The God of the Gaps: Why God and science are not competing explanations
by Scott Youngren
“The common belief that… the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility… is not only historically inaccurate, but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.” –Cambridge University historian of science Colin Russell
“Just because science hasn’t explained something yet doesn’t mean that we should just give up and say, ‘God did it.’”
-A comment made, in various versions, by multiple atheist commenters to this website.
The cartoon above provides a good depiction of how many (perhaps most) atheists perceive God. They perceive him as an explanation for natural phenomena that competes with scientific explanations, and that serves to fill gaps in scientific understanding. But this perception is completely flawed and misguided.
Atheist Dan Barker (Public Relations Director for the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and Christian (philosophy professor) Richard Howe publicly debated God’s existence at the University of Florida in 1997. Barker comments:
“All through human history, we’ve had…questions [such as these:]. What causes thunder? What causes the lightning? I don’t know, there must be a big Thor [Norse God] up there that does it. [audience laughter] But now, now we’ve learned about electricity. Now we don’t need that Thor anymore. We’ve erased that God, right? And as the line moves up, answering more and more questions, the gods disappear. We still have a lot more questions up here and we no longer put a God down here… He’s living in gaps, and the gaps are getting smaller…”
And, among atheists, Barker is certainly not alone. A review of comments made by atheists at this website (or virtually any other website where God’s existence is debated) will quickly reveal that many (perhaps most) atheists consider God and science to be competing explanations for natural phenomena, such as thunder and lightning, or the phenomenon of life. God, according to this atheist view, is only necessary to fill gaps in current scientific understanding….”the God of the gaps.” Eventually science will fill the last of these gaps and then there will be no longer be any need for God whatsoever.
But when atheists make such arguments, they commit what is known in philosophy as a “category mistake” or a “category error.” Oxford University mathematician John Lennox provides excellent commentary on this logical fallacy as it relates to the above described atheist reasoning…
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