Defining God-of-the-GapsGod-of-the-gaps arguments use gaps in scientific explanation as indicators, or even proof, of God’s action and therefore of God’s existence. Such arguments propose divine acts in place of natural, scientific causes for phenomena that science cannot yet explain. The assumption is that if science cannot explain how something happened, then God must be the explanation. But the danger of using a God-of-the-gaps argument for the action or existence of God is that it lacks the foresight of future scientific discoveries. With the continuing advancement of science, God-of-the-gaps explanations often get replaced by natural mechanisms. Therefore, when such arguments are used as apologetic tools, scientific research can unnecessarily be placed at odds with belief in God. The recent Intelligent Design, or ID, movement highlights this problem. Certain ID arguments, like the irreducible complexity of the human eye or the bacterial flagellum, are rapidly being undercut by new scientific discoveries.
Now we will turn our attention to two ideas of Dr. Francis Collins that he proposed as pointers to God in his book The Language of God. These ideas are known as The Fine-Tuning argument and the Moral Law. I will probably post more on these arguments at a later date. While they don't prove that a God exists, they are certainly worth contemplating.
Unlike a God-of-the-gaps argument, the argument for fine-tuning uses science without divine action to reveal the impeccable precision of our Universe. Fine-tuning is described in terms of physical constants and the initial conditions of our universe. Fine-tuning does not try to draw attention to where science has failed, but rather emphasizes how science has revealed the intricate balance of the universe.
One might argue that science could potentially explain the origins of these delicately balanced features, but there are two important things to keep in mind. First, it is very unlikely that a scientific theory could explain away the improbabilities of our Universe without raising other improbabilities. Second, an argument for fine-tuning is unlike a God-of-the-gaps argument in that it is not intended to prove God’s existence. While it is true that the fine-tuning of the Universe adds credence to belief in a creator, such recent scientific findings could hardly be called upon as the basis or justification of the long history of theistic belief. While the fine-tuning of the Universe does indeed lead many people to consider the possibility of God’s existence, the fact that science cannot disprove God’s existence assures us that it also cannot prove it. Instead, fine-tuning can be understood as a feature of the universe that is accordant with belief in a creator. A deeper scientific explanation of these features — albeit highly unlikely — would not ruin its usefulness as a pointer to God.
The moral law also offers evidence that the world has evolved in a way that is consistent with the belief in a good and loving God. This remains true whether science eventually finds an account or explanation for morality. Even if a purely natural account of moral development could be found, the simple fact that morality has evolved is something that would be expected in a world created by a just and loving God.
Evolutionary theory explains selfishness in a most obvious and natural way. Altruism is far less obvious, but it can also be explained by recognizing that humans evolved in tribes that were essentially extended families with many genes in common. Imagine two tribes, one has genes to help each other even when it requires sacrifice and one does not have such genes. Which tribe will flourish? In such ways, genes for altruism can be selected by nature and spread in a population. But in its most radical form, altruism refers to situations where individuals risk their very lives to help someone they do not even know, and from whom a reciprocal benefit is unexpected or even unimaginable. This concept runs counter to the behavior expected from the best-established processes of evolution, and there are no widely accepted theories that can fully account for such examples. Some have suggested that radical altruism might perhaps be explained as misfiring — we mistakenly go overboard in our desire to be nice. Radical altruism is currently somewhat mysterious.
As with most situations, science may someday provide an explanation for altruism. In light of that possibility, the argument from the moral law as a pointer to God is subject to the same risk of explanation as Newton’s God-of-the-gaps argument. If radically altruistic behavior is someday given a natural evolutionary explanation, it will no longer stand out as an inconsistency in evolutionary theory. However, Robert Wright argues in Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, that the evolution of altruism can be explained as an application of game theory. In Wright’s view, the deep mystery is not altruism itself, but the intriguing mathematical structures of the universe, like game theory, that can coax from the universe surprising behaviors like altruism.
ConclusionIf gaps in scientific knowledge are the basis for belief in God, then as science progresses, evidence for God’s existence continually diminishes. Fine-tuning does not rely on divine action as an explanation, but points out the striking precision of nature’s order in line with the requirements for human life, thus establishing a mysterious connection between physics and biology. As for the moral law, its use as a pointer to God can be understood in that human behavior has evolved in a way that is consistent with the idea of a good and loving creator. Belief in any moral truth rests upon the assumption of God’s existence or some other ultimate standard.
Finally, although these pointers to God should encourage one to consider God’s existence, they must not be placed at the foundation of faith. The belief in a creator and the experience of a relationship with God should not rest solely on a logical or scientific justification. But then, as Collins himself wondered, “How can such [religious] beliefs be possible for a scientist? Aren’t many claims of religion incompatible with the “Show me the data” attitude of someone devoted to the study of chemistry, physics, biology, or medicine?”
Hopefully this article gave you some things to consider. I know it did for me.