Logical Fallacy: God-of-the-gaps

Confusing the currently unexplained with the forever unexplainable is a logical fallacy, and accepting it as a valid argument would mean the end of science, since any unknowns that remain would be written off as paranormal or supernatural and not amenable to scientific inquiry. It’s related to the argument from ignorance fallacy which occurs when one argues “I do not know that this is not true, therefore it is true.” A more pithy name for it is the God-of-the-gaps fallacy, which I thing is technically reserved for arguments that say that God is just beyond the horizon of scientific discourse, but I will use it to mean other forms of the supernatural and paranormal because it’s too good a name to leave restricted.

When people make the God-of-the-gaps fallacy, they are filling in their ignorance with their superstitions and a priori beliefs. “I don’t know what these objects are in these photographs, therefore they are ghosts.” “I can’t explain why the planets act as they do, therefore it is the work of the gods.” “Science right now has nothing to say about what caused the Big Bang, therefore God did it.” “Biologists have not found a particular transitional fossil of my choosing, therefore Darwinism is bunk and it was all the work of an Intelligent Designer.” “Neuroscientists do not yet have a good understanding about how cellular activity in the brain gives rise to consciousness, therefore our minds are not of the material world.” It is a very easy fallacy to perform, since those wisest of words “I don’t know” are so hard to utter. Even the best among us can fall into this trap, as seen in this talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson:

What’s interesting is that the gaps in God-of-the-gaps get both smaller and more numerous as time goes on. Between two species in the fossil record lies a gap in our specific understanding. When an intermediary fossil is found, it breaks the gap into two smaller gaps. Science continues to press the boundaries of our knowledge outward, making new discoveries and rectifying old misunderstandings, but there will be always be gaps for gods to hide in. I think the appropriate response to this fallacy is simply, “No, we can’t explain that right now. But we’re working on it.”

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2 Responses to Logical Fallacy: God-of-the-gaps

  1. Jordan says:

    “Faith used to require believing in things that haven’t been proven. Now it requires believing in things that have been disproven.”

  2. Lee Pavelich says:

    It’s not even necessarily a question of faith. It’s more a matter of free variables. “We can’t currently explain this phenomenon, so I have the freedom to arbitrarily select an explanation.” “No, you have the freedom to say ‘At the present time, I don’t know the explanation,’ at least if you want to maintain some semblance of intellectual integrity.”

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