"God of the gaps" arguments and the limitations of science

Thanks for all your responses.

I’d just like to clarify one thing here, because I think some of you may have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I am not saying either good or bad about God-of-the-gaps thinking itself. What I am saying is that, as I have understood things, the critique of it is somewhat misleading, because it presents an overly optimistic view of what science can, and ultimately will be able to, achieve.

Thanks Laura. I think you’ve identified the problem best of all here, and also suggested a way forward in expressing things more clearly and accurately.


Just because I disagreed with your argument doesn’t mean I didn’t understand it.

Sounds like a “moving the goalposts” fallacy. It also reminds me of Xeno’s arguments for motion being an illusion. You saying there is always more things that science hasn’t explained is just like Xeno saying there is always a half of the remaining distance yet to go. The point is that the method of science works, just as in Xeno’s example you keep going half the remaining distance in half the previous time.

No! It is not a matter of anybody counting on science being able to achieve some imagined goal but a matter of you counting on science not being able answer questions. For one thing there is no such goal. Like I said, if someone claims that science can answer all questions then that is already a problem because science doesn’t answer all question. There is a filter for determining what is a proper question for science to even investigate. This was the gap explained in the third paragraph of my first reply, and appealing to that gap is not a god-of-the-gaps argument and is quite valid.

It could be used in a “moving the goalposts” sort of way, but I don’t think it has to be. We’re better off just starting from the position that science won’t ever have all the answers, even if there will be a lot more than now.

Well that much is certainly true. I that respect I am nitpicking a bit. But I was trying to help.


If God is guiding ALL natural processes ALL the time… there is no problem with moving goal posts or any gaps…

Except this not the case. The vast majority of the time all natural processes are guided by mathematical equations. That is why it came down to relegating God to the Deist conception of simply getting things started and then watching, OR finding some sort of gap through which to insert God into the chain of causality for these natural processes. But not all the gaps are the same…

  1. First there are gaps in what science simply hasn’t found the answer to yet.
  2. Second there are the gaps which science itself discovers.
  3. Third there are the gaps in the methodology of science itself.

So what do each of these types of gap in science allow for God to play a role in natural processes?

  1. There is no reasonable role for God in these, because science keeps closing these gaps at an accelerating rate. And thus attempts to use these gaps is a “god of the gaps” argument.
  2. The biggest gap here is quantum physics which fills the universe everywhere with first causes which chaotic dynamics shows can have an effect on macroscopic events. This is a gap through which God can act to effect the outcome of natural processes because the equations ultimately depend on initial conditions and variables which quantum physics has shown doesn’t even exist (no hidden variables) within the accepted premises of the scientific worldview.
  3. The methods of science are geared towards discovering consistent patterns in natural processes. And thus, as long as you are not claiming that you can control God with something like prayers in a consistent manner then science would be blind to such things.

The conclusion is that you are not entirely wrong. Consider the following metaphor of firing a gun at the target. After the bullet leaves the gun, the shooter has no control over bullet and it simply follows the mathematical equations which govern its motion. And yet a good shooter can still hit the target because he controls the initial conditions of those equations. In the same way, even though the natural processes are all controlled by mathematical equations, this does not mean God has no control over the results. But this does not apply to all natural processes all the time, and that is where your statement was wrong. But you can also observe that the control of the shooter is not absolute. There are limitations. The shooter cannot hit the moon, for example. In the same way, a control over the initial conditions of these mathematical equations is only a control over the results within limits also.

The problem with the God of the Gaps is that the God of the Gaps or the God of Science cannot solve Life’s real problems, because Science cannot solve Life’s real problems.

Science cannot cure the problem of sin. Science cannot bring peace to warring peoples. Physical science can so many things, but it does not have a cure for the many spiritual problems which plague humanity. It has not proven the solution for all the issues we find in the world today.

God is not the God what explains science, but Who is over science and gives it unity, harmony, rationality, meaning, and purpose… . God is also over humanity and human problems and gives us unity, rationality, harmony, unity, and purpose.

God is not the God of the Gaps. God is the God of the Facts .

Dear Roger,
I do not think you can begin to understand God until you start to learn His Laws and His Spiritual World. Without this understanding, you cannot start to see which divine factors are at work in each situation. Jesus defined many of God’s Laws, and these two are the most powerful in our daily lives.

  • The Law of Generosity - When you give, you receive multiples in return.
  • The Law of Karma - Do unto others and repay all your debts to the last farthing.

It is the complex interaction of these Laws that determine the hardship or success in one’s life. This is what determines the shape of the probability curve for any disease, treatment, ailment, etc. Not a God of the Gaps, but an interactions of His Laws, implemented by the hosts of Heaven.

My daughter is an outlier and I have lived the through this complex interaction. She was born in the one percentile (1300 grams) and has remained there her entire life (Stoke at 20).


Dear Bro. Shawn,

The “laws” of Generosity and Karma have some real merit, however I think that you and your daughter can and deserve to do better. I prefer love, joy, and peace, or eternal life with Jesus.

God bless and keep you.

Roger .

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Many will point out that looking to find God in the gaps of unexplained phenomena is onto a loosing streak. What is unexplained today may be explained reasonably tommorow, then belief in God because of it retreats and the gaps ger smaller.

Coupled with the fact that we can still believe that God works with and through the secondary causes and the whole fabric of relations and chance and sometimes neccessary outcomes. We could hold a Kenotic view in which God allows things to happen that forsees an outcome of divine will. God’s action is frequently hidden in the normal events of life and so may not be noticed and given alternative natural explanations. Even if we try to point to unexplained answers to prayer it is never provable to anyone not open to the possibility of God.

Yes and this applies to valid gaps in 2 and 3 above. It allows for the possibility of God’s involvement in determining events in the physical world just as it allows for the possibility of free will. But it also means that any causal interactions can be dismissed as coincidence by those who choose not to believe in such things.

I agree and I wish Christianity was more centered in the natural in this way.

This sort of why-question has always struck me as a little odd, a little like noting the manner in which a puddle fits its hole. To me the relationship between a proton and a electron is simply a brute fact about the world. If one doesn’t already suppose that everything is as it is because it was created thus on purpose, I can’t imagine the question would come up.

I agree with those who think it makes no sense to look for empirical support for God’s existence. By the same token I don’t look for evidence of God’s nonexistence.


I don’t comment much, but I feel compelled to here. I really dislike the “God of the gaps” argument for and against the existence of God. To me, God has no gaps, the gaps are in human understanding. If gaps always exist in scientific understanding, it simply means humans don’t know everything. Separating the gaps from God and eliminating this entire argument would make me a very happy boy.

Much like some of you have stated above, more eloquently.


It’s not necessary to believe that all scientific questions and problems will be resolved by further research to see the pitfall in using divine intervention as an all-purpose patch that keeps having to be moved as old gaps close and new ones appear.

A further problem is that a god-of-the-gaps critique can be leveled at almost any argument for the Christian God and gospel. A call to bald fideism (“Just believe, you self-justifying sinner!”) from one angle is the only appeal immune to such criticism. However, Scripture in too many places validates evidence and argument in defense of the faith to allow for such a retreat.

Some gaps, as the Biologos piece claims, are more resistant to scientific attack than others, although I am not enthusiastic about the examples they give, namely, fine-tuning and highly altruistic behavior.

There are open questions that can conceivably answered through the collection of more scientific data and adjustments to theory. There are other, conceptual problems which no accumulation of information can be imagined to resolve. In the latter category is what philosopher David Chalmers memorably called the “hard problem of consciousness”: that subjective experience is, strictly speaking, superfluous to biological-mechanistic explanations of behavior, particularly in the context of evolution. Aspects of this “problem” or phenomenon crop up in unexpected ways.

For example, the Biologos essay says that while evolutionary pressure can produce altruistic behavior at a certain level, it could not do so for that of, say, Mother Theresa. I find this argument weak. If evolution can produce a spectrum of behavior in other respects, why not with altruism as well, whether or not we have all the details worked out?

What is less scientifically tractable is our conscious experience of the tug of conscience and moral responsibility. Social insects offer us examples of extreme self-sacrifice, but no one believes that an ant reflects on duty and morality before yielding its life for the good of the colony. Any behavior can be programmed, and programming does not require conscious experience of anything, much less of moral law. Or to put it differently, no scientific model of altruistic behavior requires subjective experience as an ingredient. So why do we have that experience? I should add that this point is not foreign to Scripture (1 Cor 2:11).

Typical historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus are also susceptible to a god-of-the-gaps assault. History confirms that the range of human behavior where religious devotion is concerned is wide. Furthermore, it is far from rigidly rational. Finally, the experience or impression of contact with the dead is surprisingly frequent and has taken many forms. This is not to say that an evidential argument for the resurrection of Christ is useless, but that the argument must be couched in a larger context of transcendent moral truth and the story of Israel’s fraught encounter with the invisible God to escape a god-of-the-gaps critique.

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