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In Memory of Prof. Victor J. Stenger

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[Dr. Victor J. Stenger, a particle physicist and prolific author who wrote the 2007 New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis, passed away on August 25 last in Hawaii at the age of 79. His forthcoming book is: God and the Multiverse.

Reproduced below, at sl. no. I, is a short biographical note (penned apparently sometime between 2003 and 2005), at sl. no. II, his responses to a questionnaire briefly outlining/summarising his views on science and religion, and, at sl. no. III, a very useful review of his most famous work.]

I/III.
Victor J. Stenger grew up in a Catholic working class neighborhood in Bayonne, New Jersey. His father was a Lithuanian immigrant, his mother the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. He attended public schools and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in 1956. While at NCE he was editor of the student newspaper and received several journalism awards.

Moving to Los Angles on a Hughes Aircraft Company fellowship, Stenger received a Master of Science degree in Physics from UCLA in 1959 and a Ph. D. in Physics in 1963. He then took a position on the faculty of the University of Hawaii, retiring to Colorado in 2000. His current position is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is a Fellow of CSICOP and Research Fellow of the Center for Inquiry. Stenger is also founder and president of the Colorado Citizens for Science.

Stenger has also held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford in England (twice), and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy.

Stenger’s research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately lead to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. He also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high-energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan which showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass.

Stenger has had a parallel career as an author of critically well-received popular level books that interface between physics and cosmology and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience. These include: Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988); Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses 1990); The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995); Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes (2000), and Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003). His next book, The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come from? will appear in 2006. This is to be followed by God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist, which is scheduled for publication in 2007.

Stenger and his wife Phylliss have been happily married for 43 years and have two children and four grandchildren. They attribute their long lives to the response of evolution to the human need for babysitters, a task they joyfully perform. Phylliss and Stenger are avid doubles tennis players, golfers, generally enjoy the outdoor life in Colorado, and travel the world as often as they can.or J

[Source: <http://www.theinfidels.org/zunb-victorjstenger.htm>.]

II/III.
http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/RelSci/Five.htm

Science and Religion: Five Questions

 

Edited by Gregg Caruso

 

Victor J. Stenger

 

Victor J. Stenger is Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado. Dr. Stenger’s research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, charmed quarks, gluons, and neutrinos. He also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high-energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring, Dr. Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan that showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The Japanese leader of the project shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics for that work.

Dr. Stenger is the author of twelve books including the 2007 NY Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis—How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. His next book, in press, is God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos. His other books include Not by Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988), Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (1990), The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995), Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003), The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009), The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: How the Universe is Not Designed for Humanity (2011), God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (2012), and God and the Atom: From Democritus to the Higgs Boson (2013).

1. What initially drew you to theorizing about science and religion?

 

Theorizing about anything in the absence of empirical data is a largely useless activity. A logical deduction tells you nothing that is not already embedded in its premises. For the deduction to have value, those premises must be based on empirical data. All my theorizing about science and religion refers to well-established, objective observations.

I believe strongly in the integrity of the scientific method. In the 1980s, I became aware of how science was being misused to claim evidence for special powers of the mind, such as extrasensory perception (ESP). I looked at the history and saw that the scientific study of so-called psychic phenomena began in the late nineteenth century, coinciding with the rising public interest in spiritualism at that time.

Some of this research was being conducted by reputable scientists, notably physicists William Crookes and Oliver Lodge. I discovered that each was strongly motivated by a personal tragedy that led him to desperately seek evidence for life after death. Psychic phenomena might substantiate the existence of an immortal soul.

At the time, it was not unreasonable for a scientist to consider the possibility of psychic powers. As Lodge, who had helped develop radio, put it: “If wireless telegraphy is possible, why not wireless telepathy?” He and Crookes were also impressed by the many remarkable feats that were being demonstrated by famous “psychic mediums” of the day. They each conducted tests of mediums using what they genuinely thought were carefully controlled scientific experiments.

Unfortunately, their desire to believe led Crookes and Lodge to relax their standards and to fail to apply the strict criteria they might have for a less emotionally charged subject. And so, instead of conducting experiments in their own labs under careful conditions designed by themselves, they carried out the experiments on the psychics’ own turf with the experimental subjects actually calling the shots. This usually involved observing séances in darkened rooms where they gullibly fell for magician’s tricks that were pretty standard in the professional illusionist business but were unfamiliar to the trusting scientists who were used to nature not lying to them.

By the turn of the century, skeptics had successfully debunked all the most notable claims, and psychic research, which came to be known as parapsychology, fell into disrepute. It was revived in the 1930s by a botanist at Duke University, Joseph Banks Rhine, who at first appeared to bring a new level of scientific integrity to psychic studies. He coined the term “ESP” (Extra-Sensory Perception) in a very popular book, and his experiments were conducted under what on the surface were well-controlled conditions.

The media picked up on Rhine’s claims of success and science fiction writers began to include characters with psychic powers in their tales, giving the idea at least an aura of scientific respectability. Years later we would still have Mr. Spock reading minds in the Star Trek space sagas. But that had no more basis in serious science than warp drives, tracking beams, or crewmembers being able to breathe the air on every planet they beamed down to.

While there were some cases of proved cheating in Rhine’s lab, he is reputed to have been scrupulously honest. However, he too was fervently motivated by religion that, as with Crookes and Lodge, affected his critical capabilities. Rhine always found excuses for negative results rather than simply accepting them as facts and when scientific journals starting rejecting his papers he started his own “peer-reviewed” journal. Today Rhine’s claims are not taken seriously by mainstream science.

When I saw that not only parapsychology, but other fields such as medical research and psychology had journals with low publication standards I started speaking out against them. You still often read that a claimed effect is “statistically significant” if it has confidence level of 5 percent, which is the standard for these journals. What this means is that if you were to repeat the same experiment many times under the exact same conditions, then you would get the observed effect or a greater one no more than one out of 20 times on average simply by chance.

This implies that if 100 experiments are conducted in a variety of fields, five of them will be published having effects that are taken to be significant but are really just statistical fluctuations. And, it’s worse than that. A good number of the 95 other experiments that saw “no effect” are likely not to be published, since only positive results tend to be published. In fact, it would be a reasonable conclusion that most published claims of new phenomena at the 5 per cent level are simply wrong.

By the late 1990s I grew bored of shooting arrows into the dead horse of psychic claims and found a new animal to target. I discovered that many Christian apologists were arguing that science was finding evidence for God in cosmology. Again I saw science being misused so I took action.

 

2. Do you think science and religion are compatible when it comes to understanding cosmology (the origin of the universe), biology (the origin of life and of the human species), ethics, and/or the human mind (minds, brains, souls, and free will)?

 

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of the different assumptions they make about how humans gain knowledge of the world. Religious belief is based on the notion that a world exists that we can access purely mentally outside the material world of our senses. A God who communicates directly with humans by means of revelation conflicts with the fact that no scientifically verifiable new information has ever been transmitted while many wrong and harmful doctrines have been asserted by this means. Furthermore, physical evidence now conclusively demonstrates that some of the most important biblical narratives, such as the Exodus, never took place.

Physical and historical evidence might have been found for the miraculous events and the important narratives of the scriptures. For example, Roman records might have been found for an earthquake in Judea at the time of a certain crucifixion ordered by Pontius Pilate. Noah’s Ark might have been discovered. The Shroud of Turin might have contained genetic material with no Y-chromosomes. Since the image is that of a man with a beard, this would confirm he was born of a virgin. Or, the genetic material might contain a novel form of coding molecule not found in any other living organism. This would have proven an alien (if not divine) origin of the enshrouded being.

In fact, there isn’t a shred of independent evidence that Jesus Christ is a historical figure.

If God exists, then miracles that violate scientific principle should be seen. For example, prayers should be answered; an arm or a leg should be regenerated through faith healing. This does not happen.

Let us now see how in each of the above subjects scientific understanding differs irreconcilably from religious beliefs.

 

Cosmology

 

I know of no major religion except Buddhism that does not believe that the universe was supernaturally created a finite time in the past. The consensus view of scientific cosmology holds that natural origin of our universe does not violate any principles of existing, well-established physics and cosmology. Furthermore, modern cosmology suggests that our universe is one of aneternal multiverse containing an unlimited number of universes. That multiverse had no beginning, nor will it end, and so no supernatural creation ex-nihilo was necessary.

A cosmic God who fine-tuned the laws and constants of physics for life, in particular human life, fails to agree with the fact that the universe is not congenial to human life, being from the human perspective tremendously wasteful of time, space, and matter. It also fails to agree with the fact that the universe is mostly composed of particles in random motion, with complex structures such as galaxies forming less than 4% of the total mass of the universe.

If humanity were a special creation of God, the universe should be congenial to human life. Humans might have been able to move from planet to planet, just as easily as they now move from continent to continent, and be able to survive on every planet—even in space—without artificial life support.

In short, the picture that modern physics and cosmology draws of the universe is in complete contradiction to that presented in the scriptures of most religions, especially Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

 

Biology

 

The Catholic Church and many moderate Protestant denominations claim they accept biological evolution. However, when you read what they actually say about the subject you find that what they believe in is not Darwinian evolution as understood by science. Rather it is God-guided evolution that is simply another form of “intelligent design.”

 

Ethics

 

Considerable scholarship now exists describing how humans, and even many animals, evolved morals and ethics naturally in order to live together in societies. Religions universally claim morals and ethics arose from supernatural origins. This simply disagrees with the historical facts. For example, the Golden Rule existed in many cultures a thousand years before The Sermon On the Mount.

It is now clear that social animals evolved ethics even before humans. People have further developed ethics and culture by trial and error. Every improvement in ethics was resisted by religious conservatives at the time.

If morality came from God, you would expect that natural events should follow some moral law, rather than such events following morally neutral physical laws. For example, lightning might strike only the wicked, people who behave badly might fall sick more often, nuns would always survive plane crashes.

Likewise, believers should be expected to have a higher moral sense than nonbelievers and other measurably superior qualities. For example, the jails might be filled with atheists while all believers live happy, prosperous, contented lives surrounded by loving families and pets. But the opposite is true.

 

Human Mind

 

All the evidence points to the mind and consciousness being a product of the purely material brain. A God who has given humans immortal souls fails to agree with the empirical facts that human thoughts, memories, and personalities are governed by physical processes in the brain, which dissolves upon death. And, as shown earlier, no nonphysical or extra-physical powers of “mind” can be found and no evidence exists for an afterlife

Science might have uncovered convincing evidence for an afterlife. For example, a person who had been declared dead by every means known to science might return to life with detailed stories of an afterlife that were later verified. She might meet Jimmy Hoffa who tells her where to find his body.

Similarly, any claim of a revelation obtained during a mystical trance could contain scientifically verifiable information that the subject could not possibly have known. Yet none of this has happened.

 

3. Some theorists maintain that science and religion occupy non-overlapping magisteria—i.e., that science and religion each have a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority, and these two domains do not overlap. Do you agree?

 

No I do not. This was the good-intentioned attempt by the late Stephen Jay Gould, a professed atheist, to reduce the conflict between science and religion. Science, Gould wrote, is concerned with describing the “outer” world of our senses, while religion deals with the “inner” world of morality and meaning.

Many scientists—believers and nonbelievers—have adopted the NOMA position. Believing scientists compartmentalize their thinking by not incorporating into their religious thinking thedoubt-everything position they were trained to take in their professions.

A prime example is geneticist, Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project and at this writing directs the National Institutes of Health. His 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, was a bestseller. However, his so-called evidence was not, as you might have thought from the title, based on his deep knowledge of DNA. Rather it was based on his own inner feeling that the world is a moral place and only God could have made it that way. Nowhere does Collins come close to applying to this notion the critical skills exhibited in his outstanding scientific career.

Unlike Descartes, Newton, Kepler and many of the great founders of the scientific revolution (Galileo is a prominent exception), modern-day believing scientists such as Collins do not incorporate God into their science. This even includes those scientists who happen to also be members of holy orders, such as the Belgian Catholic priest Georges-Henri Lemaître who proposed the big bang in 1927 but urged Pope Pius XII not to claim it as infallible proof that God exists.

Most nonbelieving scientists just want to do their research and stay out of any fights over religion. That makes the NOMA approach appealing because it allows these scientists to not worry much about what religion is or how it affects our social and political world. In my view, though, these scientists are shirking their responsibility by conceding the realms of morality and public policy to the irrationality and brutality of faith.

 

  1.  What do you consider to be your own most important contribution(s) to theorizing about science and religion?

 

I believe I was the first to argue, in my 2007 book God—The Failed Hypothesis, that the absence of evidence for any God who plays an important role in the universe proves beyond a reasonable doubt that such a god does not exist.

It is inarguable that science has not yet found evidence for a god or the supernatural. If it had, it would be in the textbooks. Still, you will often hear: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Not always. When the evidence that is absent is evidence that should be there, then that can be taken as evidence of absence.

Consider the hypothesis that elephants roam Yellowstone Park. If that were the case, then a tourist or ranger should have been spotted one by now. Or, other evidence such as droppings and crushed bushes would certainly be found. Since none of this has occurred, we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that elephants do not roam Yellowstone Park.

Incidentally, note that the often-heard statement that you cannot prove a negative is simply wrong, including the negative that there is no God.

And so it is with the hypothesis of the existence of the God worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims and others among the major religions of the world. Religious apologists and even some atheistic scientists have contended that God is a “spirit” and so science can say nothing about him. However, this particular hypothesized God plays such an active part in the universe that evidence of his actions should be observable.

Earlier I discussed several examples of phenomena that should be seen if such a God exists. The fact that they are not is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this God does not exist. Note that this proof does not apply to all conceivable gods, such as the impersonal deist god who creates the universe but does not intervene any further. While such a god is not ruled out, we have no reason to pray to it or worship it, so it might as well not exist.

In addition, I have provided unique counter examples to the questions often raised by believers that claim to show the need for some kind of god.

 

How can something come from nothing?

 

Let me restate this question as follows: How can matter come from non-matter?

The universe has mass, which is a measure of the amount of matter in a body. Since mass and rest energy are equivalent, it would seem that the law of conservation of energy must have been broken to create the matter of the universe out of “nothing.”

However, when the negative potential energy of attractive gravity is included, the total energy of the universe is zero, give or take quantum uncertainties. So, the law of conservation of energy was not broken for the universe to appear from an earlier state of zero energy and zero matter. This leads to the next question:

 

Where do the laws of physics come from?

 

The “law” of conservation of energy follows from the fact that there is no special moment in time. It was not handed down in a stone tablet by God. It’s more necessary than God.

Physicists in the twentieth century discovered a set of principles I call metalaws that are required to be present in all physics models. In order to describe the universe objectively, physicists must formulate their models so that they describe observations in ways that are independent of the point-of-view of particular observers, what I have dubbed point-of-view invariance. This gives the model-builders no choice but to include metalaws—the great principles of conservation of energy, linear momentum, angular momentum, and electric charge.

I have shown that point-of-view invariance also leads to classical physics, including Newton’s laws of mechanics and gravity, Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism, and Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Much if not all of general relativity and quantum mechanics, including the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, also follow.

I have also shown that the parameters of physics that are supposedly “fine-tuned” for life are consistent with known physics and capable of producing some form of life. Apologists come back with, “Where did physics come from?” My answer: physics came from physicists formulating models to describe observations and these models must include metalaws that constitute the basic laws of physics. The metalaws do not set all the parameters of physics. Many are determined by accident. However, the values of the parameters in the models that successfully describe all observations in our universe are within the ranges set by the metalaws.

 

Why is there something, rather than nothing?

 

This question is largely philosophical because it deals more with the meaning of words than actual physics. Clearly, no consensus exists on how to define “nothing.” It may be impossible. To define “nothing” you have to give it some defining property, but, then, if it has a property it’s not nothing!

Let me ask the questions another way: Why is there “being” rather than “nonbeing”? My reply: Why should nonbeing, no matter how defined, be the default state of existence rather than being? Why is some creative act needed to convert nonbeing to being? Perhaps such an act is needed to convert being into nonbeing.

If nonbeing is the natural state, then why is there God? Once theologians assert that there is a God as opposed to nonbeing, they can’t turn around and demand that a cosmologist explain why there is a universe as opposed to nothing. They claim God is a necessary entity. Why can’t a godless multiverse be a necessary entity?

But we can do even better than this standoff and make an argument for “something” being a more natural state than “nothing.” We can provide a plausible reason based on our knowledge of existing physics.

It is commonly thought that a complex physical system can only come about by the deliberate act of an intelligent designer who must necessarily be even more complex. The chain of design then leads back to God as Aristotle’s Prime Mover and Aquinas’s First Cause Uncaused, the maximally complex creator of all that is.

We even do not have to rely on sophisticated scientific arguments to see from common experience alone that Aristotle and Aquinas had it backward. In nature, complexity arises out of simplicity. Consider the phase transitions observed in familiar matter. In the absence of external heat, water vapor will naturally condense into liquid water, which then will freeze into solid ice. With each transition, we move from a state of higher symmetry to one of lower symmetry— from simplicity to complexity.

Complexity is broken symmetry, and the transition from simple to complex occurs spontaneously. Simplicity begets complexity, not the other way around. The particular crystal structure that results from the liquid-water-to-ice transition is unpredictable, that is, accidental.

Physical systems move naturally from simple to complex without the need for design, intelligent or otherwise. Indeed, the fact that specific events, such as atomic transitions, are random can be taken as strong evidence against any design, intelligent or not so intelligent.

And so, how do we get something from nothing? Since no thing is more symmetric than nothing, we would expect nothing to naturally undergo a phase transition to something. As Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek put it in a Scientific American article back in 1980, “Nothing is unstable.”

 

5. What are the most important open questions, problems, or challenges confronting the relationship between science and religion, and what are the prospects for progress? 

 

  1. Science needs to produce life in the laboratory. It does not have to be exactly our form of life, with DNA, etc., but just a material system with the basic characteristics of life. This will prove that a supernatural force was not needed to produce life and it can originate naturally. It may take a while.

 

  1. Science needs to find life on another planet. This will prove that our form of life is not the only in existence. This will prove that earthly life is not special. It could happen soon.

 

  1. Science needs to demonstrate conclusively that the thinking process is purely material. This will disprove the existence of an immaterial soul, at least as traditionally conceived. We are almost there.

 

  1. Those religions whose traditions are based on the knowledge of simple desert tribesman who lived thousands of years ago need to show how those traditions can be reconciled with modern science. To those ancients, Earth was the unmovable center of the universe, and this is how the Bible describes it. Today we know that the universe is vast beyond comprehension and probably contains countless other intelligent beings. Do they all require the only begotten son of God to visit them and die on their planet to atone for their sins? I don’t see how Christian traditions will ever be reconciled with scientific knowledge.

 

  1. Religious believers need to place empirical knowledge and reason ahead of baseless faith in making decisions in life. I think this will gradually happen, as religion is maintained mainly for its cultural heritage and social benefits while its supernatural elements fade away as more people develop critical thinking skills.

 

  1. Young people are moving away from organized religion in droves. Within another generation it is likely that believers in the supernatural will be a minority in America as they are in most of Europe. However, many of these so-called “nones” currently say they are “not religious but spiritual.” The meaning of the word “spiritual” must be made clear. Its general usage connotes something supernatural. We have seen that all attempts to find evidence for a world beyond matter have failed. It would be tragic if the primitive superstitions of traditional religions are simply replaced by a different system based on just another form of superstition. “Not religious but spiritual” should be replaced with “not religious but moral.”

 

From its very beginning, religion has been a tool used by those in power to retain that power and keep the masses in line. This continues today as religious groups are manipulated to work against believers’ own often unrecognized best interests in health and economic well-being in order to cast doubt on well-established scientific findings. This would not be possible except for the diametrically opposed world-views of science and religion and the illegitimate and unearned power of the latter.

I have an urgent plea to scientists and all thinking people. We need to focus our attention on one goal, which will not be reached in the lifetime of the youngest among us but has to be achieved someday if humanity is to survive. That goal is the replacement of foolish faith and its vanities with something more sublime—knowledge and understanding that is securely based on observable reality.

God: The Failed Hypothesis (detail of cover)

Conspicuous by His Absence

book review by David Ludden

There’s good news for readers of Richard Dawkins’ latest bestseller, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) whose appetites were whetted for more. Physicist Victor Stenger has just served up a second course of delectable arguments for the non-existence of God. In his latest book God: The Failed Hypothesis, Stenger runs through the standard rational and biological arguments against any sort of meaningful deity, but he does much more. In plain, easily understood language, Stenger lays out the evidence from cosmology, particle physics and quantum mechanics showing that the universe appears exactly as it should if there is no creator.

Stenger does not agree with those who maintain that science has nothing to say about the existence of god. He soundly rejects Steven Jay Gould’s NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) argument (Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, Ballantine, 1999), which posits that science and religion are independent fields of knowledge and that there can be no conflict between the two. Furthermore, he dismisses the notion that science is limited to studying the natural world. If there is a deity that interacts with the world — such as the standard Judeo-Christian-Islamic god — then the effects of divine intervention are observable within the natural world, and so they are under the purview of naturalistic science. Hence, Stenger argues, although science cannot directly test the existence of a supreme being, it can make inferences about a deity based on the observable behavior of the universe. This is exactly the same approach physicists have taken to the study of quarks and black holes, which cannot be directly observed either.

In a sense, every science experiment is a test of the God hypothesis. This is because of the assumption of methodological naturalism, that is, the null hypothesis that God does not affect the outcome of experiments. If scientists ever obtained consistent data that could not be explained by any known natural processes, this would lend support to the hypothesis that God exists, and scientists would eagerly pursue this line of research. But the assumption of methodological naturalism holds; that is, we find no evidence of God’s intervention in the natural world. Hence, we conclude that a god of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic type does not exist. While it is true, as the apologist will argue, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it is nevertheless reasonable grounds for an assumption of non-existence, at least until reasonable evidence to the contrary is provided.

Stenger considers a number of arguments from physics that point to the non-existence of God. Curiously, these are often the same arguments proffered by theists for the existence of a creator. However, Stenger turns each argument on its head. Consider, for example, the first law of thermodynamics, or the conservation of energy. Some theists argue that the universe could not have come into existence without a violation of the first law because energy was created at the beginning of the universe. However, Stenger shows that inflationary big bang theory, which is amply supported by the data, predicts a “close balance between positive and negative energy” so that “the total energy of the universe is zero”. Thus, no violation of conservation was required to bring the matter and energy of the universe into being.

Another favorite of the theists is the second law of thermodynamics, or entropy. Savvy creationists have given up this as an argument against evolution, but it is still pulled out to argue for the existence of a creator. According to the second law, the total entropy, or disorder, of a closed system must increase over time. If the universe started as chaos, the theist argues, a miracle was needed to impose order upon it. On the other hand, if the universe was maximally ordered at the beginning of time, this could be interpreted as the signature of a perfect creator. But the cosmological evidence indicates that the universe began in a state of maximum entropy — and that the total entropy of the universe has been increasing ever since! This apparently contradictory state of affairs is explained by the fact that the universe is expanding, with the maximum possible entropy of the universe growing faster than the total actual entropy. Thus, the universe only appears to be getting more ordered, but this is only because there is more room to spread out the clutter. In short, no miracle, and hence no creator, is needed to explain the origin or current state of the universe.

Stenger even takes on one of the biggest mysteries of all — why is there even a universe in the first place? Intuition tells us that nothingness is the normal state of affairs. Hence, the theist argues that the mere existence of a universe is evidence for a creator, because without a creator there would be nothing. But Stenger argues that something, rather that nothing, is the normal state of affairs. The laws of physics tell us that nothingness is an unstable state and will soon “undergo a spontaneous phase shift” to a state of somethingness. Indeed, Stenger argues, a state of continuous nothingness is so improbable that it could only be maintained through divine intervention. Hence, the existence of a universe is no evidence for the existence of a creator.

Probably the most commonly-used theistic argument that Stenger challenges is the anthropic principle. The crux of this argument is that a number of constants in the universe are finely tuned to allow for the existence of life as we know it, and this fine tuning implies a benevolent creator. Stenger notes that the apparent precision in the values of many of these constants is nothing more than an artifact of the units used to measure them. Furthermore, computer modeling shows that something like our universe would have developed under a wide range of values for these constants. Stenger points out that those making this argument mistakenly assume that each of these values is independent of the others, when in fact they are tightly interrelated. Again, no creator is required to explain the features of the universe.

God: The Failed Hypothesis shares a common central theme with Dawkins’ The God Delusion, namely that the universe looks exactly as we would expect it to look if there were no supreme being. However, while Dawkins’ language is more eloquent, Stenger’s is less abrasive, and so somewhat less likely to offend. Nevertheless, the two books complement each other, with Dawkins focusing more on biological evidence and Stenger on physical evidence. All freethinkers should have both volumes, side by side, on their bookshelves.

[Source: <http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/07-04-04/>.]

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