Mar 31, 2011 | By George Gantz
The Inadequacy of “God of the Gaps”
I was recently explaining the Concept of ISAS to someone who said, “oh, like God of the Gaps.” I later took a quick scan of the postings that showed up on a web-search and confirmed that this is another buzz-word mine-field, treating science and spirituality like battlefield competitors. In contrast, ISAS is based on the concept that science and spirituality belong together – complementary rather than antagonistic.
“God of the Gaps” is the idea that religion explains the things that science cannot. This is an easy solution for resolving potential areas of conflict, but it unfortunately reinforces misunderstandings about both science and religion. It implies that religion is what is left-over when science has been unable to explain some phenomenon – and implies a diminishing sphere for religion as science continues to progress. At the same time it ignores the role of religion in dealing with questions of metaphysics, morals, aesthetics and other key areas of human life that extend beyond the natural / testable propositions that science can address.
It’s interesting to contrast this approach with that of Francis Bacon, a thinker often credited as the founder of the scientific method. Bacon’s view was that we should continue to study both the “Word of God” and the “Works of God”, and that we need to bring humility to both.
“To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation; and again, that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together.” (emphasis added) Francis Bacon, from The Advancement of Learning; Colours of Good and Evil, originally published in 1597.
One hundred fifty years later, Emanuel Swedenborg, in an entry in his Spiritual Experiences (#5709), written in about 1757, a point in his life after he had turned from scientific study to his theological writings, elaborated on Bacon’s recommendation by noting the two foundations of truth – natural and spiritual – and affirming that there is no conflict.
“Afterwards, I spoke about the foundations of truth, that they are two, one from the Word, the other from nature or from the truths of nature; …… But, still, they agree the one with the other; which is proved by a contemplation of certain things in the Word…… (continued) Since sciences have shut up the understanding, therefore, sciences may also open it; and it is opened so far as men are in good.” (emphasis added)
Bacon and Swedenborg emphasize the importance of both natural and spiritual truth, and both point out that the inquiry must be approached “in good”, i.e. from “charity” and “use”, rather than from selfish motives.
This is a useful starting point for what we are trying to accomplish in the ISAS forum. If we approach these questions, and our dialogue, with humility, and with the objective of gaining the best value from both science and religion, then hopefully we can appreciate the truth available from both modes of thoughts. By approaching the conversations with an open mind, and an open heart, we can find the higher truths that will help us be more “useful”, “charitable” and “good”.
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