’God of the surprises’

By Ken Perrott 09/08/2010

I guess we are all familiar with the god of the gapsconcept. The common theological tendency to explain gaps in our scientific knowledge with the claim “god did it!” It’s an easy, if very lazy, strategy because there will always be gaps in scientific knowledge. As longs as one has a short memory and moves on to new gaps when the old ones get filled.

Well, I have come across a new term for a related phenomenon – “god of the surprises.” John Shook uses the phrase in his new book God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (And Everyone in Between).

“In addition to the god of the gaps strategy pointing out what science doesn’t know, theologians have another strategy, a “god in the surprises” strategy, pointing to new scientific knowledge. Science is good at coming up with surprises, since the scientific method always seeks new evidence. The “god of the surprises” strategy tries to make naturalism appear inconsistent with cutting-edge science, as if religion does a better job of keeping up with science than naturalism. The trick behind this diverting illusion is to first display to the audience a shabby naturalism, crude and outdated, and then to draw attention to some surprising scientific discovery. News from biology: life has self-organizing abilities! Naturalism wasn’t expecting that, what with its outdated notion that life was just the aggregate sum of its mechanical chemical reactions. For life to have such amazing powers, something supernatural must be involved somewhere. News from physics: quantum entanglement is spooky! That’s a nasty shock for naturalism’s premise that every physical particle always has its own intrinsic properties. For particles to have such deep connections, while so widely separated from each other, something supernatural must be at work. Cutting-edge science can be co-opted by this strategy into humbling naturalism and supporting supernaturalism.”

Of course this strategy doesn’t fool anyone familiar with scientific discovery. Real science is always full of surprise and counter-intuitive explanations. it’s part of what makes it so exciting.

However,  I think some of the more theologically faithful do get fooled. Perhaps they even feel a bit smug with a delusion that science is “proving them right.”

But it is annoying to see the authority of science being use in such a cheap way.


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