Extracting Gods from the Gaps

Why does it rain? What causes earthquakes? Why is the sky blue? Before the scientific revolution the answers were God makes it rain, God causes earthquakes, and God makes the sky blue. Organized religion with a belief in Gods may have appeared around 11,000 BC, but it was not until writing was invented around 3,000 BC among the Sumerians that there is evidence of organized religion. Soon writing spread to other cultures so that we have records of chiefs, kings and emperors, claiming to be agents of Gods or, in the case of pharaohs, Gods. Eventually priests, shamans and story tellers created myths that proclaimed that Gods were the explanation for not only natural phenomena, but even human behavior. Why do wars occur? Why do people fall in love? There are war Gods and love Goddesses.

By the eighth century BC Homer’s Iliad also explains love and hatred, victories or losses as well as storms, plagues, rain, etc., as the activity of the Gods.

Since the Scientific Revolution science has discovered explanations for phenomena of nature such as floods, earthquakes, eclipses, rain, thunder and lightning, as well as human phenomena such as epilepsy and sociopathic behavior. One would think the 'God of the gaps' explanation of unexplained phenomena would have disappeared. On the contrary, it is still alive and thriving among the faithful. In fact, anyone attempting to fight superstition/religion with empirical evidence will discover that they are involved in a losing battle.

A good example of 'God of the gaps' is the prevalence of creationism in the United States despite all the advances in the physical, biological and social sciences. The disputants will change the topic rather than admit evidence just destroyed their superstition. Therefore the best way to combat this fallacy is to be familiar with the myths of other religions and ask them why one should believe any culture’s myths over those of another. In other words, how do they know what they think they know? Once the faithful are backed into a corner where they have to admit that their knowledge is subjective, that they base its truthfulness because they are convinced that their relationship with God guarantees they are the ones with Truth.

The problem is that the Mormons, Hindus, Muslims and every other form of believer claims the same thing. Hopefully the seed of doubt has been planted and they may eventually realize the foundations of their faith are sand, not rock.

One of the arguments atheists often hear in the defense of believing something without evidence, such as the existence of a divine being, is that one doesn’t have to see something to know it exists. One of the weak examples of this is: 'What about love? You can’t see love, but you know it’s real.' I actually had a philosophy professor argue for the existence of God with this claim. I said, 'That’s not an equivalent example. I have over a decade of personal perceptual experience with my partner whom I love: I see her; I hear her; I feel her; I smell her; I live with her; I vacation with her. I have had more of the experiences of my senses that I’m having with you right now, and those experiences are justified belief by the fact that other people’s sense organs and experience with her confirm that she is not a delusion of mine.' Then he replied, 'But other Christians feel the presence of Christ in their lives just like I do.' 'Ah,' I countered, 'but that is a form of mutual delusion based solely on an emotion, not on seeing and hearing the same thing about another flesh and blood real person. The scientific method is the only way mankind has devised to actually test truth claims. Belief in a divine being is not justified belief that can be subjected and confirmed by the scientific method. Those emotions of the reality of Jesus taken as evidence for justified belief are no different than the delusions of Ganesh the elephant God in India being real to those people, or the God Apollo being real to the ancient Greeks, yet you deny the reality of those culture’s feelings.' He evaded continued conversation without admitting anything.

I started a conversation with another believing philosophy professor by saying, 'There is no more evidence for a belief in a divine being than there is in unicorns.' He indicated that that was not at all a reasonable analogy. I immediately inquired as to why he thought that, but he indicated he did not want to talk about it. I haven’t followed up for quite a while, because he did not seem at all amenable to this sort of discussion, but I fully intend to inquire eventually about his epistemology that would allow him to reject that analogy. I suspect he instantly realized he had no viable counterargument. —Richard Baldwin