More Subjective, God-of-the-Gaps Atheism

Back on March 3, Jerry Coyne was complaining about the existence of some new religious apologetics book. He wrote:

Do we really need to read all these books, which are appearing at an alarming rate? Is there really going to be new arguments for God in them? It appears that Aczel’s book, based on the statement that it shows “that there’s still much space for the Divine in the universe,” is merely a reiteration of God-of-the-Gaps arguments. To quote Ingersoll, what we understand is science; what we don’t understand is God.

Coyne dismisses Amir Aczel’s book because it appears to be “ merely a reiteration of God-of-the-Gaps arguments. “ That is, once an argument is pegged as a “God-of-the-Gaps” argument, it is dead because, as all serious thinkers know, God-of-the-Gaps arguments are arguments from ignorance and have no place in scientific thinking.

He then goes on to write:

Of course science can’t completely disprove God in either a logical or absolutist sense: that’s not the way science works. And of course we’ll never understand everything. Dick Lewontin (my Ph.D. advisor) told me the other day that the human race would go extinct before we finally learned how our brains work, and he may be right. So if you want to find God in consciousness, for instance, then there’s plenty of time to do that. But it’s a losing strategy, and one that doesn’t even convince many theologians.

So even if we could never come up with a scientific explanation for the origin of consciousness, that failure to close the gap is not evidence for God. It’s a “losing strategy.”



then he continues:

But we have disproven God in the same sense we’ve disproven Santa Claus, the Loch Ness monster, and Bigfoot. Extensive observation of the world looking for evidence of the divine has not, as with these other cases, turned up any evidence. That is “proof” in the vernacular (though not mathematical) sense. It’s “proof” in the sense that Anthony Grayling uses it: “Would you bet your house on the truth of a proposition?” If so, consider it proven.

So God has been “disproven” as a consequence of not turning up “any evidence.” I’m not sure how a lack of evidence for X disproves the existence of X, as that sounds like……an argument from ignorance. So, the argument from ignorance is a valid argument as long as it is disproving God?
And just what would this “evidence” look like if it had turned up? What kind of “evidence” was supposed to exist if God existed?

Lucky for us, Coyne tells us on March 18:

Indeed, tests of whether miracles occur (studies of the efficacy of intercessory prayer, investigations of supposed miracles like the Shroud of Turin, and so on) have always shown that God didn’t show up. But he could have: all he would have to do is, one night, to rearrange the stars in a pattern that spelled out “I am who I am” in Hebrew. Science would have a tough time explaining that one! There are innumerable phenomena that would, if verified, convince scientists that a god would exist. Sadly, none have occurred.

Ah, the LiteBrite demo! If God exists, He should have turned the stars into a huge LiteBrite screen and given us all a message. That would convince scientist Jerry Coyne. Or so he says.

But hold on. Not so fast there. Just how did scientist Jerry Coyne get from a cosmic LiteBrite demonstration to God’s existence? The only way to connect those dots is with the God-of-the-Gaps argument. Which is why Coyne notes, “Science would have a tough time explaining that one! “ Coyne would interpret a pattern of stars that spelled out “I am who I am” in Hebrew as a demonstration of God’s existence because science could not explain it. Coyne’s atheism is built on the “God-of-the-Gaps” argument and assumes its legitimacy , for without assuming the legitimacy of this argument, there is no way to get from any star pattern to the existence of God.

And it only gets worse.

Another atheist on Coyne’s blog dissented, commenting:

Not sure I’d find a message in the stars all that convincing: A far more likely explanation would be an advanced alien species with a somewhat warped [sic] sense of humour. Or… it would be a great way of softening us up for an invasion, whereby they could take over the earth and turn us all into batteries to power their evil machines.

This, of course, is the very same answer that Richard Dawkins gave. What this clearly shows is the subjective aspect of evidence: scientist Jerry Coyne would consider a LiteBrite demo in the sky as evidence for God, but scientist Richard Dawkins would not. Evidence is like beauty – it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Coyne responds and makes it even worse:

Well, maybe it would take more than one such “miracle” to convince people, but one reaches a point where one can accept a divine being PROVISIONALLY.

Huh? What kind of science is this? I fail to see the scientific logic that attributes one LiteBrite Demonstration to ETI and multiple such demonstrations to God.

Finally, y’gotta love the “provisionally” qualifier (in all caps). I think that was supposed to make it sound even more sciencey. But what does Coyne mean by provisional? Surely, a scientist like him cannot be satisfied stopping here. So that would lead to the next question any scientist would ask – “Dr. Coyne, while you provisionally believe that God was behind the LiteBrite demonstration, what data could we discover that would work to verify or falsify your hunch? And how would you go about gathering these data?”

So not only is atheism a subjective opinion, it is an opinion that is built upon the God-of-the-Gaps argument while criticizing others for using the God-of-the-Gaps argument.

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6 Responses to More Subjective, God-of-the-Gaps Atheism

  1. Bilbo says:

    Would you bet your house on the truth of a proposition?” If so, consider it proven.

    I would bet my house on the truth of the proposition that God exists. Therefore, I consider it proven.

  2. stcordova says:

    Great essay, Mike. Really not much to say, except to ask you to keep writing!

  3. rdmiksa says:

    Hello to All,

    As I have thought more about this specific issue, and as I have observed more and more atheists demand “gaps”-type evidences for God’s existence while simultaneously dismissing as irrelevant the various “gaps” that currently exist today (such as a naturalistic account of the origin of life or of consciousness), it made me realize the following: perhaps atheists—whether consciously, or even somehow subconsciously—know exactly what they are doing in their denial of the validity of “gaps”-type reasoning while at the same time demanding “gaps”-type evidence for God’s existence. And what these atheists are doing is intellectually insulating their beliefs so that their beliefs can never be over-turned. Indeed, the atheist, in essence, is providing himself with a perpetual “out”, so to speak. He has arranged things in such a way so that the evidence which he claims would satisfy him concerning God’s existence is precisely the very evidence which he knows he could, if necessary, disregard or deny if he really wanted to. Indeed, it is precisely the type of evidence which the atheist knows he can ultimately deny as long as he is just willing to embrace enough absurdity and/or ad hoc explanatory hypotheses in order to insulate his naturalism from the evidence in question. And so the atheist chooses this type of “gaps” evidence as the evidence which would “convince” him because he knows that given the nature of such evidence, it never really can “convince” him if he does not want it to, and it is precisely the type of evidence which always allows the atheist to move the evidentiary goal-posts if he needs to. For example, the atheist asks for evidence of a miracle, and such evidence is provided to him. But suddenly, the atheist states that this miracle is not big enough for him and does not have enough witnesses to make it believable. He needs more. So evidence of a bigger miracle, with more witnesses, is given. But then again, suddenly, this is not enough. The atheist now needs an even bigger miracle with even more witnesses. And on and on it goes. Or, the atheist asks for evidence of a miracle, and when such evidence is given, the atheist suddenly turns around and issues out a note of “promissory naturalism”, claiming that one day science will explain this how this “miracle” occurred naturally, and thus that he will simply maintain his naturalism and wait for science to give him a natural answer to this allegedly miraculous phenomenon. Thus, it is possible to see that the atheist’s demand for such evidence is, in many cases, not a genuine demand for evidence with a clear and satisfactory evidentiary threshold, but rather a demand for precisely the type of evidence which the atheist knows will allow him to fluidly move the evidentiary parameters so that he can always claim that the strength of the evidence just happens not to be enough to convince him.

    Find the full post located here:

    Take care,

    RD Miksa

  4. Bilbo says:

    I suspect you’re right, RD.

  5. Dhay says:

    Nice post, and I see you have been on Victor Reppert’s blog, where he quotes John Loftus (or his anonymous contributor) as demanding an even bigger gap, via a more drastic curtailment of natural law, than richardjwalker foolishly desires — something approaching its total abolition, I think:

  6. Dhay says:

    Other believers, like Francis Collins, say that old-fashioned miracles are perfectly consistent with a scientific worldview because science is concerned only with natural processes, not God’s supernatural action. Collins says his standard of evidence for believing in a miracle is high, but he doesn’t dismiss them out of hand.

    “For me, as a believer who sees God as the author of natural laws, why would it be such a stretch to imagine that such a being could, on rare occasions, suspend those laws?” Collins says.
    See bottom of

    I don’t really see why miracles have to result from the suspension of natural laws. If, this morning, I dived into the local pool, I can be assured that it is perfectly reasonable to expect that turbulent water can propel me up out of the water, my swimming trunks bone dry, to land perfectly gently on a diving board above. The only difference in natural law between my diving in and my being propelled out is the directions the relevant bosons and leptons are travelling in: instantaneously reverse the velocity of each water molecule, and I will be ejected.

    What follows, then, is that hard materialism-determinism permits “miracles” that are wholly governed by natural law: if the right molecules are in the right place at the right time with the right velocity, I will land dry on the diving board; or I will walk on water; or [insert miracle].

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