The three gaps: Philosophical arguments for god
There are many philosophical arguments for the existence of a god. In this post I am going to evaluate what the three gaps theory can tell us about four of these arguments.
I am not trying to find whether the arguments are correct (you can reasonably assume that I do not think any of them compelling). All I am considering for each argument is “Even if I accepted this argument, what is the most it could tell me about God?”
This is one of the most common arguments for the existence of god. At its simplest level, it states that everything that exists has a cause. Tracing back through that chain, there must be a “first cause” which has always existed, and that first cause should be called “god”.
If we accept this argument, it bridges the first gap: there must be a creator god who caused everything. But it does not give us any reason to believe this god is the God revealed in the Bible, let alone that Christadelphian interpretations of that Bible are correct.
Some apologists have derived additional properties of this god. For example, WL Craig, inOn Guard for Students:
The cause of the universe must therefore be a transcendent cause beyond the universe. What can we know about the nature of this cause? First, this cause must be itself uncaused because, as we’ve seen, an infinite series of causes is impossible. It is therefore the Uncaused First Cause. It must transcend space and time, since it created space and time. Therefore, it must be immaterial and nonphysical. It must be unimaginably powerful, since it created all matter and energy. Finally, this Uncaused First Cause must also arguably be a personal being.
Ghazali’s cosmological argument thus gives us powerful grounds for believing in the existence of a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, enormously powerful Personal Creator of the universe.
Obviously this is trying to bridge the second gap: Readers are meant to see the similarities with the Christian God, and conclude that the argument has proven the existence of the Christian God. However, even if we accept each of these claims, the best we can say is “this god has some properties which are consistent with the God of the Bible”. Maybe it’s a different God that has these properties? And if we discovered that any of these properties were inconsistent with the God of the Bible, we would have proved that a god exists, but that that god is not the God of the Bible.
Basically, this argument states that if God truly exists, belief in him could lead to an eternity of happiness, while disbelief could lead to an eternity of pain and punishment. However, if God doesn’t exist we gain very little by being correct, and lose very little by being wrong. Thus, we would be safer to believe in God’s existence because the benefit of being right greatly outweighs the cost of being wrong.
This is sometimes presented as an argument for the existence of God. However, even if we accepted it I don’t think it bridges any of the gaps. It gives us no evidence for the existence of any god. Instead, it asks us to assume the existence of a particular God, one who dispenses eternal rewards and punishments. This requires us to have already bridged both the first and the second gap before we start considering the argument.
Thus, I think it is completely useless for determining truth in the presence of multiple competing god concepts.
Basically, this argument states that when we see apparently human-made artefacts with evidence of design, we assume they have a designer. Thus, if the world around us shows evidence of design, it must have a designer, who we will call “god”. I think that if we accept this argument it can bridge the first gap.
As with the cosmological argument, it is also possible to try and derive additional properties of this designer. However, I still don’t think this would bridge the second gap. The most it could tell us is that this designer has other properties that are consistent with the God of the Bible. That doesn’t guarantee this designer is the God of the Bible.
This argument can also be a double-edged sword: it may suggest that the designer uses means that are not consistent with the Bible’s creation account, or discover properties of this designer that are not consistent with the God of the Bible. For example, if a creature looks like it has been designed to produce pain and suffering, it might suggest that the designer lacks the power to avoid pain and suffering, or that the designer considers suffering good.
I found the ontological argument common in detailed apologetics texts, but less common in day-to-day discussions (possibly because few people really find it compelling). Basically, it states that if we imagine the greatest possible god, one of this god’s properties must be existence (because it is obviously greater to exist than not to exist).
If we accept this argument, it bridges the first gap: We would conclude that a god exists, and the god is our “greatest god”. However, as with the previous arguments, even if we accept this argument the best we can say is that this “greatest god” is consistent with the God of the Bible. And there remains the possibility that we find ways in which the God of the Bible is not the greatest possible god.
There are many more philosophical arguments for the existence of a god, but I think these four provide a good starting point. In my opinion, these kind of arguments cannot get us beyond the existence of a god to acceptance of the Christian God, and are likely to backfire on Christians if they are pressed too hard.
It may feel like I’m nit-picking, or that I’m unfairly excluding or downplaying the arguments because I don’t agree with them. That may be true, but part of the reason is that I think the gap between a deistic God and the Christian God is much bigger than is usually assumed.