Does intelligent design commit the “God-of-the-gaps” fallacy?

Stephen C. Meyer explains, with reference to his newest book “Darwin’s Doubt”. He is responding to a critical review of the book published in Science.

Here’s the relevant part of the review:

Meyer’s scientific approach is purely negative. He argues that paleontologists are unable to explain the Cambrian explosion, thus opening the door to the possibility of a designer’s intervention. This, despite his protest to the contrary, is a (sophisticated) “god of the gaps” approach, an approach that is problematic in part because future developments often provide solutions to once apparently difficult problems.

And here’s part of Meyer’s response:

[B]y claiming that my approach is a purely negative one based solely upon “gaps” in our knowledge or in the evolutionary account of the Cambrian explosion, Marshall implies that Darwin’s Doubt makes a fallacious kind of argument known to logicians as an “argument from ignorance.” Arguments from ignorance occur when evidence against a proposition X is offered as the sole (and conclusive) grounds for accepting some alternative proposition Y. Arguments from ignorance make an obvious logical error. They omit a necessary kind of premise, a premise providing positive support for the conclusion, not just negative evidence against an alternative conclusion. In an explanatory context, arguments from ignorance have the form:

Premise One: Cause X cannot produce or explain evidence E.

Conclusion: Therefore, cause Y produced or explains E.

Critics of intelligent design often claim that the case for intelligent design commits this fallacy. They claim that design advocates use our present ignorance of any materialistic cause of specified or functional information (for example) as the sole basis for inferring an intelligent cause for the origin of such information in biological systems. For example, Michael Shermer represents the case for intelligent design as follows: “Intelligent design … argues that life is too specifically complex (complex structures like DNA) … to have evolved by natural forces. Therefore, life must have been created by. . . an intelligent designer.” In short, Shermer claims that ID proponents argue as follows:

Premise: Materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms cannot produce novel biological information.

Conclusion: Therefore, an intelligent cause produced specified biological information.

Marshall echoes Shermer’s criticism. But the inference to design as developed in Darwin’s Doubt does not commit this fallacy.

Why not? Because it argues that the best explanation of an effect in nature – new information -is an intelligent cause, and that we are familiar with how these intelligent causes operate already.

More:

[T]he book makes a positive case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation for the origin of the genetic (and epigenetic) information necessary to produce the first forms of animal life (as well as other features of the Cambrian animals such as the presence of genetic regulatory networks that function as integrated circuits during animal development). It advances intelligent design as the best explanation not only because many lines of evidence now cast doubt on the creative power of unguided evolutionary mechanisms, but also because of our positive, experience-based knowledge of the powers that intelligent agents have to produce as digital and other forms of information as well as integrated circuitry. As I argue in Chapter 18 of Darwin’s Doubt:

Intelligent agents, due to their rationality and consciousness, have demonstrated the power to produce specified or functional information in the form of linear sequence-specific arrangements of characters. Digital and alphabetic forms of information routinely arise from intelligent agents. A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind — a software engineer or programmer. The information in a book or inscription ultimately derives from a writer or scribe. Our experience-based knowledge of information flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified or functional information invariably originate from an intelligent source. The generation of functional information is “habitually associated with conscious activity.” Our uniform experience confirms this obvious truth.

Thus, the inadequacy of proposed materialistic evolutionary causes or mechanisms forms only part of the basis of the argument for intelligent design. We also know from broad and repeated experience that intelligent agents can and do produce information-rich systems and integrated circuitry. We have positive experience-based knowledge of a cause sufficient to generate new specified information and integrated circuitry, namely, intelligence. We are not ignorant of how information or circuitry arises. We know from experience that conscious, rational agents can create such information-rich structures and systems. To again quote information theorist Henry Quastler: “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” Indeed, whenever large amounts of specified or functional information are present in an artifact or entity whose causal story is known, invariably creative intelligence — intelligent design — played a role in the origin of that entity. Thus, when we encounter a large discontinuous increase in the functional information content of the biosphere as we do in the Cambrian explosion, we may infer — based on our knowledge of established cause-effect relationships — that a purposive intelligence operated in the history of life to produce the functional information necessary to generate those forms of animal life.

Instead of exemplifying a fallacious form of argument in which design is inferred solely from a negative premise, the argument for intelligent design formulated in Darwin’s Doubt takes the following form:

Premise One: Despite a thorough search and evaluation, no materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified or functional information (or integrated circuitry).

Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified/functional information (and integrated circuitry).

Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the specified/functional information (and circuitry) that was necessary to produce the Cambrian animals.

I do think it’s very important for Christians to make their case for God based on the progress of science.

If you are going to argue for God, you want to use arguments like these:

  1. origin of the universe
  2. cosmic fine-tuning
  3. origin of life building blocks
  4. biological information at origin of life
  5. biological information at Cambrian explosion
  6. galactic fine-tuning
  7. stellar fine-tuning
  8. observed limits to mutation-driven change
  9. mental effort studies
  10. corroborated NDEs

And so on.

Each of these arguments is based on what we know about nature. They are not based on gaps in our knowledge at all. The more we do science, the more evidence we get for each argument. For example, at one point we only had redshift for the beginning of the universe (#1), but then we added light element abundance predictions and the cosmic microwave background radiation. For the cosmic fine-tuning (#2), we started with the fine-tuning of gravity, and then added more examples, like the cosmological constant. In each case, the continuous progress of science strengthened the need for a Creator/Designer. The more we know from science about how nature works, the stronger the case for Christian theism gets.

It’s the atheists who are now taking refuge in the gaps and holding out speculations as a way of maintaining their atheism against the science. It’s the atheists who are hoping for aliens, multiverses, undiscovered fossils, and so on. There is no God-of-the-Gaps anymore. There’s only Atheism-of-the-Gaps.

10 thoughts on “Does intelligent design commit the “God-of-the-gaps” fallacy?”

  1. If the two parties in the debate aren’t genuinely listening to each other, both sides can always accuse each other of every logical fallacy in the book.

    That’s why I prefer the ontological argument to any argument based on astronomy or other physical sciences. With ontology, if the opponent doesn’t listen closely, he can’t keep up. With pop sci, sophistry creeps into the debate very easily.

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  2. “It’s the atheists who are now taking refuge in the gaps and holding out speculations as a way of maintaining their atheism against the science. It’s the atheists who are hoping for aliens, multiverses, undiscovered fossils, and so on. There is no God-of-the-Gaps anymore. There’s only Atheism-of-the-Gaps.”

    ^^^Ding!

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  3. Intelligent design is not based on our ignorance requiring a God of the gaps explanation. Intelligent design is based on our knowledge. The 98% junk DNA myth has been soundly and empirically put to rest. We now know that our DNA code is akin to a very sophisticated digital encoded computer program, (only much more sophisticated than any program known to man)

    And this encoded information is meaningless without an equally sophisticated transcription process which transcribes the language of DNA into the language of proteins, and which we also conveniently possess. In addition, our genome even comes with multiple redundant and correction systems which are used in intelligently designed systems all the time.

    The nay sayers can say what they will, but Intelligent design is a real theory. And Intelligent design theorist have had their work published in many peer review science journals, including even some non ID theorist who mention the work of ID theorist in their own work in a positive and inclusive way,

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    1. The 98% junk DNA myth has been soundly and empirically put to rest.

      Out of curiosity, what led you to that conclusion?

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      1. There are now several studies that have been published in recent years that confirm the demise of the mindless scribble/ junk DNA paradigm. ENCODE alone cited at least 80% to have biochemical function (even if all of these functional elements are not completely understood yet) And they even predict that in a few short years we will find 100% functional elements.

        Even most of ENCODES biggest detractors (who still cling to the outdated and failed neo Darwinian mindset) admit that at least 20% or more has a known function and are a very important part of the regulatory process (which to put very simply) determines how genes are expressed and or silenced. In addition, there are also many independent studies which reaffirm that much of this so called junk is in fact functional, and in many cases, even vital. And we are finding more and more function all the time. I can cite the data upon request.

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  4. I know you’re not a fan of Lennox, but I quite like Lennox’s approach to answering this sort of objection: to use “God of the gaps” as an objection is question-begging because a priori assumes the theist is using God to answer the “how” science question. But this is not what theists are doing – because the “why” questions of science is implicitly super-natural.

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  5. The god of the gaps argument that those espousing evolution make just shows how they are arguing against who they think God is not who he really is. They seem to have this idea that God doesn’t work by natural means therefore if they describe how something does work by natural means God can’t be involved. God however talks about using natural means all the time in giving us our abilities, in making the sun shine and the rains come down. Etc. When you’ve described those natural means you haven’t eliminated God you’ve simply described how he did it. I agree completely with the statement about atheism of the gaps.

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  6. Yes atheism of the gaps. And I include Darwin of the gaps per Richard Dawkins. It seems that according to poor Richard, its perfectly reasonable to believe in “multiverse” and or little green men from outer space for which there is no evidence, (and which has had much more success in the field of science fiction than empirical science) but a God, or for that matter any form of intelligent design is considered supernatural.

    Keep in mind, Dawkins phrases his words very cleverly and says ‘there is absolutely no evidence for a “supernatural” creator’ but as the point was made earlier. If God does naturally exist, then it cannot be considered supernatural.
    At least there is compelling and observable evidence for a creator/designer in the fine tuning of cosmological constants, including the rare earth or goldilocks principle, and again, as well as the complex digital encoded information in biological systems.

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