The Non-theists utilize the “god of the gaps” fallacy in order to attack the character of a Theistic argument in support of the Theistic conclusion of intelligent design or cause. They also attempt to represent “god of the gaps” as a Theist argument, which is a misrepresentation, as only the Non-Theist ever asserts such a concept as being used by anyone (in general).
It is generally referenced as a fall back “argument” against a Theist’s presentation of evidence in support of Intelligent design and creation. It is also utilized to criticize arguments related to seemingly miraculous events and/or discussion of divine intervention and God working in the world. While presented as an argument in favor of naturalistic answers to certain questions, it is not an argument at all.
The argument generally goes:
“Well, this is just an example of the theist “god of the gaps.” When we can not explain something in terms of natural, material processes, the theist fills in the “gap” with, “Well god did it.” They then choose whichever god they want to fill in that gap from the pantheon of gods that are out there like in Greek and Norse mythology.”
It is often followed up with the “Science kills gods” argument and the “I dunno” argument.
“Science has filled in the gaps with naturalistic causes and explanations of natural phenomenon. As science continues to advance, we will answer more natural phenomenon, and all of these gods will be taken care of. What we know today can change, and what we do not know about yet will come to be known in the future. So, to posit a creator or god is not sufficient anymore, as science has demonstrated no god is required in what we have discovered so far. Science is better than religion in that we accept when we do not know, and just simply say “I don’t know,” instead of fabricating a god to explain the phenomenon.”
The First Problem: It is not an argument for or against anything.
The first problem is that this is not an argument against anything. It is an attempt to belittle and demean the Theistic perspective on a subject, and to devalue the theist’s perspective by comparing the theist’s thought processes to that of ancient peoples who fabricated gods to explain natural phenomenon.
This rhetorical device has no weight or value in discussions related to the topic of cosmological origins, life origins, and miracles/mysteries. It merely asserts that the theist is attempting to do something that he or she is not, and provides no evidence to defend that assertion, nor offers any other view or argument to counter the theist’s arguments or offer a defeater of them. It is a personal, ad hominem, attack on the character of the Theist, and is fallacious in many other respects.
The Second Problem: It attempts to suggest either/or when it is both that can be used.
The second problem is that the “god of the gaps” argument asserts that the theist is doing something which can be equated to “I don’t know,” by saying “God did it,” and then asserts that “I don’t know” is the more reasonable response, thus ________ is better (fill in the blank with your philosophy of choice).
To reply to a question about a miraculous occurrence with the conclusion “God did it,” is not equal to the secondary response of “I do not know.” Indeed, one can use both responses in answering questions about a miraculous occurrence. In response to “How on earth did ______ happen?” A Theist might state, “I don’t know how it happened, but I do know God had a hand in it.” After the fact, some Non-Theist type in discussion with a Theist may look back to this event and say, “You see, the Theist is just using the ‘god of the gaps’ argument. Just because we can’t explain what happened does not mean there is a god who made it happen, or that that god had anything to do with this here. That is foolish.”
Is the Theist using the “god of the gaps” argument? No. First, the theist admits to the same thing that the Non-Theist would argue is better, that is “I don’t know how…” Second, the Theist observes (not asserts or assumes) that God had a hand in it for a reason. If one was to ask that Theist what leads him or her to believe God had a hand in the event, they would be able to provide you with a reason, generally from a greater spiritual context. Third, by stating that God had a hand in the event, the Theist is neither affirming or denying any naturalistic process occurred, or that God was all that was necessary. They are merely making an observation about the event which they are drawing from spiritual experience and sense that leads them to see the hand of God in the event.
The Theist is not asserting there is no natural cause or chain of events. The Theist is simply making an observation that, regardless of the naturalistic how, God was involved in some manner, which comes from a personal conviction in this context.
To criticize anyone for doing such is nothing but an attack, and has no place in civil discussion.
The Third Problem: It sets up a straw man and attacks its character.
The Third Problem is that the Non-Theist is arguing that the Theist is doing something that they simply are not doing, and then attacking them as though they were. This is an ad hominem attack on a straw man…essentially an intellectually vacuous effort against an imaginary object that avoids providing any real argument (because they have none) in order to devalue the opposing view.
This is most apparent in discussions of cosmological origins and the origin of life. When arguments are presented that provide both scientifically discovered facts and observations as well as well-formed logical arguments in favor of Intelligent Design and Creation, this Non-Theist rhetorical device is implemented in order to down play the value of the Theist and their arguments, instead of providing any actual argument or defeater of the Theist’s claims. When you run out of logic, go after character.
When a Theist puts forth the understanding that “God created the universe,” they are either putting forward a conclusion which is then defended with reason and facts, or, they are simply making an observation about reality, a statement of fact, and utilizing that fact in some manner (or trying to learn more from it). In other words, they are speaking about a phenomenon, not attempting to explain a phenomenon.
The ancients utilized gods to explain natural phenomena, and would develop stories about those gods that would further explain the manner with which the natural phenomena worked, and what laws governed that phenomena. When a Theist mentions that God created the universe, we are just talking about a phenomena, not trying to explain one, or develop a narrative theory. In other words, there is no effort to fill in the gap with that statement alone. It is then followed up with theories related to how, or, a simple, “I don’t know how, specifically. I can certainly develop hypotheses about how God did it and what all occurred as He did. But what can be known is that God is the one who caused the Universe (for example) to exist.”
There is no effort to fill in any gap, and no gap is even acknowledged as being present. Science, on the other hand, exists to fill in the gap of the unexplained. Science is the effort to replace the “gods of the gaps,” based on the premise that we can explain things due to the existence of consistency in the cosmos in the manner with which things occur (simplistic version). So, in attempting to insult the Theist for doing “gods of the gaps,” they are actually insulting the scientific process which is all about fabricating “gods of the gaps,” or more pointedly, theorizing and hypothesizing (together make speculating) about the explanations of certain phenomena.
Meanwhile, the Theist, from the Judeo-Christian perspective, affirming the existence of a deity and its role in forming the cosmos, is not filling in any gaps, nor are they attempting to. They are merely making an observation, presenting a statement of fact. As a part of defending that observation, some of those “theories of the gaps” that scientific practice has discovered may be utilized to defend the point, or simply add to it.
The Theist, in presenting arguments in defense of the existence of a creator, and then making the logically concluded statement that such a creator is responsible for the creation of the cosmos, is not filling in any gap, but merely presenting an observed discovery of fact. Science, however, does live out the practice of attempting to fill in the gaps, that once upon a time, were filled with gods.
The Fourth Problem: It shows a lack of understanding on the part of the Non-Theist
The fourth problem is that the Non-Theist is assuming that the Theist is mentioning God’s involvement purely because a natural phenomenon is difficult to explain. In other words, invoking God because of the phenomenon. This is incorrect.
The Theist presents God in such situations as being involved in the event not because of the phenomenon, but because of the impact of the phenomenon on a human situation, normally in favor of the human involved. When something seemingly miraculous occurs which positively impacts the situation of a human event, then a Theist may say, “God is certainly caring for you,” or something of the sort.
This statement is made because the Theist is observing the event within the context of the human situation that is being effected by whatever natural phenomenon has occurred. The Theist sees in the event something that leads them to conclude that God was working to impact the human. Thus, the statement becomes a simple observation of the occurrence. This is generally derived from the Theist’s personal, spiritual witness or awareness of the situation, and is explained by their personal relationship with God and their ability to identify events as either God directed or not. This is generally most prevalent in discussion about miraculous events.
It is not a Theist’s attempt to explain the phenomenon, it’s a statement about what was part of the phenomenon. The hand of God being involved in relation to the human event is the basis, not the inexplicability of the event. Therefore, when a Non-Theist attempts to assert the “god of the gap” fallacy here, it is based on their misunderstanding of what the Theist is talking about or coming from. It is not because the phenomenon is difficult to explain, it is because there is observed beyond the phenomenon an impact on a human situation that makes the event spiritually unique and suggestive of God’s participation in it.
It does not deny that a natural explanation isn’t available, it is simply including that work of God in making that natural explanation occur to the benefit (generally) of the human situation.
The use of the Atheist’s “God of the Gaps” fallacy is nothing more than an ad hominem attack against a straw man. When an atheist uses it, they are not making any argument against the claims of the Theist, but are instead attempting to demean or belittle the Theist in order to devalue the weight of their argument, and make themselves appear to be the “rational” individual in the room. It demonstrates the lack of understanding that the atheist has of the Theist’s point, and shows their ignorance of the Theist’s fundamental beliefs. It assumes that the Theist is mentioning God because the phenomenon is difficult to explain, when in reality, the Theist mentions God because the Theist observes God’s hand as being involved in the event. This is because the Theist is looking at the greater context and the event’s impact on human affairs, not the difficulty of the phenomenon. Thus, to utilize the Atheist’s “God of the gaps” argument is nothing but a personal attack, and should not be utilized in serious debate or discussion on the topics on cosmological origins, origins of life, the seemingly miraculous, or divine intervention.