Victor Stenger's latest book is a follow-up to his 2007 book, "God: The Failed Hypothesis," and it probably does not have much new that Stenger has not written before. In the preface, Stenger says he will concentrate on disproving two concepts:
Quantum spirituality asserts that quantum mechanics has provided us with a connection between the human mind and the cosmos ... Quantum theology argues that quantum mechanics and chaos theory provide a place for God to act in the world without violating his own natural laws.
The former concept has not been of much interest to ASA and is more a product of Eastern philosophers such as Fritjof Capra and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Stenger does a reasonable job of debunking this quantum spirituality. In contrast, Stenger never really argues his case against quantum theology. He repeatedly states that any action by God would violate God's natural laws, but he never explains how he reaches this conclusion, nor does he explore the various ways God could act in nature.
This book is presented using the techniques and tricks of a debater, rather than as an honest attempt to educate the reader. It contains a plethora of extraneous statements, typical in a verbal debate. For example, Stenger repeatedly states that the founding fathers of the United States, including the first four presidents, were deists, not theists. The main purpose of this book is to disprove theism, the belief that God is actively and continuously involved in his creation. Stenger defines "Premise Keepers" as Christian theologians who accept the results of science but "assume that a world beyond matter exists." In this twelve-page section of his book, he summarizes key ideas of twelve of these theologians such as Murphy, Polkinghorne, Barbour, and Davies, making brief comments about each. The final summary is "that theologians have not solved the problem of divine action and they know it." This section of the book is far too brief to be of much value.
Stenger intersperses a lot of physics throughout the text, but I do not see this as being an integral part of his arguments. His extremely negative view of religion creates for him a distortion of the facts. For example, the following misstatement is very revealing.
Kauffman wants to define a new religion in which "god" is inserted into a cold, lifeless universe. Davies has been sufficiently fuzzy about God in his writings to win the 1995 million-dollar Templeton Prize ...
In fact, Kauffman, in his own words, states,
What about all the aspects of the universe we hold sacred-agency, meaning, values, purpose, all life, and the planet? We are neither ready to give these up nor willing to consider them mere human illusions.
The cold lifelessness of Kauffman's worldview is that his pantheistic god is impersonal. Davies points to the abundant fine-tuning of our universe (anthropic principle) as evidence of purpose and a Creator God, but he does it in such a way that he does not clearly reveal his own personal "subjective" beliefs. This bothers Stenger, since he views all religion as purely subjective. Furthermore, the fine-tuning is never mentioned by Stenger, even when talking about the creation of life.
Let me finish this book review by examining the concepts of time and causation, both of which I have great knowledge. Early in the book, Stenger makes the blunt statement, "Like all the quantities of physics, time is a human invention." He follows this up by saying that a year is defined as 365.2425 days. Obviously, this numerical value is the ratio of the earth's orbital period to its spin period, which is true whether or not humans exist to define it. Later Stenger says, "the arrow of time of common experience is purely a statistical effect" (second law of thermodynamics). Later he says,
It is important to keep in mind, then, that the universe has no fundamental direction of time. Effects can precede causes and the whole idea of creation, which has a built-in assumption of the direction of time, needs to be rethought.
In between these two quotes, he tries to debunk both Dinesh D'Souza and William Lane Craig's arguments that the universe has a beginning, defined as a first cause in a causal chain. Stenger wants to argue that quantum phenomena do not have causes and that science has done away with the concept of causation. I would like to make it clear that causation is a metaphysical concept, which probably can never be proved nor disproved by science. If events are causing events into the future, then this causation is the dominant human awareness of the arrow of time.
In summary, I view this book, which distorts the truth, as propaganda without novelty. It is not worth reading, except to learn more of how Stenger thinks. The foreword is written by Michael Shermer and the cover has five flattering quotes by such people as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
Reviewed by William Wharton, Professor of Physics, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187.
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|Publication:||Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2010|
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