When skeptics and non-believers are confronted with the tsunami-like wave of appearance of design in the so called “simplest” of bacterial cells……
When skeptics and non-believers uncomfortably must admit that all attempts to find an atheist-friendly explanation for the transition from simple chemicals to a living cell that contains the most sophisticated digital information processing system (the DNA based genetic system) and nanotechnology in the known universe, have utterly failed over the past 160 years since the publication of Darwin’s treatise…
When skeptics and non-believers feel the pressure to just consider the possibility that the most obvious answer to this problem – a Creator – is not in any way unreasonable (as Nobel Laureate Werner Arber put it, “Although a biologist I must confess that I do not understand how life came about. [It] remains a mystery to me. The possibility of the existence of a Creator, of God, represents to me a satisfactory solution to this problem”); to just consider that the reason why we experience a powerful intuitive reaction that a living cell looks created might perhaps be because it was created….
When the skeptic and non-believer feels his back is against the wall, he wryly smiles and in James Bond-like fashion pulls the secret weapon out of his pocket; a “refutation” that is perhaps the most foolish, impotent, lame, and superficial response to a problem ever conceived by intelligent people who should know better: Sorry Rabbi, that’s the old God of the Gaps Argument! – And then buoyed by an illusory sense of triumph at having “scientifically” defeated the forces of superstition and darkness, he goes his merry way.
What exactly does the skeptic mean when he claims that I, and others, have presented a God of the Gaps Argument? He means the following: Rabbi, just because atheist/materialist scientists have not yet discovered a plausible scenario for a naturalistic unguided origin of life does not mean that God created life. There is simply a gap in scientific knowledge and you are using that gap as an excuse to jam a Creator into the picture. Hence, God of the Gaps. (or as Professor Jerry Coyne has put it: “Here [is the theist’s argument] in one sentence: Because we don’t understand how life originated on Earth, God must have done it.”
The first thing I would bring to your attention – although not the essential point – is that when we discuss the Origin of Life we are not talking about a “gap” in scientific knowledge. A gap implies some acceptable and tolerable missing piece of the puzzle that we expect to fill in within some reasonable amount of time. What we actually see is more like the ocean between the coast of California and Japan which cannot be described as a “gap” by any stretch of the imagination; there is simply endless open space with nothing in between.
As world renowned chemist James Tour has put it: “When will the scientific community confess to the world that they are clueless on life’s origin, that the emperor has no clothes?” Microbiologist Dr. Milton Wainright: “Are we getting any closer to an understanding of the origin of life? It is not merely that biology is scratching the surface of this enigma; the reality is that we have yet to see the surface!” Geneticist Dr. Michael Denton: “Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological system such as a crystal or snowflake there is a chasm as vast and as absolute as it is possible to conceive.”
Truism: A self-evident, obvious truth–Dictionary.com
The critical point however, is that God of the Gaps is not an argument, refutation, response, or evidence: it is nothing more than an irrelevant truism.
In other words, I declare to the atheist, skeptic, and non-believer – with more than a little exasperation in my voice – Yes, you are correct! It is a self-evident, obvious fact that just because scientists have no clue how an unguided naturalistic origin of life could occur and have until now failed in all their attempts to discover such an origin of life, does not prove that they will never discover an answer, nor does it mean that God created life. (It also does not prove that they will find an answer, nor does it prove that God did not create life.) That obvious, self-evident fact in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all. The point is not the fact that they have no clue. The point is not the fact that they have failed. The point is why they have no clue; why they have failed.
If this is still unclear, imagine the following discussion between two mechanical engineers:
Engineer 1: I am prepared to invest millions of dollars in my laboratory to attempt build a perpetual motion machine
Engineer 2: You are wasting your time and money. No one has ever succeeded in building such a machine.
Engineer 1: Are you claiming that just because no one has ever succeeded at building such a machine that proves that it cannot be done?
Engineer 2: Of course not. Just because no one has ever succeeded does not prove anything at all. The point is not the fact that no one has ever succeeded. The point is the reason why no one has ever succeeded. The reason why no one has succeeded is because it represents an attempt to violate the most fundamental laws of physics that seem to govern our universe.
Microbiologist Eugene Koonin describes the failure of scientists to discover a naturalistic path leading to the formation of a living cell the “dirty rarely mentioned secret” of origin of life research. He goes on to say that “certainly this is due not to a lack of experimental and theoretical effort, but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem.”
Please focus on this simple question: Why have all attempts to discover a plausible naturalistic scenario for the origin of life failed and what is this extraordinary intrinsic difficulty to which Koonin refers?
Dr. Addy Pross, a renowned chemist provides us with the answer to this question in his book What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology. He hypothetically proposes the discovery of a functioning refrigerator, with a solar panel for power, in the middle of a large empty field:
“But the mystery of how it got there in the middle of the field remains…Now if I told you that no one put the refrigerator there, that it came about spontaneously through natural forces, you would react with total disbelief. How absurd! Impossible!
Nature just doesn’t operate like that. Nature doesn’t spontaneously make highly organized…purposeful entities…Nature pushes systems…toward disorder and chaos, not toward order and function. The simple truth is that the most basic living system, a bacterial cell, is a highly organized…functional system which mimics the operation of the refrigerator, but is orders of magnitude more complex!
[It] involves the interactions of thousands of different molecules and molecular aggregates…every living cell is effectively a highly organized factory…and here precisely lies the [origin of] life problem. It is not just common sense that tells us that highly organized entities don’t just spontaneously come about. Certain basic laws of physics preach the same sermon – systems tend toward chaos and disorder, not toward order and function…Biology and physics seem contradictory, quite incompatible.”
In other words, the extraordinary difficulty to which Koonin refers is that an atheist-friendly origin of life would violate the laws of physics and mathematical probability. That is why Koonin added the following comment: “A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the Origin of Life…these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle.”
So I say to my atheist/materialist friends in general and to Professor Jerry Coyne in particular: Our argument is not based on foolish truisms like God of the Gaps. It is based on common sense, universally observed laws of nature, and fundamental laws of physics and mathematical probability. It is supported by the writings and analysis of world class scientists. If you find that despite everything I have written here you are unable to rationally confront and respond to the points being raised; if you find yourself unable to resist the compulsion to mindlessly chant “God of the Gaps”, I have a great opportunity that I would like to share with you. I know of a mechanical engineer who is determined to build a perpetual motion machine and he’s looking for investors………
Rabbi Moshe Averick is the author of The Confused World of Modern Atheism (Mosaica Press, 2016) available on Amazon and in fine bookstores and TheBookDepository.com. He was ordained as an Orthodox Rabbi in 1980 and has taught Judaic studies, spirituality, and Jewish theology for close to four decades. He may be contacted at: RabbiMosheDavidAverick@gmail.com. If you would like to subscribe to his column, send an email to above address with the word “Subscribe” in the subject line.