God of the Gaps Atheism

The militant atheist movement is built on the belief that there is no evidence for God. Of course, such atheists are entitled to their opinions on this matter, but because of their militancy, and the way it serves their agenda, they will not acknowledge their opinion is an opinion. Instead, they posture as if they have discovered some objective truth – There is no evidence for the existence of God. We’re all supposed to agree.

Yet if we are supposed to agree with this claim, we’d like to know exactly what it is we are supposed to agree with. So we ask the New Atheists what would actually count as evidence for the existence of God. Typically, the New Atheists will tap dance around that question, insisting there is no evidence without telling us what such evidence would look like. This is their Hide-The-Goalposts tactic.

However, if pressed, some New Atheists will spell it out, especially when they are trying to make themselves look open-minded about the issue. One example is Gnu activist Jerry Coyne who, in a blog post entitled, “What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, writes:

There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature. And it explains why so many scientists, who have learned to disregard God as an explanation, have also discarded him as a possibility.

So we have a list. But what we don’t have is a reason for thinking anything on the list should count as scientific evidence for the existence of God. Coyne makes no effort to explain WHY such phenomena would constitute such evidence. He merely asserts it and then moves on. Do other atheists agree such things would amount to evidence for God? No. For example, PZ Myers would not consider any of those events to be evidence of God. So Coyne’s laundry list is simply a list of things that Coyne would personally count as evidence for God (or so he says). That’s not how science works, people.

So why would Coyne personally count these five things as evidence for the existence of God? In fact, what is it that all five things have in common? The answer is the same for both questions – these are gaps that could not be explained by science. Coyne’s is advocating God-of-the-Gaps atheism. He is saying “I am an atheist because there are no Gaps,” which is a position that embraces the validity of the God-of-the-Gaps approach.

In fact, this God-of-the-Gaps atheism is clearly championed in an essay by Victor Stenger (and the essay was endorsed by Coyne):

Many of the attributes associated with the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God have specific consequences that can be tested empirically. Such a God is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means. If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.

So if God exists, His existence would be detected by an observation that cannot be explained by natural means. A Gap. Like Coyne, Stenger needs a Gap. The Gap = evidence for God. All evidence for God must be a Gap.

What this means is that Jerry Coyne and Victor Stenger think much like creationist Roy Comfort. All three embrace the validity of the God-of-the-gaps argument; they differ simply when it comes to agreeing on whether certain gaps actually exist.

Comfort and other creationists think like this: There is a gap, therefore God exists.
Coyne and other Gnu atheists think like this: If God exists, there should be a gap. But there is no gap.

Actually, the Gnu atheists are sneakier than this. The Gnu atheists insist there are no Gaps and demand someone provide a Gap. When someone tries to provide a Gap, the Gnu atheists scorn them for relying on Gaps and trying to provide gaps.

If there was real intellectual substance to Gnu atheism, why do they have to build and maintain their position with so much sleight of hand? I think it is time for Gnu atheists to start being honest and admit they embrace the logic of God-of-the-gaps reasoning.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in atheism, evidence, God, New Atheism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to God of the Gaps Atheism

  1. jh says:

    I am an atheist but I grant that a case could be made for some sort of deist like god who started the whole shebang (or Big Bang). We don’t know how the universe began apart from evidence that something like the Big Bang happened. Though I don’t agree, it remains a possibility that a non-physical as well as a physical cause could be behind it all. But there is precious little evidence for an interventionist god, or a god who acts outside the laws of physics and chemistry acting in the world. Even if one grants that miracles can occur on occasion, by and large they do not. If you have cancer or a drunk driver is heading your way, more likely than not a miracle will not occur to rescue you from this situation. So to me the important question is not – does god exist, but does an interventionist god exist, and if so, what evidence is there that said god exists and acts in the world.

  2. Crude referred me here. Incredible coverage of the gnus. Thanks for that. Linking to you now.
    Cheers

  3. TFBW says:

    So to me the important question is not – does god exist, but does an interventionist god exist, and if so, what evidence is there that said god exists and acts in the world.

    Okay. Step one is to determine what it is that we would be looking for if we were searching for such evidence. What kinds of empirical facts would distinguish between a world in which such a God exists, and one in which no such God exists? Are you able to suggest such criteria, and give supporting reasons?

  4. Actually, proving god’s existence should be trivially simple.
    After all, in the monotheistic tradition we are speaking of an all powerful being who intervenes in worldly affairs and who wants us to know his presence. In such a case, absence IS evidence of absence.
    I, for one, would accept the efficacy of prayer as evidence of supernatural intervention. And if the efficacy was limited to prayers made to one particular god, that would be good evidence of the correctness of that belief.
    But prayer doesn’t work.
    It ticks me off when theists (and atheists) claim that the existence of god cannot be proven or unproven. Claims about gods nature are empirically testable, have been empirically tested repeatedly, and have consistently failed to show any divine influence. Its not that god’s existence cannot be proven. Its that all attempts to prove it have failed.

  5. The criteria for analyzing the issue is already God-level. If you give reasons either way, either those reasons, or whatever principles justify those reasons, are already the Mind-God of what ought to be believed, a higher-level set of claims that “tell us” that the conclusion is true.

    If that’s not an invisible cognitive friend—it’s indistinguishable from a real one that might come along.

  6. Uhm… I bet that reads even better in English.

  7. TFBW says:

    I, for one, would accept the efficacy of prayer as evidence of supernatural intervention.

    So what’s your testable hypothesis? That if God exists, any petition you address to him will be granted? That if God exists, some petition that someone addresses to him will be granted? Details, please, or your science is more of a farce than Monty Python’s test for a witch.

  8. Yes. The hypothesis would be that if god exists, some petitions would be granted. With prayer, we benefit from having a huge sample size. Even a small effect would be detectable with some statistical level of confidence.

  9. TFBW says:

    Okay, that’s a start. Details can wait. Let’s say we run this test and obtain a positive or negative result. How does this distinguish in a significant way between a universe in which God does or does not exist? Are there additional assumptions which one must adopt to interpret the result? What are the underlying premises? Is there an abductive argument through which this result supports the alleged conclusion? Explain your rationale for choosing this experiment.

  10. Really? You’re seriously asking how documented evidence of the efficacy of prayer to a particular deity distinguishes between a universe in which a god exists and one where god does not exist?
    Sir, you seem to be forcing me into pedantry.
    If you insist on being treated in a patronizing manner I will comply, though it is not my preference and not how I would prefer to spend my time. So just to be sure, if you are going to play intentionally ignorant then please state, for the record, that you think that a measurable efficacy of prayer to a specific deity would not be substantial evidence supporting the hypothesis that a god exists.

  11. TFBW says:

    Certainly — allow me to clarify.

    If a particular form of prayer were found to be significantly effective, and it named a particular God, then one possible explanation for that effect would be, “the God in question exists and is inclined to indulge our requests.” Another possible explanation for the effect would be, “the God in question does not exist, but the form of the thoughts and words themselves causes the outcome.” Crudely speaking, you could claim that we have not discovered God, but magic.

    A negative outcome is even more ambiguous: is it evidence for the non-existence of the God in question, or evidence that the request was simply denied for some reason? Unless your God hypothesis entails rather deterministic behaviour on the part of the God, how are you going to distinguish between possible causes of a negative outcome?

    So, please clarify all the relevant premises and assumptions by which the evidence is evaluated.

  12. You like to type more than you like to read.
    I noted in my original response that the efficacy of prayer in general would merely support the hypothesis of a supernatural effect (“magic”), and that only prayer to a specific deity would support the hypothesis that the relevant concept of god was true.
    A negative outcome (the actual result we experience) certainly does disprove any definition of god that includes the quality of responding positively to supplicaction. In short, if your god is one that “answers prayers”, then your god has been shown not to exist.
    The question in the original post, however, was “What evidence would convince you that a god exists.” I have supplied an answer to that question.

  13. TFBW says:

    … only prayer to a specific deity would support the hypothesis that the relevant concept of god was true.

    It would also support the hypothesis that the name of the alleged deity in question is actually a magic word. Why prefer the god hypothesis over the magic word hypothesis?

    In short, if your god is one that “answers prayers”, then your god has been shown not to exist.

    If by “answers prayers”, you mean, “produces measurably positive results when placed under test conditions,” then sure. I don’t know of any religions that characterise God in this way, however. I’m aware of at least one which characterises God as being quite ill-disposed to such testing, and the result provides no evidence against that possibility.

    On the other hand, lots of people claim that their prayers have been answered in various ways. It’s possible that they’re all lying or mistaken, of course, but it simply won’t do to blandly assert that and declare case closed — at least, not if we desire scientific rigour. It may be that the test conditions are spoiling the result. This is why it’s important to make a big song and dance about assumptions, the significance of various outcomes, and so on. Good science isn’t easy.

    The question in the original post, however, was “What evidence would convince you that a god exists.” I have supplied an answer to that question.

    Indeed, you have. And if all you intended to do was present a threshold case for your personal level of incredulity and intuitive evaluation of data, then you’ve met all the necessary requirements. I was merely under the mistaken impression that your references to “proof”, “empirical testing”, “hypotheses” and whatnot bore some relevance to science.

  14. Must I do your thinking for you?
    Can you not, given even five minutes, devise a test for your “magic word” hypothesis yourself? I assure you, this is trivial.
    If you cannot, then I promise I will spoon feed one to you, but you’ll forfeit all credibility in lecturing me about “science”. Demonstrate that you know something of the subject before you post in this regard again.

    Yes, by “Answers Prayers” I do mean, “Answers Prayers”.
    Contrary to your statement, millions of adherents to monotheistic religion do believe this. And you believe it yourself. For the alternative is that your god’s intercession is indistinguishable from chance. Is that what you believe about your god? That he/she/it is capricious?
    And what is this religion of which you speak that characterizes god as being ill-disposed to testing? Certainly not the christian god, the god of the testaments, who concedes to several tests, and who’s supplicants test this power with their prayers on a daily basis?

    No, the efficacy of prayer is a valid test for the existence and non-existence of a divine being that intercedes on human behalf.

  15. TFBW says:

    Can you not, given even five minutes, devise a test for your “magic word” hypothesis yourself? I assure you, this is trivial.

    Trivial? Really? You can devise a test which determines whether or not it is the simple utterance of the relevant words which causes the outcome, as opposed to a supernatural being who hears the request and obligingly takes action?

    If you cannot, then I promise I will spoon feed one to you, but you’ll forfeit all credibility in lecturing me about “science”.

    Fair enough, but your prize is forfeit if I can think of a possible case where your test fails to make the appropriate distinction.

    Yes, by “Answers Prayers” I do mean, “Answers Prayers”.

    You are a grand master of the clarifying remark. Let’s put it another way. When people ask you to do something, do you always oblige? Always refuse? Or are your actions indistinguishable from chance? If there are other alternatives that I haven’t covered here, feel free to elaborate.

    Certainly not the christian god, the god of the testaments, who concedes to several tests, and who’s supplicants test this power with their prayers on a daily basis?

    First, if God invites a test, then the test is invited. We are talking about uninvited tests here. Second, you speak as though every prayer is inherently a test. Not every prayer is a test, and not every test is a prayer. Third, Jesus responded to Satan’s second temptation with a scriptural reference against putting God to the test. [Matt 4:7, ref Deut 6:16] I’ll take that interpretation of scripture as more authoritatively Christian than yours.

  16. TFBW says:

    So… are you going to do the big reveal on that test and show me what an idiot I am, or have I just called your bluff?

  17. Dhay says:

    Pinker — “And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings.”
    Looks like Pinker is yet another New Atheist who adopts the philosophy of Utilitarianism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s