Re: Speaking of "Gaps" ...

Brian D Harper (
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 16:38:58 -0700

At 12:31 PM 4/13/99 -0600, Alan wrote:
>Since several people here have talked about "gaps" in the context of
>apologetics, etc., let me mention an essay I recently wrote for another
>list titled: "What Does 'God of the Gaps' Mean?", which is at:
>To give a condensed version, the phrase "God of the Gaps" is often tossed
>around in our discussions, particularly in discussion of the views of
>people such as Phil Johnson for whom the existence of "gaps" in nature
>seems to be central to their view of God. I contend that the term has
>two distinct usages, and that we often misunderstand each other because
>we mean different things by the phrase (like Howard Van Till, I believe
>good communication requires knowing what our terms mean).
>The usage I call GOG-1 is "God of the Gaps" as science -- positing a
>supernatural explanation for some gap in our natural understanding, but
>doing that simply as an explanation rather than seeing it as finding room
>for God as though he would be absent if there were no gap.
>The usage I call GOG-2 is "God of the Gaps" as theology, where the
>existence of such gaps in nature is made a theological necessity because
>of an underlying philosophy (seemingly held by Carl Sagan and Phil
>Johnson, for example) that "natural" explanations exclude God. I would
>equate my GOG-2 with the "semi-deism" Jonathan Clarke mentioned as a
>regrettably prevalent view of the way God acts.

I had the pleasure of attending last night a session of the
Veritas Forum which is being held at Ohio State this week.
I won't try to give any general summary at this point, I
just wanted to mention that one of the speakers, Professor
C. John Collins, brought up specifically the issue of GOG
as one of several arguments that have been used against ID.
He made the statement "there are gaps and then there are
GAPS" with the further elaboration of two types of gaps
(both falling under your GOG-1):

(1) gaps due to ignorance

(2) gaps due to knowledge

The significance of wording really struck me when I read
your description of GOG-1. At first, GOG-1 seems equivalent
to Collins' (1). Actually, it is not, since "gap in our natural
understanding" locates the gap in our understanding of nature
rather than in nature itself. Thus, I prefer Collins' (1)
to your GOG-1.

The meaning of "gaps due to knowledge" is that the presence
of a gap occurs not because we haven't studied something
extensively (ignorance) but because we have. Unfortunately,
my memory is so poor I cannot elaborate much more on his
argument. I think basically the idea is that we have knowledge
of the natural properties of the material making up some
system but that there is an "imposed structure" (Collins'
term) which is not inherent in those properties. I believe
this is just another way of talking about irreducibilty.

I suppose (2) might collapse to (1) in many cases in which
our "knowledge" resides chiefly in a better understanding
of how ignorant we are ;-). Are there cases where category
(2) is legitamate?

Brian Harper
Associate Professor
Applied Mechanics
The Ohio State University

"All kinds of private metaphysics and theology have
grown like weeds in the garden of thermodynamics"
-- E. H. Hiebert