This  Time,  Victor Stenger  Went  Bananas...





This page was finished on March 5, 2007.

First revision on March 6, 2007.

Inclusion of  "My Confession"  at the end of the text, March 7, 2007.



       Since there is not enough room on the site to describe all the problems of Stenger's new book ("God, The Failed Hypothesis." - 2007), I decided to answer the issues raised in numerous emails that I am receiving regarding it on this page. I started to write this page on February 27th, 2007; and finished it on February 5th, 2007. My review of Stenger's book on can be found at this link (among several other reviews from me of other books). And my critique of Stenger's previous book ("Has Science Found God?") can be found at this link.  

       The first question is the very title of this page. Did Stenger really go bananas? Definetely so. And, unfortunately, only so... What I mean is that if anyone (Stenger included) really wants to understand the topics covered in his book, and if one really wants to write about the topics covered in his book, it is just essential that one goes bananas. But actually, going bananas is not enough. We have to go far beyond that, into a state that we might call "going split-bananas" :-) (i.e. beyond ordinary "madness"). Unfortunately Stenger went only half the way. So, his conclusions ended up being very much flawed.



    So, let's start commenting on the book:



Explaining Deeper the Problems with the Citations that Stenger Used -


       1- Stenger says on page 10 that "In a poll taken in 1998, only 7 percent of the members of the US National Academy of Sciences, the elite of American scientists, said they believed in a personal God." The citation that Stenger used for this is: Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham. Leading scientists still reject God. Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, p. 313. 1998. This article appeared in the "Correspondence" section of the scientific journal Nature, and most likely it was not peer reviewed by Nature. It can still be found at this link. I pointed out in my review that these scientists simply did not say what Stenger reported them as having said because the question they were asked about was significantly different from that (i.e. different from "Do you believe in a personal God?"). The question they were asked was, according to the article: "For the 1914 survey, Leuba mailed his brief questionnaire to a random sample of 400 AMS 'great scientists'. It asked about the respondent's belief in 'a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind' and in 'personal immortality'. Respondents had the options of affirming belief, disbelief or agnosticism on each question. Our survey contained precisely the same questions and also asked for anonymous responses." And in the table in his article, Larson presented lines with the options (regarding this "God issue") for answers as: Personal Belief, Personal Disbelief, and Doubt or Agnosticism. Just yesterday, I replied to an email about this issue, and I said this: "My point is this: we must be very careful when making questions and when evaluating the answers to such questions (especially when addressing these questions to highly intellectually sophisticated people, like NAS Members...), because small semantic ambiguities may end up creating huge interpretation problems afterwards. You can very well be a theist and think that God should not be described exactly as being in "intelectual" communication with mankind. What does that mean, being in intellectual communication? I may be a believer, but I don't think I am a complete idiot. And yet, if I received such a question, I would really feel very much in doubt as to what to answer. Sincerely, most likely I would declare doubt about the existance of such a God. (Try this: ask a Jew what was the last time God established intellectual communication with mankind; perhaps one Jew out of ten will declare that it was atop
Mount Sinai 3,000 years ago). The affective component, as far as I can see, has just no problem at all." So what these 7 percent of NAS Members actually said was that they believed in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind. I think the question was bad. And the options for answers were bad too. But, topmost, Stenger's report of it is incorrect and misleading. However, as I said, the worst in this single issue was still to come...

       2- Stenger says, on page 21, that: "Indeed, as we saw in the preface, the overwhelming majority of prominent American scientists has concluded that God does not exist."  Well, the source for that, in the preface, can only be Larson 1998. And what does Larson say about it? In the article we read: "Leuba sent the 1914 survey to 400 'biological and physical scientists', with the latter group including mathematicians as well as physicists and astronomers. Because of the relatively small size of NAS membership, we sent our survey to all 517 NAS members in those core disciplines. Leuba obtained a return rate of about 70% in 1914 and more than 75% in 1933 whereas our returns stood at about 60% for the 1996 survey and slightly over 50% from NAS members." So only half of the NAS Members actually answered the questions (Please, see note below. Actually only about 13 % os NAS members answered the poll !). Of course it is legitimate to work with samples. But this does not entitle the researcher to present the data the way he (or she) pleases, or to make whatever phrase he (or she) pleases based on this data (and much less so those who, like Stenger, are reporting the researcher's findings). Actually, the prominent American scientists that can be said to have concluded that God does not exist (and even this is questionable... I will show why further ahead) are those who chose as answer the option "Personal Disbelief". They are 72.2% of those who answered. That is, 36.1% of the NAS Members. What we can safely say is that 36.1% of NAS Members do not believe in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humanity. I would be very careful in extending this statement any further than that... (please, see note below for the conclusion that I now have come to that actually this 36.1% has to be reduced to meager 10%...)

       One example: why did the remaining 50% of the NAS Members not answer the poll? Some might have, just like me, found the questions and the options for answers badly conceived. So, actually I am not saying that Stenger's phrase is incorrect. It might be right, be wrong, be an overestimation, or even be an underestimation! No one knows. What I am saying is that Stenger has no basis for saying what he said, and that by saying that he is misreporting Larson's true findings (Larson himself did the same...). The rationale for using samples in research is that the sample is representative of the whole. Therefore, the sample must not be biased. But how can we (i.e. Larson) know that the sample is not biased if it was the sample that self-selected itself? Or are we supposed to believe that NAS Members are like Al Quaeda activists? (High Homogeneity).

       Another example: we have, on the one hand, the option Personal Disbelief. And, on the other hand, we have the option Doubt or Agnosticism (I am, for now, leaving aside the option Personal Belief). The word "disbelief" has some ambiguity in it. If you say that you "disbelieve God", I am left in doubt as to whether you mean that "You believe that God does not exist" or "You do not know." By contrasting the option Personal Disbelief against the option Doubt or Agnosticism, this ambiguity (in the word "disbelief") must have been greatly reduced in Larson's poll, I think. But how much reduced? "Not Know" (I do not know) is not exactly the same as "To be in doubt". So, for example, some scientists might have understood that Personal Disbelief applies to them when they actually "do not know whether God exists or not" (suspension of judgement), in contrast to Doubt or Agnosticism if one sees "Doubt" as a "weakness in faith" (as might happen with a true believer that now and then strays from Lord's Path and from rocksolid faith...).


[Click here to see a prominent researcher (guess who...) who agrees with these two paragraphs that I wrote right above!]

       We have (at the time of Larson's poll) 517 NAS Members. Slightly more than 50% answered the poll. That is 259 respondents (and not one single more, I bet...). 72.2% chose Personal Disbelief (in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humankind). That is 187 people. In order to achieve the status of "overwhelming majority", I would accept at least 60% of the total 517 NAS Members (I guess most people would be more demanding than me to accept the status of overwhelming majority...). That would be 310 NAS Members. We already have 187, so we need 123. Now, can anyone be really confident that, out of the remaining 50% of NAS Members (i.e. those who did not answer the poll, God knows why...), Stenger will get all those 123 that he is in such desperate need of? And what if he gets these 123? He will only get 60% of NAS Members who "disbelieve in a God" (meaning "believe such God does not exist", or, instead, meaning "I do not know"?)  in intellectual (whatever that means...) and affective communication with humankind. And not an iota more than that... But he is claiming far more than that. His claim is: "Indeed, as we saw in the preface, the overwhelming majority of prominent American scientists has concluded that God does not exist"




Important Note: Actually, NAS has more than 2000 members in 31 disciplinary Sections. Larson only polled slightly more than 50% of 517 scientists from 4 disciplinary Section. So, what we can safely say is that 10% of NAS Members do not believe in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humanity.  



       Stenger may be right. But, IMHO, he'd better do some true research before forwarding baseless assertions.


       Some further problems with Larson's flawed research, and with Stenger's et al sloppy use of it...: We can see other pseudoskeptics citing this work of Larson too (click here to see Richard Dawkins citing it, apparently with the approval of Michael Shermer). So, Stenger is not the only one that will not spot big mistakes right in front of his eyes. These guys call themselves The Brights, and many suspect that their brightness is so intense that it dazzles their eyes, therefore explaining why they won't spot the obvious (especially when it is convenient to them...). Larson's article has only two pages. It was, most likely, not peer reviewed by Nature (it is in the Correspondence section of it). It has one table, with six columns. And three out of these six columns sum up more than 100 percent. Weird. Two of the total six columns are from Larson's findings (and one of these two sums up much more than 100 percent; a Larson's column!). The other four columns are from the previous work of Leuba (two from 1916, and two from 1934). Two of these four columns sum up more than 100 percent (these are the two columns from 1916). What is the problem with these mistakes? If Larson himself was the one that committed the mistakes (by mistyping, for example), there is probably just no problem whatsoever. Anyway, anyone who wants to use this article must, first, contact Larson to get the figures straight. No skeptic, to my knowledge, tried to do this (they did not see the mistakes). This is bad... However, there may exist a bigger problem if the original figures from Leuba were wrong (i.e. if Leuba himself, in 1916, committed a mistake). If this is the case, so Larson did not spot a mistake committed by Leuba, therefore being "guilty of sloppy reading." [I have now identified what is the problem with Leuba's columns. Click here to access some extracts from Leuba's 1916 work. It seems that there is not a true problem with Leuba's columns per se; however, these odd columns that sum up more than 100 percent are clear indicators of more serious problems with the whole of Leuba's work, because they show how much his questions were confusing, leading scientists to mark more than one answer for one single question...]. Worse than this are the "three lies" in Larson's article that I alluded to in my review. They are:



1- At the beginning of the article, Larson says: "Our latest survey finds that, among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever - almost total." That is a lie. What is almost total is the sum of Disbelief (72.2%) and Doubt or Agnosticism (20.8%) (I am only commenting on the question about Belief in Personal God. The other issue in the article, Belief in Human Immortality, has rather similar figures, but its column sums up 107.9%, and therefore must  be left out of any analysis until Larson clarifies this mistake). Another problem is that, instead of having said "Our latest survey finds", Larson should have said (due to all the problems discussed above involving the sample issue, etc) "Our latest survey suggests."  


2- A little after the middle of his "huge" article, Larson says that "Respondents had the option of affirming 'belief', 'disbelief' or 'agnosticism' to each question." However, we see in the table the options Belief, Disbelief, and Doubt or Agnosticism. Here, the impression that I had was that, either Larson himself was making one set of questions that did not match the answers that appear in the table, or Leuba (1916) was the one responsible for this inconsistency, and Larson was not properly indicating this weakness of the research procedure. Quite providentially, I managed now to get some portions of Leuba's work from 1916. Some extracts from it can be found in the pdf file at this link. Actually, this paragraph from Larson's article has much more problems than I had imagined. Leuba's questions were, IMHO, ill-defined and confusing. To his credit, Leuba even commented on it himself. Larson, on the contrary, does not comment on it at all... The 400 "greater" scientists actually belonged to two different groups, that received two slightly (or better: not so slightly...) different questions/answers. Larson used the figures for the answers given by "Division 2" "greater" scientists, but (weirdly enough) he used the questions that were asked to the "Division 1" "greater scientists".


3- At the end of his tiny article, Larson felt confident enough to "correct" (improperly...) a statement from NAS president Bruce Alberts. He said: "NAS president Bruce Alberts said: 'There are many very outstanding members of this academy who are very religious people, people who believe in evolution, many of them biologists.' Our survey suggests otherwise." Larson actually didn't even send his questions to all members of NAS (more than 2000 members), but rather to 517 scientists (and only little more than 50% answered) in areas rather similar to those questioned by Leuba, i.e. mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, and biological scientists. NAS actually has 31 disciplinary Sections, and biological scientists are scattered among 13 Sections. So Larson's research can hardly be considered representative of what goes on in NAS scientists' minds. And we must bear in mind that what NAS president said was that "many very outstanding members". "Many" is not a stringently quantitative word, but rather a qualitative word. Larson's cunning move to "correct" Alberts looks like a bizarre (and failed) attempt to launch a coup d' etat. ;-)    


       So, the bottom line is this: on the one hand, Victor Stenger claims that Larson (1998) has shown that the overwhelming majority of prominent US scientists has concluded that God does not exist. However, on the other hand, a careful look at the data reveals that all we can safely say (based on Larson, 1998) is that 10% of NAS Members do not believe in a God in intellectual and affective communication with humanity.


       3 - Now we leave the Larson citation and move to the second problematic usage of citations by Stenger. Stenger says (page 84), commenting on the Pope, that "a wealth of empirical data now strongly suggests that mind is in fact a 'mere epiphenomenon of this matter'." And I replied that either Stenger did not understand what the Pope said or he (i.e. Stenger) does not know what an epiphenomenon is. What the Pope said was (page 84): "Theories of evolution which, in accord with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are imcompatible with the truth about man." Note that the Pope is using two terms: "emerging" and "epiphenomenon". These two terms indeed summarize what materialist neuroscientists and philosophers think about the relationship between "mind" and matter (or "mind" and body). The other options in this area are not really materialist, so to speak. They are: 1- Mind (or better: consciousness) as a fundamental property of the universe. 2- Mind (consciousness) as a separate reality (Dualism of Substance), but in interaction with the physical world. Stenger only used the term epiphenomenon., which is very problematic because if the mind is an epiphenomenon then it plays no role whatsoever in the physical-biological world (that is the very definition of an epiphenomenon). So, surprisingly enough, the Pope's words were more philosophically and scientifically robust (and stringent) than Stenger's...



His  Citations  Were  Feeble.  But  His  "Original"  Remarks  Were  Far  Worse... -


       1 - Stenger presents a very naive description of the scientific enterprise. He says on page 28: "However, any type of dogmatism is the very antithesis of science. The history of science, from Copernicus and Galileo to the present, is replete with examples that belie the carge of dogmatism in science. What history shows is that science is very demanding and does not blindly accept any new idea that someone can come up with. New claims must be thoroughly supported by the data, especially when they may conflict with well-established knowledge." And a little further on, he says (pages 28-29): "Besides, why would any scientist object to the notion of intelligent design or other supernatural phenomena, should the data warrant that they deserve attention? Most scientists would be delighted at the opening up of an exciting new field of study that would undoubtedly receive generous funding."


       Stenger presents a worldview in which science is a bold and candid (if stringent) quest for truth. I greatly doubt that he really believes that... After all, being a CSICOP fellow (now renamed to mere CSI...), he knows damn well how much science is tightly connected to political interests (i.e. power at all levels, and of all shades), to social interests, and to the day-to-day interests of those who work for it. Of course science is not as dogmatic as the average religion (even though I have no trustworthy yardstick to define "average religion"). Also, the kind of dogmatism that we see in science is different from the dogmatism that we see in religion (most of the times, IMHO). Scientific dogmatism, to me, looks more like an attenuated form of bureaucratic dogmatism (or bureaucratic conservatism). Whenever a "new truth" becomes more fashionable in science, the allocation of funds shift ($$$), severely affecting the lives and careers (and sometimes the prestige...) of many (of most?) of those who work for the opposing scientific view. If "Intelligent Design" blooms, "Blind Evolution" withers. (By they way, I do not agree with Behe's Intelligent Design). Sometimes this bureaucratic dogmatism takes on rather nasty shapes... as can be seen at this link. At this link, we can see the highly prestigious scientific journal Nature refusing for almost 9 months long to publish a crucial  factual correction of a devastatingly negative book review that they made of parapsychology-researcher Dean Radin's book "The Conscious Universe" (1996). Renowned scientist Michael Rossman (this link) complained to Nature with the following remark: "That Nature might err occasionally, in publishing a biased and misleading review, is understandable. That it should in effect collude with a biased reviewer in perpetrating a fraudulent assessment is quite unusual, and shameful. Even this might pass, if the assessment concerned only the work of one author or one line of theory. But when it concerns an entire field of inquiry, Nature's tolerance of fraudulent assessment is quite unconscionable -- and seems more important to discuss even than the particular substance of the dismissed work." Other prestigious scientists complained as well, like Brian Josephson.


       So, unless you are ready to get back to believing in Santa Claus, it is vital to bear in mind that science is a human endeavour. And as such, it shares many of other human endeavours' vices, though in ideosyncratically different quantities and shades.



       2- Stenger claims that modern science, especially neuroscience, shows that there is no need for a "ghost in the machine." That is, he considers that science has already, and quite safely, done away with dualism and answered the millennia-old "mind-body" problem. It is ok that he thinks like that. But it is deceiving from him to pass off the idea that this is a well established view in modern science. For example, Susan Blackmore (CSICOP fellow, just like him!), in her recent book "Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human" (2007!), includes among these "Best Minds" people like David Chalmers (panpsychist-like thinker, prestigious philosopher), Roger Penrose (dualist-platonist-like thinker, highly prestigious physiscist), and Stuart Hameroff (panpsychist-dualist-like thinker, anaesthesiologist doctor and well known consciousness researcher). For feedbacks about Out-of-Body Experiences (OBE), Stenger cited an article from Olaf Blanke et al (Nature, 2002), where they supposedly were able to induce OBE experiences during brain operations, and thus have provided strong support for the idea that in OBEs nothing actually leaves the body. Instead, OBEs would be solely an illusory process. This article from Blanke is (IMHO) very weak in providing feedback for this view. However, I took a look at more recent articles from Blanke et al, and they do indeed provide now interesting feedback into this issue (I highly recommend!). Nevertheless, other interesting reviews of the bibliography on OBE do provide evidence of veridical Extrasensorial Perception during OBEs (I happened to take a very careful look at this issue rather recently - authors like parapsychology researchers Susan Blackmore, 1982, and Carlos Alvarado, 1982 and 2000), and unfortunately these are never to be found among Stenger's readings. Similarly, his comments on Near-Death Experiences (NDE) are based on very weak works. He cites Susan Blackmore (1993) for this, and Mark Fox (2003) too. Blackmore's book is very intersting indeed, and at the time it was written, it was a valuable and well informed skeptic counterbalance to the hypothesis that NDE has anything to do with a glimpse of an afterlife. Unfortunately, Blackmore decided to leave this field, and she no longer gives us informed criticism and analyses on this issue. It is really a pity, because she has indeed very interesting ideas and insights (even though she is not exactly a "saint" when it comes to fraudulent-like conduct...). More recently, interesting cases and analyses have been presented by researchers like Bruce Greyson, Ian Stevenson, Emily Kelly (1998-2000), van Lommel et al, Sam Parnia et al, and Michael Sabom (1998). The cases "Al Sullivan" and "Pam Reynolds" are very interesting and robust indeed (especially the latter), and van Lommel/Parnia findings (2001) strongly suggest that consciousness can still be present during moments of complete brain shut-down. The second source that Stenger cites, Mark Fox, is more recent (2003), and his conclusions are not really bad. However, surprisingly enough, Fox does not cite or analyze the works from van Lommel/Parnia, and he does comment on the Pam Reynolds' case (Sabom, 1998), but Fox does so in a very "weak" way, failing to notice both the case's strengths and weaknesses!


       Curiously enough, I pointed out to Stenger the value and strength (and relevance) of Sam Parnia et al's work (2001), and also how much Stenger misreported it in his previous book. Instead of correcting his mistake and making a critical analysis of the material, he just decided to... flee !


       3- One last point that I would like to briefly comment on (before taking to the core of Stenger's argument) is the issue of Intelligent Design in the evolution of life, in the appearence of life, and in the universe structure as a whole. "Intelligent Design" per se is an interesting idea, and an intellectually stimulating notion too. In the evolution of life forms, it is opposed to "blind mutation plus natural selection." Stenger, naturally, does not know much about it. After all, he is a physicist (and a rather narrow-minded one). The idea of Intelligent Design has been used in an illegitimate attempt to smuggle religious beliefs (including theist God belief) into classrooms, into science, and into other public state institutions, etc. I believe that Behe himself has sided with these deplorable goals (the so called "Wedge Movement"). This is something that cannot be accepted (just as it is highly illegitimate to have materialist faith into either classroom or science). However, we must not let these treacherous agenda make us forget or overlook neo-darwinism's limitations. In my opinion, people like Richard Dawkins have a very narrow-minded outlook on evolution. There have been some "in-between thinkers" who have done science at a superb level of excellence, and yet challenging the more orthodox traditions and dogmas of neo-darwinism. Most strinkingly, IMHO, are the works of molecular biologst James Shapiro (see this link, this link, also this link).




And  What  about  the  Core  of  Stenger's  Argument? -


       As a matter of fact, Stenger started his project with an interesting and powerful idea. He decided to define the kind of God that he would be challenging, limiting it to a specific subdivision of the theist-God type. This subdivision is: the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (JCIG). Further, he kind of drafted a strategy of hypothesis testing for this God. Something along these lines: "If God (JCIG) exists, then "Z" will happen here and now. If "Z" does not happen here and now, then this counts as evidence for the absence of JCIG." Almost perfect, fully legitimate, and definetely good science. However, Stenger strayed far and away from this Good Road, into the abyss of pseudoskepticism (that he masters with such excellence...).


       It is a pity indeed. He could have done a splendid work if he followed what he had set out to do. A well delineated definition of God (or god) is scientifically refutable. For example, imagine a God named Zeus that is always atop Mount Olympus and that is perfectly visible to the human unaided eye. If you climb Mount Olympus and see no Zeus, then this God does not exist (i.e. has been scientifically refuted). Or this: if the JCIG exists, then he himself will write an online book review on refuting Stenger's (2007) arguments. This did not happen, then JCIG does not exist. Perfect. In my opinion, the place where Stenger came closer to fulfilling this goal was when he forwarded the Evil Argument. Why so much suffering in this world? It is arguably the hardest question of all. Even the Pope himself, on May 28th 2006, in a visit to Auschwitz (Poland), said "In a place like this, words fail," (...) "In the end, there can only be a dread silence -- a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?" (Some might even say that Jesus himself could not understand the reason for so much misery in the world - "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?").


       Unfortunately, Stenger, as I said above, strayed from fertile ground. He made a flawed distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" (right in the preface), and used this as a flawed basis for his whole reasoning afterwards. He says, on page 14: "God can only show up by proving to be necessary, with science equally proven to be incapable of providing a plausible account of the phenomenon based on natural or material processes alone. This may strike the reader as an impossible requirement. How can we ever know that science will never be able to provide a 'natural' account for some currently mysterious phenomenon? I claim this is within the realm of possibility, if not with 100 percent certainty, within a reasonable doubt. Using the historical association of natural with material, I will provide hypothetical examples of phenomena that, if observed, cannot be of material origin beyond a reasonable doubt. Since by all accounts God is nonmaterial, his presence would be signaled, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the empirical verification of such phenomena." (...) "I have stated how I will use the words natural and supernatural, as synonymous with material and nonmaterial."


       Just one brief comment before presenting fully this crucial (and swampy) base that Stenger relies on... Some of the "phenomena" that Stenger claims would provide evidence of God do indeed exist. These include ESP (extrasensory perception) in the laboratory (Ganzfeld), PK (psycho kinesis) in the laboratory (PEAR research), evidence for an afterlife (weak and ambiguous, but worthy of respect and careful attention, as recognized by Carl Sagan in his 1995 book "The Demon-Haunted World"). I am not saying that there is an afterlife. I am saying that there is evidence of it. As to PK, I consider it almost proved. And ESP, already proved. But let's finish our presentation of Stenger's idea about matter vs nonmatter.


       Stenger continues (still on page 14): "I define matter as anything that kicks back when you kick it. It is the stuff of physics. By 'kick' I refer to the universal observation process in which particles, such as the photons that compose light, are bounced off objects. Measurements on the particles that bounce back into our eyes and other sensors give us properties of the observed objects called mass, momentum, and energy that we identify with matter. Those measurements are described with models that contain purely material processes - the dynamical principles of physics - all subject to empirical testing and falsification."


       So, what is, basically, Stenger's definition of matter (i.e. natural things)? It is something that interacts with us. And what is his "definition" of (or "expectation" about) nonmatter (i.e. supernatural things)? It is something that will interact with us too...!!! It is obvious to me that this is precisely the distinction that he is making between matter and nonmatter (i.e. the distinction is: No Distinction At All!), since he is stating that if God exists, it is detectable (either directly or indirectly). So this is the "Everglades" that Stenger decided to stand on to get his crusade against God started... What a Genius.


       Little further on, Stenger was forced to try to fix this sloppy and self-defeating definition. On pages 15-16, he says: "Despite philosophical and historical literature in the past century that described the history of science as a series of revolutions and 'paradigm shifts,' " (Stenger is referring to the works of Thomas Kuhn) "the fundamental notion of matter and material processes has not been changed since the time of Newton - only embellished." (Here he is referring to a critique from physicist Steven Weinberg to Kuhn's notion of incomensurability between paradigms, available online at this site) "Anything that can be shown to violate those principles, to have properties different from those long associated with matter, would be of such world-shaking significance that, for want of a better term, we could call them supernatural."


       So now this is the new redefinition of supernatural (just one page after the previous definition...). The supernatural is our want of a better term... And it will interact (with us).


       And Stenger cites Steven Weinberg's text (this link) to support his pretty weird notion that "the fundamental notion of matter and material processes has not been changed since the time of Newton - only embellished"... Well, I carefully read Weinberg's text, and in no way can I see it backing up Stenger's "embellished" view... Weinberg is, instead, fighting one very extreme aspect of Kuhn's philosophy of science: Kuhn's notion that different paradigms are (at least many times) incommensurable. Anyone looking at, on the one hand, Newton's physics and, on the other hand, Einstein's and Quantum Mechanics' physics will be taken aback by Stenger's notion of "Mere Embelishments". Newton's worldview accepted superluminal information transfer (gravitation). The notion of a fixed (or possibly fixed) universal point of reference (ether) was present until 19th century (contrary to relativity). Matter was seen as (or believed to be) solid substance (which was a strong ontological worldview), instead of a wave of probability (which is an almost total disbelief in ontological interpretations). Time was not relative. And so it goes... (Stenger bravely resists going bananas... - but perhaps it is my lack of sophistication in physics that leads me to misunderstand Stenger's point).


       In my opinion, the hardest arguments to overcome are these ones that I list below:


       A- The existance of evil (far too much evil!) in the universe. However, if God exits, he may have a hidden plan for this huge amount of evil (though I greatly doubt it...). This is the way believers in Judaism-Christianism-Islamism deal with this. It has been working for centuries. Stenger's repeating this argument will not put an end to these faiths (though, most certainly, this argument has taken from these faiths many of their believers over the last centuries/decades, and repeating this argument guarantees that this effect will keep on).


       B- The apparant absence for a place where God can be hiding, due to the vast amount of information about the universe already known by physical science plus the principle of conservation of energy. However, God might still have an as yet undetected "hideout." This reasoning goes along the same lines as the one above (in all respects). And violations of the conservation of energy can really be found; at least on... the internet. This link comments about violations in conservation of energy in quantum mechanics. And this one in the theory of relativity. Most likely these two small leakages in the law of conservation of energy will not allow much confort (or theoretical leeway) for the believer. But, leakages are leakeges...


       C- The random nature of the universe, as revealed by quantum mechanics. This is a tough one indeed for these three religions that Stenger aims at (Judaism-Christianism-Islamism). However, quantum mechanics may be wrong, or our interpretations of it may be wrong. The underlying problem is, nevertheless, much worse. We (or better: the physicists; and I do not count in because I am not a physicist) usually link causal to deterministic, and acausal to probabilistic. However, this may be a very flawed understanding of causality (which, by the way, is a very poorly understood concept; perhaps causality simply does not exist, and that would really be the utter failure of any God...). Maybe there is indeed some sort of "probabilistic causality" (Stenger even commented on that), and though it is very hard to reconcile this probabilistic causality with the notion of God (in these religions mentioned above), it is nevertheless easier than to reconcile utter acausal randomness with God.


[One argument that I definetely do not consider a strong one is the apparent absence of design. It is very hard to tell if something is designed or not, and so this argument cannot, or should not, IMHO, be used either by the believers - Michael Behe included... - or by the atheist-materialists]



Summarizing in one phrase, I think Stenger could have done a far better job. The reasons why he did not do it include lack of humbleness (not reading his opponents, etc), counterproductive commitment to a religious/political atheist-materialist agenda (which includes being an active CSICOP "kamikaze" :-) ), and perhaps "over-babysitting" (i.e. a rush to dedicate to other matters and leave aside this overtrodden road, a behaviour which one fellow reviewer perceived and labelled as a "Rush Job").

This page was finished on March 5, 2007.

First revision on March 6, 2007.

Inclusion of  "My Confession"  at the end of the text, March 7, 2007.

Julio Siqueira



By the way...  I know no one cares, but...:  What do I believe?


I used to be an ordinary theist believer (until 1984). Then I got seduced by Fritjof Capra's ideas, and started dating with monism and panpsychist Brahmanism. In recent years, I dedicated a lot of my brain's capacity (and surely it is not really that much... :-) ) to trying to understand this terrible gap between mind and body, mind and matter, etc. Like those guys who undergo split brain operation, I ended up with co-existing opposing views inside me regarding God... I kind of went into a state that can be defined as "split bananas" (that is, beyond the more orthodox forms of "madness"; something rather unpleasant, unlike its cousin, Banana Split!). I have read (and highly recommend!), on this topic, authors like Roger Penrose, Stuart Hameroff, Francis Crick, Benjamin Libet, Susan Blackmore, Antonio Damasio, Stan Franklin (in his book Artificial Minds, 1995, and in the book Machine Counsciousness - Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2003), and I am starting to read David Chalmers (his book The Conscious Mind. Sorry, Dennett, I have not read you so far... But you are next, just after Chalmers. Anyway, I did read some of your online articles). In pragmatical terms, I live my day to day life without usually thinking of God. I never pray to ask for anything (even for my life or other people's). However, if I am in a really desperate and sudden situation (for instance: a violent upsurge of panic, clautrophobia, or the like), I cling to God with all my grip (and also to anything else that happens to have the misfortune of being close by ;-) ). So I do have this "residual theism" in my emotions. In more intellectual terms (and scientific-philosophical too), I have come to think that there are only two solid options: solipsism and panpsychist brahmanism. They are actually very much the same (IMHO). All other options (including materialism, dualism, etc, with or without God) are severely flawed. Of course I can only explain why with further twenty pages. And no one around here will stand a single more line from me, I guess... So, scientifically, I "believe" in a Brahamanist God. And pragmatically, I believe in whatever I need to believe in!