What happens to the God of the Gaps when there are no more gaps?
Consider the jobs everyone knew God must handle back when the world’s great religions; Hinduism, the Abrahamic faiths, and Buddhism were being formulated. God made weather. Lightning bolts were expressions of his anger. He made the flat earth, and held up the giant bowl holding the sea it floated in. He kept the 7 domes of the heavens in suspension around the Earth and moved the Sun, Moon, planets and stars in their appointed rounds. He made the crops to grow in their appointed seasons and gave each earthly creature its unique nature.
Then Galileo and Copernicus showed that the Earth was not the center of the Universe or even the solar system. So God got it wrong in Genesis. But he still made the earth and planets and stars revolve; they just went around the Sun and not the Earth. That held untill Sir Isaac Newton worked out the Laws of gravity, and showed that no divine hand was required to move the heavenly bodies, they moved on paths that could be predicted with remarkable precision once one understood gravitational and centrifugal forces and Newtonian physics.
Of course, God was still responsible for all the diversity of life on Earth. Everyone knew the complexity we see in living things implied a designer. Something as marvelous as an eagle’s eye surely couldn’t have just happened by chance. They knew, that is, until Charles Darwin came along and demonstrated the mountain of evidence showing that natural selection, driving evolution, and not a heavenly designer, produced all the complexity here today.
So many gaps gone, but one remained. J. S. Haldane (physiologist and father of J. B. S. Haldane) wrote in 1932: “What intelligible account can the mechanistic theory of life give of the …recovery from disease and injuries? Simply none at all, except that these phenomena are so complex and strange that as yet we cannot understand them. It is exactly the same with the closely related phenomena of reproduction. We cannot by any stretch of the imagination conceive a delicate and complex mechanism which is capable, like a living organism, of reproducing itself indefinitely often.”
As Carl Sagan wrote in The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark: “Until the middle twentieth century, there had been a strong belief among theologians, philosophers and many biologists—that life was not “reducible” to the laws of physics and chemistry, that there was a “vital force,” an “entelechy,” a tao, a mana that made living things go. It “animated” life. It was impossible to see how mere atoms and molecules could account for the intricacy and elegance, the fitting of form to function, of a living thing. The world’s religions were invoked: God or the gods breathed life, soul-stuff, into inanimate matter. The eighteenth-century chemist Joseph Priestley tried to find the “vital force.” He weighed a mouse before and just after it died. If there is soul-stuff, evidently it weighs nothing—that is, it is not made of matter.”
It was not until the 1950s and 60s with the advances in the study of DNA and discovery of the genetic code that we really understood how inanimate, subatomic particles could organize themselves into atoms, and atoms into molecules, molecules into complex chemicals the like of the nucleic acids that are the stuff of life; and thus inanimate matter indeed could take on life and self replication without any entelechy breathed into it by God.
As to running the day to day affairs of man, we now know that effect predictably follows cause. There is no apparent hand of God reaching invisibly down from the sky to overrule the laws of the natural universe. We can run scientific studies on the efficacy of prayer, and when conducted in controlled, double-blind fashion, prayer either has no correlation to real-world outcomes, or a slightly negative correlation. About the only gap left is creating the Universe, then watching it run its course much like a watchmaker sitting back and admiring his finest timepiece without ever again touching it.
What if science proves that the Universe itself has been here in varying forms eternally. Then there is no gap left that requires a creator. What happens to God when all the gaps are filled? I think there are roles that belief in a supreme being can play without the believer having to reject scientific fact. What are such roles? When all the gaps are gone, and no god or gods are required to explain them, will it still be worthwhile to believe in a supreme deity?