The God of the Gaps?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A frequent refrain from skeptics of Christianity is that any time God is posited as the cause of just about anything, the Christian has committed the sin of “God of the gaps.”  Philosopher John Lennox explains the sin as follows: “the introduction of a god or God is an evidence of an intellectual laziness: we cannot explain something scientifically and so we introduce ‘God’ to cover our ignorance.”

Referring back to the previous blog post, is the supposition of Mr Ford as the cause of the motor car engine a “God of the gaps” move?  Lennox answers “no.”

Mr Ford is not to be found in the gaps in our knowledge about the workings of internal combustion engines.  More precisely, he is not to be found in any reason-giving explanations that concern mechanisms.  For Henry Ford is not a mechanism: he is no less than the agent who is responsible for the existence of the mechanism in the first place so that it all bears the marks of his handiwork – and that means the bits we do understand and the bits we don’t.

Bringing this point around to God, Lennox quotes philosopher Richard Swinburne.

Note that I am not postulating a ‘God of the gaps,’ a god merely to explain the things that science has not yet explained.  I am postulating a God to explain why science explains; I do not deny that science explains, but I postulate God to explain why science explains.  The very success of science in showing us how deeply ordered the natural world is provides strong grounds for believing that there is an even deeper cause for that order.

Science can explain what science can explain.  As we’ve developed previously on this blog, science is a limited enterprise that can give us knowledge about recurring physical mechanisms and physical events that occurred in the past.  To press science beyond these realms is folly.

Lennox concludes with these words:

The point to grasp here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.  It is important to stress this because influential authors such as Richard Dawkins will insist on conceiving of God as an explanatory alternative to science – an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth.  Dawkins is therefore tilting at a windmill – dismissing a concept of God that no serious thinker believes in anyway.

  • Todd

    “The point to grasp here is that, because God is not an alternative to science as an explanation, he is not to be understood merely as a God of the gaps. On the contrary, he is the ground of all explanation: it is his existence which gives rise to the very possibility of explanation, scientific or otherwise.”

    Foregoing that there is no proof of god, by what authority does Lennox claim that god has the special attribute to be “the ground of all explanation”?

    It seems to me, the conclusion here is doing exactly what the title of the post suggests, filling the gaps of “all explanation” with god.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “It is important to stress this because influential authors such as Richard Dawkins will insist on conceiving of God as an explanatory alternative to science – an idea that is nowhere to be found in theological reflection of any depth. Dawkins is therefore tilting at a windmill – dismissing a concept of God that no serious thinker believes in anyway.”

    To be fair to Professor Dawkins, he is continually having to deal with people saying “Science can’t explain how life began, so it must have been God”, or “Science can’t account for how a bacterium flagellum came about through natural processes, so it must have been God.”.

    I’m glad though that Lennox dismisses such arguments as lacking theological reflection of any depth. It nevertheless remains an argument that Dawkins has to deal with. I’d be interested to hear what arguments Lennox DOES think are theologically deep.

  • Anonymous

    Bill: can you define the term ‘explanation’ for me?

  • Nothing mysterious, so I’ll just lift the definition of “explain” out of the dictionary: to make clear the cause or reason of; account for.