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God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science…
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God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007)

by Victor J. Stenger

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The subtitle to this -- or is that the sub-subtitle? -- very nearly put me off. After all, one cannot absolutely prove a negative such as "God does not exist." Nor is it necessary, since the burden of proof is logically put on the the one making the claim, and a lack of evidence for a claim, particularly a highly extraordinary one, is reason enough not to accept it, scientifically speaking.

Well, I needn't have worried on that score, as Stenger demonstrates an extremely solid grasp of the scientific method. Basically, he treats "the God hypothesis" as a scientific hypothesis, just as if it concerned any other subject a scientist might want to investigate. He contends that, despite frequent claims that science and religion are completely separate domains with one having nothing to say about the other, we can test even supernatural claims scientifically. He argues that if God exists -- or at least the particular kind of hands-on creator God widely worshipped by Christians, Muslims and Jews -- there ought to be observable, testable evidence of this in the material world. For example, studies have been done on the efficacy of prayer in speeding the medical recovery of hospital patients. and Stenger points out that the best-designed studies, even those performed by the devoutly religious, show no clear effect. (Although somehow it's the more dubious studies that always seem to get the media attention.) He then repeatedly makes the point that, whatever our intuition might tell us to the contrary, the universe and its contents actually look pretty much as one ought to expect them to look if there were no Grand Designer, meaning that God as an explanatory hypothesis is simply unnecessary.

Stenger's writing is rather workmanlike, without the engaging liveliness of great science writing, but it's clear and readable without being too dry. Overall I find his take on things reasonable, although some of his arguments are much better than others. Some of them are much more detailed than others, too. The sections involving physics tend to have the most depth, but in other cases, such as the chapter on evolution, his treatment seems somewhat cursory. Frequently he refers readers to presumably more detailed discussions in his previous books. But while his desire not to repeat himself is perfectly understandable, and I'm sure people who've actually read his previous books will be grateful, that does make this particular volume less satisfying than it might be. And I say that as someone who's read enough other books on relevant topics to be able to at least make educated guesses about what he might have had to say in his.

Still, if you're interested in this kind of approach to the eternal science-vs-religion debate, this book is at least a pretty good starting point. Like so many works written from an atheistic point of view, I suspect that it's mostly preaching to the choir (uh, so to speak), but religious fence-sitters might find it useful in helping to frame their thoughts on the subject, whether they agree with Stenger's take or not. Believers, being believers, are unlikely to find it convincing -- there is simply no provision here for a faith-based worldview -- but some might find it worthwhile if they're interested in gaining insight into what the concept of God looks like to those who try to approach it from a scientific perspective. ( )
5 vote bragan | May 11, 2011 |
A prominent physicist uses science to demonstrate why God is an improbable hypothesis. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Apr 26, 2011 |
(posted on my blog: davenichols.net)

Victor Stenger makes an empirical investigation of the God Hypothesis and delivers a geek-fest of smack-down to the theory that God can be anything close to what most theists believe. From the outset, Stenger establishes a baseline of characteristics that the God(s) in his experiment will have, populated largely with the often-stated abilities and preferences of the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh.

A challenge is issued in the first chapter to those who say that science has no ability to test the claims of the religious realm. As Stenger points out, many of the most compelling reasons to believe in God are the very events and characteristics which lend themselves to empirical science. Actions such as prayer, design, and fine-tuning of the universe are taken on with a scientific eye, and what Stenger finds is that in each case, we find exactly the results we would expect to find in the absense of God. His arguments for fine tuning and cosmology are some of the strongest in the book and make for an excellent primer against those arguing strong anthropic stances or who are otherwise insistent that our current laws of nature, position and composition of our solar system, and indeed our very carbon-based nature are somehow fundamental and thus require the careful hand of a diety.

One-by-one, Stenger takes on each God-like proposition, greatly ignoring the 30s (omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence), which he rightly states don't really need to be posited in order to test the hypothesis. Only rarely does the author deviate from his empirical model, and even then, he does so only to offer an alternative explanation which is at least as likely as any put forward by a theist. Christian apologist William Lane Craigis a frequent target of Stenger's rebuttals.

This straight-forward book offers a investigation into the basic claims offered as proof of the existence of God, and Stenger handily refutes each and every point. I have no doubt apologists will find gaps in his presentation and will find his use of science to be the wrong tool for the job of exploring the mystical, but as Stenger points out, there is absolutely no legitimacy to the idea that science cannot investigate any falsifiable claims made by the religious. Very well argued with no wasted efforts anywhere in this book, Stenger delivers a four and one-half star rebuttal of the God Hypothesis. ( )
6 vote IslandDave | May 18, 2009 |
Since I have just started reading this book, it is difficult to completely evaluate it yet. So far, it's been fascinating! Stenger moves beyond the usual philosophical arguments and builds a testable "God hypothesis" (where God is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God). ( )
  RachelAB | Dec 9, 2007 |
Proof that atheism is hot -- at least from the perspective of bookstores -- hit me in the local national chain bookstore. Just a few feet from the front door sits a center cap of new releases on sale. Amongst the dozen or so selections -- Victor Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis. Considering the religious and political views of the state in which I reside, that is a bold move. A significant portion of the population might well consider the placement of Stenger's book as flaunting the devil's work.

At the same time, the placement of the book is reflective of some of the buzz the so-called "new atheism" has been generating due to the popularity of Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Among the issues they raise is why religion is exempt from the same scrutiny applied to other areas of life and society. Although Stenger does not go as far as Harris or Dawkins in condemning religion itself, he takes the ultimate analytical step in the process. He subjects the question of the existence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (and, hence, the very foundation of those religions) to the scrutiny the scientific method would apply to any other hypothesis.

Stenger is fully aware of and does not hesitate to refer to the cries theists raise to this approach. Specifically, they claim that matters of faith, belief and miracles are not amenable to logic or the scientific method because they are outside science itself. Balderdash, says Stenger. You don't need to apply science to beliefs or faith itself. Instead, it can be applied to the factual foundations of the assertion that God exists.

Balance of review at http://prairieprogressive.com/?p=976
3 vote PrairieProgressive | Aug 12, 2007 |
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Throughout history, arguments for and against the existence of God have been largely confined to philosophy and theology.
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Many authors claim that modern science supports the proposition that God exists, but very few authors have directly challenged this assertion. Physicist Victor J. Stenger point out that if scientific arguments for the existence of God are included in intellectual, not to mention political discourse, then arguments against his existence should also be considered. In God: The Failed Hypothesis, Stenger argues that science has advanced sufficiently to make a definitive statement on the existence--or nonexistence--of the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. He invites readers to put their minds and the scientific method to work to test this claim.

By using five principle conditions for evaluating extraordinary claims, Stenger treats the existence of God like any other scientific hypothesis, stipulating that God should be detectable by scientific means, given that he is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and in the lives of humans.

Stenger provides hypothetical examples in which scientific research could in principle demonstrate conclusively that God exists. By examining the studies done by reputable institutions on the power of prayer; writing of philosophers who have puzzled over the problem of God and of good and evil; the efforts of biblical scholars to prove the accuracy of holy scripture; and the work of biologists, geologists, and astronomers looking for clues to a creator on Earth and in the cosmos, Stenger determines that all these human endeavors fail to demonstrate the existence of a divine creator. He convincingly shows that not only is there no evidence of God, but scientific observations actually point to his nonexistence. Life on Earth looks just as it should if were not designed, and indeed, the universe looks and operates just as it should if it appeared spontaneously from nothing.

Even though the scientific community has largely disavowed "theories" such as intelligent design that claim to prove God's existence, ancient beliefs in a creator deity persist. Stenger concludes, after reflecting on the long history of misrepresentation and manipulation of scientific fact regarding God, that our world actually is worse off as a result of religious faith. "The certainty and exclusiveness of the major monotheisms make tolerance of differences very difficult to achieve, and these differences are the major source of conflict," he writes. Instead of holding on to ancient superstitions, Stenger stresses the importance of finding meaning internally rather than externally and reminds us that beauty and inspiration can indeed arise from secular sources. [from the jacket]
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"By using five principle conditions for evaluating extraordinary claims. Stenger treats the existence of God like any other scientific hypothesis, stipulating that God should be detectable by scientific means, given that he is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and in the lives of humans."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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