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: