Klinghoffer Defends the God of the Gaps

The Discoveroids’ “theory” of intelligent design is described by them (see Definition of Intelligent Design) as follows: “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

Their “best” argument for the existence of their conjectural designer is that he provides a convenient way to “explain” things for which they don’t yet have (or won’t accept) a natural explanation. As we’ve pointed out so many times before, that’s a classic god of the gaps argument — and everyone knows it.

Yet the Discoveroids — described in the Cast of Characters section of our Intro page — keep using that argument because … well, it’s mostly all they’ve got to support the “theory” that their mythical intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is up there in the sky (or somewhere) and he’s invisibly designing our DNA. It’s quite a theory. They can’t figure out why it’s not in all the science books.

In fairness, we should mention that the Discoveroids have other arguments to support their bizarre theory. With the aid of their experts, they make the naked assertion that they know design when they see it — and you could too if you weren’t a Darwinist fool! Besides the god of the gaps argument they rely on another traditional creationist favorite — William Paley’s watchmaker analogy — which was popular in the days before Darwin. But now that a natural way to accomplish biological complexity has been discovered — and supported by evidence — Paley’s analogy is utterly obsolete.

There’s also the uncomfortable fact that their invisible (but supremely intelligent) watchmaker produces sloppy and inaccurate watches (see Rethinking Paley’s Watchmaker Analogy). That doesn’t bother the Discoveroids. To sidestep the undeniable evidence of poor design, the Discoveroids invented the doctrine that The Designer Can Be Sloppy. We call it their New Theory of Improvident Design. And while they constantly offer these woeful arguments as their evidence, they steadfastly insist that they’re not creationists.

It’s only the Discoveroids’ dread of the First Amendment that keeps them from abandoning their goofy masquerade and admitting that the designer is Yahweh and therefore everything is designed. Instead of fighting the theory of evolution — a battle they’ve already lost — why don’t they work to repeal the First Amendment? Then they can stop pretending to do science and they can join ol’ Hambo at the Creation Museum.

Okay, that’s enough introduction. The Discoveroids have assigned to David Klinghoffer (their journalistic slasher) the task of making yet another evidence-free defense of their principal argument. His post is “God of the Gaps” Revisited. Revisisted?

We’re glad that Klinghoffer is revisiting the issue, because that means we will too — by reminding you of some earlier posts we’ve written on the subject. See, for example, Casey Luskin and the God of the Gaps, which was followed by Discovery Institute: God of the Gaps Again. All right, enough of that.

Let’s see what Klinghoffer has to tell us today. His latest is essentially a slapped-together piece of work triggered by an essay he found at the website First Things. They describe themselves as “an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” That’s hardly a source of science information, but it’s nevertheless an appropriate resource for the Discoveroids. The essay Klinghoffer refers to was written by Yale theology grad student Ross McCullough — God and the Gaps. You can’t read it without a subscription so we’ll just tell you what Klinghoffer says. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

My hat is off to Yale theology grad student Ross McCullough for writing a daringly counterintuitive essay in First Things. He revisits the idea that there’s something fatally flawed in so-called “God of the Gaps” arguments. That phrase, which I’ll abbreviate as GOG, has an almost magical ability to intimidate theists.

It may be that there’s no theological flaw in a GOG argument — we wouldn’t know — but it has no scientific value. On that topic we shall once again quote Albert Einstein, in Science and Religion:

To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress.

Okay, let’s get back to Klinghoffer and his essay inspired by a theology student:

We’ve emphasized here in the past that the theory of intelligent design is not a “God of the Gaps” argument. ID points to positive evidence of design, not necessarily of God either but, much more modestly, of some source of intelligent agency operating behind or in nature.

He links to an old, unimpressive Discoveroid post that we discussed a few months ago: Discovery Institute: God of the Gaps Again. Let’s read on:

However what if it were otherwise? [That is, what if ID really were a GOG argument?] Would that be the end of ID as a theory worthy of serious consideration? No.

No? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! He continues:

McCullough notes that the anxieties around GOG are primarily apologetic, not theological or scientific. What if scientists succeed in closing the gaps, then I’ll feel humiliated and (a secondary consideration, it often seems) people’s faith will suffer! But this is answered by pointing out that materialism has already eroded faith and promises to go on doing so, a considerable threat in itself, perhaps greater than that involved in advancing GOG arguments. Weighing the relative dangers would seem to argue for giving a green light to GOG.

What did he say? Read it again. Can you figure it out? The best we can make of it is this: “Even if GOG is a terrible argument, it’s okay to use it anyway because it might contribute in some small way to preserving faith.” Did we read that right? Anyway, here’s more:

On the theological side, the central events involved in the Christian and Jewish stories are moments when natural explanations of events must fail. GOG goes along with the territory.

We don’t doubt that GOG goes along with theological issues. Klinghoffer cites the Exodus and the Resurrection as examples of miracles that don’t have good natural explanations, so faith in a god of the gaps becomes essential for belief. He’s probably right about that — but it’s not much of an argument against science. Moving along:

So for Jews and Christians, there should be no shame in GOG arguments, if they have scientific merit.

Or even if they don’t, for purely theological issues. For science issues, reliance on science is all that’s necessary. Another excerpt:

Beyond all these considerations is the simple question of what’s true.

[Here Klinghoffer seems to quote McCullough:] If the causal chain for a particular event might include God, our reconstructions of the chain in scientific explanation should not in principle exclude him. For there is at stake here not just apologetics, whether Christian or atheist, but what is always and most fundamentally at stake in scientific questions: the truth.

Yes — if a divine explanation is true, then it shouldn’t be rejected just because you reach that conclusion with a GOG argument. And we know the divine explanation is true because it so neatly fills the gaps in the explanatory puzzle. Not too circular, is it? But then … why are we feeling so dizzy? Ah well, theology does that to us. It’ll pass quickly.

Klinghoffer ends his article with a reference to something written by philosopher Thomas Nagel, but there’s no science there and this has gone on long enough. We’ll skip Nagel. So there you are, dear reader. To summarize: Intelligent design theory isn’t a god of the gaps argument, and even if it is, so what? It works!

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Klinghoffer Defends the God of the Gaps

  1. now that a natural way to accomplish biological complexity has been discovered
    Rather:
    now that a way to accomplish biological complexity has been discovered
    For “design” does not give us a way to accomplish something. It may be true that something is designed, but the mere fact of its being designed does not tell us anything about its existence.
    Why are there pyramids in Egypt? “They are designed” does not answer the question.
    How am I to make a pyramid? “By designing it” doesn’t do the job.
    It is true that the pyramids are designed, but there is a lot more that needs to be said.

  2. “a daringly counterintuitive essay”

    Likely synonyms: strange, wacky, unintelligible, stupid …

  3. McCullough cites the biblical story of the resurrection as an example of the proper use of a god-of-the-gaps argument. For McCullough, the story is history, and the gap is that there is no scientific explanation for a resurrection, but there is a god explanation which fits the “facts”. The problem with this is that there are no verifiable facts – or any sort of extra-biblical evidence whatsoever, for a resurrection. There is no gap, because there was no resurrection.

    Kling comes in with his story of the exodus from Egypt, claiming likewise that only god provides an explanation for the events – there is a gap in materialistic explanations. The gap is truly large, because there is no historical evidence that the events occurred at all, outside of the bible, so no materialistic explanations are even necessary.

    Then Kling quote a writer writing about a philosopher who opines that there just can’t be any natural explanation for rationality and morality etc., thus god exists. Actually there are natural explanations, so there really isn’t a gap to be filled, but evidently Kling (like Ham and others) think there is a gap for their own versions of god to inhabit.

    Once again Kling resorts to religious arguments to defend ID. It’s really all they’ve got.

  4. Klinghitler’s argument is head-whippingly self-contradictory.

    The proper analogy here is to O.J. Simpson. After being arrested for the murder of his wife and her waiter, Simpson insisted he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”

    Then later he got short of cash. So he wrote a book titled If I Did It, in which he didn’t say he did it, instead he described how he would have done it if he had done it. Not that he did it.

    So here we have Klinghitler saying ID is not a God of the Gaps, oh no, it’s not a God of the Gaps. But God of the Gaps is a great way to determine the truth, religious truth.

    Klinghitler: “So for Jews and Christians, there should be no shame in GOG arguments”

    Klinghitler: “Beyond all these considerations is the simple question of what’s true”

    (And GOG will get you to the truth. Here he means religious truth. God of the Gaps leads to religious truth, therefore it is a valid way of answering questions.)

    Klinghitler: “What if the gaps are real and will never be filled?”

    Right. What if the causes of newly discovered diseases will never be found? Clearly, we need to believe in witches and demon possession, as these are the only remaining ways to explain diseases whose causes are not known.

    Klinghitler cites Ferguson paraphrasing Nagel.

    Ferguson: “These failures, Nagel says, aren’t just temporary gaps in our knowledge, waiting to be filled in by new discoveries in science. On its own terms, materialism cannot account for brute facts.”

    What does “account for” mean here? Pay attention to their verbs.

    In what sense can IMmaterialism “account for” anything that science cannot “account for”? Sure, belief in spooks and witches can allege a cause for phenomena. So he’s assuming that IMmaterialism “accounts for” phenomena, by redefining the verb “to account for” to mean “merely alleging a cause”. In science, “to account for” has a stricter meaning with a higher threshold of evidence. So it’s a double standard.

  5. TWT,
    that American Loons article is pretty useless, as it’s a set of links to Pharyngula, not to original sources– and Pharyngula was moved infamously to Freethought Blogs, so every one of those links now throws a 404.

  6. Correction: OK not all the links are to pharyngula, but they’re mostly to science blogs that throw 404s.