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, New Atheism, Religion, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to God of the Gaps Atheism

  1. Doug says:

    Brilliantly stated! Thank you, Michael.

    But it is worse than that. When atheists claim that “there is no evidence for God” they are bluffing. If they are honest, they will admit that they are simply saying that there is no *direct, empirical* evidence for God. Anyone who has any experience with science appreciates that we deal in *indirect* evidence all the time. But there is another important distinction in play…

    There is a huge difference between evidence-per-se and perceived-evidence. For example, one could correctly say that the universe has always been full of evidence(-per-se) for “Newton’s law of gravity”. But it is a fact of history that nobody *perceived* any of it as evidence for such a law until Sir Isaac. For evidence-per-se to become perceived-evidence, there needs to be the expectation of a manifestation of a causal relationship between the-thing-that-there-might-be-evidence-for and the evidence itself. When there is no such expectation, there cannot be any perceived-evidence. When atheists claim that there is no evidence for God, they are only pretending that there is no evidence-per-se for God. Rather, it is simply tautological: they have no expectation of the necessary causal relationship, therefore there is no perceived-evidence.

    “God-of-the-gaps” is also a card that atheists play as a bluff: they hope that Christians do not carefully think about its implications. In fact, “God-of-the-gaps!” only “sticks” if one doesn’t understand science: its underlying assumption is that there is a finite amount of knowledge to be discovered, and that science is well on its way to finding all of it (even “in a neighborhood”). But that is as if all the available knowledge in the universe (or even “in a neighborhood”) was like a fence (with a finite surface area) being painted — and every day the amount of unpainted fence becomes smaller. Reality is much different. Rather, the available knowledge in the universe is more like a fractal (with an infinity surface area). That is, every time a scientific question is answered, it raises more scientific questions. What this means, of course, is that “gaps” in knowledge never actually become smaller — there is always something deeper to be discovered; there is always something more fundamental to be understood. And like a fractal, the illusion that “gaps” are getting smaller is simply derived from a superficial understanding of reality.

  2. Basically, they’re demanding miracles, which doesn’t make them seem so modern, enlightened, and exalted above the ancients as they make themsleves out to be. And what the heck does “scientifically documented” mean? What, scientific journals? On camera?

  3. TFBW says:

    PZ Myers would not consider any of those events to be evidence of God.

    Likewise Dawkins, who of late has come around to the view that “a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield” is a better explanation than “God did it” for anything which appears to be miraculous.

  4. Michael says:

    Actually, I think Dawkins has held this closed-minded view for some time. Here’s something from 2011:

    Dawkins and Myers are both biologists, and both share the same strong ideas on evolution (fact) and religion (fiction). Myers believes it’s OK to practise religion, but that it should never be taken seriously. “I compared religion to knitting – a hobby,” he said. Both claim they would remain skeptical about the existence of God even if a 15ft Jesus stood in front of them and boomed “I exist!”

  5. Rudy Serra says:

    The statement: “there is no evidence God exists” proves only one thing. The speakers does not understand what “evidence” is. One can reject the evidence, or question the validity of the evidence, and one can argue that the evidence supports a different proposition – but that is quite different from asserting that “there is no evidence.” Those who assert that “there is no evidence” willfully ignore the evidence provided and by doing so, greatly reduce their own credibility. It is ironic that Coyne says that the blind being given vision and the dead being raised would prove there is a God. He rejects claims those things occurred because of his predetermined position that there is no God. He also says that angels appearing in the sky would be proof – but if angels were to appear in the sky he would dismiss it as a natural phenomenon or his own imagination or delusion. In the same way, The New Testament claims that those who demanded miracles from Jesus heard God speak to Him and said “It was thunder.” You can’t arrive at a conclusion first and then screen all the evidence to fit the conclusion.

  6. Michael says:

    The statement: “there is no evidence God exists” proves only one thing. The speakers does not understand what “evidence” is. One can reject the evidence, or question the validity of the evidence, and one can argue that the evidence supports a different proposition – but that is quite different from asserting that “there is no evidence.”

    Indeed. To claim “there is no evidence” is to make a claim about objective reality. But evidence has distinct subjective aspect – it must be “seen” by the mind. It’s okay for the atheist to claim, “I see no evidence.” But to claim “there is no evidence” is intellectually dishonest.

    Those who assert that “there is no evidence” willfully ignore the evidence provided and by doing so, greatly reduce their own credibility. It is ironic that Coyne says that the blind being given vision and the dead being raised would prove there is a God. He rejects claims those things occurred because of his predetermined position that there is no God. He also says that angels appearing in the sky would be proof – but if angels were to appear in the sky he would dismiss it as a natural phenomenon or his own imagination or delusion. In the same way, The New Testament claims that those who demanded miracles from Jesus heard God speak to Him and said “It was thunder.” You can’t arrive at a conclusion first and then screen all the evidence to fit the conclusion.

    Yep. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Coyne, nor any other New Atheist, ever explains WHY any of these demonstrations would be considered evidence. All they offer is a promise. And since I see no evidence any of them would indeed change their mind, they want us to accept that promise on faith.

    New Atheism is intellectually bankrupt.

  7. TFBW says:

    Both claim they would remain skeptical about the existence of God even if a 15ft Jesus stood in front of them and boomed “I exist!”

    To be fair, though, even Coyne is holding out for a nine hundred foot Jesus. That’s a lot more evidence than a mere fifteen feet. 🙂

  8. Gary Good says:

    I was talking with an atheist friend who kept saying he was an atheist because he saw no evidence for the existence of God. For him, it was all about the lack of evidence.

    So, I emailed him a question: “what evidence would you need to believe that God exists?” After thinking about this for a few days, he replied that he couldn’t think of any evidence that would convince him of God’s existence. I thanked him for his honesty and pointed out that his problem of not believing in God has nothing to do with evidence. His problem is the interpretations of evidence that are required by his presuppositions.

  9. James Parliament says:

    I like that Gary – a well put response.

  10. Michael says:

    So, I emailed him a question: “what evidence would you need to believe that God exists?” After thinking about this for a few days, he replied that he couldn’t think of any evidence that would convince him of God’s existence.

    Nicely done. The “no evidence” posturing is almost always about a closed-minded atheist trying to frame the debate such that the theist is supposed to stand trial in their kangaroo court.

  11. TFBW says:

    The Gnu-apologists are conspicuous in their absence on this post.

  12. Michael says:

    LOL! I’ve noticed that for years. They have no response.

  13. Pingback: The goose, the gander and the God-of-the-gaps | Reaching into Plato's Cave

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