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Dear theists…please do your god/s a good deed.

May 23, 2009

So, recently I talked about a post at Jeff Lindsay’s blog Mormanity…and just to spoil things, no I’m not going to talk about yogurt again.

Rather, I got into a curious conversation with this guy who posted anonymously…it was interesting because many times, he would answer my posts in a rather unexpected way or unorthordox way. Yet, at the end of the day, I dunno…I guess we were still just too different. Somehow, late in the conversation, he realized I wasn’t even a theist, and so he asked:

Andrew S

You don’t believe in God?

Oh, wow, dude, we only just had like…a super-wall of text conversation before getting to this question. But I’m a charitable guy (I wonder what Jeff must be thinking since we so derailed his topic?), so I answered, “No sir, I do not.”

Anonymous responded:

Andrew S.

How do you explain creation?

I should’ve seen this one coming…

Let me make it very clear. I am not a physicist and I do not pretend that I keep updated on physics. But what I saw coming is this argument that I keep seeing…but which I think is incredibly disrespectful to human progress and disrespectful to God himself. It seems people want answers. That’s understandable. But the problem is…people are willing to take any answer as being better than not having an answer.

Andrew S.

It seems that those who are physicists really don’t know the answer either. I know many of them and they are the most spiritual folks I know.

As an observation, you are quick to dismiss something that is very obvious to many people over many ages. You assume those folks “ought not make those assumptions”. What is it that you know that they don’t? If it is obvious to them, why should they not make those assumptions? One would wonder if there is something that powerful to move ones life, would it not be worth a closer look?

If the answer is not obvious in the natural world, why would we NOT look at the supernatural?

Dang it, I knew that was coming. Especially that last line. It is the classic God of the Gaps idea.

I guess Anonymous has a point about the history of things. People have been incredibly willing to attribute to God whatever was currently inexplicable by the science of an era. Thunder and lightning? Must be from Zeus or Odin. And so on. Most people, of course, realize that this kind of thought process isn’t too flattering…but Anonymous cherishes it. If an answer is not obvious in the natural world, why would we NOT look at the supernatural?

Well, Anonymous, for at least two reasons. 1) It does great disservice to human progress, and 2) it does great disservice to ideas of God. To answer the first…when we are so willing to plug things in with “God did it,” we diminish some of our curiosity to find out the way the universe and reality actually works. All of a sudden we have problems accepting that the earth revolves around the sun (rather than vice versa) because we have to untangle theology from things.

But secondly, when we are so quick to make God king of the unknown, we do a disservice to him. Because we humans are rather imperialist, and every day we encroach upon his kingdom with new discovery. Faith in the God of the Gaps is ultimately a bad faith, because it REQUIRES a trust that there will be something we do not naturally know…otherwise, if it is possible to illuminate all gaps, we might overcome God’s entire kingdom.

I think my position still requires immense humility…because it seems to me that the difference between me and a theist who wants to believe because of this is because I can accept that I don’t know, and the theist instead feels he MUST know, and so he is willing to attribute it to God if he can’t find out otherwise. I think it is more humbling to say there is much of the world we don’t know, but we’re working on it, than to say we have it all conveniently figured out in a mysterious God.

The point of this post though is to provide a charitable outreach. My imploration to theists is this: please do not reduce your god to a god of the gaps. Do him/her/them a good deed and have more substantive (even if they are personal) reasons to believe than simply the fact that there is stuff as-of-yet unknown about the universe. I would say that within Anonymous’s unfortunate post is something of a nugget: One would wonder if there is something that powerful to move ones life, would it not be worth a closer look?

This is better personal and subjective validation, I think. BUT I would warn again from generalizing this to a universal constant…remember that different people are motivated by different causes — causes which are incompatible with each other and which have different goals. And just as surely, some people are not motivated at all. So at best, belief or faith or whatever can tell us more about an *individual* and *his biases* rather than about the universe.


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  1. Agreed; the God of the Gaps is not a very convincing picture of God.

  2. Great post Andrew.

    “why would we NOT look at the supernatural?”
    It was Dawkins who first influenced me on the “god of the gaps” issue. I had very little awareness that many believers consider God to be “supernatural.” The God of Mormonism was always in the “natural” realm to me, even if we don’t have objective ways of studying.

    My sister (who is an atheist) has accused religion of “dulling the edge of discovery” in that it makes people complacent and not really caring about learning and exploring the unknown, because, after all, what we don’t know is just God. After reading the comments in your post by Anonymous, I would have to agree in some cases. How unfortunate.

  3. to update, Anonymous apparently reclarifies that his belief in God doesn’t just relegate God to being gardener of the unknown:

    My belief in God is NOT contingent upon those things I do not understand. I attribute everything to God, known and unknown (even non believers!). God gave us all a free will which both of us are participating in now. My belief in God explains everything, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

    I hold out hope (another intangible I attribute to God and that fills in the gaps!) that you will find your path through it all. I now realize that there really isn’t much I can tell you that you don’t attribute to mere human bias or design. I understand you more than you know, but propose that there is more. Keep thinking tho. Saul(St. Paul), a famous persecutor of Jesus, was knocked off his horse when God spoke to him.

    I will share with you one observation from a good friend who advised that those who argue against the presence of God are more closer to Him than those who are ambivalent to Him.

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