Exposing PseudoAstronomy

November 9, 2009

Logical Fallacies: God of the Gaps


Introduction

I’ve wanted to do a series on logical fallacies for quite awhile. In general, I am going to use young-Earth creationist (YEC) arguments because, well, they commit a lot of them, despite Jason Lisle’s recent series on the Answers in Genesis website about fallacious arguing.

What is “God of the Gaps?”

The “God of the Gaps” argument is really just what it sounds like: It is a way to fill a gap in our knowledge with God.

Young-Earth Creationist Astronomy Example

Probably the most prolific use of the God of the Gaps fallacy in YEC arguments is that of the universe’s “first cause.” The YEC claim goes as follows: “Something must have caused the Big Bang. Astronomers don’t know what that was. It was God.” Or, substitute for that last sentence, “Why couldn’t it have been God?”

The answer is simple — it could have been. But it also may not have been. We now know what causes lightning. Three thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks did not, and they created an elaborate pantheon of gods where the King of the Gods, Zeus, was the one who threw lightning bolts to earth after they were made by his son, the god Hephaestus. They literally stuck not one, but two gods into that gap. Now that we know what causes lightning, I don’t think I’ve met any modern religious person who still claims that it is caused by a god.

Similarly, Apollo was once thought to draw the sun across the sky each day, since the ancient Greeks could not explain naturally why the sun seemed to cross the sky every day, only to return back where it was for the next. Today, we know why – because Earth rotates on its axis. That gap in human knowledge is no longer there.

The same could happen for the origin of the universe. Right now, we don’t know what happened to originate it. Many Christians – if not people from most religions around the world – use the God of the Gaps to fill that void in our knowledge with a divine creation. But we may in the future know what natural means caused the Big Bang. We may not. Regardless, to jump to the conclusion that God did it and we cannot know the mind of god or find a natural cause is to invoke this logical fallacy.

God of the Gaps: The Science-Stopper

Scientists, rational thinkers, and skeptics will often argue that the God of the Gaps fallacy is a “science-stopper.” I have seen Intelligent Design proponents and YECers argue that it is not, though I remain fairly unconvinced by their arguments.

The reason that this fallacy is a science-stopper is that once you say “God Did It,” you don’t have to go any further. If Benjamin Franklin followed the Greek pantheon and believed that lightning was simply Zeus throwing things ’cause he was mad, then what impetus would he have had to find out its true nature?

Using God as an answer simply gives you a supernatural answer. It doesn’t cause you to look for a deeper, natural explanation, but leaves you satisfied that it is beyond our understanding ’cause God Did It.

The Shrinking Role of God

Philosophically, if I were a believer in the divine, I don’t think I would care to use this fallacy, and that’s because of the ever-shrinking role of God. Each time someone uses the fallacy – that God is used to explain something – and then we are able to explain it in a purely naturalistic method, then God’s role has suddenly diminished, shrinking away from that claim.

Final Thoughts

The God of the Gaps fallacy is usually a pretty easy one to spot.

28 Comments »

  1. Then there is the other side of the debate…. “Time of the gaps”. Everything in evolution that can not be proven is then explained away with millions of years.

    Comment by mcoville — November 10, 2009 @ 7:37 am | Reply

  2. Mcoville, but time is not offered as an *explanation*. Time is a necessary component, in the same way oxygen is a necessary component to many chemical reactions. It’s a silly claim Hovind has put forward, explained to him why “time is your god” is not the reverse, and then he just barges on and repeats it, as if he never heard the counter argument.

    Why did x happen?

    I don’t know.

    Therefore god.

    Where did x feature come from?

    I don’t know. I hypothesize gene duplication and over time the duplicated gene mutated and took on a new function.

    Ho! Ho! Therefore time is your god!

    See, it doesn’t work. The key difference is the scientist offers an actual mechanism that is testable in many ways.

    Could you document a case where science uses time as a mechanism to explain some feature?

    Comment by Karl — November 10, 2009 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  3. I guess Mcoville can’t document a single case to support his claim. Typical.

    Comment by Karl — November 18, 2009 @ 6:24 am | Reply

  4. Yes but when people do you just ignore it. What’s the point!

    Comment by Generator — November 23, 2009 @ 5:44 am | Reply

  5. Generator, that’s not true at all. Could you document when I’ve done this?

    Comment by kamamer — November 27, 2009 @ 9:40 am | Reply

    • Is Karl Kamamer?

      Anyway quote

      ||True scientists are well aware of the recent ’strange’ (read unpredicted) behaviour of the magnetic field.||

      No they’re not. Prove me wrong. Karl

      Reply

      Karl read this.

      http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/16dec_giantbreach.htm

      Quote from ref “So, you can imagine our surprise when a northern IMF came along and shields went down instead,” says Sibeck. “This completely overturns our understanding of things.” Sturgess

      No response…

      It’s this sort of thing I’m talking about.

      Comment by Generator — November 30, 2009 @ 6:32 am | Reply

  6. It was obvious to most, except for you, that I was using a rhetorical trick to get you to actually document your claim. It worked. Your claim, if I recall, was then answered by Astrostu. I had nothing to add to his answer. It was not ignored.

    Next.

    Comment by Karl — November 30, 2009 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  7. Review:

    https://pseudoastro.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/planet-x-and-2012-the-pole-shift-magnetic-explained-and-debunked/

    You’ll see I commented on your link (I did not ignore it as you claim). Astrostu commented. Where is the “ignore” part in any of that?

    Comment by Karl — November 30, 2009 @ 10:54 am | Reply

  8. It has not dawned on Astrostu that extreme geomagnetic excursions MAY cause pole flips…. and that IS a problem considering our model for geomagnetic excursions is cleary wrong.

    As for Karls contribution ….. Blah Blah!

    Comment by Generator — December 1, 2009 @ 7:26 am | Reply

  9. Generator, you made a claim (when I ask for evidence or concrete examples, I customarily ignore it). Your example was demonstrated wholly wrong. Now you’re back trying to pick up another debate instead of admitting your error. Have you considered the charge that when you’re shown the error in your thinking, you have a habit of simply shifting the topic? That has not gone unnoticed.

    Comment by Karl — December 1, 2009 @ 8:27 am | Reply

  10. Sturgess made the statement

    “||True scientists are well aware of the recent ’strange’ (read unpredicted) behaviour of the magnetic field.||

    Karl said
    No they’re not. Prove me wrong. Karl”

    The reference provided proves you wrong. No topic shifting, just a simpe question. Why no reply to the scientific proof that you were wrong?? You may have replied but you do not address the scientific point i.e what’s the point in contributors providing references if you ignore them?

    Comment by Generator — December 2, 2009 @ 5:31 am | Reply

  11. Generator, I’ll try to make this clear.

    1. A claim was made without reference.

    2. I asked for a reference.

    3. The poster claimed no reference was needed as I was just trying to hide behind ‘give me a reference’

    4. A further claim was made “True scientists are well aware of the recent ’strange’ (read unpredicted) behaviour of the magnetic field.”

    5. I could have asked for a reference to that but I figured the poster would use the same dodge. So I phrased my call for a reference in the form of a challenge: True scientists are not aware of this. You can prove my claim wrong by showing me an example of a true scientist aware of the claim.

    6. You (or the poster) provided a reference to a scientist aware of the claim.

    7. I then thanked you for attempting to back up your claim.

    Stu went on to comment on your reference. I had nothing to add.

    Clear? Your claim I ignore evidence when asked for it is still wholly, demonstrably wrong.

    Comment by Karl — December 2, 2009 @ 9:46 am | Reply

  12. 6. The poster provided a reference to a scientist aware of the claim.

    7. I then thanked you for attempting to back up your claim.

    Stu went on to comment on your reference. I had nothing to add.

    Indeed you didn’t. So try not to get involved with the scientific discussions. You clearly have nothing to add.

    Comment by Generator — December 3, 2009 @ 4:51 am | Reply

    • Generator, your claim was blown out of the water and you’re back with a silly insult.

      Comment by Karl — December 4, 2009 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  13. “your claim was blown out of the water ”

    The poster provided a reference to a scientist aware of the claim.

    Respond to the reference. It’s quite a straightforward request.

    Comment by Generator — December 5, 2009 @ 5:44 am | Reply

    • Please stop digging yourself a deeper hole.

      Comment by Karl — December 8, 2009 @ 6:44 am | Reply

  14. July 31, 2009

    “What Is Science, Its Purpose, and Its Method?
    Now, hopefully I’m stating the obvious, but “dogma” and “science” are not equivalent.
    Theories and the scientific method is a process that requires evidence to support it, and no evidence to the contrary.”

    Is this site for real?

    Comment by Steve — December 9, 2009 @ 5:27 am | Reply

  15. It is a pity that the discussion above is lacking in useful point. Here’s a few that I have encountered whilst receiving my education in this wonderful world.
    One, many Greek philosophers rejected the theory of “lightning bolts = gods” and similar, proposing atheism about 600 BC. Surely your argument above implies that this position was adopted before the evidence was available. At the very least this shows that it is not just ‘believers’ who proceed on this basis then.
    Two, several Hebrew prophets rejected the idea of a pantheon of gods, on the basis of revelation, and were explicit about saying so. They mocked the idol makers and asserted that the world ran according to rules instituted by God. They fought superstitions because of their belief in only one God, and his rationality and character, as well as maintaining his right to intervene in his physical creation on occasion.
    Three, it has become a truism, since several atheist or strongly non-Christian authors pointed it out in the 20th Century, that a Christian world view was the crucial driver needed for modern science to emerge out of medieval and renaissance Europe. It was the prophets’ assertion of a reasonable God that inspired them. It is easy to quote Bacon, Galileo and Newton, to name just three, who state that their faith inspired their science. “God did it, but how?” seems exemplify their approach.
    Four, given that the nature of the universe is characterised by a requirement for an effect to have a cause, many thinkers proposed an infinite regression into the past to avoid the need for a first cause. They needed an infinitely old universe to be comfortable in. This resulted in a strong presumption on the part of rationalist or materialists for an infinitely old universe, and so the ‘Big Bang’ was opposed (in the 1950’s by Fred Hoyle amongst others, I believe) simply because of it’s implications philosophically. It is a little rich to suggest that the Big Bang has been brought forward by God of Gaps proponents, or to deny them the obvious implication, that a first cause is evident, which does not display the ’cause and effect’ dependencies evident in our universe. If materialists have an evidenced alternative, if not, the hole is there and well defined.
    In evidence of that last point, it is also intriguing that careers are being hung on the pursuit of ‘multi-verses’. I am informed by more talented men than me, that the only theories that look encouraging require a fine tuning and complexity that makes and Anthropic Principle pale by comparison. The complete lack of evidence for alternative universes points up the highly philosophic drive to fill this hole. It arises from considerations outside of the hypothesis-experiment-theory loop, that can’t be falsified either.

    Comment by Matthew Wright — July 16, 2011 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

  16. Reasoning is contextual.

    Comment by Mick — July 18, 2011 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  17. Yes, and it is a selective context to support a logical fallacy – that is, science is by necessity is naturalistic.Historically, at the very least, that is just no so.

    Comment by Matthew Wright — July 18, 2011 @ 1:39 pm | Reply

    • Sorry Mick, if you’re making the point that reasoning is always reliant on it’s context, in what contexts would your statement be true, and in which contexts would it be false?

      Comment by Matthew Wright — July 18, 2011 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

  18. It would be false in all contexts as every context would consider their reasoning to be true.

    Comment by Mick — July 19, 2011 @ 2:44 am | Reply

  19. I repeat, in what context would your statement above hold?

    Comment by Matthew Wright — July 19, 2011 @ 3:51 am | Reply

  20. Let’s just say in this context, reason is not contextual, but absolute, shall we? Be careful with ‘universal acids’, the tend to dissolve the jar their kept in😉

    Comment by Matthew Wright — July 19, 2011 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  21. apologies for the spelling ! they’re!!

    Comment by Matthew Wright — July 19, 2011 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  22. That ‘seems’ reasonable.

    Comment by Mick — July 19, 2011 @ 9:21 am | Reply

  23. […] read something other than the bible or Spike Psarris. But, I suppose when you’re content with a god of the gaps outlook on everything in life, actually learning something new is not […]

    Pingback by Mercury’s Uniqueness Revealed by MESSENGER: Does It Mean a Recent Creation? « Exposing PseudoAstronomy — August 7, 2011 @ 11:20 pm | Reply

  24. […] accept their false dichotomy, accept their premise that science is wrong, and therefore embrace a god of the gaps and think that their view that they haven’t actually promoted in that article/’cast is […]

    Pingback by Propagating Science Versus Propagating Anti-Science « Exposing PseudoAstronomy — August 11, 2011 @ 11:27 pm | Reply


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