God of the gaps—still with us

In an article on intelligent design I once wrote for The New Republic, I quoted a statement by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave preacher and theologian who was executed by the Nazis for plotting against Hitler. He was decrying the tendency of religious people to impute mysterious natural phenomena to God, and made one of the earliest theological cases against “God-of-the-gaps” arguments:

“If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.” (Letters and papers from Prison, 1997, p. 311)

Bonhoeffer, it seems, was smarter than a lot of modern theologians and religious scientists, who, while paying lip service to his idea, nevertheless are still trying to plug the holes in our scientific knowledge with God. That is, the old idea of Natural Theology—that evidence for God abounds in nature—is still alive and well.  Though a bit spavined by Darwin’s work, which killed a major part of natural theology (the presumed “design” of plants and animals), the faithful still find God in other places. Here’s a short list of natural phenomena still attributed directly to God’s action.

  • The “inevitability” of humans (some, like Conway Morris and Kenneth Miller, argue that creatures with high intelligence, able to apprehend and worship God, would inevitably have evolved, and that this was in some sense not only predicted by God, but directed by him).
  • Consciousness
  • “Free will” (which, as I’ve argued, we don’t have—at least in the dualistic sense posited by religion).
  • The origin of the universe out of “nothing”
  • The laws of physics
  • The supposed “fine tuning” of physical laws, which allows for humans to exist on Earth
  • The “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in helping us understand the universe
  • Morality, i.e., our innate feelings of what is good and bad
  • The fact that our senses are sufficiently reliable for us to do science and apprehend truth (e.g., Plantinga’s argument that evolution could not have given us that ability, and ergo it comes from the sensus divinitatus vouchsafed us by God).
Now some of these are on their way to being explained by science (e.g., where the universe came from, why we’re moral), some have already been explained by science (e.g., why we’re able to perceive external phenomena accurately), and others I am confident will eventually be explained by science (e.g., consciousness).  Still others, like the “effectiveness of mathematics”, I find a red herring, for if the universe weren’t regular, we couldn’t exist.  But the main argument against natural theology is always the same: by what right can anyone impute scientific mysteries to God, much less the Abrahamic God?
I was impelled to write this post by reading a draft copy of a very nice new book by two former Christians, Robert M. Price and Edwin A. Suominen, called Evolving out of Eden: Christian Responses to Evolution. No longer believers, but deeply acquainted with theology and apologetics, Price and Suominen simultaneously dismantle creationism, theistic evolution, and other apologetics. And they don’t pull any punches by making nice with faith. They also make the point that “God of the gaps” arguments are still with us, despite the insistence of the faithful that they no longer use that strategy. In fact, the very same people who say we shouldn’t find God in the gaps in our knowledge then proceed to do so! Two of these are scientists: Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian, and Kenneth Miller, biologist, textbook author, and devout Catholic.

1.  Francis Collins:

A. Decries God of the Gaps arguments:

“If God has any meaning at all, God is outside of the natural world.  It is a complete misuse of the tools of science to apply them to this discussion.”

“When God is inserted in a place where science can’t currently provide enough information, then sooner or later it does. My God is bigger than that. He’s not threatened by our puny minds trying to understand how the universe works.”

(Collins quotes above from pp. 34-36 in Steve Paulson’s collection of interviews, Atoms & Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science).

“A word of caution is needed when inserting specific divine action by God in this or that or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking. From solar eclipses in olden times to the movement of the planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this ‘God of the gaps’ approach has all too often done a disservice to religion (and by implication, to God, if that’s possible). Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps.” (Collins, 2006, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, pp. 92-93).

B. Uses God of the Gaps arguments:

“That is part of my faith—to believe that God has an interest in the appearance, somewhere in the universe, of creatures with intelligence, with free will, and with the moral law, with the desire to seek Him.” (in Paulson, p. 37)

“When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants—the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear force, et cetera—that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it. Matter would not have been able to coalesce, there would have been no galay, stars, planets, or people. That’s a phenomenally surprising observation. It seems almost impossible that we’re here. And that does make you wonder—gosh, who was setting those constants anyway? Scientists have not been able to figure that out.” (ibid, p. 39).

“But humans are unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature. This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.” (Collins 2006, p. 200).

2. Kenneth Miller:

A. Decries God of the Gaps arguments:

“As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, originally the gods themselves were a kind of scientific theory, invented to explain the workings of nature. As humans began to find material explanations for ordinary events, the gods broke into retreat. And as they lost one battle after another, a pattern was set up. The gods fell backwards into ever more distant phenomena until finally, when all of nature seemed to yield, conventional wisdom might have said that the gods were finished. All of them.” (Miller, 1999, Finding Darwin’s God, p. 193).

“This sad spectre of God, weakened and marginalized, drives the continuing opposition to evolution. This is why the God of the creationists requires, above all else, that evolution be shown not to have functioned in the past and not to be working now. To free religion from the tyranny of Darwinism, their only hope is to require that science show nature to be incomplete, and that key events in the history of life can only be explained as the result of supernatural processes. Put bluntly, the creationists are committed to finding permanent, intractable mystery in nature.” (ibid, p. 288).

(Part of those quotes appear in Price and Suominen’s book).

B. Uses God of the Gaps arguments

“It almost seems, not to put too fine an edge on it, that the details of the physical universe have been chosen in such a way as to make life possible.” (ibid, p. 228).

“If we once thought we had been dealt nothing more than a typical cosmic hand, a selection of cards with arbitrary values, determined at random in the dust and chaos of the big bang, then we have some serious explaining to do.” (ibid, p. p. 232)

“Remarkably, what the critics of evolution consistently fail to see is that the very indeterminacy they misconstrue as randomness has to be, by any definition, a key feature of the mind of God.” (ibid, p. 213)

“Fortunately, in scientific terms, if there is a God, He has left Himself plenty of material to work with.  To pick just one example, the indeterminate nature of quantum events would allow a clever and subtle God to influence events in ways that are profound, but scientifically undetectable to us.  Those events could include the appearance of mutations, the activation of individual neurons in the brain, and even the survival of individual cells and organisms affected by the chance processes of radioactive decay.” (ibid, p. 241).

“Having decided to base life on the substance of matter and its fine-tuned properties, a Creator who had already figured out how to fashion the beauty of order without the hobble of determinism could easily have saved His greatest miracle for last. Having chosen to base the lives of His creatures on the properties of matter why not draw the origins of His creatures from exactly the same source? God’s wish for consistency in His relations with the natural world would have made this a perfect choice. As His greatest creation burst forth from the singularity of its origin, His laws would have set within it the seeds of galaxies, stars, and planets, the potential for life, the inevitability of change, and the confidence of emerging intelligence.” (ibid, p. 252).

This revival of natural theology, often promulgated by the very people who decry God-of-the-gaps arguments, shows a fundamental weakness of theology and accommodationism. When such people want to show that science and faith are not competitors, but friends, they argue that religion can’t contradict science because they are independent ways of “knowing” about the universe.

They further argue that one shouldn’t use scientific evidence to find God—that, for instance, the Bible “is not a textbook of science.”  Evolution-friendly theologians say that it was a mistake to impute design in nature to God, and that evolution is, in fact, precisely how God would have created His creatures.  Many such apologists decry intelligent design (ID) because it is simply trying to find God in the gaps of our knowledge—in the complexity of the cell, the unknowns about biochemical evolution, and so on.

Yet they do precisely that when dealing with human consciousness, rationality, and morality, as well as cosmology, mathematics, and the laws of physics. It’s natural theology, pure and simple. And hypocrisy as well.

In the end, then, the faithful want empirical evidence for their faith, and so continue—even the Sophisticated Theologians™—to claim that the mysteries of the universe provide evidence for God.  This is, as always, a losing strategy, but shows without question that believers need tangible evidence for their faith beyond the mere whisperings of revelation. Part of that comes from their jealousy of the successes of science, and part from the doubts that plague many believers.

56 Comments

  1. @eightyc
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    lol.

    What does “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” even mean?

    Does it mean that it is working too well? Too good to be true type of thing?

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      It’s actually the title of an essay of Eugene Wigner which you can find at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      It means a tool constructed to be empirically useful is, apparently surprisingly, found to be empirically useful.

      Never mind all the mathematics that aren’t based on integers and real or complex numbers, but more esoteric beginnings and/or ends.

  2. Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Parasitology trumps natural theology.

    Neurocysticercosis covers the rest of the “gaps” without any assistance from the divine.

  3. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Underlying all the theological arguments is teleology. It seems to me that Collins and Miller are arguing that Laws of Physics are real, therefore God.

    Yet arguably the laws of physics are merely observed regularities in nature, formalised by scientists. So, the ‘laws of gravity’ are not *directing* the universe to be of a certain shape and content. The shape and content of the universe result in the observations of regularities which we label ‘laws of gravity’. No teleology required.

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Emma Goldman’s point exactly.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      It’s. question of what comes first. The laws of physics producing a universe, or the universe out of which the laws of physics emerge. Or there’s the idea of a multiverse in which all possiblilties are present and those that are conducive to life occasionally, or at least once, produce life able to comtemplate that universe.

      • Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Or we are just lucky, which never seems to occur to these people.

  4. Vaal
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve been looking forward to reading Evolving Out Of Eden. I’m a big fan of Robert M. Price, having listened to him (e.g. Bible Geek podcasts, talks, debates) for many years.

    Price’s combination of amazing erudition, incredible memory recall for names and facts, and a great sense of humor remind me most of Hitchens, though Price is a much gentler soul.

    Except when it comes to apologists, then it’s no holds barred. I love Price’s debate with William L. Craig. He opens with an extended attack on the motives and methods of the typical apologist, focusing on Craig’s duplicity in particular. Craig meets his match in another bible scholar who is familiar with his tactics and who can summon
    the knowledge and arguments to undermine them. Though Price’s opening attack has been characterized by some as starting with ad hominem, it’s nonetheless a stupendous take down and not to be missed.

    At the end of the debate, during the question period with the audience, Price is given a long list of challenges by the mostly christian audience and the fact he actually quickly, efficiently and humorously answers every one is a tour de force. Especially all the examples he gives to squash the old “no one would die for a lie” argument for believing in Christ’s Resurrection.

    Vaal

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard Price talking about it. I think he found the whole debate with Craig to be so sickening that he said he’d never do it again. Do you have a link to the debate? I’ve searched on and off but couldn’t find anything. The problem with all the Craig debates is that it’s rare that anybody with equal debating skills tries their luck, although they’re certainly not his intellectual inferior. The exceptions (in my opinion) have been Robert Price, Sam Harris, Victor Stenger and Shelly Kagan. So, even though it’s invariably the case that Craig’s opponents are capable of blowing his arguments to pieces, they become buried under his sophistry. It really does remind me at times of some of the encounters that Socrates had with the sophists in the various Platonic dialogues.

      • Vaal
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        The Price/Craig debate is tough to find. (Though I think parts or the whole can be found on youtube). I had the audio downloaded at one point in the past.

        A quick Google found this site offering audio of various God debates. The Price vs W.L. Craig debate is at the top of the list:

        http://www.debategod.org/index.php/debategod-audio-podcast

        Again, check out Price’s opening statement, and don’t miss the end where he answers a bunch of questions given in a row by the audience. Questions for Price begin about 2:04:40 with Price’s reply starting 2:12:05

        Cheers,

        Vaal

        • Posted March 17, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          Thank you Vaal. I’m steeling myself to watch it.

  5. DrBrydon
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Mind the gap

  6. steve oberski
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Your natural deism conjecture is plausible only if you ignore the issue of infinite regress.

    Not to say it couldn’t be true and wouldn’t be an exciting, world view changing discovery, but it would bring us no closer to what is actually “out there”.

    As for an “intellectually honest stance”, religion adduces without evidence any number of explanations for what is “out there” so must by definition be considered to be intellectually dishonest.

    Religion neither rebuts nor justifies materialism, it is just a parasite causing us to expend valuable resources fighting it off that could be far better used elsewhere.

    • steve oberski
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Looks like the comment I responded is an ex-comment which it is it appears to be responding to something that is not there.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Dang, now I’m curious…

      • Marella
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for that explanation. I assume the non-comment was written by the Christian who was recently given his “Deliver or Die” orders from Jerry.

      • Occam
        Posted March 17, 2013 at 5:29 am | Permalink

        Summa theologica!

        • Occam
          Posted March 17, 2013 at 5:34 am | Permalink

          OK, now this is weird:
          The above was supposed to be a comment to steve oberski at #23.
          All of a sudden, one is solipsistically conversing with oneself.
          Is this what happens when you leave god out of HTML?

  7. gbjames
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Another book for the to-read shelf!

  8. steve oberski
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    As the gaps get smaller the gods that faith heads try to stuff into them become increasingly unreal.

    Limit theory at work here, both will asymptotically approach zero but probably never reach it.

  9. Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    But the problem is not “gap” arguments in themselves.

    Here’s why. Evidence for divine action necessarily entails the insufficiency of autonomous (or ontologically fundamental) natural causes. You have written that “I’ve previously described the kind of evidence that I’d provisionally accept for a divine being, including messages written in our DNA or in a pattern of stars…” Presumably, you would accept such evidence as pointing to divine action because the phenomena in question would resist explanation via natural causes. In other words, the “gap” would be real (i.e., in the world itself, not in our limited understanding) and could not be filled by advances in scientific knowledge, simply because natural causes did not bring about the pattern in question.

    So — given strong enough evidence — you also would employ gap arguments, as reasonable inferences from data.

    Thus, the relevant issue is not the logical structure of gap arguments. Rather, you haven’t (yet) seen the right evidence.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Sorry, Paul, but these arguments are offered even if we don’t know whether natural explanations are sufficient. We don’t know, for instance, that natural explanations can’t explain consciousness or the “fine tuning” of the universe. So these are not the same kind of gap arguments as mine. These are “I don’t yet understand it so there’s God.” Mine are “the supernatural has manifested itself and I can’t see how that’s caused by a trick or a space alien.” I.e. positive versus negative evidence.

    • steve oberski
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      “insufficiency of autonomous (or ontologically fundamental) natural causes” is just a dishonest way of saying you don’t have any evidence and you are just making stuff up.

    • articulett
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I see your point– a message in the stars is still not evidence of any god– it would be just another strange thing we can’t understand and so a “god” (who wanted to be “believed in”) would seem to be as good explanation as any other.

      But it’s a moot point because there is no such message in the stars or anything like that; moreover a real god would be able to provide evidence so that people would believe whatever s/he/it/they wanted people to believe if belief was important to them– evidence that that would, presumably, would NOT qualify as gap evidence: (which boils down to “cience can’t explain it, therefore the invisible magical being I “believe in” does.)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      It isn’t a gap in the sense of statistical hypothesis testing, since a message would immediately test a hypothesis.

      Mostly it isn’t a “magical beings” idea, which is both constructed, as ID, to be untestable if possible and, as ID, is based on unphysical agency.

    • Richard Wein
      Posted March 18, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      “Thus, the relevant issue is not the logical structure of gap arguments. Rather, you haven’t (yet) seen the right evidence.”

      No. You’re assuming that, if Jerry inferred God from the evidence, he would be doing so on the basis of a gap argument. But good evidential inference is not based on the logic of gap arguments. It is more in the nature of an inference to the best explanation. Before accepting a God hypothesis we must consider its merits as an explanation, and not just accept it on the negative basis that we don’t have another explanation. Anyway, I would say that “unknown natural causes did it” is an available (albeit vague) explanation. We can compare the merits of “God did it” with “unknown natural causes did it”, and I say that the latter is generally the better explanation (for reasons I won’t go into here). Your judgement may differ, but you should be making a comparative judgement of this sort. In fact, you probably are making a comparative judgement (in favour of “God did it”) but a misguided epistemology leads you to try to justify your judgement by appealing to a gap argument.

      By the way, Stephen Meyer claims that ID is an inference to the best explanation, while William Dembski acknowledges that his own ID argument is not. (He says it’s an eliminative inference, and not a comparative one.) IDists seem to be at odds with each other on this question.

  10. JC Kotze
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “Can religion survive for very long by arguing that empirical evidence is fiction? Can it successfully argue that the science which has produced huge technical understanding and improvement in quality of life is at the same time fundamentally flawed? My suspicion is ‘no’, but it looks like a great many are going to try.”
    Jake Young

  11. Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    “…believers need empirical evidence for their faith beyond the mere whisperings of revelation.”

    Agreed. Empiricism is incumbent on all worldviews, since the distinction between what’s believed to be the case and what’s actually the case can’t be avoided. And the only reliable way to validate beliefs is to seek out intersubjective evidence that’s independent of one’s own experience. You might have the strong conviction you were abducted by aliens based on your vivid experience of being abducted, but absent independent evidence for abduction, we shouldn’t take your word for it, nor should you. But of course this basic epistemic norm is routinely flouted, and not just by supernaturalists.

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Apparently not ALL believers, as is evidenced by this exchange between a Simpleton Foundation Sophistrycated Theologian and Sam Harris.

      So this guy was extremely pleased at the null result of the Harvard prayer vs. open-heart surgery study… after the fact, of course. This is a pretty magnanimous stance, given that this study cost millions of dollars… So, if we take this guy’s word at face value, then Jerry’s contention is not correct, at least for this one believer.

      I mean, this guy sincerely believes what he is saying; just look at him. There’s just no way he is deceiving himself, is there? It’s plain that if the study had actually FOUND that prayer works, his entire worldview would have been shattered. I’d wager that John Templeton’s lackeys would’ve been so crestfallen they wouldn’t have been able to summon the strength to fly to Stockholm to pick up their prize.

      There. I think I’ve made my case.

      • Peter Ozzie Jones
        Posted March 16, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

        Wonderful, “Simpleton” – a pre-requisite for employment there as well?

        Correct me, but didn’t one arm of that STEP prayer study show adverse outcomes for those who knew they were being prayed for “gosh, things must be baaaad . . .”

        • Posted March 17, 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

          You are correct, kinda… it didn’t actually “show” adverse outcomes on balance, by most accepted standards of significance. But the effect was in the “wrong” direction, esp.in Group 3.

  12. Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    “If God has any meaning at all, God is outside of the natural world. ”

    As a rhetorical device I understand that such a statement has the effect of freeing one from the responsibility of answering a lot of awkward questions about god, but does anyone truly understand what existing “outside of the natural world” means?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Accoding to what we already know that means having no existence at all. Everything that exists, is real, has its dynamics within a spacetime. I.e. within a universe.

    • Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      I presume it means “out of reach of inconvenient questions.”

      Definitely “out of reach of those pesky atheists.”

  13. abandonwoo
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    “Free will” (which, as I’ve argued, we don’t have — at least in the dualistic sense posited by religion).

    Thanks for adding the final segment about religion to your definition (above) of free will, JAC. I’ve been looking for it in writing for years, but if it exists elsewhere I failed to find it.

  14. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    If the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” is true then,
    Knowledge=Everything we know and,
    Ignorance=Everything we don’t know and,
    Gaps=Everything we don’t know and,
    God=Gaps then,

    God=Ignorance

    Got it!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      QED. 🙂

  15. Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    This is a very useful list.

    I wonder whether some of these arguments would look more plausible if phrased in Bayesian terms. I think that’s how Collins at least would respond.

    So instead of arguing, ‘We don’t know why the universe is finetuned; maybe God did it,’ they could present the Bayesian finetuning argument:

    Let ‘finetuning’ be the property of our universe that it permits life, even though most combinations of constants do not permit life.

    1. The probability of finetuning given God’s existence is very high.
    2. The probability of finetuning given no God is very low.
    3. God’s existence is not extremely improbable.

    Then we can use Bayes’s theorem for a binary partition (God and no God) to derive that the probability of God given finetuning is very high.

    This argument wouldn’t explicitly appeal to a God of the Gaps; it wouldn’t say that because we don’t know what finetuned the universe, God did. I think (3) can be challenged in this context, but not by accusing it of depending on a God-of-the-gaps argument.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Well, calling it “fine-tuning” in the first place rather begs the question.

      But the additional problem I see with this approach is that it seems to me that a set of contending alternative possibilities which includes a cause/ causal agent who WANTS the after-the-fact result will always be weighed towards that alternative simply due to the nature of the addition. X is more likely to have happened if it was a goal. This would apply to all scenarios, wouldn’t it?

      Take any random happenstance — such as a drop of rain of a specific size falling right where happens to have fallen at 4:30 in the afternoon last week in Charleston, SC. Calculate the odds of this happening against the alternative that it did not.

      Now — is the probability for this event MORE likely if someone or something with the power to do this WANTED it to happen just this particular way- vs. it being “mere chance?” Certainly. How much more likely? Hard to say. But if we drew a circle around that particular target, then someone must have been aiming at it — given that it’s a perfect bull’s eye.

      So?

      Don’t look at the skill and likelihood of the sharpshooter — look at the guy who decides what the target is. The target called “life.”

      I think the real fine-tuning question should focus on calculating the probability that living human beings who consider themselves very important will pick an “amazingly fine-tuned” cosmic constant which permits their existence. Bet it’s high. Very high.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      “though most combinations of constants do not permit life”.

      Claim in need of evidence.

      Stenger has found that over many orders of magnitude, parameter variation by ratio permits universes with stars and planets so life. If parameters are constrained to vary over those magnitudes for fundamental reasons (say, beyond Standard Model physics), then the claim is shot to pieces.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

      An identical argument could be constructed to prove that God selected the winner of last week’s Powerball Lottery.

      • Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        Or has been pointed out, there are many other problems. Lawless entities (like gods) could have arranged it so we are in a universe miraculously; we aren’t, so at best the evidence is *no better* on this front. Or alternatively, do we know the “constants” can even vary? No.

  16. neil
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    The gaps left by our current science for god to fill (supposedly) are trivial as compared to the gap left by religion for science to fill, which is pretty much everything.

  17. Golkarian
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Apologetics is always doomed to the god-of-the-gaps. The only way to avoid it is to give an explanation of HOW god created something so that it can be tested, but that always seems to be below god somehow.

  18. Daryl
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Currently enjoying Price’s recent book on Paul. Bob’s a good guy. The Bible Geek is very good indeed. I’ve learnt stuff about biblical scholarship from the podcast that I wouldn’t hope of hearing about at an accredited university. I don’t share his conservative politics, but hey, you can’t agree with someone about everything. Will look forward to reading ‘Evolving out of Eden’ as well.

  19. Prof.Pedant
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    The Christians posit that an infinitely powerful, wise, and loving, being created this universe and that this being continually intervenes in some way to bring about ‘good things’ according to a plan. Which to me sounds like an interesting potential plot for a sim-earth game, quite possibly one I would enjoy playing.

    Aside from treating this idea as if it were true, where the Christians get confusing and nonsensical is when they claim that this infinitely powerful, wise, and loving, entity cares a great deal about what we think of it. This being is infinitely powerful, providing it with no power-related reasons to care what we think. Infinite wisdom would also argue against this entity giving enough weight to our limited wisdom to be disturbed by our errors in how we comprehend it. And infinite love, more than a parent has for their angry three-year-old, would also argue against the supposed Christian God having any interest in veneration.

    So, if God is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving: why does God supposedly care so much about our both worshiping him and going to great efforts to acknowledge his dominance?

    (Maybe part of why God is so often portrayed as an insufferable jerk is because for much of history the power elite wanted excuses for being able to act like jerks?)

    • Occam
      Posted March 17, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

      Perfect aperçu of the kind of problems to be expected when trying to re-map some obscure tribal idol as the Creator of Life, the Universe, and Everything…

      The All-Powerful, the Infinitely Merciful, the Ever-Forbearing is supposedly pissed if his name isn’t called in awe five times per diurnal cycle on an insignificant greenish-bluish planet orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of an unimportant galaxy.

  20. Sastra
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    In fact, the very same people who say we shouldn’t find God in the gaps in our knowledge then proceed to do so!

    I suspect the reason these two processes are compartmentalized by ‘liberal’ theologians is that they’re dealing with (or think they’re dealing with) two opposing apologetic techniques:

    1.) X is an objectively persuasive reason to believe that God exists. Be convinced.

    2.) X is what personally persuaded ME that God exists. Your choice.

    Modern apologetics seems to have degenerated among the squishy theology set from robust defenses of the God hypothesis and why it’s reasonable to think it is true into meek little excuses for why the believer believes and isn’t totally stupid to believe in God … so leave me alone, okay? I’m not trying to push my view on others and make them believe. I’m just trying to tell you what worked for me. If you don’t find it convincing, then that’s fine. All that matters is that you can’t say I’m wrong.

    Right. That means that in their eyes it’s not a God of the Gap argument anymore. They’re just saying, is all.

  21. PeteJohn
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I find that smart believers are smart enough to realize their God has no place as a tool of explanation of, well, anything. They then have to explain this God in somewhere. They’re too intelligent to assert God actually did something significant, while simultaneously end rounding Him into having done something significant.

    No, Collins and Miller aren’t asserting Goddidit! in 7 Days and fuck you!! And yes Miller was a formidable ally to have in the Dover proceedings. But if the real battle is to ensure reason wins over superstition, ultimately they aren’t really on our side on that one. After all, Collins became one of the faithful after peering at a three forked waterfall which reminded him of the trinity… erm what???

  22. Marella
    Posted March 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    The first book I read by Bob Price was “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” which was my first step towards realising that Jesus never existed in any sense that meant anything, I highly recommend it. He is a very prolific writer, easy to follow and entertaining, while being extraordinarily erudite on the subject of the Bible. His Bible Geek podcasts are very interesting and you can ask any questions you might have, and he offers a course of study on the Bible if you want dive into that. I’d be reading “The Amazing Colossal Apostle” if it were available on Kindle. I live in hope.

    Robert Price, Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier are the best writers on Christ Mythicism IMHO.

  23. MAUCH
    Posted March 17, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    As a child when I asked adults to explain how god existed they gave this following illuminating answer, “I can give you absolutly no answer therefore god exists.” I would come back with Bill Cosby’s response to Noah, “Right……”

  24. derekw
    Posted March 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly at the seminar I attended this weekend here Dr. Darrel Faulk of Biologos used the same Bonhoeffer quote to cautiously critique the position of the Old Earth Creationist group Reasons to Believe.


%d bloggers like this: