Is a "god of the gaps" at the root of Intelligent Design (ID) and creation science? This informal logical fallacy occurs when a given mystery (or gap) that science has not solved is "explained" with reference to divine activity: "God just made it work out, somehow," some theists might say.
For example, science cannot yet fundamentally explain why atomic nuclei, packed with positively charged and repelling protons, do not fly apart. "God of the gaps" reasoning would posit that God simply holds them together. The standard model of particle physics, in contrast, holds that an enigmatic "nuclear force" keeps them together. (But this also seems faith-based--perhaps using a "nature of the gaps" concept.) If, however, a new property or model of atoms is found that can explain this atomic cohesion, then invoking either the divine or some natural force to fill in "the gap" will become unnecessary.
Contrary to the claims of ideological naturalists, "god of the gaps" thinking does not characterize the central tenets of either ID or creation science. ID specializes in detecting design, just like archaeologists and forensics scientists, who carefully examine artifacts or events to determine whether they were manufactured non-naturally. ID researchers likewise infer a designer from the observation of purposefully placed patterns.
For example, after studying a bi-directionally rotating molecular machine like ATP synthase--complete with a stator, anchor, axle, and rocking cams--ID scientists do not conclude that "God must have made it because we want to believe in a God." Rather, they reason that an intelligent entity, though left undefined, must have crafted it precisely because of the inference from machine to machinist: "So we infer design on the basis of what we know rather than what we don't know."1
Creation scientists do not use "god of the gaps" reasoning either. Their approach is somewhat the opposite. They begin with Scripture as a reliable source of historical, scientific, and theological information. Then, they endeavor to fill in the missing pieces by using either inductive origin science or deductive empirical science.
When critics mistakenly assume that creator-friendly views use the "god of the gaps" fallacy, it leads them to impose another faulty accusation. They maintain that the "God did it" mentality stifles motivation for meaningful scientific inquiry. Science Historian at Cornell University Will Provine "described intelligent design as an 'utterly boring' theory, one that offers the 'same answer for every irreducible mechanism.'"2 And since science can't be done without an innate curiosity, they reason, creationists are not actually scientists.
However, this reasoning rests upon the prior faulty assumption that ID and creation science use "god of the gaps" thinking, and it ignores real history. Since ID advocates focus on probing objective evidence for intelligence, and since creation scientists work to fill gaps in scriptural knowledge with scientific investigation, then neither group is using the "god of the gaps." Rather, both are quite interested in science.
In fact, it was the intense scientific interests of creationists that gave birth to modern science in the 18th and 19th centuries, establishing the major disciplines still in use today. If any discipline is to be considered invalid because it is too boring or because it infers design, then by the same logic archaeology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence are likewise invalidated.
As mentioned above, many of the same critics who swing the "god of the gaps" club at their ideological competitors, nonetheless take refuge in their own "nature of the gaps" reasoning. Nature is assumed, for example, to have spontaneously generated matter from nothing; atoms, galaxies, stars, and planets from an explosion; and life from non-living soup. Well-educated people, wise enough to include the Creator in their thinking, need not fear the specious accusation that they are relying on the "god of the gaps."
- Dembski, W. and S. Mcdowell. 2008. Understanding Intelligent Design. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 98.
- Provine Talks on Intelligent Design Debate. Cornell Daily Sun, October 25, 2005. Accessed online September 23, 2008.
- Morris, H. 1982. Bible-Believing Scientists of the Past. Acts & Facts. 11 (1).
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer.
Cite this article: Thomas, B. 2008. The Gaps in "The God of the Gaps." Acts & Facts. 37 (11): 15.