|Landscape in Carina Nebula [Courtesy NASA]|
But there are fundamental difficulties with this approach to theology. In fact, this approach even has a name: the "God of the gaps." The main difficulty with this approach is that science is relentlessly expanding its reach, and what one day might be unexplained could be satisfactorily explained, in terms of prosaic natural processes, the next day. Here are just a few of the many historical examples that could be cited:
There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps -- gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in the gaps? What view of Nature or of Truth is theirs whose interest in Science is not in what it can explain but in what it cannot, whose quest is ignorance not knowledge, whose daily dread is that the cloud may lift, and who, as darkness melts from this field or from that, begin to tremble for the place of His abode?
In the 20th century, theoretical chemist Charles A. Coulson highlighted these difficulties in several works on theology. In Coulson's view, the "God of the gaps" approach was a vulnerable and unjustified strategy for finding harmony between science and religion. Coulson, like Drummond, taught that God was to be discerned through the ordering and beauty of the world, not hiding the recesses of the unknown or excluded from the rest of nature. Coulson expressed this as follows [Coulson1958, pg. 19]:
This [dichotomy between God and natural science] is a fatal step to take. For it is to assert that you can plant some sort of hedge in the country of the mind to mark the boundary where a transfer of authority takes place. Its error is twofold. First it presupposes a dichotomy of existence which would be tolerable if no scientist were ever a Christian, and no Christian ever a scientist, but which becomes intolerable while there is one single person owning both allegiances. And second it invites "science" to discover new things and thence gradually to take possession of that which "religion" once held.
Additional details on Coulson's views of God can be found in a chapter on Coulson in Alister McGrath's book [McGrath2010].
Concerns about the pitfalls of the God of the gaps approach to science and religion continue to be seen in dialogue from both religious and scientific camps to the present day. Here, for example, is a comment from a 2008 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences [NAS2008, pg. 54]:
Both science and religion are weakened by claims that something not yet explained scientifically must be attributed to a supernatural deity. Theologians have pointed out that as scientific knowledge about phenomena that had been previously attributed to to supernatural causes increases, a "god of the gaps" approach can undermine faith. Furthermore, it confuses the roles of science and religion by attributing explanations to one that belong in the domain of another.Noted biologist and author Kenneth Miller, a Roman Catholic, observed, explained the issue in these terms [NAS2008, pg. 15]:
Creationists inevitably look for God in what science has not explained or in what they claim science cannot explain. Most scientists who are religious look for God in what science does understand and has explained.