Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The big gap filling fallacy

The Thor-God debate of yesterday deserves some more thoughts, quite important ones in my view. Today I am going to show why Thor and God have the same magnitude of plausibility. I prefer Thor as a main focus because, in our world, he is less laden with strong values and beliefs. I guess, as an ancient Viking blogger I would have chosen God.

Thor makes it a lot easier not to become distracted by questions whether he does or does not exist. We all, even theists reading my blog, will agree that Thor does not exist. This being settled, we are ready to come to the point now.

Useful gap filling

When using our brains, we should have at least some ideas of how this thing works. One simple mechanism, useful in the majority of everyday situations, is gap filling.

Just imagine you are driving on a highway uphill. At the top, the highway no longer is visible, yet you do not pound your brake because you know that the highway will continue. Your brain fills the gap. Gap filling even occurs on the level of the eye and is responsible for some of the well-known optical illusions.

The weakness of gap filling

The gap filling mechanism of the brain works well in normal situations but can be deluded by trick magicians who exploit the brain's imagination of objects being "still there" or "no longer there" when not visible.

For the ancient Vikings, thunder must have been sort of a magical trick because they could not spot the originator of this noise. The noise somehow reminded them of their blacksmiths, hammering swords. They filled the gap with Thor, swinging his giant hammer.

Common feature of all religions

When looking at all the big and small religions that have come and gone and still exist, we may be impressed by their richness and variety. But, basically, they all share the fact that they fill gaps in knowledge.

Some of these are small, such as not knowing why rain comes, filling the gap with a rain god. Thor fits in this category.

The "making" of the Universe is far less easy to understand than rain and thunder. But gap filling is gap filling, regardless of the complexity level. The common trait of all gap filling is human fantasy, applying concepts that have proven useful, to situations where they are no longer useful. Hammering and noise is useful in a blacksmith's shop but not in the atmosphere.

Thor and the Big Watchmaker

Theists may have followed me up to here, but now I see them cringe. Thor has made easy to understand the logical fallacy of gap filling. This is not a question of gap kind or gap size, it is fundamental: Either gap filling is reasonable or not, for any possible gap. And the Thor case shows that it is not reasonable.

Some orders of magnitude above the Thor level, we find the Big Watchmaker who is told to have created the Universe. I do not contend that he may be compared to Thor, but he is a child of the same process of the brain: gap filling.

Freethinkers be warned!

Gap filling is a part of human thought, freethought included. Be warned. Rejecting theism does not immunize the brain against this fallacy.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/bnorthern/240204924/

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