Stenger on Zero Total Energy as Evidence for Atheism

I do not have a physics background, so I am posting this in case someone who does can clarify this for me. 

In his book, God: The Failed Hypothesis, physicist Victor Stenger argues that the fact that the universe began from a state of zero energy is evidence for God’s nonexistence. On page 116, he writes:
In principle, the creation hypothesis could be confirmed by the direct observation or theoretical requirement that conservation of energy was violated 13.7 billion years ago at the start of the big bang. However, neither observations nor theory indicates this to have been the case…. Remarkably, the total energy of the universe appears to be zero. … In short, the existence of matter and energy in the universe did not require the violation of energy conservation at the assumed creation. In fact, the data strongly support the hypothesis that no such miracle occurred. … Suppose our measurement of the mass density of the universe had not turned out to be exactly the value required for a universe to have begun from a state of zero energy. Then we would have had a legitimate, scientific reason to conclude that a miracle, namely, a violation of energy conservation, was needed to bring the universe into being.
I find this argument puzzling. In order to make it as strong as possible, let’s formulate it as a Bayesian argument.


I shall begin by defining some notation.

E: the total energy of the universe is zero
T: classical theism
N: metaphysical naturalism

Let us now formulate Stenger’s argument as follows:

(1) The total energy of the universe is zero, i.e., Pr(E) >! 0.5.
(2) Theism is not intrinsically much more probable than naturalism.
(3) Zero total energy is antecedently more probable on naturalism than on theism, i.e., Pr(E | N) > Pr (E | T).
(4) Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T) < 0.5.

I will assume the facts are as Stenger says they are and premise (1) is true. What reason is there to believe (3)?

The only reason I can think of is this. On the assumption God exists, God could have miraculously created the universe in a way that violates the conservation of energy requirement. Furthermore, had that happened, that would have been evidence favoring theism over naturalism. Since that didn’t happen, that is evidence favoring naturalism over theism.

I’m inclined to agree with that reason, so if that is what Stenger has in mind, I think he is correct. What I do not understand, however, is why Stenger thinks this evidence is “strong.” It seems to me that, if God exists, He could create the universe in numerous ways. On the assumption that God exists, why should we believe that “violation of energy conservation at the assumed creation” is more likely than any other possible creation scenario? If the answer is “I don’t know,” then E is not “strong” evidence for naturalism over theism, i.e., Pr(E | N) is not much greater than Pr(E | T).

So… for all of you with a physics background who are reading this,  why should we believe that “violation of energy conservation at the assumed creation” is more likely than any other possible creation scenario?

Index: The Evidential Argument from Physical Minds (APM)
G&T Rebuttal, Part 2: Chapter 3
A Key Difference between Science and Religion
Faith and the End of PoR - Part 2
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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