Believing in the God of the gaps creates a problem for believers

Have you heard of the God of the gaps? Perhaps you believe in such a God. The God of the gaps is the God used to explain things that we humans have yet to explain with science. For instance, the ancients believed that thunder and lightning were signs their God (or gods) was angry. Now we know, thanks to science, that thunder and lightning are natural occurrences that happen when the right conditions in the atmosphere are met. There is no mystery to it, and no display of divine emotion.

In modern times, the God of the gaps is used to explain the origin of life and its evolution on earth, or the mysteries of the universe that remain unsolved by science.

Sometimes this takes the form of just denying the science outright, as young earth creationists do with their belief in a 6,000-year-old earth. This is in direct contradiction of the findings of modern science, which show the earth is 4.6 billion years old and the universe is 13.7 billion years old.

Other times it takes the form of believing in the science only up to the point where the science has no current explanation, and then positing “God did it!”. It reminds me of the story of the mathematician working on a long and difficult mathematical equation that he is having difficulty solving. Finally, in frustration, he writes “then God” and writes down a solution.

But believing in the God of the gaps creates a problem for believers.

Speaking of the God of the gaps, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the new TV show “Cosmos” said, “If that’s where you are going to put your God in this world, then God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance…If you are going to stay religious at the end of the conversation, God has to be more to you than where science has yet to tread.”

The Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer agrees. “It has brought home to me how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. For the frontiers of knowledge are inevitably being pushed back further and further, which means that you only think of God as a stop-gap. He also is being pushed back further and further, and is in more or less continuous retreat. We should find God in what we do know, not in what we don’t; not in outstanding problems but in those we have already solved.”

Bonhoeffer understood the real problem. Except for those believers who will tenaciously cling to their faith no matter what science reveals, people of faith who believe in the God of the gaps will find their God getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller. That is where the road of the God of the gaps ultimately leads.

The Rev. Mel Emurian is the minister at the Living Hope Freethinkers in Gloversville.