What is Apologetics?

Apologetics may be simply defined as the defense of the Christian faith. The word “apologetics” derives from the Greek word apologia, which was originally used as a speech of defense or an answer given in reply. In ancient Athens it referred to a defense made in the courtroom as part of the normal judicial procedure. After the accusation, the defendant was allowed to refute the charges with a defense or reply (apologia). The word appears 17 times in noun or verb form in the New Testament, and both the noun (apologia) and verb form (apologeomai) can be translated “defense” or “vindication” in every case.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Answering the "God of the Gaps" Argument from Atheists


Some of us have heard this illustration, but it bears worth repeating. It is around the Easter season and the pastor's children's sermon was before the choir special. This particular Sunday, the pastor had all the children seated in front of him, and asks them to guess what he is describing. "Children, I am thinking of a little furry animal with a fluffy tail, and long ears and hops around."  Little Johnny in the back of the group raises his hand and says, "Pastor, I'll bet the answer is a bunny rabbit, but I think the real answer is Jesus." This is because little Johnny has been taught that Jesus is the answer for 'everything.' A cute story, however we live in a culture where, for an increasing many, Jesus and the evidence of God existence is not an acceptable answer.

As it is with my opening illustration, a similar challenge is thrown down when Christians are conversing with atheists on the issues of faith and science or the question of intelligent design versus macro evolution. In those conversations, the atheist may throw down a question where the Christian's only answer is "God" to their vehemently skeptical inquisitor's question. The atheist then accuses the Christian for throwing down what they call "god of the gaps" and dismisses the answer. How does the Christian respond to this?

What is the God of the Gaps Argument?

The "God of the gaps" challenge seeks to push God out of the conversation, making the appeal for science being the answer for everything at least for their moment.

Even Neil DeGrasse Tyson thinks he has delivered a "knock out" blow to intelligent design with his revival of Carl Sagan's Cosmos television series. In a graphic I found, he is credited as saying, "if that's how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is the ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance that's getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time goes on."

Whether he said this or not, the statement shows a lot of "faith" in science. This is because, as we can see from the statement, that the "God of the gaps" argument seeks to push God out as being the first (uncaused) Cause and intelligent Designer, of the creation.

Stated another way, it is the "battle royal" between more science and less God on one side, versus more God and less science on the other. However I believe this should not be. Many of our first discoverers of scientific theories were believers in God's existence.[1] For us as thinking Christians, we love science, we believe that God is the God of the entire package.[2]

So for starters, allow me to take a quote from a science website with an evolutionary appeal which gives a good definition of the "god of the gaps," using that as a bases for pointing out some three problems in the definition. Here is the definition,

"God-of-the-gaps arguments use gaps in scientific explanation as indicators, or even proof, of God's action and therefore of God's existence. Such arguments propose divine acts in place of natural, scientific causes for phenomena that science cannot yet explain. The assumption is that science cannot explain how the action or existence of God is that it lacks the foresight of future scientific discoveries."[3]

As you read through this quote, it may be noticeable that I have highlighted some phrases that I believe are problematic and "break the back" of the argument as a whole.

A Response to the God of the Gaps Argument

In addressing the highlighted phrases, the first problem I see, is an honest one. In fact I don't wish to challenge the honesty of the definition, but I am impressed in the admission that there are "gaps in scientific explanation." Let me state right off that I agree with this, because there are things that science cannot explain using scientific methodology. In fact there are gaps that I foresee not being able to be filled in, because there is a naturalistic leaning to that which can only be tested in the natural world. There is something beyond this natural world that the scientific community seeks to eradicate.

The second problem is that there are things like natural causes and scientific causes for "phenomena that science cannot yet explain."  Well there are many, many, many things that science has yet to explain and most likely will not be able to explain. Many science revering atheists will say, "no but we will see science one day come up with a scientific explanation for morality and other things!" I have yet to hear of the scientific community coming up with scientific proof for the conscience and the origin for one's reasoning capacities.

The third problem comes in the accusation of the "god of the gaps" having a lack of "foresight of future scientific discoveries." Yes, there are some things that science has not discovered. But this part of the definition appears to be short sighted rather than an advocate for foresight. Foresight is ability to predict of what will happen in the future or be needed in the future.

In all honesty 60 years ago, who would have predicted putting a man in space, or landing him on the moon a decade later? Who had the foresight to study the DNA in order to see the beautiful design of a double stranded helix containing volumes upon volumes of information in a single cell, and showing the genetic make up of each individual, animal, fowl, fish, etc.? What about the "machinery" or mechanisms on how it all works inside? It wasn't until someone with a scientific vision and "God given" imagination stepped up and said, they were going to pursue finding out about the DNA worked and studied it.

What is the Problem with the God of the Gaps Challenge? 

The God of the gaps challenge makes a brute fact statement where if someone puts "God in the explanation as evidence" for something that they cannot explain using naturalistic reasons, there will be some scientific discovery (some day) coming to deliver the knock out blow and show God existence as an explanation. But there is a problem. . .

Science can only make scientific discoveries from naturalistic parameters. There are many complex organisms and mechanisms in the natural world that science can only dig so far in order to see how it all "works." But there is more that science cannot see, showing the irreducible complexity of many "machines" in the natural world.

Not too long ago, a colleague of mine and I had a cordial conversation with a professor at a local college. My colleague knows this professor and wanted to introduce me to him. On our first visit, we had a delightful conversation for over an hour, talking about Christians and atheists dialoguing in the marketplace of ideas, and the key proponents writing on evolutionary science versus those writing on intelligent design. It was a cordial conversation.

During that conversation I was quick to listen, and heard some of the professors honest admissions of science not having discovered various things. He was quick to note that he hopes that it will down the road. It was then I thought of this argument, "god of the gaps." I asked him if he had heard of it, and he said, "oh yes."

I reassured him that I was aware of it, and remarked that I heard him say a few times, "science will come up with discoveries eventually." I told him that he had 'faith' that science would figure things out. To my surprise, he didn't deny that though he did not like the word 'faith.' It was here that I moved to "level the playing field" by telling him this one thing I knew he was aware of. Many times  Christians get accused of committing the "god the gaps argument," I wanted him to make sure he did not commit the "science of the gaps argument" to defend his position."

That's what happens with this "God of the gaps" challenge from atheists. Atheists, for the most part, are oblivious to their "il qui s'excuse s'accuse"[4] approach to eradicating God out of the big picture, thinking that they have won the argument. But God is not just the God of faith, He is the same God who got created the laws of science, and gave man the ability to discover what he has thus far in human history to show us more about Himself.

So the next time you have someone accusing you of arguing from the "God of the gaps," remember there are many, and many, many things that show science and its laws being submissive to the One who created them. And it is an atheist's arguing from the "science of the gaps" in his attempt to run from the reality of the evidence of God's existence in the grand design of the creation.


[1] Here is a roll call of believing scientists throughout history:  Nicholas Copernicus (Solar System), James Clark Maxwell (Electrodynamics), Galileo Galilei (Astronomy), Michael Faraday (Electromagnetic Field Theory), Johannes Kepler (Planetary Motion) Lord Kelvin (Energetics), Issac Newton (Laws of Motion), Henri Fabre (Entomology), Joseph Lister (Antiseptic/Surgery), George Stokes (Fluid Mechanics), Louis Pasteur (Bacteriology), Sir William Herschel  (Galactic Astronomy), Roger Culver (Comparative Anatomy), Gregor Mendel (Genetics), Charles Babbage (Computer Science), Matthew Murray (Oceanography), Louis Rayleigh (Dimensional Analysis), and Ambrose Fleming (Electronics)

[2] See John Lennox' article at the Christian Post, "Not the God of the Gaps But the Whole Show" at http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-god-particle-not-the-god-of-the-gaps-but-the-whole-show-80307/.  You may be also interested in listening to John Lennox's talk entitled, "Has Science Buried God?" It can be found here:  http://mp3.li/index.php?q=Dr%20John%20Lennox%20-%20Has%20Science%20Buried%20God#.U0KrXl66JG8

[3] http://biologos.org/questions/god-of-the-gaps. http://wwwbiologos.org is a site which professes to endorse the historical Christian faith and scientific"evolution." I am not attacking the site, nor critiquing it. Being an individual who loves science and finds it beneficial, I am only using the definition for the purposes of this posting.

[4] French for "He who excuses himself, accuses himself."

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