A ‘God of the gaps’ argument is one which states that if something cannot be explained by scientific evidence and reasoning that it must be attributable to God.
An early instance of this kind of reasoning is found in the work of none other than Isaac Newton, who, finding that he could not fully explain the movements of the planets, postulated that God made periodic adjustments to their orbits.
Probably the most significant modern version of god-of-the-gaps argumentation occurs in Intelligent Design theory. There are many things in the living world, say proponents of ID, that can be explained by natural processes, including evolution. But there are others – the bacterial flagellum, the blood clotting cascade, and the genetic code being much-cited examples – that are ‘irreducibly complex’ and cannot be explained without reference to some kind of divine intervention.
There are several serious problems with god-of-the-gaps arguments. One is that it will seem all too obvious to sceptics that as science fills the gaps in knowledge so the space left for divine activity shrinks to vanishing point. Another problem (which is, rather, the same problem viewed from a different angle) is that it posits a profound gap between natural causes and divine causes. There are those things – and there is an increasing number of them – that are due to natural processes; and there are those things that are attributable to divine activity.
From a theological perspective, god-of-the-gaps thinking tends towards semi-deism. That is to say, God is pushed to the edges of his own creation and is only invoked when there seems to be no natural alternative.
The theistic position would be to ascribe everything to God, from the most simple to the most complex. This is not without its own problems, of course. If God is made responsible for everything, then (some people would ask) why did he take so long, and with such wastage and with such suffering along the way? Answers can be offered to questions such as these (the anthropic principle is of help here). But as Christians we can look to the biblical revelation for assurance that God does not simply sit at the edges of the cosmos, intervening when nature cannot quite get the job done. Psalm 104 teaches in spectacular fashion that God is in everything:-
Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved…
…and so on.