The danger of the God of the gaps

The danger of the God of the gaps

(Submitted 15 Jan 2005 to the R-M)

I was disappointed by Rev. Johnson's guest column in Saturday's Register-Mail, ``Science now disputing evolution theory''.

One of the fundamental underpinnings of the scientific method is that all scientific claims must be theoretically falsifiable. What that means is that you can't call a claim scientific, no matter how well supported, unless there's some piece of evidence you could collect that would contradict the claim. Science, then, is all about the search for evidence to contradict currently prevailing thought. Einstein's theories of relativity, for instance, were based on evidence that Newton's theory of gravity wasn't quite right.

So of course there are scientists out there disputing evolution, just like there are those disputing every other major theory. Much of the time, the disputes come to nothing. Sometimes they turn up a minor flaw; our modern understanding of evolution is indeed somewhat refined with respect to that of Darwin. But as yet, nobody's discovered anything to completely refute the idea of evolution. I suspect they won't ever, but I'm glad they keep trying---it makes science stronger.

Any attempt to use science to prove or disprove God is bound to fail: atheists will simply see things that scientists haven't explained yet, while theists will note that just because science explains it doesn't mean God couldn't have done it Himself. Most distressing, then, was Rev. Johnson's use of things not yet understood as evidence of the existence of God. Such an argument is very brittle; as science inexorably progresses to explain more and more of them, the argument breaks apart. It also needlessly sets up science and religion to be at odds with each other: if you only believe in God because we don't fully understand something, then when scientists explain it better, why should you keep believing in God?

Restricting God to only inhabit the gaps in human knowledge is a losing game. This "God of the gaps" gets less and less powerful the more we learn. Believers in that god naturally feel threatened by scientific advances, because it shakes their unfortunately fragile faith. The God I believe in set up a really clever and cool system, and discovering the rules of that system doesn't make Him any less powerful or real.

Rev. Johnson may persuade people to believe in a god with the arguments presented in his column (and presumably elsewhere). But what kind of a god are they believing in?

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