August 8, 2008

God: The Failed Hypothesis

God: The Failed Hypothesis book cover

I read quite a bit on the subjects of atheism, Christian extremism, and politics. I suppose I should write more book reviews here, but I can't say I'm usually interested in doing so. The problem is that writing an effective book review is quite a bit of work and reminds me far too much of the sort of writing I do at my job. If I started doing that, this blog would no longer feel like something I do in my limited free time and would become an extension of a job to which I already devote way too much of my life. And so, you'll have to make do with brief recommendations and mini-reviews like this one.

One easy recommendation is for Victor J. Stenger's God: The Failed Hypothesis. I believe it is the sort of book that most atheists who are interested in science would enjoy. Although it is not particularly science-heavy, I'd be less inclined to recommend it to atheists who had negative attitudes toward science or simply weren't interested in it.

In introducing his book Stenger writes,
In the present book, I will go much further and argue that by this moment in time science has advanced sufficiently to be able to make a definitive statement on the existence or nonexistence of a God having the attributes that are traditionally associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God.

This is an apt description of what to expect in the book, but I think we can go further without much effort. This is a case where it is rather easy to present the core of Stenger's case in the briefest possible terms to give people an idea of what to expect from the book so they can make an informed decision about whether it might be worth reading. Here's what that would look like:

  1. Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.
  2. Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.
  3. Look for such evidence with an open mind.
  4. If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.
  5. If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist.

Essentially, this is the process around which Stenger organizes his book. Again and again, we see none of the evidence that should be present if there was a god with the properties agreed upon by most Christians. But this really isn't the most damning part of Stenger's analysis. Consistent with Richard Dawkins and many other prominent atheists, he finds that the evidence leads to the conclusion that no such god exists. Simply put, "Indeed, Earth and life look just as they can be expected to look if there is no designer God."

I enjoyed the book. Stenger's Ph.D. is in physics, so it was to be expected that he went more into that field than many others. Although I won't pretend to be interested in physics, I appreciated this perspective and found it to be a fitting complement to similar books I have ready where the authors' perspectives drew more from biology, anthropology, psychology, and other fields.

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