At first glance, I thought this book was too slim to accomplish its stated goal, but I was wrong. In God: The Failed Hypothesis (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2007), Victor J. Stenger critically examines both empirical data and scientific models for the existence of a supreme, transcendant being — God — and finds them to be inadequate.
Stenger begins by defining God according to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic scriptures and asserting that the existence of God is a hypothesis that can be tested scientifically. Thus, as with all hypotheses, this allows us to make predictions of what we should expect if the God Hypothesis is either confirmed or refuted.
In each of the ten chapters, the author focuses on particular scientific evidence against the existence of God, clearly laying out the details of each argument. Several chapters were especially interesting to me, for example; chapter seven, which asks, Do our values come from God? Repeatedly throughout history, the religions of the world assumed the grand role as arbiters of human behavior. Their leaders continually bemoan the moral decay that they claim to see in society, stubbornly insisting that they can tell the rest of us what is right and wrong because they have a special pipeline to the mind of God, who ultimately defines right and wrong. But after relating his observations of how people — including believers — actually behave, the author comes to the conclusion that “God cannot be the source of commonly accepted human morals and values. If he were, then we would expect to see evidence in the superior moral behavior of believers compared to nonbelievers. If you deny that any discrepancy exists between the behavior of believers and what is taught in their scriptures, the empirical fact is that nonbelievers show themselves to be no less virtuous provides strong evidence that morals and values come from humanity itself. Observable human and societal behaviors look just as they can be expected to look if there is no God.” (p 210).
Another interesting chapter examines the problem of evil and maintains that;
- If God exists, then the attributes of God are consistent with the existence of evil
- The attributes of God are not consistent with evil
- Therefore, God does not and cannot exist
In this chapter Stenger argues that unnecessary suffering in the world is inconsistent with a god who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Of course, evil might solely come from the devil, but this implies that god is not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnibenevolent (the 3Os). The author also observes that “[i]mmediately after the September 11, 2001, tragedy, many (though by no means all) of the Christian clergy blamed it on the devil and not God. This implies that either the devil is an equally powerful, autonomous separate God, which is no longer a monotheism, or a part of God himself, which is no longer omnibenevolence.” (p. 223) As a result, this is not consistent with the the traditional omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent Judeo-Christian-Islamic God hypothesis being tested.
The last chapter of the book investigates life in a godless universe and asks why many of us cannot find meaning in our lives without having it handed down from above? Stenger observes that, as social animals, we find pleasure in the society of others, and that we empathize with others’ suffering. As a result, we have built up a vast civilization and we have a wide range of important activities in which we can participate — working to reduce avoidable suffering being only one of them. But what about spiritual comfort and inspiration, you ask? The author notes that spiritual comfort and inspiration are the purpose for art, music literature and science, as well as family, work and recreation. Further, he adds, religious “comfort” is not all that it is cracked up to be; psychologists report that highly religious protestants exhibit more symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder than do the less religious and nonreligious. Additionally, life everlasting carries with it the persistent dread that one might spend eternity somewhere other than in the bosom of God.
After each chapter, there is a section filled with references and notes, and the end of the book had a detailed bibliography and index, making it easy for the reader to follow up on particular points. Logically structured, meticulously argued and readable, this book is a unique and powerful critique of the existence of the traditional omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. Relying on converging evidence from physics, astronomy, philosophy and biology, Stenger has written a masterful argument in support of reason.