The real failed hypothesis

The other day I was wandering around my local Borders store, and ran across a book on the New Releases table entitled, God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger, a man who seems to have taken on a crusade against the notion that science is proving (or has proved) the existence of God, particularly the Christian version of God.

Now, straight off I need to say that I haven’t had a chance to read this book, even though I am going to comment on its concept taken from its own promotional blurbs, which I presume to be accurate. (I should also state that instead of this book, I chose Bruce Feiler’s “Where God Was Born.”) I’d actually like to read this book, but I don’t have the time or money to invest in it right now. However, if someone feels inclined to buy it for me, I promise I’ll read it the first chance I get. (The same goes for Dawkins The God Delusion or even Sam Harris’ stuff.)

The publisher’s blurb for the book states:

Physicist Victor J. Stenger contends that, if God exists, some evidence for this existence should be detectable by scientific means, especially considering the central role that God is alleged to play in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. … After evaluating all the scientific evidence, Stenger concludes that beyond a reasonable doubt the universe and life appear exactly as we might expect if there were no God.

Assuming, as I said, that this is an accurate representation of Stenger’s hypothesis, then one really doesn’t have to read the book to discover its primary error; it would seem, rather than disproving the hypothesis that science can offer proof of God’s existence, he has only proved that his own hypothesis, that science can prove the opposite, has failed. It would seem that in taking on such a task, Stenger has come to a Gödellian impasse. One of Stenger’s problems can be seen at the outset: what if his hypothesis that evidence for God can be detectable by scientific means is either not true, or is unprovable? His conclusion, then, can only be trusted if you accept the same set of presuppositions as Stenger bases his argument on; in which case you have no proof of anything at all.

It remains to be seen whether Stenger’s argument is consistent (I would actually have to read the book to comment on this). Even so, it only proves a consistent system, not that it accurately represents truth. Again, if the presuppositions are incorrect, all you have is a consistent work of fiction.

Stenger is seems to be taking on a de facto exercise in fallacious reasoning when he is attempting to address the truth of one system (that is, theology) from within his own system. Brian Bosse, in his discussion on The Nature of Argumentation (Part 3), states:

I can’t stress enough the importance of arguing independently of your system for your system. Most arguments between systems are not made independently of the system. That is, most arguments assume their system upfront, and commit this most basic fallacy.

Now, Stenger may have some points to make with regard to others who attempt to disprove science from within a theological framework, or who put forth inconsistent arguments for the existence of God; I have just as much of a problem with bad Christian logic as I do with bad scientific logic.

However, there is one other consideration: What if everything we see as science – even (gasp!) evolution – is the work of God? Assuming that God is outside of the system He created, He would not be subject to the cause and effect nature of creation, and so therefore not provable from within the system. However, this could provide the basis for all those others – such as Francis S. Collins, who wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief – who look at the same facts, but see God displayed there.

Faith, anyone?

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5 Responses to The real failed hypothesis

  1. me says:

    Interesting, thanks. While I’m not as big a fan of Augustine as some, that is a marvelous quote and probably deserves to be read repeatedly in America’s churches.

  2. I thought that you might be interested in this article, in which a Christian explains what is wrong with Creationism and Intelligent Design. He even quotes St. Augustine’s claim that by twisting observable phenomena to fit religion does religion more harm than good:

  3. me says:

    Speaking of Sagan, Contact (the movie version over the book) does a great job of exploring the issues between science and religion. It’s one of my “top 10” movies. I read the book, which I thought was kind of “messy.” Both Sagan and Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow) worked on the film, which has a much tighter feel. The book merely had the Christians as 2nd-rate antagonists, but I liked how the movie version shifted the focus from merely alien contact to the science-faith dialog (rather than a debate). The movie version does suggest that Sagan might have developed somewhat of an appreciation for faith (not to say he himself developed some kind of faith), which doesn’t have to be anti-science.

    One of the interesting points of the film is that there may be truth which is not scientifically verifiable, and that “faith” (or something a lot like it) in those things is not necessarily unreasonable.

    Of course, I also liked how it (like all good sci-fi films) showed how politics manipulates science.

  4. I am going to put in a penny or two here. I don’t see how faith can be proved or unproved by any scientific means. Faith is an internal process not testable by any objective means. I may someday get around to reading it someday; but I have a long list ahead of it (I still have some Sagan that I haven’t gotten to yet, just sitting there calling me from the bookshelf. “Mike,” it says, “me next. Me next!”)

    As much as it pains me, I have to agree here with the Cheney quote from Quixote. Okay, I will wash my hands, now.

  5. Quixote says:

    As some contemporary theological philosophers point out, just because a belief is based on something that cannot be proven does not mean it’s unreasonable. Likewise, just because a belief is reasonable, doesn’t mean it’s true.

    When I pick somebody up at the airport, I may reasonably believe that they’ll arrive at a certain time based on the posted, computer-figured schedule. However, my experience has shown this reasonable belief is sometimes wrong. When I’m driving for the first time on a road that crests over a hill, I cannot prove it continues on the other side, but it is by all accounts reasonable to believe it does.

    In the same way, it may indeed be reasonable to believe that the universe is not due to a god. But that, in itself, does not make this belief true. Likewise, just because it cannot be proven that a god did create the universe it does not make it unreasonable to believe it. And besides, it could be true.

    What science leaves us with is a good deal of certain uncertainty. As Vice President Cheney might explain it: “There are known knowns – things which we know we know, known unknowns – things which we know we know we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things which we don’t know that we don’t know.”

    Amen, brother. Amen

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