Opposing the God of the Gaps
I’ve long been familiar with the type of argument that is known as “the God of the gaps”, though it has only been within the last year that I’ve heard that name applied to this particular argument from ignorance.
Shortly, for those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, a “God of the gaps” argument points to one area where either humanity as a group, or the individual making the argument in particular, have less than complete knowledge. The one proposing the God-of-the-gap argument then declares that God fits into that gap of knowledge. At one time, it was possible to respond to any question of how or why by responding that God was the answer, or at least the cause. As humans have discovered how various things work or why they happen, the gaps for this God to live in have gotten increasingly smaller.
The God of the gap is popularly invoked to explain the very beginnings of the universe, consciousness, common understandings of morality or the existence of living organisms. If we don’t quite know how something happened, God did it. If we aren’t sure why something happens the way it does, it happens that way in accordance with God’s plan.
Sometimes new gaps are created for this God to exist in. To ask why the universe exists, or what purpose life has, presupposes a gap in our current knowledge someone can claim God is, or provides, the answer to. On a more individual level, if we pray for something and receive it without being able to see how or why we may have received what we prayed for (sometimes by not looking for, or even denying, other possibilities), we can choose to assume the answer is the God of the gaps.
Just recently, I’ve begun to wonder if what happens when someone invokes the God-of-the-gaps is worse than simply another logical fallacy to be disregarded in an argument. Once someone chooses to invoke the God-of-the-gaps, that someone has equated their god with their ignorance. Now, it’s true that ignorance can be described with many of the same characteristics often attributed to various gods. God is the beginning and the end; we are born in ignorance and die with ignorance. God is beyond all human understanding; the more we know, the more we are aware of how much there still is that we are ignorant of. God is good; ignorance is bliss.
But, if ignorance becomes god, in any area, there are those who will argue that it has become sacred- set aside for special treatment. It is not to be attacked or questioned. Indeed, as it is worshipped, it grows in apparent importance when compared to all related knowledge. Not only do we not know something, but it is considered blasphemous to seek information about it. It becomes possible to claim that accepting something as a mystery is an act of humility, implying that attempting to understand it is an act of arrogance. All progress in that area comes to a halt.
If we claim to follow the Judeo-Christian god who is reported to command that we love Him with all our minds and to not worship any idols in His stead, we do Him a great disservice by forwarding a God-of-the-gaps argument and thereby worshipping our ignorance as god. If we worship or follow a god (or pantheon) who does not command thought or forbid idolatry, we still do our god(s) a disservice by being unwilling to learn from all of that god’s (or those gods’) self-revelation in creation.
If we do not believe there is a god, we do ourselves a disservice whenever we allow ignorance to be set up as a god. C.J. Cherryh, in one of her novels, had a character say, “Ignorance killed the cat…. Curiosity was framed.” What we don’t know can hurt us, and even outside of self-preservation, there is so much beauty and elegance in the universe and potential in humanity, that refusing to learn or allowing an area to be considered off-limits to enquiry seems very much like a sin- against ourselves, if no one else.
Investigation and education are our only tools against ignorance, and thus, the God of the gaps. If we choose not to worship our ignorance, neither should we settle for it. Instead, we can choose to continue learning and sharing what we learn throughout our lives.