In the early 1800s, the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre Laplace gave Emperor Napoleon a copy of a book he had written that explained many of the laws of nature and physics. After reading the book, Napoleon—so the story goes—asked Laplace the reason why, in all of its pages, the author had made no mention about God.
Laplace replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” (A hypothesis is a proposition that has not been proven to be correct, but which scientists use as a basis for further research.)
This story about Laplace and Napoleon has become a powerful symbol for a great transition in Western intellectual thought, especially in science. Many of the scientific giants who preceded Laplace—men such as Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, and Newton—all did their research and experimentation in the belief that they were discovering the laws that God had created. However, by the time Laplace came along, many considered the idea of God to be superfluous and unnecessary. They argued that humans were capable of discovering the laws that explain the natural world without the need of a Creator.
Today, some thinkers continue to promote these same arguments, perhaps the most well known being the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. His 2006 book, The God Delusion, has become an international bestseller, making him a rock star for militant atheism and the most famous of the New Atheists. The gist of his book is that, thanks to science and reason, we have no more need of the God hypothesis.
How good are the arguments? Well, obviously, they haven’t convinced everyone, because billions of people still believe in God (or gods). And that’s because, though one can’t prove the existence of God with absolute certainty (it’s not easy proving most anything with “absolute certainty”), many great reasons still exist for belief in God. Despite all the hype and attention given the assaults of men like Richard Dawkins, the God hypothesis is still alive and well.
The nothing hypothesis
One of the strongest reasons for belief in God is the existence of the universe. Nothing can come from itself. Something can’t create itself, because, obviously, it would already have to exist in order to create itself. But if it already existed, then it didn’t create itself.
The same is true of the universe. For a long time, people believed that the universe had always existed. Now, though, science is convinced that it came into existence; that it once did not exist, but now it does. Thus, the obvious questions are, Where did it come from? Why is it here? How did it get here to begin with?
Some argue that they know the answer to the universe’s origins. They claim that the universe was created out of—nothing.
Yes, nothing, we are told, created everything. American physicist Lawrence Krauss wrote a book called A Universe From Nothing. And in his bestseller A Short History of Nearly Everything, author Bill Bryson said, “It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing but now there is a universe is evident proof that you can.”
Even the man considered to be the greatest scientist alive, Stephen Hawking, has argued that “because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself out of nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”
While Stephen Hawking probably has complex mathematical formulas to buttress his argument, many people remain skeptical, and rightly so, about the argument that everything came from “nothing.”
There actually is a logical reason for that skepticism. Science, as it’s defined by today’s physical and biological scientists, claims to be based on observable evidence. Any possible theory of origins, any law, any principle used to explain the existence of the universe, would itself need some sort of evidence to explain it. However, if nothing created the universe, if nothing is the source of all existence, then there’s no deeper explanation. After all, it’s “nothing,” so there’s no need to assume that there was anything before it that could explain where it came from. In other words, the nothing hypothesis doesn’t need the same kind of evidence to explain it that other scientific theories do. Therefore, it isn’t science. It’s philosophical reasoning by scientists.
Or, to put it another way, it’s a statement of belief. Secularists and atheists tend to scoff at the claim by theists that they merely believe in God without concrete evidence to prove His existence. Yet they fail to consider that their conclusion about the universe arising from nothing is just as much belief absent proof as is the idea that the universe was created by a divine Mind that Christians and other theists call “God.”
Other than the nothing hypothesis, the only other explanation that doesn’t need anything before it is that of an eternally existing God. Like “nothing,” a God who always existed doesn’t need anything before Him to explain how He got here because He always has been here. There never was a time when He did not exist.
And this is precisely what the Bible teaches. God is before all things, and He is depicted in the Bible as the Creator: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16, 17, NKJV).
However, if you reject out of hand the God hypothesis, then logically, all you are left with is the nothing hypothesis. Thus, which is the more logical? Nothing created the universe, or a self-existent eternal God did?
And there’s more. Despite the continual attack by Richard Dawkins and others against it, the intelligent design argument remains a powerful force in favor of the God hypothesis. Some claim that philosopher David Hume, way back in the 1700s, demolished the argument from design. But did he? In fact, marveling at the wonders of creation, Hume was forced to admit that “matter may contain the source or spring of order originally, within itself . . . that the several elements, from an internal unknown cause, may fall into the most exquisite arrangement.”
Where did this “internal unknown cause,” if it really existed, come from? Hume didn’t refute the argument from design; he simply pushed it back. For where did matter get the information and ability to organize itself into this “exquisite arrangement”? It’s easier to imagine paper and ink, from something inherent in themselves, creating Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn than to imagine carbon, water, and proteins organizing themselves into a single living cell, much less the processes that led to Isaac Newton’s brain.
Of course, science has supposedly given the answer to how carbon, water, and proteins led to that brain. It’s called random mutation and natural selection. Though this isn’t the place to debate the pros and cons of Darwinian evolution, one point should not be missed: while the science about if (to say nothing of how) random mutation and natural selection could have created the complexity of life is contentiously debated, everyone does agree that living things are extremely complex. Today we have an understanding about the complexity in nature that Charles Darwin couldn’t have begun to imagine.
Thus, here’s the irony: the more complexity science finds in living things, the more questionable the means science proposes for the origin of that life becomes. Atheistic scientists tell us that all the design in nature, all its complexity, arose by pure chance. Richard Dawkins claims that the world looks designed, but this appearance is merely an illusion. “The illusion of design,” he writes, “is so successful that to this day most Americans . . . stubbornly refuse to believe it is an illusion.”
And they have a very good reason for that stubborn refusal. The more understanding we gain of the complexity and design in nature—which science itself reveals—the more far-fetched the explanation becomes that chance produced that complexity and design. An iPhone, which looks designed, acts designed, reveals design in its interior and exterior, and works only through design is, of course, designed. But a human being, which looks designed, acts designed, reveals design in its interior and exterior, and works only through design is, of course, (we are assured by Richard Dawkins) not designed but just looks that way.
Who should we believe, Richard Dawkins, or our own eyes and brains and simple common sense?
There’s no question that the reality of design continues to provide powerful evidence for the God hypothesis. And Antony Flew, one of the most outspoken atheists of the second half of the last century, came to agree. In his book There Is a God,* Flew said, “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God.”
The apostle Paul agreed with Flew when he said that “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20).
Despite the claims of Richard Dawkins and other atheists, those who believe in God have many good reasons for their faith. These reasons don’t constitute hard proof, but they weren’t meant to. They simply show that it’s at least as reasonable to believe that God exists as to believe that He doesn’t. Indeed, it’s rather contradictory for those who claim that the creation— from quasars to Canadians—arose from “nothing” to also claim that those who believe in God are being irrational.
If anything, reason falls more decidedly on the side of believers than it does nonbelievers. And even better, when people realize that this God has revealed Himself in the Bible as a God of love, compassion, and caring, the reasonableness of faith can also lead to some wonderful benefits now, including the hope of eternal life in a new creation. The apostle John anticipated this in his Apocalypse when he wrote, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1, NKJV).
Finally, there’s an interesting coda to the Laplace-Napoleon story. When Napoleon told another mathematician, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, about Laplace’s saying “I have no need of [the God] hypotheses,” Lagrange answered, “Ah, but it is such a beautiful hypothesis; it explains a great many things!”
Indeed, it does, and very well too.