Posted by: allenrachel | March 13, 2009

The God Hypothesis

John Haught’s “God and the New Atheism” made several strong points to counter the arguments of the New Atheists. One of his key insights was the idea that the New Atheists have done theology a huge disservice by not even taking the time to research the views they so readily argue against. They base their views of theology on the fundamentalist ideas they pick up through media reports. Their evidence, it must be pointed out, is lacking. As Haught says, “criticizing theistic faiths without taking into account the work of theologians… is like trying to explain the natural world while leaving out any mention of modern science” (44). Their definitions of God are, at best, limited. And they seem content with arguing against the existence of a “god” no theologian would defend.

I was doing some work for another theology course on women in the Bible and laughed out loud when I found some theology in the Christian Scriptures that would surely be of interest to the New Atheists, should they take the time to look for it. A lot of the arguments Harris, Dawkins, and company make against organized religions revolve around their criticism that people of faith buy into a mean, vindictive, jealous God and use that God to commit horrible crimes. I admit, some do. But even a cursory glance at genuine theological thought will prove otherwise. As Haught also points out, the God these new atheists fight against is not a god most theists would want to defend.

But back to the Bible: the Book of Judith is an apocryphal text, the story of a pious Jewish widow and her fight to save the Israelites from an invading Assyrian army. As far as literary genres go, this is a work of fiction, evident from the overwhelming anachronisms and exaggerations of time and place. But the factuality of the events has nothing to do with the theological insights. In chapter eight, Judith meets with the elders of the town, who have decided to appease the people, honoring their request to submit to Assyrian slavery rather than die of starvation. The elders all agree that if God does not act to save them by the fifth day, they will surrender.

Judith is horrified, and goes before the elders to show them their ignorance. “Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs? You are putting the Lord Almighty to the test, but you will never learn anything!” she says (v.12-13). She continues, with great wisdom, “You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind; how do you expect to search out God, who made all these things, and find out his mind or comprehend his thought?” (v.14) and concludes by advising, “Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for the Lord is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading” (v.16).

Judith has some incredible insights into the reality of God. She knows that God is much bigger than a simple test can show. Should the New Atheists take the time to look into our theology, they might be surprised to see that we would all disprove the same hypothesis.



  1. Something I read a few days ago (by G. Marcel, I think) expressed very well what’s been my main critique of the New Atheists. Marcel was saying that it is impossible to properly treat something like objects of faith as a scientific hypothesis. A hypothesis requires that one’s preconceived notions are isolated from the results; but an object of faith cannot be isolated from one’s faith. Faith or lack thereof will always play the deciding factor when allowed into a discussion (as Dawkins displayed in Bayesian proof-for-God).

    An atheist like Dawkins also seems to be affected by this rule because he cannot separate his ‘search’ for the truth of God’s existence from his assumption (i.e. faith) that there are no supernatural occurrences in the world and everything can be explained and understood (primarily through Darwinism). This assumption undermines the very ability of Dawkins to honestly and rigourously question just as much as the true believer’s assumption of God undermines her ability to question it.

  2. Rachel, I agree with you that the New Atheists play off of the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, as a vindictive worrier that runs around smiting people. I also agree that most Christians do not see God’s action this way. However, I would like to point out that the view of Yahweh as purely a worrier is incorrect. There are many passages in the OT where the Hebrew people see Yahweh in a kind and guiding role. He is primarily a God of forgiveness and creative guidance and secondarily, because of cultural reasons, a God of war. This aspect of Yahweh in the OT is often lost and needs to be retrieved so that a deeper understanding of God can be obtained.

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