Most people who have entertained the question, 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 natural phenomenon, like rain, thunder, earthquakes, etc. so they attributed those things to the activities of the gods. People use the gods (or God) to fill gaps in their knowledge and understanding of how the world works out of ignorance.
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 in human knowledge and understanding of the natural world. We have found natural explanations for most phenomenon without having to resort to the conclusion that “God did it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations.
Many people take that even further and conclude that we should stop believing in God altogether. We don’t need God to do science; thus, we don’t need God at all, they say.
Thinkers realized during the Enlightenment period that they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world. From that realization, a scholarly consensus the thinking has developed that divine explanations are not only not necessary; they are not appropriate.
Divine explanations are viewed today by most scholars as anti-scientific. Some people who are concerned with the purity of science would even deem divine explanations “heretical” to the current scientific orthodoxy.
The God of the gaps argument (as an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is, by definition, the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. It also can’t tell us what caused the natural world, as any cause of the natural world would have to be independent of it.
Just as the study of a painting can never introduce us to the painter, study of the natural world could never hope to introduce us to the creator of the natural world. At best, it might tell us something about the painter/creator. In both cases, we must be willing to look elsewhere to find the painter/creator.
Frankly, the order we see in the natural world is more surprising on a naturalistic worldview that assumes no intelligence behind the universe. We see intricate design in the universe, from the micro to the macro levels. How do unguided co-locations of molecules and matter acting randomly on each other produce the exquisite fine tuning we see?
The order to the natural world that we can study and know doesn’t preclude the existence of a supernatural (other than natural) Being behind it all. The order of the natural world is actually more difficult to explain without God.
The order of the world, by itself, is not proof that God exists, but the design we see is best explained by a grand Mind. This is not a gap-filling argument. It is an argument based on the best explanation we have – that all design we see in our experience is created by a being with agency who thought of it, designed it, and created it. This is the best explanation that we have.
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 foreclose any other possibility.
Thus, refusing to allow for the possibility of a God that might fill the gaps in our knowledge is just as arbitrary and closed-minded as filling every gap with God (and refusing further inquiry).
We all fill gaps in our knowledge, and we do it on the basis of what we know and believe about what we know. Our gap fillers are our basic assumptions. The theists assumes a Creator exists. An atheist assumes that no creative mind is behind the universe.
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 naturalist 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?”