Thursday, June 28, 2007

Is "God of the gaps" always a fallacious argument?

In contemporary materialist apologetics, much is made of the alleged "God of the gaps" fallacy. It goes a little something like this:

  • X argues that Y cannot be explained by purely natural processes. Therefore X infers that a creative super-intelligence has been involved.

  • X, though, is invoking "God of the gaps". X's God lives only in the gaps that cannot be explained by naturalism; his God must shrink every time science advances. His God must be very small by now.

  • Therefore, X's arguments can be dismissed.

At worst, naturalists resort just to wheeling out the phrase "God of the gaps" whenever their paradigm is challenged, in order to avoid argument.

The Gaps Are Real!

Actually, "God of the gaps" can be a perfectly valid argument; in fact, a required argument. If phenomena Y cannot be explained satisfactorily within naturalism, then we might say we have a "gap". We grant, for the sake of argument, that naturalism could cover a certain amount of space - but then we show that there is space that it doesn't and can't cover. That space is a "gap". The logical complement to naturalism is super-naturalism; if a naturalistic explanation can't cover the gap, then a supernatural one is required. That's not "God of the gaps"; that's simple logic. The gap is evidence of the supernatural. For the naturalist to merely trot out the retort "you're using a God-of-the-gaps argument!" is no kind of rebuttal - in some cases, it is merely identification of problem which he has no solution for within his world-view. To identify the problem is not the same as solving it!

Over the last decades, science has made tremendous progress in analysing and describing the universe that we live in. As it has done so, it has revealed a number of staggering "gaps". Complexity has appeared at lower and lower levels - levels at which, according to naturalism, we ought to be finding simplicity, not complexity.

In physics, the simplicity of Newtonian mechanics has given way to the greater complexity of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics. As physicists have got to lower levels, they have discovered that the structure of the physical universe has more gaps than they thought: it is not the simple machine that Newtonian mechanics posited. Wave-particle duality is another instance: lower-level explanation has shown not that complex things are the result of the amalgamation of simple things, but that when we take apart the complex things we find more complex things.

In biology, the idea that life could arise out of the bringing together of a few simple chemicals in primitive conditions is now acknowledged as a non-starter. And as biologists have gained the ability to examine the macro-structure of the "simplest" cells, they've discovered that they're not simple at all. The most "primitive" organisms turn out to have just as much complexity as the most "advanced" - contrary to the predictions of naturalism. The building blocks of life, the DNA code, turns out to be the most intricate and complicated code known to man; its origin is a total mystery to naturalism, because there is nothing intrinsic in the nature of amino acids that requires them to construct themselves into codes. The DNA code reveals deliberate, detailed, fine-tuned complexity. The complexity of life is not reducible to simplicity, but is fundamental to it.

This is a pattern being repeated over and over. Naturalism predicts that as we get "lower down", we will find more simplicity; in fact, as we get lower down, we discover fundamental complexity. There is an enormous reality gap between naturalism's possibilities, and the universe which actually exists. These reality gaps are clear testimonies of the supernatural.

There are such things as invalid "God of the gaps" arguments. Those arguments have this structure:
  • We don't understand X.

  • Therefore X is supernatural.
I do not believe that God inhabits only the gaps, or that the "natural" exists separately from him. That would be another "God of the gaps" fallacy. I believe that the "natural" is God's ordinary way of working, and the "supernatural" is God's extraordinary way of working. Such arguments deserve to be rejected. To point out, though, that reality contains fundamental complexity which cannot be explained within naturalism's paradigm, is not only valid, but essential. By definition, the only way to point to the supernatural is to point to that which is beyond the natural. When materialists deny this as a valid argument, they are trying to win the argument by default. If pointing to the gaps is disallowed, then no discussion is possible, because it is the only thing that can be discussed. When materialists have to resort to that, it's becoming clearer that their world-view has some severe problems.

David Anderson

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