Interview with Prof. Victor Stenger
Published on September 03, 2009
Victor J. Stenger is an Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is the author of five published books, with two more due shortly. He is also the President of Colorado Citizens for Science (CCFS), Research Fellow of Center for Inquiry (CFI) and Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).
MM : Hi Vic, we welcome you from Mukto-Mona, which is an Internet congregation of society conscious freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists & humanists of mainly Bengali and South Asian descent scattered across the globe. First, We like to thank you for your on going support for Mukto-Mona over the years. Though today's interview is mainly prepared to celebrate the upcoming Darwin Day, we must say that we are very appreciative about your scholarly work on debunking theistic interpretation of creation, myths, bad science and pseudoscience of various kinds.
Vic Stenger : Thanks to Mukto-Mona and wishing you a happy Darwin day.
MM : Why do you think we need to create awareness about Evolution among lay people and celebrate Darwin Day? Is it more necessary in today's world then ever before?
Vic Stenger : I don't think it's any more necessary today that it was when it first appeared in 1859. It may be the most revolutionary idea in history--that humanity developed by a series of mindless accidents. I don't see how anyone who believes that humans are special creations, made "in the image of God," can at the same time accept Darwinian evolution.
MM : Richard Dawkins has said in one of interviews that 40% of British pople believe in 'God' where as the figure is 95% in US. Why America has been way more conservative about religion than the Europeans? Is there a political, social or historical reason behind it?
Vic Stenger : Many reasons have been put forth. But I think one reason for the current dominance of conservatives in America is money. They have huge amounts of it and are able to market their product far more effectively than their opposition. And, they are marketing it to a public that is largely ignorant of science (as well as everything else of an intellectual nature) and incapable of critical thinking.
MM : Many argue that a scientist's position should be agnosticism, as "we don't know everything" especially about the final "mystery" of the Universe. But you seemed to take a definite position of Atheism (like Richard Dawkins), as if you are pretty sure about "nonexistence" of God. How scientific is your ground?
Vic Stenger : Proof in science is not the same as proof in logic or mathematics. In science, an assertion is considered proved when the evidence in support of it is so strong that the opposite assertion is ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic God plays such an important role in the world that he should have been detected by now. Instead there is not only no evidence for such a God, there is ample evidence against him. The world looks just like it should be expected to look in the absence of God. I think this is proper science--looking at the data.
MM : In your last book "Has Science Found God?" you tried to provide a critique of contemporary claims that science supports the existence of God and found them inadequate. However, in your upcoming book, "God: The Failed Hypothesis", you seem to claim that science makes a strong case against the existence a God. But many argue that God itself is not a very well-defined term, and it suffers from many logical contradictions. So, how much "scientific" is your position in this case?
Vic Stenger :I do not try to disprove every conceivable God. I hypothesize a God with certain attributes, then look for the observable consequences of those attributes. When those consequences are not seen, then the hypothesis fails. When all put together, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God hypothesis fails.
MM : In some of your books you relied on multiverse hypothesis, even though it still remains in the realm of speculation. How are you so sure about that?
Vic Stenger : I have not relied solely on multiple universes for any of my arguments. The fine tuning (anthropic principle) argument fails independent of multiple universes. It is OK to speculate in science, as long as the speculation is based on well-established theories. Multiple universes follow as a consequence in a number of cosmological theories. Someone who makes an argument based on the assumed existence of a single universe has the burden of proving that multiple universes do not exist. Since nothing we know forbids them, he is violating Occam's razor by introducing more hypotheses (the added hypothesis of a single universe) than are required by the data.
MM : Do you think more scientists need to speak out against pseudo-science, religion, paranormal and other superstition just like you did? Why are there very few scientists talking about these issues?
Vic Stenger : It would help. Most scientists just think about their own research and worry about funding. It's a full-time job, so if their work is not threatened they stay out of it.
MM : ID has been defeated in court in Dover, Pennsylvania; yet you seem to disagree with some of the statements made by Judge John E. Jones III. Will you kindly explain your position here?
Vic Stenger : The judge went further than necessary in his decision. Once it was proved that the Board violated the separation of church and state, the case against it was made. But the judge felt compelled to also rule that ID is not science. This forced him to define science, which no philosophers of science or scientists have done to everyone's satisfaction. As part of his definition he limited science to natural causes and phenomena, which agreed with the positions of both sides and, in particular, the position of spokesmen for the scientific community. They thus have played right into the hands of those who claim science has a dogmatic insistence on natural or material causes. This position is both unnecessary and false. Scientists can and do study phenomena such as prayer that may have supernatural implications.
MM : Vic, we thank you once again for being with us.
Vic Stenger : Thanks for thinking of me.