The God of the Infinite Gaps

Scorn is often poured upon the notion that God intervenes from time to time in a causal system that is otherwise cooking along quite nicely, and in good orderly fashion, all on its own. This is the “God of the Gaps” in our scientific understanding of that causal order. The suggestion of the critics is that it is illegitimate to invoke God to account for the holes that still remain in the scientific understanding of reality – in the first place, our understanding of those gaps is sure to be filled in sooner or later, and in the second, the causal order would not really be so orderly, after all, if there were indeed such great gaps in it, that had to be filled up by God. The gaps must not really be holes, they argue, but only lacunae. Defenders of theism respond that it is not mathematically possible to account for such things as the immense amount of information encoded in the DNA of even the humblest organism by reference only to stochastic procedures; and that, in the first place, the very existence of stochastic procedures, or of populations of entities that can execute them, cannot itself be explained by reference to stochastic procedures. The causal buck must somewhere stop; or else, there is in the final analysis no economy to the universe, no order or system, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I have made such arguments myself.

It’s an interesting debate, but in the end I don’t think it really matters. It is altogether trumped by another sort of consideration: reality is chock full of gaps that cannot possibly be bridged by any finite entity, nor by any number of finite entities, no matter how large. Indeed, the causal order – the connective tissue, as it were, of reality – is almost entirely constituted of such infinite gaps. Thus, it’s not just that our God is the God of this little gap or that, which we shall soon understand how finite causal factors fill up quite satisfactorily. No. The problem goes much deeper. Ontologically, causal gaps per se are infinite, which means among other things that they cannot be comprehended by finite intellects; and there is such an infinite gap between each and every link of the causal chain. God is not – or at least, is not merely – the God of this or that tidy little gap. He is the God of the infinite gaps, that everywhere pervade reality, and form its woof and warp.

Zeno had this nailed. No matter how many infinitesimally small steps you take between an entity and its causal successor, you can’t bridge the causal gap between them. It isn’t just a matter of sheer distance. The fact that you can divide any distance into an infinite number of discrete subdivisions can be dealt with by quantizing reality. If reality comes in quanta of a certain minimum size, you can know pretty much exactly how many such quanta there are between one thing, or one event, and another (to within a Planck length or two!), and thus the maximum number of potential causal steps – of, i.e., transactions, measurements or registrations – there are between them.

But Zeno was after something more fundamental. Let’s go ahead and quantize extension, and see what happens. Say for example that the causal chain between my decision to reach out for a coffee cup and my grasping of the cup is composed of only eight steps, eight causal quanta. Some pretty big quanta, right? But this is a thought experiment, so bear with me. OK, it seems that by filling up the gap between my intention and its realization with these eight steps, each of which takes up a certain minimum volume of space and duration of time, we have enabled my hand to reach the cup in only eight steps, rather than forcing it to an incompletable traversal of an infinite number of steps.

But not so fast. What is the bridge between one such quantum and the next? We do need such a bridge, if the two entities in question are really discrete – we need some medium for transmission of the causal effects from one entity to another, quite different entity. Think, e.g.: where, exactly, is the antecedent quantum when its successor has begun coming into existence? It is “in the past,” right? But where is the past? How does the past “touch” the present, so that it can have an effect upon the present? Isn’t the past, by definition, not now – and therefore, so far as any now is concerned, nowhere?[1] Isn’t the difference between the past and the present therefore a fundamental difference in kind – i.e., an infinite difference, such as the difference between the number 5 and a ham sandwich?

Or take two sequential quanta in the past (that sort of taking being the only sort of sampling of contingent reality that is ever really possible to us): we can see how much space and time each of them took up, we can see their shapes and properties, and we can even see where their surfaces “touch” each other – where, i.e., the foremost surface of the subsequent event is fitted to the lattermost surface of its predecessor. We can see that the objective surface of the antecedent event is the “mold” of the subjective surface of its successor, so that they fit together like hand and glove, lock and key. But what is the nature of the connection between them, by which such forming of later events to the shapes of prior events is effected? We see that the surfaces of the events fit together perfectly: how did they get put together? And given the completion of the antecedent event, where did the subsequent event come from in the first place? At first it had no existence at all, and then, boom, there it was.

Note that it won’t do to throw some messenger particles, or vectors, or fields, into the picture, so as to try to connect the dots. These are all just ways of representing the gap between one event and another, of formalizing it. If we reify these formalizations, all we have done is replicate the problem at a finer granulation. The gap thus formalized is still in itself incomprehensible.

It is in fact infinite. For, how could one creature cause another to come into existence? Creatures cannot create. I can’t make up my next moment of existence out of nothing. I can’t bridge that gap. The moment just arrives.

The gap between the non-existence of any event and its existence is infinite. The reason I cannot bridge that gap, so as to create a moment of existence, is that I am finitely powerful. To bridge an infinite gap you need an infinite power.

Our God is the God of these infinite gaps. In him, we live, move, and have our being. Where is the past? It is in God. Where is the present, where the future? In God. Eventuation is a process and feature of eternity. But, not vice-versa: you could add up creaturely events everlastingly, and you would never be able to arrive at infinity. No number of moments can add up to eternity.[2] On the contrary: to get even a single event, you first need the possibility of such an event; and possibilities are timeless, changeless, eternal.

Eternity is the forecondition of time; God is the forecondition of being.



[1] This question forms the basis of one important objection to the notion that time is geometrical. But if it is not, then it is hard to see how space can be properly geometrical, either. And that’s a perverse result, for geometry arises in the first place from the nature of space. If space weren’t properly geometrical, it is hard to see how there could be geometry at all. The problem goes away when we remember that the geometrical treatment of extension, whether spatial or temporal, is an abstraction from the concrete reality, which is prior and subvenient to any such abstractions.

[2] For the same reason, no number of righteous creaturely works can add up to redemption of a defect – the gap between perfection and any Fallen state is infinite, too, and cannot be bridged by any number of finite acts.

2 thoughts on “The God of the Infinite Gaps

  1. I’ve always thought the God of the gaps idea was weak even with a natural explanation for things it is still a matter of divine causation for things for one the natural order set in motion and bound by the laws God set upon and two I always looked at the natural phenomena as a “glove” so to speak just as when from the perspective of an ant I pick it up with a big glove on it does not see or perceive my actual hand the same is it for natural phenomena we may see some “natural order” but behind it is God in a way largely imperceptible to us through material means.

  2. Pingback: God is the Window | The Orthosphere


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