God of the gaps: Wikis


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The phrase God of the gaps refers to a view of God as existing in the "gaps" or aspects of reality that are currently unexplained by scientific knowledge.

The phrase is generally derogatory, and is inherently a direct criticism of a tendency to postulate acts of God to explain phenomena for which science has yet to give a satisfactory account.[1][2] The term "God of the gaps" is sometimes used in describing the perceived incremental retreat of religious explanations of physical phenomena in the face of increasingly comprehensive scientific explanations for those phenomena. An example of the line of reasoning starts with the position that early religious descriptions of objects and events (such as the Sun, Moon, and stars; thunder and lightning) placed these in the realm of things created or controlled by a god or gods. As scientific explanations were found for observations in the realms of astronomy, meteorology, geology, cosmology and biology, the use of supernatural explanations for phenomena was progressively reduced, occupying smaller and smaller 'gaps' in knowledge.


Origins of the term

The term goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on the Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science can not yet explain — "gaps which they will fill up with God" — and urges them to embrace all nature as God's, as the work of "... an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology."[3]

In the 20th century Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the concept in similar terminology in letters he wrote while in a Nazi prison during World War II, which were not made public until years later.[4] Bonhoeffer wrote, for example: "...how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know."[5]

The term gained some attention when it was used in the 1955 book Science and Christian Belief by Charles Alfred Coulson, where Coulson states: "There is no 'God of the gaps' to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking."[6 ]

The term was used again in a 1971 book and a 1978 article, both by Richard Bube. He articulated the concept in greater detail, most notably in Man Come Of Age: Bonhoeffer’s Response To The God-Of-The-Gaps (1971). Bube attributed modern crises in religious faith in part to the inexorable shrinking of the God-of-the-gaps as scientific knowledge progressed. As humans progressively increased their understanding of nature, the previous "realm" of God seemed to many persons and religions to be getting smaller and smaller by comparison. Bube maintained that Darwin's Origin of Species was the "death knell" of the God-of-the-gaps. Bube also maintained that the God-of-the-gaps was not the same as the God of the Bible (that is, he was not making an argument against God per se, but rather asserting there was a fundamental problem with the perception of God as existing in the gaps of present-day knowledge).[7]

Usage in referring to a type of argument

The term God-of-the-gaps argument can refer to a position that assumes an act of God as the explanation for an unknown phenomenon, which is a variant of an argument from ignorance.[8][9] Commonly such an argument can be reduced to the following form:

  • There is a gap in understanding of some aspect of the natural world.
  • Therefore the cause must be supernatural.

One example of such an argument, which uses God as an explanation of one of the current gaps in biological science, is as follows: "Because current science can't figure out exactly how life started, it must be God who caused life to start." Critics of "intelligent design", for example, have accused proponents of using this basic type of argument.[10]

God-of-the-gaps arguments have been asserted by theologians to have the effect of relegating God to the leftovers of science: as scientific knowledge increases, the dominion of God decreases.[4][6 ][11][12]

Criticisms of the view

The God-of-the-gaps view has been criticized for implying that people perceive that God only acts in the gaps, and that God's activity is restricted to such "gaps".[13] It has also been argued that the God-of-the-gaps view is predicated on the assumption that any event which can be explained by science automatically excludes God; that if God did not do something via direct action, God didn't do it at all.[14] "God of the gaps" argument has been traditionally advanced by scholarly Christians, intended as a criticism against weak or tenuous faith, not as a statement against theism or belief in God.[3][15][16]

The God-of-the-gaps view has also been criticized for assuming that, in a world created by God, the mechanics of how things happen cannot be described by science.[17]

See also


  1. ^ See, e.g., The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Ed. Alan Richardson, John Bowden, 1983), p 242 [1]
  2. ^ See, e.g., "Teleological Arguments for God's Existence" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [2]
  3. ^ a b See Thomas Dixon "Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction" p. 45
  4. ^ a b Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1953, translated from the German by Reginald Fuller, 1962, ed. Eberhard Bethge)
  5. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Letters and Papers from Prison edited by Eberhard Bethge, translated by Reginald H. Fuller, Touchstone, ISBN 0684838273, 1997
  6. ^ a b Charles Alfred Coulson (1955) Science and Christian Belief, p 20.
  7. ^ Man Come Of Age: Bonhoeffer’s Response To The God-Of-The-Gaps. Richard Bube. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. Volume 14. 1971. pp.203-220.
  8. ^ Michael Shermer (2003) How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, p 115 ff.
  9. ^ Robert Larmer, "Is there anything wrong with 'God of the gaps' reasoning?" International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Volume 52, Number 3 / December, 2002, p 129 ff.
  10. ^ See, e.g., Mark Isaak (2006) The Counter-Creationism Handbook pp x, 11-12, 35.
  11. ^ Thomas Dixon "Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction" p. 45
  12. ^ Man Come Of Age: Bonhoeffer’s Response To The God-Of-The-Gaps, Richard Bube, 1971
  13. ^ http://www.newdualism.org/papers/R.Larmer/Gaps.htm
  14. ^ http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/gaps.htm
  15. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1953, translated from the German by Reginald Fuller, 1962, ed. Eberhard Bethge)
  16. ^ Charles Alfred Coulson (1955) Science and Christian Belief, p 20.
  17. ^ http://www.dctech.com/physics/features/old/godofgap.php


External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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God of the gaps


God of the gaps (uncountable)

  1. A God whose existence is put forward as an explanation for anything as yet unexplained by science.
    • 2007, "Worried about my future family." Axismundi, July 2007, Internet Infidels Discussion Board.
      With every new discovery, the 'god of the gaps' has fewer places to hide.


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