Arguments for Atheism - Living without religion, with a clear conscience


The Argument | The Refutation

The Argument Back to Top

The Argument from Ignorance stems from the observation that there are natural phenomena, such as gravity, dark matter, etc, which science as yet cannot fully explain. It concludes that this ignorance is, in itself, evidence for the existence of God.

It is sometimes known as the “God of the Gaps” Argument because it views God as existing in the "gaps" or aspects of reality that are currently unexplained by scientific knowledge.

The Refutation Back to Top

The so-called Argument from Ignorance may provide some short-term advantage, but in the long run it always collapses as scientific knowledge expands.

Most major religions date from ancient times, the naive and ignorant infancy of our species, and in the past, gods have been used as an explanation of fire, rain, fertility, natural disasters and much more. Although judged adequate at the time, most of these “explanations” were subsequently abandoned when science provided more plausible ones. For example, in the 16th Century, Martin Luther and John Calvin both quoted the Bible as definitive evidence that the findings of Nicolas Copernicus (that the Earth was not the centre of the universe around which the sun and the stars whirled) were wrong, but few would do so today.
It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.
- Thomas Jefferson (1788)

Our knowledge of nature is not complete, and scientists are the first to admit that. But, just because we do not know the exact make-up and workings of something, it does not then automatically follow that that something must have been created by God and not by natural means. If the argument proposes that ignorance of the root cause of a particular natural phenomena is an argument for God's existence, then it must also grant the ignorance of the existence of god. An atheist may freely admit that to not being able to explain the origin of the universe, but does not then go on to posit a contradiction by claiming to "know" that God originated it.

Essentially, the argument claims that because something is currently unexplained or insufficiently understood, it is not true, or alternatively, because there appears to be a lack of evidence for one hypothesis, another chosen hypothesis is therefore considered automatically proven. Neither of these claims stands up to logical scrutiny. In fact, the “argument from ignorance” is also the name of a logical fallacy in which it is claimed that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or is false only because it has not been proven true.

The characterization of the argument as the “God of the Gaps” is usually derogatory, as it suggests that theists are just using God to explain any phenomena for which science has yet to give a satisfactory account. More specifically, these unexplained phenomena are constantly decreasing as the findings of science advance, so that religion is reduced to merely providing “explanations” for the few gaps remaining in the current knowledge of science.

This effectively relegates God to the leftovers of science, and suggests that as scientific knowledge increases, the dominion of God decreases still further. It also suggests that any event which CAN be explained by science (and that includes the vast majority of day-to-day phenomena) automatically excludes God, which therefore severely limits the scope of such a God, and is certainly incompatible with the idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing God such as the Judeo-Christian-Muslim one.

However, it should be recognized that even scientifically proven explanations may not be enough to sway a firm believer, and there will always be those who are happy to argue that, for instance, God placed fossils in the Earth just to test our faith, and there is little point in trying to contest logically or scientifically such ingrained and unsupported ideas. As has been noted in the section on Intelligent Design, creationists tend to see any gap in the fossil record of an evolutionary transition series as being automatically filled by God and, if a new fossil discovery later bisects such a gap, then they now see just twice as many gaps!

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