Arguments Against Christianity – Episode 6 – Christianity is a form of “God of the Gaps”

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” – Genesis 8:22

Christians just postulate God because they have unexplained gaps in their knowledge. That is, whenever they don’t know something they just say, “God did it!”

This notion is pretty commonplace. For many, they hear Christians saying things like, “God created everything,” or just making general statements about God doing things in their lives. Typically God is seen in the secular mind as doing things supernaturally, and whenever there is something unknown or mysterious, God is employed as a rescuing device. Vern Poythress, author of Redeeming Science, said this:

In fact, many consider God to be merely the ‘God of the gaps,’ the God whom people invoke only to account for gaps in modern scientific explanation. As science advances the more gaps become subject to explanation, the role of God diminishes. The natural drives out the need for the supernatural.[1]

Poythress continues:

The situation looks different if we refuse to confine God to ‘the gaps.’ According to the Bible, he is involved in those areas where science does best, namely areas involving regular and predictable events, repeating patters, and sometimes exact mathematical descriptions…  The regularities that science describe are the regularities of God’s own commitments and actions. By his word to Noah, he commits himself to govern the seasons. By his word he governs snow, frost, and hail. Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing world. So-called natural law is really the law God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators. Now, the work of science depends constantly on the fact that there are regularities in the world. Without regularities, there would ultimately be nothing to study.[2]

I believe that Christians and atheists often speak past each other on this point. Consider this analogy: A farmer walks out of his house, gazes at his crop fields, and says, “Thank you God for this great harvest!” The atheist standing far off replies, “It wasn’t God who gave you a great harvest. It was the good soil, the plenteous rainfall, and the sun light.” The farmer and the atheist have just talked past each other. The farmer posited a primary cause, and the atheist posited a secondary cause. The farmer doesn’t disagree with what the atheist said. The atheist merely described the means by which God carried out said task. As Poythress said, God governs the “natural,” and so to postulate a mechanism does not make void the primary cause (c.f., Gen. 8:22; Ps. 104:14, 20; 147:15-18).

Underlying this is the assumption, on behalf of the atheist, that God works only through supernatural means. There is a false dichotomy being posited where you have the natural on one side and God on the other. Surely this is incorrect. God is the Creator of everything, including the laws of physics, the laws of mathematics, and the laws of logic. God creates and governs the natural order by the power of His word (c.f., Ps., 33:6; 147:15-16, 18; Heb. 1:3).

Instead of doing away with science, this actually makes science exciting. God governs all things and we get to discover how He does so. Even miracles do not do away with science, for as Poythress writes, “This qualification does not destroy science, but it increases its tentativeness. We know enough to serve God in this world. However, we have no guarantee from God that through scientific progress we can know everything there is to know about origins.”[3]  Yes, God created, causes the grass to grow, causes the planets to orbit, and causes the seasons to change, but we get to discover the secondary causes – the “how” questions.

And as we undertake this scientific study, we will see the very glory of God. As Francis Turretin stated, “For besides the facts that God does not always act by second causes… when he uses second causes, he is most intimately present with them in order to work by them.”[4]  After all, nature is God’s general revelation. God reveals Himself generally in nature and specially in the Bible, and these two do not contradict. Therefore, we can sum up by saying science is essentially the study of God’s general revelation and secondary causality. The Christian, therefore, should get excited about science:

Like Solomon, we should pursue the wisdom that only God can give. And wisdom includes wisdom in understanding God’s world. We rightly admire science, and desire the wisdom that science includes. The Christian view of the world affirms the legitimacy and value of science in an emphatic way, and shows that, far from being inimical to science, the Bible encourages the godly person through love of God to come to love God’s wisdom and to love to reflect about the wonders of God’s world… May I speak personally? I have found that science offers a wonderful window onto God’s wisdom. It provides extraordinary beautiful and wise and profound exhibitions of God’s glory. I loved learning science and mathematics in high school, college, and graduate school… Science is all about discovering the mind of God…God has more to show us, and more with which to bless us, in the realms of science and mathematics. ‘It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out’ (Prov. 25:2). (Poythress, Redeeming Science, 158-160, 339).

“[Jesus]… upholds the universe by the word of his power.” – Hebrews 1:3

Also in this series:

Episode 1 – No Ultimate Truth

Episode 2 – Not Enough Evidence

Episode 3 – Shouldn’t You Follow All of the Bible?

Episode 4 – Too Much Suffering in the World

Episode 5 – The Bible is a Work of Fiction

© copyright J. Brandon Burks

[1]Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 14.

[2]Ibid., 14-15.

[3]Ibid., 180.

[4]Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. By George Musgrave Giger, ed. by James T. Dennison (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1992), 199.

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