Physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace is best known, among post-modern atheists, for a quote from a conversation with Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon asked how he had composed an entire book on physical operations without a single reference to God, Laplace replied, “I had no need of that hypothesis.”
Except, of course, that that is not at all what happened. The hypothesis which Laplace did not need was Sir Isaac Newton’s supposition that God must periodically intervene to keep the universe running smoothly. Physical theory had advanced to the point that all known operations could be demonstrated mathematically. This mis-quote began circulating Laplace’s lifetime, and he was mortified by it.
But that is of no moment to the post-modern atheist. As devotees of post-modernism, terms like “fact”, “truth”, “honor”, and “respect” mean nothing to them–except as empty strings of letters around which may be constructed equally-hollow sophistries. “God-as-Hypothesis” is all the rage amongst this pseudo-intelligentsia, with Richard Dawkins even devoting an entire book to it. Worse, non-atheists have accepted this position, constantly trying to find ways to “prove God”, while the atheist stands back and demands “empirical proof”. There are several problems with this approach:
First, hypotheses are not proven. They are DISPROVEN. If the atheist wishes to claim that God is an hypothesis, then they reinforce the burden-of-proof on themselves (Reinforce, not “shift to”. They already bear burden-of-proof by making a claim contra status quo). The usual retort will be something about “the impossibility of proving negatives” or “disproving magic sky-men.” It is, of course, hardly impossible to prove a negative: if I state “there is no elephant in my pocket”, I may simply turn out my pocket and show it to be true. And “magical sky-man” is so laughably naive that one must suppose that atheists spend their time in argument with toddlers; we are speaking here of First Cause, not first-grade Sunday school.
Second, God is not a physical entity, and therefore standards of empirical evidence are not valid in this argument. Happily, empirical evidence is not the only standard of evidence which exists–otherwise, very few court cases would ever find resolution. While our limited human perspective will always color our perception of God, giving rise to the various cultural lenses today called “religions”, the fact is that all major religions involve humanity’s attempt to understand the same universal Truth: God.
The Hindus may call God Brahman, and reference reincarnation and the dissolution of subject-object. The Evangelical Protestant may call God the source of all good, opposed by Satan. But in all cases, we are discussing the rational, metaphysical foundation by which reality exists–and the non-atheist may therefore draw upon a body of direct eyewitness accounts spanning the whole world and all of human history.
But the most important problem with the God-as-hypothesis position is this: God is not an hypothesis, but an axiom. All systems of logic operate on axiome–statements which must be accepted as true in order for the system to be valid, but which have no basis for “proof” outside of the system.
The most familiar example would probably be the number “one.” In order for mathematics to operate, “one” must be accepted as true. It can only be proved valid by operations performed on other numbers (3-2=?, etc.), but all numbers are, in fact, the result of operations performed on “one.” There is no empirical evidence which proves the existence of “one”; it is entirely metaphysical. It has no weight or dimensions to measure. You may either accept that “one” exists–thus giving you numbers, thus giving you mathematics and everything derived from it–or you may reject the existence of “one.” In which case, you have no valid basis to perform any mathematical operation.
Similarly, God is an axiom. Remember, we are not attempting to validate any particular religion, nor certainly are we attempting to provide an historical basis for systems of mythology. Rather, God (as a universal concept) is the rational ordering principle of reality. One may accept the existence of God, in which case the universe is rational; this gives us a basis for logic and therefore science.
Or, one may reject the existence of God. Without a rational ordering principle, the universe would be, by definition, irrational. As a subset of the universe, we also would be by definition irrational. Finally, by definition, an irrational being cannot undertake a rational examination of an irrational system. So, by rejecting God, we have rejected reason and science.
It should be noted also, that ‘the laws of physics’ are not sufficient to provide a rational ordering principle, thereby negating God as the basis for reason. First, while we call them ‘laws’, they are in fact completely arbitrary to our powers of perception and cognition (witness General Relativity vs. quantum mechanics). Second, they are dependent upon the pre-existence of the universe: that is, the universe did not come into existence because of the laws of physics. Rather, the laws of physics describe how we observe the universe in its current state.