Victor Stenger, is the author of God, the Failed Hypothesis – How Science Shows that God does not Exist.
The book claims:
Not only does the universe show no evidence for God, it looks exactly as it would be expected to look if there is no God.
I would frame this slightly differently and suggest that
the evidence in favour of the existence of God is exactly the same as the evidence against the existence of God.
It may seem like a small difference but I think it’s important. Here’s why.
I’m not disagreeing with Stenger. It isn’t that there are two different types of evidence, that used by atheist scientists such as Stenger, and some different evidence used by believers. It’s actually all the same. We all have access to broadly the same evidence but we see it very differently. I think Stenger would agree with this. He seems to think the existence of God, to be credible, should be empirically observable as a series of anomalies in the laws of physics. Many theists would actually agree with this view of God. For example, miracles, by definition, are things that don’t normally happen, and are not explicable using scientific explanations that exclude the divine.
What differs between these believers and non-believers is not the available evidence, but the interpretation.
Using a materialist framework of interpretation, Stenger can show how there is nothing supernatural and how the very category is suspect. Miracles etc don’t happen. Using a different framework of interpretation, believers can show how the existence of God is credible (to them), especially if categories such as Faith are considered. So the disagreement is about different approaches to interpretation at least as much as it is about the evidence itself. Stenger seems to be of the opinion that there is only one valid method of interpretation and that is the scientific method. This is clearly untenable, since all sorts of human activity depend on non-scientific frameworks of interpretation (eg love, revenge, ethics, etc). Those who maintain that everything there is to be understood about love and ethics comes from scientific explanations has clearly need to get out of the lab more.
An instance of the non-scientific world view is indicated by Michael Reiss, who writes about varying ‘readings’ of the movie March of the Penguins. Although to many people the film tells of fascinating animal behaviour as shaped by evolution, to at least one other interpreter it is seen as an opportunity to teach how both penguins and humans should/do behave in ways mandated by proof texts from the Bible. This may be odd and even just plain wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that people do see things differently.
Although some scientists would probably dispute Stenger’s claims that there is no scientific evidence for the existence of God or of anything supernatural, (John Polkinghorne comes to mind) I am prepared to take his view seriously. Since he (like Polkinghorne) has been involved in identifying sub-atomic particles, he probably knows something about physics.
I think, though, that this definition of God, while admittedly one used by many believers, is contestable. Is it necessary for God to be doing anything different from the laws of physics? Stenger thinks it is. If God’s existence is a scientific hypothesis then according to Stenger it fails.
There’s a summary of Stenger’s argument here.
But there is a different type of believer/non-believer. This person doesn’t regard God as a scientific hypothesis, but as a human creation, analogous to a work of art or an artistic practice. On this view God exists because humans created him. Is this type of ‘believer’ a theist or an atheist? Or something else? There are many non-believers in this human-made kind of God, including most theists. It seems Stenger might agree with them, since he, like them, would probably regard this kind of God as no God at all. So perhaps Stenger has a great deal in common with the religious believers after all. Both he and they look to a God who acts in the world and whose action is evidenced by breaks in the the laws of physics. The more he tries to distance himself from them, the closer they move together.
Meanwhile the human-made God already acts in the world, effortlessly yet decisively, breaking no laws while offending theists and atheists alike.
One thought on “Is it necessary for God to be doing anything different from the laws of physics?”
Sorry, I haven’t given your post the close attention it deserves. But just quickly – I think the idea of evidence for God is little facile. As you say, the evidence we do have (i.e. the universe) can be read either way.
I think people like Stenger are a little like bad musicians, who lack the essential talent but can’t be stopped from banging away.