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"God of the Gaps” Fallacy & Quran
To Barıs, Seyduk and Isa
What is the “God of the Gaps” Fallacy?
Westerners call it “God of the Gaps” fallacy to believe in existence of a God based upon the conclusions, behind which a rational reason exists but not explained yet due to the gaps in the human knowledge.
As an example to this it can be mentioned that the people lived in the Medieval Europe assumed that celestial bodies are moved upon angels’ push and, thereby, believed existence of God based on this assumption.
The fallacy of this assumption has not been realized until Newton announced the laws of motion.
If the Koran had been the expression written 1400 years ago by someone who was conditioned to see the God in everything he looked at, we should have definitely seen the examples of this situation in it (the Koran).
3 WAYS OF EXPLAINING AN EVENT
There are 3 ways of explaining an event:
Since cloud is lighter than air, in a more clear way, since its specific weight is below that of the air, it stands in the air.
Turning about the winds is a completely chaotic process. Winds may blow almost in every direction and at different intensities depending on numerous conditions.
Based upon the words “chaotic” and “chance”, we do not imply that these types of systems completely stands for chaos and are independent from the laws of nature. Chaotic systems are those “extremely sensitive to the initial conditions” and therefore, estimation of their results is, even though not impossible, very difficult.
This is known as “butterfly effect”. Butterfly effect denotes that flapping of a butterfly causes minor changes in the atmosphere and afterwards may (or may not) result in the emergence of a tornado.
Here, the flapping of butterfly stands for a minor change in the initial conditions of the system (atmosphere). Even this minor change may create great impact on the result of the system by causing a series of events.
These types of systems include atmospheric events, movement of earth plates and the solar system.
Of course, it can be said that presenting these events as signs/lessons means falling into a kind of “God of the Gaps” fallacy, based upon the association of “chaotic” systems with the laws of nature.
For example, birds’ body structure suitable for flying...
After “much ado about nothing”, we can say the followings in order to clearly express the difference between necessity and chance/design: “If we cannot completely exclude the chance from our explanation related to an event, that event should be perceived as chance/design”.
Indeed, chance can never be excluded completely from explanation of an event.
However, humans are used to conceive by making abstraction.
When we see a cause/effect relationship, we call it necessity by ignoring all other parameters which create the cause. By chasing the cause/effect relationships back to the big-bang, scientists are eager to find a single parameter which explains everything. But, what will they do when they find it? Presumably, they will become obliged to explain that single parameter with chance.
In this article, we will see that the Quran also makes abstractions. For instance, when referring to “bringing down water from the sky”, the Quran presents “rain”, the last step, as a necessity after a certain point. Therefore, in fact, do not confuse your mind by thinking what is necessity, chance or design.
Only remember this: The Quran is a holy book inspired for humans and when the Quran would address humans, it exactly follows the abstraction principles human beings use and presents an event as necessity if a definite cause/effect relationship exists. When doing this, it assumes the parameters which create that cause as “given”.
REGARDING THE METHOD & VERSES SELECTED
This paper is written for the purpose of demonstrating that the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is not fallen in the Quran.
Well, what method shall be followed in demonstrating this?
For this purpose, the verses in the Quran in which necessity/chance and design are distinguished shall be reviewed and it shall be tried to demonstrate that a distinction is made in attribution of events and phenomena to God in such type of verses.
However, it must be accepted that it would be irrational to expect that the God does not mention the creation and/or design of anything we know as “necessity” in a holy book such as Koran. (Here, what we intend with the word “necessity” is the things which can be explained by a law of nature). Because, the Creator will surely say “I created” and the designer will certainly mention that “I designed”.
The issue that something is a necessity, i.e. can be explained by a law of nature, does not change the fact it is created by God. Therefore, the existence of such type of verses in the Koran does not mean that the “God of the Gaps” fallacy exists.
Therefore, our purpose is to demonstrate with examples that the occurrences are explained according to these 3 types of explanations in the Koran. These examples are sufficient from the point of demonstrating that the author of the Koran is clearly aware of what is chance and what is design.
Strict attention to such categorization in the Quran is the indication of the fact that the author of the Koran obviously knows the attribution of what type of occurrences to the God would cause the “God of the Gaps” fallacy.
However, it is useful to remind again: We do not expect that such type of categorization is strictly followed throughout the Quran, since the true creator of the events, which are necessities, is also God. What is important is to be able to demonstrate sufficient amount of examples regarding the fact that the author of Koran is aware of such type of categorization.
Well, what kind of things do we expect God would attribute to himself and what kind of things would rescue the Koran from falling into the “God of the Gaps” fallacy?
The reason of these questions is hidden in the ways of explaining existence of anything... As explained in the previous sections, existence of something can only be explained by the following three ways: Necessity, Chance and Design...
For this purpose, the verses we will review are those in which God presents physical events to human beings (human mind) as sign, evidence, lesson, reminder, warning, etc. and/or invites us to think on these events.
Let us try to explain our topic with an example, 57th verse of the sura Araf.
This verse is one of the verses suitable for our review from the point that God presents some examples to the human mind as lessons to be drawn. The verse begins by denoting “And He it is Who sends forth the winds bearing good news before His mercy”. Immediately we ask: Is “sending of winds” a necessity? Of course, not! Blowing of the winds is a chaotic process completely based upon chance.
The verse continues by denoting “until, when they bring up a laden cloud”. Here, this is a necessity. “Lifting and loading of clouds by the winds” and the fact that clouds are lighter than the air can easily be explained by a law of nature. The interesting aspect is the fact that the Koran also expresses this exactly the same way, i.e. as a necessity.
Pay attention, the Koran does not present this as evidence to the mind by saying “God does it”. On the contrary, it emphasizes that this is a necessity! The verse continues “We drive it to a dead land, then We send down water on it”. Sending the clouds to a dead land and bringing down of water there is a chaotic process completely depends on chance.
Here, it will be appropriate to cite an important method in order to determine the chance. If an event may happen “in another way”, it means it depends on chance. “The sending of the cloud to a dead land” here is an event which may happen in another way, as well as “raining” there... Clouds may have never gone to that country or may have gone there but there may have never been rain.
We will also elaborate on the wording of “sending down water” on this part of the verse, soon.
The verse continues by “then bring forth with it of fruits of all kinds”. This occurrence is neither necessity nor chance. So, what is it? Certainly, “design”... The God’s re-growth of the plants from the stems of those dead plants by way of rain is related to its design, i.e. putting the plant’s genetic program into the stems. The verse ends by denoting “thus shall We bring forth the dead that you may be mindful”. The section of the verse ““we will take out the dead like this” is not an example from which a lesson is to be drawn but a herald from the future.
We see in this single verse of the Koran that “chance, necessity and design” are used exactly the way they should be and the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is painstakingly avoided.
In the remaining part of this paper, we will review the similar verses within the context of this rationale and try to prove that the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is never fallen. However, we will not repeatedly explain in every verse the already interpreted expressions during this review.
Additionally, we should stress another point: it is not important how events we can explain with “chance” or “design” are explained when they are attributed to God in the Quran. In other words, there is no difference for us between “We send the clouds to a dead land” and “Clouds go to a dead land” in the Quran. What is important for us is to demonstrate that the necessity of the things are known by not directly saying that “This is done by the God” for a thing which is a necessity.
Now, let us begin to review relevant verses. In doing this, we will first mention the verse(s) and then try to explain them.
Nahl/79 and “Design”
In this verse, it was said that the birds are kept by God in the sky. This situation is not unbelievable although it seems so. The staying of the birds in the sky is not a necessity, but the outcome of a design. Thus, the one who keeps them in the sky is only the God! This verse is clearly a design argument.
In these 3 verses it was emphasized that events are directed by God with the intervention of the things known as the “laws of the nature”, by the usage of the word “command”. In these verses, the usage of the word “command” and not saying that “God is doing” directly is so meaningful…
“Grace” and “Command”
In this verse it is told that “ships are sailing with the grace of God”. If carefully read it will be easy to catch that it is not stated as float. Floating is based on the laws of nature. But the sailing is bound to this law of nature and the “grace”. This “grace” is the wind. Blowing of the wind is an example of the chaotic order and having this chaotic order as a benefit to human beings is a grace of God. The verse below is referring to the “command” of God for the buoyancy of water and its importance in this matter.
Alternation of Night and Day
In these verses, alternation of night and daytime of the earth is attributed to God and set forth as a sign. Moreover, in some of these verses, the nature of the sign in this alternation is explained.
Alternation of night and daytime as in the case of the earth is not a necessity. Furthermore, such an alternation may have never existed. The very example of this is in the sky.
If the same case had occurred also for the world and the sun, one face of the world would have been permanently bright, i.e. daytime, whereas the other permanently dark, i.e. nighttime. Another example is the day and night of the planet Mercury. One day in this planet equals to some 50 world-days.
Additionally, the Koran already explains what kind of a sign/lesson is in the alternation of day and night: Perfect match of the night and day durations with creatures! If night and daytimes of the world had been as in the case of Mercury, i.e. a day corresponds to some 50 days, what would be our situation?
The orientation of the Winds
In these verses, the purpose of using the expression of the orientation of the winds is the resign of a benefit for the people from this chaotic system as it was said in these verses again, and this is not a necessity.
In this verse, if it was said “God is painting” for the colors, and if this was presented as a sign, then it would be fallen into “God of Gaps” fallacy. But, it is said that the colorful things was multiplied / produced by God.
Well then, what is there in the colors to be a sign? Here, the important word is “zerae” which was translated as the “multiply”… This word was used always for the living creatures namely the plants, the animals and the human beings. Namely, the Koran presents an event of design as a sign again.
In all of these verses, “design” is set forth as a “sign to human mind” and no “God of the Gaps” fallacy is adopted.
Rad (13, 3)
In this verse, since two matters which are emphasized as “done by God” seem like necessity, they should be explained. The first, what is intended by the wording “spreading out the earth” is the formation of earth’s crust. Koran frequently uses the words “spread out, extend” regarding the earth (world). I recommend you to search in Google for these phrases i.e. “sea-floor spreading”, “extended crust”, “expanded earth”, “earth’s crust stretched”, “continental spreading”, “continental drift” etc…
In all of them, you will get the results regarding the formation of earth’s crust. The intention of the Koran in using the phrases “spreading out the earth” and “making the earth like a carpet” is this formation. These processes are examined in the science under the title “Plate Tectonics”. Some planets, e.g. Venus, do not seem to have such plate tectonics. Namely, this is not a necessity. In fact, plate tectonics seems unique to earth in the whole solar system.
The second point is the formation of mountains. This is also not a necessity and is again related with the “Plate Tectonics”. In order for mountains to emerge in a planet, there has to be a solid layer, and then these layers have to move. In addition, planet must also rotate around its axis for the formation of mountains, and none of these requisites are necessity.
For instance, there are no mountains in Jupiter, which is a gas giant. There are mountain formations in some other planets. However, the important point here is the fact that the mountains of earth are intended in the Koran. Mountain chains on earth are unique throughout the solar system and formed upon plate tectonics. For example, there is no other replication of Himalayas in the whole solar system. (Please see: Role of Plate Tectonics in Mountain Building)
The verses of the Koran regarding the Plate Tectonics are not limited to these. Spreading out the earth, extending the earth and placement of mountains are expressed in many verses. Additionally, the Koran also refers to plate tectonics in some other verses:
The occurrence referred to in these verses by the expression of “reducing the land from its borders” is destruction of earth’s crust at the zones called “subduction zone”. Characteristics of these zones are that they are described as “disruptive / destructive” and at these zones; the crust shrinks through sinking into the mantle. These layers which return to the mantle melt there.
In the foregoing verse, movement of the earth plates is referred. Together with the movement of these plates, mountains virtually drift on them.
“Sending down water from the sky” and “Rain”
In order to secure the consistency of the article, I stuck to A.Yusuf Ali’s translation for the above verses about water & rain. But I changed his usage of the word “rain” in some verses to “water”. If you look at M.H. SHAKIR’s translation, he always uses the word “water” instead of “rain” in these verses. So, the usage of “rain” in Yusuf Ali’s translation is his interpretation.
If you also look at the original Arabic word used in these verses, you will always find the Arabic word “ma” which means “water”, not “rain”.
Nahl/65 (M. Pickthall)
The main theme presented to the mind as evidence/sign in these verses is the “resurrection of the earth by the water sent down from the sky”. In other words, this should be considered as an argument of design.
However, there are clear expressions in the verses such as “God is the one who sends down water from the sky” (please see: Enam/99). Why the expression of “sending down water from the sky” is used? Why the simply “pouring rain” is not used?
The reason should be the fact that rain is the last and indispensable phase of sending down water from the sky, i.e a necessity.
In order to evaluate this more precisely, we should look at what is covered by this expression... The phases included in the expression of “sending down water from the sky” are defined by God in the verse Nur/43 as follows:
These phases begin with the dispatch of clouds through winds and also include joining of them, piling them up and finally pouring of the rain. In this verse, the Koran attributes to God all the phases up to the point at which the outcome becomes a necessity and when a necessity emerged, the Koran changes the manner of expression interestingly.
By using the expression, “sending down water from the sky” in all these verses, God points out all these phases. However, as we mentioned before, the evidence/sign in these verses is the resurrection of the earth by the water sent down from the sky.
Nevertheless, the importance of the usage of the expression “sending down water from the sky” is that this expression includes all the phases and a phenomenon which became a necessity is not directly attributed to God in the verse. This special expression includes not only rain but also all the phases occurred up to the rain and as we saw that in the verse (Nur/43) explaining these phases, they are attributed to God and when the outcome becomes a necessity, the manner of expression is interestingly changed.
Thus, if we review the verse Lokman/34, we see that this expression is a special one which is not used with the simple meaning of “pouring rain” in every part of the Koran:
We can clearly realize the difference. In addition, the following verses are also important from the point that they demonstrate the relationship of the expression of “sending down water from the sky” with the winds.
Showing of Lightning for Fear and Hope
Do you say “Here, this is a mistake”? Actually, although lightning is a product of a chaotic process, it is indeed a necessity from the point that it is the last step of this chaotic process. However, the striking point here is the wording “showing of lightning to you for both fear and hope is one of God’s signs” denoted in the verse. Frankly, what is “sign” here is not the showing of lightning but the human emotions such as fear and hope caused by the view of lightning. Maybe you think this is a forced interpretation. However, this verse is a part of a section beginning with the 20th verse and continuing till the 25th verse of the sura Rum and if we review these verses carefully, the correctness of our point will be seen obviously. For example, let us look at the 21st verse of the Sura Rum which is one of them:
Please pay attention to what is said in the Rum/21: “He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs”. What are they if not human emotions? So why do we have to evaluate Rum/24 in another way?
In short, what is “evidence/sign” in this verse is not the lightning itself but the human emotions caused by its view. These emotions are the “designs” of our soul. Eventually, a piece of stone does not feel anything like these against lightning. These are the signs presented by God, not the lightning itself.
Nevertheless, since there may exist the ones who will evaluate the verse with an extremely strict and normative approach, it should be necessary to add the following: pay attention to the expression in the verse regarding the “lightning”: “showing of lightning”...
Yes, lightning is the final phase of a series of atmospheric events which became a necessity. However, it is impossible to consider the expression of “showing of lightning” as a necessity. B
This expression includes more information than simply avoiding a necessity and emphasizes that vision is also a deisgn of God. Certainly, we are not in a position to assert that an evidence/sign is presented to us through implying our eyes with the expression of “showing of lightning”.
However, this is a delicate expression which conveys our feelings when we see lightning... Even one who attempts to evaluate solely the expression of “showing of lightning” may not claim that this is a necessity. In short, it is impossible to find a “gap” in this verse even for such people.
Here, I give the verses Rum/20-25 collectively:
It is Allah Who alternates the Night and the Day: verily in these things is an instructive example for those who have vision!
These verses are quite interesting and should be elaborated a little deeper. We have seen before that the verse Nur/43 explains the phases in the expression “sending down water from the sky”. The verse also includes the phrase “He sends down from the sky mountain masses (of clouds) wherein is hail”… This expression is an elegant way of escaping from a necessity, namely “sending down hail”.
But, there is a conflict among the translators about Nur/43. Here is another translation of the same verse:
In this translation, we see that the expression is changed into “He sends down hail from the sky from the mountains to afflict whomever He wills, and He diverts it from whomever He wills”.
However, almost all well-known translations stick to the phrase which Yusuf Ali used.
Here, I give the translation of Nur/43-44 in some other well-known interpretations:
Nur/43-44 (Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute translation)
Nur/43-44 (Arthur J. Arberry)
Nur/43-44 (M. H. Shakir)
In this verse, the chance, the necessity and the design were used in a way that we expect, namely without falling into the “God of Gaps” fallacy!
The samples from the other verses in which there is no “God of the Gaps” fallacy
And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.
In order that ye may sit firm and square on their backs, and when so seated, ye may remember the (kind) favor of your Lord, and say, "Glory to Him Who has subjected these to our (use), for we could never be able to do it,
All of the above verses are examples of argument from design.
Verses in which falling into the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is likely but not occurred
Movement of Celestial bodies
In these verses, movements of the sun and moon are implied and denoted “They are subjected (to command) by the God”.
However, what is amazing here is that these movements of the sun and moon are not presented to the mind as evidence through denoting that “God does them”...
This verse needs a special analysis. The pharase “He causes to grow, therewith, produce of various colors” is clearly a design argument. The verse goes on as “and leads it through springs in the earth”. Is the build up of the underground water resources a necessity?
One quotation of a text that I found on the internet about the underground water reservoirs says ”In order to collect underground water resources it is very important to give water the chance to penetrate beneath the surface by means of cracks and similar openings in the upper levels of soil.
The verse continues as “then it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then He makes it dry up and crumble away”. Drying up and dying of plants is a result of a design. In order to clarify the design lets look at this quote from the encyclopedia Britannica: “In summer, plants make and store food in their roots, stems, or seeds. In winter, they rest. Plants pass the winter in various ways. Annuals flower in the same season that they are planted.
In short, the verse Zumer/21 is a miracle itself!
6- Do they not look at the sky above them?- How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it?
“The fact that there is no flaws in it” which is expressed within the verse is a necessity. Within the verse this phrase is not referred to God and is used solely on its own. But the making and adornment of the skies is definitely referred to God.
Examples of verses in which falling into the “God of the Gaps” fallacy is likely but not occurred
God said “I do” for the things which are necessity in these verses (underlined), however, these occurrences were not presented as evidence to the mind neither in these verses nor in the succeeding ones.
Verses of Explanation
In the verses we reviewed up to this point, the Koran presents some physical events as lesson / sign / evidence. As we have demonstrated in our analysis, none of these evidences stems from “necessity”.
Apart from these, there are some other verses in the Koran in which physical events are used again but the true “sign/evidence” is in the “wisdom” behind these occurrences or such events represent a different reality. The four verses given below are proper examples to them:
In all of these four verses, physical events are used and the wisdom that underlies them or those things they convey us in the name of God are given as “sign/evidence”.
Another interesting point is that in all of these types of verses it is communicated that God “explained the signs” which demonstrates that the signs included are not physical events itself but purpose/wisdom that underlie them.
Therefore, claiming that the God of the Gaps fallacy exists in these types of verses stands for solely voidness.
In this paper, we saw that, while the events, which are necessities, presented to the human mind as evidence/ lesson/ sign by Koran and on which the Koran invites us to think, they are somehow designated as necessity and the Koran left these types of phenomena as necessity.
Think about the times when the Quran was inspired. During those times, humans even did not know the true explanation of the daytime and nighttime and assumed they emerge from the sun’s rotation around the world.
The words “each” and “all” in these verses also cover night and day. This verse clearly expresses that the world signed by night and day rotates in an orbit. Additionally, it is also useful to state that the Arabic verb in these verses has a special form unique to Arabic language which is used for more than two objects.
As it is seen, the triplet of Necessity -Chance-Design is used appropriately in the Koran. This is true even about the things we can understand by the use of the state of the art scientific knowledge. This pattern in the Koran was created verse-by-verse, word-by-word.
These interesting details in the Koran are extremely suitable to the spirit of a holy book which defines itself as “justice”. Because, there have never been such attacks against faith in the history which are supported with robust arguments of today.
Yes, the Quran (Koran) is justice for us, the people of modern times, just as it was for the people before us...
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