It’s not at all uncommon to encounter any number of agnostic non-believers (no, really – there are such folks), apparently up on all the science, but who are still unable – in good conscience – to tic that last box as confirmed atheists. Who default to an almost truculent allusion to that old ‘God of the Gaps’ – nobody’s checked under all the beds – argument.
First off, I’d like to suggest there are actually two, distinctly different, God of the Gaps at work here. And a certain amount of confusion occurs, when we mistakenly conflate the two.
Archimedes famously declared “Give me a lever, a fulcrum, and a place to stand, and I will move the world.” While my aim is much more modest, I should like to offer anyone who could use one, a lever, a fulcrum and a place to stand, in order to separate these two God of the Gaps, in your own mind.
The classic God of the Gaps, is the one originally attributed with explaining all those unknown – and at the time, unknowable – forces of nature. Who has subsequently been pushed-back by advances in science, and our ability to explain vast numbers of those things that were formerly conceded to this God of those gaps in our scientific understanding.
Make no mistake about it, this Theory of God was given standing – and a chance to prove itself – right along side all those other truth claims, that presumed to explain – in principle – how the laws of the universe, and everything in it, worked. It was treated no different from those claims of the ancient alchemists, who proposed the world – along with all the people and animals in it – were made up of various humors, and invisible ethers. Until proven otherwise, one theory was just about as good and serviceable as the next.
However, this idea of ‘serviceable’ is what eventually gave the high-ground to those scientifically determined forces of nature, that really are at work in the universe. Modern medicine is founded on the science of biology. And ethers have simply never been shown to exist. Likewise, this classic God of the Gaps has been pushed back – and out – along with ideas like humors and ethers, as former stop-gaps in our knowledge have fallen to scientifically determined, empirical fact.
The fact that such mistaken truth-claims, about the forces at work behind the very laws of nature, can actually be tested – and proven false – obviates any need to prove that this God of the Gaps does not exist. It is enough to show those claims formerly attributed to this one, have consistently been proven false.
Which brings us to that second God of the Gaps I mentioned.
However, this one is not as amenable to being held up to the light of day. And that’s because this God of the Gaps is the superstitious holdover, found haunting the tortured imaginations of men and women everywhere. Sometimes even in children. Right along with ideas like ghosts, and goblins, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster. Not to mention, crop circles, little green men from mars, sprites and fairies at the bottom of the garden. But reaching deep down inside, and touching on fear buttons that make us deeply uncomfortable at times. But who’s locus falls patently within the Gap defined by that space between our ears – where we all have one.
But, again – make no mistake about it. This God was surreptitiously installed, at about the level of a computer virus – almost from birth, in most of us – as part of our cognitive schema. Through cultural exposure and clues deduced, it gets assimilated at about the same level as language and gender schema. And, as it turns out, this is the hardest gap most people will ever encounter, in attempting to rid themselves of their own superstitious chimera. Because it requires accomplishing a major paradigm-shift, at the level of that ingrained cultural schema I’m talking about.
Folks are rarely able to simply – and suddenly – switch boats, where religious belief has been allowed to handle the ethical and spiritual cargo, and do most of the heavy lifting, all their lives. In fact, those that eventually are able, typically go through a gradual process of weaning themselves from the religious superstition and psychological need for proclaiming – for instance – Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Before they can ever move on to the more psychologically expanded, philosophical notion of Deism. In it’s most classic form – pondering a universe, created by a God, who has none-the-less left us to our own devices.
And, Lord-knows, men have created an untold number of psychological, religious, and superstitious devices, quite on their own. But they’ve also discovered how to find empirical evidence, for determining scientific fact. And a method for assuring its perpetual progress, that also incorporates an on-going process for the discovery and correction of any errors. It’s called The Scientific Method.
But, getting back; it is a process – of gradually dusting off, re-examining, and transferring one’s spiritual and psychological truths – from one boat to the other – that some few are eventually able to cast off the store lines from their Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, mother-ships. And take up the oars, in moving off, towards those more unbounded personal discoveries, to be found in deism.
“The terrible thing about the quest for truth – is that you find it.”
– Remy de Gourmont
In fact, it is during this time that many come to understand a number of universal truths, that have always surrendered themselves to the ultimate tenacity of mankind’s need to know. And to eventually even discover that most disquieting of all truths: That God is – and always has been – an invention of our own psychological need.
The fact that – like children – we so desperately want for there to be a God – a heavenly father – to give order to, and make some sense out of, this world – and our existence in it. But which makes it doubly hard to clearly see – and ultimately accept – our own role and responsibility for this life. For finding, and giving meaning, not only to our own lives, but in extending meaning and value to the lives of people everywhere. Along with a decent regard for all life forms, and the very health of this planet.
To grow up, spiritually, to our collective role as caretakers of this earth – and each other – while realizing we are just another step along the way. Understanding that we are responsible for determining whether our attitudes and actions support human growth and progress, or whether we abandon ourselves to hedonistic and corporate myopia and apathy. Especially concerning those people and philosophies that would view human life, and this planet, as temporal, temporary, and not worth worrying about.
Make no mistake about it, to tic that last box – the one that says I am an Atheist – is to have attained a certain spiritual maturity and responsibility. For oneself, and for the fate of all life on this planet.
One thought on “Re-examining our God of the gaps”
I love this article. There are different reasons why people choose to call themselves agnostic rather than atheist, but for many it really is a process. I chose atheism when I was 14 years old and I never clung to agnosticism. Maybe that is my own stubborness, but I think that it is a mostly useless distinction. In my recent book, I refer to agnosticism as “atheism lite.” It is simply more palatable for most people, especially in the beginning. It is important to eventually make the full leap, and that importance lies in the last part of this article. We must take responsbility for our own “spirituality” and our lives. When we have a United States congressman stating that “God will not let us destroy his world” we have arrived at an extremely dangerous point. We have to understand that our fate is in our hands and act accordingly.