Monday, 19 July 2010

God Of The Pap

We should all be familiar with a "god of the gaps" argument. While making a "god of the gaps" type argument isn't necessarily fallacious, it does set God up as a substitute for human ignorance.

The general form of a "god of the gaps" can be surmised as follows:
  1. Phenomenon X is not understood
  2. X can be explained by God
  3. Therefore God explains X
Creationists love this type of argument, and it can currently be seen being used on such questions as the origin of life or the origins of space-time.

The argument is one to be avoided because it does nothing to explain X or God, instead looking for an explanatory gap by which to push more dramatic existential and moral claims. It's not only God explains X, but God explains X therefore you should accept Jesus as your personal saviour!

Consider an X from 300 years ago, the formation of the solar system. While Newton's laws could explain the motion of the planets, it could not explain where the planets came from. Thus a modern-day parable has spawned[1] all over a "god of the gaps argument". But since the French mathematician Laplace, there has been a means to explain solar system formation. The gap has been filled, the argument has shown itself to be useless.

Because the argument isn't so much about showing God's existence but having God as a necessity by which to push a different agenda. The arguments still persist because there will always be gaps by which we don't understand. Even if tomorrow someone was to show the steps how life could begin from interacting chemicals, it still doesn't solve the problem of how life began for us. But it would be a mistake to think that solving the gap for the creationist is going to make the creationist not believe.

Similarly I'd like to propose another mistake in attribution, a "god of the nebulousnesspap". But instead of finding gaps in human understanding, it's about finding the limitations of human language and exploiting that into a theological argument.

Examples of such arguments would be use of words that sound significant but offer little in the way of comprehension. To use the word transcendence for example, or to refer to God as a "sacred otherness". Or to refer to God as an infinite abstract... well you get the picture.

Such rhetoric puts God into a similar position as a "god of the gaps". It's putting the term beyond all limits, again I think for existential and ethical reasons. It's nothing more than a linguistic trick, a means to carry the baggage that comes with the use of the word God but without having to do anything in terms of quantifying it.

Both of these types of arguments should be sceptical red flags, signs that the person giving the argument is using rhetoric in place of substance as if ignorance or incomprehensibility are on par with clarity and knowledge.

Upon reflection, "god of the nebulousness" is a bit of a mouthful, perhaps something simpler and catchy might be more appropriate. Perhaps "god of the pap[2]"?

[1] - Read it here
[2] - Pap as in "Material lacking real value or substance"


F said...

Ah, you've created a term for that gestalt. I'll buy it. It may come in handy. :D

Bo Gardiner said...


"God of the Pap" is quite useful to describe your "God of Rhetoric."

I'm in the US, in a small city known as a New Age mecca. In the US the "spiritual but not religious" crowd is the fastest growing faith group. The New Agers recoil at the word "supernatural" and say their God is part of nature, but natural science is just too inferior to detect It.

When I respond, Oh, OK, you're an atheist because that's not religion, they recoil even further.

Most will they say when pushed that God is simply the love and the connectedness we feel.

When I ask, well why not call it "the love and connectedness we feel" instead of God? Why the hating on atheists? If the difference is simply rhetoric, I ask, why do you feel you believe something I don't?

They feel cornered by this and respond with a variation of "For me the connectedness is spiritual and it clearly isn't for you, or else you'd understand my rhetoric." Then I get offended and tell them so, as I feel pretty damn connected. Yes, even spiritual, as it is profoundly inspiring.

As someone just said on Pharyngula, "vague is the new black." The pap ultimately seems an excuse to feel holier than thou.