Quote of the Week: David Berlinski on The God of the Gaps

Christian Quote of the Week

Scientific atheism is not an undertaking that has cherished rhetorical inventiveness. It has one brilliant insult to its credit, and that is the description of intelligent design as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” I do not know who coined the phrase, but whoever it was, chapeau. By the same token, it has only one stock character in repertoire, and that is the God of the Gaps. Unlike the God of Old, who ruled irritably over everything, the God of the Gaps rules over gaps in argument or evidence. He is a presiding God, to be sure, but one with limited administrative functions. With gaps in view, He undertakes his very specialized activity of incarnating Himself as a stopgap. If He is resentful at the limitations in scope afforded by His narrow specialization, He is, scientific atheists assume, grateful to have any work at all.

When the gaps are all filled, He will join Wotan in Valhalla.

As a rhetorical contrivance, the God of the Gaps makes his effect contingent on a specific assumption: that whatever the gaps, they will in the course of scientific research be filled. It is an assumption both intellectually primitive and morally abhorrent—primitive because it reflects a phlegmatic absence of curiosity, and abhorrent because it assigns to our intellectual future a degree of authority alien to human experience. Western science has proceeded by filling gaps, but in filling them, it has created gaps all over again. The process is inexhaustible. Einstein created the special theory of relativity to accommodate certain anomalies in the interpretation of Clerk Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field. Special relativity led directly to general relativity. But general relativity is inconsistent with quantum mechanics, the largest visions of the physical world alien to one another. Understanding has improved, but within the physical sciences, anomalies have grown great, and what is more, anomalies have grown great because understanding has improved.

The God of the Gaps? I am prepared with the best of them to revile and denounce him. It is easy enough to do just that, one reason that so many scientists are doing it. But why not say with equal authority that for all we know, it is the God of Old who continues to preside over the bent world with His accustomed fearful majesty, and that He has chosen to reveal Himself by drawing the curtain on His own magnificence at precisely the place in which general relativity and quantum mechanics should have met but do not touch? Whether gaps in the manifold of our understanding reveal nothing more than the God of the Gaps or nothing less than the God of Old is hardly a matter open to rational debate.

-David Berlinski, in The Devil’s Delusion, p. 183-184