I have recently been having discussions with some theists that believe that there is evidence for a god, and they claim that their evidence is absolutely not “God of the gaps” arguments, and it got me thinking about what constitutes a god of the gaps.
What is “God of the Gaps”?
I thought that the phrase “God of the gaps” was pretty self explanatory. It simply means substituting God for the answer to unanswered questions. I find it strange that anyone could do this and not realize they were doing it if they understood that this is a problem for theists in the first place.
As an example, let’s look at the cosmological argument. The cosmological argument, in addition to making assumptions about what cosmologists believe, proposes an answer to a question. Namely that God created the universe. Is this a god of the gaps argument?
When scientists propose a theory, they can make predictions about that theory based on the evidence provided. Scientists can predict where we may find a certain type of fossil that has never been seen before by using the evidence of evolution, and then find it. This is rather useful.
People like the theists I have been having discussions with are attempting to do this with things like the cosmological argument. They claim that based on the evidence, we can predict a god exists. I don’t think this is the same thing though. In fact, I think it is a “God of the gaps” argument.
When these people propose that God did it, they get to a point in our knowledge that we are unable to fill with our current level of understanding about the universe, and immediately jump to saying that God is the only answer. This isn’t using evidence to predict the existence of something, like a scientist would do at all, since we have no god to study and show that it is capable of doing such things.
With the evolution example, we have some known things that predict what the unknown is. We know that there is a process that causes organisms to change over time. We know that at a certain point in time we had certain types of animals, and at another point in time we have animals that were different. The process of evolution says that there are are transitions over time, and that there should be something between the first animal and the later one, and it should have certain traits.
With cosmological arguments, there is no known process with predictive power to show that there is a god behind it. In essence, the people arguing this are working backwards. They are saying that there is some process, God, that creates universes, and the evidence for that is the lack of knowledge of any other process. If that’s not a god of the gaps argument, I don’t know what is.
How to Avoid It
The process must be known. You need to know how it was done in order to explain away any other explanation. For instance, I could say an unknown, but completely non-intelligent force is responsible for making universes, and it holds just as much explanatory power as god. Since the answers to all the questions about the unknown force would be the same as the answers for all the questions about God, there is absolutely no difference. I could ask how god makes a universe, and you would have to answer, “I don’t know”. With my non-intelligent force, the answer would be the same.
If we are looking for a force capable of doing something, we need to know what has been done. What exactly happened when the universe expanded. If we knew the exact, or even an approximate process, we could make some predictions about what properties the force that did it has.
Without one of these two things, there is no evidence for any unknown thing’s existence. Any answer you come up with would necessarily be a god of the gaps argument.