Monday, December 05, 2005

The god of the gaps

I’ve just started reading the book “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris. I have to say that what I’ve read so far is pretty damn good.

He makes an interesting point early on in his book that I’d like to pick up on. He write: “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and his is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bedside was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Certainly Mr. Harris is correct about most of the American Taliban. Like their Islamic counterparts they swallow their scripture hook, line and sinker. Not only that but to entertain doubts at all is often seen as sinful. To the fundamentalist god gave man a mind in order for him not to use it at all when it comes to the existence of some deity and “spiritual” matters.

Why would a man require evidence that his wife is cheating on him and not require a second thought as to hell fire, damnation and all things godly?

Consider this: we can easily verify he has a wife. He’s seen her and so have lots of other people. Having a wife is not unusual. It requires no leap of faith. She can stand right in front of you. Her existence is easily verified. Nor is it particularly unlikely that any one wife might cheat on her husband. It happens all the time. Many a minister can verify this is true from personal experience.

It requires very little evidence to establish whether or not a man has a wife and only a bit more to determine whether she is cheating on him. It is not out of the question by any means. it is very possible.

But when it comes to things that can not be verified by evidence the man is quite happy to accept them on face value.

I think it entirely plausible that this happens. Many asks for evidence and proof and reasoning in precisely those areas of his life where he knows from experience that evidence and proof and reasoning is possible. But when it comes to the supernatural it is, by definition, beyond nature. It is not susceptible to reason and evidence.

So if it is beyond reason why accept it? Why does he believe at all?

Humans, I think, need answers to the questions they say. They want to know why. Why does this happen and not that? And God is the final answer to any question for which no other answer is possible. Most believers have a god of the gaps. God explains that for which no other explanation can be found.

A man, by sheer chance, misses an air plane flight. It happens thousands of time per day. Sometimes one of those planes crashes killing people on board. It could have been him on the plane but it wasn’t. Maybe his alarm failed to go off. Maybe he hit traffic on the way to the airport. Maybe he didn’t feel well enough to travel. And if the plane doesn’t crash he’s happy to take any of these things at face value. But when he doesn’t die because of such a small circumstance he attributes this to a deity who intervened to save him totally ignoring the same deity presumably sent hundreds of others to a horrible death for no apparent reason.

I can think of good people I know who are seriously ill. And I ask “Why them?” But I know such a question is an invalid question. Good people get ill just as some really vicious seem to live on far too long. There are some really sick bastards in the world who ought to have heart attacks and don’t. And there are some really great people who die far too young.

People want an answer to the questions about why such things happen. God provides that answer for them.

No, for them belief in a divine being is not a rational exercise. It’s a means of filling in gaps that are too uncomfortable to be left empty. The proof of this is the amazing coincidence that religious folks around the world ignore. It’s the coincidence that that 99% of all believers merely adopt one version or another of the deity worshipped in their own culture.

The Christian in America thinks he believes because his god is true. The Muslim in Iran believes the same about Allah that the devout Jew does about Jehovah. People merely grab the god of the gaps from their own culture. Only a very small percentage actually convert to another god. They are most likely to switch one version of the same god for another version such as Catholic for Baptist or Shiite for Sunni or Orthodox for liberal. They are unlikely to make a radical conversion. And many of those who do do it for non-spiritual reasons. They convert merely to marry someone they love for instance.

A man wants evidence if he is to believe his wife is cheating on him. He doesn’t want reasons for god. He doesn’t want reasons because god is the final refuge he finds when he faces those questions in life for which no answer can be given. Rather than accept that there are things in the universe which defy explanation he clings to the god of the gaps.


Post a Comment

<< Home


Web Counters Religion Blog Top Sites