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God of the Gaps

In the last post, we looked at old-earth creationist Fazale Rana's attempt to use the existence of language to discredit evolution. Analyzing a PLOS ONE paper by Noam Chomsky, Ian Tattersall, and others, Rana concluded:

The rapid emergence of language might pose a problem for the theory of evolution, but it fits nicely with a biblical understanding of humanity’s origin. If human beings were uniquely made in God’s image through the Creator’s direct action, then it would be reasonable to think that language would appear suddenly and be uniquely associated with modern humans.

This is a disastrous line of thinking. Rana's science is bad, but his theology is far worse. Offering God as an alternative when science is unable to explain a phenomenon is a logical fallacy known as God of the gaps. At best, it reduces God's role from creator of the universe to one hypothesis among many.

At worst, this approach yields a continually diminishing view of God. As scientific knowledge advances, fewer gaps remain. When God is revealed only in the things we can't otherwise explain, we find the more we grow, the more God shrinks.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison, explains how to avoid this trap.

How wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.

Rather than looking for God as Rana does in the origin of language, or as biochemist Michael Behe does in the notion that some things are irreducibly complex, believers ought to be able to see God in everyday experiences—a sunset, a baby's smile, a cup of coffee with a friend. The 17th century mystic Brother Lawrence was able to find God's presence even in mundane activities, such as washing the dishes.

Creationist apologists may believe they are lending their savior a helping hand by hammering at the areas evolutionary biologists have trouble explaining. In reality, they are putting God in a box.

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