Tuesday, October 1, 2013

God of the Gaps?

"Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a Legislator." ~ C. S. Lewis, Miracles

It is sometimes claimed by atheists that theists are "intellectually lazy" and simply uphold a "God of the gaps" mentality, which one could define as the tendency to attribute anything that cannot be explained scientifically to God. They charge that saying God created the universe or that God created species is simply filling God in the gaps of science, but as science discovers more about the universe, the gaps get smaller and God gets pushed out. "Theists," they say, "are lazy and just do not want to do the work of intellectual inquiry, so they say, 'God did it' and leave it at that." That is, at least, the claim many atheists make. Lawrence Krauss did this in his recent debate with William Lane Craig. He said:
There's a lot we don't know about the universe—a lot more we don't know than we do. That's the wonder of science; that's why I'm a scientist. But it is intellectually lazy to just stop asking questions and stop looking for physical explanations and just say, "God did it." That's lazy.
Now, Stand to Reason has given a good response to this challenge, and I would recommend you watch it:

Brett makes some very good points in this response. In particular, showing that there are sufficient stopping points in intellectual inquiry, is a good one. Also, pointing out that Krauss will only accept a physical explanation is important. Saying that all inquiry must obtain a physical explanation for it to arrive at a sufficient stopping point is, as Brett says, begging the question. It assumes axiomatically that only the physical exists and that only physical explanations are acceptable. It assumes naturalism as an a priori fact. Finally, pointing out that theists are making an inference to the best explanation (not filling a gap with God) is important. Perhaps the best explanation for the existence of this universe or life is not a physical one, and to say that could never be the case (as Krauss implies) is, again, begging the question—assuming naturalism as an a priori fact.

Brett gives a good response, and I just want to add a little to it. So, let's talk a little more about this so-called "God of the gaps" accusation. At the beginning of this discussion, we need to distinguish between mechanism and agency. This is a distinction that is overlooked far too often when this charge is made or even when it is rebutted by a theist. The success of science sometimes leads people to believe that since we can understand many of the mechanisms of the universe, we can safely conclude that there is no need to discuss or consider agency—the agent that designed, made, and upholds the mechanisms. That is a logical error that fails to distinguish between mechanism and agency.

I once heard an analogy that demonstrates this well. To explain how a Ford car engine works, we would need to talk about the details of thermodynamics and the principles of internal combustion (i.e. the mechanisms). Such an explanation would not necessarily require us to mention Henry Ford (i.e. the agent), but if we concluded that because we understand how the engine works (mechanism), then we have a comprehensive understanding of it and no longer need to believe in Henry Ford or any subsequent engineers (agency), that would be absurd! In a similar vein, just because we understand many of the impersonal mechanisms of the universe, that does not make it necessary or even valid to conclude there is no personal Creator who designed, made, and upholds it. In fact, as the above quote from C. S. Lewis shows, the early scientists went looking for these mechanisms and laws precisely because they believed in a Creator (agent) who designs such things. The mechanisms did not create themselves and do not uphold themselves, and even the more recent attempts to say that they do only push the question back a step and fail to disprove agency.

How does this contribute to our discussion of the "God of the gaps"? Well, consider the Ford analogy. Henry Ford is not a mechanism, and no one is using him to fill in the gaps of our knowledge about internal combustion engines. But, he is also no less than the agent who is responsible for the mechanism in the first place! The engine and the mechanisms all bear the marks of his handiwork as the agent who created them in the first place. Therefore, saying Ford was the designer and creator behind the engine is simply an inference to the best explanation, not lazy. Furthermore, saying this is not presenting Ford as an alternative explanation to the mechanisms of an internal combustion engine. It is saying he is the necessary agent. But, Krauss and others like him, often insist that theists use God as an alternative explanation to mechanisms, and that is simply not the case. We are following the evidence, making an inference to the best explanation, and saying God is the necessary agent. Just as Ford (i.e. agency) and internal combustion (i.e. mechanism) are both necessary for a comprehensive explanation of the car engine, so God (i.e. agency) and the mechanisms science studies are necessary for a comprehensive explanation of the universe and life. We are not filling the gaps with God, we are pointing out the necessity of both mechanism and agency and then making an inference to the best explanation for the existence of our universe and life itself. As Brett says in the above video, "That's not lazy. It's just good reasoning."

By His Grace,

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