How would you would respond to someone when they claim that
Intelligent Design is merely an appeal to a "god-of-the-gaps"?


Recommended Reading:

The "God-of-the-Gaps" - Catholic.com

What is the God of the gaps argument? - Got Questions?

Whose god? The theological response to the god-of-the-gaps - Creation.com

Send your own recommended reading to arn@arn.org

Questions:

How can random mutations be invoked as a materialistic god-of-the-gaps?

Do natural discontinuities exist (e.g. origin of life)? What evidence would you cite?

 


Responses: (listed in the order received)

Our judges selected Response 6 as our February winner, however, the decision was a tough one and we hope you take the time to read each and every one.

If you have something to add, please let us know. Write us at arn@arn.org.

 

1. It's not what we don't know, it's what we do.

The only gap here is in your understanding of Intelligent Design. ID is not about mechanisms we don’t know for what we observe, it is about mechanisms we do know. In all human experience, phenomena like machines and information are the product of a mind, an intelligent cause. For example, this is true of turbines, computers and encyclopedias. So when we find wind turbines harvesting energy on the prairies or when we find turbines in the ATPase machines harvesting energy inside cells, ID attributes the same cause to them, intelligent design. When we find information processing computers on our desks or inside cells, again the cause is inferred to be the same. When we find encyclopedias in a library or an encyclopedia of information about how to make organisms inside cells, the origin of the information is thought to be an intelligent being.

So, Intelligent Design is not about what we don’t know, it is about what we do know from our experience observing our world. ID does not rely on unobserved events, like the origin of life from non-living chemicals, or hypothetical stories to fill in the gaps, as Darwinism does. Intelligent Design is about what we know, the alternatives appeal to what we don’t know and cannot know because of the gap between these theories and reality.

 

2. "Darwin-of-the-Gaps" is a far worse solution.

There are many ways to answer that one.

1. The obvious way is to point out that "Darwin-of-the-Gaps" is a far worse solution, given the potential for God versus Darwin to bring enlightenment.

2. Once we assume that some causal law or force will bridge the gap, we are then required to defend the foundation of that causal law. For example, Lucretius argued that all forces in nature were mediated by atoms or streams of atoms bouncing in the void. Such a mechanism can certainly repel, but it cannot attract. This made the attractive power of magnetism (and much later, gravity) a great mystery. Lucretius posited that intense exchanges of particles between magnets and iron were not heavy enough to repel, but did drive out all the air atoms, and since nature abhors a vacuum, this pushed the magnet and the iron together. (And of course, today we can pump all the air out of a bell jar and show that magnets still attract. Or even easier, we can put one magnet in the palm of our hand and another on the back and show they still attract with no air in between.)

But more fundamentally, this attempt to insert causal laws as an explanation begs the question why it is that nature abhors a vacuum. (The Far Side cartoon comes to mind.) By asking "Why?" enough times, we run out of causal answers. In his book "Modern Physics and Ancient Faith" Stephen M. Barr says that the use of more and more "symmetries" or "basic laws of physics" to plug these gaps merely lead us to more and more unanswerable questions.

At some point, the "Why?" of any causal chain will end at God or the aching void of "I don't know."

And that is why Gaps are Good.

3. The real question that might be posed, is why we think we know something if we cannot answer anything?

I use the example of Cantor's dust. Take a straight line, remove the middle third. You have two straight lines left. Remove the middle third of those as well. Repeat ad infinitum. You have an infinite set that is nowhere continuous since no two points touch. We can even tell you whether a point is in the set or not, it has well-defined members. It is a set of Cantor dust, made up of gaps. And that is an example of human knowledge. It exists in close communion to a gap, and without the gap, without knowing the cause of the gaps, without design, it doesn't hold together.

 

3. Pointers to design in nature are abundant.

By gaps, I presume you are referring things such as the origin of a finely tuned universe, the origin of life, the origin of irreducibly complex biological system, and the origin of massive amounts of information (specified complexity) in living organisms. While these represent gaps in scientific knowledge and are problematic for evolution, I see them more as evidence that point to a conclusion that you may find philosophically unacceptable.

I think the case for design is more soundly based on what we know about science rather than gaps in scientific knowledge. It’s what we know about such things as thermodynamics, cause and effect, probability, genetics and information theory that illustrate or point to design.

This approach opens up the possibility of discussion about the design inference in the origin of the universe (properties of matter); specified complexity, irreducible complexity, information theory, genetic design and information, thermodynamics, cause and effect, probability, etc. It also opens the possibility of discussion regarding how a philosophical predisposition of naturalism/materialism will limit interpretation of data and can lead to circular reasoning.

An example of how a philosophical predisposition to naturalism leads to circular reasoning can be made as follows. Our public education system is, on the whole, committed to philosophical naturalism. As a result, the discipline of science is conflated with naturalism to the extent that only naturalistic interpretations of the data (physics and fossils) are allowed. Strong and obvious evidence of design/creation cannot be expressed as such because design/creation is philosophically unacceptable. Accordingly, all data is interpreted within the naturalistic/materialistic worldview so that it always and only supports the naturalistic presupposition. So, the data always supports naturalistic evolution because it’s the only allowable conclusion…. A very tight circle of reasoning. Students in the public education system are told that the discipline of science is pure and objective and should not be influenced by “religious” beliefs like design/creation. Yet, at the same time, it is strongly influenced and conflated with a naturalistic belief system.

Design/creation are strongly resisted at every turn because absolutely ANY “proof” of design falsifies naturalism. I realize that “proof” is, in some respects, not a proper scientific term but the point is that design/creation interpretations of data are disallowed because they falsify naturalism, the state religion. Heat and smoke can be expected when you attack someone’s worldview, even with truth.

 

4. Our knowledge of present cause-and-effect relationships is the antithesis of a gap argument.

I would provide relevant quotes from ID's leadership, starting with a duet from Mike Gene, featuring William Dembski:

"What is Intelligent Design? If you ask a critic, he will probably tell you that ID is a disguised version of Creationism and nothing more than a Trojan Horse to get God taught in the public schools. If you ask a typical proponent of ID, he will probably tell you that ID is the best explanation for various biotic phenomena.

For me, ID begins exactly as William Dembski said it begins – with a question:

"Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? The first thing to note about the question is that you don’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to ask it. You don’t have to be a religious fundamentalist to consider it. In fact, you don’t even have to be a religious fundamentalist to answer it.”

Then move on to Dr. Behe:

“Our ability to be confident of the design of the cilium or intracellular transport rests on the same principles to be confident of the design of anything: the ordering of separate components to achieve an identifiable function that depends sharply on the components.”- Dr. Michael Behe in Darwin's Black Box

And finish with:

"Thus, [Dr.] Behe concludes on the basis of our knowledge of present cause-and-effect relationships (in accord with the standard uniformitarian method employed in the historical sciences) that the molecular machines and complex systems we observe in cells can be best explained as the result of an intelligent cause. In brief, molecular motors appear designed because they were designed” Darwinism, Design and Public Education, p. 72

I would conclude with "our knowledge of present cause-and-effect relationships" is the antithesis of a gap argument.

I could probably go on for pages if the debate required it.

 

5. Ironically, it is Darwinian evolution that appeals to a god-of-the-gaps.

That’s a claim that denotes ignorance of the scientific method: inferring the best explanation for any given observation.

The scientific discoveries are increasingly revealing complex functionality and functional complexity that can only be the result of design by an intelligent agent with purpose and understanding of meaning. Hence, it’s what we know, not the unknown, that points to Intelligent Design.

Darwinian macroevolutionary ideas do appeal to imaginary processes wrongly extrapolated from observed phenotypic adaptations. Therefore it is Darwinian evolution that appeals to a god-of-the-gaps.

 

6. ID is not god-of-the-gaps. Let me count the ways.

What would I say to someone when they claim that Intelligent Design is merely an appeal to a god-of-the-gaps? I would say that they should read my four-part newspaper column on this topic!

God-of-the-Gaps Objection

 

7. Actually, ID is the response of true science to naturalism-of-the-gaps.

True science is relentlessly objective, following the evidence wherever it leads, regardless of the religious/philosophical implications of scientific discoveries. Theists are capable of the objectivity true science requires because of their confidence that nature and true religion have the same Author. They know that ultimately there can be no real conflict between scientific discoveries and religious truth. If a scientific discovery creates what appears to be a conflict, theists know that appearance will eventually give way to the reality. They don't have to panic.

Atheists, on the other hand, quickly lose their objectivity when scientific discoveries contradict their belief that there are only natural realities. For example, many atheistic scientists would quickly agree that SETI had discovered other intelligent life in the Universe if it received a long sequence of the prime numbers in ascending order in a radio transmission from another planet. Yet those same scientists will insist that life at the cellular level is a mindless accident – even though they know it is based on massive quantities of extremely precise digital information consisting of the assembly instructions for self-replicating nanotechnology: the functional complexity of which is light years beyond anything they know how to build from scratch. Since they don't know even one way to build life themselves they are in no position to claim it emerged accidentally. One has to understand how something happens in the first place before one can explain how that procedure might occur mindlessly and accidentally.

Rather than just admitting that they have no more idea how cellular life as we know it could have been arrived at mindlessly and accidentally than they do how self-replicating robotic equipment might be arrived at that way, they instead appeal to naturalism-of-the-gaps, insisting that somehow such nanotechnology was arrived at mindlessly and accidentally. This is kind of like insisting that the Rosetta Stone inscription and Mt. Rushmore were really the products of erosion. It doesn't matter to them that the only known source of massive functional complexity derived from immense quantities of extremely precise digital information is intelligent agency. They cling to their naturalism-of-the-gaps because they have lost the objectivity required by true science.

 

8. "Designer-from-the-data" not "god-of-the-gaps"

You say that “the god-of-the-gaps fallacy has not been committed. It is not a god-of-the-gaps argument. Instead, I’m drawing a designer-from-the-data inference.

Consider the 3 E’s; Experience, Evidence and Explanations:

      1. “You resist a god-of-the-gaps argument. But what about drawing a designer-from-the-data inference?”

      2. If on social media: “To take you seriously, I have to infer that the god-of-the-gaps argument appearing on my screen was designed - someone wrote it. And you have to infer my response was designed as well, in order to make sense of it. We make design inferences all the time. When do you think it is appropriate to infer design from the data and why?”

    Also, the third question may prove interesting as a conversation starter:

    3. “What gaps are you referring to (Cambrian explosion gaps between phyla, your lack of adequate explanation, overall present ignorance)?”

    And finally:

    4. “Why can’t design be considered when trying to draw an inference to the best explanation?”

     

9. “Materialism of the Gap” is assumed even when the natural gaps grow larger with increasing scientific knowledge.

    I would say that evolution, origin of life, fine tuning of the universe, the origin of the universe, quantum mechanics, the “Axis of Evil”, etc. is more a “Materialism of the Gap argument” than ID is a “God of the Gap” argument. The materialistic explanation gap continues to get larger. Scientific understanding is not closing the materialistic gap, in fact the gap is getting wider the more scientific knowledge we obtain. It takes more faith to believe in the materialistic explanation than the ID explanation.

     

10. I ask them to explain tRNA evolution.

If they understand what I'm asking, then we have a conversation. If not, I smile and wish them a good day.

 

11. Science of the Gaps, Incredulity, Insolence, and Other Insights

Clever wordplay is no substitute for thoughtful analysis. We may rightfully say that the promise of "finding fossils to fill the missing links" is "Science of the Gaps."

The incessant demand for infinitely more research is "Science of the Gaps." "If we can't teach evolution, what WILL we teach!" is "Science of the Gaps."

We don't know everything about ANYTHING! All science is "Science of the Gaps."

"If we all assumed that what is thought to be true is really true there would be little hope of advance." - Orville Wright

"Heavier than air human flight is impossible." - Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1895 (The oldest scientific organization in the world)

The claim that anyone failing to subscribe to Darwin's Speculation "doesn't understand evolution" fails to recognize how utterly simplistic and trivial two-step Darwinism is: 1. Random mutation 2. "Selection". "Science of the Gaps" fills in all the rest with a wave of the magic wand. "It's better that way."

The Argument From Incredulity always elicits condescending giggles from the group which is itself always guilty of The Argument From Insolence.

See my explanation of human hemoglobin's insuperably complex original synthesis: The Evolution Fraud.

Moreover, the claim of "tiny steps" overlooks a profound oversight by Darwinists, or rather two of them, at least.

1. To claim that such complex polypeptides "evolved" one simple step at a time DEMANDS that there must have been a profoundly similar precursor. That necessitates an explanation of what that precursor was and when and how it was modified, all the way back to uses that were not remotely connected with what the polypeptide is now used for.

2. The claim that statistics change when done very, very slowly does not square with reality. Selecting one amino acid, from a possible pool of twenty different amino acids, will always be 1 in 20, whether done every second or once every 500,000 years, just as flipping a coin or tossing a die is still one chance in two of getting heads or one chance in six of rolling one. Odds are not a function of speed, ceteris paribus.