Friday, February 12, 2016

Is there anything wrong with God of the Gaps reasoning?

Robert Larmer says no. 

24 comments:

Joe Hinman said...

The main thing is gaps close up. It might also said to be a form of befogging the question. It seems to me like GOTG could be leveraged into an abductive claim without much work. Of course depends upon the gap. Bu one could say "this is the best explanation given we don't have any others.

One thing that bugs me a lot atheists are always saying my argument GOTG when I actually always try to find a logical or factual barrier in the gapis not just a matter of a gap. Must be a lot of atheists who don't know any other fallacies.

John Moore said...

So for example: If God did not exist and the world were entirely naturalistic and mechanistic, would we expect by now to have a detailed explanation for the origin of life?

Edgestow said...

Two unrelated comments on the article.

1. I really liked the following (about half way down the page):

"[I]t is a commonplace that there are gaps in nature’s capabilities that intelligent agents can bridge. Scientists in a variety of disciplines routinely posit intelligent agency to account for the gaps that would otherwise exist in their explanations. No one accuses archaeologists of a “scribe of the gaps” fallacy when they infer an intelligent cause for the inscriptions on the Rosetta stone. Neither do they censure anthropologists who posit intelligent agency on the basis that certain chipped flint patterns cannot be explained by reference to unintelligent causes.

There is, then, nothing unscientific about the idea that there are things that nature does not or cannot do and that intelligent agents can bring about events that nature would not or could not otherwise do."

2. Why haven't more people countered criticism of the "God of the Gaps" argument by pointing out that atheists instinctively use a mirror-image "Science of the Gaps" reasoning? By this I mean where they'll inevitably say, when faced with some unsolvable mystery, "Oh, science will eventually discover the explanation for that." Such faith I have not found even in Israel! Punting to the future is a cop out. All you've done is move the goalposts an infinite distance, since there will forever be a "future" to dump all your hopes in.

3. (Bonus Point) Although I mostly dislike God of the Gaps reasoning, I do believe there are two instances where such reasoning is unassailable. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" and "Why am I aware of my own existence?" I do not believe that "science" will ever answer either of those two questions.

grodrigues said...

@Edgestow:

"Although I mostly dislike God of the Gaps reasoning, I do believe there are two instances where such reasoning is unassailable."

The arguments to which you allude to are *not* commonly formulated as gap reasoning, far from it.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Two unrelated comments on the article.

1. I really liked the following (about half way down the page):

"[I]t is a commonplace that there are gaps in nature’s capabilities that intelligent agents can bridge. Scientists in a variety of disciplines routinely posit intelligent agency to account for the gaps that would otherwise exist in their explanations. No one accuses archaeologists of a “scribe of the gaps” fallacy when they infer an intelligent cause for the inscriptions on the Rosetta stone. Neither do they censure anthropologists who posit intelligent agency on the basis that certain chipped flint patterns cannot be explained by reference to unintelligent causes.

There is, then, nothing unscientific about the idea that there are things that nature does not or cannot do and that intelligent agents can bring about events that nature would not or could not otherwise do."


This might surprise you, but I agree that intelligent design in the broad sense can be a scientific explanation. Furthermore, the evolution/creationism/ID controversy aside, we do explain "information" in terms of an intelligent being. But notice that, the evolution/creationism/ID controversy aside, all non-question-begging examples of conscious activity are dependent upon a physical brain, which is itself dependent upon matter. So our fully stated background knowledge seems to be that we post material, embodied intelligent agency to account for the gaps that would otherwise exist in our knowledge. Once the background knowledge is fully stated, however, it's far from obvious it favors theism over naturalism.

investigativeapologetics said...

Jeff,

You said:

"...all non-question-begging examples of conscious activity are dependent upon a physical brain, which is itself dependent upon matter. So our fully stated background knowledge seems to be that we post material, embodied intelligent agency to account for the gaps that would otherwise exist in our knowledge. Once the background knowledge is fully stated, however, it's far from obvious it favors theism over naturalism."

Once again, it is you who are question-begging with the "matter" aspect. Nothing in our background knowledge shows that people are made of matter. This is a materialist assumption, and one which I do not grant. Nevertheless...even granting your above claim, a broad theist could simply claim that his conception of god is as a material being, and thus your objection evaporates (as on Mormonism, for example).

Furthermore, "gap" arguments should be viewed more as concerned with causal power, not explanation as such. So take the origin of life, for example:

1 - Life exists and thus must have a causal origin.

2 - The origin of life either has a naturalistic causal origin or a supernaturalistic one (we cover all possibilities here).

3 - After much thorough and detailed searching, no naturalistic causal account of the origin of life is viable.

4 - Therefore, it is rational to provisionally hold that the origin of life has a supernatural causal origin (for it must have an origin and those are the only two possibilities...plus we know that certain forms of supernaturalism (such as deism), have, by definition, the causal power to cause life).

5 - Therefore, it is rational to provisionally hold that naturalism is false.

So as you can see, such an argument avoids all your talk about background knowledge and physical minds, etc.

Furthermore, note that this is NOT an argument from ignorance, but rather an argument from knowledge: namely, the knowledge that natural forces are causally inadequate to create life.

Finally, notice that the atheist cannot object to this argument because this is often the way the atheist argues against gods. The atheist "looks and sees" to determine if what he would expect given the existence of god is there, and if it is not there, then, after a thorough search, the atheist tentatively concludes that god does not exist (or that it is rational to believe that god does not exist). But it is the same thing against the naturalist. If naturalism is true, we would expect to find that natural forces have the causal power to create life, and if, after thoroughly searching, we find that natural forces do not have this power, then we are rational to conclude that natural forces did not cause the origin of life and that supernatural forces were required. So if the atheist objects to this line of reasoning, then he has arguably just made his own atheism untenable.

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Joe Hinman said...

Why haven't more people countered criticism of the "God of the Gaps" argument by pointing out that atheists instinctively use a mirror-image "Science of the Gaps" reasoning? By this I mean where they'll inevitably say, when faced with some unsolvable mystery, "Oh, science will eventually discover the explanation for that." Such faith I have not found even in Israel! Punting to the future is a cop out. All you've done is move the goalposts an infinite distance, since there will forever be a "future" to dump all your hopes in.


>>>Iagree with you but that's a common answer on message boards.

Joe Hinman said...

"Once again, it is you who are question-begging with the "matter" aspect. Nothing in our background knowledge shows that people are made of matter. This is a materialist assumption, and one which I do not grant. Nevertheless...even granting your above claim, a broad theist could simply claim that his conception of god is as a material being, and thus your objection evaporates (as on Mormonism, for example)."

>>the problem is it seems much reasonable to assume that there is something there when we speak of "soli matter" sconce everywhere about us we have the tactile sensations and conscious wariness of physical things with no exceptions.

This is much like the "fact" of causes which we observe everywhere with no exceptions. I am sure based upon his writings Jeff will grant me the assumption of matter based upon the former and demy the latter, the assumption that all things need causes, like the universe. they seem like the same kind of reasoning to me.

Joe Hinman said...

"all non-question-begging examples of conscious activity are dependent upon a physical brain, which is itself dependent upon matter. So our fully stated background knowledge seems to be that we post material, embodied intelligent agency to account for the gaps that would otherwise exist in our knowledge."

Yes accept only in so far as accessing consciousness goes. here is no proof that brain function creates consciousness or that consciousness can be reduced to it.

see my essay Mind not Reducible to Brain There is positive evidence against it

jdhuey said...

3 - After much thorough and detailed searching, no naturalistic causal account of the origin of life is viable.

This is an overly strong statement (that is, it's wrong). At worst, you can correctly say that none of the naturalistic causal accounts of the origin of life so far proposed have been proven yet.

Also, there are various lines of facts that indicate that the origin of life can be strictly natural but no lines of evidence that point to any supernatural source.

planks length said...

but no lines of evidence

Once again, that depends entirely on what you regard as evidence. I can see tons of evidence that the origin of life is "supernatural" - none of it empirical. But I'm not one of those who are so blinkered that they think empirical evidence is the only path to knowledge.

investigativeapologetics said...

Huey,

You said:

This is an overly strong statement (that is, it's wrong).

I was not asserting it as a fact at this point--although an argument could be made to that effect--but rather just using it as an example of how such an argument as mine could go through.

At worst, you can correctly say that none of the naturalistic causal accounts of the origin of life so far proposed have been proven yet.

Two things. First, it is not "at worst" but rather that state of affairs as it is today; atheistic pipe-dreams to the contrary, origin-of-life studies is no closer to a solution than it was 50 years ago. Second, the atheist does not get to have a free ride on an endless promissory note. He does not get to say "Just give me more time...a solution is just around the corner" every time it is pointed out that he has no solution. At some point, it is rational to provisionally hold the claim that there is no naturalistic solution. I am sorry, but the naturalist cannot be like a cheap date who strings us along endless with promises that are never fulfilled. At some point, the naturalist needs to put up or shut up. And right now, at least as it concerns a number of things (origin of life, consciousness, evolution of language, etc.) naturalism is in a state where it will need to put up or shut up very soon, and it ain't looking good for naturalism, if you know what I mean.

You said:

Also, there are various lines of facts that indicate that the origin of life can be strictly natural but no lines of evidence that point to any supernatural source.

I might be misunderstanding your meaning, but this statement appears foolish, to say the least, especially in light of the argument I presented above. Again, the point of the argument is to show that THING X either has a natural causal origin or a supernatural one. If it does not have a natural cause, then, by definition, it has a supernatural one. The conclusion is inescapable. Furthermore, certain supernaturalisms, by definition, could account for the origin of life. For example, God, being omnipotent and omniscient, could, by definition, create life. So there is no concern that somehow supernaturalism could not account for life even if naturalism could not, for it is obvious that some supernaturalisms can account for the origin of life, and consciousness, and etc.

Furthermore, the naturalistic cannot just get away with the "various lines of evidences" kind of give us hints that maybe a naturalistic solution is there; no, the naturalist can either convincingly show that natural forces have the causal power to generate life, consciousness, etc. or he cannot, and if he cannot, then we non-naturalists cannot be faulted for dismissing naturalism as being simply unable to account for the facts of the world around us. Again, don't give me hints...give me a naturalistic answer, or shut the hell up! (Not you specifically, of course, just naturalists in general).

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jdhuey said...

(T)here is no proof that brain function creates consciousness or that consciousness can be reduced to it.

May I suggest that you read _Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts _ by Stanislas Dehaene. Dehaene (and his team) developed a diagnostic technique for measuring when an unresponsive patient is still conscious and when they are not. This technique has been used in the diagnosis of when a person is in a permanent vegetative state or when they might recover.

While there may not be "proof" that brain function creates consciousness, everything that we know about brain function and about consciousness is consistent with that being true.

investigativeapologetics said...

While there may not be "proof" that brain function creates consciousness, everything that we know about brain function and about consciousness is consistent with that being true.

And everything we know about brain function is also quite consistent with dualism and idealism as well.

jdhuey said...

And everything we know about brain function is also quite consistent with dualism and idealism as well.

So, exactly how does a dualistic mind interact with the physical brain (and don't suggest the pineal gland)?

jdhuey said...

Leaving the question of truth to the side for the moment, a serious problem with any supernatural explanation is that it really donesn't explain anything. You start with something that you don't understand and you try to explain it with something, that by definition, you don't understand. Instead of connecting the unknown to something you can know, you have connected the unknown to something you can never know.

All supernatural explanations are inherently BAD explanations. Good explanations are useful, supernatual explanations are not. Good explanations have strong interconnections with other things that are known, supernatural explantions don't interconnect with anything. Good explantions are hard to change or modify, supernatual explanations can be changed on a whim. Good explanations enable you to say 'if this is true then this other thing must also be true', supernatural explanations are strictly ad hoc explanations that have no reach beyond the immediate topic. Basically, a supernatural explanation is for all intents and purposes the same as saying 'I don't know' but less honest.

planks length said...

a serious problem with any supernatural explanation is that it really doesn't explain anything

What an amazing statement! It may not explain anything to a person unwilling to even consider the merits of such an explanation, but to someone who genuinely listens, ponders, and allows the explanation to sink in (in its own time and at its own speed), a "supernatural explanation" can explain much.

Why am I here? (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
How must I live? (Mark 10:17-22)
Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
What is His [God's] name? (Exodus 3:13-14)
Why do I sin? (Romans)
"Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15)
Where is the way to the dwelling of Light? (Job 38:19)

Such explanations are most "useful".

investigativeapologetics said...

Huey,
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Not to be rude, but a great deal of what you say is, to me, just wrong, and so we need to deconstruct your word completely:
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You said:
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“Leaving the question of truth to the side for the moment, a serious problem with any supernatural explanation is that it really donesn't explain anything.”
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Which is precisely why I we should view the issue as one of causal adequacy, not explanation. Furthermore, a naturalistic explanation, if false, does not explain anything either, BECAUSE ITS FALSE! So the first point is to determine which explanation is true, regardless of whether it explains stuff or not. Thus, leaving aside the question of truth in explanations simply is not possible.
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More..
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Huey said:
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“You start with something that you don't understand and you try to explain it with something, that by definition, you don't understand.”
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Wrong, you don’t try to explain it in the sense of a “mechanism”. Rather, you simply realize that one potential causal origin (namely, a naturalistic causal origin) for the thing in question does not exist, and so you realize that, by necessity, it must have a supernatural causal origin. The problem for naturalism is that in order to show that it can causal account for the thing in question, it must, necessarily, provide a mechanism, but the same is not true for certain supernatural answers, for we can know that certain supernatural beings—such as God—have, BY DEFINITION, the causal power necessary to cause the thing in question. So whereas the naturalistic must show a mechanism in order to show a naturalistic causal origin of the thing in question, the supernaturalist need not do so in order to still show the causal adequacy of supernaturalism.
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More..
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Huey said:
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“Instead of connecting the unknown to something you can know, you have connected the unknown to something you can never know. “
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First, I don’t grant this. But granting it for the sake of argument, it is irrelevant given that if the thing you can know (a naturalistic mechanism) is false (cannot causally account for the thing in question), then it is no explanation at all, for it is lacking the critical component of every good explanation: explanatory power.
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More...

investigativeapologetics said...

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Huey said:
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“All supernatural explanations are inherently BAD explanations.”
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Absolute horseshit. If a supernatural explanation is true, then it is an excellent explanation, even if it might be missing other explanatory virtues that we might desire. And a false naturalistic explanation, even if it posits a mechanism, is a bad explanation because its false.
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More…
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Huey said:
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“Good explanations are useful, supernatual explanations are not.”
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No, good explanations are true, and they can become better explanations if also useful, but a useful but false explanation is not a good one. Ergo, a supernatural “explanation” can be good, and a naturalistic explanation bad, even if the latter is useful and the former is not (and even that is a debatable claim).
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More..
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Huey said:
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“Basically, a supernatural explanation is for all intents and purposes the same as saying 'I don't know' but less honest.”
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Again, bullshit. And with a whiff of promissory naturalism implied. The fact is, a supernatural explanation is not saying “I don’t know”, it is saying “I have looked and looked and looked for a naturalistic causal origin of the thing in question, and there is not one, and therefore I know that there is not one…and so, by extension, the causal origin of the thing in question is not natural in origin and must thus be supernatural. It is an argument from the knowledge that natural forces lack the causal power to create the thing in question, it is not an argument from ignorance.
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I will tell you what is dishonest though: the naturalist who, no matter how much he fails to provide a naturalistic causal origin for the thing in question, constantly chants that he just needs another day to do so, and then the next day he repeats the same thing, and then the same, and the same, and the same, and yet, all the while, he acts shocked when people both stop believing him and stop letting his promissory note be endless.
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Furthermore, it is not as if we are just talking about one “gap” here on naturalism. Just off the top of my head: origin of life, Cambrian explosion, origin of language, origin of sexual reproduction, origin of consciousness, origin of conscious rationality, origin of human ability to do high end science that had no evolutionary applicability, origin of such things as the light sensitive spot, and also, for those who have not drank the kool-aid, all the various weakness in the evolutionary narrative (although these are not as serious). And the naturalist is no closer to accounting for these than he was 50 years ago.
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Victor Reppert said...

Jdhuey, I think your position leads to the conclusion that a supernatural explanation cannot be accepted EVEN IF IT IS TRUE, since it is a bad explanation. I have trouble seeing how a true explanation can be a bad explanation

Thebutlerdidit is a bad explanation, unless, of course, the butler did it. Godidit is a bad explanation unless, of course, God did it.

jdhuey said...

Victor, in practice what you state is true. Even scientists who are believers still adopt Methodological Naturalism (at least they do if they want to publish in a peer reviewed journal). However, in theory that wouldn't have to be the case. It's just that there would have to be a major shift in the current relationship between the Natural world and the putative Supernatural world. Whatever interactions there might be would have to be more observable and identifiable. That way, even if the interactions are capricious one could tell if it was caused by say random flukes in the natural world or if it was caused by something Supernatural. Basically, we would have to have a much better idea of how the Supernatural works (assuming that it is real).

Truth and usefulness are only loosely related. Consider Newton's theory of Gravity- it is simply wrong (there is no instantaneous gravitational force) but the equations are certainly useful. General Relativity is a better explanation than Newton's and is currently the best available but even so it is pretty certain that it too is wrong; however, if you want to understand gravitional waves you've got to go to Einsteins field Equations.

jdhuey said...

"I have looked and looked and looked for a naturalistic causal origin of the thing in question, and there is not one, and therefore I know that there is not one…and so, by extension, the causal origin of the thing in question is not natural in origin and must thus be supernatural. It is an argument from the knowledge that natural forces lack the causal power to create the thing in question, it is not an argument from ignorance.

Just because you have not found the natural origin of something does not imply that there isn't one - it could very well be that the clues that would lead you to the correct answer are not available. Perhaps the measurement tool you need hasn't been invented yet. Remember, nature is much more clever than we are. Also, there is no complusion on nature to provide us with explanations. So,if lack of success is all you got, then, yes, it is an arguement from ignorance.

I have never liked the idea that knowledge should be considered a finite set where we could potentally learn everthing. I think a much better metaphor is that knowledge is an island in the sea of the unknown. As we discover and learn more things the island get's bigger but the amount of contact between the island and the ocean is also greater. As we learn more, we gain more appreciation for how much we don't know.

Joe Hinman said...

I think my point answers that. We can leverage the gap into something more than a gap and the answer into the best explanation rather than "we don't know so it must be my thing."

Joe Hinman said...

Here is my essay on "Atheists Hide in the Gaps" This is not an argument about atheism of the gaps, but the assumptions atheists make about apologists arguments in relation to there being a gap.


"The concept is simple, there's always a gap in knowledge, there's always a need for a leap of faith. The only question is how wide is the gap, can we narrow it with conventional forms of knowledge (logic, science, reason, yada yada yada)? The punch line is the atheists assume as long as there is a gap there's a reason not to believe. Yet, there is always a gap, so they are hiding in the gap because they not only have o intention of bridging it, but they actually against the attempt."

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