with Prof. Vic Stenger
Back in 2013, I spent the dark hours of my youth emailing, debating, interviewing, and discussing what I considered important ideas with people who were specialists in the fields of which I had found an interest. Vic was always terse, as this exchange shows, but I loved the chance to discuss my thoughts with him, and am very grateful to have been given the opportunity. We spent many a night arguing, and plenty more sharing personal stories. Here is one such interaction we made public, from the archives.
Short Biography of Victor J. Stenger
Victor J. Stenger was adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. He has held visiting positions on the faculties of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Oxford in England, and the University of Florence in Italy.
Dr. Stenger’s research career spanned the period of great progress in elementary particle physics that ultimately led to the current standard model. He also helped pioneer the emerging fields of very high-energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last project before retiring in 2000, Dr. Stenger collaborated on the underground experiment in Japan that showed for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The Japanese leader of the project shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for this very important discovery.
Dr. Stenger had a parallel career as an author of 12 critically acclaimed, popular-level books that interface between physics and cosmology, and philosophy, religion, and pseudoscience, including The New Atheism (2009) and God and the Folly of Faith (2012). His 2007 book God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist was a New York Times bestseller. His other books include: God and the Atom: From Democritus to the Higgs Boson, and God and the Multiverse.
JC : Do you believe it is possible to be objective in one’s belief in ‘a’ God?
VS : Why not? God is supposed to be a real being and the God most people worship plays an active role in the universe.
As such his actions should be objectively verifiable using the methods of science.
JC : Because there are many people that stipulate – believing or not believing in a god is choice,
a choice that is affected by what might gain in each circumstance.
JC : The behaviour of ‘picking a side’ seems innate (to me)-
Is it not fair to say, without religion we might hitch this need on to another ideology and become extremist for a different reason?
i.e. race or politics (or even sport).
VS : Look at the facts:
There are already billions of atheists in the world who haven’t hitched themselves to any extreme secular movement.
In fact, those who try to organise atheists say it is like herding cats.
JC : I was unaware there were billions of atheists, the last estimation i read was around the 11%,
either way i think the point is still missed,
Nazi Germany, Stalinism, North Korea?
VS : I was counting Chinese Buddhists – Change to hundreds of millions.
Nazi Germany was not Atheist, Stalin did not murder in the name of atheism. In fact, he supported the Russian Orthodox Church,
Same for NK.
Atheism is not what drives them.
JC : I know Nazi Germany was not ‘atheist’ – Hitler being Christian at childhood but i digress,
Christianity was not the driving force, as with Stalin and North Korea Atheism was not the driving factor,
the point i was getting at was perhaps the lack religion, combined with our innate need to follow,
(which is used so destructively at times in religion, is also used when religion is missing in the form of anything- political agenda in the case of Stalinism, North Korea and Nazi Germany.)
Do you believe that the text is the problem, or the human nature that belies it?
VS : I don’t know what you mean about the text.
In any case, I don’t see that atheism can be blamed for these atrocities. In fact, if there were no religion there would have been none of the hatred of Jews that led the the holocaust.
*”text” as in religious text.
JC : This brings another point, Have you considered the argument; theism vs atheism has become a vicious cycle in which a benign act of religion is a credit to the good of human nature, in spite of religion, and the malignant act completely accredited to the persons theology- not political agenda, mental state or propensity to violence? Is it not fair to say at least, it is nearly impossible to be objective when holding a person accountable for the meanings of a text that is interpreted personally?
VS : Certain Islamic terrorism is motivated by religion, though of course there religion and politic are one.
JC : Leading to the fourth, and one i ask all my guests. If you had the ability to wish away all religion, and empty all the pews, would you? and why? Would that make for a better world?
VS : Absolutely. Religion has been the major contributor to most of the problems of society throughout the ages. It also cripples the individual’s ability to make rational decisions in his or her own life. That doesn’t mean that some of the benefits and pleasures of religion such as art. music, charity, social interaction must be discarded. They just need to be continued without all the baggage of superstition and magical thinking.
JC : How do you refute claims that since the proof to determine whether there is “a” God or not is so scanty, that belief and non belief are equally logical? And why do you believe, when in my opinion there is insurmountable evidence that Christian theology is at least in the literal sense, obviously not true, there is an enormous, swelling amount of creationists and bible literalist?
VS : Since there is no evidence for God, and plenty of good evidence and logical arguments against his existence, it can hardly be said that belief is as rational as nonbelief. You are quite incorrect when you say “there is an enormous, swelling amount of creationists and bible literalist.” Even in the US, which is a hotbed of religion, fundamentalists are an ever decreasing fraction of the population— down from 20% to 18% is just the last year or two. The number of young people who are religious is dropping rapidly and will be a majority in a few years. Evangelical Christians currently have influence beyond their numbers because they have an enormous propaganda machine that owns radio and TV stations and publishes hundreds of apologetics books a year. This machine is funded by the plutocrats who run America. As has been true throughout history, those in power are using religion to keep people in line.
JC : What arguments are against the existence of “a” god? i have never even heard this postulated. Of course Christian theology is, in a literal sense, debunked, as is Thor, Zeus and the rigmarole. I guess then enormous is based on personal perspective, 18% of a population the size of the USA is obscenely large in my opinion. especially with such a strong foothold in the media. But more on the idea of the American propaganda machine, do you think it has become such a cornerstone in your political system, up to a point of having to have Christian Presidents to keep people in line?
VS : I am talking about the God most people worship, not all possible gods The important point is it’s decreasing, not increasing as you said. No, I still think we can overcome the corrosives effect of the religious right, as people become more educated and develop critical thinking skills.
JC : You have the floor to finish on a statement of your choice.
VS : One of the weapons that the plutocrats use is to undermine science and rational thinking. Unfortunately, most scientists are so buried in their work that they do not see how that work is being threatened, even as they experience deep cuts in their research funds. They have to get their act together and start working to overcome this tend.
Thankyou for your time, Pro. Stenger
I would just like to reiterate to our audience- go and read Prof. Stengers book out in the fall,
I am sure it will be brilliant.
28th Dec 2013