I like messing around with God, or gods, or Cosmic Muffins, but that doesn’t mean I believe in any sort of god. So I was interested in seeing how God: The Failed Hypothesis, by Victor J. Stenger would apply the methods of science to the hypothesis that God exists. Like The Fabric of Reality, it sparked a lot of response in me, so much I’m going to write another two-parter. First, let’s see the broad shape of the book’s disproof of God.
In chapter one, the book defines which it means by God. First off, logic rules out a god who is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omnipresent. There cannot be a 3O god. That was easy. So the book focuses on a particular kind of god, by setting out eight attributes, commonly ascribed to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, which ought to create evidence that such a god exists. The attributes (much condensed) are:
- God created the universe.
- God is the author of the laws of nature.
- God works miracles and answers prayers.
- God created all life and human beings.
- God gave human beings souls.
- God is the source of morality.
- God has revealed truths in scriptures and revelations.
- God does not deliberately hide from anyone who seeks him.
Chapter two fights the evolution battle and concludes that a god with attribute #4 doesn’t exist.
I didn’t understand why chapter three takes a detour into the paranormal, such as qi and ESP, since I thought people who believed in this stuff used to be called witches. Anyway, it goes on to discuss the lack of evidence that prayer as petition works or that the soul has a separate existence from the body or that there is an afterlife. Thus it concludes that a god with attributes #3 and #5 doesn’t exist.
Chapter four shows that neither a god with attributes #1 nor #2 is necessary to explain the origin of the universe or the laws of physics. Chapter five further attacks these attributes by addressing the anthropic principle, that the structure of the universe is fine-tuned for life. It argues that the “fine-tuning” of the cosmological constants isn’t nearly as precarious that they are made out to be, and that there are other sets of constants that could create other universes with life in them.
To be honest, at first I thought chapter six, which proves the scriptures are wrong when they make testable statements about the world, took on too easy a target in attribute #7. I mean, you get into all sorts of trouble with literal interpretation. But it turns out there is no archaelogical evidence for even the parts that sound plausible, like the kings and judges. It leaves you wondering if there’s anything historical in the Bible.
Chapter seven shows there is no need for a god with attribute #6 to give us our sense of right and wrong. We have a common set of moral standards that goes back into all history, prehistorical myths, and even into the evolution of social animals.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? None of the attributes are in order. And then, instead of attacking attribute #8, chapter eight discusses the problem of evil, brings the 3O god back into the argument, and dismisses him again. This is interesting, but it has nothing to do with science.
In chapter ten, the book recaps what it actually proved (again, much condensed):
- The complex structure of the world can be understood to arise from simple natural processes, not God.
- There is no evidence for a soul or an afterlife, let alone a God who bestowed them.
- There is no evidence for miracles, including some of the most important biblical narratives.
- No violations of physical law–or interventions by God–were required to produce the universe.
- The universe is not congenial to human life, which is inconsistent with a God who fine-tuned it.
- There is no empirical confirmation of a God who communicates with humans by direct revelation.
- The evidence shows that humans define morals and values for themselves, without God.
- The existence of evil is inconsistent with an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent God.
As theologians are confronted with the physical evidence, they are retreating to the possibility that god hides himself. This verges into the problem of evil, since a loving god would not hide from believers who seek him. There is a variant where god hides himself from all but his selected elite. The book concludes that god with attribute #8 could exist, but he would be evil.
There’s so much that fascinates me here, but it drives me crazy when I have to outline a book to figure out its structure, only to find that the structure is inconsistent. But for all its inconsistencies, I learned from it, including some good advice about life without God.
More to come next week.