Guest Post: Are Theistic Arguments Guilty of “God of the Gaps” Reasoning?

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Arguing for God's existence may often result in accusations of reasoning from the gaps. The

objector will often accuse the theist of essentially claiming, "we don't know, therefore God." This

tends to be one of the most common dismissive objections that some atheists use online. This

isn't the strongest formulation of the objection, but it is certainly the most prolific; therefore, it is

worth addressing.

Are all theistic arguments for God's existence guilty of God of the Gaps reasoning?

The argument is guilty of God of the gaps if it reasons: there is a state of ignorance concerning

the cause of some phenomenon, and therefore God is plugged into the gap of ignorance to

explain it (i.e., we have no idea what the cause of lightning is, therefore God is the cause of the

lightning). Although, in one way or another, the theist does believe that God is the ultimate

cause of all events inside of the universe, this isn't the reasoning being employed by the

proponents of any of the main arguments from Natural Theology that I am aware of. Here are a

few things to consider:

1. The reasoning utilized by the arguments is not, "there is no known cause of phenomenon x,

therefore it is best explained by g God." Rather, the reasoning is more accurately stated,

"based off of what we do know, g is a better explanation for x than m materialistic

naturalism." If one is arguing that given the available evidence, x is better explained by g

rather than m, that is not arguing from ignorance, but rather reasoning from the available

evidence to the best explanation.

2. The arguments from Natural Theology are philosophical. Some may be mistaken or

confused about the role that science takes in the arguments. For example, if one is arguing

for the truth of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the scientific evidence mentioned is used

as support of a premise in a wider philosophical argument that has theological significance.

In the case of the Kalam, the scientific evidence is not evidence for God, but rather

additional support for the second premise of the argument; namely, that the universe began

to exist. It is only in this wider philosophical argument that the science can be said to have

theological significance.

3. Some assume that science will one day explain away theistic arguments by naturalistic

mechanisms. It may be helpful to note that we are limited in our access to knowledge, and

as new information comes in, we ought to update our beliefs accordingly. But until then, we

are justified in making inferences to the best explanation. We can also note that the claim

simply begs the questions against non-naturalism by assuming that there is a naturalistic

explanation to be found. In other words, the claim is guilty of circular reasoning. In addition,

there is a sort of Naturalism of the Gaps reasoning being employed here. This is the same

error that the naturalist accuses the theist of making (i.e., we don't know, therefore

naturalism explains it). Finally, knowledge of what science will do one day in the future, is

regrettably, not something that is obtainable.

On a final note, I find that some atheists far too often will conflate "we don't know everything"

with "we don't know anything". It's as if it is a fallacy to infer to the best explanation of the

current available evidence. If it is claimed that this is some kind of fallacy, it remains difficult to

understand how it is possible to believe that biological evolution is true. Modern science

certainly hasn't revealed everything there is to know about biological evolution, however, for

those who embrace it, there is an inference to the best explanation of the evidence. If reasoning

to the best explanation is not a fallacy, then neither is reasoning to God's existence based off of

what we know.

Jon McCray
Jon McCray specializes in cosmology in apologetics, and is currently pursuing a degree in philosophy.

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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