Asked by Napoleon why he hadn’t mentioned God in his book on astronomy, French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace (03/23/1749–03/05/1827) dismissively retorted that he “had no need of that hypothesis.” As Stephen C. Meyer suggests by the title of his book, the hypothesis has made a comeback. Indeed, contrary to the expectations of the 18th-century Enlightenment that the advance of science would render God irrelevant to the search for knowledge and understanding, it has rendered him more relevant than ever. In Return of the God Hypothesis, Meyer gives dramatic examples of that unexpected turnabout, as he presents a riveting and convincing account of “three scientific discoveries that reveal the mind behind the universe.” Though not intended for a popular audience, Meyer’s mastery of the science and of the English language make his book accessible to the layperson willing to make the necessary effort.
The video we are making available here serves as a useful introduction to the book, as the interviewing host makes the sorts of questions an intelligent reader would make, prompting Meyer to break down the material into more easily digestible nuggets. The reader/listener may also refer to our discussion of Step 2 in Practice These Principles: Steps 1,2,3, (second edition, 2022), where Return of the God Hypothesis figures as a major resource.
As we discuss in that work, (pp. 163-173) about half the early AA fellowship was made up of atheists and agnostics, mostly alcoholics who had had what they saw as bad experiences with religion. The many references to God in the Big Book thus became a subject of controversy. “God as we understood Him’ is an expression that arose as a compromise between those who wanted to make the 12 steps mainly a secular psychology program, and those who wanted to make it an explicitly religious one. Added to Steps 3 and 11, it helped to preserve the spiritual nature of the fellowship while making one’s understanding of God a personal matter rather than a group religious tenet. The compromise notwithstanding, implicit and explicit understandings of God remained throughout the Big Book and were later reaffirmed in the 12 & 12 as reflective of the AA experience on which the program was built. Among these understandings is that of God as a "Creator" God, an expression that appears 12 times in the Big Book and 5 times in the 12&12. That attribute is the main subject of Return of the God Hypothesis.
Of course, in AA we first come to our understanding of God through a spiritual experience or awakening, which is the main purpose of the 12 Steps. The first example of this is Bill W’s personal experience. But for reasons we discuss in Practice These Principles, that experience is not recounted in Bill’s Big Book Story. ( it can be read in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, p. 63). Instead, the subject is introduced with reference to the story of Fitz M., the third alcoholic to join AA in NYC:
"In this book you will read the experience of a man who thought he was an atheist (in "Our Southern Friend,” p. 208). His story is so interesting that some of it should be told now. His change of heart was dramatic, convincing, and moving.
Our friend was a minister’s son. He attended church, where he became rebellious at what he thought an overdose of religious education. For years thereafter he was dogged by trouble and frustration. Business failure, insanity, fatal illness, suicide—these calamities in his immediate family embittered and depressed him. Post-war disillusionment, ever more serious alcoholism, impending mental and physical collapse, brought him to the point of self-destruction.
One night, when confined in a hospital, he was approached by an alcoholic [Bill W.] who had known a spiritual experience. Our friend’s gorge rose as he bitterly cried out: ‘If there is a God, he certainly hasn’t done anything for me!’ But later, alone in his room, he asked himself the question: ‘Is it possible that all the religious people I have known are wrong?’ While pondering the answer, he felt as though he lived in hell. Then, like a thunderbolt, a great thought came. It crowded out all else:
“Who are you to say there is no God?”
The man recounts that he stumbled out of bed to his knees. In a few seconds he was overwhelmed by a conviction of the Presence of God. It poured over and through him with the certainty and majesty of a great tide at flood. The barriers he had built through the years were swept away. He stood in the Presence of Infinite Power and Love. He had stepped from bridge to shore. For the first time, he lived in conscious companionship with his Creator.
Thus was our friend’s cornerstone fixed in place. No later vicissitudes have shaken it. His alcoholic problem was taken away. That very night, years ago, it disappeared. Save for a few brief moments of temptation, the thought of drink [sic] has never returned; and at such times a great revulsion has risen up in him. Seemingly he could not drink even if he would. God had restored him to Sanity.
What is this but a miracle of healing? Yet its elements are simple. Circumstances made him willing to believe. He humbly offered himself to his Maker—then he knew.
Even so has God restored us all to our right minds. To this man, the revelation was sudden. Some of us grow into it more slowly. But he has come to all who have honestly sought him.
When we drew ear to Him, he disclosed himself to us! (Big Book, pp 55-57)”
As we can readily see, this brief passage suggests various distinct understandings of God: He is a God who can be experienced spiritually; whose presence can be felt; a God of Infinite Power and Love; our Creator; a God who can perform miracles, take away our alcohol problem, and restore us to sanity.— to our right minds; a God who can reveal or disclose himself to us.
Underlying all these understandings is that of God as our Creator. Return of the God Hypothesis presents us with scientific evidence to support that understanding.
Such evidence is not likely to bring anyone to believe in God, much less to a faith that, as in AA, can transform lives. But it can serve a needful purpose. This is to refute the claim, made by militant atheists in an increasingly hostile culture, that science disproves the existence of God. As Meyers shows, it does no such thing. What it does do is to provide ample evidence of the probability that God created the universe. Such evidence meets the test the Big Book proposes in “We Agnostics,” it shows “why our present faith is reasonable, why we think it more sane and logical to believe than not to believe (p.53).” Reasonable, sane, logical. No more than that. For no more is possible to human reason and science. What scientific evidence properly considered can do then is to help those of us who have already come to God through AA to strengthen our faith and safeguard it against those who hide behind science to try to undermine it. Ultimately, however, what will secure our faith through the trials and tribulations of life (and the doubts that often ensue) is to practice it every day, primarily by working Steps 3 and 11. It is only such practice that, by the grace of God, can make faith an integral part of our character as the enduring habit which constitutes a virtue.