22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2010
I dig Dawkins: he can be hilarious. I respect Harris, even if I disagree with some of his conclusions: the hatchet-job he did on Islamophilia was even more cold-blooded than Ibn Warraq's, and a lot shorter. Hitchens? His plummy, orotund prose uncannily resembles his famously plummy voice and slightly rotund physique; you have to be British to write like that. (And if you haven't done so yet, tap the phrase "youtube hitchens falwell" into a search engine. His sincere and moving elegy on the death of the late Reverend may well be remembered, in future years, as Hitchens' most dazzling gift to humanity.) The problem with their books is that they mostly reassure the infidels that they made the right decision, while they can easily, if deviously, be answered by their opponents with the usual ad hominem counter-attack: "The only reason you're writing this is that you're one of these snotty atheists who wants to make a few fast bucks by ridiculing decent, simple people behind their backs (and you just may fry for it)."
Stenger's book doesn't use the full-frontal assault strategy; he's not so much out to attack the concept of God as to DISMISS it, as the title implies. As Popper says in "The Open Society," the way to deal with an opponent is to allow him his good intentions, let him make the best case he can, and then show why his premises are completely wrong, and irrelevant anyway, pull the rug out from under his feet, and leave him gasping on the floor. EVERY religion has SOMETHING to say about the material world, or it would be non-Euclidian geometry, or something, and so leaves itself open to investigation by science. Stenger simply shows that science can be used to explain accurately everything religion used to explain inaccurately, and does so with greater intellectual parsimony. The God concept is unneccessary to explain anything, and since if God exists, as Aquinas says, he exists NECESSARILY, one can only conclude not merely that God doesn't exist, but that He CAN'T. As Stenger himself in a recent issue of "The Huff Post," absence of evidence, where evidence is required, really IS evidence of absence.
In the process of showing this he never stoops to using the ad hominem argument, though he pokes some gentle fun at his opponents' positions, not their persons, just to keep the tone light, as you'd expect from a book like this. He provides the reader with a spiffy overview of what contemporary astrophysics has been doing in a way that's far easier to get through than Hawking's clotted writing, so it's a great science book as well as everything else. This book is as accessible as one of those supermarket "For Dummies" books, and a lot more timely.
Of course, it has attracted its share of attacks, too. Check the one-star reviews. They're truly desperate.
24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2011
For many years I was a somewhat indifferent non-believer who found it more entertaining to read about the strange beliefs people held, than books to reinforce my onw non-belief. With the advent of the so-called "new atheists" and their opponents, I find the expectations of debate on these topics somewhat changed, and have thus had to read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, et al, if only for the sake of keeping up with popular culture. For the most part I found what I expected: a good deal of 'preaching to the choir' about issues and arguments I had long since made up my own mind on, and marshalled my own arguments for. Occasionally, there has been a tweak of an idea that perhaps it -is- time that atheists became a bit more activist, or a twinge of disagreement with a position expressed by a particular prominent atheist.
Early in this book Dr. Stenger presents a lucid explanation of the scientific method, and for that alone I can recommend the book. Far too few people fail to really grasp just how the epistemology of scientific method works to advance our knowledge.
On the other hand, I find I can't really agree with his basic premise that science has disproven the existence of God, or that it can do so. I don't fully subscribe to Gould's concept of "non-overlapping magesteria" (NOMA e.g., that sceintific inquiry and religious inquire do not in any way overlap). There are religious claims which most certainly do overlap science, and which are studiable by science; but there are other claims which do not, and are not.
If religion claims that the Earth is 6000 years old, that claim can be studied scientifically, and when we do so we find the claim to be in error. We can do this because it is a physical claim about the physical universe, and as such can be formulated as a scientifically studiable hypothesis.
On the other hand, if religion claims "there exists a supernatural being, outside the natural world, who is beyond the laws of physics and nature," that is decidedly /not/ formulatable as a scientifically studiable hypothesis, since science deals with nature and the natural world, and not with things "outside" of it. Science can study the physical claims; not the metaphysical claims.
This much should be obvious from the scientific method itself, and from the principle of falsifiability: science cannot prove or disprove a non-falsifiable principle, and "the supernatural" is by definition, non-falsifiable. The best science can do in this regard is to offer an alternative explanation for any natural phenomena the supernatural claim purports to explain, and then gather evidence to see if that claim is supported.
Stenger does, I think, offer good evidence as to why the concept of God is not /necessary/ to explain phenomena in the physical world. He presents many of the arguments for God's existence, and those which are primarily physical he deals with, I think, effectively. But some of those arguments are metaphysical, or have metaphysical components.
Stenger slips, I think, from "science can possibly show that God isn't necessary," into "science can prove that God doesn't exist." This is a philosophically flawed stance, and rather than bolstering an atheist position, instead renders it open to attack on grounds on which the scientist shouldn't even be treading. The question "does God exist?" is not a scientific question.
Some questions may not, in fact, have answers. Or the explanations may not be logically obtainable by minds which are necessarily integral parts of the system for which explanation is sought. This is an uncomfortable concept for many people, and people have devised many ways of dealing with it. Some are comfortable with the notion "we may never know," but far more are not.
The believer resolves this uncertainty by postulating something "outside" the system, outside nature -- God -- that's pulling the strings. Scientists tend to apply one or another views of causality, and then set about gathering evidence to support one or another view of causality. The problem arises, of course, when one considers "first cause". All sorts of physical and mathematical models have been proposed to account for the very fact of existence, but thus far none of them have been completely testable, which for all practical purposes places them -- at least as far as 'first cause' is concerned -- in the same category as "God did it".
The alternate answer: that there may not have -been- a "first cause," that the concept of causality itself might be in some way time-limited, remains at this point in time more of a metaphysical than a physical consideration. If Stenger felt obligated to take on first cause, it would have probably been more intellectually honest to simply say "we don't know", or even "we don't know yet," than to attempt an open-and-shut, QED sort of argument.
Nonetheless, this is a well-written book, and contains sections, and references, which the non-believer and the believer alike may find informative, and on that basis I recommend it. The central thesis is, however, misplaced I think, and its resolution not established with the finality Dr. Stenger may perhaps have hoped.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2008
Stenger's summary of evidence is not intended to disprove the existence of some sort of god, somewhere, at some time.
It ably showcases the absurdities one must accept or ignore in order to profess belief in one very popular concept of god, the God of the Book. (Any of three books, take your pick.)
The observable world is wholly incompatible with the attributes with which God is typically endowed - omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.
How do I reject Thee? Stenger counts the ways!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2011
Victor J. Stenger's overall thesis is this: That God is a testable hypothesis, therefore falsifiable; To say that God is a testable hypothesis is to say that God can be formulated in the scientific model in accordance to what most believers believe about God (given that there is sufficient consensus). The function of scientific models is to both explain the observable data and to make observable or testable predictions. If concept of God can be formulated into a scientific model, as Stenger suggested, then it follows that the scientific model of God can make testable predictions that can be tested, therefore falsifiable. Stenger also noted that the scientific model of God would not be concerned with the very nature of God, and this is important since many theologians and beleivers assert that God's nature is ineffable. Rather, the scientific model of God concerns what the universe should look like if God exist, given that God is an agent with purpose and intention who performs actions that intervene into the natural order of things. The intervention of God's actions in relation to Nature is a key concept of God that is testable, because if God truly does interfere with Nature, then the effects of that interference should be observable since any event in nature (including God's interference) is observable.
This overarching thesis is not only crucial, but detrimental, especially when Stenger gathers all the examples and evidences to support his argument that God-Hypothesis is either rendered falsified or superfluous. Stenger pointed out that because there are other hypothesis that explains many natural phenomena which believers insist requires Supernatural cause, the God-Hypothesis is not without its competitors. While the God-Hypothesis does have a potential to be a grand scientific theory in the midst of this competition, this is not the case given that many other independent hypothesis with a natural explanation has made observable predictions that have been successfully tested and supported. Given that these hypothesis explains the phenomena without resorting to the supernatural cause, what scientific value does the concept of God have?
Theist can reasonably argue that Stenger has not falsified the God-Hypothesis, but such arguments do not bother me at all (nor do I think they would bother Stenger himself). Why is this? Because Stenger convincingly demonstrated that God can be a testable scientific model, thus a falsifiable hypothesis. By arguing this point, the theological ramifications are significant: There is no longer any excuse to vindicate God from scientific inquiry, and an appeal to Faith or Mystery simply will not do anymore. Appealing to faith or ineffability will not render God an unfalsifiable and untestable hypothesis, rather it would not do very much since the very definition of God as an intervening agent could sufficiently entail testability. A theistic believer (with the exception of a deist) cannot appeal to faith without also including the definition of God as an intervening agent, whose actions interfere with human and natural affairs, because the very faith that believers appeal to also depends on that definition.
The scientific ramifications of Stenger's argument is also significant in regards to theism, because this would mean that the scientific model of God would predict the effects of prayers, the occurrences of miracles, the prophecies, the problem of evil, and the fine-tune arguments. Stenger succeeded in articulating this implication to such a degree that nobody can easily argue that God transcends scientific inquiry. What is even more disturbing is that there actually has been scientific studies on prayers and miracles, and so far the majority of the results have been negative. This would be a problem to the majority of the believers who believe in intercessory prayers.
So far, I applaud Stenger for making a successful argument that God can be a testable hypothesis, and showing many scientific evidences that could reasonably be construed as contrary to the predictions that the God-Hypothesis made. People can argue all they want about the existence of God, but if Stenger's argument is both valid and sound, then the God-Debate may eventually end with a solid conclusion pretty soon.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2008
This is an excellent, interesting and very important book. Stenger reviews the Bible and other available evidence that might indicate that God (or gods) actually exist. By employing standard scientific method he assesses the probability of various religious claims, and at the same time he provides a wealth of information about the universe in which we live. The text is well written in a style that permits even a lay reader to understand (almost) all the scientific arguments. A very necessary addition to the books of Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. Actually, it should be compulsory reading for all six graders.
15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2009
When French mathematician and astronomer Pierre Laplace was asked why his new book on astronomy made no mention of God, he is said to have replied, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là"-- "I have had no need of that hypothesis." Now Victor Stenger has given us an exceedingly eye-opening book-length expansion upon that concept--that the purported existence of God is an hypothesis which does not help in any way to explain the universe we see around us and for which there is no need whatever, when the natural observations of science explain the world quite nicely.
Richard Dawkins has long since argued successfully that since a universe with a creative, intercessional, propitiatory God would be a very different universe from one without such an entity, the notion of God is an hypothesis that requires testing and verification by the methods of science and logic just like any other hypothesis that makes claims about the nature of the world. Victor Stenger has taken up that challenge in a book that brings to bear all the penetrating light of the scientific method. Not surprisingly to those of us who have never seen any reason to credit the notion of God, the hypothesis fails. The universe looks precisely as it should under the realization that there is no God: "[T]he reason I deem the God hypothesis to have failed is precisely because no physical phenomena have been reliably shown to exist that require us to go beyond natural explanations."
Time and again throughout the book, Stenger presents tightly reasoned yet highly readable arguments to the effect that if the God hypothesis were true, there definitely should be multitudinous kinds of evidence that in fact we find utterly lacking. Hypotheses, when they are true, leave observable effects that false hypotheses do not leave. This approach proves to be fatal to the God hypothesis, as Stenger demonstrates repeatedly from various angles
Taking up the notion of intelligent design, for example, he shows that the universe as we actually see it looks precisely as it should in the absence of a designer, its spontaneous development being quite evident. Likewise, examining the quaint notion that a God exists who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent, Stenger has no difficulty arguing that, on the contrary, the world looks precisely as it should when such a creature is entirely imaginary. "The universe," he wryly observes, "is not congenial to human life."
Indeed the whole notion of God is not only foolish but harmful to humankind: "By ridding the world of God, science helps us to control our own lives rather than submitting them to the arbitrary authority of priests and kings who justify their acts by divine will." Needless to say, the religion-inspired atrocities of 9-11 have taught us very clearly that allegiance to fictional gods is not something the world can any longer afford.
Everyone should read this. Everyone.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2008
As my title indicates I'm a Scientific Pantheist & have been for roughly 10 years although I didn't know the term for what I am until reading Paul Harrison's work a few years ago. I grew up in a family where my mother's side were Pentecostal & my father's were Later Day Saints, so from an early age I knew something was wrong because both groups had very different beliefs, yet each claimed the same god. As a teenager I joined a General Baptist church, because I thought it was a saner creed (no scary talking in tongues or belief in Joseph Smith's bad hieroglyph translations). Later when I was in university I spent a summer abroad in China & that opened my mind, because suddenly I had to reconcile the fact that the vast majority of the human population were not Christian in any way shape fashion or form. How could an all-loving & all-knowing god make such an oversight when it would effectively damn billions of souls to hell for nothing they personally had a choice about? I've read the Bible, Book of Mormon, Tao Te Ching as well as the works of Spinoza all of which put me down the path to where I am today, but this book kind of sealed the deal. It didn't make me an atheist, but it certainly made me uderstand where they are coming from. I found God: TFH to be very good at doing what it had set out to do, which was explaining why the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god doesn't exist. It doesn't 100% rule out the creator god of the deists (but it makes him/her/it seem kind of unimportant) nor does it rule out the universe as god concept that I accept, but it definitely gives some food for thought. I found his arguments to be well-written & easily understood. Those who enjoyed this book would probably also like Dawkins, E O Wilson or even Thomas Paine.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2009
I don't think Professor Stenger disproved God; in fact, as many scientists have said, you cannot disprove God. (See Lawrence Krauss, a nonbelieving physicist, explain this in Beyond Belief I). Notwithstanding this criticism, The Failed Hypothesis is an excellent book. Stenger hammers away at "scientific" creationists like Hugh Ross and Michael Behe(intelligent design advocate). He shows that the Gospels are almost certainly false. (I wish Lee Strobel would read that part of the book.) It needs to be said some basic knowledge of cosmology/ basic science is helpful to understand some of Stenger's arguments. The book succeeds as a complement to the God Delusion, Letter to a Christian Nation, and God is Not Great.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2009
This book offers you access to knowledge and reason which facilitate the understanding of the dynamics of an integral universe; both to scientists and non-scientists alike. It is a book that will coach you to think for yourself.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2010
I owned this book for a year. Still, I used it as my primary reference, because it provided a key concept that many theist failed to grasp. The "laws" in physics, or formulas used in physics are NOT something that "commands" or "restricts" how the nature/universe behave.
This is a very important concept. The "laws" in physics, or formulas used in physics simply is the best ones physicists derived that can account for all observable natural phenomena and data they collected, much like a sketch of a person. The sketch is a representation from the artists point of view, but it cannot restrict or determine how that person should look like!
I loved the way the author divided the topics, and I can just pull the book out from my shelf and get to the chapter I want.
His other books, if you are scientific savvy, should also provide you a good weekend's reading.