David Berlinski on the God of the Gaps

David Berlinski smartly deals with the “god-of-the-gaps” fallacy.

بسم الله الرحمٰن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

I previously quoted David Berlinski here, but as I am currently reading a book about Intelligent Design (which is often accused of employing the god-of-the-gaps fallacy) I decided to quote him again. This is a good one so make sure you read it carefully. Like before, the source is his book titled The Devil’s Delusion. And in case you are wondering: “Wotan” was a pagan deity who is no longer believed in or worshiped.

Scientific atheism is not an undertaking that has cherished rhetorical inventiveness. It has one brilliant insult to its credit, and that is the description of intelligent design as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” I do not know who coined the phrase, but whoever it was, chapeau. By the same token, it has only one stock character in repertoire, and that is the God of the Gaps. Unlike the God of Old, who ruled irritably over everything, the God of the Gaps rules over gaps in argument or evidence. He is a presiding God, to be sure, but one with limited administrative functions. With gaps in view, He undertakes his very specialized activity of incarnating Himself as a stopgap. If He is resentful at the limitations in scope afforded by His narrow specialization, He is, scientific atheists assume, grateful to have any work at all.

When the gaps are all filled, He will join Wotan in Valhalla.

As a rhetorical contrivance, the God of the Gaps makes his effect contingent on a specific assumption: that whatever the gaps, they will in the course of scientific research be filled. It is an assumption both intellectually primitive and morally abhorrent—primitive because it reflects a phlegmatic absence of curiosity, and abhorrent because it assigns to our intellectual future a degree of authority alien to human experience. Western science has proceeded by filling gaps, but in filling them, it has created gaps all over again. The process is inexhaustible. Einstein created the special theory of relativity to accommodate certain anomalies in the interpretation of Clerk Maxwell’s theory of the electromagnetic field. Special relativity led directly to general relativity. But general relativity is inconsistent with quantum mechanics, the largest visions of the physical world alien to one another. Understanding has improved, but within the physical sciences, anomalies have grown great, and what is more, anomalies have grown great because understanding has improved.

The God of the Gaps? I am prepared with the best of them to revile and denounce him. It is easy enough to do just that, one reason that so many scientists are doing it. But why not say with equal authority that for all we know, it is the God of Old who continues to preside over the bent world with His accustomed fearful majesty, and that He has chosen to reveal Himself by drawing the curtain on His own magnificence at precisely the place in which general relativity and quantum mechanics should have met but do not touch? Whether gaps in the manifold of our understanding reveal nothing more than the God of the Gaps or nothing less than the God of Old is hardly a matter open to rational debate.

Well said.

~ Yousuf

29 November 2014

My First Time with Salman Rushdie

This is an old but good post (from April 2010) by Sana Saeed. She describes what happened when she attended a lecture by Salman Rushdie at her university. I could definitely relate to her feelings about Rushdie before the lecture, and was pleasantly surprised at how the lecture unfolded. For some reason I wasn’t surprised at what he said in the Q&A though.

The Cool Table

Amongst the most memorable names to cross my ears as a child, growing up in a South Asian Muslim household, was that of (sir) Salman Rushdie. There was always an air of frustration, anger and utter hatred that seemed to accompany it’s mere mention by those of my kin. I was unaware, as a child, precisely what all the fuss was about. What I ended up gathering from the various snippets of conversations and outbursts was that he was a writer who had written some sort of novel in which the Prophet Muhammad, alongside Islam in general, was portrayed in a most vile sense. The grouping of words of those around me – including the words of those on television who would discuss him – was enough to create an authoritative perspective on the issue that I slowly, with a naive mind, took on as my own.

Regardless of what…

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