God of the Gaps? Really?

God of the gaps quote

You’re just shoving your god into the gaps in our knowledge.
They used to do that, you know… about thunder and lightning.
As our knowledge of the world increases, the room for your god decreases.

Yes, people used to marvel at thunder and lightning and come to unreasonable conclusions. They did not know what was going on, and they concluded that god (or gods) must be responsible.
This is a ‘gap reasoning’.

But when a logical argument concludes with “therefore, God exists”, it is not a god-of-the-gaps conclusion.

If someone says, “I don’t know… therefore X”, that is gap-reasoning.
If someone says, “here are several reasons why it is reasonable to conclude that X”, that is not gap reasoning.

Here are some examples of gap reasoning:
I do not know how information in the genome arose, but I know that nature did it.
I do not know where morality came from, but God must be responsible.
I do not know how consciousness arises, but it must be a natural process (like emergence).
I do not know how the universe began, but it must be God.

A lot of times, someone’s worldview will dictate what they plug into these ‘gaps’.
If someone is a theist, they will probably put God (Yahweh, Allah, etc) into the gap.
If someone is a naturalist, they’ll undoubtedly put a natural process (emergence, genetic mutations, etc) into the gap.
If someone leans more spiritual in nature, they might plug some unknown spiritual dimension (kharma, ancestors, etc) into the gap.

But the most important principle here is that putting something into a gap in our knowledge is not a legitimate form of reasoning.

That being said, arguments for X are not guilty of gap reasoning.
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists

This is logical argument, not god of the gaps reasoning.
Even if you disagree with the conclusion (that God exists), it is not a god of the gaps.

Two final thoughts.
First, it is not unreasonable to say, ‘I don’t know’.
But if there are good reasons to think that there is a logical explanation, embracing ‘I don’t know’ instead of the most reasonable conclusion is not necessarily a virtue.

Second, if your philosophical perspective does not allow a perfectly reasonable explanation in the door, it might be time to re-evaluate your underlying philosophy. I’ve had far too many atheists tell me that God is simply not an explanation worth considering. Not because the evidence is weak, the arguments are fallacious, or there is an alternative explanation… simply because, according to them, God does not exist. Not only is this begging the question, it is substituting a philosophical assertion for actual engagement with the argument.
The lack of an atheist answer to X does not mean positing God is “god of the gaps”.

Additional Resources:
Stand to Reason – “God of the Gaps”
Christian Apologetics Alliance – “The Atheist’s God of the Gaps”
CrossExamined – “Who Really Commits the ‘God of the Gaps’ Fallacy?”
John Lennox – “Not the God of the Gaps, but the Whole Show”
William Lane Craig responding to the ‘God of the Gaps’ objection


15 thoughts on “God of the Gaps? Really?

  1. Zak Schmoll

    Hey Elijah,
    Thank you for linking to my article from the Christian Apologetics Alliance! I have to admit though, I am nowhere near as brilliant as the rest of the people that you include under additional resources. 🙂

    Thanks again though for the shout out, and great article!

    1. ElijiahT Post author

      Thanks Zak!
      I linked to your article cuz it was a good one, not because of who wrote it. Might as well point to as many good resources as possible!

  2. Allallt

    The argument you present as ‘not gaps-reasoning’ is gaps reasoning. It is hidden, but it’s all in premise 1. ” If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” is a conditional statement, which (unless you have something new to add–and I’d be excited to hear it) is only ever defended by of-the-gaps reasoning.

    1. ElijiahT Post author

      I don’t know if I understand how ‘if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist” is gap reasoning.

      It may be incorrect (and if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I completely embrace the moral argument), but its not gap reasoning.
      Nowhere does it say, “I don’t know, therefore X”

      1. Allallt

        No, it assumes the only possible reason for objective morality is God. The reasoning that underpins it “I don’t know what else it could be, therefore God”. In some defences of it it is an abstraction; “I don’t accept any explanations other than God, therefore it’s God”

      2. ElijiahT Post author

        Well, this gets into the defense of the premise. I don’t really want to get into the defense of the moral argument in this post (its off-topic), but if someone is justifying the 1st premise by saying ‘I don’t know what else it could be, therefore God’… then I disagree with their approach for the reasons I’ve laid out in the post.

        I have not heard someone justify the premise by stuffing God into a gap. It is usually justified by explaining the inability of naturalistic perspectives to account for objective moral values and duties, coupled with a robust explanation as to how God’s existence provides an adequate foundation for the ontological existence of objective moral values and duties.

        If you’re characterizing what I’ve just said as ‘I don’t accept any explanations other than God, therefore it’s God’, then it is still not gap reasoning. Your characterization of it just… isn’t very charitable.

      3. Allallt

        This reply is out of order, I apologise for that.
        Perhaps I have been arguing with amateurs, but the defence rarely “explains” why nature can’t lead to moral ideas. It often either states it categorically (which is an abstraction, a completely different type of fallacy) or it commits a fallacy of composition (e.g. “because reality is built of amoral atoms and molecules, it must be construct devoid of morality”). Else it is argued as “I don’t see how atoms bouncing together give rise to morality, therefore God”.
        The abstraction–it cannot be natural therefore it is God–is a type of of-the-gaps reasoning (but it’s hidden behind a confusion between the statement ‘I don’t know’ and the statement ‘it cannot be’). Your trite example was this. But you were trite because defending the premise was not the point (I get that). If indeed you can defend the premise by explaining why all other conceivable options are not actually options then you have a point.
        (Try not to commit a false dichotomy as you go)

      4. ElijiahT Post author

        It’s actually not out of order. WordPress is just funny that way. If you just reply to the last ‘replyable’ comment, it’ll show up in the right place.

        Trying to avoid the false dichotomy you mentioned, the cause of objective moral values & duties can either be natural or not natural, correct? Law of non-contradiction indicates a true dichotomy, not a false one.

        So, if we look at as many natural accounts of objective moral values & duties as offered, address them directly and show them to be false, then the remaining option would be not natural. Until another naturalistic account is offered, that is.

        Until that new account is offered, it is reasonable to say ‘I have rejected all available naturalistic accounts of objective moral values & duties for good reasons’ and therefore embrace a non-natural account.
        This isn’t an ‘I don’t know, therefore god’ response. This is a ‘I know its not X, therefore it is Y because X and Y are an example of a true dichotomy”

        However, that’s not all the theist usually does. They usually provide a falsifiable account of theistic morality and defend it against criticism.

        So, to summarize the first premise of the moral argument is generally defended in two ways. (1) by providing an account of theistic morality and defending it and (2) by showing that naturalistic accounts of morality do not hold up to scrutiny.

        I’m actually nowhere near an expert on the moral argument. In fact, my study of naturalistic accounts of morality show that I need a lot more study in order to do either (1) or (2).

  3. Stan Adermann

    First, I enjoy reading your posts even though I fall on the atheist side of the equation. Kudos for some well-thought reasoning.

    I do think your argument here misses a critical point. You can construct logical arguments for God that are self-consistent, but only in an abstract way. It’s like saying “All Gnarfles are blue, Bob is a Gnarfle, therefore Bob is blue.” The statement is logically consistent, but at the end there’s still no such thing as a Gnarfle. I do agree with you that it’s logically incorrect to say “I don’t know, therefore nature” just as it’s logically incorrect to say “I don’t know, therefore God”. But “therefore nature” is more statistically correct. For every thing that has gone from unknown to being understood, every one has a naturalistic explanation. There is not one case that we’re aware of where we can say with certainty that X couldn’t have happened without the intervention of a deity, despite what the Intelligent Design folks would have you believe.

    Even the things science tells us are true are qualified, as in “we understand gravity with 99.99% certainty.” So with that thinking, it’s reasonable to say “therefore probably nature”, but it is not reasonable to say “therefore probably God.”

    1. ElijiahT Post author

      Thanks for your comment and your compliment, Stan. Good reasoning transcends worldview disagreements… most of the time.
      Postmodernists notwithstanding… haha.

      Imagine a world where we call Paracanthurus hepatus a ‘gnarfle’ instead of a ‘regal tang’.
      In that world, the term ‘regal tang’ would mean nothing, but ‘gnarfle’ would signify the type of fish that you might name “Bob”, but I would name “Dory”.
      So in that case, your logical argument would represent something real. Namely, that Bob is a gnarfle (or a regal tang).

      The term we use to describe something is just that: a term. A word. The meaning isn’t necessarily found in the word itself, but in the proposition the word is meant to convey.

      You seem to be hinting slightly at the concept of ‘ignosticism’… a position that says theological terms have no meaning. Just asserting that the term “god” has no meaning rings somewhat of a presuppositional atheism, coupled (possibly) with a bit of ‘well poisoning’.
      Additionally, even if someone thinks that theological terms have no meaning, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the thing doesn’t exist.
      But in reality, theological terms do have meaning. It would be unreasonable to dismiss the existence of something simply because you don’t think it’s ‘name’ has a meaning.

      I also don’t really understand how an invalid form of reasoning ‘I don’t know, therefore nature’ can be more “statistically correct” than another invalid form of reasoning (‘I don’t know, therefore god’).
      They’re both invalid forms of reasoning, meaning they’re never correct. It would be like me saying that a non-sequitur is “more statistically correct” than an ad hominem.

      And I would never discount scientific discoveries. I study biology at the undergrad level (one semester from graduation!), so I understand the value of scientific discoveries.
      But science does not have the final say in everything. There are limits to scientific reasoning, despite what our very science-oriented culture would have you believe. The scientific method itself cannot be grounded in science, otherwise that would be to reason in a circle.

      1. Stan Adermann

        You’re correct, I am a bit ignostic. I wouldn’t necessarily state that theological terms have no meaning since I and most people would have a conceptual understanding of what you mean when you say God. But if I can take the statement “objective morals exist, therefore God exists” and change it to “objective morals exist, therefore leprechauns exist” and have the argument remain as valid, then it strikes me that the assertion about God is problematic. We both know what a leprechaun is as well, but I can’t produce one to prove my point any more than you can produce God to prove yours.

        What I was getting at was the goal of removing the “I don’t know” portion of “I don’t know, therefore (or probably) X”. If that’s not the goal, then to me the argument is unworthy. But if I do want to come to an understanding, then I have to start with a path that I believe can lead to success. And to me, that would include the set of naturalistic possibilities and exclude the set of theistic ones. Theistic arguments by their nature (ahem) tend to remain abstract with little or no chance of removing the “I don’t know”.

        I’m not certain if I’ve clarified anything. But I would question the idea that we have a science-oriented culture when 8 in 10 people believe in angels.

      2. ElijiahT Post author

        I see your point, although there’s a problem when it comes to replacing ‘god’ with a ‘leprechaun’.
        Check out my response to Allallt, further up on the page (or click here: https://hashtagapologetics.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/god-of-the-gaps-really/comment-page-1/#comment-258)

        There are 2 ways to defend the first premise. (1) would be to show that all naturalistic accounts of objective moral values and duties fail. (2) would be to give (and defend) an account of how God’s existence provides a rational basis for the existence of objective moral values and duties.

        I highly doubt anyone would defend the premise by giving an account of how leprechauns could account for objective moral values and duties (2).
        And if they did, great job. But they’d probably have to define ‘leprechaun’ in a way that makes it no longer a leprechaun, but god. Maybe dressed in green or something. Lol

        As for your last comment about our scientific culture and belief in angels… I think you’ve been affected by the science-oriented culture if you think that science and religion are at odds like that. Having a robust understanding of the value and usefulness of science does not, in any way, negate many religious beliefs (angels included).

        (ps. if you’re going to respond again, if you reply to my comment beginning with ‘thanks for your comment’, it’ll show up underneath this comment.

  4. Adam

    Wow that was awful. The so called logical argument for gods existence isn’t logical its a false dichotomy fallacy. Its assuming only two courses could happen. Theres no reason to think we couldn’t have morality without god. Pretty poorly written article.

    1. ElijiahT Post author

      You missed the point of the article, Adam.
      This was not a defense of the moral argument, it was a response to the assertion that we are guilty of God of the Gaps reasoning.

  5. Pingback: Got Evidence? | Disproving The Writings of David G. McAfee

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