Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God of the Gaps

Within the philosophies of religion, there is a concept known as the God of the gaps.  This is in reference to the cultural use of a god, goddess, or multiple gods to describe natural phenomena beyond the scope of human understanding.  An example of this concept is found in ancient, and not so ancient, beliefs that were attributed to God, but later explained by science.  The sun does not revolve around the Earth; God does not make the sun rise every morning.  The Earth is set in its rotation around the sun while spinning on its own axis.  Lightning and thunder are not forms of the wrath of God, but they are the result of positive and negative ions creating a strong charge in the atmosphere, and the sound waves resulting from the bolt.  I might have botched that explanation of lightning, but I think you understand the idea-- God was used as an explanation to that which could not be explained.  Think about Thor (my favorite), Zeus, and Ra as actual examples of these gods.

Now that our science has slightly advanced beyond the primitive notions of the past, valid arguments are formed against the existence of God by claiming the natural world, once understood, proves that God does not exist.  If God made the sun rise and we learn that the sun does not move, there must not be a god.  If lightning isn't the manifestation of God's anger but simply an electric reaction, there must not be a god.  I cannot argue with this logic, but there is another way to look at this concept.

John Polkinghorne, a physicist and theologian, made an interesting comment on the NPR broadcast "Being" with Krista Tippett.  He skilfully explained that if God works through nature, and that by understanding the scientific world we learn more truth, then we are learning more about the nature of God.  God might not hurl the lightning bolt, but He created a universe where atoms were allowed to act according to their nature.  (I will save the commentary about the nature of God for another day because that gets complicated.)

I like Polkinghorne's view.  Perhaps it just appeals to the optimist within, but I find comfort in learning about the nature of God by observing the world around me.  After all, it is a choice to believe or not believe, and I choose to believe in God.