Beware the God of the Gaps

             It’s said by some that we live in a de-enchanted world.  From at least the days of Isaac Newton, science has peeled back the layers of reality and offered explanations for what was once believed to be the realm and work of God.  What was once unexplainable now has a natural or rational explanation.  The universe is governed by the laws of nature, ever evolving and developing without the apparent need for divine intervention.  Newton did believe that from time to time God was needed to fine tune things, but in general, things ran rather mechanically.  God might be the first cause, but now has been relegated to a distant, behind the scenes, role in the universe.  If God is so distant and uninvolved, then surely we can ignore God – and we often do – even if we profess a particular faith.  
The question that modern science raises for people of faith is a difficult one to answer.  Whereas once many diseases or psychological conditions had spiritual explanations (divine punishment or demon possession), now we can explain them in medical terms and find solutions devised by science.  Where we once believed that the earth stood at the center of the universe, with the sun, the planets, and the stars rotating around us, we now know we’re nothing but the third rock rotating around a rather small and insignificant star.

So, is there a place for God in this new age of science?  There are some who answer the question by giving priority to religious explanations and downplaying science, but is this wise?    

            Consider for a moment the debate about climate change.  Why are so many people resistant to the idea that not only are humans contributing to global warming, but that there is consensus within the scientific community concerning this theory.  Why do so many people treat scientific “theories” as if they are mere conjecture or opinion?  Is there a fear that if we give room to science, we might lose God?  Have we bought into the premise offered by folks such as Richard Dawkins that theology is nothing more than “fairiology?”  In other words, theology isn’t a real intellectual pursuit – it’s simply superstition.

            As we approach the birthday of Charles Darwin (February 12) I believe it is important that people of faith address the question of whether we can continue believing in God in an age of science.  If Darwin is correct, and I believe he is, that we have evolved from a common ancestor over a period of billions of years, then where does God fit?  Some will answer that we must adhere to the biblical story, but is the biblical story designed to tell us scientific truth?  Is that its purpose?  Some will say that evolution has dangerous consequences, so it needs to be resisted.  After all, didn’t Hitler believe in evolution?  That people have twisted theories for their own benefit doesn’t mean that they’re not true.  
            If science is correct on matters such as evolution, the question facing us is this – where does God fit?  In answer the question I’ve posed a warning:  “Beware the God of the Gaps.”  While I will affirm the premise that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, I am concerned about the tendency among some of my co-religionists to use God as an explanation for the unexplainable.  We call this the “God of the Gaps,” using God as a stopgap measure to explain the unexplainable.  So, because we don’t know exactly how things began, except that it seems to have started with a “Big Bang,” then surely we can say that God is the “First Cause.”  Once things got started, a further issue arises – how did life forms develop?  Proponents of Intelligent Design suggest that God is responsible for the design of the forms that life takes, using the idea of “irreducible complexity” as proof that a designer is needed.  As William Paley, an 18th century Anglican priest suggested, if you find a watch lying alongside the road, you must assume it had a creator – a watchmaker.  Since nature seems to express an intelligent design, then we can assume it has a designer – a divine watchmaker.  And with this assumption, we have proof for the existence of God.  

            The problem with Paley’s argument is that the realm of God’s activity shrinks with every scientific discovery.  What we can’t explain today, could receive an explanation tomorrow.   Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer worried about this tendency, and in a letter written from prison to his friend and Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer writes that we shouldn’t use God as a
 “stopgap for the incompleteness of our knowledge, because then, as is objectively inevitable—when the boundaries of knowledge are pushed ever further, God too is pushed further away and thus is ever on the retreat.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, (Fortress Press, 2009), pp. 405-406]. 
Bonhoeffer wisely recommends that we seek to find God present in what we know, rather than what we don’t know.  Rather than thinking of God as the divine watchmaker, we must assume that God is present in and with the development of this universe.

            I’m not a scientist; I’m trained as a historian and a theologian.  As a Christian who is by profession a pastor of a church, I believe in God.  By faith I affirm that God is the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.  Having said this, I don’t expect the Bible, to which I turn for my spiritual sustenance, to offer a scientific account of reality.  That’s not the purpose of the Bible.  To ask it to offer such explanations is to force it to do something it’s not “designed” to do.  For such explanations, I turn to science.  I don’t need to force scripture and science to say the same thing.  By faith, I can, however, affirm the premise that the heavens and earth, whatever the scientific explanations might be, do declare the Glory of God.
            Because I am increasingly concerned about the implications for both the faith community and the world at large, I have invested myself in building bridges between the scientific and the religious.  I believe there needs to be conversation, with both realms of thought learning from the other.  With this in mind I have been a participant in the Evolution Weekend project from its very beginning.  This weekend congregations from a variety of faith traditions from across the nation and beyond will observe this event as a way of saying no to those who would appeal to a stopgap God and to those who reject outright any place for God in the conversation.  Our future as a planet depends in large part in the success of this conversation.  So, won’t you join me in this observance?  Let us a put an end to the “war” between religion and science so that we can live together in a more peaceful, just, and fruitful world.  For me, that means that God is ever present in this process, not sitting back finished on the sixth day! 

Also posted at the Troy Patch


Gary said…
Cornwall, you are by your own admission, a Darwinist. As such, you deny the truth of the Bible, and reveal that your claim of being a Christian is a lie. Evolution cannot be reconciled with the Bible, which clearly states that God created everything in six days. You have made your choice to believe "science" and deny God. Whether God will allow you to ever change your mind is a mystery.
David said…
Gary, have you covered your ears to what modern science has to offer? It's so sad. Jesus said there are some thing we couldn't bear to know during His time, but you know everything! How do you bear it old man? Not learning what we are now able to behold. You're missing out buddy. Most scientists are very spiritual, and work because they are drawn to understanding the mind of the creator through his art. They are just, on average, much more pragmatic and honest in their beliefs. Wouldn't it be awesome, if we could all end the shame of our doubts and beliefs, and really share what God suggests to each of us as important?
I'm so sick of little people, with no imagination, proclaiming they know the truth. Go make some more bright green posters advertising you and your brother's hate. It actually helps differentiate you from wise people.
Gary said…
David, what "Jesus" do you believe in? Certainly not the Jesus in the New Testament. If you believed in the Biblical Jesus, you would believe the Biblical account of creation in six days.
Gary said…
David, what "Jesus" do you believe in? Certainly not the Jesus in the New Testament. If you believed in the Biblical Jesus, you would believe the Biblical account of creation in six days.
David said…
And, I don't. How does one explain this mystery? I like to be a fool for Christ in my interactions with others, not belief in fairy tales.
Gary said…
No, you don't. It isn't a mystery. You have chosen to believe "science" instead of the Bible. That is fine unless you want to be Christian, or a Jew. The Bible teaches a six day creation as an historical fact. Jesus believed it. All of God's people throughout the Bible believed it. And all of God's people still believe it.
David said…
I don't beleve I'm misguided Gary. And I don't think you're saving any souls with your lunacy. You and you group are Taliban-wanna be. You just aren't brave enough. You hide behind our constitution. If it wasn't for freedom, you'd be cowering.
David said…
I'll be honest Gary, you're a jack ass, but I still like you. We should really find some common ground, that's when you're most inspiring. Let's not forget the greatest commandment. Show this to your mates tomorrow. Maybe you'll all be enlightened by a laugh.

God wants us to find ways to get along, That, I'm sure of.
Gary said…
David, I dislike hypocrites, and you are a hypocrite. You claim to be a Christian, but you're not. Jesus proved your hypocrisy in John 5:46,47. Moses wrote Genesis and Exodus, both of which confirm the six day creation. But you don't believe that Genesis or Exodus are true. Jesus said, in John 5:47, "But if ye believe not his(Moses') writings, how shall ye believe my words?" If you claim to believe what Jesus said, but deny the historical truth of Genesis and Exodus, you're not going to believe what Jesus said either, which proves your claim of being a follower of Jesus is a lie.

There is no way to reconcile evolution with the Bible. The only thing you evolutionists can do, if you want to pretend to be Christians, is pretend the Bible does not mean what it says. You should just be honest and admit that you don't believe any of the Bible is true. Honesty is always best. God already knows you don't believe the Bible, so you can't fool Him.
David said…
I have been honest Gary. So, has everyone here, who has tried to reach out and connect with you over the years, but has Apparently failed. I knew it wan't worth throwing you a bone, but I'm going through trials and challenges, as we speak. I hoped for a miracle as a sign. In you. It hasn't bore fruit as yet. But I still have faith. I have many miracles to record. Gary, I'm a profesional scientist, it's how I'm built. It doesn't effect my relationship with God. It enriches it. John is a lawyer. A specialist in the science of man and his interactions. What are youma specialist in? Blind Judgment!
David said…
All I have to add Gary. You,must have lived a very sheltered life. It is not a blessing. I feel real bad for you. It appears you'll never allow yourself to live and love. It's a wast of flesh. It's the shame of our generations.
David said…
Jesus proved your hypocrisy in Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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