The god of the apps

A rabbi named Adam Jacobs has offered what he says is “A Reasonable Argument for God’s Existence.” And what would that be?

It is that because we have not explained (as yet) how life originated, it can only be due to god. Yes, that same old stale argument, the god of the gaps, gets recycled yet again, this time in the form of the mysterious and supposedly inexplicable appearance of DNA and RNA.

This is pathetic. Even Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who is now head of the National Institutes of Health, rejects that argument because he has a sufficiently good knowledge of biology to realize that we are making great progress in solving that problem and that any religious person who bases his or her faith on that particular piece of contemporary ignorance is just asking for trouble.

In his book The Language of God, Collins says:

Given the inability of science thus far to explain the profound question of life’s origins, some theists have identified the appearance of RNA and DNA as a possible opportunity for divine creative action . . . Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps. Faced with incomplete understanding of the natural world, believers should be cautious about invoking the divine in areas of current mystery, lest they build an unnecessary theological argument that is doomed for later destruction… [While] the question of the origin of life is a fascinating one, and the inability of modern science to develop a statistically probable mechanism is intriguing, this is not the place for a thoughtful person to wager his faith. (p. 127-129)

Despite Collins’s plea, the god of the gaps will never go away because it is only argument that religion has, since there is no positive evidence for god and every other argument for god has been shot down. In fact, Collins himself is being disingenuous because he too resorts to using the god of the gaps argument except his gaps are different from those of Jacobs’.

Most skeptics now know how to effectively deal with the god of the gaps argument, using the recent advances in science. A recent article in the New York Times says that in order to help believers deal with the strong criticisms they are now facing, some people have developed apps to help believers with rejoinders. Yes, really.

Sean McDowell, the editor of “Fast Facts” and some textbooks for Bible students, said he has become increasingly aware of a skill gap between believers and nonbelievers, who he feels tend to be instinctively more savvy at arguing. “Christians who believe, but cannot explain why they believe, become ‘Bible-thumpers’ who seem dogmatic and insecure about their convictions,” he said. “We have to deal with that.”

“Nowadays, atheists are coming to the forefront at every level of society — from the top of academia all the way down to the level of the average Joe,” added Mr. McDowell, a seminary Ph.D. candidate whose phone app was produced by the B&H Publishing Group, one of the country’s largest distributors of Bibles and religious textbooks.

I don’t think that atheists are ‘instinctively more savvy at arguing’ as McDowell claims. It is that atheists have all the facts, evidence, reason, and logic on their side so that arguing with a religious believer should be a slam-dunk, once you have grasped the basic ideas. What the new atheists have done is put all those things in the hands of the general public. Religious believers’ arguments, by contrast, are based on ignorance (the god of the gaps) or involve plays on words, such as trying to exploit the ambiguity of the word ‘theory’ or whether atheism is a ‘belief’ like religion and thus requires just as much ‘faith’ as belief in god.

So if you are debating religion with a believer and he keeps looking at his smart phone, it may not be that he is checking his text messages. He may be seeking rejoinders.

The article says that atheists are also developing apps to counter the religious apps. So let the app wars begin!


  1. says

    This really boggles me. It’s not so much the obvious god-of-the-gaps fallacy. It’s that they acknowledge the universe evolved and life evolved.

    That means they acknowledge that 99.999999999999999999999999999% of everything evolved.

    We agree we don’t know exactly how life began.

    What are the odds it evolved?

  2. Peter says

    I’ll never forget my first argument with an evangelical over evolution. It was one of the most frustrating conversations I ever had.

    She repeatedly resorted to the phrase “Until you’ve read what I’ve read, you just can’t understand”. Perhaps, but she refused to acknowledge that perhaps what I had read was right, or that what she had read was wrong.

    It all ended with us agreeing to read 1 book of the other’s choosing. She asked that I read ‘Why I Believe’ by Dr. James Kennedy. I sent her ‘The Panda’s Thumb’ by Stephen Jay Gould.

    ‘Why I Believe’ is a classic example of the use of cherry picked quotes, reliance on out-dated arguments, and Biblical reference. The discussion was pretty much over, sadly. I really wanted to hear her thoughts about one of my favorite authors of all time.

  3. Peter says

    I meant to add:

    I guess these sorts of discussion may move at a faster pace nowadays. The above happened in 1997.

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