The ‘God-of-the-Gaps’ Caricature (Sickler)

God on the Brain: What Cognitive Science Does (and Does Not) Tell Us about Faith, Human Nature, and the Divine - Sickler, Brad - 9781433564437

Some opponents of Christianity accuse Christians of holding a “God-of-the-gaps” view of unexplainable natural phenomena. They attack this view as completely unscientific and they say it is yet another example of how Christians are stupid myth-believing people. But it’s not quite that simple! I like how Bradley Sickler discusses this in chapter two of God and the Brain. He shows that these accusations of Christians having a “God-of-the-gap” view of science is not exactly true:

[Richard] Dawkins… claims to find examples of this [God-of-the-gaps] reasoning especially prevalent among young-earth creationists and Intelligent Design advocates, both of whom he confusingly calls ‘creationists.’ They are his favorite targets for leveling his accusation of using god-of-the-gaps arguments. Dawkins says: ‘Creationists eagerly seek a gap in present day knowledge and understanding. If an apparent gap is found, it is assumed that God, by default, must fill it. [But] gaps shrink as science advances, and God is threatened with eventually having nothing to do and nowhere to hide.’ He also says ‘Gaps, by default in the mind of the creationist, are filled by God. Areas where there is a lack of data, or a lack of understanding, are automatically assumed to belong, by default, to God.’ It is as if, Dawkins says, we were to witness a magic trick that we could not explain or understand, and then – based on our own incredulity and mystification – we were to say: ‘It must be a miracle. There is no scientific explanation. It’s got to be supernatural.’

One interesting thing about this depiction, however, is that it does not seem borne out in the academic literature. Note that several times in the quotations above Dawkins claims that creationists assume by default God must be the cause for any event that cannot currently be explained scientifically. Even if we expand the target beyond creationists… and apply it to anyone who argues for God from lacunae [gaps] in science, we generally find reasoning that does not match up to the god-of-the-gaps caricature we are given. Sometimes people argue that there are features of the world unexplained by science but explainable in terms of God, but that is not the same as assuming by default that God, and only God, can assume those things.

Simply put, there are almost no credible cases of Christian experts who employ the gap argument the way it is presented here for ridicule. It is interesting to note that during Dawkins’ diatribe he refers only to fictional accounts or imaginary mash-ups of the argument, not actual arguments deployed by respected Christian scholars. His are distortions – amalgams of the worst features of bad arguments he has encountered, reimagined, and put into his own words to make his opponents look as unreasonable as possible.

Indeed, it is often the case that critics of Christianity use unreasonable or illogical arguments based on false assumptions or anti-Christian presuppositions to attack Christianity. For more helpful discussion of this topic, see God and the Brain by Bradley Sickler.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015