Review of God: The Failed Hypothesis by Victor Stenger (2007)

Victor Stenger makes an empirical investigation of the God Hypothesis and delivers a geek-fest of smack-down to the theory that God can be anything close to what most theists believe. From the outset, Stenger establishes a baseline of characteristics that the God(s) in his experiment will have, populated largely with the often-stated abilities and preferences of the Judeo-Christian God Yahweh.

A challenge is issued in the first chapter to those who say that science has no ability to test the claims of the religious realm. As Stenger points out, many of the most compelling reasons to believe in God are the very events and characteristics which lend themselves to empirical science. Actions such as prayer, design, and fine-tuning of the universe are taken on with a scientific eye, and what Stenger finds is that in each case, we find exactly the results we would expect to find in the absense of God. His arguments for fine tuning and cosmology are some of the strongest in the book and make for an excellent primer against those arguing strong anthropic stances or who are otherwise insistent that our current laws of nature, position and composition of our solar system, and indeed our very carbon-based nature are somehow fundamental and thus require the careful hand of a diety.

One-by-one, Stenger takes on each God-like proposition, greatly ignoring the 30s (omnipotence, omnipresence, omnibenevolence), which he rightly states don't really need to be posited in order to test the hypothesis. Only rarely does the author deviate from his empirical model, and even then, he does so only to offer an alternative explanation which is at least as likely as any put forward by a theist. Christian apologist William Lane Craigis a frequent target of Stenger's rebuttals.

This straight-forward book offers a investigation into the basic claims offered as proof of the existence of God, and Stenger handily refutes each and every point. I have no doubt apologists will find gaps in his presentation and will find his use of science to be the wrong tool for the job of exploring the mystical, but as Stenger points out, there is absolutely no legitimacy to the idea that science cannot investigate any falsifiable claims made by the religious. Very well argued with no wasted efforts anywhere in this book, Stenger delivers a four and one-half star rebuttal of the God Hypothesis.

(posted on my blog:, if you want to read more of my religion/atheism/science book reviews, visit the Book Reviews section of my blog)

Views: 45

Comment by Dave G on May 18, 2009 at 1:07pm
Read this last year, a fairly good book.
Comment by Jim Turner on May 18, 2009 at 3:17pm
I ordered this a few days ago, looking forward to reading it. I get the impression that Dawkins does a better job of debunking god(s) in The God Delusion - I'll let you know after I've read it.
Comment by Dave Nichols on May 18, 2009 at 4:29pm
I think Stenger's arguments and presentation compare pretty well to Dawkins. Dawkins takes on pretty much all possible considerations of God(s) and I thought debunked them really well for most any reader. Stenger takes a bit of a different tack, actually exploring the argument empirically as a scientific investigation, and I thought he did a similar good debunking for most any reader. Stenger's version is more geekified in that you kinda have to understand the scientific method and understand why it is both important and applicable to the discussion, so he may alienate some potential readers a bit. But still, his version is straightforward and hard to argue with. I think you'll enjoy it if you appreciate the arguments in God Delusion.

I've just received a copy of Stenger's latest book, Quantum Gods, where he takes on more versions of God than just the Judeo-Christian one he focused on in God: The Failed Hypothesis. Looking forward to digging into it this evening.
Comment by Dave G on May 18, 2009 at 4:42pm
Quantum Gods, hmm? I'll add it to my to read list.
Comment by Dave Nichols on May 19, 2009 at 9:11pm
Just to follow up, I read Quantum Gods. Short thoughts: Not as good as Failed, didn't enjoy it nearly as much. However, as I explain in my review of it (here), this may be due to the basic quantum introduction (which I didn't need) as well as having read it too soon after Failed. Not a bad book, just not the book I hoped for when ordering.


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