“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: The Uncongenial Universe

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters, the blog where we dive into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” Tonight, we’re looking at the chapter on the Uncongenial Universe.

Most of you reading this are probably reading it on a computer assuming someone didn’t print it out for you. It is traveling around the world to reach you, likely as you sit in your own homes with heating and air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and a steady supply of food. Many of you sleep safely and have cars to drive you around. You live your life without major worries of life and death.

That’s not all. There are some exceptions, but by and large, life is usually good. We tend to get around well on this planet and so now having said that, I’m going to start discussing Stenger’s chapter meant to show the bad thinking behind such productions as “The Privileged Planet.”

To which, Stenger had a problem with the Discovery Institute wanting the Smithsonian to show the film. The Smithsonian did eventually, but they did not accept payment. Why is this a problem? Because the sectarian motives of the film were not overtly made known and we sure can’t show religious material.

It’s something that’s rather confusing. Whether you like the Discovery Institute or not, I always thought that science was supposed to be based on the evidence and not the motives behind a worldview. Sure. DI could be entirely wrong, but they are not wrong ipso facto because they could have “religious motivation.”

Of course, if we accepted religious motivation as a standard, we would have to throw out Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc. None of these men saw religion as a hindrance to science but rather saw it as a great aid to science, or rather believing in God gave them reason to do science, but that science benefited their religion overall by showing the glory of how the creator created.

The next section to deal with is life in the universe and how common is it. Naturally,we know for sure of no other life, at least life as we know it, beyond ourselves. Often we can be told that this is a cause to not believe in God for if God existed, surely he would not create a universe of just empty space! On the other hand, if there were life on other planets, we can be sure we would be told that this is why we can see how easy it is for life to arise up by natural processes and therefore there is no need for God. The argument can work both ways.

It’s for reasons like that that I prefer other arguments. Now if someone can argue the science well, by all means go for it. I believe Christianity is established on better grounds, but I would hope atheists would at least be consistent.

Stenger in this section tells of how we hear the sun is a typical star, but this isn’t true, and I agree with him on the sun. I disagree with him on how we hear it is a typical star. For his ranting against The Privileged Planet, you’d think he’d know that in the book, a good portion of chapter seven is spent arguing that this is not the case. The writers want to stress that the sun is no ordinary star.

Stenger goes on speaking of the authors of the book to say “The very reasons that Gonzalez and Richards give for Earth being ‘privileged’ make it very unlikely that humans could survive without extensive life support, even on those planets that might otherwise be suitable for some kind of life.”

Why, yes. I do believe that’s what they mean when they say our planet is privileged. The book is called “The Privileged Planet.” It’s not “The Privileged Planets.”

So I suppose Stenger thinks stating the case of Gonzalez and Richards is somehow an argument against them.

Stenger goes on to say:

Obviously, if the physical parameters of our environment were just slightly different, life as we know it on Earth would not have evolved here.

Note: This is something obvious. You should obviously know that life being here as it is is something unique and incredible.

Last I checked, That’s what DI is saying.

Stenger goes on to explain this however that since the universe contains so many planets, we would expect one of them to have life. We just happen to live on that planet!

Earlier, Stenger had gone after Hugh Ross for mentioning the probabilities of factors of our universe that make it unlikely that we are an accident and increases the likelihood of theism. Stenger said that Ross did not give a probability of divine design itself being right or wrong however.

Yet when Stenger gives a probability here, he can say “Pretty good” and that counts.

The claim of Ross and others is not a God of the Gaps argument. Instead, it is saying that God has explanatory power because there’s reason to believe there is a God behind it since there are marks of intelligence. Ross is not positing God because he is stumped on life. He is positing God based on positive evidence.

As for Stenger, he has given the problem Richard Swinburne spoke of. Swinburne asks us to imagine ourselves sentenced to death. We are tied to a post and blindfolded and before us are one hundred sharpshooters with laser sights on their rifles. At the command of “Fire!”, they shoot. If something goes wrong, it is considered justice that we can go free.

So you are there and you hear the command and you hear one hundred rifles go off. However, you realize you have not lost consciousness. Someone comes and undoes your blindfold and your ropes and you find out that while the guns went off, somehow, you didn’t die. A friend later sees you and comments on your luck to which you say “Nothing lucky about it. Surely sometime all of them would miss!”

If you said that, your friend would rightfully find you crazy. We all know that the reason one hundred of them would miss is because of some intelligence wanting them to miss. Maybe they were all given blanks or maybe they were all bribed. Either way, it wouldn’t just happen. That’s the point. To say “We just happen to be on the right planet” is to come up with an excuse. We are wondering if there is a why as to why we are on the right planet. Now it could be this is a fluke, but the more evidence we can find, the more that will seem unlikely.

Now Stenger goes on to discuss fine-tuning, to which I think in the examples, he more indicates fine-tuning than goes against it. I will not argue the points however since that is in the area of physics and I am not a student of physics. I study philosophy, theology, and history. Thus, let us move ahead to the parts where he discusses theology and philosophy.

To begin with, he speaks of waste, which is again implying a theology. It is saying that if God existed, he would surely have planted life on all these planets. To have waste however is to have something not fitting its purpose, to which Stenger never gives the purpose. As for an example of waste, Stenger says “Why would God send his only son to die an agonizing death to redeem an insignificant bit of carbon.”

Now maybe I’m mistaken on this, but Stenger has said that Sam Harris started writing because of 9/11 and the new atheists are worried about the dangers religion brings. I wish I had known earlier that these dangers were simply dangers to an insignificant bit of carbon. That’s a good question then Stenger! Why should anyone care if all we are is an insignificant bit of carbon?

Of course, it could be we are not, and that could be based on the belief that man is more than just the material that makes him up. There is something in humanity that is inherently good and this is not based on just his material. It is based on his very existence. Man is not insignificant. In fact, the biblical view says just the opposite. Man is that who bears the image of God.

Stenger goes on to tell of how the universe bears no resemblance to what is described in Genesis. Genesis tells of Earth as a flat and immovable circle at the center of a firmament or vault of fixed stars, circled by the sun, moon, and planets.

I wonder what translation Stenger is reading. I don’t see that. Of course, these are the people who complain about people who take the Bible literally and whenever it comes their time to interpret the text, they always interpret it literally. Never mind that we could actually try to understand the historical context, the words used, the way knowledge was communicated, etc.

With reasoning like this, it’s a wonder if any of the new atheists could ever pass a class on literature.

Continuing his bad theology, Stenger says:

In fact, when you think of it, why would an infinitely powerful God even need six days? Wouldn’t he have the ability to make everything in an instant? And, why would he have to rest when it was all done?

There are times it’s hard for me to imagine how someone could be more ignorant of his opponents’ views while writing against them.

To begin with Stenger, you’re not the first to think this. Augustine himself knew that God didn’t need six days. He believed in an instantaneous creation. Why six days then? (I am not at this point discussing if they were literal 24-hour days or long periods of time) God need not do everything immediately simply because He can. I would argue that God was getting the Earth ready for life and using a gradual process rather than an instant one. I would also point to poetical ideas in the first chapter. For instance, in the first three days, the habitats are made and in the corresponding last three days, they are inhabited. An excellent look on this can be found in the book “The Genesis Debate.”

Why rest? That is not to be taken literally but to show the importance of taking time out from work. The Jews were commanded to do this. It was a time to appreciate what was done. Stenger takes this text literally and thus creates a straw man. I do not know of any evangelical, young-earth or old-earth, who would say God literally needed to rest because He was tired.

Maybe Stenger could point me to them.

In conclusion, I see Stenger again as unfamiliar with what he critiques and I am left once again believing that the Earth is designed and in fact, Stenger has given me more reason to think such.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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