No need of “the God hypothesis”

Kim Fabricius’ “propositions” are always worth reading, and his latest – Ten propositions on the God hypothesis – is no exception.

By “the God hypothesis”, Fabricius means the argument that “the empirical evidence of both physics and biology actually points to the existence of God”; in contrast to Laplace’s famous, if possibly apocryphal, statement to Napoleon that he “had no need of that hypothesis”.  Fabricius observes that Laplace predicted the existence of black holes, and suggests that “a collapse into intellectual oblivion would be a fitting destiny for the God hypothesis”.

Why? The heart of his objection to the God hypothesis is found in proposition 5:

To put it simply: the God hypothesis cannot be the God hypothesis – at least if this God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ.

In other words, the God hypothesis may or may not demonstrate the existence of a creator entity of some type, but not the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The problem lies in the whole concept of a “hypothesis”. A hypothesis, by its nature, is:

  • an explanation;
  • either probable or improbable; and
  • provisional.

As to the first, Fabricius affirms that “God is not an explanation”, and indeed he argues that using God as an explanation is what led to the development of modern atheism. He quotes Nicholas Lash as follows:

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the word ‘God’ came to be used, for the first time, to name the ultimate explanation of the world. And, when it was in due time realized that the system of the world was such as not to require any such single, overarching, independent explanatory principle, the word ‘god’ was dispensed with, and modern atheism was born.

As for the second, God’s existence is not a matter of probability. “The Creed does not begin ‘On balance, we believe…'”, observes Fabricius. Rather:

the non-existence of God is inconceivable. A deity who might not exist is contingent and therefore not worth the name of Yahweh (Exodus 3:14).

This is “the truth behind the unfortunately named ontological argument” of St Anselm (actually a prayer). (For more on Anselm’s “exquisite argument”, and why it doesn’t matter that it isn’t particularly convincing, see this post. See also my more recent post on why God does not exist.)

Finally, and more straightforwardly, our belief in God is not provisional, not contingent on future evidence that may emerge. We do not have “a god the evidence for whom we must ever be checking and rechecking”, our faith in whom could be shattered by our next trip to “the science section in Waterstones”.

If you try to build a “God hypothesis”, then “at best you get a designer god who is not the Creator, let alone the Trinity”. We can know God only “in practice, not in theory; with commitment, not disinterestedly”:

One can only know God by confessing, praising, and loving God. Science can only stand at the bus stop, checking Paley’s watch (now digital), and telescopically peering at the corner which Godot never turns.

(Again, for more on this see this post on “relating to Jesus”, and this post concluding my series on James Alison’s book Knowing Jesus.)

Fabricius concludes by quoting R.S. Thomas (one of my favourite poets, when I’m in the mood):

I have waited for him
under the tree of science,
and he has not come.

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3 Responses to No need of “the God hypothesis”

  1. Rick Ritchie says:

    Could we not say that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could be conceived as not existing? Is it not possible to imagine Abraham and or Isaac and or Jacob not being born? Was not His being their God contingent upon their existence? This must be unless their creation is argued as necessary, which I think few would do.

    Also, I still think many take God as the explanation for why there is something rather than nothing. This does not require checking and rechecking, for there will be no time in our future when there will be nothing. Looking at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which has an entry for this question, I find that the author frames a lot of statements of the problem in ways that make them less convincing than they might be. The actual question is itself an attempt to label a problem that we see, but using language that is not well developed for that purpose.

  2. Blair says:

    Thank you for the link to Kim Fabricius and the faith-theology blog – had not come across it before and there’s much there that’s worth reading. I did like his ’12 propositions on same-sex relationships’ but then I would say that, wouldn’t I… 🙂

    in friendship, Blair

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