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Victor J Stenger

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Victor J Stenger
Particle physicist; skeptic

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Vic StengerAny attempt at understanding humanity must include an explanation of the hold that supernatural belief continues to have on most of the human race.
-- Vic Stenger, Physics and Psychics (1990) ch. 3

Thought, without the data on which to structure that thought, leads nowhere.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001) ch. 1

When people start using science to argue for their specific beliefs and delusions, to try to claim that they're supported by science, then scientists at least have to speak up and say, "You're welcome to your delusions, but don't say that they're supported by science."
-- Vic Stenger, in Cliff Walker, "Interview with Particle Physicist Victor J Stenger," Positive Atheism (December 1998, January 1999, and February 1999)

A scenario is suggested by which the universe and its laws could have arisen naturally from "nothing." Current cosmology suggests that no laws of physics were violated in bringing the universe into existence. The laws of physics themselves are shown to correspond to what one would expect if the universe appeared from nothing. There is something rather than nothing because something is more stable.
-- Vic Stenger, preliminary summary for the forthcoming book, Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing? The Self-Contained Universe

Scientific evidence for God's existence is being claimed today by theists, many of whom carry respectable scientific or philosophical credentials. "He" who is neither a "she" nor an "it" supposedly answers prayers and otherwise dramatically affects the outcome of events. If these consequences are as significant as believers say, then the effects should be detectable in properly controlled experiments.
-- Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 3

Scientists have practical reasons for wishing that religion and science be kept separate. They can see nothing but trouble ... if they venture into the deeply divisive issue of religion -- especially when their results tend to support a highly unpopular, atheistic conclusion.
-- Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 3

People are entitled to their opinions, but when the opinion is in disagreement with the data -- with the facts -- when that opinion does not stand up under critical or rational scrutiny, I think we have a right to point that out. We shouldn't be stepping on anybody's toes when we do that. If they're going to be spouting off nonsense, then we should say that -- not as a matter of opinion, but as a matter of scientific fact. When someone says science says something, and science doesn't say something ("It doesn't say that! That's a misrepresentation of what science says."), then I think we can state that. And if it ruffles some feathers, so what? I just don't see the basis for arguing that creationism has equal standing with evolution.
-- Vic Stenger, in Cliff Walker, "Interview with Particle Physicist Victor J Stenger," Positive Atheism (December 1998, January 1999, and February 1999)

From this experience, I have learned what science asks of us when we claim the existence of an extraordinary new phenomenon. It requires much, including years of hard work, uncompromising honesty, and willingness to accept failure. I can quickly recognize fallacious logic or faulty experimental procedure when I read a paper that purports to observe something that goes beyond existing knowledge. I am dubious and suspicious whenever an important result has been obtained too easily or too quickly, and reported in the media before it has run the gamut of critical review by disinterested, knowledgeable parties.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001)

If it looks like God does not exist, quacks like God does not exist, then there is a good chance he does not....
     Proof is not required to believe. But some sign, some evidence is needed. None exists....
     Find some inkling of evidence. There is none.
-- Vic Stenger, on his list, AVOID_L, November 5, 2001

"Where did all the matter come from?"
E = mc^2 says matter and energy are the same entity. Since E = 0, the total matter of the universe is zero. Zero does not have to come from anything.
     Now, if by "matter" you just mean the equivalent of rest energy, then that came from gravitational energy during the expansion in the early universe.
-- Vic Stenger, having been asked for a simple explanation to the question, "Where did all the matter come from?" in a letter to Cliff Walker (September 13, 2001)

We are only devoted to science as the best means humans have developed, so far, for arriving at an approximation to the truth about objective reality -- whatever that truth may be. We are not closed minded against psi, religion, alternative medicine, or any paranormal claims nor prejudiced against any individual adherent. Show us the evidence and we will consider it, but only steadfastly insisting on the same rules that we would apply to evidence for a new particle or a new drug. In particular, we refuse to agree to adopting new criteria ... just for the benefit of researchers in a field of study that cannot seem to get significant results any other way.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001) chapter 10

I am not one of those who think that science has nothing to say about ultimate origins. I will try to show that it has a lot to say, although what it does say is not always directly subject to the empirical testing that characterizes conventional scientific statements. Nevertheless, we have theories of physics and cosmology that are already well-established by their success in meeting the challenge of severe empirical testing against existing data. We have every right to logically extrapolate those theories into the gaps where empirical data are currently not available, and may indeed never be. Those extrapolations can turn out to be misdirected, so they should not be treated as scientifically established facts. At the very least, however, they can serve to develop possible scenarios by which the gaps in current knowledge might plausibly be filled by natural explanations, thus refuting any assertions that a supernatural explanation is required by the data.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001) ch. 4

I do not think science has to make any apologies. It looks at the world and tells it like it is. And we all live longer, better lives because of this dispassionate view. Sure, it commands awe and provides inspiration. Still, I would rather be operated on by a surgeon who sees me as an assemblage of atoms than one who lovingly tries to manipulate what he or she imagines are my vital energy fields.
-- Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001) ch. 6

While science continually uncovers new mysteries, it has removed much of what was once regarded as deeply mysterious. Although we certainly do not know the exact nature of every component of the universe, the basic principles of physics seem to apply out to the farthest horizon visible to us today.
-- Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001) ch. 6

Altnerative explanations are always welcome in science, if they are better and explain more. Alternative explanations that explain
nothing are not welcome....
     Note how science changed those beliefs when new data became available. Relgions stick to the same ancient beliefs regardless of the data.
-- Vic Stenger, responding to someone on his list, AVOID_L, November 5, 2001

The battle over the validity of evolution has been publicly posed as a scientific one. However, you will find little sign of it in scientific journals, where such quarrels as exist are over details, not the basic concept.... Evolution has proved so useful as a paradigm for the origin and structure of life that it constitutes the foundation of the sciences of biology and medicine.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001)

In the United States, the new creationist movement has convinced many people and their political servants that scientists are being unfair in not supporting the teaching of alternatives to evolution in science classes. They say it is censorship to exclude intelligent design from those classes. The usual argument raised against teaching intelligent design is that it unconstitutionally promotes religion. Design promoters, however, insist that they have no particular designer in mind. No one believes them, but skilled lawyers arguing for the cause of impartiality on their behalf could probably prevail in court. In any case, a better argument exists: Intelligent design theory, as currently formulated by its leading proponents, should not be taught in science classes because it is provably wrong.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 4

People have a hard time imagining how the universe can possibly have come about by anything other than a miracle, a violation of natural law. The intuition being expressed here is at least twofold: First, it is widely believed that something cannot come from nothing, where that "something" refers to the substance of the universe -- its matter and energy -- and "nothing" can be interpreted in this context as a state of zero energy and mass. Second, it is also widely believed that the way in which the substance of the universe seems to be structured in an orderly fashion, rather than simply being randomly distributed, could not have happened except by design.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 6

To most theistic believers, human life can have no meaning in a universe without God. Quite sincerely, and with understandable yearning for a meaning to their existence, they reject the possibility of no God. In their minds, only a purposeful universe based on God is possible and science can do nothing else but support this "truth."
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001)

The argument from design rests on the notion that everything, but God, must come from something. However, once you agree that it is logically possible for an entity to exist that was not itself created, namely God, then that entity can just as well be the universe itself. Indeed, this is a more economical possibility, not requiring the additional hypothesis of a supernatural power outside the universe....
... To [creationists], it is not a matter of logic anyway, but common sense. They see no way that the universe could have just happened, without intent. "How can something come from nothing?" they continue to ask, never wondering how God came from nothing.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (2001), ch. 3

The argument from design stands or falls on whether it can be demonstrated that some aspect of the universe such as its origin or biological life could not have come about naturally. The burden of proof is ... on the supernaturalist to demonstrate that something from outside nature must be introduced to explain the data.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 4

In short, evolution is as close to being a scientific fact as is possible for any theory, given that science is open-ended and no one can predict with certainty what may change in the future. The prospect that evolution by natural selection, at least as a broad mechanism, will be overthrown in the future is about as likely as the prospect of finding out some day that the Earth is really flat. Unfortunately, those who regard these scientific facts as a threat to faith have chosen to distort and misrepresent them to the public.
-- Victor J Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 2

It was not that I thought I was smarter. I had simply explored science and found what seemed to me a far more powerful authority. And, I did not steal or murder because I thought they were wrong, not because I feared damnation.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), Preface

Define self-awareness and tell me what it is about it that requires something more than a material explanation. I do not accept the burden of explaining all phenomena, real or imagined. If you think more than matter is required for this thing you call self-awareness, which you have not defined, then you have the burden of showing why.
-- Victor J Stenger, responding to the question, "What is your preferred parsimonious explanation for the fact of self-awareness? Most of the hypotheses offered to explain consciousness seem to me to fail the parsimony test. None seems satisfactory. How oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, fluorine, magnesium, iron, manganese, silicon, iodine, and a few other trace elements ever interact to become self-aware seems to me the most important question in all of the debates about the nature of creation." on his list, AVOID_L, October 18, 2001

Any strategy that attempts to reinforce faith by undermining science is also doomed to failure. Showing that some scientific theory is wrong will not prove that the religious alternative is correct by default. When the sun was shown not to be the center of the universe, as Copernicus had proposed, the Earth was not moved back to that singular position in the cosmos. If Darwinian evolution is proved wrong, biologists will not develop a new theory based on the hypothesis that each species was created separately by God 6,000 years ago.
-- Vic Stenger, Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), Preface

The belief in supernatural forces remains to this day a yoke on the neck of humanity, but at least Thales made it possible, for those of us who wish it, to be free of that yoke.
-- Vic Stenger, Physics and Psychics (1990) p. 83. Thales (625?-546? BCE) was a Greek philosopher who was the first to posit a godless universe that runs entirely on natural laws.

But, as we have seen, movement does not require a mover, and modern quantum mechanics has shown that not all effects require a cause. And even if they did, why would the Prime Mover need to be a supernatural anthropomorphic deity such as the Judaeo-Christian God? Why could it not just as well be the material universe itself?
-- Vic Stenger, discussing Aquinas's adaptation of Aristotle's ideas as "proof" of the existence of God, Physics and Psychics (1990) p. 88

Most people in Bayonne, like folks in similar towns across the country, had little education and could neither verbalize nor intellectualize their problems very well. They just suffered them. They listened eagerly when the priests promised them everlasting life in paradise, where they would be reunited with their departed love ones, but this was not enough when the suffering and guilt were unbearable.
     The parish priests did their best and I fault them little. They operated within a framework developed over centuries that would not have survived this long if it did not give people something they wanted, no matter how insufficient....
     My father ... remained a Catholic and always expressed belief in God. He did not argue with me about my views -- although he and other older relatives often told me to keep my mouth shut.... While they succeeded in keeping me from expressing my thoughts too openly, they had no effect on those thoughts. As long as I kept my mouth shut, they left me alone.
-- Vic Stenger, on life growing up in New Jersey, in Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001), ch. 1

And, yet again, because I can predict the line of criticism that this book will generate, I need to make it clear up-front that I am not claiming that the absence of evidence eliminates all possibilities for a god to exist in every conceivable form. And, I am not evaluating all the theological and philosophical arguments for or against God. I am simply evaluating the scientific arguments and claimed scientific evidence for a deity according to the same criteria that science applies to any extraordinary claim. I conclude that, so far, they fail to meet the test.
-- Vic Stenger, on life growing up in New Jersey, in Has Science Found God? (draft: 2001)

Fifteen years of skepticism has done more for me than 20 years of force-fed religion and 30 years of indifference in between.
-- Vic Stenger, on his list, AVOID_L, November 5, 2001

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