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1 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The case for atheism, 11 Mar. 2010
This review is from: God the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (Paperback)
God, the Failed Hypothesis: How science shows that God does not exist, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, New York, 2007, 296 ff.

The case for atheism
By Howard Jones

Victor Stenger is emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and also has a professorship in philosophy at the University of Colorado. Like many philosophers and scientists, he is an atheist. Stenger maintains that, as God is claimed to be intimately involved in the events of everyday life, and science can investigate these, it should also be able to study God. The premises may be true, but is the conclusion? Aesthetic and mystical experiences are usually regarded as outside the remit of scientific study because they are individual, non-reproducible, and cannot be contradicted, though that does not mean that they are valueless or non-existent; or as Stenger himself says, following Popper, metaphysical assertions are `irrefutable by definition' and therefore fail one of the main criteria for scientific investigation. This does not mean, however, that science can contribute nothing to discussions about God or psychic phenomena, as readers of books by Dossey, Goswami, Schwartz, Tart, Radin and many others will attest to.

Stenger is focusing here on natural theology - the claim that we can infer the existence of God from the wonder and complexity of the natural world: God as cosmic Creator and Designer. But he also considers the argument for God from the existence of morality and the argument against God from the existence of evil: morality Stenger sees as wholly derived from humanism and social interaction. Stenger presents evidence in support of Darwinian evolution and spontaneous emergence of complexity by self-organization and against so-called Intelligent Design, thereby undermining the case for creationism based on Genesis. The Fibonacci sequence that is widely found in Nature is shown to be a physical process of conserving energy rather than, as ID enthusiast William Dembski maintains, evidence of God's handiwork as designer. Indeed, as Stenger says, the structure of the human body is a spectacular example of unintelligent design that could have been improved in many ways.

Stenger presents experimental evidence that associates even moral, mystical, emotional or social judgements - those events that believers might associate with `soul' - with activity in specific areas of the brain: this, he maintains, renders the concept of soul redundant. Although monitoring brain activity tells us what happens physically when we have such experiences, it tells us nothing about why we should have those feelings. Stenger then goes on to rapidly dispense with concepts such as "chi" or bioenergetic fields and all parapsychology phenomena such as the effectiveness of prayer, `alternative' medicine, ESP and immortality essentially on the grounds that either the experiments were not properly controlled, or that the results are statistically insignificant and that there is therefore no unequivocal `proof' of their (or God's) existence. Again, the experiments and reports given are carefully chosen to support the hypothesis with which we started: there is no God and there are no natural phenomena that cannot be interpreted by conventional science, and the standard scientific method of arriving at conclusions by induction is in these cases rejected. Stenger then goes on to deal with the cosmological evidence that denies deistic Creation and Design. The Anthropic Principle - that the universe is designed for human habitation (by God?) - is given similarly short shrift. It is apparently all inevitable given the initial state of the universe.

There are many interesting facts and arguments in this book but, as always in this important subject, it is fundamentally a matter of personal belief. The arguments presented seem to make an overwhelmingly convincing case for atheism - but we have no way of knowing without extensive further research to what extent the data have been selected to support the hypothesis and whether or not they are correctly interpreted. The empirical evidence for psychic phenomena is inductively overwhelming and its theoretical interpretation through quantum physics is rational enough to satisfy many eminent physicists. There are many references throughout the book.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Sep 2012 12:17:44 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Sep 2012 19:32:59 BDT
trini says:
Dr Jones's review is interesting. He points out many glaring faults in the logic of Stenger's book, and gives him therefore a mere one-star rating. [Later: My apologies to Dr Jones for simply misreading his two-star rating.] What I miss is a clear statement from Jones that therefore Stenger's case is simply not to be accepted. It seems to me that there too often seems to be an over-riding requirement in a reviewer's mind to value the opinions of the person being reviewed (the 'reviewee'), merely because it is necessary to value the reviewee as a person. The conclusion of a review must be, if it finds grave fault with the reviewee's views, that the reviewee is not to be followed, not that 'he has many interesting things to tell us'. This verdict of mine applies far more widely than to Dr Jones's review here.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Sep 2012 15:08:55 BDT
Hi Trini
Thanks for your comments. I'm not absolutely certain what your main criticism of my review is. Is it that you disagree with my giving Stenger's book a 2* rating (not a 1*) even though I disagree with his conclusion? I gave his book 2* because it is certainly not without merit. He has marshalled a great number of `interesting things to tell us' but I don't agree with his conclusions. You will have gathered that my background is in science and even in science the same experimental facts can be interpreted in different and often incompatible ways.

I believe that the complexity of the natural world does suggest the existence of a Creator and Designer = what many people call God. Richard Swinburne (a philosopher of religion at Oxford) and Anthony Flew (a philosopher of logic, now sadly deceased) both take this view - and of course there are very many others less eminent who reach the same conclusion

First, science cannot either `prove' or `disprove' the existence of God in the way we can prove Pythagoras' Theorem. All we can say from science is that the balance of evidence (both sensory and rational) suggests the existence of a Creator and Designer. This is why Stenger, who is an eminent scientist, calls it a hypothesis. But the subtitle of the book for a start is erroneous: `How science shows that God does not exist'. It does no such thing and the balance of evidence that is emerging all the time suggests the very reverse.

As an example of Stenger's erroneous logic we need go no further than p.22 (I didn't have room to go into all of this in the review) with the syllogism from Theodore Drange:
There should be good objective evidence for God's existence;
There is no such objective evidence;
Therefore probably God does not exist.
As I have said - I and very many other people (scientists, philosophers, theologians) believe that the numerous examples of complexity in the natural world provide just such `objective evidence'.

In Chap.2, The Illusion of Design, Stenger focusses on rejecting so-called Intelligent Design, which neither I nor the majority of scientists and theologians believe in any way. This is one of many examples of the way Stenger selects his `evidence' against God so that he can quite validly reject it.

Here is a man rubbishing the fundamental basis of all western religion (i.e. God) yet, as the heading of Chapter 3 (p.77), he is quoting the Bible (Ecclesiastes) in support of his dismissal of an afterlife. Yet he conveniently ignores the mass of empirical evidence that supports the existence of an afterlife and psychic phenomena `The World Beyond Matter'.

As a scientist I have much sympathy with Chap. 6, The Failures of Revelation. Revelation is entirely personal, individual and subjective. You are therefore on totally unstable ground if you try to argue anything definitive from scriptural revelation, much of which is patently irrational and absurd.

And so it goes on. I hope you now see the light in which I gave my assessment of Stenger's book. Does this answer your questions?

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Sep 2012 20:46:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Sep 2012 23:07:37 BDT
trini says:
Dr Jones,
Thanks for your patient reply. I have corrected my first comment - you gave Stenger a two-star rating.

I did indeed feel when I wrote my brief comment that I really wasn't quite sure why I felt unhappy with your review. You correctly picked up my hesitanccy. Let me home-in a little more specifically.

You say in your review: "There are many interesting facts and arguments in this book but, as always in this important subject, it is fundamentally a matter of personal belief". I think that that is what I disagree with. From my recent reading of books on the science versus religion debate, I have become convinced that the 'new atheists' have been thoroughly routed, and therefore, while allowing them the freedom to believe what they want, I hold that they must never be allowed to publicize their 'personal beliefs' without their adversaries (let's just say 'theists', for the moment) saying (and proving) that scientific and philosophical scholarship, pure and simple, no less than theological scholarship, discredits their beliefs.

I think that you do an excellent job in pointing out precisely that: namely, that Stenger continually breaks the laws of logic, and that his arguments are therefore to be ruled out of court.

May I take the liberty of repeating here a comment which I wrote to another review (by Kriss Mascard) of this Stenger book on this website:
"An excellent review [by Mascard, who complains that Stenger fails to deliver what he declares in his subtitle to be the achievement of his book, namely, 'How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist']. May I refer readers to my [trini's] review (dated 23 Sept 2010 on both UK and USA amazon) of Stephen Hawking's 2010 book "The Grand Design", where I take a very similar approach. I point out that Hawking's book has, as its subtitle on the dustcover of the UK edition, "New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life". Hawking's book totally fails to deliver what this subtitle claims. (Interestingly, this subtitle is missing from the USA edition - why? Had it quickly become obvious that it was quite untrue?)"

I am currenty rapidly re-reading, and will write an amazon review for, Dr Edgar Andrew's 2009 book, 'Who made God? - Searching for a Theology of Everything", which devotes most of a chapter, and many more references, to demolishing just this book of Stenger's - pointing out relentlessdly the same fundamental logical weaknesses of Stenger to which you call attention. Please look up Andrews's impressive qualifications and his life-work as a molecular scientist on both sides of the Atlantic. Dawkins also merits 44 unfavourable references in Andrews's index.

Other must-reads include Edward Feser's 2008 book "The Last Superstition - A Refutation of the New Atheism", the same author's "Aquinas", and Robert Spitzer's "New Proofs for the Existence of God - Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy" (2010), and James Le Fanu's "Why Us? - How science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves" (2009). There are many more such.

I stress that these books all in one way or another both devastatingly refute the philosophical/theological views of the 'New Atheists' and positively show that the latest findings of science itself powerfully support the 'God Hypothesis', that is, that more and more scientic advances cohere with the 'hypothesis' that [a] God exists. Far from closing the 'gaps' in scientific knowledge which the theists are accused of filling by appealing to the (supposedly non-existent) 'God of the gaps', continuing discoveries especially of the multiplicity and complexity and perfection of life in all its forms only widens these gaps, which Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot explain, but which are compatible with the theistic hypothesis of a God who created all things out of nothing, and then sustains his creation at every moment.

I close for now with a quotation from page 95 of Andrews, repeated several times in his book, and in some shape or form by all 'my' authors: "The four scientifically inexplicable things I raised [in a debate in 1986 before the Oxford Union between Andrews and Dawkins!] were: (a) the origin of the universe; (b) the origin of the laws of nature; (c) the origin of life; and (d) the origin of mind and thought". [Sounds a lot like Flew's 'There is a God', which you mention and which I have reviewed.] More or less included in the above, and essentially beyond the capacity of 'hard' material science to explain, are free-will/morality, and the fact that the existence and activity of the (surely immaterial) human mind is not reducible to the material matter of the human brain.

For me too, these questions remain totally unanswered and unanswerable by the atheists. I raise these same questions repeatedly in my reviews and comments on these amazon discussions.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Sep 2012 09:41:41 BDT
Thank you for continuing what I think is a valuable discussion. I hope other readers think it so too. I find it rather frustrating to find 21/22 readers saying a review `isn't helpful' but with no explanation as to why! So let me home in at once on your main concern:
"There are many interesting facts and arguments in this book but, as always in this important subject, it is fundamentally a matter of personal belief"
We rely on the senses to give us data about the world and we use reason to interpret them. But behind both senses and reason lie beliefs or passions. What we take note of out the many items that impact daily on our brain and how we interpret them depends upon our world-view. A classical example would be in the interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalists see this as the unequivocal word of God, true in every detail. I have quoted elsewhere the example of a 600 page book by Kitcher on `The Reliability of the Old Testament' which, not only atheists but scientists and many theologians think is, at best, historical fiction and, at worst, a load of pernicious rubbish. Even in just this one instance, how we regard the Bible depends on our beliefs. And I maintain that that is true of everything else we experience in life. And that is true of scientists as well, though our interpretations are likely to flow along fairly well established lines - but not necessarily so.
The reason I was awarded my PhD was because I applied quantum mechanical principles to a chemical reaction that had been known and studied for more than a century - I simply `saw' the reaction in a different way - a very specific example of how `beliefs' affect interpretation.
Stenger savages `Intelligent Design' to dismiss God the Designer. But most of the scientists and theologians I know have long since discredited ID as proposed by Michael Behe and William Dembski. So this is a hollow victory; but it's all a matter of interpretation based on beliefs.
Thank you for bringing these other books to my attention. I shall definitely follow some of these up. In return, you may be interested to read my reviews of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens (atheists) and Lennox, McGrath, Markham and Swinburne (theists).
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