Victor J. Stenger. God: The Failed Hypothesis - How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59102-481-1.
Victor J. Stenger has a scientific background, and unlike many others, he regards the question whether a god exists or not as a question that you can approach empirically. In his book God: The Failed Hypothesis, he concludes that there is no evidence for a creator and a lot of evidence against it.
In terms of style and structure, this is certainly a very good book. I think it is also clear that if our world had a supernatural origin, there will have to be many signs that it had. A creator who creates a reality that would have been exactly the same without this creative act, adds nothing to that reality and in that sense is not a creator, even if he were just “hiding” from us. Therefore, people interested in arguments for or against the existence of a god should not leave this book unread. Stenger limits his account to the kind of god who is a personal creator, like the one we know from the monotheistic traditions.
First, the author pays attention to the claims of the Intelligent Design movement. I do not know if he actually refuted those claims, but in any case they are sufficiently covered.
Chapter 3 deals with consciousness and parapsychology, and I daresay that Stenger here gives a wrong picture of the main facts. He claims that consciousness is fully compatible with a materialist philosophy, which means that our conscious experiences are completely identical to brain processes or are in any case entirely dependent on neurology.
Moreover, he proclaims that there is absolutely no acceptable evidence for paranormal phenomena. The author gives some attention to near-death experiences (pp. 104-105), but he naturally concludes that they do not offer any argument for a transcendent dimension.
Furthermore, he questions a unique Big Bang and is confident that at a cosmological level there are no anomalies that would indicate anything non-physical. The physical universe would show no sign whatsoever of a possible creation. Even a natural origin of evertything out of nothing (i.e. without a creator in sight) is plausible enough for Stenger. He also turns against the belief that physical reality would be fine-tuned at the origin of life and people. According to Stenger, only a relatively small part of the universe is suitable for life and an even smaller proportion is suitable for human-like creatures. He calls this a huge "waste", which indicates there can be no creator.
Chapter 6 deals with historical inaccuracies in holy scriptures like the Bible. I find this an amusing and revealing chapter, in which Stenger demonstrates that the exodus from Egypt never happened, and that an important prediction made by Jesus about his return in the near future was already refuted a few decades after his demise.
The author also shows that certain moral principles are universal and that some traditional religious rules actually go against these principles, rather than offering the meta-ethical grounds for them.
Chapter 8 discusses the problem of (undeserved) harm within a created reality or theodicy. Stenger rightly terms this the strongest argument against theism and refutes every known attempt to formulate a satisfactory response to it. Only the argument that evil is part of a larger plan that eventually will work out positively for everyone, appears to remain defensible. In any event, there is no easy answer, at least not from an ordinary human perspective, especially if you reject any notion of karma out of hand.
Victor J. Stenger ends his book with a humanitarian plea for a meaningful life without God.
This review was published in Terugkeer18 (4), 27-28, 2007.