Reflecting Further on Victor Stenger's
"The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason" (2009).

In June 2009, I coined the nickname "Quantum Gorilla" to Victor Stenger in reply to his misappreciation of the issue of the possibility of the existence of God - or of gods - in his then "one-month-old" (i.e., just released) book Quantum Gods.

Although Vic's mistakes and seemingly interests-vested agenda were plentiful in that work (as well as in his previous books that I had examined...), the nickname was not, and is not, meant to annihilate him through mockery. Similarly, all my criticism to his ideas - and to his books, and to his works as a member of the organized skeptic movement (CSICOP, since decades ago now), and to his involvement now with the New Atheism folly - is not meant to deceive my readers into thinking that Stenger is merely the mediocre/feeble aspects that I highlight and expose. Like almost all human beings that I have come to know to a more-than-preliminary depth, Stenger seems filled with virtues. And this only brings to my mind the so relevant question of "What makes good people do bad things?" that Stenger himself raised in this newest book from him (The New Atheism); in this book, the answer was "provided" by Steven Weinberg (page 29): ..."for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." So, yes, Stenger is infected by some sort of "religion" when he does bad things like these so numerous bad works that he has crafted in the recent years. Let's hope the light of atheism will shine into these tricky corners of his soul and free us all from this massive neverending mediocrity...

While reading this book from Stenger, I listed more than 60 points that I would like to comment on or to criticize. Obviously I could not write all that, for it would be almost unreadable (and utmost unbearable). But it definitely shows how much dealing with Stenger's mistakes can be a true exercise of combinatorial explosion! Anyway, I ended up doing the longest review I ever did in, if my memory serves me well. Almost 3,000 words. Still, I have left other important things to say about the book, and I will say them here.

Page 14, Stenger says: "The gods most people worship purportedly play an active role in the universe and in human lives. This activity should result in observable phenomena"... Then on page 159 we have: "We have seen that science is fully capable of detecting the presence of a benevolent god who plays an active role in the universe. So far, it has not done so. Furthermore, a strong case can be made that such a god should have been detected by now, so that absence of evidence can be taken as evidence of absence."

Basically, Stenger is right. But we should be cautious, though; and by that I mean that Stenger ended up going much farther than the "basic safe area," so to speak, with these assertions above (and similar assertions from him are to be found widespread thoughout his book).

Further, if the reader looks carefully, his second assertion (from page 159) is rather contradictory. First Stenger says science is fully capable of detecting the presence of a benevolent god who plays an active role in the universe; let's call him Bgwpaaritu. Then he says that Bgwpaaritu should have been detected by now. Well, if science is fully capable of detecting Him, then Bgwpaaritu simply had to have been detected by now, and not simply should have been detected!

But getting back to my "being cautious"...: it is commonplace in science that ubiquitous (sometimes even omnipresent) phenomena and entities go on undetected for centuries. Bacteria; electromagnetism; and now... Dark Energy! Dark Energy is currently believed to amount to 72% of everything that there is. And it was discovered just around ten years ago...!!! So when Stenger says fully capable, maybe we should read pretty handicapped... Another interesting instance would be consciousness (subjective experience, the so called Hard Problem as stated by philosopher David Chalmers). Subjective Experience is believed to be ubiquitous among human beings. Yet, the causal connection between subjective experience and the brain (consciousness -> brain) is as yet undetected (and it has been this way for millenia...). A science that is fully capable of detecting Bgwpaaritu should be more than fully capable of detecting this causal connection from consciousness to brain. Another interesting related issue is the detection of advanced aliens among us (in UFO or whatever). Stenger says that absence of evidence can be taken as evidence of absence when the evidence should be there but is not; we see an interesting element of probability implicit to Stenger's approach. The late Carl Sagan used to say the opposite, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Both statements are right, to a certain extent and if observed with discretion. However, whenever I think about the alleged evidence for highly advanced aliens among us, I a similar, though utterly opposed, assertion dawns on me: evidence of evidence is evidence of absence! This is so when the evidence is there but should not be there! (or could not be there at all). That has to do with Clarke's Third Law, that states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This "law" was not issued by a scientist, but by a science fiction writer instead, Arthur C. Clarke. It seems pretty ingenious, though. And accordingly, I always thought "How come we can detect such highly advanced civilizations? If we are really detecting aliens and UFOs, then we must be being visited by the most stupid civilizations in the whole universe"! So, the god that Stenger renders fully detectable (Bgwpaaritu) must be a pretty dumb god indeed. Surely not mine (or yours, I guess...)...

On page 19, Stenger "quotes" Heraclitus...: "Religion is a disease." Note the full stop after disease. Well, I didn't buy it. So I went to look it up on the internet. Look what I found... Heraclitus' true quoting should have been: "Religion is a disease, but it is a noble disease." Note the comma after disease, instead of the full stop. Stenger, again, lied. Using Google and inputting the string heraclitus religion is a disease, the seven first results explicitly mention the phrase this way above, with the comma followed by the noble comment. I did not find the quote the way Stenger used it, with a full stop after disease.

The link below provides the following quotes from Heraclitus (chosen by me for having some relation with religious issues):
- Human nature has no insight, but divine nature has it.
- A man is called infantile by a divinity as a child is by a man.
- Disease makes health pleasant and good, hunger satiety, weariness rest.
- God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, satiety and hunger, but changes the way <fire> when mingled with perfumes, is named according to the scent of each.
- Nature loves to hide.
- The Lord whose oracle is at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign.
- To God all things are beautiful and good and just, but humans have supposed some unjust and others just.
- It is not good for men to get all that they want. Sickness makes health sweet and good, hunger plenty, weariness rest.
And an interesting reflection on this issue can be found in the link below:

So, we can safely conclude that, Victor Stenger IS a disease.

On page 22, Vic says: "We love life even more than the believer, because that is all we have." Ridiculous. Stenger should not be using absolutes when talking about the unknown. Again, he is being unscientific. I agree that it may be that the average atheist-materialist is more attached to life (or even love life more) than the average religious man. But to state that as a fact is stupid. Just as it is stupid to say that "We religious people love life more than the atheists because it is a gift given to us by the Lord Almighty." In my humble opinion, it is never wise to say that our love is greater or bigger than someone else's love...

On page 29, we see an interesting report of atheists disagreeing among themselves. It seems that the New Atheists are a small and despised subset among atheists. Stenger talks about a meeting called Beyond Belief at the Salk Institute in San Diego, in November, 2006. He says "The videos of the entire conference were still on the Web as of this writing"... Top scientists, mostly atheists, attended the event. Stenger continues: "I was somewhat taken aback by the benign view of religion presented by the atheistic scientists other than Harris and Dawkins." And further on: "Other atheist speakers came down hard on Harris and Dawkins, arguing that their approach will not earn any converts to atheism and asking what right do atheists have to deny believers the comforts of faith." More recently, these kind of tensions have helped ouster Paul Kurtz from his position of chairman of the Center for Inquiry (this link). So we can see that being an atheist does not equal being a lunatic. New Atheists are lunatics. But they are a tiny minority among atheists.

On page 35, Stenger mentions Dennett's book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995, where Dennett advances the notion that darwinian mechanism may account for what happens elsewhere besides the living organisms' world. Interestingly, the same idea was advanced the same year (1995) by Gary Cziko in his book Without Miracles. This book from Cziko is a must, and it is available (through the author's own courtesy) online for free. I believe it is better than Dennett's, though I cannot guarantee it because I did not read Dennett's.

On page 244, Vic hallucinates: "The message of New Atheism... ...Religion is an intellectual and moral sickness that cannot endure forever if we believe at all in human progress." So this is the message of the New Atheism? Religion is a moral sickness. When reading such "phrase," one could not be said to be overreacting if he/she says that Stenger is Sick...

On pages 114 and 116, we witness Stenger trying to acquit atheism of all charges. Let's hear it from the old man. Page 114: "So chalk up at least six million twentieth-century deaths to religion (Stenger here is talking about the Jews killed by Hitler - Stenger's logic is that Jews were being slaughtered because of their religion, and if they had no religion they would not have been slaughtered; this all despite some claims that Hitler himself was an atheist..., which, according to Richard Dawkins, is something debatable, whereas for Stenger it has already been proved to be false...). Now, what about Stalin and other communist dictators? (Vox) Day (a libertarian writer) and other anti-atheists refuse to accept the new atheist argument that the communists did not commit their murders in the name of atheism. As Dawkins put it, 'What matters is not whether Hitler and Stalin were atheists, but whether atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. That is not the smallest evidence that it does.' (The God Delusion, page 273)" Then, page 116: "In his 2005 book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, Iowa State Religious Studies Professor Hector Avalos reports on his examination of archival materials released after the fall of the Soviet Union. He found no evidence that Stalin killed because of atheism. Rather, the data indicate that Stalin's genocide was driven by the politics of forced collectivization." (Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. pages 326-331, Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books ).

What is wrong with all this logic, from a scientific point of view? Stenger and Dawkins (and buddies) are committing one of the most serious mistakes a scientist can commit: They are taking for granted the word of their subjects of investigation... They are being gullibly deluded (or they are pretending to be..., so as to dishonestly advance an idea that they themselves know to be a lie) by the face value of their object of inquiry. If Charles Darwin had fallen prey to this amateur pitfall, he would never have gone past Intelligent Design. Freud would never have dreamed of the unconscious. And Einstein would have thrown away the results that showed the speed of light to be the same regardless of the reference point (for, at first sight, the "face value" of these results spelled: faulty experiment). People may say "We are doing this in the name of God." But we, as scientists, are not supposed to believe it. We are supposed to go deeper. People may also not say that they are doing something because of atheism. Again, we are not supposed to believe it. Rather, we ought to go deeper.

To a certain extent, atheism did play a part in the actions of communists. The source of communism is the notion of Dialectical Materialism. This is a very ingenious and pretty much scientific view of how human history evolves and of how human societies develop. It was mostly crafted by Karl Marx. Basically, it evolved out of (and in opposition to) previous idealism (especially Hegel's), and idealistic views of history. Marx rejected idealism. Human society, groups of people, nations, the wheel of history, are not driven by ideas. It is all driven by matter, by the material world, by the ways that we relate to and articulate with the material world, especially through labour (i.e. the basic modes of production and maintenance of the human existence) and all the organization and social structures that are built upon it, and further on through the clashes of the different social classes and different social interests. This view of history, Dialectical Materialism, was a breakthrough in understanding, just as much as was the evolution of life through natural selection or the human unconscious mind. And, similarly, it intrinsically...leaves God aside. So we can indeed call this a Dialectical Atheist-Materialism.

Now, from this primeval notion, several tentative "practical applications" have spawned. After all, if we understand how societies work, then we can act on them to our desire and change them to our will, perhaps creating social systems that are more just and abolishing the atrocities of capitalism, right? Well, not really quite so. Marxists and communists did believe they already could change society. But just as evolutionary biologists and psychoanalysts were soon to find out (and also nuclear physicists...), to understand something is not quite the same as to be able to manipulate something. As Morpheus would have it: "There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path." (The Matrix, 1999. © Warner Bros.). Atomic bombs were hard to develop and fusion reactors are still to come; DNA was hard to discover and for further decades hard to manipulate; the diseases and sufferings of the unconscious are hard, perhaps impossible, to cure; and social revolutions are very hard to carry out. Nevertheless, the recipes for revolution abounded. And they all traced down to... Dialectical (Atheist)-Materialism. If God were in the prime equation, the actions of communists would have been different. I am not saying that they would act better. I am saying that they would act differently. Sometimes "better"; sometimes "worse." Sometimes more successfully; sometimes less successfully. And what I am saying and concluding is that our actions trace down to all of our prime ideologies; and the complete ideology behind communism entailed the leaving out of God; for good, just well as for bad.

As a final exibit for necropsy, I show below a rather long extract from pages 128/129:

I have noted that the New Atheism movement was most likely triggered by the events of September 11, 2001. Sam Harris admits this was his motivation for writing The End of Faith. Its market success, and that of the other best sellers by new atheists, was probably also a product of that horrendous day. Although President Bush and other leaders tried to gloss over the religious significance, insisting Islam was "a religion of peace," most Americans were struck by the sheer religious nature of the attacks. Only the most muddle-headed academics, such as Noam Chomsky (see chapter 1), blamed the violence on American oppression of Muslim nations.

Still, many critics accused the new atheists, and Harris in particular, of not having a sufficient understanding of Islam to draw the strong conclusion that Islam is an inherently violent religion whose members are driven to fanaticism by their faith. One such critic was my personal friend and colleague, physicist Taner Edis of Truman State University. Edis grew up in a secular family in Turkey and has studied Islam extensively. His book An Illusion of Harmony is an invaluable reference on science and Islam.

In his commentary on Harris in Free Inquiry magazine, Edis objects to Islam being portrayed as a violence-obsessed religion based on quoting "verses of the Qur'an that promise sadistic punishments for unbelievers in the afterlife, urge fighting against infidels, and otherwise show an unhealthy preoccupation with vengeance and violence." Edis explains that "Ordinary Muslims depend heavily on their local religious scholars, Sufi orders and similar brotherhoods, officially sanctioned clergy, and other mediating institutions. They hold the Qur'an sacred, but their understanding of what Islam demands comes through their local religious culture."

Whether murderous Muslims influenced by their own reading of the Qur'an or by religious leaders, they still commit their murders in the name of Allah. Neither Harris nor any of the other new atheists condemns the great majority of Muslims as terrorists. But we hold them responsible nonetheless for the undeniable fact that their religion played an important role in the terror of September 11 and in the continuing warfare against modernity waged by Muslim extremists worldwide. The fact that the majority of Muslims do not read the Qur'an but learn their religion from their mullahs just demonstrates a fact about all religions, including Christianity. Christians do not read the Bible, either. If they did, they wouldn't be Christians. They listen to the selected verses read from the pulpit and taught in so-called "Bible study" sessions.

Bruce Lincoln, a professor of Divinity at the University of Chicago, has written about the religious implications of September 11 in Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 21, He concludes: "It was religion that persuaded Mohamed Atta and eighteen others that the carnage perpetrated was not just an ethical act, but a sacred duty."

Lincoln offers convincing evidence that the attacks were deeply rooted in Islamic thinking. That evidence is provided in appendix A of Holy Terrors, which presents the final instructions Mohamed Atta gave to the other hijackers, three copies of which have survived.

No one reading these can possibly view Atta, at least, as a "freedom fighter" seeking to right injustices perpetrated on his people by the United States. The hijackers are urged to think of the Prophet, pray continuously, and read select suras from the Qur'an on what God has promised martyrs. They are to shower, shave excess hair, and wear cologne so they will be clean when they enter heaven.

They are to purify their souls from all unclean things and completely forget something called "this world" or "this life."

Well, there is so much to comment on this above. But I will try to be as concise as possible. First, it was not only Noam Chomsky that was wise, informed, and honest enough to name the true culprits in the September 11 affair. Journalist Michael Moore did a splendid job with his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Also, some years before it, he did the same with Bowling for Columbine (2002). Had Stenger watched the latter, he would know about the millions of people worldwide that have died because of USA capitalism (if I recall correctly, more than 4 million deaths in the last 50 years). And perhaps then he would start accepting the possibility (possibility...) that all this too might (might...) have played a part (a part...) in the September 11 affair. Then Stenger talks about his friend, Edis. The man (Edis) did bring enlightening and robust insights to this debate. Yet, Stenger was not wise enough, or honest enough, to understand these insights and to accept them. So typical... Stenger tries to sell his nut-brained view that all Christians and Jews and Muslims should be seen as if they were following the "same God." (perhaps Bgwpaaritu...). However, we as scientists have to go deeper and understand that although this is what they say, this is not what they do or what they are (i.e. this is not the way they behave). And, naturally, it just had to be so. The holy texts that these believers "follow" are filled with contradictions. In some passages, "Kill Thy Enemy." In other passages, "Love Thy Enemy." In some passages, "Stone the Adulterous Women." In other passages, "Forgive the Adulterous Women." What is one to make of this? And why is this this way to begin with? The "holy texts" have been created during a considerably long span of time, thus reflecting different times and ideas and peoples. Further, they have been to a certain extent "tampered with." And so they were "created." After this, during the centuries that followed, religions (i.e. the various sects of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) have changed the way they interpret these texts in light of the changes of society, including the advent of science and its changing views. Religion, or better, religions, are far less irrational than Stenger seems to think. They adapt. They interpret and re-interpret their own texts. So, what Stenger and his Gang are doing is to get the religious guy who lives according to the "Live and Let Live" motto and condemn him as the guy who lives according to the anthem "Live and Let Die." This is not rational. This is not scientific. And above all, this is not fair.

In the bottom of the above excerpt, we see an unwise Lincoln tying Atta solely to religion. Yet, there seems to be a somewhat little detail slightly incorrect in all this. Atta and friends have attacked the...wrong country! They should not have attacked the USA. If indeed they had been driven solely or mostly by religion, they should instead have attacked Brazil! My country. Not the USA. We (Brazil) are the biggest Catholic nation in the world. We (Catholics - I myself am not a Catholic, but that is of no consequence in this matter) have been the greatest foes of Muslims of all times. Further, during carnival, this country of mine seems, at least in some places, to go Sodom-Gomorrah! Shouldn't the Muslims be pouring rains of fire and brimstone upon us then? Instead, they live here, side by side with us, like ebony and ivory, in harmony. No fight. No overt criticism to each other. How come, Mr. Professor of Philosopher at Colorado Vic Stenger?

Unfortunately, Stenger and friends do not seem to follow honesty wherever it leads. His "friends" include the avoid-L members, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, countless of the so called new atheists, and seemingly too new atheist John W. Loftus (aka the cowboy who chickened out). The actions of these people on this matter is an utter disgrace to our world. They are helping make the world a worse place. I do not believe they really have sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, or even anyone else they really care about in this world. Worse. They may have (and, shockingly enough, some do!). But they act as if they do not...

This is the last time ever I write about Victor Stenger. I tried to talk some sense of social responsibility into his mind. For the last five years. I failed miserably. You can count that as one more piece of evidence suggesting that God does not exist...

Julio Siqueira - This text above was finished and revised on January 14, 2011.