One of the most common objections to the existence of God is that it is simply unscientific. A belief in God is just an ignorant relic of the past, when more primitive people invoked the names of various gods to explain the things they didn’t understand.
In other words, “God” was simply something people used to fill a gap in their knowledge. But as we have learned more and become better educated, we have discovered natural causes to previously unknown phenomenon, leaving God fewer and fewer places to “hide.” Consequently, even the few remaining gaps that remain can no longer serve as an argument in favor of God, since history proves that they will eventually be filled with natural explanations, even if they are currently unknown. Therefore, we can finally lay this “god of the gaps” to rest.
Admittedly, the god of the gaps argument can sound very convincing. And there is even a nugget of truth to it. In the past, people have used made-up gods as explanations for things they didn’t understand. People didn’t know that lighting was caused by static charges in rain clouds, so it must be Thor and his mighty hammer, Mjolnir. Likewise, that terrible drought is clearly because Poseidon is angry. But is it reasonable to extend the god of the gaps argument further and rule out any potential God? Ultimately, while the god of the gaps argument is very popular among atheists, it makes several serious logical and even scientific mistakes. Let’s take a look.
Born of Ignorance or Evidence?
First, the god of the gaps theory assumes that theists only believe in God based on what they don’t know. If this were true, then the atheist is quite right to ridicule religious belief and its resulting stories of Thor and Poseidon. However, most of the genuine scientific evidence behind the cosmological and teleological arguments for God argue for His existence based on what they do know. In other words, the scientific evidence points toward God as an explanation.
An exhaustive listing of the scientific evidence for God is not the direct subject of this post and will be covered more completely in upcoming articles. But a brief summary of some of the main points is appropriate given the topic.
- Based on a host of evidences (including the nature of time, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and the expansion of space) science recognizes that our universe is not eternal and had a definite beginning. Further, science admits that mass/energy, the natural laws of physics and chemistry, and even space and time themselves came into existence at this beginning.
- The Law of Conservation of Mass/Energy states that mass and energy can change forms, but their ultimate levels do not change. In other words, mass/energy cannot be created or destroyed, at least not by any natural means.
- We never observe complex information result from anything other than an act of intelligence. As scientists have studied DNA they have discovered that it contains a vast amount of highly complex information. It is, in effect, a recipe for life. In fact, human DNA contains as much information as 2,000 books of 500 pages each!1 But even more than that, it contains the ability to reproduce, proofread, and self-correct that information!
- The chances of our universe and life existing as they do are effectively zero.2 There are dozens of physical “constants” that must be exactly as they are for either life or anything in the universe to exist. Details such as the amount of carbon in the universe, the speed of light, the strength of earth’s magnetic field, and all four of the “fundamental forces” must be their exact values. For example, if gravity were different by even a billionth of a percent, no stars, galaxies, or planets could have formed.3 To believe all of this merely happened randomly strains credulity.
Taking all of this together, the scientific evidence indicates:
- The universe had a beginning. Both logically and scientifically, the universe could not have created itself.
- The Law of Conservation requires that this beginning was not due to natural or material causes (or in accordance with our known laws of physics) because matter and energy—as well as those laws—came into being at the same time. Therefore, the cause had to be supernatural, rather than natural.
- Since time was also created along with the rest of the cosmos, the cause of the universe must be outside time, and therefore, eternal.
- The vast and complex information evident in life strongly indicate a highly intelligent source.
- Since the probability of such outcomes occurring naturally is effectively zero, we are left with the most reasonable alternative being that of a creator that the evidence shows is immaterial, highly intelligent, and transcends time and space. That sounds a lot like God!
The atheist typically points to Darwinian evolution and the multiverse theory to account for the above facts. However, as we have covered here and here, both of these theories have major difficulties.
The multiverse theory can scarcely even qualify as science since there is no evidence for it and there is not even a real way to test it! It requires more faith than Christianity. Even if it were valid, it would only address the perceived “fine-tuning” of the universe. It doesn’t even attempt to explain the origin of the universe…or the quadrillions of universes that it must posit in order to work.
As for Darwinian evolution: There’s no doubt that life on earth has changed over time. However, most people are unaware that there is a robust debate going on between evolutionary scientists regarding Darwinian evolution’s mechanism of action. There is a growing realization that it actually cannot work as advertised, and evolutionists are tripping over themselves attempting to salvage it. It truly is a theory in crisis.4 Further, evolution offers nothing to explain how life began, nor do scientists have a viable theory for it.
A belief in God, however, clearly fits the scientific evidence. God is not some response to a gap in our knowledge born of ignorance. Rather, He is the most logical conclusion based on the evidence. And certainly a better fit than either evolution or the multiverse.
Rather than attempt to refute this evidence, the god of the gaps theory simply tries to sweep it away and ignore it. In so doing, those who use this reasoning show their true colors. They have no interest in admitting even the possibility of God, no matter what the evidence shows.
Further, by playing the “god of the gaps” card, the atheist attempts to force a false choice. In effect, they assume that you can only choose between believing in science or God. And the only way you can choose God is if you reject science and embrace ignorance. But they miss the point that both science and God can be true. And as we will soon see, they can both work together to explain the things we observe around us
A Fatal, “Final” Mistake5
Finally, the god of the gaps argument confuses “efficient” and “final” causes. An efficient cause is the direct, actual cause of something. On the other hand, the “final” cause is something’s ultimate purpose or reason for being.
As an illustration, let’s assume Aunt Betty decides to bake a cake for her family as a way to show her love. She mixes the batter, pours it in a pan, and puts it in the oven. Thirty minutes later, there is a hot, fresh cake ready for icing. What caused the cake to bake? The efficient cause is a 350o oven. The final cause is Aunt Betty and her love for her family. But how does this apply to “god of the gaps?”
Let’s assume a hypothetical group of secular scientists studies this cake. They look at it on a microscopic level and analyze its ingredients. They can tell what the batter was composed of and that it experienced chemical changes brought on by a high temperature of approximately 350o. Based on their analysis, they conclude “this cake was clearly baked due to natural chemical reactions brought on by high temperature. There is no reason to invoke some mythological ‘Aunt Betty of the gaps’ to explain its origin!”
The secular scientist is quite right that the actual baking was caused by a high temperature oven. However, they have stopped at least one step too early in the explanation process. Any explanation of a final cause cannot stop with the merely efficient causes that are the laws of physics and chemistry. Because, by science’s own admission, those laws came into existence at the creation event. They explain why things act the way they do, but they do not provide any insight into the ultimate, final cause because they themselves were caused. Just like the cake, they need something else to get them started. The natural laws of physics and chemistry, since they were created, need something outside of themselves to define them, set their parameters, and actually create them.
The probable atheist response to the above reasoning is “There you go again! Invoking the same ‘god of the gaps’ to explain everything! Just because we don’t yet know what caused the laws of physics and chemistry doesn’t mean we have to invoke God as an explanation.” But as we have already discussed, since these laws were themselves created, they can’t be the final cause. And the evidence points to a final cause that is eternal, supernatural, and highly intelligent. This is not belief in some god of the gaps but a God of the evidence!
The likely response to this rationale is probably “Oh yeah, well if God caused the universe, then what caused God?” This question has been dealt with ad nauseam but it continues to be raised. Quite simply, only effects need causes. In other words, anything that is not eternal has to get started some way. Since our universe had a beginning and exists within time, it is not eternal. So it needs a cause. Time itself had a beginning, so it needs a cause. Whatever caused the universe and time necessarily exists outside of both. By definition, this creator must be eternal and therefore requires no cause. God exists “necessarily,” as opposed to everything else, which exists “contingently” (i.e., contingent on some outside cause). I don’t deny that such a being is hard to wrap our minds around. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t real. It just means that He is different than us.
In conclusion, the god of gaps argument makes several fatal errors. And ironically, those that invoke it actually make the same mistake that they accuse theists of making. They are assuming that science will one day be able to explain everything, including final causes, by natural means. They are, in essence, invoking a “Science of the gaps.” Or to say it another way, they charge the theist with jumping from what is unknown to God, while they make the same leap from what is unknown to no God.6 In both cases, the logic is the same, even if the outcome is not.
- Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden. New York, Random House, 1977, p. 25
- Meyer, Stephen, Ph.D. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One 2013. 202-208.
- Collins, Francis and Giberson, Karl. The Language of Science and Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 2011. 183.
- Meyer, Stephen, Ph.D. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. New York, NY: Harper One 2013. Prologue pgs. ix – xi.
- Information and illustration adapted from: Lennox, John, Ph.D. God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Oxford, England: Lion Hudson plc 2009. 41-48.