Atheists regularly accuse Christians of inventing a ‘god of the gaps’ in their argument for a divine creator. A ‘god of the gaps’ argument arises when superstitious, unscientific people invent an imaginary god to explain things that they have no scientific understanding of. For example, a primitive people group may see a rainbow in the sky and, because they don’t understand about light refraction, come to believe in rainbow fairies. Or they may believe that thunder is the angry bellowing of a thunder god who is displeased with them.
Atheists claim that the Christian belief in a divine creator is similarly naïve and superstitious, plugging the gap of our missing scientific knowledge with a convenient imaginary god to explain what we do not yet understand. They claim that just because scientists don’t currently understand how the universe came into existence from nothing or how the 3.2 billion pieces of genetic information in our genome evolved by chance processes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a scientific explanation that we will one day discover. They claim that when Christians point to these and MANY other scientific conundrums and use them as evidence for the existence of a creator God, we are inventing a god of the gaps. In a recent online discussion that I had with an atheist, he accused me of this very thing, also calling me some rather disgusting names in the process. Lovely!
Christian creationists do not believe in a god of the gaps, but a God of absolute necessity. Creationists only point to a divine Creator when the laws of science themselves point us unequivocally in that direction. And while there will always be an important faith element to belief in God, the creationist argument for God’s existence arises directly from a proper understanding of the laws of science, not because of ignorance of those laws.
The origin of the universe is a case in point.
Cosmologists are now almost universal in their agreement that the physical universe came into existence from nothing, at the very beginning. Dr Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018), in a lecture published on his website, stated: “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology.”
Similarly, Dr Quentin Smith, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, in a debate with William Lane Craig a few years ago, stated: “The universe came from nothing, by nothing for nothing.”
But this poses a huge problem for atheists. How can something come from nothing? It defies the laws of physics – for example, the three laws of thermodynamics, for a start! Every event in the physical universe must have a physical cause; this is a fundamental law of science. But if the physical universe itself somehow popped into existence, its cause must, logically, be separate from and outside of the physical universe. It is precisely our understanding of the laws of science that leads creationists to believe in a supernatural creator – a creator who exists OUTSIDE the bounds of the physical universe and who brought that physical universe into existence. This belief is not naïve and superstitious; it is logical and scientific.
On the other hand, the atheistic argument is: ‘We don’t yet understand how the universe could have created itself, but there must be some special law of science that we haven’t yet discovered which made this possible’. But this is, itself, a ‘god of the gaps’ theory. It is appealing to a kind of mystical, as-yet-undiscovered law that will one day explain everything.
In attempting to explain the mysterious creation of the universe, I have heard atheists propose all sorts of preposterous and unscientific theories, including: aliens created the universe (but who created them?), our future selves created it (but who created us?), mysterious, as-yet-undiscovered quantum energies created it (but where did THEY come from?), etc. When it comes to explaining the origin of the universe, it is the atheists who are resorting to unscientific ‘god of the gaps’ reasoning, not creationists.
This god of the gaps reasoning is not limited to the creation of the universe. The same naïve hopefulness is evident in the atheistic explanation of a large number of scientific conundrums that now threaten the theory of evolution.
Take, for example, the mounting scientific evidence for the impossibility of the first living cell coming into existence by chance processes (see my books, “No More Monkey Business: Evolution in Crisis” and “7 Reasons to Believe”). It is the inability of science to propose a means by which the living cell could have evolved by chance that led one of the world’s leading atheists, Antony Flew, to renounce his previous atheism and repudiate his previously published book, “There Is No God”, and publish his new book, “There Is A God.”
Flew used hard science to point out that the supposed evolution of the living cell defies the laws of thermodynamics and other known laws, as does the supposed evolution of our incredibly complex DNA. So how do evolutionists explain these conundrums?
Noted atheist, Richard Dawkins, commented: “We have no evidence about what the first step in making life was, but we do know the kind of step it must have been. It must have been whatever it took to get natural selection started . . . by some process as yet unknown.” (Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York: Free Press, 2009), p.419).
This is classic god of the gaps reasoning. There is a huge gap in evolution’s explanation for the origin of life, and yet Dawkins and many others invoke the god of evolution, which they believe must have somehow operated in contravention to the currently known laws of science. When confronted with evolution’s contravention of the known and tested laws of science, Dawkins and other atheists appeal to a kind of mystical, as yet unknown, law of science which will one day come to their rescue and explain the origin of life. Effectively, they are saying, ‘there must be some other law which we haven’t discovered yet, and we are placing our trust in that unseen, undiscovered law.’
How is that not a ‘god of the gaps’ explanation?
As a Christian and a creationist, I believe that the KNOWN laws of science point us irrevocably to a supernatural Creator. I hold this view in the company of many great scientists throughout history: Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Nicolas Copernicus, Louis Pasteur, Robert Boyle, Max Planck, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, William Kelvin, Alexander Fleming, Nikola Tesla, and others. These were all people of great faith who believed that the laws of science led them towards a belief in God, not away from it.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, social commentator and Anglican minister. He is the author of 16 books, and his latest, “Reconnecting with God”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net.