General Question

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

In your own words, what does the term "God of the gaps" mean?

Asked by NaturalMineralWater (11267 points ) January 28th, 2009

I’d like to hear what the collective thinks instead of what they can link to. =D

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58 Answers

Vinifera7's avatar

As I understand it, the term “God of the gaps” refers to the dwindling influence of a god concept as new scientific discoveries are achieved.

It could also allude to the “argument from incredulity” logical fallacy, since some theists will assert that their god exists everywhere that science can’t explain. For example, we don’t yet know exactly how the origin of life occurred, therefore god had some influence there.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Vinifera7 do you think that science will make it less and less logical to have a belief in God over time? Or do you think that the reverse is true?

Vinifera7's avatar

It’s hard to say. Given the popular god concepts now, it is almost certain that scientific discoveries will make them obsolete due to contradictory evidence. However in time other god concepts will probably arise.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Interesting. Well either way we’re headed for an answer on the subject. =) I tend to believe that science is in for some real “the earth is flat” moments ahead. But of course that’s where things always get fuzzy.. when we’re talking about beliefs. =D

Noon's avatar

For me the “god of the gaps” is the desperation of theists to fill the unknowns of science with their god, and attempt to discredit the scientific knowledge we do have. The problem is that the gaps are closing up, and theists are forced to move their gods out of the now filled gap and into whats left.

What most don’t want to admit is that as the gaps continue to close up, the definition of god is forced to change in order to fit in the remaining gaps. Take the evolution example. Before we had a good understanding of natural selection, god sat very nicely as our creator. Now that, for the most part, people recognize evolution as fact (if you don’t, please do pick up a book). god is now moved out of that gap, and redefined as the one who began single celled life which eventually begot us. That is until we discover more and more about the instant of life.

For me the “god of the gaps” is akin to a sailor clinging onto a piece of flotsam claiming he’s still on the ship.

As for the flat earth dig ;-) Sure science has plenty of “flat earth” moments yet to come. But they will learn from them and reevaluate, and probably make huge discoveries because of them. And the faithful will be left with yet another gap filled.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Noon at least you leave no room for doubt on your position xD Which book would you suggest I read that shuts all doors on creation in favor of strictly evolution? And how is it that you think for the most part people recognize it as fact? Based on the number of self proclaimed anti-evolution religious people in the world I’d say that’s statistically inaccurate.. but of course I don’t know for sure.. I don’t have the stats in front of me.

nebule's avatar

@Noon What saddens me is that this phrase (which i have only come across today) seems to detach God from science as i would imagine most “scientists” do. Why can it not be possible for God to be intrinsic in evolution. Just because evolution in your book has been proven it doesn’t necessarily mean that God had nothing to do with it. God gave humans free will. As Humans do we not evolve throughout our life gaining wisdom and learning from our mistakes, discovering the best way to achieve things, seeking a life partner that will compliment us and create offspring, offspring that will be the fittest in order to survive and…evolve…. Isn’t this evolution on a smaller scale… Why can the origins of evolution not be found in God?

discover's avatar

I think it means God only can fill the gaps in our lives. There are some things money can buy, for all other things you need to run to God.

thecall's avatar

God of gaps: It means some things we cannot explain scientifically. Some things baffle us. Such as a miracle, or some aspect which cannot be supported by a scientific explanation. Only God can be attributed to such things.

I feel there are many things science cannot explain. Like how time+microorganisms=a human being

miasmom's avatar

@noon I don’t think most people recognize the evolution your talking about as fact. I think creatures are evolving, but what are the chances that every living creature evolved from a single cell? Highly unlikely.

Critter38's avatar

I am under the impression that God of the gaps was originally coined by the religious, out of concern that that is what god would become due to the increasing dominance of science.

Today I think most mean it as the tendency for some religious folk to claim the domain of god in those places wherever science has not yet reached.

Great talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson on this very point.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-102519600994873365

@lynneblundell Evolution has reached the highest point of acceptance in science, the point of conscilience. Multiple strands of independent scientific inquiry lead back to the same point of agreement, that evolution is verwhelmingly supported by all the empirical evidence.

Nevertheless, you are correct. God/gods/fairies could easily be a part of evolution. The problem is that god in this case is superfluous. But if you want a god in the evolution story you’re welcome to pencil one in. Lots of people do, they just can’t support the argument with science.

@thecall Actually lots of things other than god can be ascribed to things we don’t understand.

@miasmom Evolution is likely to have begun prior to a cell being formed…at least any cell we are familiar with. And we are honestly not certain whether life originated several times or not…and even how to draw the line at what is life if we go back far enough. It all comes back to organic chemistry somewhere along the line. All we can say is that the current evidence points to a single ancestor for the lifeforms we see today due to their use of consistent genetic coding (DNA and RNA).

In terms of noon’s comments. Once again, whether or not “most people” agree with noon or not is irrelevant in science. Science doesn’t work on popularity, it works on evidence, and the evidence is ALL in evolutions favour. I think the last first world country which has a problem amongst the general populace with evolution is the U.S., and their problem has nothing to do with evidence, it is purely ideological.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

God created everything in the beginning. Then, as man got smarter at figuring stuff out and relied less on using superstitious explanations for things, Suddenly God had less to do. God found himself in the unemployment line when science proved that he didn’t make the rain, or the wind blow, or flowers to bloom or anything that occurs naturally. Soon God had nothing else to do but answer the prayers of the faithful, twiddle his almighty thumbs and inspire televangelists to steal the life savings of little old ladies so the televangelist could build a three story air conditioned penthouse style doggie condo for his pet poodle.

And as my added bonus answer (I know you didn’t ask, but I’m on a roll here) Heaven was in the clouds until mankind invented jet planes, so Heaven was moved to another dimension. Since Time is the fourth dimension, Heaven went to the next one, the 5th Dimension, and that’s why the angels hear R&B, soul and jazz playing in the background.

nebule's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra what a positive outlook you have!

@Critter38 could this “single ancestor” be God then?

Critter38's avatar

One way to think about the unknown is that anything your imagination can come up with can be adjusted to fill a gap. There is no limit to that which can be explained with a little creative thinking.There is not limit to what is “possible” for a creative mind.

The problem is that because what is possible and what we can imagine is so unlimited, there are infinitely more ways of being wrong than there are of being right. Being right requires going outside ourselves and examining nature.

So frankly the only information we gain when someone fills a gap with god, is information about the person’s world view. We don’t learn anything about the gap. We don’t gain any knowledge by filling it with what we want to be there, we learn about the gap by filling it the difficult way, through observation and experimentation.

So for instance, if you like the idea of the single ancestor being god, then I learn that you want god to be a part of the picture. I learn about you (and that’s nice). But I learn nothing about the qualities of a common ancestor.

fireside's avatar

Cool, so science is helping us to discover more about God.
Works for me.

My other answer to this question would be that i always though Evel Knievel was the God of the Gaps

Introverted_Leo's avatar

I think the phrase “God of the gaps” is rather silly, especially if you believe in God. God would not only be the “God of the gaps” but “God of the known,” of all that exists. That’s doesn’t mean to say He created things like cars and space ships (because man obviously built those things), but you could attribute the basic building blocks of all of creations back to God. In addition to “God the Creator” you could also view Him as “God the catalyst”—he sets things in motion but is never changed by the results.

cdwccrn's avatar

I have never heard that expression before. Being a person of faith, I do not reject science, but embrace it as knowledge that help me understand the world in which I live. God gave us our brains. God gave us the sciences. God is in the gaps and in that which is not a gap.

Bri_L's avatar

@cdwccrn – cheers!

cdwccrn's avatar

Thanks.

miasmom's avatar

@Critter38 when you say a single ancestor, do you mean Adam and Eve?

fireside's avatar

I think that if we are talking about biblical personages being the single ancestor, then we should assume Noah.

@Introverted_Leo – GA

Vinifera7's avatar

Let me make something clear for people including @discover and @thecall: “God of the gaps” is usually used to ridicule theism, not to support it. You’re using the term in a way that is an argument from incredulity. You’re saying because you don’t understand how science can explain whatever (let’s say the evolution of species), then god must have done it. Unfortunately for you, that’s not an explanation. You’re answering a “mystery” with a mystery.

Let me also clarify for @lynneblundell (and for the benefit of others as well) that the scientific theory of evolution refers to the evolution of species in which species are evolving, not individual organisms. An individual does not “evolve” over the course of its lifetime in the same sense as what the theory models. That’s just ignorance on your part.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

I like how whenever a religious question is brought up, so is evolution—as if they’re not compatible. :P

Anyways, for people who might want a better understanding of where the facts of evolution end and the theory picks up, this site from PBS does a pretty good job of presenting the evidences and theory. I don’t know what they’re teaching in school (I suppose b/c I never took biology) and why there are so many misconceptions about it, but I found this site to be really helpful for my own personal understanding.

Vinifera7's avatar

At least with fundamentalist Christianity, evolution is not compatable.

For more information on the theory of evolution and hypotheses about the origin of life, visit Talk Origins

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Technically, religion and science aren’t compatible, and the reason why is easy. Science deals with evidence, and it deals with things that can be tested. Religion on the other hand, allows the possibility of magic and/or the supernatural. Such things cannot be tested by the scientific process. If we allow the supernatural to be included in the scientific process, we might as well just throw the results out the window. We’ll just figure out the parts we know and the parts we don’t know, well, we can just resign ourselves to the argument that god did it.

I have no problem with religion per se, I just think it has no place in science. I have heard theists say they belief that microevolution is true, but cannot accept macroevolution. That’s okay. I accept the concept of fairies in the garden, but I cannot accept the concept of gods in the world. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? So does their argument.

Vinifera7's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra
Good answer.

A better analogy to accepting microevolution but not macroevolution (Note, both terms are used by Creationists to draw a distinction that doesn’t exist. The actual scientific term for both is speciation.) would be that it’s possible to walk 10ft by taking one step at a time, but it’s not possible to walk a mile.

fireside's avatar

I guess the distance you can walk is probably determined by the size of the room you are in.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

To be clear, I was actually referring to the compatibility between religion and evolution, not religion and science. But the compatibility between science and religion remains a highly debatable and never-ending topic and has been for ages, so I won’t get into that here for the sake of trying not to veer (too much) away from the original topic (because this will undoubtably spawn into something ridiculously drawn out and unrelated).

But to get back to the original question… @NaturalMineralWater: in your opinion, what does “God of the Gaps” mean? I’m curious as to why you asked this question.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Introverted_Leo I always thought of it in very simple terms. There are gaps in scientific knowledge. Some would say God fills those gaps. I brought it up because someone asked about Occam’s Razor and I began to wonder which of the two answers would qualify in this case. Which is the simple answer? Does God actually fill all the gaps and everything else too? Or is the simple answer that science just hasn’t filled the gaps yet?

Critter38's avatar

@miasmom No. What you are referring to are two characters which are part of a popular creation myth which likely began somewhere in the middle east approximately 4000 years ago.

What I am referring to is more akin to replicating organic molecules (eg. catalyzing ribonucleic acid enzymes), which form the basis of current models of how life started on this planet sometime approximately 3.8 billion years ago.

nebule's avatar

@Vinifera7 I find your tone patronising and rather unnecessary here. Thank you for your insults. I’m sure your life is fulfilled in many ways that probably even God himself couldn’t understand.

lay off the personal digs eh!

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater: “Which is the simple answer?”

Neither, if the answer isn’t really simple. Both, if the answer is complicated. In other words, I don’t think the answer to your question could possibly be simple.

What are the “gaps” being discussed? Gaps in our understanding of the universe? Of whether a god exists or not? Both? Or other?

Also, everyone’s perception of what God is/could be is more varied than we may know, as any evidences are so difficult to put together into one neat, simple, all-explaining package. And if you don’t believe that it’s even possible for a god to exist, then the question becomes extremely convoluted because it is being asked based upon a premise which involves an element you haven’t acknowledged as possibly being real to begin with (and having only your posts here to go by, I don’t even know what your stance is on the subject of deities).

I am intentionally being wordy to demonstrate how complicated I think this topic really is. :P I’m into semantics, unfortunately.

I’m realizing more and more from experience that some questions asked on Fluther will eventually degenerate into pointless discussions because they are too broad and/or because certain premises that could easily be agreed upon were not established from the beginning, making multiple clashing interpretations and wandering replies inevitable. Not saying yours has, but it could definately head that route.

Aside from that, I like your question, though; it stimulates thought.

Critter38's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater I think the problem for deists is the issue of infinite regress. For example the following

P1. Complex things require a designer
P2. Life is complex
C. Therefore life was designed.

The problem then is that it can be argued that anything capable of designing life would have to be complex, and thus an infinite regress occurs as we argue what designed the designer (based on premise one)? At this point most deists state that a designer (god) is timeless, or just is, etc… All of which is unsupported assertion which could be rationally countered with an equally pointless counterargument that life doesn’t need a designer, has always been, and therefore god is unnecessary.

So if we can demonstrate that complexity can come from simplicity then we have an “out” from this loop. Evolution has accounted for how complex life can evolve from “simpler” life forms. Abiogenesis is adding the pieces to the puzzle of how simple organic molecules can replicate and form more complex molecular structures, membranes etc.. Long way to go in my opinion, but we’ve come a long way over the last century.

I personally have a hard time seeing how Occam’s razor can square with presupposing a god.

@Introverted_Leo “And if you don’t believe that it’s even possible for a god to exist, then the question becomes extremely convoluted because it is being asked based upon a premise which involves an element you haven’t acknowledged as possibly being real to begin with”

Which works both ways…in other words do not to start with a premise that god exists or does not exist, but start with the evidence and see where it leads.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

“Which works both ways…in other words do not to start with a premise that god exists or does not exist, but start with the evidence and see where it leads.”

Ah, and where would we be had we not asked questions based on “evidence?”

But hey, I’m not the one who asked the original question here.

Critter38's avatar

Not sure what you mean Leo

Introverted_Leo's avatar

And I’m not sure what you mean by “evidence.”

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Introverted_Leo I know my posts can seem to be on the fence sometimes and the reason is because I’m trying to keep an open mind. My stance on this is that God is the easy answer. One of the big reasons is because I can’t wrap my mind around any possible scenario in which science could explain the origin of life.. the very first element.. entity.. whatever it was.. Even if all the rest were debatable.. I can’t personally get past that one.. it seems to me that to adamantly deny the existence of God (or some supreme being of your choosing) is illogical

@Critter38 If you are going to believe in the existence of God, you have to be willing to accept that some things won’t fit in our minds.. like our own concept of time and infinity..complex objects having always been

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Cool, just wondering where you’re coming from. It helps put things into context. :)

Critter38's avatar

@Introverted_Leo Repeated observations or experimentation with the burden of proof resting with the claimant.

Nothing out of the ordinary.

@NaturalMineralWater I know you were not pointing your first comment to me, but I don’t adamantly deny the existence of a god or gods, I just see no evidence for their existence. I think the lack of belief comes from the lack of evidence, rather than “denial” in the face of conflicting evidence.

With respect to your second comment, it sounds very tautological. In other words, you presuppose the existence of something and then claim that we cannot fathom it’s existence.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Critter38 I have plenty of personal, empirical evidence.. so I suppose I am seeing it from a different viewpoint. And somehow I knew someone would catch that pseudo-paradox in there lol.. no.. I believe God exists and I claim that we cannot fathom facets of Him… such as His ability to be eternal.. does that make more sense? You’re making it sound like I said “I believe in God but I can’t believe it”.

Critter38's avatar

I know the feeling…“DAMN…I just know someone is going to nail me on that…edit edit edit…” lol

In regards to the rest, I have no doubt it makes sense for you.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

@Critter38: there is more than one definition for the word, but I see where you’re coming from.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Critter38 which part doesn’t make sense to you?

Noon's avatar

Sorry I’ve chimed back in so late. Hopefully my rants aren’t too dated ;-)
@NaturalMineralWater and @lynneblundell
One can simply say that “God was the creator of evolution” Sure there is nothing preventing someone from saying that. The problem is that it can’t be proven. But what can be proven is that it is entirely possible for evolution to happen without the benefit of a god.

For any scientific question, if someone (anyone) can come up with a possible solution, and if that solution is not testable, it shares equal footing with all other non testable solutions. So yes god is a possibility (for what ever we don’t have an answer to) so is the great Discordian Goddess Eris, so is me claiming that I willed it to happen.

@Critter38
Thanks for getting my back way up in the beginning of the thread and emphasizing the non biased nature of science.

What many people don’t seem to understand is that science has the “power” to support religious claims. As I’ve said several times on fluther, you can test the power of prayer. You can test for divorce rates in secular vs. religious marriages. You can test for infidelity rates of christians vs. hindus. The ratio of christians to atheists in prison. The success rate of a prophet’s prophesies. Linguistic analysis of glossolalia. These tests can all be done using the scientific model. Why would god give us the ability to think critically and disallow us to use it to prove his existence?

For those who enjoy the scientific method, I recommend the book “God: The failed Hypothesis: How science Shows That God Does Not Exist” by Victor J. Stenger. At the end Stenger makes it clear what possible gods are left over when you take scientific evidence into account. He even claims that there are possible god concepts that he would have to admit are a possibility, and he goes into great detail as to how they are different from the concept of god most religions share.

fireside's avatar

Linguistic analysis of glossolalia.
that just sounds so dirty

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Noon ah, a flying spaghetti monsterist.. seems to be a growing religion of its own =D.. curios that the title of that book is so strong yet inside he still says there’s a possibility .. that it’s different from what most religions share is irrelevant.. it’s clear he had a bias from the beginning, which is a no-no in basic scientific method is it not?

I could just as well write a book entitled God: The proven fact: How science Shows That God Exists” by NaturalMineralWater.. and inside make the admission that there’s a possibility that God doesn’t exist.. now that’s just false advertising.. =D

Noon's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater
There is nothing wrong with a scientist being biased. Everyone is biased, and scientists would of course focus their experiments on trying to prove what ever it was they are working on. While it is perfectly ok for a scientist, or anyone to carry this bias, the experiment must not be performed in a biased way. He spends many chapters clarifying this, and is probably one of the best explanations of the scientific method I’ve ever read.

And although he mentions a possible god, the god that fits into that possibility is not worth worshiping. This god can not be prayed to, this god is not perfectly loving, this god it not beneficent, this god is purposefully hidden, this god is not good, this god is not just. Now keep in mind, this isn’t because Stenger doesn’t want him to be, but that all evidence points to only this kind of god if you must have a god there. But this is only if you force a god to be in the equation, god does not need to be in the equation.

And sure, you could write a book that says “My cat is god, and how science shows my cat is Zeus.” You can write a book with any title. The problem is you will not have any scientific evidence supporting the existence of your cat being Zeus, or at least as much evidence as there is that there is a god at all ;-)

Another part of the book you may enjoy is a list of hypothetical observations that would have favored the god hypothesis. It is a list of 11 observations that if observed would have made leaps and bounds towards scientifically proving god. My favorite being number 11.

11. Believers might have had a higher moral sense than non-believers and other measurably superior qualities. For example, the jails might be filled with atheists while all believers live happy, prosperous, contented lives surrounded by loving families and pets. (God: The Failed Hypothesis. Victor J. Stenger. p. 233)

As for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is nothing new. Parody religions have been around for a while. I happen to subscribe to one of the eldest, Discordianism.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Noon I guess my attempts to keep such a conversation light-hearted and non-“but according to this link-ish” were doomed to failure from the beginning.. but it’s still entertaining nonetheless..

Well obviously I haven’t read the book, so it doesn’t make much sense to presuppose anything about it.. I was just commenting on the obvious contradiction there.. I find it peculiar that you keep adding things like: “And although he mentions a possible god, the god that fits into that possibility is not worth worshiping” .. because those things are completely irrelevant to the simple contradiction that I pointed out.

That said, I will have to read this book before I make any more assumptions about it. Already what it seems to be is an excellent filibuster.. proof by verbosity perhaps..but of course I’ll have to suspend that opinion

As for the flying spaghetti monster.. yes it has been around.. I didn’t say it was new.. what I said is that it seems to be growing… which imho is a sad state of affairs

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Introverted_Leo about what? I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. LOL

Noon's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater
I’m really sorry you don’t seem to be understanding. When you say “god” and Stenger says “god” it isn’t the same thing. Stenger makes it clear that the “God” that religions teach about is not the possible “god” of Stenger. Which goes to my belief that for all intents and purposes the word “god” is non-cognitive.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Noon Maybe it would help if you define this god Stenger is referring to other than that he is not benevolent.. because if not you’re just saying “It’s a supreme being, but not THAT kind of supreme being, but yes.. still a supreme being”. Who is this “possible god of Stenger”? How is the word “god” used to describe him if the word doesn’t apply? I’m really sorry you don’t seem to be understanding me too.

Introverted_Leo's avatar

That’s the difficulty in trying to discuss what and who a supreme god is or could be. How do you discuss something that seems to elude any one definition, something that seems to be something different to different groups of people? Without a clear foundation or definition, or even at least some agreeing points, you can’t go anywhere from there. The discussion only breaks down. It’s just not gonna happen.

So my point earlier was that without clear parameters/guidlines for the discussion, things are just going to start degenerating. I mean, the original discussion about “God of the Gaps” seems to be over and done with. What’s being discussed now is something entirely different.

Which is fine, but maybe you should start a new question for it?

fireside's avatar

So what did we decide?
Is the god of the gaps Evel Knievel or Fonzie?

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Introverted_Leo yuck.. rules and guidelines.. too debatey.. =) ... i prefer to converse as if we’re friends in a coffee shop instead of campaigning politicians… and I think we’re still on the fringe of the topic if we could but agree on simple points =D

Introverted_Leo's avatar

Yeah, good luck with that, lol.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Introverted_Leo Silly me, I guess that glass IS half empty! just kidding

nicobanks's avatar

I think “God of the gaps” is about theists for whom science has fractured their understanding of the universe. They see in science a non-divine explanation of things, so they restrict their divine explanations to those areas of life that science can’t (or hasn’t yet been able to) offer any strong theories. Of course, this is fool-hardy at best, because science continues to grow and more and more phenomena is falling under its radar: if things progress per usual, there will eventually be no more gaps and poof! There goes God.

Personally, I don’t think science poses any threat to faith in the divine. I understand science as the human study of the natural world: we apply our human tools of logic, communication, and technology to study the earth and beyond. I also believe in a Judeo-Christianesque personal creator God. So, science is about using our God-given tools to study our God-given world. Simple.

The problem, I think, is that people are very reluctant to do two things: adapt to change, and admit ignorance/powerlessness. So, when they come to believe something is a certain way, they damn well know it! And when that “knowledge” is shown to be wrong, they freak out, they shatter, they don’t know how to accept the new knowledge and go back to their previous world view and adapt it – how to find the deeper truth.

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