In my first article on the subject of the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument and the video I did for it, there were many commenters on the video who did not understand what I was speaking about. Many of them completely missed the point I was making, and this is due to my inability to effectively communicate my point to them in the video. This article and the video I will be doing with it is an effort to answer the challenges and questions that the commenters posted on the YouTube video posting. While I may not answer all of their questions and challenges, this article and video seeks to resolve the majority of the issues. I will begin with the points made regarding “Arguments from Ignorance” and their relationship with the “God of the Gaps” argument.
This is what an “Argument from Ignorance” looks like.
P1: If we do not know how to explain Phenomenon 1 using Philosophy A’s means, then Philosophy B’s explanation of Phenomenon 1 is true.
P2: We do not know how to explain Phenomenon 1 using Philosophy A’s means.
C1: Therefore, Philosophy B’s explanation of Phenomenon A is true.
The “Argument from Ignorance” model is one that essentially says “Because we do not know how to explain Phenomenon 1, Philosophy B must be the explanation.” What makes arguments from ignorance fallacious is that the first premise is false. Even if Philosophy A’s means of explaining Phenomenon A fail to explain it, this does not mean that other means can’t be used to explain the Phenomenon, or that Philo A doesn’t have some other means of explaining the Phenomenon. One truth to be accepted here though, is that in many ways, the process of scientific study results at the end in the argument from ignorance. After having effectively demonstrated all other possible explanations to be invalid, when it comes down to the last two possibilities, If possibility A can not explain Phenomenon 1, then it must be possibility B. However, this requires the context being that we know that all other possibilities have been negated, and the remaining two possibilities are all that there is, but we have no means of testing possibility B, but we can test the null hypothesis of possibility A. But that is within that context. Context is always key as no argument exists in a vacuum.
Lets Cover Some Arguments
Now this can also be considered a form of “Arguing from lack of evidence.”
P1: If there does not exist any evidence that Thing A exists, then Thing A does not exist.
P2: There does not exist any evidence that Thing A exists.
C: Therefore, Thing A does not exist.
The “Argument from Lack of Evidence” model basically states that “Because we do not have any evidence of the existence of something, it does not exist.” No other reason than the lack of evidence. Just as with the “Argument from Ignorance,” the “Argument from Lack of Evidence” is basing the whole justification of its conclusion on the lack of knowledge or the lack of evidence. That is what makes these arguments fallacious, as the first premise of each is false. Just because we do not have any evidence for the existence of something does not mean it does not exist. We may simply not have yet discovered any facts that can point us to Thing A’s existence. The context of this argument, however, can fall into a situation where after listing off a collection of other facts and sound arguments, a final point of argument is that “Thing A” is some other suggested explanation of something for which no evidence has been presented. As a part of this body of evidence suggesting some other explanation as more likely, then this argument gets tossed in as the final nail in the coffin of “Thing A”. Unfortunately, it still remains unsound and is negated as an argument.
So what we have discovered so far, in the context of our discussion here, is that both a lack of knowledge and a lack of evidence does not constitute the non-existence of something. Reality remains what it is regardless of human knowledge or awareness of it. We also understand that just because we can’t explain something using one Philosophy, does not mean that one out of many other possible philosophies is necessarily true. However, what is important to note at the end of this is that if Philosophy A has been shown to fail at effectively explaining Phenomenon A, even though Philosophy B is not necessarily correct, it does mean that Philosophy A is incorrect.
I mention these two arguments as commenters on the first video covering the subject of the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gap” argument seem to not understand what it was I was talking about.
Here is the argument that Non-Theists are claiming Theists are using, and that they call “God of the Gaps”:
P1: If we do not know how to explain Phenomenon A using naturalistic means, then a god is the explanation of Phenomenon A.
P2: We do not know how to explain Phenomenon A using naturalistic means.
C1: Therefore a god is the explanation of Phenomenon A.
As you can see, it takes on the model of the “Argument from ignorance.” Because we lack the ability to explain some phenomenon using a squarely naturalistic explanation does not mean that God is the only explanation. This argument necessarily presupposes that there is a means to identifying the naturalistic processes that exist which are responsible for certain phenomenon. In other words, we are already aware that there is a non-god explanation for how things happen in the world around us. This takes on the following form:
P1: If we observe a phenomenon occurring in nature, then we know there is a naturalistic explanation for its occurrence.
P2: We observe a phenomenon occurring in nature.
C: Therefore, there is a naturalistic explanation for its occurrence.
Now, this is again grounded in the acceptance of the word “Naturalistic” as an adjective attached to “explanation” meaning that there is not intelligent cause to the event. However, even though there may be a naturalistic explanation for an event, this does not mean that an agent was not involved in the event. What is interesting about this argument is that this argument also takes on the ancient argument used by primitive, “non-scientific” societies of the ancient past.
P1: If we observe a phenomenon occurring in nature, then we know there is a god that is responsible for its occurrence.
P2: We observe a phenomenon occurring in nature.
C: Therefore, we know there is a god responsible for its occurrence.
This argument is the one that governed the thinking of most ancient societies, including the ancient near eastern societies among whom the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs is considered to have emerged from. Many narratives identifying and telling the stories of these gods were formed as means of explaining the various natural phenomenon that the ancients witnessed just as we do today. The difference, however, is that we have come to discover that these natural events do not have individual gods causing them to happen, but instead, they are merely the events that result from a living world where material is in constant interaction and activity.
This is the view of many Non-Theists as they were taught to view religions, including Christian Theists. They are taught that all gods were fabricated means of explaining natural phenomenon before the advent of the use of the tool of science to learn about our natural world. In truth, the tool of science was the process of rational thought and discovery that replaced this approach to explaining phenomenon. However, to apply this to the Judeo-Christian Worldview is false. God was never used as a means to explain every little phenomenon that occurs in nature. The Bible was written in order to demonstrate that all of these “gods of the gaps” were not real but instead were fabrications of the human mind. Instead, the Bible identified the existence of one God who was ultimately responsible for all that we know, and who is involved in the course of human and cosmological history. However, it does not argue that he is the one behind every lightning bolt and every tide. God is identified squarely as the creator of the cosmos, the creator of life, and is a creator who is actively involved in the course of human history.
It was out of the Biblical Judeo-Christian Worldview that humanity began to explore the natural world that humanity was given dominion over. Believing that God would set into motion laws that would remain constant and that would govern the operations of the cosmos resulted in the formation of scientific study and its benefits. This is not to deny that there were not those within the Judeo-Christian system of beliefs who fought against many of the early discoveries of science. However, there were far more Judeo-Christians who accepted the discoveries of science than there were those who fought against it. Thus its swift and powerful rise to the forefront of human thought. This also does not deny the contributions of non-Judeo-Christian societies to the emergence of scientific practice. However, within the context of the ancient near eastern cultures of polytheistic beliefs, these ancient starters of the concepts of scientific study could not prevail. Once these ancient scientific practices were re-discovered within the context of a Biblical Judeo-Christian culture that it was able to grow, flourish, and do many wonderful and great things for humanity to the present day.
These Are Not the Arguments You’re Looking For…
Having covered these subjects, let us now move on to the meat of the first video. All of the above points have been identified in order to show what I was NOT talking about in that first video and in the first article. I specifically identified not only the argument, but also the context within which the argument is brought up that makes the argument fallacious. I called this the “Non-Theist’s ‘God of the Gaps’ Fallacy”.
This is the basic thought process ingrained in the Non-Theist that sets Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument:
P1: If a Theist is claiming that God was involved in some Phenomenon, then they are arguing using the “Argument from Ignorance”.
P2: A Theist is claiming that God was involved in some Phenomenon.
C: Therefore, they are using the “argument from Ignorance.”
I also included in the first article and video an explanation of the context within which this argument of the Non-Theist is most often brought up. That context was that a Christian Theist, or Theist in general, has just provided a listing of evidence to demonstrate that God was likely involved in the Origin of the Cosmos, the Origin of Life, and in miracles. With this evidence, the Theist has set forth a pattern of reasoning that rationally leads one to accept the conclusion that God was involved. So, in this context, the Theist is offering a collection of evidence, facts that we do know not things that we don’t know, and a pattern of sound reasoning that points to the conclusion that God is involved in one of those three things. This is most prominent however in matters of discussing the Origin of the Cosmos and the Origin of Life.
Now, there is the other consideration of the use of evidence to point one to the conclusion that God does exist. The above subjects are often included in arguments defending the existence of God as well. The Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument is often utilized in this context as well.
This is the general form of the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument in the context of arguments for God’s Existence, which is grounded in the based on the basic thought process mentioned previously:
P1: If a Theist is defending the existence of God based upon the lack of a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the cosmos and the origin of life, then the Theist is arguing from ignorance.
P2: A Theist is defending the existence of God based upon the lack of a naturalistic explanation for the origin of the cosmos and the origin of life.
C: Therefore, the Theist is arguing from ignorance.
This often takes the blunt and smarmy comment form of, “We can’t explain how it happened, therefore God.” Ultimately, this is the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument, that the Theist has no evidence (a false presupposition) and therefore always argues from a lack of evidence or from ignorance. What generally follows these two arguments is a follow up argument that is generally partnered together with the above to form the fullness of this whole Non-theist “God of the Gaps” Argument.
This is the “Argument from Natural Explanation” in relation to disproving God’s existence or involvement in a Phenomenon.
P1: If a naturalistic explanation can be offered that effectively explains a phenomenon, then there is no need for an intelligent cause to be involved.
P2: If there is no need for an intelligent cause be involved, then the naturalistic explanation has effectively disproven the possible involvement of a god.
P3: If science is able to provide naturalistic explanations for all the natural phenomenon we observe, then science has effectively removed the possibility of a god.
P4: Science has been and is able to develop a naturalistic explanation for all natural phenomenon that we observe.
C1: Therefore, there is no possibility of a god.
P5: If there is no possibility of there being a god, then there is no god.
C2: Therefore, there is no god.
This can also be called the “Science kills God” argument. However, there are many issues with this argument and the others that it is often attached to.
The first thing to point out about this whole argument is that it is pitting against one another two completely different forms of explanation. “Naturalistic Explanation” and “God.” The first is a mechanical explanation about the processes that are taking place in terms of the physical events that explain how some event is occurring. The second is an identification of the agent that is responsible for making the physical events occur. These two things are not mutually exclusive, meaning, one does not deny the other. A naturalistic explanation does not deny the presence and involvement of an agent causing the natural events to occur as they can be naturally explained to be occurring. An agent being involved in making the natural event occur does not deny that the naturalistic processes aren’t occurring.
For many Non-Theists, for something to be described as “natural,” means that there is no agent responsible for the events. However, this requires the presupposition that it is not possible for an agent to be involved in naturally occurring events. If a person presupposes that there exists no agency above and beyond nature that can control what occurs in it, then that person will not be able to identify when there is agency behind natural events. It is this underlying understand of “natural” events that causes many naturalists to not realize that there are scientific means of identifying the involvement of intelligent agents in events that we find in nature.
When a transcendent agent is acting in nature, all that we will see is the natural event occurring. That is because when an agent is operating in the natural realm over which it has dominion, it necessarily interacts with it in a manner that those who are unaware of the agent’s involvement will only observe material processes happening. We will only register the event as some natural process because we refuse that any agency is even possible. Thus, what we define as a natural event is the way the agent makes the world move and operate according to its will. However, we are unaware of the agent’s involvement.
What leads one to understand that there is a transcendent agent involved in the naturally occurring event is something beyond the material processes involved. This is due to the natural event having a unique, singular impact or influence on the course of human events involved in the situation. This also includes a sense of the agent’s involvement that is derived from one’s knowledge and awareness of that agent and how it operates in nature. The transcendent agent must necessarily reveal something of itself to those who seek it in order for its involvement to be made apparent. If we are not seeking the agent or we are not trying to allow the agent to reveal itself to us, then we will not see it. For the naturalist, who denies the existence of a transcendent agent, it is difficult to discern whether or not there is an agent involved, so they seek to develop a reasonable naturalistic explanation of the event excluding any possibility of transcendent agency being involved.
As such, it must be accepted that even though we can offer a naturalistic explanation for any event, it remains only an explanation, especially with regards to past events that were not witnessed by the one offering the explanation. All explanations offered are understood to be possible ways with which some event has occurred. Just because we can offer a possible explanation does not mean that other possible explanations are not equally valid regarding that past event. This includes explanations which suggest the involvement of a transcendent agency. For the naturalist, who assumes beforehand (claims) that there is no transcendent agency, it is only based upon this assertion that they deny any explanation that includes a transcendent agent being involved.
The problem with most Non-Theists is that they have been taught what to think about this subject, instead of being taught how to think rationally in general. They have been misinformed and lied to about what Christian Theism is and what it teaches. This makes it difficult for them to understand what Christians mean when they say one thing or the other. I have broken these things down in this form to better assist the Non-Theist with understanding that what they have been taught about Christians is wrong. We have evidence of God’s existence, and we have sound evidence regarding his involvement in the Origin of the Cosmos, the Origin of Life, and we have justified reasons to believe that he is actively involved in the world today. Just because you say “God of the Gaps” over and over again doesn’t make it true.
The most significant issue that I attempted to point out in the first video and in the first article involves the general form of the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument. This argument accuses the Theist of arguing from a lack of evidence or from a lack of naturalistic explanation. In the context provided in the video, where a Theist has just offered a list of evidence consisting of things we do know, the first premise of this argument is false. Because it is false, but the argument itself is sound, this means that the Non-Theist is setting up a straw man. That is what makes this argument fallacious. Its premise is false as it suggests the Theist is doing something that he or she is not.
Some Side Points
Now, many commenters have mentioned the point against my claim to the Non-Theist’s use of this “God of the Gaps” argument in an ad hominem form to attack the person instead of their arguments. In the context I provided, after a Theist has listed off what is known as facts as well as the arguments connecting these facts to their conclusion, the Non-Theist’s “God of the Gaps” argument as explained above is attempting to suggest that the Theist is doing something that he or she is not doing. When watching the many debates between Theists and Non-Theists, this is the scenario that exists. The Non-Theist, after hearing the listing of the evidence and arguments, instead of addressing the arguments, simply states that the Theist, thus ad hominem nature, is doing something that he or she is not doing. They are not addressing the actual arguments that rationally compel the Theist to accept the conclusion regarding Origins or God’s existence. The Non-Theist simply asserts that everything the Theist has just said is not evidence, and offers no argument to defend that point that isn’t immediately refuted by the reminding of the audience that the Theist has just listed off the evidence for what is known and the arguments pointing to their conclusion.
Now I will accept that it is not always the case that when a Non-Theist uses their “God of the Gaps” argument against other religions or individuals who are in fact arguing from ignorance, Christian or not, is attacking the character of the speaker. I accept that I did not appropriately characterize the ad hominem nature of the argument when I said it was an attack on the speaker’s character. This is not always the case. However, in the context which I clearly provided in the video and in the previous article and here in this article, the ad hominem nature of the argument is clearly evident. Due to its premise being false, the argument says nothing, and has no weight or value in reality. However, among those in the audience who have been trained to immediately think that all Theists always argue from ignorance, when this argument is brought up, it results in a belittling of the Theist speaker.
To close out this article, let me reiterate another point that was not addressed or mentioned in the comments. Saying “I don’t know how something happened” is not what is being replaced by saying “God was involved.” The Theist is not arguing “Because we don’t know how the cosmos came to exist, there must be a God.” We do not know how the cosmos came into being. However, what facts we do know about the cosmos and nature point us to conclude the necessity of an intelligence being involved in its beginning. While we may not know the processes which the intelligence used to make it happen, we have sound reasons to accept that there was a transcendent cause to the Cosmos. This is also true of the origin of life. It is important to note that these are the only two things which God is credited with being responsible for when it comes to natural events. While there are many places in the Bible where the author is using poetic language to describe the power and majesty of God using examples of the events that occur in nature, they are not attributing every bolt of thunder and every rain drop to God. However, the Bible does provide for us the revelation of God to humanity in the past and it records the many events which God had a role in for specific purposes and with specific goals in mind.
There is nothing incompatible with saying both we don’t know how it happened, but also acknowledging God’s involvement in something. This is especially true when we are able to provide evidence and reasoning for why we believe God was involved, though we can explain the mechanics of the event. In order to supplement my explanations here regarding this subject, I have provided the following links to help improve the reader’s understanding of this subject:
The first can be found on Reasonable Faith’s YouTube channel. It is an excursus on Natural Theology where Dr. William Lane Craig breaks down the natural evidence for the existence of God. If you want to actually know and understand what the facts are and what the arguments are from the Christian Theist, then I highly recommend watching this series. It is quite long with many episodes, but Dr. Craig does a brilliant job of explaining it.
Also, here is his series on Creation and Evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elZ2V715cqc&index=1&list=PLIpO3BUiq2IFry-4WVT76GJIlQREcrzge
In addition to this, I offer this video of Dr. John Lennox, a Mathematician and Professor at Oxford who provides a wonderful explanation of what I am talking about. It is a long speech that he is giving, but his talk on this subject begins at the 20 minute mark.
From here, there is an article that I came across today that also speaks about this subject from the context of the Intelligent Design debate:
Intelligent Design Is Not a ‘God of the Gaps’ Argument — It’s Science
If you were not able to understand my point through this article and video, then I hope that these additional sources will aid you in arriving at a full grasp of what I am addressing here.