April 28th, 2014
What is it?
The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is an argument commonly used to belittle faith. It is predicated on the notion that as our knowledge of the natural sciences increases, fewer supernaturally motivated conclusions about our universe will be necessary. In other words, God is only a placeholder explanation for phenomena until researchers discover the actual cause.
For example, modern man is well aware that lighting and thunder has nothing to do with angry deities; Instead, it is understood that it is actually an arc of electricity in the atmosphere. In the same way, modern man is also rightly skeptical of the conclusion that illness results from the anger of malevolent “spirits”. Research has revealed the causes to be known bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other related things.
In the past, because god-of-the-gaps was utilized to explain what could not be understood, some theorize that there is a coming time when the “god” of the gaps will explain nothing. In other words, science will explain all of man’s questions. Not only is this conclusion misguided but actually is utilizing the same logic it is attempting to decry.
The classical arguments for the existence of God (ontological, axiological, cosmological, teleological) are not negative arguments. They are not responses to unexplained phenomenon. Rather they are responses to what is known about the world.
For example, because we know all things which begin to exist need a cause, it is impossible for anything that began to exist to be self-caused; It follows then that everything from human consciousness to the universe would need a cause. Further, in all cases where something is caused, the producer of the cause must have certain features which enable it to be the cause the observed effect.
In the case of the universe, for example, such features must include: intelligence, consciousness, intentionality, and sufficient power. Thus, because of what we do know about the world, and how cause and effect works, the existence of God is not a lowest common denominator god-of-the-gaps response. Instead, is the best possible response to the data we have at hand.
Even if one argues that the existence of the universe is not restrained to the laws of causality, as some theoretical physicists do, believing that the universe is an anomaly of the “quantum vacuum” is still highly problematic. If as a recent paper from Japan asserts, the universe is indeed the result of such a rare occurrence as a the expansion of a quantum vacuum bubble, then one would have no justification for believing that such causation would be reasonably possible; Possibility does not necessitate reality. On the other hand, if one assumes it is possible, as the Japanese paper asserts, then why do we only see one universe? An even better question is: Why only universes?
Of course, if one wanted to be honest and go the route of saying that the universe is an anomaly of which we have only mathematical models, with little actual physical evidence, then that same person has just argued that we have no reason to believe the philosophical conclusions they create based on such a model. In reality, the only reason atheists argue that the universe doesn’t need a cause is personal volition. Many argue this way because they personally, but not intellectually, prefer to believe in a religion which allows them to do as they wish. They do not like where alternative conclusions take them.
The god-of-the-gaps fallacy occurs when one goes from what he does not know to god (or some supernatural phenomenon). The apologist is not following that line of argumentation. Instead, he is going from what he does know (e.g. causality) to God. Basing conclusions on what is known and logical could hardly be considered the a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.
In an ironic twist, if one defends the belief that science will one day answer all of men’s questions, that one should use the belief in science to fill in the “gaps”, he is actually making the same argument … merely with a different conclusion. Scientific methodology and mathematical models become “gods-in-the-gap”.
While the theist is charged with arguing from what is unknown to God, the skeptic is going from what is scientifically unknown (i.e. the answers to man’s problems and questions) to no God; The justification or evidence is the same for both scenarios. Thus if a skeptic convinces someone that they are refuting a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, they may also refuting their own argument. Usually, they are making a straw man argument, because it does not accurately portray the evidence, the conclusion, or the methodology of the Christian.