RE: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Dick Fischer <>
Date: Thu Jan 22 2009 - 11:46:55 EST

TE could not by any stretch of the imagination be lumped in with
so-called God-of-the-gaps explanations. TEs in general hold to natural
explanations for biological evolution and believe in God. Where are the
gaps? Do we know or pretend to know what God was doing for 13.7 billion
years, or how he did it? No. To have faith in our Creator and hold to
natural causation in species development pretty much defines us. That
doesn't mean an individual TE can't climb out on a limb and be expansive
but that doesn't reshape the tree we all hang on.
Dick Fischer, GPA president
Genesis Proclaimed Association
"Finding Harmony in Bible, Science and History"
-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Jon Tandy
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:21 AM
Subject: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps
I am considering a question of how miracles have formed a part of
scientific explanations in the past, and how would science work under
the assumption that supernatural explanations could be allowed. I'm
also questioning whether TE is in reality a "God of the gaps"
First, can anyone give me some examples of explanations that were
previously attributed to miracles, that have subsequently been
determined to have natural causes? I know obvious things like the
creation of the universe, origin of life, and exact mechanisms of
biological complexity are still subjects of controversy and are not well
defined. I'm looking more for specifics, in particular historical
For instance, I recall in the last few years on this list someone
mentioned Francis Line believing that God could stretch the atoms to
fill the space above the meniscus, where Robert Boyle was not willing to
rely on a miraculous explanation and proposed that a vacuum existed.
I've done a little research online and can't confirm this to be the
case, and it seems rather that the difference between the two was more
complicated than a simple "miracle vs. natural explanation". I have
also read about some medieval scientists believing (based on Biblical
scripture) that God "literally" upheld the earth with his hand to keep
it in orbit, prior to the discovery of the action of gravity, and that
the theory of gravity somehow was believed to displace God from part of
his role. I don't know how accurate this characterization is. What are
some other cases in the modern history of science that specific
"scientific" explanations have relied on a miracle hypothesis, as part
of an otherwise natural scientific paradigm?
The second part of the question is, what would (or did) science look
like with miraculous explanations included? In particular, most
scientists and in particular many TEs characterize "miraculous
intervention" as a "science killer" and "God of the gaps". If the sole
cause is supernatural, then science has to stop its investigation
because it has no domain there. Is this really the case? I don't
believe that it is. Take for example Behe's theory on the bacterial
flagellum. Was proposing a non-natural designer a "science killer" in
this case? I think the answer is the opposite: scientists took the
challenge to investigate this theory, just as they would any other
theory, and they have learned quite a lot about the flagellum over the
last 10 years or so. As I understand it, they have disproved some of
his more simplistic conclusions, such as the discovery that there are
variant or partial structures that still serve the same functional
purpose, and that the various parts do appear to have other unrelated
purposes in other combinations within the organism. Score one for the
advance of science, at the expense of those who wanted the flagellum to
be the poster child of scientific creationism.
But what if the situation had been different? What if scientists took
Behe's challenge to disprove irreducible complexity, and for the next 50
or 100 years discovered greater and greater levels of complexity that
had no evidence of evolutionary precursors or natural explanations?
What would have been the impact on science? Take for instance the
origin of life itself. This was the prevailing religio-scientific
explanation prior to the 1950's (and of course still is for many). It
didn't kill science, but rather science took the challenge to find a
natural explanation - and has so far come up with relatively nothing.
In the process, I'm sure they learned a lot about protein and RNA/DNA
structure and other things, such as discovering that protein-like
structures can self-organize, although random in orientation. I'm not
suggesting that science will never answer this question, but am simply
questioning the assertion that science has been weakened by proposing a
Nor has science been hindered by the fact that the question is
unanswered - thus, if the question of the origin of life turns out to be
unanswerable by natural means (i.e. it really was due to a miracle),
nevertheless biology is able to have great explanatory power in many
other avenues of investigation subsequent to the development of the
first living thing. Science will thrive wherever it has power to
explain, and where it can't explain it will either continue to
investigate or set the question aside.
Now for the third part. Most scientists, including TEs, decry the
reliance on "miracle" because it undermines the process of scientific
investigation, and creates "God of the gaps" scenarios of using God to
fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the natural order. Yet the same
TEs will rely on the doctrine of providence or quantum interaction as
theological explanations that are just as "miraculous", although hidden
behind our present inability to investigate. It seems to me that the
doctrine of providence is just as much a "God of the gaps" explanation
as other more explicit claims of miracle, as the recent conversation
with Timaeus brought out.
If "Nature" is fully sufficient to account for the origin of things
(without any front-loading, providence, or tampering with quantum
possibilities), then strict methodological naturalism would be the right
way to fully discover the character of those things, only limited by our
ability to observe and measure with enough precision. But if Nature is
not fully sufficient on its own - if it requires a Divine Tinkerer or
Intelligent Frontloader - than natural explanations are not enough. The
TE position is generally characterized by pretty much a full acceptance
of science's ability to describe cause and effect relationships as
currently understood, and yet defines those relationships as "secondary
causes". Since a theistic God is held to be the responsible party as
"primary cause", the moving force that allows nature to progress in the
direction it has taken (and that it wouldn't have taken such a course
without a primary cause), how is this not a "God of the gaps"
explanation - an argument from our present ignorance? It may be a gap
that is never able to be filled, but a gap nevertheless, it seems to me.
Jon Tandy

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Received on Thu Jan 22 11:49:41 2009

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