Sunday, April 16, 2017

A schema for a good god of the gaps argument?

I was looking at this: 






Here is your version of a god of the gaps argument: 

(1) There is some puzzling phenomenon P which science cannot at present explain.
(2) Theism does explain P.
(3) Therefore, P is more likely on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption God does not exist.
The form makes it appear to be fallacious, on the assumption that future science is an open book, and who knows what it will come  up with.


But what if we produce and argument like this?

(1) There is some puzzling phenomenon P which science cannot at present explain.
(2) If naturalism is true, then we should have expected science to have explained this already. 
(3) Theism does explain P.
(4) Therefore, P is more likely on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption God does not exist.
God of the gaps arguments are often accused of being appeals to ignorance. But isn't it possible, somewhere along the way if not now, that our ignorance will prove to be itself naturalistically surprising?



10 comments:

unkleE said...

Surely you are correct. And surely life is always a matter of changing probabilities and changing views as a response. Science does it all the time - form a hypothesis that best explains the facts, new facts come in, change the hypothesis if necessary. Same with how we vote, the jobs we do, even the friendships we form - we adjust if the facts change.

So what's the big deal about doing that with regard to christian belief? I have adjusted many of my conclusions over the years as I've learnt new things. I used to think Genesis 1-3 was historical, but I don't now. I used to think the conquest of Canaan was all 100% historical, but I am more wary about that now. I once believed in a literal tortuous hell, but I don't now.

But when I consider the most important facts of my belief - a creator God who designed the universe (like in the Cosmological and Teleological arguments); a human race that has true ethics and rationality and free will (like in other theistic arguments); a God who appears to answer prayer, heal and communicate; and most of all, Jesus who was a demonstrable historical person who said and did certain things relating to God and his kingdom, was killed and then seen apparently alive afterwards - then those facts haven't changed, except maybe to become stronger in my lifetime, and I am reinforced in my belief. If all or most of those facts changed, I'd reconsider my belief. But we all know most of those facts are NOT going to change.

God of the Gaps is an important concept to keep in mind in interpreting information, but it can also be a falsely scary argument that attempts to divorce christian faith from the way most of us live most of the time.

Legion of Logic said...

God-of-the-gaps increasingly becomes a moot point in my mind.

Why did Sauron get defeated in Middie Earth? The atheist would say because Frodo destroyed the Ring. The theist would agree but would also say because Tolkien wrote it that way. Both are right.

God is the author of creation, so whether event x has a natural explanation or not is a moot point. Whether science can or cannot explain a phenomenon, God is still the explanation for that phenomenon. So science becomes a curiosity, but hardly an impediment to belief in God.

lasym21 said...

In The Existence of God, Richard Swinburne provides arguments for why the phenomena he adduces as evidence for God are not likely to be explained by science. He says the phenomena are either "too odd" (like consciousness) or "too big" (like design, the universe itself, etc.) So arguments for God's existence do need a premise like that to undercut the "But one day science..." objections.

Joe Hinman said...


(1) There is some puzzling phenomenon P which science cannot at present explain.
(2) If naturalism is true, then we should have expected science to have explained this already.
(3) Theism does explain P.
(4) Therefore, P is more likely on the assumption that God exists than on the assumption God does not exist.

what if you change 2 to read: "science can never explain this"?

Joe Hinman said...

Doc I have a couple questions: is G of G realty a fallacy? Or is it just a danger given science's potentiality?

I s there an atheist of the gaps?


Is this argument G of G? or is it fallacious?

(1) a man has been killed

(2) we have clue as who killed the man other than x

(3) There are reasons why X appears guilty

(4) there are other possible suspects who as of yet have no evidence against gtehm ,

(5) therefore X probal y did it

Aron Zavaro said...

Compare VIctor's scheme with this argument. Imagine we are living in Ancient Greece and I say:

1) there is no scientific explanation for lightning
2) if naturalism is true, lighting has no explanation and is therefore surprising
3) if Zeus exists, there is an explanation for lightning
4) therefore lightnignis evidence for Zeus.

Is this a good argument? Technically, lightning does probsbilistically confirm Zeus, but it's still not reasonable to believe in Zeus because he offers an ad hoc explanation that has no other evidence in its favor. So maybe we should add another clause to the scheme which says: "theism has independent evidence to support it" in order to avoid being ad hoc.

Theists of course think we have such independent arguments for God. But what if all of those I arguments, taken on their own, offer as hoc explanations? I think this raises an interesting issue on the philosophy of science, which is "can explanations that are as hoc when applied to single pieces of evidence become legitimate when those ad hoc arguments are combined in a cumulative case?"

Victor Reppert said...

Well, of course, in your Zeus argument, the second premise of my version of the argument would be missing.

Aron Zavaro said...

Victor,

I missed that, my mistake. Do you think there is any objective nonartibrary criteria for deciding whether naturalism should have discovered a natural explanation already? How do we place a timeline on whether we should have figured it out "by now"?

For questions like "why there is something rather than nothing" we know that we won't ever find a natural explanation. You feel the same way about consciousness I think. But when it comes to something like the origin of life, how long is too long? And should we EVER think it has been long enough? Maybe we just aren't in a position to ever find out how something happened millions of years ago with brains that were not evolved to answer this sort of question. So I'm skeptical that we can ever satisfy premise 2

Victor Reppert said...

Well, I think the standard way of understanding the material is to say that anything that is on a list of mental characteristics, intentionality, subjectivity, normativity, and purpose, are excluded by defintion from the basic level of analysis. Then, you want to build consciousness out of those building blocks? Every single attempt to do that is going to run you up against an open question argument. List the nonintentional facts up and down until doomsday, and you won't ever get anything that entails the mental.

Hugo, if you assume the primacy of the material, you may or not get to the mental. And if you define as I suggested above, I maintain you won't. And if there is no mental, then even if there is a physical world, no one knows that there is. A world without the material is perfectly coherently possible. A world without aw mind might exist, but no one could possibly know that it does. That is why the mind is primary.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh, I think I responded to Hugo's comment on another thread.