Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
THE GOD OF THE GAPS
James 0. Buswell, III
Asst. Prof. of Anthropology
Wheaton College, Wheaton, III
From: JASA 16 (June 1964): 63-64
May I congratulate Dr. R. Laird Harris for contributing a thoughtful statement and filling a long-felt need in bringing this phrase out into published discussion (Vol. 15, pp. 101-103, Dec. 1963).
In my experience the phrase has been used in reference to "gaps" in the paleontological record which are held to be significant in a creationist interpretation of prehistoric life, including man. The position has been held by many of us that while natural processes may be used to explain the manifest fossil sequences and transitions, where there are systematic gaps in the fossil record we can offer God's creation of "kinds" as a reasonable interpretation of such gaps. On numerous occasions, however, those of our membership who are inclined to lean toward a more liberal interpretation, holding that the continuity may as well be assumed to be broken (in effect, a position of theistic evolution), have pointedly replied. "Well, I prefer not to believe in just a God of the Gaps!"
It has always seemed to me that they have thus made exactly the same erroneous assumption against which Harris warns, namely that we "believed in such a concept as that God is God of the gaps only." The point such critics miss is that we would hold firmly to God's initial creation of and continuing immanence in the natural processes which explain the genetic and geological continuities and sequences between such gaps as there are.
Whatever disagreement over the interpretation of the fossil record there may be, the "God of the Gaps" charge against those who see God's creative activity as tentatively correlated with discontinuities in this record is certainly unwarranted.
Moreover, the "filling" of a "gap" or other additions to the fossil data need not be anticipated as an embarrassment for such a position, nor detract in any way from the God of creation. None of us has ever held that there was anything final or settled about how many gaps there were, or how big they had to be, or which taxonomic categories they had to reflect, or anything of the kind. Palaeontological gaps are not all related to any one taxonomic level, but neither are they random or unsystematic.
One unfortunate reference made by Dr. Harris should be mentioned. In answer to Hearn's question, "Why shudder, then, at the idea that processes were involved in bringing Adam into existence?", Harris feels that "The answer is that the suggestion appears to contradict . . . Biblical expressions." It is hard for me to understand Harris' intent here, unless he is simply arguing against a much larger implication of theistic evolution, in which case I should agree with him. But the Bible account in Genesis 2:7 indicates that God (a) "formed man out of the dust of the ground" and (b) "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life . . ." Now I seem to read "process" in this account in the sense of "A series of actions or operations definitely conducing to an end; continuous operation or treatment, esp. in manufacture, as a process of making steel." (Webster's Dictionary) How so many have held to the fiat creation of man as a timeless act in the face of the language of Moses is more than I can understand.