Victor Stenger - The New Atheists

February 24, 2010

Victor Stenger is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Hawaii and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado.  He is also founder of Colorado Citizens for Science.  He's held visiting faculty positions at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and at Oxford in the United Kingdom, and has been a visiting researcher at Rutherford Laboratory in England, the National Nuclear Physics Laboratory in Frascati, Italy, and the University of Florence in Italy.  Stenger’s research career has spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model.  He participated in experiments that helped establish the properties of strange particles, quarks, gluons, and neutrinos and has also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy.  In his last project before retiring, Vic collaborated on the experiment in Japan which showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass.  He is the author of many books, including Comprehensible Cosmos, The Unconscious Quantum, Not by Design, Has Science Found God, the New York times best-seller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist, and The New Atheists: Standing Up for Science and Reason.

In this, the first of three special-edition episodes featuring D.J. Grothe, Vic Stenger discusses The New Atheism, contrasting it with the old atheism, in that it is more uncompromising in its critique of religion and God-belief.  He defends the view that a soft stand on religion for the sake of science education is unacceptable, because the evils resulting from religion demand a vocal response.  He describes his own history as an author critical of the paranormal and how this further fueled his atheism, contending that skepticism of the paranormal may lead to skepticism of religion.  He talks about Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould, and their reluctance to criticize theism, and argues that sometimes, contra Sagan's famous line, "absence of evidence is evidence of absence."  He defends making a positive statement that God does not exist—beyond a reasonable doubt—as opposed to merely stating that one lacks belief in God. He wonders if authors Susan Jacoby and Jennifer Michael Hecht should also be considered New Atheists. He describes lines of positive evidence from cosmology, physics, biology and neuroscience that he says necessary leads to a conclusion of atheism.  He tells why he doesn't think the battle over evolution education should take priority over the New Atheist's larger war on faith, and why rationalists should not unduly seek the support of religious moderates and religious supporters of science.  And he shares his optimism about the growing popularity of vocal, uncompromising atheism, especially among young people.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Comments from the CFI Forums

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Good interview.  Sounds like a good book.

In Chris Mooney’s interview of Offit on vaccines we learned Offit is donating his book royalties to autism research. 

Here are some reviews of the book:

http://infuriatedsciteacher.blogspot.com/2009/09/review-of-new-atheism-victor-stenger.html

The New Atheism fills a needed gap in the literature begun by Sam Harris in End of Faith, in that it actually addresses all the fleas, and attempts at legitimate rebuttal, that have surfaced in response to the books by Dawkins et. al..

http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/09/22/a-review-of-the-new-atheism-by-victor-stenger/

This is a wonderful book for any person who hasn’t read an atheist blog over the past five years. That is to say, older and brand new atheists will enjoy Stenger’s book — it’s an excellent primer for godless newbies.

Younger and older-but-Internet-savvy atheists might enjoy it, but much of the time, they’ll just be saying “I already know this.” Several references in the book have been seen on blogs everywhere — like why Francis Collins is mistaken when he tries to reconciles science with faith. Other references are known if you’ve read the other New Atheist books. Still, there is a lot of good information in here and I’m not dismissing the book.

There is one serious criticism that I have about it. In Stenger’s entire discussion of the New Atheism, he seems to focus exclusively on the works of the bestselling authors.

By the way -good for D.J. to ask why Jennifer Michael Hecht (“Doubt”) and Susan Jacoby (“Freethinkers”) are not included in the group…

http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=5241&cn=403
(questions what is “new” in the New Atheism…)
http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/11/understanding-new-atheism-interview.html
(short interview by John Loftus)

Posted on Feb 26, 2010 at 4:24am by Jackson Comment #1

I enjoyed the interview very much, but found myself wandering off on the tangents of the interview and missing parts of it. I will have to listen to it again!

Posted on Feb 26, 2010 at 10:33am by asanta Comment #2

I very much enjoyed this interview, and would love to read the book.
One of the things that stuck out in the interview for me were some comments that D.J. Grothe made
later in the podcast. He mentioned that he felt that there were actual teachings of christ that he felt
were amoral in themselves.  I am curious to know what those would be.
It is interesting for me to hear these arguments put forth as when I
discuss the issue of religion and its detrimental effect on society, the usual response I get is
that people should be able to believe whatever they choose and that there is no
inherant danger to society if religious people practice privately.
I get stuck on this point and would appreciate any input .
Maybe I should just read the book:)
Thanks

Posted on Mar 17, 2010 at 6:12pm by beldoc Comment #3

Was it me, or did Stenger state that 1) we can actually have data on God, and 2) assumptions drawn from such data amounts to scientific evidence against God?

I might have misheard him. I’m going to have go back and listen again. Still need to listen to part two.

Still, it seemed a little weird to me. I’ve read a couple of his books and found them largely informative (I don’t know much about physics), though I do have problems when he starts trying to mount a scientific case against God. I’ve just not been able to see how he can make that jump.

Posted on Apr 16, 2010 at 7:35am by Michael De Dora Comment #4

Was it me, or did Stenger state that 1) we can actually have data on God, and 2) assumptions drawn from such data amounts to scientific evidence against God?

Yeah, I believe he thinks that, along with Dawkins.

FWIW, although some philosophers will scorn such opinions, I don’t entirely see why. Of course, such data and evidence don’t amount to logical proof, but then they never do in the sciences anyhow.

One example: if our biological body plans were perfectly tailored to our environments, that would be some indirect evidence for a superintelligent creator. But the manifest kludge-job that we are physically is, I think, decent indirect evidence against our having been created by such a God.

One can mount any number of such arguments, relying on data from the sciences.

Again, they are not strictly probative, in the sense of providing logical proofs, but then neither is our belief that the earth goes around the sun. And philosophers have no problem claiming we know that from scientific data. So I think those who tend to scorn the kind of approach that Stenger and Dawkins go for are protesting a bit too much. (And IIRC Pigliucci is one of those).

It would be better, I think, for them to grant that Dawkins and Stenger’s arguments are decent but perhaps not the whole story, and that more is required to put the final nails in the coffin, etc. (That said, perhaps the strongest philsophical argument against the existence of God is the Argument from Evil, which is itself a quasi-scientific, or at least an essentially empirical argument. So once again, philosophers who decry these tactics are really protesting too much).

Posted on Apr 16, 2010 at 7:45am by dougsmith Comment #5