There’s a long-standing criticism of Christians that goes like this: whenever there’s something humans can’t explain, you say ‘See! That’s God at work’.
And fair enough too. What a silly argument. How does ignorance on the part of Person Y (me!) provide evidence for the existence of Person X (God)? All it proves is that there’s a hole in human knowledge – and that is not breaking news.
Honestly, though, I have only heard this argument for God a couple of times. The places it has come up have been informal chats among church folk. It’s is usually followed by an uneasy polite silence as everyone else considers how to change the subject.
Like this: there are holes in scientific knowledge, but we know that science has capacity to provide the answers. It’s science of the gaps. There’s a strong faith that the ‘scientific method’ is the single method capable of finding truth and certainty.
In my experience, the fields in which this mantra tends to appear are: ethics and society; the nature of mind, consciousness and personhood; questions of ultimate reality and purpose.
The weaknesses of Science of the gaps are many. Here are three:
- Lack of knowledge is empirical evidence that science doesn’t (yet) know everything. It’s against evidence to counter by saying, ‘But science can know everything.’
- It doe not allow for complementary true explanations. When a family wants to know why a car accident happened, the laws of physics don’t help. Yes, physics gives a true picture of momentum, force, etc. But the family wants to know about drunk drivers, blinding sun or illegal mobile phone use.
- It’s impossible to prove the basic assumption. We only prove that science can know all things after science knows all things. In other words, the starting assumption is itself non-scientific.
In science (as in Christianity) it pays to ‘Mind the gap’.