Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gap Not My Problem

In the last post, we were discussing spontaneous generation and how naturalistic origin-of-life scenarios constitute belief in this long-discredited idea (violating what one reader perceptively called a fundamental principle of biology).

The most common response--among naturalists and evolutionists--to the argument that the complexity of the simplest living cells implies that they were designed or created is to call such an explanation a "God of the gaps" fallacy. The idea is that what we currently have is a knowledge gap, an area of current understanding within which we are presently stymied. Whereas theists want to fill that gap with God, history has shown that, given enough time, Science has always found naturalistic explanations that adequately address such knowledge gaps. In the same way, Science will one day provide a complete and satisfactory set of naturalistic pathways to bridge the presently perceived gap between non-living chemicals and living cells.

There are several logical problems with the naturalist line of reasoning here. The first is that it involves the informal logical fallacy known as the ad futurum fallacy. It appeals for support to future, hypothetical discoveries to overcome or negate all of the presently-available contrary evidence. In abductive reasoning (which constitutes a good deal of scientific thinking) one must use the available evidence to arrive at the best explanation of it. It is fallacious to assume that future knowledge will overturn the conclusion to which present evidence leads.

A more basic problem, however, is that the "God-of-the-gaps" claim--in this instance, at least--involves equivocation, a change in the meaning of the term 'gap.' When theists or intelligent design proponents point to the origin of the first life as an empirical and evidential problem for naturalistic science, the gap being addressed is a real and a physical one. There is a vast, significant, and intractable physical gap between simple, non-living molecules and even the simplest independently-living cell. The "God-of-the-gaps" charge tries to turn this real, physical gap into a merely epistemological gap--a gap in our knowledge. This is fallacious and disingenuous.

The fact is that our knowledge of these issues is ever-growing; that is, the knowledge gap (as we have built better microscopes and enhanced our ability to see these minute things) is getting smaller. But the result is that the actual physical gap (between non-life and life) is rightly recognized as much greater than ever. Darwin largely discounted cells as unimportant little blobs of jelly. Even in the days of the Miller-Urey experiment (which lent to naturalists a temporary and now-unfulfilled promise of progress) scientists knew very little of what is now known about the complexity of the simplest living cells. In short, the knowledge gap has greatly decreased, but the physical gap (the thing that really matters) has as a result come to be recognized as much larger, and thus much more of a problem for any naturalistic explanations.

The bottom line is this... with regard to the origin of the first life, design/creation is the most plausible explanation, given the abundance of evidence available. When naturalists charge that this conclusion involves a "God-of-the-gaps" reasoning, they are guilty of equivocation and of the ad futurum fallacy. They are also being hypocritical, since the appeal to the future they are here making is itself a form of "naturalism of the gaps."

So as much as naturalists and evolutionists would like to continue to deceive themselves into thinking that the great divide between non-life and life remains susceptible to future explainations that don't involve God, the 'gap' that is really at issue is not a problem for we who are theists.

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