RE: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Thu Jan 22 2009 - 19:36:09 EST


A few comments on your thoughts:

1. Circular motion is not a miraculous explanation, but a perfectly natural
explanation based on (I think) the Platonic principle of perfect forms. It
was adopted by Christians as part of their philosophical viewpoint in the
Middle Ages. I'm not sure whether the Greek understanding was that the
"gods" were constantly moving about entities in the heavens (or perhaps
*were* the entities in the heavens). In particular, I was looking for areas
where Christian theories placed the designator "miracle" in the midst of an
otherwise natural "scientific" explanation, and what came of scientific
investigation under that sort of system.
2. I didn't mean to imply by the word "rely" that TE would fall apart if
some natural explanation were found for life or quantum events. Rather, I
have a different critique as described below.
3. (also in response to Dick's reply): I realize what you say, that "most
TEs are [not] claiming that divine providence is any scientific or natural
explanation at all. They may claim it as a theological explanation with
theological support." However, what precisely is a scientific explanation
for TE, and how does it differ from a special creationist definition of
scientific? (I of course realize there IS a significant difference in
detail, but not necessarily in principle.)

I'm thinking here in terms of cause and effect. The special creationist
claims that "without God, life would not have developed on earth." The end
result is life -- either it happened really, physically, somewhere and some
time, or it didn't. What caused it? Not natural things alone -- no
combination of chemicals, forces, and chance quantum events could have ever
produced even a single strand of RNA with all of its integrated complexity.
Or, even if one example could have come together against the odds of
staggering probabilities (in the absence of God), it couldn't have
replicated to the next generation with increasing complexity in an
environment unfavorable to life, so the first instance would likely have
died out quickly.

The TE, on the other hand, would claim (I presume), "The development of life
can be fully explained as a result of natural cause and effect processes."
Ah, but not really. They might leave off the "fully" adjective. What would
have happened if there were no God? Would chemicals, forces, and chance
quantum events have even existed without God? Would they be sufficient to
self-organize, develop a replication mechanism, and develop ever-increasing
complexity without God? No. It is (theologically speaking) God's
providence that is the "primary cause" behind those physical events and
organization of things, even though hidden behind observable natural
secondary causes. Or, (per Ken Miller) God is acting to bring about certain
quantum events, but His acts are hidden behind the genuine randomness of
those events. Or, God front-loaded the universe with the built-in "design"
(i.e. potential) to ensure that it would eventually develop something like
it actually did.

I'm sorry if I seem to be echoing Timaeus here, but in *each* of these cases
there is a natural effect (life), which requires a non-natural cause. If
natural forces are not alone sufficient as an explanatory cause, then the TE
is making a similar claim to the creationist. Natural things (life,
complexity, etc.) are real, and they really came into existence by some
means; and we don't believe that nature is alone sufficient to explain them,
so God must be posited as a necessary explanation. Whether you call this a
"theological" or a "scientific" explanation is really hiding the fundamental
characteristic of the argument.

To illustrate, what happens to special creationism if it could be proved
that life can self-organize in a test tube under the right conditions? They
will still fall back on probabilities, on the actual possibility that those
conditions existed on earth, and more fundamentally to why there is matter
in existence at all. God is still necessary to explain it.
What happens to TE if life can be shown to self-generate? They will head a
different direction, saying, "we knew all along that 'natural causes' would
be found to be sufficient, but we still believe that God's providence is a
necessary 'first cause' explanation. God is still necessary to explain it."
Or, turn it around: what if the TE says the opposite: God is providentially
in control of the universe, but He is NOT a necessary "first cause" of
physical things coming into existence, and He does not do anything to effect
its existence. The logical question is, if God is not necessary, and he is
not doing anything in the physical world, what is the use of the "God
hypothesis" at all, aside from spiritual/social phenomena that we can
explain with evolutionary psychology?

Either God is necessary, and therefore he does real work in bringing things
about; or he is not necessary, and nature is fully sufficient without Him.
If God is claimed to be necessary, why? Is it not because we are ignorant
of any other natural means that *ARE* fully sufficient? This is the essence
of the "God of the gaps" argument -- it's an argument from our ignorance of
any fully sufficient explanation apart from Him.

I'm sorry if I seem to be echoing Timaeus' comments from a few months ago,
but this is his core point that I think he was right about. I don't think
TE is as vulnerable to a "gaps" accusation as special creationism. But I
think there is more than a little "dodge" inherent in claiming this to be a
"purely theological" explanation, when in reality it is an alternate and
necessary explanation to science's purely naturalistic explanation. Any
natural cause and effect can be held by a TE to be "fully natural", yet the
trump card of divine providence is still taken as a "cause". That is,
unless science must necessarily include operations but not origins. But if
origins are off-limits to science, then why? Is it simply a theological
presupposition that origins are divine and therefore off-limits to natural
investigation, and is this not a "science killer"?

Jon Tandy

-----Original Message-----
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Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:09 AM
To: Jon Tandy
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Subject: Re: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

Quoting Jon Tandy <>:

> 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.

One example, related to the gravity one you mention, might be the assumed
perfectly circular motion of the heavens. Prior to Galileo, inertia wasn't
part of any large explanation yet, so perhaps Greeks assumed that this is
just the way the world (& "the gods") work. Aristotle might have phrased it
as "the natural position or state" of such things --such as heavier things
seeking the lowest position as their most natural state. They also commonly
assumed for all objects that "at rest" was the most natural state. So
perhaps the constant motion of the heavens counted for them as something
"miraculous", though I doubt they would have used such a description,
because for them the activity of the gods & world were all part & parcel the
same thing. (esp. since their gods were merely part of the world.) So,
ironically, perhaps the TEs of today actually hearken back to a
re-integration of thought that the ancients had largely presumed. Francis
Bacon then makes the distinction between appealing to natural cause and
appealing to the divine hand. Perhaps that was the birth of that dualistic
approach? But it isn't that TEs are trying to scientifically discern where
the hand of God might be. They already assume it is everywhere
--undetectable by tools of science. This is a theological assumption which
is quite happy to leave the scientific arena undisturbed in its pursuits
(until science is abused to begin making theological claims & assertions of

More thoughts below.

Jon Tandy continues:
> 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.

..except I don't think most TEs are claiming that divine providence is any
scientific or natural explanation at all. They may claim it as a
theological explanation with theological support. So this makes it immune
from the "gaps"
accusation since gaps refer to scientific gaps, not theological ones


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Received on Thu Jan 22 19:36:45 2009

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