314 of 343 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2007
This is an outstanding book. Victor Stenger, a Professor of both Physics and Astronomy, convincingly argues against the existence of God (by which he means the Judea-Christian-Islamic version) by examining a wide variety of scientific evidence. In my view Stenger succeeds in disproving God beyond a level of reasonable doubt. Certain high profile atheists (Richard Dawkins and Same Harris, to name but two) have already written bestsellers on this subject, and I would evaluate Stenger's work as one that fully deserves the same level of success and recognition.
The structure of the book is roughly as follows:
In the first chapter, Stenger lucidly explains the scientific method and what makes it such a potent investigative tool. This is important because many people have no real understanding of these concepts. He also refutes the widely held (at least, by religious people) view that science has nothing to say about religion. This is a very important point, which sets the foundation for the rest of the book.
Stenger also deals with another common misconception, which is that scientists are somehow opposed to, or in denial of the discovery of any supernatural forces, whether religious, psychic, or anything else which violates the natural laws as they are currently understood. In reality the only reason why most scientists do not acknowledge the evidence of such things is because the evidence does not exist.
In the remainder of the book, Stenger goes on to assess the objective evidence for and against the God hypothesis by investigating a plethora of scientific and historical research. He covers everything from biblical prophecies to the illusion of design to prayer experiments and much more. All of this research could very well have produced compelling evidence for God, but none of it has. Stenger logically concludes that the evidence looks exactly the way we would expect it to look in the absence of God.
As a mild criticism, I found that certain topics could have been covered in a bit more detail. On the other hand, some of these issues could easily form the subject of entire books, and so it would have been almost impossible to discuss them in full detail within just a single chapter. Overall I think the author has penetrated to the heart of most of the important issues, and there are plenty of references for those who which to carry out further reading.
Chapters 4 and 5 (entitled Cosmic Evidence and The Uncongenial Universe) deserve a special mention. These two chapters are the undisputed gems of the book, in my opinion. Perhaps this is not so surprising given Stenger's expertise in physics and astronomy. For me personally, the knowledge I gained from these two chapters was easily worth the price of book by itself, and it was an absolute joy to have my eyes opened to some of the mind-boggling secrets of the universe that have been yielded by the investigative efforts of physicists and astronomers. Things do get a little hard to follow at times, but this is pretty much unavoidable for such a complex subject, and overall I think that Stenger does a great job of making it understandable to the lay reader. I won't give too much away, but rest assured that pro-god arguments like "how can something come from nothing?" (with reference to the 'big bang') and "how do you explain the fine-tuning of the universe" are comprehensively dismantled.
To conclude, I would strongly recommend this book for:
- Atheists wishing to learn about how science can be used to disprove God beyond a reasonable doubt.
- People who are vaguely religious/agnostic who wish to learn about the objective evidence for and against a supreme being.
- Religious people who:
a) wish to strengthen their faith by familiarising themselves with arguments for the opposing viewpoint, and/or
b) are brave enough to admit that they could be wrong, and wish to assess the objective evidence for and against God.
In a nutshell, I think that Victor Stenger has done a wonderful job with this book. I have no hesitation in awarding it five stars - with six stars for chapters 4 and 5!
182 of 207 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2007
Having just finished the book moments ago, I was left with the distinct impression that I liked it better than almost any other non-fiction book that I have read lately.
One thing that I liked immensely about "God: The Failed Hypothesis" was its focus on science and showing that it is by far the best way to know the universe, not necessarily the only way, but indeed the best and most accurate method available to human beings to learning about life and all of its mysteries.
Preceding my reading of "G:TFH," I had just finished "Atheist Universe" by David Mills and while I agreed with almost everything he had to say, that book left me with an ambiguous feeling towards its merit. Not so the case with Stenger's book; it could almost be called uplifting.
As a former evangelical, who has studied almost every religion at least in a cursory manner, I am convinced that a personal, religiously affiliated, or intervening god does not exist and is a mere psychological projection. However, I had still remained somewhat agnostic toward the concept of a deistic god. Stenger shows that modern physics can indeed answer such seemingly hard questions as "Why is there something rather than nothing?" rather convincingly. This book weakened my position of agnostic deism from "maybe" to "probably not" because complete naturalism seems to be the best and most likely explanation.
113 of 127 people found the following review helpful
There are several reasons I highly recommend purchasing this book even though I believe it contains some major flaws that yields a less than convincing argument by Dr. Stenger:
Stenger makes an excellent argument the scientific method is able to run the various hypotheses for the existence of God with certain characteristics through the gauntlet. While an informed person could certainly argue we didn't have the knowledge and tools to perform such a task 100 years ago, Stenger eloquently points out that our accumulated knowledge in this century provides the empirical evidence necessary to make rational conclusions of History's arguments on the question of God's existence.
Stenger does an excellent job early in the book of describing the scientific method itself. To those of us who follow the interface between science and culture in modern America, I welcome his pre-empting any criticism of his conclusions that are based on an ignorant understanding of what a theory actually is and how one is developed and differs from credible and absurd hypotheses. He also does an excellent job of defining who has the obligation to make their case, though he's not dependent on expecting fundamentalists and other theists to make their case; the book is filled with arguments backed with empirical evidence on why a certain type of god cannot exist.
Stenger presents the best arguments for the existence of God and rebuts each claiming to use the approach scientists' use when critiquing scientific claims. I do believe Dr. Stenger stretches his case on some of his rebuttals. Having a comprehensive list alone with a usually adequate response makes the book not only worthy to buy and read, but also to keep for future reference. Stenger also does a great job of including arguments and evidence found by others and rarely makes strawmen of his opponents' positions. His writing is clear and his logic easy to follow, making for an interesting read as well.
I have three major concerns that I believe make this book deeply flawed when it comes to matching my opinion to Dr. Stenger based on his arguments:
Stenger often doesn't adequately describe his rebuttal to some hypotheses, instead referring the reader to a previous book authored by Stenger. Thus, some of his rebuttals are a mere sentence or two with no compelling argument or evidence we should believe him nor providing independent evidence. When I referenced other Stenger books in Amazon's search inside the book feature, his conclusions were vapid.
Stenger introduces us to his political beliefs, best described as secular progressive. Stenger even makes absolute statements about his political beliefs where his footnotes reference bloggers' opinions rather than convincing empirical evidence. Thus, Stenger's standards for making a conclusion are often as bad as his ideological opponents and unbecoming of a scientist claiming to use the scientific method to evaluate the various God hypotheses. In fact, this point alone insured me that I should investigate other sources to verify his conclusions since I'm not going to trust anyone using this method.
Stenger makes a strong and convincing case, similar to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, that atheists are as moral if not more so then religious zealots and that our morals and ethics did not originate with God. While this is a worthy topic and Stenger's argument is convincing, I believe this subject has no business being in a book that claims to make an honest assessment of the case for or against a God with certain characteristics.
In fact once again, it's the same rhetorical trap his opponents make. Fundamentalists often claim the existence of God because if God didn't exist, then life isn't worth living; of course this argument in no way addresses the existence of God and instead is a product of wishful or uncreative thinking when confronting an argument against his existence. When Stenger makes the case that atheists are at least as moral as religious people, he falls into the same trap and weakens his argument by identifying himself as just another ideologue. Stenger should have kept to evaluating each God hypothesis and kept the editorializing that atheism is a superior belief system to guys like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, including it here dilutes his moral authority to speak on the behalf of Science.
Even with all these big flaws, the reasons provided above along with some very good arguments rebutting the existence of God, especially his arguments in the chapter titled, "The Uncongenial Universe" makes this required reading for those interested in this subject. However, if you are a critical and/or freethinker, be prepared to exit unconvinced by many of Stenger's arguments though up to speed on what the arguments actually are.
125 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2007
Victor J. Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis deserves to be read by believers and non-believers alike. Fifty years ago, upon completion of my formal study in the sciences, I concluded that God could not exist. With each passing decade, as the scientific method enabled man to advance his knowledge and understanding of the world and universe, this conviction grew stronger. Unfortunately I was never able to adequately explain to others why I felt as I did.
And then I picked up God: The Failed Hypothesis. I could not put it down; indeed I read it cover to cover within hours of purchase. Here was everything I wanted to say to individuals who were ignorant of rigorous science methodology, or scorned it, and relied solely upon faith and revelation.
I have never taken to task people with faith; that is their prerogative. But I always felt inadequate when articulating my own opposite point of view. And how I find meaning and beauty in the arts and nature from within myself, independent of some mystical or religious basis. Furthermore, I see no need for immortality; once around will suffice. So read Stenger's book; I promise you're in for an emotional experience!
63 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2007
Having first read "The God Delusion" and liking it as much as I did, I really thought that I was going to be disappointed with this book. I didn't think that it would be able to measure up to what I had just read. I was wrong.
While both books cover many of the same topics, the main differences stem from their fields of study. Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, spends more time on the evolution versus intelligent design topic while Stenger, the physicist, spends more time on the big bang and quantum mechanics. Although not quite a Carl Sagan, Stenger does more than an admirable job bringing some of the more difficult concepts (Planck time and vacuum energy for instance) to the layperson.
Stenger is abundantly clear that the definitions of God for this book are the ones put forth by the three Abrahamitic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The argument against any other type of god (the uninvolved observer god for instance) he leaves for another day. This is a wise choice which helps tighten the arguments and focus the book.
Even with the emphasis on physics, Stenger still spends enough time on other interesting topics like: the illusion of design, brain science, prayer, the seat of the soul, miracles, order and chaos, beginning and cause, something vs. nothingness, life in the universe, bible prophecy, scripture and science, the origin of morals, good and evil, and living in a godless universe.
I found the book to be structured very well. I particularly liked how the notes were at the end of each chapter rather than all together at the end of the book. It made finding the reference much easier while reading. While 1 star apparently means "I don't agree with you" instead of a poorly written book, I give this book 5 stars for being well written and well argued. The number of "agreement stars" you want to give it are entirely up to you... the reader.
323 of 386 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2007
Stenger's book is a devastating critique of the historical and current attempts to justify the existence of the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. In this book the arguments of intelligent design theories are easily demonstrated to be without merit. Stenger also invades the arena of the various rationalist arguments for the existence of God, handily disposing of these arguments with clear and penetrating logic. Next the premise that the Universe is especially congenial for life is analyzed which reveals that any God should have done a much better job making the Universe a more comfortable home for his special creatures. Finally, Stenger demonstrates the logical incompatibility of an all knowing, all powerful and all good God and the Universe we actually live in. This book is a treasure for anyone seeking a resource to refute theistic assertions and provides nourishing food for thought for undecided seekers of truth.
165 of 198 people found the following review helpful
No, this book doesn't prove that there is no god, nor does it claim to. What it does clearly demonstrate is that the arguments and "evidence" that have been offered to buttress the assertion of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God fail, and in many cases actually weaken what they are presented in support of.
Dr. Stenger explains why it is unnecessary to posit a god to explain the existence of the universe or the existence of life. As knowledge of the way the universe works has increased, there have been fewer and fewer phenomena that seemed to need a god to explain them. That is why Michael D. Goulder, a leading New Testament scholar, resigned the priesthood and became an atheist, saying that he couldn't worship an unemployed God.
This book offers no refutation of the god of Pantheism; the Pantheist god is defined as everything that exists, and it would be difficult to refute the claim that what exists exists. However, that definition of god is not what most people mean by the word. Stenger offers a list of 8 definitional attributes that he suggests (I think correctly, for the most part) fit what most people mean by "God." (this list is abbreviated)
1. Creator of the universe.
2. Author of the laws of nature.
3. Occasionally violates his own laws by performing miracles.
4. Creator of life, especially human life.
5. Provider of immortal souls for humans.
6. Source of morality.
7. Revealer of Truth via Scripture and directly to certain persons.
8. Does not deliberately hide from humans who seek him.
(Read the complete text of each item on pp. 41-42.)
It is these 8, plus 2 of the 3 O's (Omnipotent and omnibenevolent) which Stenger refutes. He does not discuss omniscience, perhaps because Kurt Goedel and Werner Heisenberg have demonstrated that an omniscient entity cannot exist.
NOTE: Mr. Wesley Janssen (in the comments) has demonstrated that I was in error in the previous sentence; Goedel and Heisenberg did not prove quite what I thought they did. Thank you, Mr. Janssen; I stand corrected.
I have only one small complaint: Like too many books these days, it fails to put the footnotes where they belong, on the pages that reference them.
63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2007
Stenger's book fills a need in the literature - a clear, concise summary of how traditional theistic hypotheses of various kinds are openly contradicted by the findings of science. Addressed are how evolutionary biology refutes arguments from design, cosmology refutes the "fine tuning" arguments popular these days, how neuroscience refutes the notion of psychoneural dualism, etc. Also of note are two chapters addressing the question of ethics. Recent theistic discussions (e.g. those of Francis Collins) claim that human ethics are rooted in the supernatural. Stenger not only discusses the usual arguments from evil and how they have been dealt with unsuccessfully, but also the literature on social and biological roots of our own ethics. Like all of our other psychological faculties, human ethical reasoning and feeling has clear counterparts in other primates, and likely also in some sea mammals and elephants. Finally, Stenger addresses the contributions of religion to society, regardless of the truth value of their claims and rightly points out that these are at best equivocal. Yes, some great art was created - but many clergy worked openly with the Nazis. He points out that although human life and indeed, the life of our species is brief, it is still wondrous to have and know during our time. I forget where it came from, but a saying "Is a flower less beautiful because it only lives a short time, blooming in the desert against the drought?" is appropriate here.
Stenger's book should be used as a starting point of an important discussion we have already begun as a species and move us to the next step. The philosopher Popper pointed out that one of the nicest things someone can do is patiently explain how they are mistaken, and how to improve. This book is an example of this approach.
422 of 523 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2007
In a time when any human group is coming out of the closet, finally atheists are doing the same and are being outspoken. Articles and books by Dawkins, Harris, Dennet and Stenger are much needed in America, less so in old Europe where Sunday church attendance is low. I always wonder if there is a connection between a highly religious society and one with a high percentage of inmigrants o descendants of inmigrants.
Religion is one of the last taboos, "the opium of the people" as marxism declared. Books such as Stenger's probably will not convince believers, but will reaffirm non believers. Religion is more part of our emotions than of our rationality. Why some people in Spain support Real Madrid soccer team and others Barcelona? There is no rationale, only emotions.
Naturally, you can still debate in the light of science and philosophy whether such and such god is likely to exist or not. I read Stenger's book with interest in a couple of days and found some interesting things such as:
-Jesus was not the first to say that you must love your enemies. Taoism and buddhism had already expressed the same ideas much earlier.
-"Nothing" is unstable so it is bound to produce "something". This answers the central philosophical question: Why is there something rather than nothing?
-There is no archeological evidence that Moises spent 40 years in the desert with 600.000 people (what a logistic nightmare!).
-Simplicity begets complexity (that I already knew since reading "The Blind Watchmaker" and knowing about genetic algorithms).
Stenger gives so many (most simple) scientific arguments why the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God cannot exist that we should wonder why so many people still believe in it.
The answer may lie in Sartre's dictum: "Man's essence is its desire to be God". In other words: God is our projection. Man may be the first entity by means of which the Univers wonders about itself. What are we doing here? Man has a desire to be trascendent, however the harsh reality is that we are all mortal. Having said that, isn't mortality needed so the Mankind and the Univers can evolve? Where would we be if the inquisitors, Hitler, Stalin wouldn't be dead? In other words: we still do not deserve immortality.
But if we cannot be immortal (at least our soul), what is life's meaning? Stenger also provides some answers such as learn science, diminish the suffering, enjoy life and also quotes Aristotle's answers: contemplation, politics and the pursuit of pleasure which should equate approximately with the previous three.
For me it all boils down to love, being a good citizen and finding a worthwhile activity that you like. As Woody Allen expressed succintly: "I enjoy making films". That's all there is, at least, for the time being.
57 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2007
Billions of the faithful tell us that the omniscient, omnipotent,
benevolent god of the Judaic-Christian-Islamic religions designed and
created the universe for humans. It defined our moral code, subjects us
to a lifetime of testing our faith, and promises our immortality in
either heaven or hell.
Such sweeping claims about such a mighty creator ought to be testable
for their validity. A god that powerful and pervasive ought to leave
abundant non-contradictory evidence of its accomplishments, just as a
thundering herd of bison stampeding through camp ought to leave hoof prints,
tattered tents, and unhappy campers. Finding no such indications, we can
conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that no such bison ever ran through.
Surely, failure to find the "hoof prints" of the god, establishes beyond a reasonable
doubt the nonexistence of that god.
Professor Stenger uses the methods of science to look for those
predictable hoof prints. Time after time, he finds that the expected
evidence of the posited god does not appear. Earth was not created
a few thousand years ago. Animals do evolve without benefit of a designer.
Stars are not fixed within a static firmament. Prayers do not heal supplicants.
Gratuitous pain and suffering does permeate the
benevolent god's creation. The colossal vastness of the universe is
punctuated with giant exploding stars and all-consuming black holes
separated by light years of frigid emptiness, hardly the optimal
creation one would expect for human life. Reality fails to confirm the
attributes of the god.
Moreover, in Professor Stenger's words, "The universe and life look
exactly as they can be expected to look if there is no God." The
universe looks like the one physicists explain with the Standard Model.
Animals evolve according to the natural processes first described by
Darwin. Humans devised moral standards without divine inspiration. We
can discard the shackles imposed by imaginary gods, and live satisfying
and meaningful lives.
Buy this book.
Read Professor Stenger's disproof of the Judaic-Christian-Islamic