Monday, July 18, 2011

Scientists decry the 'God of the gaps' argument; also condemn fairies, leprechauns

Commentor oleg:

oleg said...

[Mike wrote: No one makes a God of the gaps argument. I've never heard a scientist say that. If you have, give me the reference.] 

Gladly. David Snoke, a physicist from the University of Pittsburgh, a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church in America, wrote an article entitled In Favor of God-of-the-Gaps Reasoning. It begins thus:

"For more than fifteen years, I have read the ASA journal and participated in discussions of science and Christianity. During this time, I have found that while ASA members disagree over many things, certain unquestioned points of agreement flow through all of our dis cus sions. In particular, I have found that no matter what the topic, one common premise seems to reign supreme. This is the universal condem nation of God-of-the-gaps arguments. A person might present all manner of impressive reasoning about something, but if his opponent says “that is a God-of-the-gaps argument,” even the stoutest evidentialist wavers. Why is this so? In this communication, I wish to take a heretical position"
within the ASA and argue in favor of God-of-the-gaps arguments. 

Your own Discovery colleague Jay Richards agrees that Newton applied God-of-the-gaps argument in regards to the motion of planets in the solar system. 

It's truly mind-boggling that you are unaware of these.

This is really funny.  Snopes is right that there is probably no inference in science more passionately rejected by High Science today than the God of the gaps argument. It is everywhere excoriated. It is proposed to be a tremendous threat to science.

Yet there is no inherent contradiction between the belief that God is the First Cause of nature and the belief that the Second Causes are worth investigating. In fact, this inference is the most common inference in Western science, held by nearly all great scientists from the 13th century to the early 20th, when atheism became the vogue in elite circles. Obviously the inference that 'God did it' is no hinderance to 'let's understand it'.

Oleg cites Newton's invocation of the God of the gaps argument. Newton believed that the matrix of space itself was a manifestation of God's mind, and that God maintained all planetary motion by supernatural intervention to overcome 'viscosity' and 'friction'.

Here was Newton's take on atheism:

Opposition to godliness is atheism in profession and idolatry in practice. Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors.

Newton was a smart man. And if he used a God of the gaps argument, I'll still take him on the Christian side of the scientific ledger.

Now oleg quotes physicist David Snoke as a proponent of God of the gaps. Snoke is a highly accomplished physicist: he is professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his work on optical processes in semiconductor systems.

Oleg isn't clear on the damage Snoke has caused to science by his invocation of the God of the gaps argument.

Perhaps it is as profound as the damage Newton caused to science.


  1. I personally don't think that God of the gaps is "a tremendous threat to science." In fact, I have previously said that it is "bad for religion first and foremost." You just weren't paying attention.

    Using the argument doesn't stop science. It stops the scientist who is making the argument from pursuing meaningful scientific work. But other scientists will pick it up and push science forward. That is precisely what happened to Newton. He was unable to find a scientific explanation for the formation of the solar system, so he quit. It didn't stop science: now we have a pretty good idea how the solar system has formed.

    Kind regards to our mutual friend Heisenberg.

  2. Speaking of Newton, did you see that noxious mediocrity Jerry Coyne wrote the following on his blog:

    "Put all the theologians in history together, and their contribution to understanding the universe would not even approach those made by [Feynman]."

    Richard Feynman was a great physicist, of course, but he did not contribute more to understanding the universe than Newton, let alone all of the other theologians who have contributed to understanding the universe.

    Coyne surely suffers from a poverty of intellect.

  3. Newton was not much of a Christian theologian. Despite working at Trinity college he did not believe in the Trinity. His greatest passion by far was mystical alchemy--a half-step removed from witchcraft, of which a greater part of his writings are concerned with and which in my humble opinion was a complete waste of time. His great gift to mankind was the Theory of Gravitation and the Calculus which could be used to solve it.

  4. Two reasons why the "God of the Gaps" argument has no merit:
    In any inductive enterprise there will be at least two data points (except for trivial case of one data point). For every p data points there will be p-1 gaps. The more gaps there are the more sure of the induction we are, as there must therefore be many more data points. Complaining that there are too many gaps is self-defeating.

    It is the size of the gaps that matters, and nothing gets a scientist's juices flowing like a large knowledge gap. Every time you point out that we do not know how x occurred, someone gets to work figuring it out. Claiming that we do not know how x occurred and that therefore we can never know is an abnegation of your own humanity.

  5. Your claims re: Newton are false vreejack. He was a good theologian and he was correct in his rejection of trinitarianism. Moreover, while Newton was interested in alchemy, it was not his "greatest passion by far." I suggest peddling your nonsense to someone who is not familiar with Newton.