Holy Hypothesis

The angry atheists have been center stage in the God debates over the last few years. Many of them have become household names. Often giving sweeping generalizations about what God is, they tear apart this highly improbable image with aplomb. Not that I like to get in the way of somebody’s innocent fun, but their approach to the question only antagonizes the opposition without converting them. I just finished Victor J. Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis. Like many who argue for atheism, Stenger is a highly regarded scientist. Unlike many, he offers a systematic, even-keeled account of his reasons for rejecting the divine. Indeed, the sub-title is straightforward—prosaic even—How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. As befits a physicist, Stenger is careful to define his terms and is cordial enough to state that his book doesn’t cover the non-existence of deities per se, but the interventionist God of yore in particular.

Although I can’t agree on every single point Stenger makes, he does a compelling job of laying out logically how, if God is taken as an hypothesis (theory is a little too strong a category, implying substantial scientific concurrence), there should be some measurable result in the universe that God created. Choosing to differ from many theologians and scientists, Stenger argues that science can say something about God, given that God reputedly acts in a physical world. Outside these parameters something one may choose to call God may exist, but that kind of God does not answer prayers or oversee evolution.

Like many scientists, Stenger feels compelled to undertake this argumentation at least partially because of the weary insistence that evolution is “just a theory.” Creationists have tried to distort science for nearly a century now and have been successful really only in the United States. As Stenger shows, their method is often science, but wrong science. Just because an idea is scientific does not made it valid science. Stenger also points out that the premises of creationism, no matter how measured, are just plain wrong. Throughout, however, there is no belittling of those who believe in God. What is offered in this little volume is a rational, non-hysterical account of why a physicist who follows the law of the kingdom finds there is no God above it. And like a true scientist, Stenger leaves open the possibility that new evidence could overturn his verdict. Nevertheless, if his work is taken seriously, such a turn of events appears highly improbable.