God of the Gaps

There is much to ponder in Jeff’s recent fine comment on Liberal Religion.  Here’s one part that I’d like to ruminate on:

There’s so much we don’t know, scientifically — from the number of actual physical dimensions to perhaps the most basic question of all: Is this universe the only one there is? If it’s not, are there points of intersection between our universe and others?

Here’s a rough taxonomy of how religious people deal with science:

Some of them recognize that science (maybe broadly construed to include historical evidence) presents a problem for their beliefs.  So they attack it head-on.  They dispute the evidence; they challenge the science.  At an extreme, they discard Occam’s Razor altogether and say stuff like, “God put the fossils there to fool scientists.”  These are the folks that make liberal theologians uncomfortable, and they often claim that the New Atheists are simply aiming their fire at these easy targets.

Some folks don’t try to fight with science; they accept scientific knowledge and figure out a way to accommodate their religious beliefs with it.  If you’re a deist, that’s easy — you just say that God flipped the switch, and everything else that happened after that belongs to science.  But most folks are theists, and they believe that God plays an active role in our existence.  So they need to work harder to justify/explain how this works.  These folks may believe in evolution, but they’ll say that evolution is part of God’s plan, and maybe He breathed souls into a couple of early hominids to get His process going.  This kind of approach strikes some as sophisticated theology; for others of us, it comes across as tortuous and unnecessary (as well as fundamentally unprovable in scientific terms).  It’s more of a rear-guard action than a head-on battle.

Then there are the God of the Gaps folks. There’s so much that science hasn’t explained; at an extreme, perhaps science is in principle incapable of explaining certain things. So we can have a theological explanation of that stuff–until, alas, science gets around to explaining it.  Then the God of the Gaps folks have to retreat to accommodationism.  This, I assume, is what’s going to happen with discussions around the origins of the universe.  Used to be that theologians could say, well, OK, evolution explains a lot.  But it doesn’t explain why we’re here in the first place.  It doesn’t explain why anything is here.  There needs to be an Uncaused Cause.  But now we see science marching towards an explanation of ultimate causality.  Maybe it isn’t quite there yet.  As the New Scientist review suggests, maybe multiverses are an explanation; and I expect we’ll see sophisticated theologians making the case for how multiverses are compatible with their beliefs.  For those familiar with my oeuvre (all three or four of you),Forbidden Sanctuary explores an aspect of this, although multiverses weren’t part of the scientific discourse at the time.

And then there are the NOMA folks, who who simply assert that science and religion are about different things. Science in principle simply has nothing to say about religion (or morality or ultimate meaning).

My sense is that most religious people, to the extent that they worry about such things at all, will unsystematically use any of these approaches, depending on the state of play of a particular issue.  If they can use scientific evidence to support their faith, they will.  If not, they will try to use lack of scientific evidence.  If not, they will simply assert that scientific evidence simply doesn’t count.  They still believe.  And that’s a feature, not a bug.  Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.

And ultimately, I think, that’s the heart of the matter.

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