The other day I unwittingly fell into the ‘this is all there is’ trap. Also known as the ‘all the facts are in’ or ‘stagnant truth’ traps. While defending evolution to a friend, I was forced to admit that the theory has developed over time. Of course it has. And yet I felt a stubborn (and ironic) urge to act as though evolutionary theory were an immovable and unchanging set of facts, when hardly anything in science is. Science is discovery and discovery cannot be stagnant. Discovery, by its very nature, demands dynamism. I would submit that the same may be said of faith. But there are two arguments which I’ve used to dig my heels in, and which I’ve seen both Christians and skeptics use as well.
God of the Gaps
Some Christians appeal to a hypothetheory, most commonly known as the ‘god of the gaps.’ The argument posits that science provides one view of the world, explaining sickness, engineering, modern medicine, environmental phenomena, and many other things. But there are still many holes–gaps in the fabric of what science can explain, which are taken as evidence that god must exist.
God stands in the gap between our understanding of the natural world and its complete reality. Or, in the words of Bill O’Reilly, “You can’t explain that!” (Ironically, the notion of a ‘god of the gaps’ was originally invented by Christian theologians to illustrate the primary flaw in teleological arguments for god’s existence.)
I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why the failure of Hypothesis B does not serve as credible evidence in favor of Hypothesis A; or why a lack visible cables does not proove that Keanu Reeves can indeed fly.
Over the course of human history we have seen scientific gaps diminish in both size and number. Everything from heliocentrism, to germ theory, to evolution seemingly conspire to ‘push god from the room.’ Still, in primary and secondary school I was fed the line that “there are some things science just can’t explain” with the inference that I was to take this as comfort that there was ‘room’ for god in the modern world. As though any glimmer of shining ignorance was the light of god flooding in.
I don’t believe scientific explanations abrogate hypothetical deities any more than the subtle and precise engineering of a car negates the existence of the driver. But if god can only be found in light of ignorance, than the faithful truly inhabit an ever-darkening world.
‘Proof’ in the Lack
On the other hand, there is a similar idea that I find floating around on the skeptic forums, only instead of focusing on the gaps in science, it stands in awe of the greater tapestry and says, “This must be it!” I don’t even know how many times I’ve heard people say things like, “There is no evidence for god, therefore he must not exist.”
My first problem with this assertion is it imposes an empiricist value-metric on a position of faith, which ultimately, does not claim to be based on ‘proof’ at all. Secondly, there are many ideas in science for which there is no ‘proof,’ but which we accept as possible or even probable (this is how scientists understood the Higgs Boson until July, 2012). “But even those things for which we haven’t ‘proof’ may be indicated by the observation of their effects!” True; and incidentally this is also what many Christians say of god. My primary quibble with this mindset, however, is its reliance on the trap I described at the beginning. All the evidence is not in. Discovery must be dynamic–open to grappling everything and anything that may arise. Just because we have not yet found it, does not mean it does not exist.
For some, the lack of empirical evidence for god leaves them living in the hope of its eventuality. For others the lack of evidence leaves them living within the confines of the currently available facts. I’m not sure where I live.
Related articles (of various perspectives):
- Evidence for God (godandscience.org)
- Modest Case for Atheism (new.exchristian.net)
- God Is Not a Science-Gap Filler (str.typepad.com)
- What Would Convince This Atheist To Believe? (gretachristina.typepad.com)