Kevin Simington

Have Christians Invented a “God of the Gaps”?

Creationists only point to a divine Creator when the laws of science themselves point us unequivocally in that direction. And while there will always be an important faith element to belief in God, the creationist argument for God’s existence arises directly from a proper understanding of the laws of science, not because of ignorance of those laws.

Atheists regularly accuse Christians of inventing a ‘god of the gaps’ in their argument for a divine creator. A ‘god of the gaps’ argument arises when superstitious, unscientific people invent an imaginary god to explain things that they have no scientific understanding of. For example, a primitive people group may see a rainbow in the sky and, because they don’t understand about light refraction, come to believe in rainbow fairies. Or they may believe that thunder is the angry bellowing of a thunder god who is displeased with them.
Atheists claim that the Christian belief in a divine creator is similarly naïve and superstitious, plugging the gap of our missing scientific knowledge with a convenient imaginary god to explain what we do not yet understand. They claim that just because scientists don’t currently understand how the universe came into existence from nothing or how the 3.2 billion pieces of genetic information in our genome evolved by chance processes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t a scientific explanation that we will one day discover. They claim that when Christians point to these and MANY other scientific conundrums and use them as evidence for the existence of a creator God, we are inventing a god of the gaps. In a recent online discussion that I had with an atheist, he accused me of this very thing, also calling me some rather disgusting names in the process. Lovely!
Christian creationists do not believe in a god of the gaps, but a God of absolute necessity. Creationists only point to a divine Creator when the laws of science themselves point us unequivocally in that direction. And while there will always be an important faith element to belief in God, the creationist argument for God’s existence arises directly from a proper understanding of the laws of science, not because of ignorance of those laws.
The origin of the universe is a case in point.
Cosmologists are now almost universal in their agreement that the physical universe came into existence from nothing, at the very beginning. Dr Stephen Hawking (1942–2018), in a lecture published on his website, stated: “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning. This is probably the most remarkable discovery of modern cosmology.”
Similarly, Dr Quentin Smith, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, in a debate with William Lane Craig a few years ago, stated: “The universe came from nothing, by nothing for nothing.”
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The Illusion of Security

God wants us to wake up from our daydream and face reality. He wants us to cease our infatuation with the insubstantial trinkets of our fading lives and consider things of eternal value. He calls us to stop being so preoccupied with rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship and, instead, give serious attention to the lifeboat he has provided. In short, a healthy awareness of our own mortality should cause any reasonable person to consider what lies beyond the grave and to seek a relationship with their Creator.

A sincere Christian recently asked me, “What lesson is God trying to teach us through COVID?” Your own answer to that question depends on your ontological viewpoint. My own view is that God’s sovereignty does not mean that everything that happens in this world is a deliberate, intentional act of God flowing from his divine perfect will. Many things happen CONTRARY to his will (human sin, for example!) but he allows them to happen, he forbears them, as part of his PERMISSIVE will.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for COVID, don’t point your finger at God. The ontological antecedent of COVID, along with every other instance of suffering and misery in our world, is the rejection of God’s sovereign rule by mankind at the beginning of creation. It is a rebellion that has introduced a profound sickness to the natural world, the consequences of which we continue to experience to this present day.
But that is a side issue to the question that was asked. The questioner was not seeking an ontological explanation for the origin of COVID. Her concern was much less esoteric. “What lesson is God trying to teach us through COVID?” Regardless of one’s view of God’s sovereignty, Christians are unanimous in their belief that God uses “all things”, including suffering, to bring about his eternal purposes (Romans 8:28). So, what might God be trying to teach us in this pandemic?
That we are kites dancing in a hurricane.
If the current pandemic has done nothing else, it has confronted us with our own mortality and shone a spotlight on the extremely tenuous nature of life. The current death toll from COVID stands at over five million. That’s five million people who were going about life, many of them thinking that they had years left to live, but who were snuffed out by a tiny microbe that can’t be seen with the naked eye. I know of strong, healthy people who were in the prime of life who are now no longer with us, because of COVID.
Of course, there is nothing unusual about this state of affairs. Millions of people die of the flu every year. Millions die of malaria, pneumonia, cancer, heart disease and stroke. Millions more die from accidents, often involving weird and unlikely alignments of contributing factors. Yes, death is happening all around us, every day. About 60 million people die every year: that’s two people every second. The one thing that the universe is really good at, is killing us!
But the current pandemic has confronted us, afresh, with our own mortality. Even though it is just one more among a plethora of means by which the natural world is removing people from the gene pool, COVID has highlighted afresh the extremely tenuous nature of our existence. Even though we have lived our lives up to this point in “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), we had somehow become complacent, inured to the myriad of ways in which the universe could suddenly, and without warning, call, “time’s up!”
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Biblical Beliefs Take A Nose Dive

If the Christian church is to have any hope of reversing this decline in biblical beliefs, it must make solid biblical theology a central focus of its preaching. Biblical theology is not something that can be absorbed via osmosis – it must be taught, intentionally and incrementally. 

A newly released American study draws attention to a “striking decline” in traditional biblical beliefs among those who claim to be evangelicals. The study by Probe Ministries discovered that 60% of those claiming to be ‘born again’ Christians in America, aged between 18 and 39, believe that Buddha and Muhammad are equally valid paths to salvation. Furthermore, 30% say that Jesus was not perfect and probably sinned.
Similar erosion of traditional beliefs was also noted in regard to morality. Only 16% of evangelicals surveyed indicated a belief in the objective, absolute nature of biblical morals.
What is particularly disturbing about these latest findings is the decline that is apparent when the current results are compared to an identical study conducted by the same organisation ten years earlier. When their 2010 study is compared to this latest study, a marked decline can be seen across all major aspects of traditional evangelical beliefs and values.
For example, belief in the accuracy and inspiration of the Bible, the divinity of Christ and the perfect nature of God fell from 47% in 2010 to 25% in 2020 – and this is among supposed born again Christians. Similarly, adherence to traditional Christian moral standards fell from 32% in 2010 to a mere 16% in 2020.
The authors of the study stated,
“This result is a startling degradation in worldview beliefs of born-again Christians over just 10 years.”
What implication does this have for churches?
Significantly, it means that ministers and preachers can no longer assume that the people attending services and listening to their sermons have a biblical worldview. The fundamental biblical beliefs that once defined evangelical Christianity are no longer a ‘given’ among those attending evangelical churches. When a preacher stands to teach from God’s Word, he or she must now contend with a mish-mash of conflicting worldviews among the congregation and a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to biblical theology.
What has led to this dramatic decline in traditional Christian beliefs and values in such a short period of time? There are several factors that are at play here.
Firstly, the decline in fundamental Christian beliefs has occurred hand-in-hand with the decline in solid theological teaching from the pulpit during the same period of time. The typical sermon over the last few decades has shifted away from the exposition of meaty biblical theology to a more ‘me-focussed’ pop gospel that centres around finding one’s fulfilment and living a successful life.
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