Face it, it comes down to this: some people want there to be a God and some people don't. People then accept whatever evidence will confirm their belief and ignore the rest. In this book Victor Stenger chooses to present the evidence he believes argues against the existence of God and ignores the rest. That makes this book highly biased. In this review then we will look at items that come up in Stenger's book that do not receive fair treatment or items that Stenger ignored altogether. So as an investigation into the existence of God this book is not even worth the 50 cents my wife paid for it at a garage sale.
Stenger makes extensive use of the traditional atheist's argument that if there is a good God out there then why is there so much evil in the world? Given all the evil out there, there can't be a good God out there, right? If there is a good God out there shouldn't He stop all this evil? This argument comes from a lack of understanding of what God is doing here on Earth. God has a lot of souls available to Him that He knows will take to selfishness (sin) like ducks take to water. God sends them here to Earth to try out selfishness to see if they like. They get to see how bad they are, they get to see how bad everyone else is and then they get to see how bad a world full of selfish sinners is. If they like being selfish they can keep it for all eternity (and end up in Hell). Or everyone who gets sick of this world and all its selfishness including especially the selfishness they find in themselves can move on to a better world for all eternity (Heaven). God is just giving everyone the opportunity to have the kind of world that they REALLY, REALLY WANT. But everyone needs to experience all of this so they can make that decision about what they REALLY, REALLY WANT.
Quite often atheists point out incidents of incredible evil as examples of how bad life on Earth is and it is true, a lot of very terrible things happen. Of course Stenger mentions some. But if people are really going to learn how bad selfishness (sin) is they are going to have to see exactly how bad people can be. For example I can't imagine how the Nazis could go around killing huge numbers of people. BUT THEY DID! I can't imagine women killing their unborn babies. BUT THEY DO! Most of all I can't imagine why so many people don't even want to give up their selfishness and go on to a perfect world with a loving God in it. Why do they prefer a world without God? BUT THEY DO! Stenger is an example of them.
One of the extra arguments atheists have is related to this and naturally Stenger uses it as well. What about all the terrible natural disasters in the world? The Indonesian earthquake of 2004 is the one they like to mention these days. Why would God do that on purpose or even just let it happen? The answer is quite simple. God is showing us just a tiny glimpse of what a world without Him is like and then asking us if that is the kind of world we want for all eternity. You see, as selfish sinners we are in effect saying to God, "Hey, just leave us alone, OK, so we can do whatever we want without having you bother us with your plans!". So God says "Fine, I'll show you what a world without me is like. You figure out how to prevent earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts, plagues, cancer, heart disease and old age. These are your problems now, not mine!"
So what the atheists call "The Problem of Evil" is easily explained. But they cheat by telling you that it can't be explained.
Another key item you find for Stenger is that if there is a God out there, there should be evidence for Him. Of course there is evidence for Him if you look in the right places but Stenger doesn't. And there is a reason why God does not make Himself very openly known to everyone. People don't want God around so God goes into hiding to a certain extent so people like Stenger who don't want Him around can try out a world without Him. Some people will get sick of that kind of world and start hoping for a better world. Then, too, when God did show up as Jesus, look what people did to him. They didn't want Him around so they put Him to death.
Another key item for Stenger and the atheists is the description of the creation of the heavens and the Earth found in the Bible. They point out that in the Bible creation takes place across six days and science says the world is much, much older than that. Now this six days of creation interpretation is very popular among some Christians and atheists love it because they can use it to discredit the Bible. But the six 24-hour days of creation is merely an interpretation some people give to the text. Other scholars will tell you that that interpretation is wrong and there is no telling how long each "day" of creation was. This is the old Earth creationist interpretation. You don't have to go any farther than Genesis 2:4 to discover that the Hebrew word used, "yom" can also mean a period of time. But no, atheists cheat by not mentioning the old Earth interpretation of the text. More on this later.
Of course along with the criticism of the six 24-hour days of creation we have scientists proposing their own version of creation. Supposedly a bunch of organic molecules managed to evolve into the first cell and supposedly that cell evolved into multi-celled creatures and eventually into people. Now Stenger starts out the book with the importance of models in science in order to try and figure out how the world works. Well, Dr. Stenger let's see that model, THAT MATHEMATICAL MODEL that says that first the appearance of that first cell is fairly likely and then that it's fairly likely that that cell eventually evolves all the way into people! Of course this is a hard problem but try doing a few approximate analyses to see if it is even a tiny bit likely. It turns out that everyone who has ever done the analysis has found out that there isn't a snowball's chance in Hell that it could happen. For instance, there is Sir Fred Hoyle in his book The Mathematics of Evolution who showed how unlikely evolution is. Sir Fred Hoyle was an honest-to-God astronomer and an honest-to-God atheist and he was honest enough to admit that evolution wasn't going to work. He ended up proposing life came from outer space on meteorites and comets. Of course there is still the terrible problem of how life could happen by chance anywhere in the universe! But Stenger is again cheating by not mentioning how unlikely it is that living things happened by chance. This evidence actually points us to some powerful intelligence outside the physical universe (God) that is responsible for it all.
Now one more item on evolution. If evolution did take place as Darwin suggested there ought to be smooth transitions in the fossil record that shows this. Some of the fossil evidence is debatable. Some people see some evidence of evolution in it and some don't see that evidence. But there is the glaring case of the Cambrian Explosion some 500-600 million years ago when a very large number of very different life forms appears in basically no time at all. It looks like they just popped up out of nowhere! Atheists of course have faith that eventually the smooth transitions will be found but if you're going to be honest about it, as it stands now, this is great evidence for creation by an Intelligent Designer. Stenger conveniently managed to neglect to mention that. Not very honest.
The above issues and related issues take up most of the book but there are two other chapters to consider. In chapter 3, "Searching for a World Beyond Matter" Stenger looks at topics that might prove the existence of a spiritual world and concludes that there is little evidence for a spiritual world and a human soul. He claims that ordinary physics and chemistry can account for the brain. Given his failure to do an honest appraisal in the rest of the book this presentation is also suspect. The biggest item in the chapter is the question, "Does Prayer Work?". Stenger looks at studies to see if prayer can heal people and of course the result is no. Well, miracles are few and far between but what would be rather more interesting would be to investigate specific cases of people who do claim to have had a miraculous healing. Apparently there are many such cases around. Possibly there are more taking place in poor countries where people cannot afford modern medical treatment than in developed countries. I have no doubt that some alleged miracles are fakes by people who merely want to get attention but still I've heard of enough good cases on Christian TV programs that should be investigated. True to form, Stenger does not mention such cases. I have no doubt that if he investigated these cases he'd claim that these miraculous healings simply come from some as yet undiscovered healing mechanism within the human body.
There is another topic to be found in the book, in Chapter 6, "The Failures of Revelation" Stenger gives example after example that he claims shows that the Bible cannot be trusted. Stenger mentions many items in the Bible and it must be possible to write many, many books on just these items because the points are highly debatable. I can't cover every one but I'll take a brief look at some of them.
First up, Stenger asks if there have been any prophecies by human beings outside of the Bible that have actually taken place. The prophecy would have to involve something that was highly unlikely like the sun not coming up tomorrow. Here Stenger does have a good point. I have never heard of any prophecy by a Christian of something really remarkable that did happen. If you're a Christian and you run into someone saying something really remarkable is going to happen soon don't take it too seriously. (Bible prophecies on the other hand should be taken seriously.)
Next up, Stenger briefly considers what the Bible has to say about science, in particular the creation of the world. Of course if you only mention the young Earth interpretation of Genesis chapter 1 it does look bad for the Bible. An old Earth interpretation however comes out rather good. In chapter 1, verse 2 the Bible has the Earth dark and covered with water, it was uninhabited and uninhabitable. Many scientists would agree, there is evidence now that the Earth was covered with water very early on. It would be dark too, because of thick clouds. On "day" 1, light appears on Earth and this would happen because the clouds thinned out a bit. On "day" 2 the clouds lifted to the point where you could see the horizon. Science would have no complaints about this. On "day" 3 land rises up. This is the flow of molten rock to the surface and the development of tectonic plates that move around. No problem. Also on "day" 3 plants appear. Science is OK with this too. Plants have always been thought to come before animals because the plants need to form oxygen in the atmosphere for the animals to breathe. On "day" 4 the clouds on Earth clear up to the point where the sun, moon and stars become visible. This is OK with science too. On "day" 5 some animals appear. This is OK with science too. On "day" 6 more animals appear and then human beings appear. Well, there is nothing to criticize in all this. The sequence of events is just fine and it all agrees with science. God and the Bible get points, Stenger once again has decided to omit important evidence in favor of God and the Bible.
I actually don't think the old Earth interpretation is perfect. The blockworld interpretation is better. The Bible and theologians had the blockworld concept long before it was discovered by science in the early 1900s. Scientists routinely ignore the blockworld result for several reasons and one of them is that it points to a Creator.
Next up, Stenger takes up "The Jesus Prophecies" and here he works with Josh McDowell and his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Some prophecies that McDowell discusses are not that remarkable and I am going to agree with Stenger on some of them. Some of them are no more remarkable than "the sun will rise tomorrow". Stenger complains about a lot of events that were prophesied and claims that there is no independent evidence that they took place. I, for one think that the accounts in the New Testament are pretty believable. People will have to judge these for themselves. It pretty much comes down to some people are looking for reasons to believe and other people are looking for reasons to disbelieve. Also, historical records are indeed incomplete and more archeology needs to be done.
Stenger goes on to complain about Old Testament prophecies that have not been fulfilled. One of them is from Isaiah 17:1 that Damascus will be destroyed. OK, that hasn't happened yet but it is easy to see that with the simple "press of a button" a nuclear missile from Israel could make this come true at any moment.
Stenger complains that there is no evidence for the exodus out of Egypt. So, Victor, go watch the DVD Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. Egyptologists claim there is no evidence for the exodus at the time they believe the exodus happened. In the DVD you will find evidence for virtually all the events of Exodus except they occurred earlier in Egyptian history than the experts believe. Then in recent years someone did a computer simulation of what a strong wind blowing over the Red Sea would do and it turns out it would part the Red Sea just as was described in the Bible. After all who realized that there was a place in the Red Sea where a strong wind could dry it up? There are books on the evidence for the exodus as well. For instance, head over to Amazon and type in the name "David Rohl".
Stenger complains that there is no evidence that the empire of David and Solomon ever existed, he says:
At a recent meeting in Rome, archaeologist Niels Peter Lemche declared, "Archaeological data have now definitely confirmed that the empire of David and Solomon never existed". (page 187, the quote comes from Biblical Archaeological Review 31, no. 1 (January/February 2005): 16-170).
Now a few years ago I recall seeing a PBS NOVA program about David and Solomon, going over to the PBS website I quickly found it: NOVA | The Bible's Buried Secrets, where we have a narrator working with archaeologists. The program is no longer available online but the transcript of the program is there. From the transcript we have the narrator summing things up at one point saying this:
Although a minority of archaeologists continue to disagree, this convergence of the Bible, Egyptian chronology and Solomon's gates is powerful evidence that a great kingdom existed at the time of David and Solomon, spanning all of Israel, north and south, with its capital in Jerusalem.
In addition, digging up things takes time and luck. There wasn't even ANY evidence that there was a David until 1993 when a monument was found mentioning his name. In the same text there is evidence given for David's palace and see also the page: NOVA | The Palace of King David. Then there is this just in: Discovery of official clay seals support existence of biblical kings David and Solomon, archaeologists say. So, who are ya gonna believe?
Stenger also complains that there is no evidence for Solomon's temple but then we know where it would be, it would be under the Muslim's Dome of the Rock and you can't just dig there. Have patience, Dr. Stenger. Much more evidence that confirms the Bible is going to show up in time.
A book like this makes atheists happy and Christians mad. I was going to say that it does nothing for someone who just wants to get to the truth but actually it says two things. First, it says people want to believe certain things and they will accept evidence for what they want to believe and ignore evidence for what they don't want to believe. So really, you can't trust any one person. You have to consult a lot of people to find out what is going on and then decide for yourself. Second, if you have to do a dishonest analysis of the subject it means your argument just isn't very good. If you had good arguments you'd use the good arguments instead.
PS: There is a book out there called Who Made God? by a physicist from the UK named Edgar Andrews. Much of his book looks at other issues that Stenger brings up and goes to show how poor Stenger's reasoning is. The book's website is: whomadegod.org.