Tuesday, June 26, 2012

God of the Gaps

Friday morning as I was taking my (almost) daily bike ride, my mind for some reason began thinking about the concept of  "the God of the gaps."

From WikipediaGod of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God's existence.

Under "Origins of the Term":

The term goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on the Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science can not yet explain—"gaps which they will fill up with God"—and urges them to embrace all nature as God's, as the work of "... an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology."[2][3]

In the 20th century Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the concept in similar terminology in letters he wrote while in a Nazi prison during World War II, which were not made public until years later.[4] Bonhoeffer wrote, for example: "...how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.

Interesting commentary by Drummond and Bonhoeffer, and to an extent, both gentlemen are correct.  We do indeed see and look for God's hand in the things we know.  Scripture has more than a few examples of seeing the Hand of the Creator God in "His handiwork" of creation.  Most importantly, we see God in the God made flesh of Jesus Christ.

But Bonhoeffer, in particular is very, very wrong in his assessment--"the frotiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat."

Bonhoeffer never read Kurt Goedel.  Goedel was a mathematician who formulated a proof--which can and is easily applied to philosophy and science--that proves any system of thought to be incomplete.  No matter how well a person establishes a set of rules, there will be a gap--a truth if you want to call it that--which cannot be proven by the rules.  A corollary to that rule is: even if you add a rule to cover the incompleteness, another incompleteness will be established.

Essentially, Goedel proved we are limited as human beings and we will never--this side of eternity--ever have complete knowledge.  Science won't get us there.  Philosophy won't get us there.  Mathematics won't get us there.  All of these systems are and will forever be incomplete. 

Bonhoeffer was wrong.  As knowledge expands, more gaps pop up.  There will never be an end to such gaps.

Now, this certainly does not prove the existence of God.  But it does shoot holes in the arguments of those who contend their particular fields of study can or will give humankind a system of complete knowledge.  It also shows there are a few things in life that will never be explained and have to be understood by...well...faith.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Nice. I like your way of thinking. I would go on to bring up Augustine: "Man's heart is restless until it rests in God."

I think the biggest "God Gap" of all is in the human heart. (Actually, this may be the cause of most of the problems in the world -- people trying to fill that gap.)

One of our favorite books is Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter.