Quite often, when someone points to a scientific explanation of the existence of God, the argument ends by stating that such-and-such is unknown and so the only explanation is that a deity must have designed it that way. For instance, at one point in time it was probably held that weather is evidence of God’s existence, since there was no explanation for it. Once the water cycle was discovered, the proof of God’s existence was reduced to the things still left unknown, such as lightning. Eventually, lightning was understood for the atmospheric electrostatic discharge that it is and God could no longer be proven to exist through weather.
God is often placed in the gaps that exist in our knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. This is very problematic for (at least) two reasons:
- It places God in opposition to knowledge. This leads to the idea that faith is opposed to science and reason.
- As knowledge increases, the gaps decrease as do these “proofs” of God’s existence. If a person clings to their belief in God because He’s the only explanation for lightning, they will lose their faith when they discover what lightning really is.
In the early days of science, it was very easy to believe that God had created the universe in a very instantaneous way, since there were very few scientific discoveries as well as the presence of theories such as geocentricism. These were very large gaps in knowledge and the proofs for God rested comfortably in them. Science developed as did the Theory of Evolution, which, in one swoop, asserted there was no gap at all since nature is an occurrence of random chance. Many people, even those arguing Intelligent Design, still attempt to hold to the gaps in our knowledge and squeeze God into those gaps.
In 1996, Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, made a case for Intelligent Design in which he cited the presence of “irreducible complexity” within nature. What this means is that certain things found within nature, such as the human eye, could not have developed incrementally as would be asserted by the Theory of Evolution. Behe pointed to a traditional mousetrap as an analogy, stating that the five parts of a mousetrap cannot be reduced to four without the functionality of the mousetrap being lost completely – hence, the mousetrap, like the eye, could not have grown incrementally and is, therefore, intelligently designed. While this might be a valid argument, it is still subject to the problem of relying on gaps.
In the year 2000, Behe attended a conference during which Kennith Miller, biology professor at Brown University, entered the main room wearing a mousetrap as a tie clip. Miller’s implication was that, while a reduced mousetrap can not function to catch mice, it is possible for it to serve another purpose entirely. Likewise, the human eye cannot be reduced and still function as an eye, Miller supposes that a reduced eye was used for something other than sight. This creates a gap-like argument on behalf of the Theory of Evolution, which is as invalid as the lightning proof, but it is enough to call into question the validity of Behe’s initial point.
It seems that the only way to reconcile either theory with itself is to avoid gap arguments. The best and most eloquent explanation I have found of how this is done comes from Salman Khan of KhanAcademy.org.