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Of Gods and Gaps 

June 15, 2007, Wausau, Wi— Many skeptics see religion as little more than how people tried to make sense of the mysterious world around them, before the emergence of modern science.   Lightening was seen coming down from the clouds so there must be something in the clouds throwing it down, and this something powerful enough to cast down lightening must be a god.

With the emergence of modern science and the understanding of nature that we have gained as a result, the need for religion has diminished.  So now we have a much better understanding of the physical basis of lightening and thus no longer need the lightening god to explain it.   With each advancement of science,  the need for religion has diminished.  Or at least so the argument goes.

Skeptics now tend to write off every claim that God has not been excluded by claiming it is nothing more than a God-of-the-Gaps argument.   God is only invoked to explain those areas where there is a gap in our scientific knowledge.  

Now there is no doubt that the God-of-the-gaps charge is at times accurate.  But even so, that does not make it always accurate, nor does it mean that atheistic charge does not have problems of its own.

One of the problems is the skeptics view of religion that sees it as little more than an explanation for nature to be supplanted later by science. Most religions, and in particular Christianity, are much, much more than just an explanation for nature.  In fact for Christianity, explaining nature is at best just a backdrop to the primary focus which is our relationship to God.  Christianity does maintain that God created the universe and everything in it, but it also believes in a creation governed by reason. In fact much of modern science came out the desire to understand the creator by studying the creation, in the same way you would study a painter by studying their paintings.

But a more serious problem is that while Christians are sometimes guilty of gap arguments, not all arguments pointing to the problems of science are gap arguments.  The problems with gap argument is that they are based on the absence of evidence, and thus commits the fallacy of an argument from ignorance, we do not know, therefore it must be God.

However, if instead of pointing to an absence of evidence, an argument points to the evidence against, it is no longer a gaps argument.  For example, if one looks at the evidence for the origin of the universe, it clearly points to a beginning. There are two main competing scientific theories for how this took place both of which cannot explain how the whole process could started on in first place.  An objective look at the evidence says that the universe had a beginning. Either the universe created itself, (and absurd idea) or there was some other creator. This is not a gaps argument because it is simply going where the evidence points. 

Much the same can be said for the origin of life where the more it is examined, the more impossible it seems to get.  Again this not a gap argument because is not grounded on the lack of an explanation, but on the evidence that it is impossible.

In fact, in both of these areas, if anyone has a gap type argument, it is the atheist. But rather filling the gap with appeals to God, they appeal to chance. Whereas Christians believe that God can do anything, atheist believe that chance can do anything if given enough time.  This chance-of-the-gaps type argument takes many forms. For life, the belief is that regardless of how impossible the evidences says the origin of life would be, there is always a small chance, however tiny,  that it could have happened so it is not completely impossible. But arguing something is not completely impossible is not quite the same as arguing that is happened.   

One popular incarnation of this chance argument is to postulate an infinite number of universes and then claim that we just happen to be in the universe where all these seemingly impossible things did actually happen by chance.

What is often overlooked by atheists and agnostics in all these appeals to chance, is that by their very nature, these arguments run contrary to the evidence.  After all, if the evidence clearly supported natural processes, there would be not be any need to appeal to chance.  For example, one does not need to appeal to an infinite number of universes to explain the possibility of lightening. 

When dealing with the unknown,  one can either go where the evidence currently points, or try to explain away the evidence so as to maintain current beliefs.  For both the origin of the universe and life, the evidence is currently against it being completely natural.  Attempting to explain this away so and to maintain a worldview that precludes the existence of God and the supernatural,  is putting faith in the worldview above evidence and reason, and in doing so theses skeptics are guilty of exactly what they accuse Christians of doing. Claiming that unknowns can be explained by chance is a chance-of-the-gaps reasoning.  It is placing one’s faith in chance ahead of the evidence.

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