A few months ago, I blogged about this article about the Anthropic Principle by Victor Stenger, a University of Colorado professor. In it, he attacks those who see design in the universe as "still seeking the God-of-the-gaps:"
Look at history. Science has always explained observations in terms of natural (that is, nonsupernatural) phenomena. Religion has always proposed supernatural explanations to fill those gaps where science provided no natural explanations, or simply remained silent.
We cannot explain why the constants of nature have the curious values they have, so maybe God made them so. We cannot explain the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics," so maybe God invented mathematics. Maybe. But is this modern God of the gaps any more plausible than the God of the shamans and priests? Maybe one day science will fill in these gaps without the premise of God.
Of all places, the Panda's Thumb has posted an interesting counterpoint to this argument. Matt Young, an atheist himself, after having listened to a speech by Stenger, points out that Stenger employs a similarly flawed argument, atheism-of-the-gaps:
The claim that science has conclusively disproved God is what your physician might call a diagnosis of exclusion. That is what she uses when she has no firm idea what you have. Let us say you go to the doc complaining of fatigue, muscle and joint pains, and physical weakness. The doc fails to find anything wrong with you and tells you, by exclusion, that there is indeed nothing wrong with you (or it is all in your head). The next day (or so it seems), medicine discovers a new syndrome, fibromyalgia. The etiology of fibromyalgia is unclear, though it may be related to autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Nevertheless, it is a recognized syndrome, and there is after all something wrong with you.
The physician's diagnosis was justified when she made it, but it was a diagnosis-of-the-gaps argument and promptly disproved. Professor Stenger's argument is likewise an atheism-of-the-gaps argument, and, whereas I think it is most likely right, I cannot agree that it is conclusive. Indeed, it is the same diagnosis of exclusion that intelligent-design creationists use when they claim that we cannot figure out how the bacterial flagellum has evolved, so therefore it did not.
I agree with Young's major point that neutrality is important to scientific discussion. It is crucial for both religious and non-religious people to recognize where science ends and philosophy begins.