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 www.amazon.com, 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.
, 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
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!
is currently believed to amount to 72%
of everything that there is. And it was discovered just around ten years
...!!! 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
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
could not be
there at all). That has to do with Clarke's Third
, 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
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
. 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
" 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
- 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
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
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
). 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
, 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
. 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.
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
, 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
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
. 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
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
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
...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
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
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
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
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
...). However, we as
scientists have to go deeper and understand that although this is what they
, this is not what they do
or what they are
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
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