Questionable Motives

July 10, 2011

Why is the god-of-the-gaps argument called a science stopper?

Filed under: Religion,Science — tildeb @ 9:38 am

This is what the argument looks like Sudoku style:


As for an excellent article about this typical theistic argument – and why those who use it are intellectually impoverished – check out  Doctor Steve’s post at NeurologicaBlog.


  1. Ha, ha very funny. Dawkins gives a science of the gaps argument which is similar but in chronological reverse. Instead of “God did that” it amounts to “Science will one day explain that” even when we are discussing things that defy quantification. Either way I don’t think it affects how scientists go about their business, after all the renaissance greats of science seemed less restricted by their faith than the modern secular scientist is in his pursuit of funding and fear of ostracisation(sp).

    Comment by Alfred Willmore — July 10, 2011 @ 10:26 am | Reply

    • The ‘similar’ argument you are referring to is often disguised by honest scientists with the words “I don’t know,” or “We don’t know,” or “Science has yet to reveal….” But those phrases should not be confused with the notion that we can know without divine revelation if we follow a process of inquiry consistent with methodological naturalism. After all, we have zero evidence that some other guided supernatural agency is involved and the products of this method of inquiry offers us technologies and applications that work, which is highly inconvenient to those who think some other method based on personal revelation with the divine is somehow compatible yet has produced nothing of practical knowledge.

      It’s a bugger of a fact but true nevertheless: theology produces no knowledge nor applications nor technologies. It’s form of inquiry is without merit.

      You also confuse empiricism with quantity. Empiricism in the scientific sense of the word means ‘evidence’ available to our senses versus the metaphysical notion of ‘pure’ thought to reveal what is true and knowable. Only in the last 300 years has science become a discipline as it has disengaged slowly and with much suffering from its theological slaver where reality and not some cleric arbitrates what is true. This – you may be surprised to learn – is an improvement for intellectual integrity and honest inquiry but there are still many of you who would still like to believe that the answer ‘god’ means something when it clearly is synonymous with “I don’t know but I’m going to pretend I do.”

      Comment by tildeb — July 10, 2011 @ 11:38 am | Reply

    • Post was fun. However, I didn’t understand, why is the god-of-the-gaps argument called a science stopper. Thus, if Christians fill their Sudoku’s writing God to all places, then science will stop, or what was the argument?

      In fact, Christians can see God in every places, (also in the Sudoku in those places, where are now numbers). However, in the same time they can see also other things, and fill for example Sudoku with (right) numbers, worshipping that also ability to make Sudoku’s is given for us by God.

      Comment by kommentoinpa tätä — July 9, 2012 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t think you’re clear on Empiricism or metaphysics. Your definition of metaphysics sounds like a description of rationalism? Empiricism, to my mind is interrogation though the senses, but I think even Aristotle realised that where possible some objective measure would give a more reliable “absolute” than a description of what was seen, felt, smelled or heard. Unfortunately very few such instruments were around then. Nonetheless that is why I used the word quantify because it’s an empirical method, surely?

    All that has happened in the last 300 years is over categorisation into numerous disciplines within the natural sciences. Many of the clerics you described were themselves the brilliant men of the science like Stensen and Gregor Mendel.

    I think theology is of real merit in how we relate to each other, the value we put on human life and how we live our lives…”for a kick off”:)

    Comment by Alfred Willmore — July 10, 2011 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

    • In the comparison between the gaps in scientific knowledge that supposedly defy ‘quantification’, I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that you were alluding to science’s dependence on empirical data, which is why I clarified that empiricism is far more than simply the measurement of quantities. I did not try to give as full accounting of what empiricism is but contrasted the scientific sense of the word in contrast to the metaphysics of theology (that we know is inadequate for the task) that you correctly compare to rationalism. (This is my understanding of the two ‘camps’, so to speak.) Quantity is a part of empiricism but empiricism is not just the measurements of quantity.

      Aristotle was a very big brained fellow and I am full of admiration for his accomplishments. But he made a fundamental mistake in assuming – incorrectly as it turns out – that objects had natures and this polluted much of his thinking. This same mistake is what the early Church fathers accepted as the foundational science of christianity. It wasn’t until Galileo came along that this ancient notion was successfully challenged, that empirical evidence demonstrated why the notion was wrong. That Galileo was chirstian is no argument that christianity itself operated as anything but an impediment to establishing this line of inquiry into the workings of the universe. In other words, theology has its own concerns – often quite detached – from finding out what is true, so many of these early scientists managed to make remarkable strides not because but in spite of their theologies. Sure, many like Newton attempted to reveal ‘the greater glories of god and his creation’ but ended up directly undermining their theological foundations. C’est la vie when your goal is to find out what is true.

      As for attributing merit to theology for how we relate to each other, I offer for your consideration Hitchen’s rather famous challenge: Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. Now, in contrast, can you name a wicked action attributed only to religious motivation?

      You see the problem, I’m sure.

      Comment by tildeb — July 10, 2011 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  3. I love the expression “intellectually impoverished.” It is much better than the word “ignorant’ because the informal meaning of ignorant is “discourteous or rude.” Thus, people who use the god-of-the-gaps argument are rude.

    Comment by Veronica Abbass — July 13, 2011 @ 7:59 am | Reply

  4. God of the gaps

    I will begin this article with two postulates:
    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 postulates are true, or that I can prove them to be true. But I want to show here that if these two postulates 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 will 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 forever. 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 he 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.
    Therefore, I can conclude this article in this way: If God created this universe, and if God wanted man to be the master of His creation, then God would willingly choose to be “God of the gaps”.
    A theistic God will always prefer to be the God of the gaps.

    Comment by Udaybhanu Chitrakar — August 10, 2011 @ 2:15 am | Reply

    • You have created a peek-a-boo god, in which case his purpose seems to be to remain hidden, which defies common theology of ‘knowing’ about god. If such a peek-a-boo god created this universe – and there is no evidence he did – and if this peek-a-boo god wanted man to be the master of His creation – and there is no reason to expect this to be true nor evidence to suggest it is so – then why play peek-a-boo? It is no coincidence that any argument that tries to explain a god’s hidden presence must by necessity place him where we haven’t looked. But don’t you find it interesting that such a god-of-the-gaps explanation looks exactly like it would if no god existed at all? This raises the question once again: how can we know? Why would anyone want to believe in a god that existed only in our ignorance?

      Comment by tildeb — August 10, 2011 @ 9:38 am | Reply

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