Bang, so God must have started it.
The other danger is that GoG is a show stopper. To someone a couple hundred years ago, lightning was enormous, destructive, powerful, frightening, and inexplicable, so he thinks it must be something God does. Someone comes up with a theory that lightning is an electrical phenomena, but the GoG-user dismisses it. Why waste time checking what causes lightning when the cause is already known — God!
Now, you could say that it’s okay to use God as an explanation, but that you might change your mind if additional evidence comes to light. In that case, you are just using God as a synonym for “I don’t know,” and that doesn’t seem very respectful of God, now does it?