I was thinking about the “God of the gaps” argument some time ago and was looking to come up with a reasonable response. I thought I could simply say that while science may have figured out how things work, it was God who authored the laws of nature that govern those workings. The problem is I didn’t know of a scripture that says or implies this. Then I stumbled upon Jeremiah 33:25: “This is what the LORD says: ‘If I have not made my covenant with day and night and established the laws of heaven and earth . . .’” Do you think God may have meant the laws of nature here (or at least in part) rather than religious laws? If so, do you think it would be a reasonable response to the God of the gaps argument? By the way, I understand the context isn’t a direct response to twenty-first century skeptical assertions; it just seems providential to me if the laws of nature were implied in the verse. Also, I mean for my response to help believers who might need their faith affirmed, not to address the skeptics’ assertions since they probably don’t consider the Bible an authority anyway. While we’re on that subject, how might I respond to skeptics who appeal to the God of the gaps argument? I’d appreciate any input you can give me. Thanks and God bless you for the work you do.
From a Christian perspective, it is clear that God created the universe and that he is therefore the inventor of the laws that govern the universe. We do not need to look for scriptures which actually say this, (although there are some), because the most basic thing we know about God is that he is the Creator. The Creator, almost by definition, is the inventor of the laws of the universe. Therefore, it seems clear, logically, that the Creator of the laws that govern nature is capable of superceding those laws to work miracles of creation. God can work miracles, for example, creating life and creating different life forms at different times.
Like I already said, given the most basic possible definition of the God of the Bible, we do not need to produce scriptures which specifically say that God created the laws of nature and that he controls them. However, as you point out above, there are passages which say this. They do not say it in the same way a Christian who is a scientist in the 21st century would say it, but nevertheless it is implied by the following scriptures. Hebrews 11:3 which says that the unseen God created the universe which is seen. The universe God created, obviously has laws, as science has discovered, and the Creator of that universe is obviously the creator of those laws. In Romans 1:18-20 God tells us that the nature of visible things implies that there is a creator. The patterns in nature, in other words, were created by God, which is why people ought to believe in God their creator. In Colossians 1:16 we are told that all things, either visible or invisible were created by God through Jesus. This surely includes the laws that govern those things. In Hebrews 1:3 we are told that the Son sustains the creation. Again, this implies that he is the one behind the laws which govern the universe. Psalm 19:1-6 also implies that God is the one who governs the physical universe. Matthew 5:45 states about God that he causes the sun to rise and set and that he sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Again, this implies that God governs nature by his laws. Let me add one more passage to the panoply of ones which imply that God created the laws of nature. It is the entire 38th chapter of Job. By the way, I will have to say that the passage you found, Jeremiah 33:25 also implies that God is the author of the laws that govern the physical world. It may even be the clearest statement in the Bible of this principle. A good find! And yes, I believe that in this passage he is talking about nature, not about spiritual laws. Like I already said, a writer in the Near East in ancient times would not put this in the way a scientist today would, but clearly the Bible claims that God is the Creator and sustainer of the physical world and the physical laws that govern it.
Now, let me get to the God-of-the-gaps argument. To a Christian, it is quite obvious that God created life and that he had some role in creating all living things. Exactly how he did this is not stated in the Bible, but the fact that he did it is clearly implied. To the atheist this cannot possibly be true. Some scientists are avowed atheists and some are not. Some scientists are philosophically tied to the assumption that all that exists is the result of natural laws and that there is literally NO supernatural at all. However, this is an assumption. When applied to the natural world it is a presupposition, at least to atheists.
So, this debate over gaps is in part a philosophical one. This brings us to the question of whether there are “gaps” in the knowledge we can discover about our world which require that such “gaps” be filled by the supernatural. This brings us onto tricky ground. Unfortunately (in my opinion) some in the Intelligent Design movement have tried to make the discovery of such gaps into something scientific. However, the miraculous work of God, for example, to create life or to create various species, is by its nature not “natural.” Science simply cannot discuss the possibility of miracles filling in the gaps. “Design” and gaps that are filled by supernatural intervention are inherently not scientific, as science can only deal with the natural.
Now, I believe that there are a couple of “gaps” in natural history which are clear evidence to me of miraculous intervention, but when I discuss this, I need to remind myself that these gap theories are NOT scientific. Science deals with the natural, and supernatural things lie outside of science.
There are a couple of “gaps” in nature which I believe defy reasonable scientific explanation. These are the creation of life itself and the creation of sexual reproduction. Both of these things require something to happen which appears to defy even scientific speculation, never mind reasonable natural explanation. I see other likely “gaps” such as the event around 540 million years ago which led to all five phyla of animals being created. I also believe that God has intervened at other times in the course of natural history, but I have now reached the point that I am acting as much out of my philosophy as I am as a scientist. I do not believe that natural mutation could create the range of animal, plant and other life forms by random event. The amount of genetic change that has happened cannot be explained purely on the basis of random errors in DNA replication. However, I believe, as a Christian, that God is behind these miraculous interventions. When I say this, I am no longer speaking as a scientist, but as a believer.
I am rambling on a bit here. Let me say this, most gap theories, especially as applied to evolution, can be undermined by potential naturalistic explanations. Such gap theories should be made carefully and the ones making them should recognize that their theories are not “scientific’ by their very nature. The passage you quote above is a statement that God created and governs the laws of nature. How we should apply this to explain nature is a difficult question which should be treated carefully by experts in both science and scripture.
By the way, there is one part of your question that confuses me, and perhaps you can clear it up so I can give a better response. You ask, “how might I respond to skeptics who appeal to the God of the gaps argument?” What confuses me about this is that skeptics do not use God-of-the-gaps arguments. It is Christians who use these. Skeptics claim that there are no uncrossable gaps. It is Christians, and especially Intelligent Design folks, who use these arguments. Maybe you are asking how we should respond to believers who use God-of-the-gaps arguments. If that is your question, then I say that believers who use these arguments better know what they are talking about and should use them carefully, understanding that they are dealing in an area where philosophy, religion and science intersect, which is a difficult area. I say that we should use gap arguments very very carefully, as gap arguments are subject to being shown wrong by further discovery. When discovery fills in gaps, then the ones whose faith was based on the argument may find their faith to be challenged.
I could say a lot more on this, and hope I have given you something to chew on.