mind the gap

If you search Google for “Big Bang Theory” it lists the sitcom before the origins of the Universe. I love the TV show, but I don’t love the dumbing down of society. When more people believe in the devil than Evolution (as is the case in American Canada and Britain) you know we have a problem. And the TV show makes out that inquiry is only for geeks and that geeks are anti-social (while “good looking” people are dumb) So I guess the sitcom is part of the problem.

Knowledge matters, and scientific inquiry is important. We should be intrepid explorers of knowledge. Italy valued cathedrals while Spain valued explorers. Now look what’s happened. Worldwide, five times more people speak Spanish than Italian.

We don’t get to ignore reality just because it clashes with our preferred, personal theories. And the fact that millions of people have “believed” supernatural things for thousands of years, doesn’t make them right or even helpful. As science fills the gaps once caulked with superstition we need to embrace it and move on. We need to mind the gap or else we will fall into the hole of ignorance.

“Mind The Gap” is a phrase that anyone who has traveled on the London Underground has likely heard as the doors of the train open. Its a liability issue because some platforms are built on a curve so there is a gap between platform and train. The big question in this day and age is why they don’t close the gap. Surely we have the technology to close that gap and make platforms safer.

In the 17th century Newton used pencil and paper to calculate the orbit of the planets around the sun with great precision. This was a major breakthrough. But he was baffled by the gravitational pull between planets and suspected that, left to its own devices, this would eventually disrupt the whole balance of the universe.  He said that God was the only solution; that God must miraculously hold the universe together. It was only decades later that pioneers who built on Newton’s own discoveries explained the relationship between planets. But Newton offers a perfect illustration of the “God of the Gaps”.

There are two major problems with the God of the gaps.
1. Knowledge eventually squeezes God out of the picture.
2. Why would a God who has the power to create planets leave such a huge gap in the system that requires outside intervention to hold it in balance?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brave theologian who was executed by the Nazis for plotting against Hitler, made one of the earliest cases against the “God of the Gaps” theory:

If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.

close the gap

More recently, scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out the same problems with God of the Gaps. Tyson said,

A careful reading of older texts, particularly those concerned with the universe itself, shows that the authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding. They appeal to a higher power only when staring into the ocean of their own ignorance. They call on God only from the lonely and precarious edge of incomprehension. Where they feel certain about their explanations, however, God gets hardly a mention.

We should have the courage to close gaps as knowledge leads us, or else superstition will surely fill them for us. Indifference and lack of responsibility so often follow from superstition. I suspect we don’t like to fill the gaps because we like the mystery. It makes us feel important, and also satisfies our appetite for wonder. We recognize the limits of knowledge.

Blaise Pascal said,

Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.

Pascal was another brave adventurer. He was a contemporary of Descartes who was famous for the saying, “I think therefore I am.” Pascal suggested this isn’t quite accurate. He said reason is important, but has its limits. In fact he pointed something we’ve all discovered at some point. If you try to convince anyone of anything with logic alone, you won’t get very far. We are emotional beings. We believe as much according to what we NEED to believe as we do according to what is reasonable. You have to appeal to something else along with reason.

Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” The existentialists came closer when they said, “I experience therefore I am.” Maybe the best summary is, “I wonder therefore I am.” I wonder, question, muddle, experiment, change and grow, therefore I am. The beautiful thing is that you don’t have to give up on mystery and wonder when you close the supernatural out of the gaps. Life is full of mystery. Our lives are driven more by a mysterious unconscious impulse than by logical, linear knowledge. Instead of filling these gaps with supernatural conversation and inquiry stoppers, we should fill them with meaning and integrity as we continue to explore and wonder.

mind the gap flag

Joseph Campbell said,

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced.

A town was completely enclosed behind high walls. For generations all the people stayed within the walls, comfortable with the only world they knew. Occasionally some brave adventurer would climb over the wall, never to be seen again. Inside the walls, people wondered if their friends never came back because it was SO good outside of the walls or if it was dangerous and they  met with some awful tragedy. The risk was too great for most to take. Eventually the curiosity of a group of people in the town got the better of them. They decided to discover firsthand what life was like beyond the walls. They tied a rope around a volunteer, who climbed over the wall. After he had time to look around, they hauled him back. They were bursting with questions as they gathered around him, and everyone spoke at once. But the man said nothing. All he could do was smile from ear to ear.

Mystery is like that. Sometimes there are no words, just a smile or a “Wow!” or a nap. Then you make a decision to fill the gap created by mystery with a life of integrity. Instead of putting God in the gaps, put yourself in there; your mind, your heart, your life and your wonder. Get on with living with as much openness, humility, compassion and honesty as you possibly can.

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