Thursday, June 08, 2017

More on god of the gaps

When I take my car to a mechanic, I expect that a good enough mechanic will be able to find out what is wrong with it. There is a lot about how the universe works that we do understand very well, and something could happen that messes with pretty well-understood processes. Is there some point at which the scientific community could end up scratching their heads saying "We've tried every way to account for this naturalistically, and it's not happening."
Atheists are often asked if their atheism is falsifiable. Many of them will respond, as did my good friend Keith Parsons, when he said that if the galaxies in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or burn, Parsons this means you," he would turn.  But if someone were to go from spelling stars to a theological explanation, they could be immediately accused of committing the god of the gaps fallacy. If we, on principle, have to prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation over a theological one in every case, then we ought to follow that rule even in this case. If that is true, then saying "you don't have any evidence" takes on a different flavor than we would ordinarily think. The complaint usually sounds like "God could do something to give us adequate evidence for his existence, so why doesn't he?" But if we follow a strict ban on gap arguments, then there is nothing God can do to give us adequate evidence of his existence. Poor guy, he's omnipotent, but he can't prove his existence to us to save his life. It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of the idea of God, God cannot give us enough evidence if he tried his very hardest. I find this to be an extremely paradoxical position, though apparently Dawkins has embraced it.

21 comments:

grodrigues said...

@Victor Reppert:

'Atheists are often asked if their atheism is falsifiable. Many of them will respond, as did my good friend Keith Parsons, when he said that if the galaxies in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or burn, Parsons this means you, I'd turn."'

Maybe the answer should be taken as tongue-in-cheek; otherwise, we have to conclude that your friend Keith Parson does not know what falsifiability is.

Victor Reppert said...

I actually had to correct my story a little. But can you clarify on falsifiability? Keith is a philosopher of science, and would be surprised to hear that he does not understand falsification.

oozzielionel said...

"It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of the idea of God, God cannot give us enough evidence if he tried his very hardest."

The Reformed Christian view is that there is enough evidence. The problem is not in the nature of God, but in the nature of man. Your statement above might be revised as:

It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of MAN, MAN cannot WITHOUT DIVINE ASSISTANCE FOLLOW THE evidence if he tried his very hardest.

grodrigues said...

@Victor Reppert:

"Keith is a philosopher of science, and would be surprised to hear that he does not understand falsification."

My comment was also tongue-in-cheek -- but here is the serious point behind it. Falsifiability relates to the logical entailments of a theory. No one that holds that God exists goes around saying that it follows logically, or even that we should expect or ought expect seeing 'galaxies in the Virgo cluster were to spell out the words "Turn or burn, Parsons this means you"'. So it follows that Keith Parsons must have a theory about God where that event, were to be observed, would constitute evidence of Him. It strikes me very odd for an atheist to have a theory about God that bears little resemblance with what actual God-believing people hold (and thus the falsifiability jab) -- but this also explains while people keep talking past each other.

Stardusty Psyche said...

oozzielionel said...

" It isn't that there isn't enough evidence, it's that, by the very nature of MAN, MAN cannot WITHOUT DIVINE ASSISTANCE FOLLOW THE evidence if he tried his very hardest."
--That still leaves open that by definition and omnipotent being could figure out a way to convince us all.


June 09, 2017 11:21 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

"it strikes me very odd for an atheist to have a theory about God that bears little resemblance with what actual God-believing people hold "
--Why would an atheist make a rational argument for evidence of a detectable god based on what most theists believe? That would be argumentum ad populum.

The largest single sect of theism is Christianity, which is demonstrably incoherent, owing to the assertion of mutually exclusive properties to god. Christianity thus provides no sound basis for a detectable god.


June 09, 2017 1:09 PM

Stardusty Psyche said...

From the OP
" Is there some point at which the scientific community could end up scratching their heads saying "We've tried every way to account for this naturalistically, and it's not happening."
--On naturalism by definition the answer is no. Anything that exists, including a speculated god, is on this view natural. Since we are each personally absolutely certain of our own existence then there absolutely must be a naturalistic explanation for it by definition.

On some theistic views existence is divided between what we ordinarily observe (the natural) and some speculated being or set of beings with magical powers that is somehow separate from ordinary stuff (the supernatural, it is imagined).

If such a structure is the case then an indication of it would indeed be an instance of irreducible complexity. For example, if we arrived at an aspect of life that was not merely unexplained, but was demonstrably unexplainable in principle then we would have evidence for an intelligent designer. In that case natural intelligent space aliens would be the most plausible explanation (a supernatural god being infinitesimally likely by comparison).

Returning you your point, yes the evidence might indeed lead us to assert there must be some kind of fundamentally different sort of stuff. So why call it god?

Why any particular god? Why an intelligent being? Why not simply some unknown sort of stuff? Even if we ever hit a scientific brick wall the god of the gaps will still suffer from being a mere ad hoc speculation among an unbounded number of competing speculations, with the god of the gaps encumbered by a range of unevidenced superfluous properties that only ad hoc increase the number of things requiring an explanation. Thus such a speculation has negative explanatory power, only making the problem worse.

grodrigues said...

@Stardusty Psyche:

"Why would an atheist make a rational argument for evidence of a detectable god based on what most theists believe? That would be argumentum ad populum."

Argumentum ad populum is an informal fallacy that infers from the fact that a majority of people believe P that P is true, which is not what is at issue even *if* your characterization of what I said was correct, which is not.

You are so unbelievably stupid and ignorant. Go troll someone else.

Mortal said...

It seems that the atheists have constructed a "Heads I win; tails you lose" argument here.

The only evidence they claim they will accept for the existence of God is to observe something that is unexplainable other than by there being a God. But at the same moment, they say that "God of the gaps" is fallacious reasoning. So even if they were shown such evidence, they'd reject it out of hand.

Pretty neat trick!

Stardusty Psyche said...


Blogger Mortal said...

" It seems that the atheists have constructed a "Heads I win; tails you lose" argument here."
--It's called being correct.

" The only evidence they claim they will accept for the existence of God is to observe something that is unexplainable other than by there being a God. But at the same moment, they say that "God of the gaps" is fallacious reasoning. So even if they were shown such evidence, they'd reject it out of hand."
--The god of the gaps fallacy can be summarized as
Unknown = god
or
Unknown therefore god

Humans have engaged in this sort of error for a very long time, and most still do. There used to be a sun god, wind god, sickness god, and on and on. Good things happened because of good gods, destructive things happened because of bad gods. That is how most people have thought for millennia and most still do think that way, but the corner of scientifically unexplained phenomena has receded to the very long ago, aspects of our experience that puzzle ordinary folks, and what those who cannot speak would say to us if they could speak.

Theists are so used to this mythology of the invisible man in the sky that they don't seem to realize an omnipotent god could be as undeniable as the air we breath, the water we drink, the food we eat, the ground beneath our feet, and the noon day sun.

An omnipotent god could unify world religion, stop parasites from invading children, come to live among us omnipresently, and instill in each of us a universal recognition of the one true god.

Yet the most powerful force in all existence remains hidden. Ever wonder if that means god is just all in your imagination?




June 10, 2017 5:56 AM

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

@Stardusty Psyche: "Why would an atheist make a rational argument for evidence of a detectable god based on what most theists believe? That would be argumentum ad populum."

" Argumentum ad populum is an informal fallacy that infers from the fact that a majority of people believe P that P is true,"
--Right, and thus basing an argument on P because P is considered to be the best argument because it is the most popular argument would be using argumentum ad populum to determine the basis to argue from.


June 10, 2017 5:20 AM

grodrigues said...

"Right, and thus basing an argument on P because P is considered to be the best argument because it is the most popular argument would be using argumentum ad populum to determine the basis to argue from."

More mind-numbing stupidity.

Stardusty Psyche said...

grodrigues said...

" More mind-numbing stupidity."
--Indeed, suggesting that there is a supreme judge of us out there someplace or somehow, and that each of us possesses an ethereal thing called a "soul" is primitive superstitious thinking.


June 11, 2017 4:16 AM

Joe Hinman said...


-Indeed, suggesting that there is a supreme judge of us out there someplace or somehow, and that each of us possesses an ethereal thing called a "soul" is primitive superstitious thinking.

super immature and cavalier dismisses of moral obligation of the kind amog among Sir James Genes and the Huxleys type atheists of the early 20th.

tie breaker:
god is not a brute fact

Metacrock's blog

Joe Hinman said...

--That still leaves open that by definition and omnipotent being could figure out a way to convince us all.

He has, it involves not forcing us and you refuse to be open.

oozzielionel said...

Star said "--That still leaves open that by definition and omnipotent being could figure out a way to convince us all."

I saw what you did there. We were discussing evidence. You changed it to "convince." Joe called you out. Do you really want that world where an omnipotent God creates that way to "convince" everyone? I wonder what your version looks like? The Christian version of convincing evidence involves God becoming flesh, living among us, death on a cross, resurrection, ascension, spiritual rebirth... It looks to me like He figured it out.

Joe Hinman said...

well said

Victor Reppert said...

There are two atheist talking points that don't mix. Here they are:

1) Look, guys, if God would just give us evidence of his existence, we'd believe in him. The only reason we don't believe is because he hasn't provided evidence of his existence.

2) God of the gaps arguments are always wrong. Any gap in our naturalistic understanding of the world should be dealt with by waiting for science to produce a naturalistic explanation, not by appealing to God.

But anything God might do to reveal his existence could be dismissed as a gap, thus leaving the atheist unaffected. The ban on god of the gaps arguments would allow the atheist to escape no matter what God did to convince us of his existence.

Look, when I raise this kind of question, I mean show us by providing evidence. Yes, God could sovereignly perform the act of causing Stardusty to believe by going "Stardusty, believe," and the next Sunday, Stardusty will show up in church on his knees praying to God. But providing evidence is by definition not coercive. Of course God could shove belief in his existence down your throat if he wanted to. But could he give us a good reason to believe in his existence, such that no matter how disinclined we were to want to believe in a being greater than ourselves (so that we would have to admit we were not the supreme beings) whose commandments to us are our moral duties (however much we would like to avoid performing them). Woudn't there be an escape clause available, no matter what we did? The so-called refutation of God of the Gaps reasoning provides this, it seems to me. It says we should always prefer and unknown naturalistic explanation to saying godidit, NO MATTER WHAT. This not only could be applied to our present scientific situation, but it could be used in response to every scenario that atheists come of with concerning what it would take for them to believe. "Turn or burn, Parsons This Means You," N. R. Hanson's Michelangeloid face, answer the prayers of all Christians and give them all exactly what they want, have Bibles that give electric shocks to unbelievers and only unbelievers, etc. If God were to cause any or all of these things, the skeptic could say that saying godidit for any and all of these things would be to commit the god of the gaps fallacy, and that we should always, always, always, prefer an unknown naturalistic explanation to a known supernatural one.

Stardusty Psyche said...

Victor Reppert said...

" Look, when I raise this kind of question, I mean show us by providing evidence. Yes, God could sovereignly perform the act of causing Stardusty to believe by going "Stardusty, believe," and the next Sunday, Stardusty will show up in church on his knees praying to God."
--On an Omnipotent god that is true by definition.

" But providing evidence is by definition not coercive."
--Oh? Isn't an illusionist show just that, coercive evidence? How about something lacking an element of deceit, such as placing evidence right in your face so long and so strongly one inevitably becomes convinced of it?

" Of course God could shove belief in his existence down your throat if he wanted to. But could he give us a good reason to believe in his existence, such that no matter how disinclined we were to want to believe in a being greater than ourselves"
--Of course, why not? The average theist is so accustomed to this hide and go seek god that must be "found" in a dream or an emotion or 14 billion year ago that it does not seem to occur to these individuals that god could make itself as obvious as the air we breath, the ground we walk on, the food we eat, the bright sun in the sky.

This would be very easy for an omnipotent, omnipresent god, without any deceitful or coercive acts beyond simply making itself abundantly obvious.

" Woudn't there be an escape clause available, no matter what we did? "
Only to the extent there is an escape clause to our sense experience of the world, such as the speculation that this is all a dream, or some similar speculation.


June 12, 2017 6:22 PM

Joe Hinman said...

" But providing evidence is by definition not coercive."
--Oh? Isn't an illusionist show just that, coercive evidence? How about something lacking an element of deceit, such as placing evidence right in your face so long and so strongly one inevitably becomes convinced of it?

you don't want evidence there is ore than enough to do the job in front of your face here, read my book,read my exchange on the modal argument on metacrock's blog now where atheist and professional philosopher Rayn M says My view is at least consistent and affirms the logic of my construction of the argument even though he disagrees with the conclusion,

there is enough evidence here to warrant belief if you were open to believing,

Mortal said...

I came across this quote today from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, which I believe sheds valuable light on this discussion:

"Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for people who have barbarian souls." (Dennis Sweet translation)

"Eyes and ears" can equate to empirical evidence. What Heraclitus is telling us here is that "evidence" is of no value unless one's heart is in the right place. So as far as this discussion is concerned, it is probably futile to expect an unbeliever to come round to the truth on the basis of any conceivable amount of evidence, because his soul is "barbarian". He must first address that far more serious issue before he can ever hope to interpret (and understand) the evidence objectively.