Is God of the Gaps a Valid Atheist Argument?

cracked mud

 

“God of the gaps” is a Christian response to the march of science. God used to explain lots of things—lightning, disease, earthquakes, and so on—but as science explained more, God could only explain less. God was forced to live in the gaps where questions remain, between blocks of well-established scientific knowledge.

Christians often still use it as an attack, demanding, “How did the first life come to be?” (or some similar unanswered scientific question). Their conclusion: “You’ve got no answer; therefore, God did it.” Science will always have a long list of important unanswered questions, so this argument is endlessly reusable.

The atheist response

The problem is that as those gaps in scientific knowledge are filled in, fertile ground for God belief shrinks. The image that comes to mind for me is God sitting forlornly on an iceberg that is gradually becoming melting away. The Christian who builds his faith on a foundation of science risks that faith when that foundation shifts.

The second problem is that it assumes too much. Sure, Christianity can answer questions that science can’t, but are those answers worth listening to? “I don’t know how this works; therefore, God did it” is no solid foundation on which to build a worldview. There’s no more evidence that “God did it” than that Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it. And “God did it” is a claim, not a conclusion.

The Christian response

Christians have several responses. Here’s a snarky Christian characterization of the atheist position:

But now, in the fullness of time, we have seen a great light . . . and this light has chased God out into the shadows. To this day, science continues to replace God-filled gaps in our understanding with all-natural ingredients. And since we don’t need God to explain the existence of the nature of the universe, we don’t need God, period.

Another version:

[The god-of-the-gaps] objection is rooted in the idea that because a number of things throughout human history have been wrongly attributed to the supernatural activity of God or gods, we can now safely dismiss God as a cause behind anything else we observe

In other words, science doesn’t have all the answers yet, but it will! This is the science-of-the-gaps fallacy, also called the Argument from the Future (because the future will resolve the problems we can’t today). This has been cleverly distilled into, “I don’t know, therefore not God.”

Whatever you call this argument, I don’t make it. I don’t say that God couldn’t be the explanation for anything within nature, just that that’s where the evidence (or lack of evidence) points.

A counterexample?

One Christian response gives the search for extraterrestrial life as an illustration. So far, it’s turned up nothing, but the search continues. If atheists reject the possibility of God, why not reject the possibility of extraterrestrials using the same logic?

First, I don’t reject the possibility of God. And second, “the supernatural” has never been shown to be an explanation for anything. The search for the supernatural is not at all parallel to the search for extraterrestrials, which is simply a search for life (which we know exists) that uses technology (ditto).

Christians point to something, not nothing?

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason pushed back against the god-of-the-gaps charge. Taking just the Intelligent Design argument, he says it doesn’t point to a lack of evidence and then imagine a Designer; rather, it is an argument itself. And when there’s some unanswered question about evolution, each side—both ID and evolution—must fill that gap.

He tells his evolution opponent, “When you get [an answer] in the future, you can stick it in the gap. . . . But in the meantime, reason and rationality require that we go with the odds-on favorite given the evidence that we have right now” (@24:29).

The what? The “odds-on favorite”?? No supernatural explanation has ever successfully explained anything. And note that the naturalistic answer would depend on what the question is; that’s why the answers are hard to come up with. The ID answer is always the same—God (or “a Creator,” if you prefer) did it, breaking unknown laws in unknown ways. They’ve got a one-size-fits-all answer that answers nothing.

Use science correctly

Christians, either use science or don’t. If you don’t, that’s fine, but then tell me that you simply believe by faith. And if you do use science, then man up and take a stand on the scientific issue that you raise. Tell me that your faith is built on there being no scientific explanation for abiogenesis (or whatever the question is), and if one is found, your faith ends.

The alternative (which I’m sure you’ll choose) is that you’re simply parroting the Unanswered Scientific Question Du Jour. When it gets answered by science, you’ll pick a new one and hope we don’t notice. You’re always retreating, always moving the goalposts, never taking a stand. Your argument then is nothing more than “Science has unanswered questions; therefore, God.”

These Christians are abusing science, not using it. It’s not just that they pick and choose scientific facts to support the conclusion they’ve already chosen (rather than following the evidence), but they dishonestly identify questions within science as if they mean something.

A recent article from the Discovery Institute is an example. It begins, “It looks like 2017 could become some kind of genuine annus horribilis [horrible year] for the established scientific consensus on human evolution. It all began with five discoveries that made worldwide headlines earlier this year.”

So what are you saying? That evolution is now on the ropes? Or are you just spinning interesting questions (and biologists delight in finding new puzzles to work on) to be knockout punches, knowing that they are nothing of the kind?

Conclusion

When the dust settles, we still have the popular Christian argument: “How do you explain abiogenesis?” or “What came before the Big Bang?” or whatever. They’re valid scientific questions, but having no answer is no challenge to atheism or support for Christianity.

It’s like these Christians are reading a long book about science. They are impatient with the slow progress, so they turn to the back and find that the last pages are blank. Unable to stand the tension, they pencil in “God did it.”

That works, as long as you don’t care about being right.

Related posts:

[Do you] mean, if you don’t understand something,
and the community of physicists don’t understand it,
that means God did it? Is that how you want to play this game?
. . . Then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance
that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on.
— Neil DeGrasse-Tyson

Image credit: Doug Beckers, flickr, CC

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  • Herald Newman

    The important thing to remember is that the atheist has the null hypothesis on their side! I don’t need a “science of the gaps” in order to believe that there is no god. I believe there is no god because the null hypothesis starts me from there, and it’s up to believers to demonstrate that their god proposition is true.

    When anybody can:
    1. Provide a coherent definition of what they mean by “god”
    2. Provide empirically testable predictions of that god, and show that these predictions are true
    3. Show that this god is more parsimonious than all other natural explanations
    I’ll (at least tentatively) accept that a god exists. So far, none of these requirements have come anywhere close to being met, and I can reasonably assert that the proposition of a god existing is likely false.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Yes. Christians often imagine a symmetry (“I have my beliefs and you have yours”) that isn’t there.

      • TheNuszAbides

        i think the ones trained in Assume Bottomless Demonic Interference are the best at being oblivious to the falseness of the equivalency.

  • Stupid Atheist

    “Their conclusion: ‘You’ve got no answer; therefore, God did it.’ ”

    Devout parents coming home to a broken lamp and a house full of seemingly mute children should understand why that argument is invalid…

    • Cozmo the Magician

      there is a myserious being named ‘Ididin’ it causes much havoc in households with children. All kids know this being and are very happen to tell their parent(s) that ‘ididin Do it!’

      • Greg G.

        I got blamed for a lot of things that Notme did.

  • Stephen

    Nice, Bob. Well written. Some nice ways of wording the counterargument.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks!

  • Michael Neville

    While the deGrasse Tyson quote you gave in the OP is excellent, I like Dara Ó Briain:

    Science knows it doesn’t know everything; otherwise, it’d stop. But just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

  • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

    The greatest problem with the God of the Gaps is it doesn’t really tell you anything. Let’s take abiogenesis. There have been proposed natural mechanisms. Even if they all fail, at least they give you a proposal for how it would work. “God did it” doesn’t. It’s just words. A mere assertion.

    Creationists have been predicting evolution’s fall for so long, who can take them seriously anymore?

    • Rudy R

      “God did it” is a statement of who, not how. The “how” is inferred and is just God magic, which has no explanatory value. Science, on the other hand, makes the proposition that nature (who) is responsible and physics (how) is the explanation of how the World behaves.

      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        Yes, exactly so.

      • Gerald Moore

        An explanation employs using things we already understand to describe a new phenomenon. The god explanation uses something we don’t know even exists, in a way it’s circular. If god exists, it uses magic, this phenomenon looks like magic, therefore a god magically did it. Explaining how magic operates is always conveniently omitted and we are left still not knowing how it happened.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      Yes, “god did it” offers no more explanatory power than “natural forces did it.” The difference between the two is that, while both are woefully threadbare as far as explanations go, the latter at least has prior precedent.

      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        Yes, and at least on the natural forces side they have proposed mechanisms which can be tested, etc.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Absolutely, I was just trying to present the scientific equivalent (to be loose with terminology) for “god did it” for our theist lurkers. :)

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Not a problem, I understand. If someone really did just say “it has a natural explanation” and had left things at that, this would be a problem as well (though still more probable given the scientific track record). There is nothing wrong in saying “I don’t know”.

    • TheNuszAbides

      … who can take them seriously anymore?

      people with a crappy tolerance for uncertainty. the difficulty of stamping out bad habits on a massive scale cannot be overstated.

      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        Yes, that was sadly rhetorical.

    • jamesparson
      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        Oh, much longer than that, I think.

        • adam

          Since Darwin published, right?

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Pretty much, it seems. There even was a period in the 1800s when Darwinism was widely questioned by scientists and they explored other mechanisms, but it ultimately won out. It was the last time anything close to what has been claimed happened.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Funnier is the 30th anniversary updated version. The title is (no kidding): Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis.

        Damn–when is this theory going to die already??

        • Greg G.

          I recall that Denton’s second book walked back many of his claims in that first book after evolution was explained to him. Has he forgotten all that?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Integrity? That surprises me. If it’d been Ray “Banana Man” Comfort, he would’ve stuck to his guns.

          I guess Ray is just a stronger Christian.

        • jamesparson

          I need to tell everyone about the serious illness I have. I only have about 40 to 60 years left. .

          Please send money so that I can fulfill my life long dream and visit Andorra.

          Because of my condition I have to go first class on a cruise ship.

          TY

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I can’t send money, but I’ll send something far more powerful: prayers.

        • MR

          A lifelong dream to visit Andorra certainly is a serious illness.

        • Michael Neville

          You obviously are in need of a caretaker on your trip. Raise twice as much money as you planned to and I’ll be happy to take care of you to and from Andorra.

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    [The god-of-the-gaps] objection is rooted in the idea that because a number of things throughout human history have been wrongly attributed to the supernatural activity of God or gods, we can now safely dismiss God as a cause behind anything else we observe.

    No, GOTG is rooted in the idea that you don’t have any evidence for your position, just a gap in understanding. If you want to hypothesize a god and formulate experiments to test said hypothesis, be my guest. But jumping immediately from the gap to the the conclusion is and always will be an argument from ignorance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/groups/ElonMusk Wayne Robert Smith
    • Max Doubt

      Don’t you think link spamming is a pretty shitty way to get traffic to your Facebook page? And upvoting your own link spam? You just don’t care if you look like a dick, do ya?

      • Cozmo the Magician

        wankers gotta wank.

      • TheNuszAbides

        if he’d added at least a couple of sentences on topic, maybe … but there’s no redemption from upvoting himself.

        • Max Doubt

          “if he’d added at least a couple of sentences on topic, maybe … but there’s no redemption from upvoting himself.”

          His posting history seems to be just a bunch of links to his FB. Even the ones with something more than the link say things like “Shared this with so-n-so’s FB page…,” then link to his own. This guy is the same kind of piece of shit as those make-$$$-working-from-home spammers.

        • Greg G.

          This guy is the same kind of piece of shit as those make-$$$-working-from-home spammers.

          Or worse. If you become friends, he can see what you share with friends. Sometimes it helps to steal your identity.

    • Cozmo the Magician

      Sorry, i would never join a facebook that would want someone like me to join.

    • Max Doubt

      How ’bout it, Wayne Robert Smith, do you have the balls to come back and defend your use of other people’s blogs to advertise your own? Or are you just the kind of worthless piece of shit thief that you appear to be?

    • Raging Bee

      You’re advertizing a Facebook page on Patheos? What’s next — advertizing a MySpace page on Facebook?

  • Chuck Johnson

    “It looks like 2017 could become some kind of genuine annus horribilis [horrible
    year] for the established scientific consensus on human evolution. It
    all began with five discoveries that made worldwide headlines earlier
    this year.”-Discovery Institute

    This is just clickbait on par with “Avoid this one food to prevent heart attacks”.

    • Cozmo the Magician

      I read Discover Institute for a whole week, and what happened next was amazing…

      • Argus

        “You won’t believe what Ken Ham looks like in a bathing suit…”

        • adam

          A wrinkled up Borat?

        • Raging Bee

          “What Ken Ham looks like now is astounding!!!”

      • Raging Bee

        No. 5 will shock you!

        • Cozmo the Magician

          But this one grandma has a crazy life hack to fix…

  • eric

    A recent article from the Discovery Institute is an example. It begins, “It looks like 2017 could become some kind of genuine annus horribilis [horrible year] for the established scientific consensus on human evolution.

    Translation: “we’re sooooo close to our goal! With your donation, we could get there! Please send your check to…”

    In 2018 the details might be different, but I guarantee you they’ll be some similar flavor of “we’re close to overthrowing evolution! With your help…” message.

    • skl

      To be fair, that doesn’t seem to be a valid critique.
      If that’s supposed to be a criticism of an X organization, I
      suppose you could use the same for any anti-X organization. Virtually all advocacy
      groups advertise and try to boost funding – the Discovery Institute on one end,
      the Templeton Foundation on the other; religious organizations vs. atheist
      groups; the Democratic National Committee vs the RNC; etc.

      • Greg G.

        It’s just the old “evolution will be overturned in ten to fifteen years” routine. I heard it when I was a Christian in the mid 70s. A Christian began to debate me whenever he got the chance in the early 90s. In 1995, he told me the same thing so I remembered it. I reminded him of it in 2010 but he denied ever saying it. I have seen a quote from a preacher from the 1820s that predicted gradualism in geology would be overturned in ten to fifteen years. It has been as reliable as the Christian claim that Jesus will return any day now.

      • Otto

        It is a valid critique when the Discovery Institute has not ever produced any evidence in support of their claims of Intelligent Design, that being the case it is just hot air.

      • Michael Neville

        The Discovery Institute has been declaring evolution to be a “theory in crisis” for almost 30 years. Meanwhile evolutionary biologists keep putting out paper after paper refining evolutionary theory. It’s almost as if these biologists didn’t know their theory was going to collapse any day.

        There’s three major hits against the Disco Tute;

        (1) As Otto says, they have never produced any evidence to support Intelligent Design. After Michael Behe had his ass handed to him about irreducible complexity during the Kitzmiller trial [link] they haven’t even tried.

        (b) They see evolution vs creationism (ID is creationism repackaged purely for legal reasons) as a zero sum game. If evolution loses then creationism automatically wins. However any theory which replaces evolution would have to answer the same questions that evolution does and answer questions evolution does not. GODDIDIT doesn’t answer any questions, which means it’s not a candidate to replace evolution.

        (iii) Creationism is based on a narrow interpretation of a couple of 2500 year old myths some Hebrew priests stole from the Babylonians. That people who didn’t know where the Sun went at night could provide scientific knowledge which would overturn one of the strongest theories in all of science is highly unlikely.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Give a million dollars to a biology institute or research lab, and they will use it to learn new stuff about biology (evolution, if that’s the focus of the lab). But give a million dollars to the Disco Institute, and they will use it for PR. Their audience is the public, not the scientific community, a clear admission of failure.

        • eric

          You say that in the future tense, but as a non-profit their tax returns are open to the public. They have been given millions per year, with nothing to show for it. Just look up their form 990s on CitizenAudit.org. Though it would be unfair to say they spend it all or most of it on PR. They “only” spend about $200k/year on advertising and another $300k/year on lobbying. Most of their expenditures are actually salary.

          Like many bad charities, fake charities, or outright ponzi schemes, the amount of money that goes to their “cause” is only a small fraction of the how donor money is used. The vast majoriy of donations end up being used to support the organization’s own people. Stephen Meyer on his own pulls down $200,000/year. How nice.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          They “only” spend about $200k/year on advertising and another $300k/year on lobbying. Most of their expenditures are actually salary.

          Right–salary, not on biologists to do research, but on people to write books and give lectures and otherwise make a case to the lay public.

          Stephen Meyer writes books attacking evolution, and he’s not a biologist.

        • skl

          That’s an interesting website, CitizenAudit.
          It says Stephen Meyer’s $220K equates to 3.7% of DI revenues and 5.2% of DI expenses.
          It also says Ann Reid of the National Center for Science Education made $173K, which equates to 16.1% of NCSE revenues and 13.5% of NCSE expenses. How nice, indeed.

        • TheNuszAbides

          i’m sorry, were you on the verge of making a point?
          maybe something that actually counterbalances “… with nothing to show for it”?
          or perhaps something about some supposed equivalence between [pretending to be scientific about unfalsifiable claims] vs. [debunking said claims and supporting science-literacy]?
          sure, you can spin both sides to be a collective waste of funds – if you think, for example, that spending money to influence any particular public opinion is problematic, or have some other curious regard for the proverbial marketplace of ideas – but since you’re so concerned with fairness, you might want to compare what worthwhile cause either might be in reaction to. please let us know how that plays out in your head.

        • eric

          NCSE is a science advocacy organization. Of course they spend their money paying staff; the staff does the advocacy.

          Now, I think most people here would agree with you if you wanted to claim that the DI is an ID advocacy organization that spends most of its money on ID advocates. That seems like a pretty accurate description to me, at least. And yes that would be very parallel to NCSE in terms of the type of work we’d expect them to do. Problem is, that’s not what defenders of the DI typically tout it as. They typically want to claim it’s an ID research organization. And for a research organization, it’s not spending much money on actual research.

          This also puts the lie to a standard ID whine that they could produce scientific advances if only they had resources like mainstream scientists do. They could spend that $4M budget on research. That’s a lot more than many evolutionary biologists have. Heck post-docs are under $100k/yr and are typically expected to publish at least every year or two. The DI could easily support 20+ of them, working in their own facilities (or at least faked green screen stock photos of laboratories – look it up) or in various departments around the US. But they don’t. The foremost “ID science” organization in the world has the money that could support loads of research, but chooses not to spend it on ID research.

          As an aside, you kept claiming earlier that you’re not a Christian. If you’re going to continue with that claim, would you care to tell us what origin of life hypothesis you think is better supported than abiogenesis?

        • skl

          “Problem is, that’s not what defenders of the DI typically tout it as. They typically want to claim it’s an ID research
          organization. And for a research organization, it’s not spending much money on actual research.”

          Those particular DI defenders should read what DI says it is on the DI website. It does not appear to be a research organization (i.e. with labs, field work, and such). It appears to be, as I said earlier, an advocacy organization. And actually, it appears to be an advocate of certain philosophies rather than of certain sciences. (https://discovery.org/about).

          “This also puts the lie to a standard ID whine that they could produce scientific advances if only they had resources like mainstream scientists do.”

          If the standard IDer calls for that, then I think I would agree with you. I don’t think further scientific discoveries are needed to make the IDers’ point that ID is a rational explanation for what we already know about living organisms. I think ID is not so much science as it is a philosophical position.

          “… would you care to tell us what origin of life hypothesis you think is better supported than abiogenesis?”

          I’m all ears.
          Whatever it is, it’s something pretty extraordinary, something we’ve never seen.

        • Susan

          I’m all ears.

          None.

        • eric

          I don’t think further scientific discoveries are needed to make the IDers’ point that ID is a rational explanation for what we already know about living organisms.

          Are you claiming that ID proponents don’t think of their explanation as scientific, but rather is just a philosophically rational idea? Because if they want it to be considered science, then yes, they need a scientific discovery or two to back it up.

          [Me] “… would you care to tell us what origin of life hypothesis you think is better supported than abiogenesis?”
          [ski] I’m all ears.

          So no, you don’t want to tell us. Okay that’s fine. But in science, the best supported hypothesis is generally what gets taught in schools. It’s what keeps getting researched. So until you can come up with something better, abiogenesis it is.

          So long for now, ID-defending-but-no-I’m-not-Christian ski. Is that three cockadoodledoos I hear?

        • skl

          “Are you claiming that ID proponents don’t think of their explanation as scientific,
          but rather is just a philosophically rational idea?”

          I can’t vouch for everything ID proponents may have claimed or thought. I just know what D.I.’s website says as
          to what they’re about. Speaking for myself, I would
          claim ID is a philosophically rational idea rather than a scientific
          observation/discovery.

          “But in science, the best supported hypothesis is generally
          what gets taught in schools. It’s what keeps getting researched. So until you can come up with something better, abiogenesis it is.”

          That sounds OK. As long as they make clear it’s a hypothesis and not a fact.

        • Greg G.

          That sounds OK. As long as they make clear it’s a hypothesis and not a fact.

          A hypothesis should have a way that it could be falsified or some prediction that could support it.

          There was a fish fossil with an unusual jaw from a time just before land vertebrates appeared in the fossil record. There was a fossil of an early land creature with the same jaw structure about 40 million years later. The hypothesis was that the relatives of that type of fish became semi-aquatic and then developed into the land animal between those times. There is a strata of rock of that age in the US and in Europe that were one before the New World split from the Old World, but both are under developed, highly populated areas. Then one of the researchers read about an exposed strata in northern Canada. So they searched for rock with beach characteristics, like clams and crab fossils, and concentrated their search there. They discovered Tiktaalik, nine specimens, IIRC, that was semi-aquatic and had the same jaw structure as the fish and the land animal.

          Disco Tute isn’t doing anything like that. They are making up stories to keep the money coming in.

        • skl

          “They discovered Tiktaalik, nine specimens, IIRC, that was semi-aquatic and had the same jaw structure as the fish and the land animal. Disco Tute isn’t doing anything like
          that. They are making up stories to keep the money coming in.”

          I don’t know what, if anything, DI is doing about Tiktaalik and other fish discoveries. I’m guessing they might just be saying
          that the anatomy of a fish (e.g. second diagram here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_anatomy)
          appears to be something designed rather than randomly evolved.

        • Greg G.

          The point is that science can give suggestions on where to look for evidence so finding the evidence there supports the science. Nothing about intelligent design can do that.

          It is always premature to jump to a supernatural conclusion, unless you know you have eliminated all possible natural explanations.

        • skl

          “It is always premature to jump to a supernatural
          conclusion, unless you know you have eliminated all possible natural
          explanations.”

          In short, ‘It is always premature to jump to a supernatural conclusion.’

        • epeeist

          To paraphrase Adelard of Bath, one should always prefer natural explanations for natural events.

        • skl

          I would be interested in Adelard’s words on the natural
          explanation for nature.

        • epeeist

          Then you are going to have to get hold of a copy of his Questiones Naturale in which he makes the claim that nature is closed epistemologically. Later scholastics extended this to claim that it is also closed ontologically.

        • eric

          I can’t vouch for everything ID proponents may have claimed or thought. I just know what D.I.’s website says as
          to what they’re about.

          Here is what the DI’s website says: “We are the institutional hub for scientists, educators, and inquiring minds who think that nature supplies compelling evidence of intelligent design. We support research, sponsor educational programs, defend free speech, and produce articles, books, and multimedia content.”

          But they don’t fund scientists. They don’t support research. They don’t support educational programs. They don’t, as far as I know, defend free speech. They do produce articles, books, and multimedia content, but as their own Wedge document pointed out, these things are useless without the research to back it up.

          That sounds OK. As long as they make clear it’s a hypothesis and not a fact.

          There are many theories and hyotheses of abiogenesis. RNA world. Clay substrate. DNA world (not so popular any more). As far as I know none of them are taught “as fact” for two reasons. Because only creationists confuse theories and facts, and because we wouldn’t even say ‘its a fact’ in the vernacular about any of them because we don’t know which one (if any) is right.

          What might be taught is that abiogenesis as a broad concept is accepted by scientists as the best (and really only viable) type of explanation for the origin of life on Earth. Which is true. In terms of scientific support it’s unquestionably the best, and will continue to be until something else comes along that is better. It’s also the only viable sort of explanation at this time. Like with any scientific hypothesis or theory, this acceptance is provisional and subject to revision should new evidence arise that points in another direction. But for the moment, it’s the best, so that’s what we teach.

          The DI was founded in 1994. Cassini reached Saturn in 2004. The Cassini mission produced four thousand scientific papers (so far; there will be more to come). The DI has produced, what? None? A handful? They’ve had 23 years to produce a viable testable alternative hypothesis, test it, and publish the results. They have $4M/year roughly to do it. And yet nada. Bubkis. Zilch. What is your explanation for this utter failure?

        • skl

          “What might be taught is that abiogenesis as a broad concept is accepted by scientists as the best (and really only viable) type of explanation for the origin of life on
          Earth. Which is true.”

          That sounds OK. As long as they make clear that it’s not true, that is, that they don’t know if it’s true.

          I don’t understand why you’re so upset that the DI doesn’t produce scientific papers. It’s not a science organization. Maybe a philosophical organization, or a philosophy of science
          organization. But not a science organization (i.e. with labs, field work, and such).

          I don’t know if you consider Charles Darwin to have been a scientist, but if you value his methods, perhaps you would
          also value Stephen Meyers’, as he apparently admires and emulates Darwin’s methods:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRk8HC791y0

        • Otto

          >>>”would you care to tell us what origin of life hypothesis you think is better supported than abiogenesis?”

          I give you an A for effort…but you really didn’t think you would get an honest or straight forward response right?

        • Kevin K

          He’s a bona fide Liar for Jesus. He claims to be a “skeptic”, but swallows creationist arguments hook, line, and sinker.

      • eric

        A past history of exaggerated claims about the demise of evolution matters for the credibility of the next claim of the demise of evolution. A history of wrong predictions should make us skeptical of current predictions. And the “imminent demise of naturalism” argument has been made by creationists since at least 1825. You read that right – this claim that science is about to fall (and, implied, religion will be shown to be right) predates Darwin. Prior to the publication of OOS, creationists were preaching for years about the imminent demise of old-Earthism. When Darwin came along, they just took that same rhetorical talking point and transplanted it into their anti-evolutionary rhetoric. But they kept making the imminent demise argument. Again, and again, and again.

        So while the shepherd might actually have seen a wolf this time, I’d say the odds are good that after 192 years of regularly crying wolf and the wolf not showing up, there’s no wolf about to appear. And it’s a valid critique to point out, “you’ve cried wolf year in and year out…yet no wolf.”

        • Joe

          The “any day now” claim is thin gruel that certain people are motivated to think is red meat.

          Think about how many religious/right wing figures use variations on this theme. “Any day now Hillary will be arrested.” “Any day now Trump will fulfill one of his election promises.” “Any day now Jesus will come back!” As long as people want to believe, it gives them hope and allows them to hold on to their current way of thinking.

          Appealing to the future is a way of avoiding awkward questions in the present.

        • TheNuszAbides

          The “any day now” claim is thin gruel that certain people are motivated to think is red meat.

          well phrased. they all too often have a terrible addiction to certainty.

        • Pofarmer

          Well, you can’t tell intutively if an answer is right or wrong. As long as it answers the question and satisfies your interest a false answer is just as good as a true one.

        • TheNuszAbides

          ain’t that the sad truth.

        • skl

          192 years is nothing compared to the 2,300 years of crying abiogenesis and abiogenesis not showing up. And the
          latter shepherds still manage to round up their sheep.

          “We would like to thank …NASA for funding…”

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4187153/

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Give me the examples of Intelligent Design tests that are on par with the those done on abiogenesis.

          And, amusingly, abiogenesis is a necessity, whether divine, natural or otherwise. Life had to arise somehow.

        • TheNuszAbides

          192 years is nothing compared to the 2,300 years of crying abiogenesis and abiogenesis not showing up.

          straw much?

        • eric

          The components need for abiogenesis have shown up. We found out how organic chemistry made the concept of elan vitale unnecessary. We discovered autocatalytic and replicating molecules. We watched as fatty polymers spontaneously formed the lipid bilayers used as cell walls.

          So, while we don’t know what the naturalistic wolf looks like, we’ve got natural footprints. Natural scat. Dead sheep carcasses with naturalistic tooth marks on the bone. And so ‘natural wolf’ in this case seems reasonable. On the other hand, no such discoveries have been made in regards to gods in 2,300 years. Not one iota of progress in the quest to find evidence of gods or a god.

        • skl

          “The components need for abiogenesis have shown up.”

          But abiogenesis has not. And not enough components have shown up to stop the debates and the call for more research (and funding).

          And of course, the Stephen Meyers of the world would say the components for intelligent design have shown up, that they’re all over the place, and always have been.

        • Greg G.

          But abiogenesis has not.

          He said that metaphorically with “we don’t know what the naturalistic wolf looks like”.

      • TheNuszAbides

        To be fair

        … or at least to spin a false equivalence …

      • RichardSRussell

        It’s true that advocacy groups are always trying to raise money for their causes. But what are those causes? In all the honest cases, you generally need look no further than the name of the organization: American Cancer Society, National Center for Science Education, Bishops’ Charities, Wilderness Society, and on and on. Heck, even for-profit organizations do the same: General Motors, American Transmission Company, Whole Foods, Miller Brewing, etc.

        Even the ones that are vague — Gilda’s Club, Red Cross, Sierra Club, Apple, Altria, Boeing, Kellogg’s — aren’t outright deceptive.

        But the Discovery Institute? What have they ever discovered? They aren’t even trying, they’re just lying.

        PS: It’s utterly laffable that you think that the Discovery Institute and the Templeton Foundation are on opposite ends of any kind of spectrum except perhaps alphabetical order.

        • skl

          “It’s utterly laffable that you think that the Discovery
          Institute and the Templeton Foundation are on opposite ends of any kind of spectrum except perhaps alphabetical order.”

          See section on “John Templeton Foundation” at
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Institute

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          What will we find there?

        • skl

          You can read and find out.

        • adam

          So not worth reading……….

        • Greg G.

          Templeton thinks the DI are losers.

        • adam

          Actually Templeton demonstrates that the DI are losers.

        • Greg G.

          Both are religious organizations with scientific aspirations. The Templeton Foundation has higher standards and has more integrity than Disco Tute.

        • adam

          “The Templeton Foundation has higher standards and has more integrity, more than Disco Tute.”

          ftfy

      • Raging Bee

        It’s a valid critique if the assertion is unfounded, and especially if it really is accompanied by appeals for donations.

  • RichardSRussell

    Is God of the Gaps a Valid Atheist Argument?

    As Damon Runyon once put it, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet!”

  • Pofarmer

    Anyone else notice comments are down exponentially?

    • epeeist

      I wonder if the “designers” (intelligent or otherwise) of this new and wondrous user interface have noticed.

      • Pofarmer

        I have tried to contact Patheos in the past about various issues, and never, ever, got a response. So, I’m not sure the actually care.

        • Michael Neville

          As long as the ad revenue doesn’t go down the Patheos gods don’t concern themselves with what the people who use these blogs desire or need. There is a great myth that the internet is for the benefit of the users. This is wrong. The internet provides a product, people who click on ads, to the advertisers who pay the websites for the product.

      • Argus

        You have never seen the designer…you are just assuming a designer in the gaps! /s :)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      That’s odd. Yesterday, there was a surge of hits on “The Most Powerful Argument Against Christianity” (the one about divine hiddenness), which should’ve driven up comments.

      For more than a month, I’ve had a related problem, my email notifications of comments are sometimes delayed by many hours. Has anyone had that problem?

      • Pofarmer

        I’ve never done email notifications. I just use the disqus homepage,

    • Otto

      I would guess part of it is posting old articles as if they are new on the Nonreligious front page. Now I just noticed blogs from other religious and political channels areas are posting there as if they are Nonreligious. What a mess. It shouldn’t be this hard.

    • Neo

      I just heard there are, like, 8 million people in Florida without power after the hurricane hit this past weekend- just wondering whether this has affected comment numbers – so, yeah, that means the reason comments on the atheist blogs is down is, like, … God.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken, yet somehow fabulous atheist. This is one of your best commentaries I have read. Still, I think that we all know deep down that some conceivable phenomena would not have a naturalistic explanation. Like a guy who prayed to God for a miracle, and 30 seconds later all people with Down syndrome are cured and no one from then on is ever born with that disease. Or a relatively dumb guy with no scientific training having a NDE and in the process learning some demonstrations to the most complex mathematical theorems, or coming back with a complete physical theory of everything with all the equations as well as a cure for AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease. Or a Nostradamus-like medium who foresees what the world will be like in 500 years and describing it in clear language with lots of specifics. We all know that physical forces don’t work like that even if we don’t know everything about them. At that point, an atheist would have to appeal to supersmart aliens toying with us or hypotheses like we are in a computer simulation or in the Matrix. And then anything goes.

    I agree that no such phenomenon has been proven to exist, but that’s a thought experiment aiming to test the God-of-the-gaps objection.

    Have a nice day.

    • eric

      This doesn’t “test the God of the Gaps objection” because what you’re describing is a situation in which a testable hypothesis includes a superbeing. That’s God-of-the-phenomenon.

      Certainly science can consider whether some phenomenon is the product of intelligence or not. Archaeologists do it all the time. And if tomorrow we wake up and “Hi there, I’m Bob” is painted on the moon in diamonds, yes science would consider the hypothesis of an intelligent being having done it (note even the hypothesis “it’s a trick by a normal human magician” is a hypothesis about an intelligent being causing it). But that would not, IMO, be a god of the gaps claim. There’s a difference between “looks like an arrowhead, the rock is chipped the way humans chip arrowheads, its placed in a stick like an arrowhead; ergo, it’s a human built arrowhead and not just a funny shaped stone” and “ooooh, I have no idea how that works…must be an alien doing it!”

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        Yes, and if that hypothesis were testable and we could find overwhelming evidence for god, he would just be included in our understanding of reality. We might still use “natural” and “supernatural” as descriptive labels (the same as we use “classical” and “quantum”), but the fundamental distance between the concepts simply does not exist.

    • Joe

      Why would any of those phenomena, which as you point out have not currently come to pass, not have a naturalistic explanation?

      What would be a plausible supernatural explanation?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I think that we all know deep down that some conceivable phenomena would not have a naturalistic explanation.

      I can conceive of Superman. That doesn’t mean he exists.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      What is the difference between a supernatural explanation and a currently unknown natural one?

      • Raging Bee

        The former is lazy, at best; and the latter is honest, at least.

    • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

      the funny thing is that the philosopher who is most famous for doubting reality in such an extreme fashion, to distinguish ideas which can be doubted from those which cannot, was not an atheist (in need of a rationalization) but rené descartes. he also entertained the idea that god is a deceiver. then he (tried to) reason for the existence of god (and that it’s not a deceiver god). you can thank him for (re)opening that can of worms.

      • Raging Bee

        Actually, the whole idea of a “deceiver god” or “evil genius god” was thrown out, because it inevitably led to the conclusion that NOBODY could trust ANYTHING their senses told them, and no one could trust the Bible or any other holy text either.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          sure, that’s possibly why he got into trouble (others apparently accused him of plasphemy for this very idea). the irony is that he didn’t actually argued for a deceiver god at all. doubt, methodolical skepticism, was simply a starting point. this included the possibility of god (or a demon) as a deceiver. he then argued against it (but one could say his “proof” for god’s existence, as usual for a philosopher’s god, isn’t about the god of the bible, which maybe could be perceived as argueing against the bible).

  • Kevin K

    Every year is a “horrible year” for evolution, according to the Discotuters. Like every year is a “prophetic year” to the TV preachers.