God Of The Gaps

As a fond student of ancient history [1], one of the aspects that greatly impresses me is the fragmentary nature of textual and material remains of ancient civilizations. Frequently, to give perhaps the most obvious example, the Bible has spoken of rulers and polities that have not yet been known of, to general criticism and claims that the Bible is worthless as a historical source because what is missing is viewed as nonexistent, only for a chance find to uncover tablets and material remains that mention biblical people and regimes and demonstrate the sound historicity of the scriptural account, only for critics of the Bible to shift their ground to the gaps that remain, rather than conceding that we may infer the reliability of what is known as applying to what is not yet known. In this debate, it is typically only those people of biblical faith who are criticized for their religious worldview, while those who have faith that the historical record has captured everything that one needs to know is viewed as not being a faith at all, even if it is a faith in the completeness of the historical record and in our correct understanding of it.

Quite the opposite situation occurs in biology. Here the gaps in what is termed as natural history are invoked as a space that allows for the creative ability of evolution to accomplish what the record we possess does not demonstrate, while the record that we have demonstrates long periods of stasis and an absence of intermediate species that would fill the massive gaps in species, genera, families, orders, and so on. In point of fact, we have the occasional mosaic creature that is usually trumpeted as an intermediate form only to be found instead to be a quirky and entirely unknown form of its own. And yet while believers of Christianity (and other theist religions) are routinely pilloried for believing in a supposed god of the gaps, the belief of a god of the gaps in evolutionary biology and related fields is seldom acknowledged or bemoaned by those who are within the scientific community. Do scientists forget that the ancient heathen Romans (among others) worshiped Fortuna and alea, just as contemporary scientists worship fortune and chance because we see life exist, including ourselves, even if there are not enough probabilistic resources in the universe to accomplish what evolutionists claim, so clearly we had to come about in some naturalistic fashion right?

As a moderately prolific writer, I often wonder what will survive of our own present material and intellectual culture. Is it possible that in the future some books would only be known because a somewhat sarcastic and critical blogger wrote a book review about it, so that the book can be counted as having once existed even if no copies or record of it survive? To what extent is our knowledge now shaped by what is easily available, given our general lack of curiosity or insight into what is going on in places where we never go and in the lives of people that we do not know. Whole sections of our communities are invisible to us, because their lives do not often intersect with ours, and when large groups of people do not have the leisure or resources or interest in recording their own lives and telling their own tales, such information is lost to future generations where it is not passed down. Perhaps it is that idea that it is essential to leave some sort of trace that I existed on this planet that has been part of the immense compulsion I feel not only to write about myself, but to record what I have witnessed for others as well. Perhaps others share these compulsions both today and throughout history, even if no one can be sure that what we create will survive the ravages of time.

Given the fact that some of what occurs is never recorded or written down in any fashion, and given that time is not kind to material or intellectual culture, it is clear that there will always be gaps in our understanding. Corruption and entropy are an aspect of physical existence that cannot be denied, even if it is often ignored and disregarded. The question is not whether there will be gaps—there will be because much of what happens will not be recorded, and much of what was recorded at one time will not survive—but what we do about them. How do we deal with known unknowns and unknown unknowns? If all that survived about a book was a book review that I had written and posted on my blog, what would be able to be reconstructed about that book from the review, and would the review that survived be taken as a credible account by future historians? And what of the thousands of books that are published per day, some of which may never be read any anyone who left any trace of it in their own writing? Will the mere existence of a book on a line of someone’s curriculum vitae be sufficient in future generations to be signs that a book existed, or will others be as skeptical of our own writings as we are of the writings that have survived from the distant past?

Such questions are unanswerable, because they depend on the faith or the skepticism of generations that have yet to be born. When our lives are being recorded in history, or entirely unknown because no records have survived, we have no power to move them except by those words by us or about us that have survived. Our genes may have passed to lucky descendants who do not know of the lives that we have lived whose trace has been passed along through family culture and the long chain of experience. We may have lived worthwhile lives, made friends and enemies, explored the world that God has made, served those around us, and left a good body of work before our bell was rung, and yet after we are gone no one may know it, and record of it may not survive. Do we have faith in a God who remembers our deeds, knows the gaps between what we have felt and thought and experienced and done and what was written about it, and is willing to forgive the bad and praise the good, or is our faith only in the fragmentary processes of history, and in the unknowable verdict of history? Our faith must be in something, after all, for no one lives without some kind of god of the gaps, for the gaps are there, and we cannot help but try to explain them and infer things about them.

[1] See, for example:

























About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to God Of The Gaps

  1. Pingback: Light Up, Light Up, As If You Have A Choice | Edge Induced Cohesion

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