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Atheism

Gaping holes……

Read a blog by a pastor today. he talked about a “naturalism of the gaps”, trying to turn the ‘god of the gaps” theory around. He claims that atheists start with the supposition that there is no god, and theorize how existence came into being without him. I could not understand his logic here. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I haven’t really understood the crux of his argument, something that will make me go, “Oh, that!” I don’t know. The ‘god of the gaps’ is a derisive name given by atheists to the theists’ attempts to insert god into any section/sub-section/article of science in whichever field that scientists haven’t been able to explain yet. The assertion and automatic assumption being that if humans cannot understand it, it must be from god. Of course, this is a steadily dwindling field with science making inroads into so many mysteries and answering so many questions that we thought unanswerable. Theists are forced to find further ‘gaps’ in our understanding of the natural universe (hence the name) and more often than not, they find them in arcane aspects of science, fields that the common man they want to convince wouldn’t know much about. But that’s another matter. How does this nomenclature then, fit into our explanation of the universe being formed without god? If scientists have come up with a working model for creation that makes sense without having to turn to god, how is that a theory of gaps? If anything, it’s the theory of non-gaps, a theory of continuity. The day we can finally flesh out the entire picture, there will be no gap left. Granted that the Big Bang and antecedent events are part theory. But the thing is, whatever we seem to be able to predict from this theory holds true. Whatever evidence we have gathered from Cosmic Background Radiation, the LHC and numerous other experiments and observations fill out the theory and prove it true. Then how is it a ‘gap theory’? The reverend (do you call a pastor that? Or is it for those higher in the hierarchy?) then bemoans that no one preaching ID (Intelligent Design) gets into prestigious colleges as teaching faculty, implying they should. If whatever they propose to teach, even if it flies in the face of all scientific evidence is valid and deserves to be taught, then someone wanting to teach about the “true” life of Hercules as a history lesson deserves equal representation as someone teaching the history of the Tudors. ID doesn’t get into peer reviewed journals because of the vast conspiracy against it (I’m sure there is, father). He calls the whole thing a smokescreen, without bothering to explain how it is so. In the end he says it’s a fascinating fact that 150 years after the publishing of ‘The Origin of Species’, only 39% of Americans believe in evolution. Finally, one point on which I can agree with the good reverend! It is indeed an astounding fact, though for very different reasons than the pastor thinks.

About hbhatnagar

I need to fill this up with much better content than I had populated it with earlier. Why I write a blog maybe? I started blogging in 2009 or thereabouts. I was a newly turned atheist and wanted to converse with others of the same persuasion. We're not exactly a big population group in India! It didn't go very well and I sort of lost interest, posting a few things now and then. I got a lot more regular over the last few months and have been posting almost daily since February '15. There were many reasons why I gradually became more regular in posting, but one way or the other, here I am! So this blog has taken shape, being at different points in time my showcase, my comedy club, my art gallery, my book club, my therapist, my close friend, my innermost self....but always my little corner of the world. You are all welcome to visit and I hope you stay awhile! A few points about me because I don't want to lead anyone on(and trust me this does become an issue more often than I'd care to admit). I'm Indian, the brown-skinned variety; if race, ethnicity or skin colour is an issue, you don't have to get to know me any more than what you see on my blog. I'm 40, so if age is an issue, please be informed accordingly. I was a doctor, an ophthalmic surgeon for 10 years before I quit practice.

Discussion

27 thoughts on “Gaping holes……

  1. BTW, George Coyne is a Christian. He’s been on Speaking of Faith and other programs, and his faith isn’t shaken at all by scientific fact. He chooses to believe that god chose to work through those mechanisms. And he doesn’t go around trying to shove his beliefs down people’s throats. That I can accept or at least respect.

    Like

    Posted by David | 13/02/2012, 1:27 PM
    • I saw the interview in “Religulous”. I think it’s because he’s a scientist at heart that Coyne cannot deny all the evidence at hand. It’s just that his religious beliefs are so ingrained in him that he finds a way to explain them both. Why he doesn’t shove them down other people’s throats may be partly due to his background in science, and because somewhere deep down he also realizes hos thin the ice is on which his beliefs stand. That said, I have nothing but respect for the man, at least he’s honest, and open-minded too.

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      Posted by hbhatnagar | 14/02/2012, 9:52 AM
      • Yup! I can at least have respect for the religious person who can accept evolution but attributes it to their god.

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        Posted by David | 14/02/2012, 10:45 AM
  2. … you do know that the title “god of the gaps” was a term invented by 19th century evangelist Henry Drummond to deride those who used god to explain all the things that (at the time) had no scientific rationale? He wrote, “There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps—gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps? . . . The idea of an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.” Now he sounds like the type of Christian you or I could hold a conversation with!

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    Posted by David | 11/02/2012, 1:19 PM
    • I fully agree. I wonder why I haven’t found a single believer who quoted this to me!

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      Posted by hbhatnagar | 11/02/2012, 11:01 PM
      • Because to attribute that to a Christian would almost certainly poke holes in their belief raft; and the rapids they’re attempting to ride are getting a lot rockier. I’d grown up with that phrase “god of the gaps” my whole life as an Evangelical, but didn’t learn the true origin of it until a few years ago when I was still trying to hold on to my faith. Hearing it in its context was a bit of a blow since it belied the complete lack of foundation that Creationism is founded on, and the ease with which they dismiss evidence. It’s simply stunning!

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        Posted by David | 12/02/2012, 8:12 AM
      • But is it too much to ask for one Christian to have read this passage and to believe in it, rather than Creationist pseudo-science?

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        Posted by hbhatnagar | 13/02/2012, 11:24 AM
      • Oh, there certainly are! There are Christians who don’t see a problem with universe being 15 billion years old.

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        Posted by David | 13/02/2012, 11:40 AM
      • But are those the same people who claim Creationism as a valid scientific doctrine? Most Christians who have little or no problem with science are, in my limited experience, non-fundamentalist, barely practicing Christians, people who go to Church maybe once in a while, and vaguely believe in Christ and his message.

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        Posted by hbhatnagar | 13/02/2012, 1:09 PM
      • Sure, there are Christians who accept scientific evidence and evolution as the logical explanation for how we got here. They’re probably what we’d call more “liberal” or “progressive” Christians. It’s the fundamentalists, who believe that EVERY WORD IN THE BIBLE IS ABSOLUTELY TRUE DON’T EVEN BOTHER QUESTIONING IT, IT’S TRUE, IT’S TRUE AND YOU CAN BELIEVE THAT. There’s a fantastic bit from Bill Maher’s documentary “Religulous” (http://youtu.be/h5ACyiSPAmE) where he interviews the Creationist Ken Hamm, who admits that if Creationism isn’t true then the whole rest of the bible falls apart. However, there’s also Vatican astronomer George Coyne who says, “If you’re a scientist, you can’t accept [that the earth is 6,000 years old].” The Christians who desperately cling to Creationism are terrified of examining their beliefs for fear that they might fall apart when you actually look closely.

        I LOVE George Coyne!!

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        Posted by David | 13/02/2012, 1:25 PM
  3. Strike this: “The only explanation for the Universe popping into existence from nothing must therefore be supernatural.” I meant to say “The only explanation for the Universe coming into existence must therefore be supernatural”.

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    Posted by philosopher145 | 13/09/2011, 11:48 PM
    • Most scientists say the universe had a beginning, and that they don’t know “yet” how it began. Now if you posit a supernatural beginning, you have to prove that too; just saying that it has to be supernatural doesn’t prove it. There is evidence of a Big Bang and people are trying to figure out what it was like before that, if anything. The leap is still from ‘unproven’ to ‘supernatural’ and that’s a giant leap, unsupported as it is. Even if the universe did spring out of nothing (not saying It did, there’s too little evidence), that does not presuppose a supernatural cause for it.
      Whatever we know about the origins of the universe we get from scientific theory that gets proven by experiments and/or observations. Is there any evidence for a supernatural cause for the origin? But it is inserted as a default candidate since science hasn’t answered the question yet. This is still the “god of the gaps”. Post the origin, the development of the universe is explained by scientific laws and doesn’t need a supernatural entity, so naturalism explains the rest. Only in the gaps where science hasn’t “yet” succeeded is the supernatural inserted. It could be called “naturalism of the gaps” if the rest of the story of the universe was explainable only by a supernatural entity and the origin question could not, i.e. if the situation was reversed.

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      Posted by hbhatnagar | 14/09/2011, 1:33 PM
  4. As I see it, there are only two possibilities for the naturalist: either the Universe has a beginning and, therefore, it must have come into existence (“popped”) out of nothing (in principle, there is no possible scientific explanation about how the Universe could come into being from absolutely nothing), or the Universe has no beginning and, therefore, it has existed from eternity past. The only explanation for the Universe popping into existence from nothing must therefore be supernatural. If you dismiss any supernatural explanation from the start (naturalism of the gaps), then you are left with no explanation at all, which you admit is unsatisfactory.

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    Posted by philosopher145 | 13/09/2011, 11:45 PM
  5. Greetings. One example of “naturalism of the gaps” is the idea that if something cannot, in principle, be explained scientifically, then there exists no explanation at all. For instance, if the Universe had a beginning, then the naturalist will say that the Universe just popped into being out of nothing, end of story. The naturalist will rule out the possibility of any type of explanation (e.g. supernatural). A more reasonable stance would be agnosticism (I don’t know whether it should be explained in terms of a supernatural creator).

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    Posted by philosopher145 | 13/09/2011, 2:59 AM
    • Thanks for commenting.
      I cannot seriously imagine any rational scientist actually claiming that the universe “popped out of nothing, end of story”. In this case i.e., the origin of the universe the proper attitude is one of agnosticism (shorn of it’s exclusive religious connotation that it seems to hold in the modern lexicon, of course). The supernatural is not an explanation at all in this case (or in any other), it has no logical standing, and no evidence in its favor. Another thing, I don’t find many scientists saying the question of Origin cannot be answered. Previous experience has alerted them to the stupidity of making such blanket statements. The question is unanswered, but not unanswerable.
      That said, if you do know of people who hold to that idea (popping out of nothing), I’d agree with you that they are just as wrong as those who claim a cosmic egg floating in an ocean cracked and released the universe.

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      Posted by hbhatnagar | 13/09/2011, 10:36 AM
  6. The remarkable thing for me was that he isn’t the only one pushing this idea of “atheism of the gaps”. Since then I have read a couple of more blogs accusing atheists of this very thing.

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    Posted by hbhatnagar | 01/09/2011, 4:55 PM
  7. Wow! That’s an remarkable slant.

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    Posted by hotshot bald cop | 01/09/2011, 6:13 AM
  8. Considering theists can’t even agree on a definition for a God, we’re completely justified in not considering that as a possibility. Besides, don’t most theists argue that we can’t find God, empirically I mean? I wonder if that pastor subscribes to that idea?

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    Posted by belfastatheist | 27/08/2011, 1:11 AM
    • Can’t say for the good pastor, but I find most theists doing something akin to moving the goalposts every time I try t have a frank discussion with them I wonder if it’s willful cheating or whether they honestly don’t have a clear idea of their own god in the first place.

      Like

      Posted by hbhatnagar | 30/08/2011, 9:58 PM
  9. In order to take the “all” literally it would be necessary to assume that I know every unanswered question there is in every field of science, and I surely lay no claim to that! I do not find theists in general laying down any criteria for demarcating certain questions as beyond the field of god or that cannot be explained by god. Indeed, I have often heard it argued that if you believe in the biblical creator, you cannot make such a distinction, since all things are possible with god.

    You mentioned the workings of the core of the earth. That is not as unexplained as, for example, the cosmological constants or even the existence of matter itself, so it comes as no surprise that no one claims (not discounting some probable lunatic fringe somewhere) that god resides in the centre of the earth and makes it work the way it does.:)

    I’m glad we agree about ID at least. I would like to know of some examples in modern day events/observations that hold true to Swinburne’s criteria. It’s quite a challenging list of conditions to honestly fulfill, I must say.

    I have always had problems with calling “an single being with infinite attributes” simple. All the characteristics we attribute to him makes him the most complex of all creation. The simple thing to me is just that we can arrogate to god all things we deem impossible to explain and well, that’s that. This isn’t the way for some believers and I’m thankful for that, otherwise the debate between theists and atheists would degenerate into a vicious slanging match (and it still does occasionally).

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    Posted by hbhatnagar | 19/08/2011, 11:44 AM
  10. Hi, hbhatnagar. Nice blog.

    I’d like to reply to your claim that theists “insert god into any section/sub-section/article of science in whichever field that scientists haven’t been able to explain yet.”

    As there are, in fact, many unexplained things in science that theists do not posit God as an explanation for, this claim is strictly false. For example, according to Natural Geographic, we don’t know how the interior of the earth works in much detail. Obviously, no one of note posits that God is keeping the interior of the earth working – everyone, theists included, expects a natural answer to the question of how the earth works.

    (source: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0630_050630_top25science_2.html)

    I suggest that typically, theists only posit God as an explanation for phenomena that they think meet the following conditions: (1) God predicts the phenomenon in question, (2) God is a simpler explanation of the phenomenon than any available scientific explanation, and (3) the phenomenon itself does not seem like a proper terminus of explanation. Thus theists posit God to explain the fine tuning of the cosmological constants, and not the inner workings of the earth.

    There’s a little more that I could say, but I’ll wait for your reply and see what questions or criticisms you have.

    Like

    Posted by Occam | 16/08/2011, 9:30 AM
    • Thanks for commenting!
      There are probably hundreds or thousands of things that are presently unexplained by science, so the “all” in my blog need not be taken literally. I’m sure there are other examples where believers have not yet posited god as an explanation.
      In response to your three point qualification for positing divine intervention, there are any number of claims that do not meet your own criteria, including the ID claims about the bacterial flagellar motor, the immune system, and the coagulation cascade among others. Essentially anything unexplained, again, not the literal term of the word ‘everything’. 🙂
      As for god being a simpler explanation, that is something of a paradox in itself as it posits the most complex occurrence of the whole chain in the beginning itself., god being the most complex Being in creation (or outside it, depending on your personal beliefs). I agree that the cosmological constants aren’t easy to explain but I find issue with assuming god as the simplest explanation.
      I really don’t know enough about what your beliefs are and how you understand the idea of god to criticize or question it, I am only replying here to your comment.
      Hope we can carry this conversation further.

      Like

      Posted by hbhatnagar | 17/08/2011, 10:21 AM
      • Hello again. Thanks for a courteous reply.

        You claim that the “all” in your post need not be taken literally. That’s fine, but it tends to make your claim subjective unless you can draw a line demarcating those things theists tend to attempt to explain from those that they do not attempt to explain. As I’m sure you’ll admit, in the absence of a criterion, this could just be an impression you’ve gotten which may or may not correspond to reality. (One also wonders in what reasonable sense the word “all” could be taken that is compatible with “hundreds or thousands” of counterexamples.)

        I’ll concede your point about ID. When I suggested (1)-(3), I was thinking of the criteria that Richard Swinburne proposes for theistic explanation. While these are widely used, there are violations of them, as in the case of ID. ID, however, is rejected by the more liberal segment of the Christian community, as represented in the works of Swinburne.

        Why do you think that God is “the most complex Being in [the universe]?” I think that the God hypothesis is very simple, myself, because God is a single being with some infinite attributes.

        As to what my beliefs are, I’m a liberal Christian heavily influenced by Swinburne’s work.

        Like

        Posted by Occam | 18/08/2011, 5:32 AM
  11. please use paragraphs. Had a hard time reading your post.

    Like

    Posted by theRealSasha | 10/08/2011, 9:49 AM

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