Written by Jason Petersen
In this article, we will be taking a look at the atheist’s accusation of “God of the Gaps.” This accusation is often leveled at Christians by atheists who lack understanding of what deductive arguments are.
What is “God of the Gaps?”
“God of the Gaps” is a cliche that is often used by atheists against theistic arguments. As many atheists describe the reasoning behind “God of the Gaps” as follows: “I don’t know how this works, therefore, God did it.” This is an accusation that is often used concerning the Kalam Cosmological Argument, as well as other deductive arguments for Christianity.
Is “God of the Gaps” a Legitimate Accusation?
In a word, “No.” The arguments for the existence of God such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Teleological Argument, etc. are all DEDUCTIVE arguments. This means that the premises are established by what we do know, rather than what we don’t know. If the premises were all based off of what we don’t know, then the deductive argument would be invalid because all of the premises would be controversial. For instance, with the Kalam Cosmological Argument, we use what we do know to develop the following premises:
P1: Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
P2: The universe began to exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, the universe had a cause.
We then would narrow down the possible explanations for the cause of the universe. We would then inevitably deduce that God is the best explanation because we have good reasons to think that existence by necessity and chance are not good alternatives. Unlike the atheist, we don’t just dismiss other possibilities off hand based off of whether or not we like those possibilities. The difference here is that we have good reasons to not accept other alternatives as an explanation for the beginning of the universe. If you want to learn about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, see this link.
Ignorance of the Gaps
I don’t find it the least bit surprising that some atheists are being hypocritical in their accusations. When confronted with the evidence of the existence of God via deductive arguments the atheists will say “I don’t know is a valid answer!” There is a problem. Atheists tend to insinuate that because “We don’t know,” we should never conclude that it is God. That is akin to “I don’t know, therefore, not God.” Ironically, this is the same mistake that they accuse Christians of. However, such an approach is not based off of what they do know, but rather, what they DON’T know. I have coined this atheist approach as Ignorance of the Gaps. I do not think that “Atheism of the Gaps” is catchy. I also don’t think that “Science of the Gaps” is appropriate, because atheism is not a scientific worldview. I suggest we call their approach for what it is: Ignorance.
Another Fallacy to Watch Out For
There is another fallacy that is often committed when an atheist is confronted with evidence for God via a deductive argument. Atheists will often claim “We don’t have the solution, but we will find the solution one day.” This is a fallacy that is known in Latin as argumentum ad futuris; in English, it is known as an argument from the future. The fallacy is committed when someone says that we should believe in something because their position will be proven in the future. Perhaps we could call this Ignorance of the Interstices.
A good question to ask an atheist is: If you claim to stand for reason and critical thinking, why are you committing so many logical fallacies when defending your position? Certainly, you can’t consider your worldview to be logical if you must use fallacies to defend it.
A Possible Objection from an Atheist
Some atheists will try and defend their use of “God of the Gaps” by asserting that God of the Gaps is actually an argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance is a logical fallacy in which you say that you can hold your position because the contrary has not been proven to your satisfaction. This fallacy can also occur when you say that your own position hasn’t been proven false, therefore, you are right to believe it.
The objection that God of the Gaps is an argument from ignorance is easy to deflect. An argument from ignorance is when you say you are justified in holding a position for one of two reasons:
1. The opposite position has not been proven to your satisfaction.(Note that there is a difference between saying that the other side hasn’t given enough evidence, and saying that you have good reasons to reject the atheist’s position–Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence).
2. Your position has not been proven wrong, therefore, you are justified in holding that position.
In contrast, “God of the Gaps” is described by atheists as “I don’t know how X happened, therefore, God did it.”
Obviously, when you compare the definition of God of the Gaps to an argument from ignorance, they are not the same thing. According to the atheist, “God of the Gaps” occurs when a Christian says “I don’t know how X happened, therefore, God did it.” As we have already established, that is not the approach that Christian apologists take. However, the action is a far cry from the definition of an argument from ignorance. If an atheist brings up this objection, all you need to do is clarify the differences between an argument from ignorance and “God of the Gaps.” Be sure to restate that you aren’t committing “God of the Gaps” as well.
More Hypocrisy from the Atheist
An atheist will often say that we should always assume that there is a naturalistic explanation for everything. However, such an assertion actually begs the question because they are presupposing naturalism to prove naturalism. Certainly, the idea that naturalism explains everything is not a knowledge claim that comes from naturalism. Thus, it’s self-defeating.
A lot of atheists will attempt to say that we should all follow the current evidence where it leads; however, when that evidence is shown to lead to God they will quickly abandon that idea. Some will say that we should withhold belief until it is proven that there is no naturalistic explanation. However, this commits the fallacy that we talked about earlier.(An argument from ignorance.) If an atheist must assume that there is always a naturalistic explanation for everything, even when we don’t have one, that means the atheist will never come to the conclusion that God exists. This is because the atheist has a commitment to naturalism. What they are doing when they take this approach is trying to take this approach is setting the level of proof that they will accept to be impossibly high. Why is it impossibly high? Because under the presumption that everything will always have a naturalistic explanation, there really is not going to be any evidence that will convince the atheist that God exists. It will be impossible because they are committed to naturalism.
We can take several things away from this article:
1. God of the Gaps is an unreasonable accusation because most arguments for Christianity are deductive in nature. Therefore, the arguments are based off of what we DO know, not what we DON’T KNOW. Therefore, arguments such as the Kalam Cosmological Arguments are not “God of the Gaps.”
2. The atheists commit their own mistake, which I call “Ignorance of the Gaps.” This amounts to when the atheist says “I don’t know, therefore, not God.” An atheist might try to say that this is a straw man and will say that they simply don’t think we have justification in believing in God because “we don’t know” a certain fact. To say that we don’t have justification is akin to saying “Therefore, not God.” because they are claiming that the conclusion of God is not justifiable. How can one draw such a conclusion when they say “they don’t know?”
3. An atheist will often attempt to say that we should withhold belief in God until it is shown that a naturalistic explanation is completely impossible. This is a fallacy known as an argument from ignorance.
4. An atheist will often claim they are justified in not believing in God because they don’t see any evidence for God, even after we have presented the evidence. This is another variation of the fallacy that is called an argument from ignorance.
5. An atheist often says that we will find a naturalistic explanation of the universe one day, therefore, we should assume that the universe has a naturalistic explanation for its existence. This is a fallacy known as an appeal to the future. Just because you think it will be proven later does not give you justification for maintaining your position.