The God-of-the-Gaps Objection
By Andrew T. Loke
It has often been objected by sceptics that the arguments for the existence of God are god-of-the-gaps arguments and that their conclusion is based on ignorance. When ancient people did not understand certain natural phenomena (such as thunder), they thought that these are caused by the gods (e.g., Thor). As scientific understanding progresses, such religious explanations are replaced by scientific ones. Haught (2004, p. 238) notes that the problem with ‘God of the gaps’ explanations is that they appeal to God ‘at a point in inquiry when there is still plenty of room for further scientific elucidation.’ Therefore, it might be objected that the fine-tuning argument (for example) is based on current science which might be explained away eventually by a naturalistic answer with the progress of science (Loeb 2014). Carrier claims that ‘scientists have consistently found physical explanations for every phenomenon they have been able to thoroughly examine …. There is not a single instance on record of any fact that has been thoroughly examined by scientists that turned out to have no identifiable physical origin’ (Carrier 2003).
While the god-of-the-gaps objection might be valid against certain theistic arguments, they are not valid against others. For example, they are not valid against the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). The conclusion of the KCA is not based on ignorance. Rather, it is based on reasons. The argument is not ‘because we still do not know how to explain the origin of the universe, therefore there is a Creator.’ Rather, the argument is because there are reasons (explained in my book The Teleological and Kalām Cosmological Arguments Revisited [Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2022]) for thinking that an actual infinite causal regress and a closed causal loop is not the case, therefore there is a First Cause. It is because there are reasons for thinking that whatever begins to exist has a cause, therefore this First Cause is beginningless. The rest of the properties of this First Cause are likewise derived on the basis of reasons rather than ignorance, and they indicate that the First Cause is a personal Creator. Moreover, as explained in my book, each step of the argument is strictly deductive in nature, for which no alternative explanation is possible, whereas a ‘god of the gaps’ explanation is one on which it is at least possible in principle that some nondivine explanation might be correct’ (Feser 2017, p. 271). While the progress of science would generate newer understandings of the laws of nature as explanations for the phenomena we observe, as shown by the KCA the progress of science would not replace a First Cause (Creator) as an explanation for the existence of all things, including the laws of nature themselves which must have come from this First Cause.
Concerning the Teleological Argument, one might attempt to explain away design (using science or otherwise) by appealing to alternative explanations. However, where the mathematical order and fine tuning is concerned, I demonstrate in my book that all the possible alternative explanations (chance, regularity, combinations of chance and regularity, uncaused) would fail as ultimate explanations for these phenomena. Ratzsch and Koperski (2019) note that ‘evidence of design in nature does not automatically imply gaps. Design built or “front-loaded” into nature from the very beginning would require no further interventions within the historical flow of nature and therefore no gaps.’
Sceptics might object that an infinite regress of causes/events is possible in which there is no beginning for design to be front-loaded into.
In response, first, my book demonstrates that the KCA can be used to strengthen the Teleological Argument by demonstrating that an infinite regress of causes/events is not the case and thus there is a first event, and that this first event cannot have been brought about by a regular/natural/mechanistic/scientific process but by an act of libertarian freedom of the First Cause.
Second, the sceptic’s claim still does not answer the question how it could be the case that unthinking, mindless things accord with natural laws (Frederick 2013, pp. 272-3) describable by mathematical equations (e.g. Schrodinger equation, Dirac equation, etc.), such as the highly intricate order of quantum mechanics which scientists observe from moment to moment.
Leslie (1989) asks us to consider a hypothetical scenario in which ‘particles regularly formed long chains which spelled out ‘GOD CREATED THE UNIVERSE’, this then being shown to result inevitably from basic physics’ (p. 109). It would be unconvincing to object that this is not evidence of design by claiming that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary and are brute facts or that this is the only universe that we have observed. It is likewise unconvincing to object that our fine-tuned and highly ordered universe is not evidence of design by claiming that the laws of nature are metaphysically necessary and are brute facts or that this is the only universe that we have observed.
While the science concerning fine tuning will be updated in the future, with regards to whatever scientists discover (e.g., a new law of nature), it can still be asked where did that come from or why did that (law of nature) exist such that the science concerning fine tuning is the way it is. The basic logical form of the KCA-TA would still remain, and no matter what scientists discover in the future there must still be a First Cause for what scientists discover, and based on the deduction of the KCA-Teleological Argument (TA), the First Cause must have libertarian freedom and intelligence (i.e., a Creator).
Therefore, while the progress of science would generate new theories to explain various aspects of the physical world, it would not replace the First Cause (Creator) as the ultimate explanation for why the physical world exists in the first place, as demonstrated by the KCA-TA. Thus, the conclusion of KCA-TA cannot in principle be overturned by future scientific discoveries. Rather, future discoveries would only enhance our understanding of the wisdom of the Creator through understanding the laws which He had created.
*The above contents are extracted from Andrew Loke, The Teleological and Kalām Cosmological Arguments Revisited [Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2022]. For details, please check out the book which is open access and can be freely downloaded here.
— Andrew T. Loke (PhD, King’s College London) is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University. He is the author of God and Ultimate Origins (Springer Nature), Ultimate Design (Springer Nature, forthcoming), The Origins of Divine Christology (Cambridge University Press), A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation (Routledge), and Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Routledge). In addition, he has published articles in leading international peer-reviewed journals such as Religious Studies (Cambridge University Press) and Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford University Press).