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  The myth that
    science has
overtaken religion
in the business of
God of the Gaps - before science

                      tended to be in
                        terms of the
                        influence of
                      spirits or God.
God of the Gaps - before science
                        But note the
                       different kinds
                          of causal
                      explanation as in
                        say Aristotle
                       with his final,
                      formal, efficient
                        and material
God of the Gaps - emergence of
                  As yet no sense of
                      the threat of
                  science to religion;
                  indeed the fruits of
                   science are often
                    welcomed. Note
                    Francis Bacon’s
                   idea of God’s two
                  books: The Book of
                     Nature (God’s
                    works) and The
                   Book of Scripture
                    (God’s words).
God of the Gaps - is the growth of science
now competing with the explanatory role of

                           The 19th cc saw a
                             complex set of
                         relationships between
                            the two modes of
                          discourse from easy
                           accommodation, to
                         deliberate warfare as
                             some scientists
                            strove to become
                           independent of the
                          state-church power
  God of the Gaps - the myth of
warfare and the increasing triumph
            of science
                       Little room for
                     religion as science
                           grows in
                          power and
                        influence. The
                      myth that religion
                      is in its last days
                     is promulgated by
                      many as the final
                         stages of the
                        triumph of the
God of the Gaps - the death throws of
              God talk

                            Science will
                              soon close
                              this gap in
                              g. God will
                             finally have
                              no role to
                                play in
God of the Gaps - in the future
     “Science Rules OK!”

                   There is no place
                 for religion in offering
                 explanations. Science
                 has finally triumphed.
                  There is no role for
                 God as an explanatory
But ...
  This account is a
             myth.have shown
• Historians of science
  that it was simply not the case that
  the emerging modern sciences were
  seen to be at war with religion for a
  total dominance of explanations.
• Philosophers of science are quick to
  point out that only naïve positivist
  understandings of science claim a
  monopoly on legitimate
  On not confusing
      types of
• There are many different
           kinds                  of explanations,
  and a number of typologies of them have been
  offered. A commonly used one is derived from
  Ennis, Brown and Atkins, and is frequently used
  by Poole. Explanations tend to fall into one of
  three different types:
 • Interpretative   [roughly answering Why?
 • Descriptive      [roughly answering How?
 • Reason-giving    [roughly answering What?
  Why is this                 someone wants
    kettle                      a cup of tea
   boiling?              Descriptive explanation
                          - answers WHY? in
                           terms of an agent’s
                            Because the average
    Both are valid.      kinetic energy of the water
Different explanations   molecules is sufficient for a
  can both be true at    change of state from liquid
                                   to gas.
the same time. They
 are not rivals if the   Descriptive explanation
                          - answers a different
 import of the WHY?
                           WHY? in scientific
question is different!           terms.
 Reason giving explanations as to the origin of
the universe may answer the WHY? question in
scientific terms such as the Big Bang theory, or
  they may be religious answers to a different
  WHY? in terms of God’s agency, choice and
         WHY? is an ambiguous question.
 This is one reason why the popular distinction
 between science and theology in terms of the
former being concerned with the HOW? and the
 latter with the WHY? is unwise. Both science
 and theology are interested in the WHY?, but
    the questions receive different answers
    appropriate to their different discourses.
           APPEAR IN
           SCIENCE -
 This section is indebted to the lucid discussion of these matters by Mike Poole in
Explaining or Explaining Away, in Science and Christian Belief, Vol. 14 (2) Oct 2002,
     1. The Naming
•When a label is offered to do service
for an explanation.
•eg. The question ‘why do things fall to
the ground?’ is answered in terms of
‘gravity’. If this is a mere label then it
explains nothing. It is a pseudo
explanation. It does nothing more as it
stands than label the phenomenon.
     2. The Reification
•‘Reification’ is fallacy
                  confusing a concept with a
 real object or cause. Labels take on a life of
their own and are used as causes or
purposive agents.
•eg. evolution; gravity; chance; nature when
treated carelessly as if they somehow
‘decide’. Thus it is common to set, say,
evolution up as a rival to God as creator.
‘Evolution’ explains away its rival thereby.
That a seed automatically grows under the
right conditions does not mean the process is
necessarily unguided and wholly unthought
out. (cf: Mark 4:27)
   3. Preoccupation with
                   one type of
        only usual candidate here. It is
•‘Science’ is the
             explanation. Hawking -
 interesting to note the preferred science for the
 best explanation (Dawkins - Biology;
•But religious folk do it too, reducing everything
to God talk and ignoring the insights from other
disciplines. (Exorcising the mental illness;
praying for the toothache and not going to the
dentist as well).
•Ask of so-called best explanations, ‘Best for
what purpose?’ It depends on the question being
       4. legitimate use of reductionism in
•There is a
science when macro phenomena are explained
in terms of underlying micro processes. This is
methodological reductionism. It is ubiquitous in
science and no threat to theology.
•The fallacy comes when metaphysical or
ontological reductionism kicks in, claiming that a
complex phenomenon is ‘nothing-but’ some
account in terms of component parts. But the
whole is greater than the mere sum of the parts.
We call this emergence. Consider water being
more than just Hydrogen and Oxygen and the
point is rather obvious.
is explained by / nothing but / simply / just





  5. The explaining away
• Giving an account of the reasons for someone
                    fallacy the content of
  holding a particular belief and then claiming that
  you have thereby explained away
 that belief.
 • eg. giving an psychological account of a
   person’s theism or atheism says nothing about
   the truth or falsity of either. There are a
   number of legitimate issues to separate out
 • [i] legitimate grounds for belief;
 • [ii] justifications for those beliefs;
 • [iii] the truth or falsity of those beliefs;
 • [iv] Whether those beliefs constitute
   knowledge, where knowledge is justified true
      “... explanations answering different
     questions are not necessarily rivals ...
    The first moral, therefore, is that there
   is not just one single, the explanation for
      anything which we may wish to have
       explained. There may instead be as
        many, not necessarily exclusive,
      alternative explanations as there are
      legitimate explanations - demanding
             questions to be asked.”

•Professor Anthony Flew - lifelong atheist who
became a theist / deist in 2004. [Thinking about
Social Thinking, Oxford: Blackwell (1985), p40]
 6. The ‘no need for’
•When privileging on kind of explanation
(eg. scientific) removes the need for any
other kind (eg. theological).
     My aim is to
    argue that the
     universe can the evolutionary
       come into
                           pattern of thought
                           there is no longer
  intervention, and       either need or room
   that there is no      for the supernatural.
   need to invoke
     the idea of a
  Supreme Being...
                       Sir Julian Huxley in
  Peter Atkins in
                           Essays of a
  Creation Revisited
 ...the only way of
explaining creation
                                       If He is in
is to show that the
      creator had                    nature at all,
 absolutely no job                    He must be
to do at all, and so                  there from
might as well have
                                     the start, and
not existed...track
down the infinitely                   all the way
   lazy creator ...                    through it.
     (who) can be
       allowed to
   evaporate into
      nothing and
disappear from the
Peter Atkins in
                  Charles Coulson in
Creation               Science and
Revisited p17
       6. The ‘no need for’
Is this a Category mistake - confusing a divine act
of creation with the processes by which this may
                be accomplished?

         In terms of methodology within
            the discourse of science?


      In ontological or metaphysical terms?

         Professor Roger Trigg on
        Sociobiological explanations
E. O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology wrote in On
   Human Nature, “The highest forms of religious
practice, when examined more closely, can be seen to
            confer biological advantage.”
             The sociobiological explanation of
             religion seems to try to show why
            religious belief is held even though it
                is false. But if Wilson’s view of
            religion is correct, a major decline in
                religious commitment would be
                 biologically harmful, and yet it
                  appears that sociobiology is
                        encouraging this.

         Roger Trigg
            7. Type errors
•This is where different types of explanation are
muddled up. Coulson’s God-of-the-gaps thinking
is another term for this.
                                                     Why is the dog fish like
  What time to                                                this?
  you make it?         Any time you
                       fancy darling!                             Because
                                                                 God made it
            ...until recently one of religion’s                      so
            main functions was scientific; the
            explanation of existence, of the
             universe, of life ... So the most
                basic claims of religion are
            scientific. Religion is a scientific           Few serious religious
                          theory.                          thinkers would agree
      Richard Dawkins in a lecture at the 1992 Edinburgh
                                                              with this claim!
                international science festival.
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