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book review: Has Science Found God?
« on: 2003-06-07 12:25:05 »
Sleeping with the enemy
Source: Research News (a religious site!)
Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe.
Victor J. Stenger. Amherst, NY. Prometheus Books , 2003. 295 pages. $30 hardcover.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every particle there is a corresponding antiparticle. Such dualisms are commonplace. The philosopher Hegel developed an elaborate theory of history based on the struggle between theses and antitheses. And indeed there is a great deal of illumination that results from identifying key initiatives in the world and their opposition.
Physicist Victor Stenger has written an impassioned antithesis to the entire set of assumptions on which the existence of a publication like Research News is based. The book has a title quite similar to many that have appeared in these pages: Has Science Found God? The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe. The answer that the book provides, however, is quite different.
Stenger, no stranger to readers of this publication, (see the January, February and June 2002 issues of Research News for his work) argues forcefully that science has not turned up any evidence that God exists. Covering all the bases, he looks at creationism, intelligent design, faith healing, religion and health, the origin of the universe, the anthropic principle, near-death experiences, prayer studies, parapsychology and more. In each case, the happily liberated ex-Catholic author concludes either: a) the evidence is simply not there or, if it is, it does not imply the existence of God; or b) there is an equally compelling or even better case for a non-theistic explanation.
Stenger’s criticisms are aggressive. Intelligent design theorist William Dembski, described as “confused,” is faulted for using a definition of information that “does not correspond to that used in the field;” the conclusions of Research News editor-in-chief Harold Koenig are faulted for being so statistically weak that they could never have gotten published in a physics journal; Larry Dossey is aggressively critiqued for having created a “composite” character named Sarah with an extraordinary near-death experience and passing her off as real, a charade exposed by Susan Blackmore. “Bible Code” guru Michael Drosnin is faulted for his “ignorance of biblical scholarship.” Templeton laureates John Polkinghorne, Ian Barbour, and Arthur Peacocke, labeled “premise keepers,” are treated a bit more respectfully, but the latter is accused of promoting a Christianity “pruned of virtually every traditional teaching.”
In such a wide-ranging work there are bound to be some problems. Stenger is not careful to distinguish between religion-and-health studies that require a supernatural explanation and those that can be explained within the framework of contemporary science. Intercessory prayer studies, in which someone prays for a subject without the subject’s knowledge, are testing for some kind of interaction that could only be described as supernatural. (Such studies, unfortunately, have not done very well and null results are the norm.) On the other hand, correlations between health and religious practice, such as those discovered by researchers like Dale Matthews, Ken Pargament, Koenig and others, have never claimed to provide, as Stenger suggests, “scientific support for a supernatural role in health.”
Has Science Found God? does not, of course, destroy the basis for the science-and-religion dialogue. And that is not really what it is trying to do. What Stenger offers in this polemical, no-holds-barred, personal, often idiosyncratic survey is a fresh look at the “evidence” for God from someone who does not believe. The science-and-religion community, for obvious reasons, is dominated by people who believe in God, many with considerable passion, and many who have believed in God for their entire lives. The editors, contributors, advisors and readers of Research News fall comfortably into this group, for the most part. Within such a context it is all too easy to forget that there are radically different ways to look at the complex and wondrous world in which we live. Careful consideration of opposing viewpoints can sharpen your self-understanding, give you a better sense for what you believe. Or it can change your mind. At the very least it promotes humility, opening your mind to a richer appreciation of “how little we know,” a phrase that is often on the lips of Sir John Templeton.
Do not read Stenger’s book right before church, as it certainly does not promote a devotional frame of mind. But do read it.
Karl Giberson is editor of Research News.