Last night, best-selling Christian author Ken Ham and Emmy Award-winning educator Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”) debated evolution and creationism. Before the debate, BuzzFeed writer Matt Stopera asked 22 self-identifying creationists at the event to write a message, question or note to the other side. What they said made my Christ-loving heart sink and my empiricism-loving head hurt.
Folks, listen. It’s time to let go of the God of the gaps.
The Southern Baptist congregations that helped raise me in Alabama prioritized faith and relationship over critical thinking and scholarship. When my mother couldn’t scrounge up money for Christmas presents or church camp, the church was there. When she needed a last-minute babysitter, the church was there. But when I and my petulant teenage friends had questions about some of the seeming inconsistencies in the way the Bible had been taught to us, the church was not really there for us.
However, when I got to my Baptist college, Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, I took a class that I may credit with my ongoing faith. It was called Biblical Perspectives, and it was taught by Scott McGinnis. I’d gone to church literally twice a week for as long as I could remember, but it was he who taught me, for the first time, about the people who most likely actually wrote the Bible. He taught us the scholarship behind the texts, how the books came together. He was the first fervent Christian I’d met who was eager for the challenge of critical thinking and hard questions.
One lesson we learned in that class that I’ll never forget is to let go of the “God of the Gaps.” It appears the syllabus recommends this text. I’ll try to summarize. Throughout history, everyone from superstitious pagans to religious leaders have looked at natural phenomena which they could not explain, and decided that it was God at work. There’s evidence to suggest that mis-attributing random events as supernatural is adaptive. Given this predilection, religious leaders have found it effective to use unexplained natural phenomena to “prove” God exists. Who else causes the sun to rise and set?
However, the problem with a God of the gaps is that, inevitably, the gaps close. We know what causes the sun to rise and set, and it doesn’t require the supernatural. And as these gaps narrow, so too does that God.
And when they’re found? No God?
When we find out, will you then stop believing?
“Proving” the existence of God is a fool’s errand. Actually, nothing can be proven or disproven. The best we can do is observe and report phenomena, and compare our findings with that of others. But God is, by definition, supernatural. What that means is that individual’s experience with the “phenomena” of God at work can only be described to others. No one can show anyone else God at work. God only exists and moves in the realm of that which is beyond measurement or observation by others.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. Something caused the people in my churches to be there for my family when we were, by all measures a drain on their resources. I will never be able to prove to anyone else that it was God. I don’t even know myself. But the best any of the people in the photographs can do to convince others of the existence of a divine creator is to show his love to them.
The great chasms of what we cannot explain about the world around us have narrowed into gaps. They are narrowing further now. Instead of looking for God in those crevices, we must as Christians give people the chance to experience what might be God by showering those who do not yet know him with his love.
This post was originally published at The Federalist.