According to the Oxford English Dictionary “God of the gaps” is “God adduced as an explanation for phenomena not yet explained by science.” This is dangerous because when such a phenomenon is explained by science, God appears to be rendered less necessary and credible. Francis Collins insists that a “word of caution is needed when inserting specific diving action by God in this or any other area where scientific understanding is currently lacking. From solar eclipses in older times to the movement of the planets in the Middle Ages, to the origins of life today, this ‘God of the gaps’ approach has all to often done a disservice to religion (and by implication to God, if that’s possible). 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.” (Language of God)
The essay touted by Answers in Genesis as the winner of their War of the Worldviews competition contains a clear example of the God of the gaps. The essay (written by high school student Paul Lamicela) claims, “God created matter in the beginning, but He did not create much antimatter. God did not want all the matter to annihilate with antimatter. He designed the universe to function.” Physicists do not yet know why the universe contains mostly matter and almost no antimatter, but several active searches for the answer are ongoing and in preparation; I am one of many physicists engaged in this effort. Mr. Lamicela claims that the matter-antimatter asymmetry is evidence of God’s providence for a functional universe capable of supporting life. If we physicists discover a natural scientific explanation for the asymmetry, that will eliminate this alleged piece of evidence and therefore reduce the credibility of Christian faith.
Many Christian leaders, including some who vigorously reject biological evolution, agree that scripture does not force us to accept a YEC model. As Edward J. Larson reports in Summer for the Gods, William Jennings Bryan, who was a key instigator and witness against evolution in the Scopes Trial of 1925, did not accept YEC. He “interpreted the six days of creation to symbolize vast periods of time.” William Dembski, in the book Intelligent Design, argues that “it doesn’t follow, logically or otherwise, that by rejecting fully naturalist evolution you automatically embrace a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2. Rejecting fully naturalistic evolution does not entail accepting young-earth creationism.” Further examples of Christian leaders rejecting YEC can be found at a page dedicated to the topic at Reasons to Believe.
Most or all of these leaders believe that scripture allows us to accept the current scientific measurements of the age of the universe. I agree, and I believe that the account in Genesis is not completely consistent with a literal YEC interpretation.
Genesis 2:4 summarizes the creation account with “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.” Notice it says “the day” not “the six days.” Was it one day or six, and why would God inspire such an apparent contradiction? Gleason L. Archer, of Reasons to Believe, writes that a 24-hour interpretation becomes “complex” if we carefully examine both Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1:23-28 indicates that God created Adam and Eve on the sixth day. However, Genesis 2 states that between the creation of Adam (2:7) and the creation of Eve (2:22), God brought all of the animals to Adam to be named, Adam realized that he was alone, God removed his rib, and God created Eve. If one adheres to the YEC position, all of this must have happened in less than 24 hours.
Interpreting other passages of scripture in the same manner as the Young-Earth Creationists interpret Genesis leads to other problems. J. P. Moreland gives two examples of this. First, the Bible uses the word “sunrise” multiple times (e.g. Numbers 2:3). This word clearly denotes that the sun is in moving around Earth. Does this refute the scientific claim that the Earth revolves around the sun and rotates on it axis once per day?
Second, the Bible speaks of the “four corners of the Earth” (e.g. Isaiah 11:12, Revelation 7:1). Is this irreconcilable with the photographs that show Earth as a round object? Isaiah 40:22 might imply that Earth is round, but this does not solve any problems. A literal interpretation leads only to Isaiah contradicting himself in similar way to the “one day vs. six” contradiction in Genesis. Does Isaiah 55:12 require that we expect to see trees voluntarily slapping their branches together? Should we expect to meet fire-breathing dragons based on Job 41:19-21?
In addition to forcing an unmerited interpretation on scripture, replacing the eons of cosmic history with 144 hours diminishes the awe we should feel when we contemplate the magnificence and vastness of the universe and our own origins. Our awe at the magnificence and complexity of the Creator is similarly diminished. In Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan wrote,
“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”
I think Dr. Sagan, though he was an atheist, was correct. I believe God has many reasons endowing me with the ability, desire, and opportunity to become a scientist. One of those reasons is to answer Dr. Sagan’s challenge by conveying to my fellow Christians why this is better than we thought, how grand the universe is, how grand and complex are the atoms of which we are made, and why the story scientists have uncovered is cause for reverence and awe that I can not yet properly put into words.
For one example, look up at a clear, dark night sky; you can see 2000 stars at most. Astronomy has revealed that more stars exist in the universe than grains of sand exist in all the beaches and deserts of this planet!
Of course, I am neither the first nor the only Christian God has called to do this. Prof. John Polkinghorne is an Anglican priest and theoretical physicist who has been writing about the interface between physics and Christianity for many decades. In the chapter on Creation in The Faith of a Physicist, he reminded us that “Every atom of carbon in every living being was once inside a star, from whose dead ashes we all have arisen.” All elements heavier than lithium, helium, and hydrogen were produced by nuclear fusion in the cores of stars; when those stars died, they expelled the heavy elements they had produced. The stellar remains collected in interstellar gas and dust clouds, sections of which collapsed to form new solar systems, including ours. On at least one planet in our solar system, some of these heavy elements were incorporated into living organisms that developed from molecules into increasingly complex and diverse forms.
Prof. Polkinghorne continues the story, and I close with his words. “Archaic forms of homo sapiens appeared a mere three hundred thousand years ago, and the modern form became established within the last forty thousand years. The universe had become aware of itself.”