The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument

The fact is that all scientists are filling in the gaps with a model of reality they believe best those gaps in light of the knowledge they have. 

Most people who have entertained ultimate questions seriously abut whether God exists are familiar with the “God of the Gaps argument” that is made against the existence of God. It goes something like this: In the past, people couldn’t explain the rain, so they concluded that God must be crying. People couldn’t explain an earthquake, so they thought God must be mad at something they did. People invoked a divine perspective to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how the world works.

From that observation (which is factually true as a simplistic statement), they add in the equally true observation that the progression of science over the centuries has been filling in the gaps and providing knowledge and understanding of natural processes that explain the things we didn’t know without having to resort to the conclusion that “God does it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations… and stop believing in God.

Scientists realized they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world, and so the scientific consensus has concluded over recent centuries that divine explanations are not only not necessary, but not appropriate. Divine explanations are viewed today as anti-scientific. Many who are concerned with the purity of science would deem divine explanations as heretical.

The God of the gaps argument (an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. There is an order to the natural world that we can study and know, but that order doesn’t preclude the existence of a super (other than natural) Being behind it all.

If we resign ourselves to nothing but the study of the natural world, how do we expect to know anything about the possibility of reality beyond it?  If we limit ourselves to naturalistic explanations, we have foreclosed any other possibility.

Frankly, there is a big gap between the fact that the natural world has order that we can study and the question whether anything beyond the natural world exists. I can turn the argument around and accuse the atheist of filling the gap with the conclusion that no God exists.

But all of this really misses the important point. Hugh Ross addresses the God of the gaps argument in a recent interview with Kahldoun Sweis. He says, “In science, there are always gaps. We will never learn everything. We are limited human beings.” However, when we “push back the frontiers of science”, we have to ask ourselves whether the gaps in our knowledge are getting bigger and more problematic? Or are they getting smaller and less problematic?”

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Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.

Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

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What is the Nothing Out of which the Universe Emerged

On a typical Sunday morning, I am contemplative, thinking about God, the nature of the world and other ultimate things. I have gotten home from church. The distant rumbling of thunder portends more rain to add to the buckets (more like vats) that came down earlier this morning. (We’ve had an unusual amount of precipitation in the Chicago area for about a year now.)

Though sunlight threatens to break through the clouds, despite the rumblings to the contrary, it’s a good day for reading and thinking.

In that vein, I read an article from Forbes magazine that came up in my Google feed: Ask Ethan: Can We Really Get a Universe From Nothing? Ethan, is Ethan Siegel, a Forbes contributor. He is an astrophysicist, author and “science communicator” according to the short bio at the end of the article.

It just so happens that I spent my Friday evening this week with another astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, a brilliant man who is a Christian, and also a man of science. In fact, it was science that led him to his belief in God. But I digress. (You can hear the story of how science led Hugh Ross to God in his own words here.)

My meeting with Hugh Ross isn’t really relevant to the topic, other than the fact that our conversation got me thinking about science and ultimate things, things that science doesn’t really address (or hasn’t yet answered). Does God exist? Where did the universe come from?

The article suggests an answer to one of those ultimate questions: where did the universe come from? It suggests that the universe didn’t really come from nothing – at least not the kind of nothing that we usually imagine when we think of nothing. It entices the reader with a title that suggests an ultimate answer, but it doesn’t deliver.

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Welcome to the Faith Club

Our commitment to brute assertions is faith.

Here is a bold statement: faith is the foundation on which all reasoning proceeds. Though it is a bold statement, indeed, I believe it is true (pun intended). Let me explain why.

First of all, though, I have to admit that didn’t come up with the statement. Tim Keller did, but it aligns with what I have come to believe is true. That is that we all have faith, even materialists who say they have no faith.

I have written about it from time to time, including Reflections on Confidence in Faith and Atheism, Darwin’s Faith: The Religion of the New Atheism, and  Are Reason & Faith in God Contradictory Terms?, to cite just a few examples. So this isn’t a new thought for me, but I like the way Keller approaches the topic.

Keller asks us to consider the Enlightenment premise: the only things we can really be sure of are things that are scientifically proven. This is a popular modern sentiment on faith, science and the nature of truth and reality. We have increasingly come to trust science and what science can tell us, and we have grown to distrust faith. But is that a sensible position?

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Gary Habermas on Near-Death Experiences

Many accounts of near-death experiences can’t be explained by the involvement of the central nervous system.

I have recently watched a number of recollections of near-death experiences (NDEs). I also recently listened to a lecture by Gary Habermas, who has studied NDEs for more than a couple of decades. He notes that NDEs have been known for millennia. Some scholars speculate that Plato ‘s Myth of Ur is about a real NDE. There are even near-death experiences recorded in Scripture.

I had no idea NDEs were so common. Habermas says Americans, alone, have reported about 8,000,000 NDE experiences, and they occur around the world in all cultures.

Many NDEs could be made up, though they are many similarities among the reported NDEs. Just listening to a dozen or so of them I could identify the similarities. NDE accounts often don’t fit with worldviews, including the Christian worldview, but naturalists have the most difficult position in respect to NDEs.

How do we deal with them? How do we account for them?

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