The God Hypothesis

The argumentative strategy of the new atheists is, first, to seduce readers into tacit agreement that faith in the existence of God is a "hypothesis^ one that functions tor believers in the same way as a scientific hypothesis does for scientists (I )awkins 31-73).4 In science, a hypothesis is a conceptual framework for bringing intelligibility to a range of rep eatable observations or experiments* Rut is God a hypothesis? It has not escaped Dawkinss attention that intelligent design (ID) proponents resort to something like a God hypothesis to explain biological complexity. ID advocates, all of whom are theists, think of intelligent design as functioning like a scientific hypothesis—or more precisely a scientific theory—-standing in opposition to evolutionary theory. Although not all ID proponents explicitly identify the intelligent designer as God, it is clear that they are resorting to a supernatural agency as though it were a scientific explanation. Not surprisingly, Dawk ins seizes this theological impropriety as warrant for his own assumption that the idea of God functions, or should function, for all theists as a rival scientific hypothesis to that of evolutionary biology For Dawkins, being a supernatural designer is essential to the very definition of God (31), and so he is ea^er to go along with ID in placing God in the role of a hypothesis.

The fact is that the idea of God functions as anything but a scientific hypothesis for most believers and theologians, but this does not deter Dawkins and his associates. Indeed, a key component of the new atheists' case against God is to suppose that creation ism and ID represenr the intellectual high point and central core of rheistic traditions. Most contemporary theologians reject creation ism and ID for theological reasons * but the new atheists have decided, almost by decree, that theology does not count and should be kept out of their discussions about God. Having avoided any substantive encounter with theology the second part of the new atheists' argument is simple: pointing out that there is no evidence to support the God hypothesis.

A constant refrain of the new atheists is as follows: the fundamental problem with faith is that it is based on no "evidence/ or at best on insufficient evidence, and therefore must be rejected in all its forms. Science by contrast can point to countless reproducible observations that support its own hypotheses, and whereas a good scientist is w illing to give up or modify a hypothesis if the experiments require doing so, rhe faithful cling to their God hypothesis no matter how nonexistent the evidence. Finally as Hitchens takes great pleasure in reminding us (68-71), science has shown the God hypothesis to be a violation of Occam's razor. Occam's razor is an axiom of science that states in effect that we should never resort to a complex explanation when a simpler one will do. Consequently, if science can explain biological complexity in a simple way then of what use is the (more complex) doctrine oi divine creation? The God hypothesis is a pscu-doscientific attempt to do what science can now do much better by itself Thus, all reasonable people should reject rhe God hypothesis and embrace science as the surest way to orient their thoughts and lives. (I discuss Hitchens's, as well as Dawkins s, misuse of Occam's razor in chapter 7,)

Dawkins s two-pronged argumentative strategy is intended to deliver the decisive intellectual blow to theism, and hence estabiish atheism as "almost certain" (113-59). However, Dawkins and the other new atheists have made things entirely too easy for themselves. In the first place, as is typical of all their writings, in order to dispose of God they first shrink the idea of divinity to that of a lawgiver, cosmic engineer, or intelligent designer (Dawkins 31), This sets the stage for showing everybody that Darwinian evolution obviously proves that nature was not intelligently designed after all, and that the God hypothesis has at last been decisively defeated. So impressed are Dawkins and other evolutionary naturalists by this argument that they present themselves as the intellectual superiors of all believers. Sometimes these days they even refer to themselves as "brights,™ thereby distinguishing themselves from their not-so-bright religious opponents.^ Yet there is nothing terribly bright about debating creationism and ID while avoiding any direct engagement with dieology. The new atheists make no mention, for example, o f the most important Protestant theologian of the past century, Karl Barth, who, along with most other recent theologians, has argued in effect that any God who functions as a "hypothesis" is not worth defending anyway. The new atheists are actually doing theology a fttvor by disposing of the God hypothesis.

Why so? Because thinking ol God as a hypothesis reduces the infinite divine mystery to a finite scientific cause, and to worship anything finite is idolatrous, The notion of a God hypothesis shrinks God down to the size of a link in a causal chain, and this diminishment amounts to a much more radical atheism than our three purveyors of godlessness could ever have concocted bv themselves. The real work of atheism had already been accomplished in the early modern age by careless Christian thinkers who reduced God to a first efficient cause in a physical system.6 So the new, soft-core atheists have arrived at the scene of God s murder far too late. On each new page of their manifestoes we find them pummeiing a corpse.

Criticizing theistic faiths without taking into account the work of theologians such as Karl Barth or Paul Tiliich (and many others) is like trying to explain the natura! world while leaving out any mention of modern science. In their critiques of the God hypothesis, the new atheists demonstrate that they have only the shallowest, if any, acquaintance with any major theologian or theological tradition. Nor do they suffer the slightest embarrassment at the fact that they have chosen to topple a deity whose existence most theologians and a very large number of other Christians, Muslims, and Jews would have no interest in defending anyway,

Dawkitis would reply that he is refuting each and every understanding of God (36), but he clearly thinks of God in an extremely limited, indeed twisted, way when he defines "God" as a hypothetical supernatural designer The snapshot of God that he flashes in The Cod Delusion is a caricature that has long been offensive to theology. It seems to come almost exclusively from visiting the campsites and Web sites of creationists and ID defenders. Moreover, by insisting that the God hypothesis is subject to being confirmed or falsified only by scientific method, Dawkins has set up a problem that has nothing whatsoever to do with either science or theology. Any deity whose existence could be decided by something as cheap as "evidence*' in Harris's or Dawkinss vulgar understanding oi that term could never command anyone's worship. So by avoiding theology altogether, the new atheism has once again shown itself to be irrelevant except to those who share its emaciated understanding of God♦

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment