God of the Gaps? Yes. | A Critique of Christian Apologetics

This video got sent to my inbox today. You can visit the original posting here.

Are Christians guilty of arbitrarily suggesting a “God of the gaps” when they argue that God created the universe? Or are atheists guilty of “science of the gaps”?

The greatest cause?

Brennan Manning is known for the following quote,

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

With the current re-buttressing of Christian Apologetics (CAs), it could be stated that the greatest cause of young people losing their faith is not atheists, but Christians who misrepresent science, present inadequate facts, ignore epistemology, and intentionally or unintentionally craft dogma as argumentation so as to persuade rather than engage in deeper critical thinking. This video is an example. I’ll provide my point-by-point critique below, but first, the disclaimers.


A. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, said the following comment regarding Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:

Adherents of a particular group or set of beliefs often polemicize most strongly against those who share similar, but not identical, beliefs; this may be responsible for some of the strong anti-Pharisaic rhetoric in Matthew.

I consider the same sentiment to be true of this post, and of my general posture against CAs. I cut my teeth on apologetics as a young Christian (Walter Martin, William Lane Craig, etc.) and am indebted to apologetics for the foundational formulation of my faith. Yet, as I have read more and grown in my critical faculties, I find myself dissatisfied and disappointed with the thinking and posturing of CAs. And, because I’m “of the tribe,” I polemicize.

B. My critique of this video and others from Stand to Reason (STR) is not to disparage CAs in toto. Rather, it is my hope that CAs becomes more sophisticated in its thinking and reasoning, becomes more open and less defensive, and becomes more humble and curious rather than dogmatic and aggressive. The platform upon which CAs exists today is frequently touted as a “defense,” which is a posture that is, a) far different from the 1 Peter 3:15 ethic and teaching, and, b) an attitude that does not create the conditions necessary for truth to emerge in its full. It is a difficult and challenging thing to be willing to “seek the truth at all costs,” especially if the price is one’s own dogmatic doctrines.

C. While my subject in this post is STR, Koukl, and this video, I hold these critiques equally for all philosophical inefficiencies. I do consider myself an “equal opportunity critic.”

The critique:

1. Before we get to the actual statements in the video above, few are aware that the Intelligent Design (ID) argument has already been addressed multiple times over. While Christian Apologists (CAs) develop new iterations (such as Meyer’s Signature in the Cell), the fundamental premise of ID does not stand, biologically. Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity” has been proven false, (also here) ID has been proven to be a masked iteration of “creationism,” (and thus a religious idea, and not a scientific one), and an early form of ID was the prevailing theory that existed in Darwin’s time that was taken to task by Darwin’s work. To say another way, it seems as if ID has itself gone through quite an evolution.

2. Koukl’s introductory statement begins with “origins of life,” and “development of life” by a Darwinian mechanism. Here is the first mistake and problem that many CAs make. Darwinism is not a statement about the origin of life. To conflate the theory with this extant problem is at best misleading, at worst, dishonest. Any discussion about the origin of life (remember, Darwin’s book is the origin of species) requires more specificity.

3. Koukl then goes on to say that, “there’s problems with all of these from a materialistic perspective.” Here is mistake number two, in which CAs conflate a “scientific problem,” which is fundamentally heuristic, with a logical or argumentative problem, which is fundamentally a weakness, or an inadequacy of reason. The two are not the same, and the scientific problem of the absence of knowledge, is not a logical or argumentative problem that contradicts logic.

4. Koukl then states that “Christian thinkers have been weighing in and offering explanations that seem to meet the need.” (emphasis mine). Problem three is that this statement is evidence that yes, “Christianity is a Science-Stopper,” if you continue to argue in this way.

5. Koukl then admits that even Christians object to ID as it is a “god of the gaps.” It would seem appropriate to share the arguments from those Christians and provide your rationale for why there is disagreement, but Koukl’s attitude appears dismissive, even “frustrated” as he says. I opine this need not be. If other Christians are arguing that ID is a “god of the gaps” fallacy, then engage.

The next quote is going to take some work, so here is the transcript:

There are a couple of things going on. And one of them is the assumption that science is the only thing that gets to weigh in on these kinds of issues. If you bring God into the discussion then this is religion masquerading as science. Basically the view is, you have an explanation of something that doesn’t cover all the bases (the materialistic explanation), and so there is a gap that is in place, and you can’t stick God in there as a plug, because that is something science will eventually resolve. In the past, there have been gaps, science has filled them in. People have sometimes stuck God in there out of ignorance and consequently, they kind of have maybe impaired the process of science, properly filling it with a materialistic explanation. So, that’s the backdrop. Notice an underlying theme here, by the way, that this is kind of a tacit declaration that the only place for God to fill is in gaps of ignorance. So God is in the ignorant spaces, science is lined up with knowledge.

6. Okay. First, Koukl completely misrepresents the grievance. The fundamental assumption is not that science is the only thing to that gets to weigh in on these kinds of issues. The fundamental assumption is that science is the only thing that gets to weigh in on science. It is a disciplinary boundary to yield proper results. Second, the “tacit declaration” that Koukl is snide towards is exactly the point of the “god of the gaps” argument. It’s unclear what he is arguing, actually, in this segment. What he states is exactly why a god of the gaps argument is fallacious, weak, and ought to be dismissed. Third,  Koukl implicitly establishes the battlefield between science and faith, positing a conflict. This attitude is fundamentally at the heart of why CAs are continuing to lose ground.

7. Koukl then goes on to say that everyone agrees “there is a gap.” Then he makes perhaps the most astonishing statement:

When ID people, unlike folks in the pre-scientific era, but ID Christian thinkers who offer ID as an explanation, it is not to plug a hole. … ID guys have written huge books explaining the reason why God is a better explanation given the evidence. It’s not a “god of the gaps.” It’s a God based on evidence.

That he can make this statement without flinching is a bit stupefying. It is this statement that demonstrates, once again, that no matter how you slice it, ID is a god-of-the-gaps argument! He a) admits a gap, b) posits an explanation, which is…ahem, God.

8. Then it gets weird. Koukl then accuses science of committing a “science of the gaps,” fallacy, which is a strange twist coming from a Christian Apologist. What substance is there of criticizing a discipline that behaves in accordance with the very essence of why that discipline exists? Science is fundamentally a venture to understand further about our world. Thus, any absence of understanding is the very realm of scientific inquiry.

9. Then the nail in the coffin:

Now they [the materialists] are doing gap filling with science without justification, where at least the ID guys are filling the gap with God with justification, that is that there is evidence.

Wow. In addition to the second admittance that ID is a god-of-the-gaps argument, Koukl is simply wrong that science has no justification. The entire scientific enterprise, discipline, and system exists to ensure that reasoned conclusions have overwhelming justification [read: “evidence”]. And again, the dismissive and chauvinistic attitude toward science is unbecoming for Christian Apologetics.

10. Koukl’s comments on circular reasoning are dizzying. So, Koukl doesn’t believe there is a gap there because he believes in God, and thus the argument is not a god-of-the-gaps? Yeah, I don’t think it is the materialists that are suffering from circular reasoning.

11. The one thing I can completely affirm is Koukl’s statement, “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”

12. Finally, he once again posits an either/or dilemma of possibilities (either materialism or ID) for “explanations.” Once again, this dichotomy is unnecessary and damaging to the heart of CAs.

I’ll do my best to offer an alternative way of reasoning below, but first, a few comments on Alan Shlemon’s video, which fares a bit better, but still falls short:

Essentially, Shlemon articulates the “design inference” concept in a way that Koukl, I think, attempts, but really misses. Shlemon posits that this is an abductive process, conclusions based on collective data. His example of a man shot three times and DNA sounds coherent, but is fallacious, and here’s why:

1. The conclusions one draws from a man shot three times will be in accordance with the judiciary system commissioned to adjudicate human behavior. No one would accept that, “God designed it that way,” as an “explanation” for why the man was shot. In other words, the explanation that follows is in the same disciplinary category. ID, on the other hand, will look at the chemical make-up of DNA and make a conclusion that is out of discipline. It reaches to a transcendent or supernatural conclusion when observing natural phenomena.

2. ID commits the associative fallacy.

3. Even if ID was correct in concluding an Intelligent Designer, according to DNA, there exists very unintelligent expressions of DNA, and CAs must deal with this disparity, which I have yet to hear anyone truly tackle. How does an ID theorist deal with the host of genetic maladies that plague humanity? Perhaps one of the strongest arguments against ID (as a scientific conclusion) is the number of medical facilities that exist in the world to correct the abhorrent realities many people face as a result of their genes, inherited or augmented.

4. Even if ID was correct, the question remains How did the designer bring into existence DNA? Gap again!?

So, what is a good argument?

I posit that ID is an excellent philosophical and theological argument and conclusion, but it is NOT a scientific one. That simple.

Science, (biology, chemistry, etc.) will continue their work at providing more expansive explanations that describe and educate us on how our world works and how it has come into being. The beauty and mystery of the natural world is awe-inspiring, truly awesome. And if you believe in a God who created* this world, you will be astonished at the discoveries that science makes regarding how this God created, and bring together the totality of human observation into your ever expanding understanding of the universe.

Hopefully no Christian Apologist would dismiss the wonder of the sperm, egg, and the sets of 23 chromosome by saying that God “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” Nor would any Christian Apologist dismiss the theory of gravitation by saying that God “holds all things together.” Neither ought we continue this charade of ID as a biological/scientific explanation in the hopes of dismissing natural selection.

You want a good argument? Claim everything that science discovers as the realm of God. Dividing His Kingdom by selecting what is or is not concordant with your dogmatic theology is not a good program.


*created in the “religious” sense of ברא.


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  1. Pingback: Can I Ask That? | Critical Review & Notes | vialogue

  2. Chris Quinn

    I am having a difficult time following your objections to both Koukl and especially Shlemon in regards to DNA as a proof for intelligent design and that their arguments are insufficient and are as you claim a “God of the gaps” argument. Also, I don’t believe for a minute that science is somehow immune to bias or confirmation bias when presenting their inferences or deductive conclusions. In fact, I have found in many cases while they are good at inductive reasoning, they often fail miserably at deductive reasoning and or well-reasoned conclusions. Scientists are not philosophers and is why there is a need for philosophers of science.

    I recall years ago when I used to watch that Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos where he would start each episode with “Billions and Billions of years ago, the cosmos came into being”. While most people wouldn’t see any issue with this statement, I was troubled immediately with it and specifically the term “came into being”, the key word here “being”. My first thought was how can something come into “being” from “non-being”? Why did Sagan use the word “being”?

    The God of the Gaps argument fails because it is presented as a “formal argument”, which means that a “formal argument clearly states the claim or position it argues and presents a well-developed chain of evidence leading to a reasonable conclusion supporting the claim.” The problem with this is the “God of the gaps” argument is an Informal argument or an argument from ignorance. Where is the chain of evidence that information, and in fact complex functional information, came into being specifically from undirected natural processes? Let me explain:

    Since causality is the basis for all reason in science, when one makes the claim that cause A is not sufficient to explain effect X, therefore cause B must have produced effect X. This is an informal fallacy in reason if I have no evidence that cause B is sufficient to produce effect X.

    You must have independent evidence that cause B is sufficient to have caused effect X or the argument is fallacious, one cannot just assume cause B must be the correct conclusion. It would be the same thing if a CA said that various natural processes are NOT sufficient to produce the origin of the first life or origins of the first animals in the history of life, therefore God created all life. This would be a “God of the gaps” argument, an argument from ignorance. No evidence to support my conclusion that God must be the correct conclusion.

    This is not what CA’s are saying and thus the “God of the gaps” argument used by atheists, materialists etc. is a straw-man argument. CA’s are adding an additional premise, they are saying that a various number of undirected natural processes found in the evidence of nature are NOT sufficient to produce new even more complex functional information necessary to develop more complex forms, especially information necessary to transition themselves into different categories of new and even more complex life forms entirely. Nor does natural undirected processes provide a sufficient explanation for information being present in DNA molecules to begin with.

    Both science and CA’s draw inferences or rather deductive reasons from the evidence. CA’s are making the deductive claim through observation that we DO know of a “cause” that does indeed create information, we have independent evidence that intelligent agency, that mind is a creative intelligent force that does create information, just like your blog for example. So when we see digital code stored in the macro molecules of life, CA’s rightly conclude intelligent design, which is not arguing from ignorance, but rather form our knowledge of cause and effect about how information is generated or created through already existing empirical observation.

    I own a Software development company and I’m quite familiar how complex and fragile this information can be especially when attempting to code AI starting with assisted AI and then intentionally “directed” with intentionally then developed into unassisted AI.

    When observing the text in a book, radio waves that contain information, computer code, machine code etc. it conclusively follows that information always ends up back at a mind or an agency of intelligence. Any other conclusion would be to ignore the known observations or evidence entirely and dishonestly infer through confirmation bias perhaps that the presence of complex information can be explained by natural undirected causes.

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