Faith of the Gaps

You’ve heard of God of the gaps before, but Protestants utilize something I call “Faith of the gaps” to defend their beliefs. And this kind of argument doesn’t work for the same reason that the God of the gaps one doesn’t.

Protestants are not unreasonable. In fact they’re quite reasonable, up until a certain point, and then they have to resort to Faith of the gaps. Here’s how: Take the canon of Scripture. Protestants make historical arguments in support of their canon. Catholics point out how these cannot actually give them their certainty needed to believe their canon is correct, but when faced with these rebuttals, instead of realizing that they have a fundamental problem, one that strikes at the root of their beliefs, they claim that that hole in their reason is where “faith” comes in. You see, “faith” fills in the gaps left by Protestantism’s ad hoc judgments.

For the canon, one ad hoc judgment is the fact that there is no principled reason for believing that God guided the early Church’s discernment of the doctrine of the canon while rejecting the belief that God guided the early Church on other doctrines.

This Faith of the gaps actually sounds reasonable enough. Just listen to what a Protestant would say to himself: “Well, I’ve researched the canon and found many arguments and pieces of evidence for the Protestant one over the Catholic one. They seem reasonable, so I have reason to believe that the Protestant canon is the true one. Also [get ready for Faith of the gaps assurance here] since I have gleaned so much wisdom from the Bible and encountered Christ in it, I know that it is true.”

What’s the problem here? It’s simply that faith builds upon reason, but that reason must be sound reason. Solid philosophical arguments. Principled reasons. Motives of credibility that are accurate. So the edifice of reason supporting Catholicism is sound, but its purpose is limited to being the point where the person makes the assent of faith. Sound reasoning allows one to make the assent of faith seamlessly, as a hang glider gets a running take off from a tall ledge. Faulty reasoning is akin to that hang glider stumbling over rough stones, not getting the momentum needed for a proper take off, and then relying on Faith of the gaps to somehow correct that problem and get him into flight. He may get into some sort of flight in a partial or wobbly way (analogous to, say, a canon missing 7 books that God inspired), but it won’t send him soaring to the highest heights he was created for.

The ultimate cause of this Protestant problem though is not one of reason. Ironically, it is one of faith. Because Protestants reject the Catholic belief that Christ founded a visible Church and has protected His Church from error in her teachings, they are forced to fill in the holes, inconsistencies, and discontinuities in their beliefs with “faith,” yet doing so is really (unintentionally) being fideistic and not the true use of faith.

Hopefully this helps you understand (if you’re Catholic), why Protestants don’t all just become Catholic immediately after they are presented with the problems in the edifice of reason supporting their faith. The Faith of the gaps is an almost irresistible device to turn to.

But God has provided many ways for us to come to know Him in the fullness of the truth in the Catholic Church. One of those is by people carefully learning how to reason and then applying that knowledge to their beliefs. When they see the basis for their beliefs (like the books of the Bible) rests on an ad hoc decision, that can lead them, by God’s grace, to stop and say “that doesn’t quite make sense, hmm…” and lead them deeper into the truth of Christ.

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9 thoughts on “Faith of the Gaps”

  1. When you say that “God of the gaps” arguments don’t work, are you saying that teleological arguments don’t work (including those made by Thomas Aquinas)? Or are you referring to something other than teleological arguments?

    IMO, there are some very good teleological arguments. It’s much more reasonable to believe that the universe is “designed” than a random happenstance.

    1. Hi Jonathan,

      Oh good point–I should have been more clear. I was not claiming that teleological arguments don’t work but rather the fallacy used by some Christians that some material reality that science has not (yet) discovered a cause or explanation for “proves” that God exists.

      So something like: “Science has not been able to find a missing link in the evolutionary chain from the common ancestor of apes and humans…ergo God exists.”

  2. Devin, interesting post. I had a heated discussion with my spouse over something I showed him in Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (Book 3 Chapter 3) and I got a taste of what you wrote about. But how is it any different when they bring up the Marian stuff? Aren’t we no different? It seems like we both waffle between reason and faith.

    1. Kim, good question. Certainly in some areas reason can get us further than it can in others. But take Marian dogmas: these rely heavily on divine revelation. But you can also apply reason to them, for example, realizing that Mary was the mother of Jesus, and Jesus is God, therefore Mary is mother of God.

      Which opens up new truths as well. Since we know Jesus is divine mercy incarnate, we can say Mary is the “mother of mercy,” and so on.

      God bless,

      1. I don’t think many protestants have problems with:
        Mary as Mother of Jesus, or Mother of God, or Mother of Mercy…

        But the stuff like Co-Redemptrix (which I realize isn’t official doctrine, but a lot of Catholics seem to believe it), that she was sinless, or that she was perpetually a virgin are the ones that that I’ve heard Protestants complain about (And I would cite as issues as well)

        That said, I think your argument about the Faith of the Gaps is largely true regarding Protestantism. I wouldn’t use the canon though, since lists were made by various patriarchs (the first being in Alexandria IIRC)… but I’ve often found most Protestant explanations for the canon to be rather devoid of anything but magical thinking (like : hey, we’ve extrapolated these criteria and therefore that is what the churches used in the past as criteria). I think the Wheaton webinar based on Journeys to Faith did a decent job of showing why supporting Canon != being required to support the Roman Catholic church. 🙂

  3. Isn’t it interesting how the Catholic and Protestant systems both have their mysteries, but those mysteries are in different places?

  4. can you explain what you mean by faith builds on reason?

    i realize we’re to include our whole mind when loving the Lord but are we not to have faith as a child? or do you see these things separately?

    1. Hi Shawna!

      Good question. Yes the Lord gave us minds to think with, to reason with, our senses to interact with the world, and so on. Faith builds on reason means that faith is not a blind, irrational leap. Rather, faith will be harmonious with the (right) use of reason, even though it surpasses it.

      Some other Christian groups and other religions do not think this way. They believe faith and reason are disjointed, or opposites, or that faith could be irrational.

      At the same time, we are to have faith like a child. Take the real presence in the Eucharist. That is a truth that is from divine revelation and so takes faith to believe in. Reason can provide support for this belief, but it cannot prove it to be true, or even fully comprehend what it means for Jesus to be present in the Eucharist. Instead, we have child-like faith that it is true, even though we cannot understand it completely. That’s what we also call “mystery.”

      Hope that helps!

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