“Christians use God to explain what currently can’t be explained by science [i.e. ‘the gaps’]. But as scientific knowledge grows, what’s left for God shrinks to nothing.”
Christians understand God as the ultimate explanation for everything, not just things science can’t presently explain.
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God causes some things directly and some indirectly, using created things as secondary causes. “The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes” (CCC 308).
Scripture often attributes “actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a ‘primitive mode of speech,’ but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world” (CCC 304).
Science is a valuable tool for understanding secondary causation. By studying the visible, created world, we have gained a better understanding of it, and that continues to grow.
When confronted with a scientifically unexplained phenomenon in the natural world, it would be a mistake to reflexively say, “God must have done it; it’s a miracle.” It may be that further investigation will produce a scientific explanation. If so, science will have increased our understanding of how secondary causation works in God’s plan.
However, some events are genuine miracles that resist scientific explanation. These are examples of God using primary causation. We cannot assume, without investigation or reflection, which category a phenomenon falls into. Neither can we assume that either category is empty: we must open-mindedly allow for the possibility of both the scientifically explainable and the miraculous. To assume all events must be scientifically explainable would be just as prejudiced as assuming none are.
Regardless of whether an event is produced by primary or secondary causation, God is its ultimate explanation, at least in the sense that he created the world and allowed the event to occur as part of his providential plan.
This is not “God of the gaps” thinking because it does not see God as explaining only those things that science can’t presently explain. Neither does it assume that something must be miraculous just because there is no known scientific explanation. It allows the open-minded exploration of both primary and secondary causation.
By Jimmy Akin