A frequent guest on the Johnny Carson show in the 1970’s, astronomer Carl Sagan wrote,
“As science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do. It’s a big universe, of course, so He, She, or It, could be profitably employed in many places. But what has clearly been happening is that evolving before our eyes has been a God of the Gaps; that is, whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God. And then after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm.”(1)
What he said is certainly true of pre-socratic Greek mythology and superstitious beliefs, where gods, faeries, and leprechauns were thought to be behind every rock, tree and storm. It is also true that gaps in our knowledge of natural processes have often been unwittingly invoked as evidence for the hand of God.
To this day, many atheists I have enjoyed conversing with continue to use science’s gap-filling advances as an argument against believing in God. Their fatal mistake is the assumption that the primary justification for belief in God are the gaps in our knowledge of how nature works.
“Their fatal mistake is the assumption that the primary justification for belief in God are the gaps in our knowledge of how nature works.”
Let us define nature as the entirety of physical reality including the universe (and multiverse if you wish)—everything that is totally dependent upon space, time, matter, energy and the laws of physics. As I discussed in an earlier post, we can know with certainty that nature had a beginning. I also showed in a different post that logic dictates that the cause of nature must, necessarily, be “not-natural” or supernatural in order to avoid the circular fallacy. Science begins, so to speak, only after nature begins.
There is an extraordinary statement made in what many scholars believe to be the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. As God points out to Job just how miniscule his knowledge is, He states, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens(Heb. samayim, ‘cosmos’), or fix their rule over the earth?(2)
From ancient times, the Judeo-Christian Scriptures indicated that God has created laws that govern how nature works. The laws of physics that God has created are what make science possible. Their repeatable effects, can be studied, quantified, and described in the form of mathematical equations and scientific terms.
Science is our tool to figure out how nature works. It should not be surprising, therefore, if science does exactly that. Furthermore, given that God has created laws of nature that govern how nature works, we can expect that as science advances, it will fill in the gaps in our knowledge of natural phenomena. It is exactly what we should predict, if God has created laws of nature which make science possible.
“It is exactly what we should predict, if God has created the laws of nature that make science possible.”
This does not entail, however, that miracles never occur. We might look for non-repeatable phenomena as possibilities, but even here, science can be used to examine the effect. In this case, we will predict that science will find it impossible to reproduce the phenomenon. The challenge, of course, will be to determine if it is actually impossible, or merely appears to be impossible due to an area of scientific knowledge we have not yet acquired. The origin of life, for example, is currently in this somewhat “grey” category; is it repeatable by science? The discussion of miracles, however, is a topic for another post.
One final point—we cannot deny that nature has a certain mystique. There is something about it that often moves us to awe and reverence. There is the suggestion in the Bible that God has woven a supernatural thread into the natural world when it states, “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”(3) The invisible attributes and divine nature of God, of course, are outside the purview of science, and are something more aptly perceived by the human soul. This, too, we shall revisit in a future post.
- Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.
- Job 38:33 NASB (1995)
- Romans 1:20, NASB (1995)
Kirk Durston, ‘Science’s god-of-the-gaps’, blog post.