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Vic Stenger’s New Book

Physicist Vic Stenger has a new book out, God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. It’s about Christianity and science, arguing that the religion held back the progress of science for centuries.

It has become a standard argument from Christians, especially creationists, that Christianity was crucial to the development of science. They cite the fact that men like Newton and Kepler were Christian, as though that proved their point. From a press release about the book:

In a sweeping historical survey that begins with ancient Greek science and proceeds through the Renaissance and Enlightenment to contemporary advances in physics and cosmology, Stenger makes a convincing case that Christianity held back the progress of science for one thousand years. It is significant, he notes, that the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century occurred only after the revolts against established ecclesiastic authorities in the Renaissance and Reformation opened up new avenues of thought.

The author goes on to detail how religion and science are fundamentally incompatible in several areas: the origin of the universe and its physical parameters, the origin of complexity, holism versus reductionism, the nature of mind and consciousness, and the source of morality.

In the end, Stenger is most troubled by the negative influence that organized religion often exerts on politics and society. He points out antiscientific attitudes embedded in popular religion that are being used to suppress scientific results on issues of global importance, such as overpopulation and environmental degradation. When religion fosters disrespect for science, it threatens the generations of humanity that will follow ours.

I’ve got a copy on the way and plan to have Stenger on my radio show soon to talk about the book.

Comments

  1. AndrewD says

    FtB has been plugging this book in a banner advert (here in the UK) for some time, I will order it as soon as I have funds.

  2. slc1 says

    Actually, it is my information that Newton was an Arian, which would not be considered a Christian belief by most of today’s Christian churches, and certainly not those that existed in the 17th Century. Back in Newton’s day, had this become known, he could have been in serious trouble and could have been charged with heresy.

  3. marcus says

    Yeah, because burning people at the stake (persecuting, imprisoning)for thinking rationally is a great way to advance the cause of rational thinking. Please…stop helping.

  4. raven says

    I like Victor Stenger’s books. I’m reading one now. The physics is so far beyond me that I can read them over and over and still not totally understand everything.

    I’ll read his newest one ASAP.

    He probably got it right. Copernicus waited until he was almost dead to publish his book on Heliocentrism. Because he knew it would cause problems.

    Giordano Bruno and Galileo proved him right.

    The first person to translate the bible into English, Tynsdale was burnt at the stake.

  5. Michael Heath says

    Being raised fundie and having to suffer the foolish liars who pastored the flock, I purposefully avoided studies in the Dark and Middle Ages when I went to college. I didn’t think I had the emotional maturity to confront the damage Christianity inflicted on humanity during that time where I wanted college to be a time of bliss, not one that enraged me. I instead focused my required history and humanities courses on the Greeks, a decision I do not regret.

    I still got enraged when I took courses in evolution and cosmology where I discovered how much evidence buttressed scientific theory on those matters. I really had no idea how dishonest evangelical and fundamentalists were – I knew they were, not to such a degree.

    Five years ago I read, reviewed, and recommended – though with some hesitation – Victor Stenger’s book, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. While I share his politics and his frustrations regarding how Christians mispresent non-Christians – including non-theists, I thought his making that case in this book weakened the empirical theme of his book. Hopefully five years has made Mr. Stenger a wiser man with higher quality arguments. I’ll read the Amazon reader reviews first however; I think Ed’s got my hide thick enough I can now handle such topics.

  6. jjgdenisrobert says

    I would buy it, but I want it on Kindle, and it’s not available. Anyone has a clue when it’s going to be published? I don’t want a physical book, because shipping is too expensive.

  7. dingojack says

    FTB has had a banner ad for this book on high volume for the last couple of days, extolling its virtue to the heavens (so to speak).
    This is guaranteeed to cause me to not buy this tome nor to recommend it to friends.
    Internet advertising – often a negative sales recommendation.
    Perhaps Internet advertisers will take note (But I doubt it).
    Dingo

  8. Sastra says

    The claim that, far from being in conflict, science actually arose from Christian theology is surprisingly common. As I recall, such advocates usually put forth two claims:

    1.) Christianity is the first/only religion which believed in a rational God who created a rational universe to reflect His rational nature. Absent this firm explanatory foundation, nature looked too chaotic and incomprehensible to even attempt to describe or understand. With it, science was finally able to take off.

    2.) Before Christianity, people thought of time as going in an endless series of cycles. Because the Bible provides an understanding of a God which works through a historical narrative line, scholars were now able to consider nature as a progressive flow of events which built upon previous events. Voila — science is now possible!

    I strongly suspect that Christians are fooling themselves when they speak so confidently, and so broadly, about how people “used” to think before God and Christianity finally lead them onto the right track. But that often seems to be the gist of their argument. It’s not just that religion provided the funding: they think monotheism in general and Christianity in particular changed the way people thought about the world and time, making the natural world capable of being comprehended and giving human beings the justification for attempting.

  9. dingojack says

    jjgdenisrobert – save your money for something more worthwhile and enjoyable (like root canal surgery or a proctological examimnation).
    Dingo

  10. Didaktylos says

    If it weren’t for the need to figure out when Easter should be, Christianity would not have any use for beyond what was needed for commercial accountancy.

  11. says

    dingojack: FTB has had a banner ad for this book on high volume for the last couple of days, extolling its virtue to the heavens (so to speak).
    This is guaranteeed to cause me to not buy this tome nor to recommend it to friends.

    So…you’re not going to buy something recommended by Ed Brayton simply because it’s being advertised. On a site run by Ed Brayton. For which he needs the money provided by advertisements.

    That…that’s being a contrarian for the sake of being contrary. As someone who does that a lot I’m still thinking, “Wow, jerk move there.”

    I mean, if you were couching this in, “I think you’re just saying nice things because they’re paying the bills and are ruining your credibility,” that would be another thing entirely. But I’m not seeing that language in your statement at all and there’s plenty of evidence that Ed does not and has not do things like that, anyway.

    So, seriously, you’re not buying it because it’s been advertised. Should I assume you also don’t own a car, wrote your post on a computer in the public library, and get all your food from roadside stands that don’t even have a Twitter feed?

  12. Michael Heath says

    Dingojack,

    I can not for the life of me follow your logic. Are you paying Ed a hefty daily subscription fee to read and hang-out at his blog and therefore are offended at having to suffer ads as well?

  13. The Lorax says

    If God was rational, why doesn’t he pop down and introduce himself? Literally billions of people the world over would instantly and without hesitation worship him in any way he requested. He could save more souls in an hour than all of Christianity has ever done in the past two thousand years.

    Instead, he seems to think the rational course of action is to remain completely silent, and have his followers do all the work for him.

    Rational god my achin’ ass.

  14. steve oberski says

    While I can certainly understand push back against the relentless barrage of advertising that invades more and more aspects of our daily life, and might make buying decisions based on this, I would stop short of proselytizing others to do the same and I would not make unsubstantiated claims about the advertised product – presumably based on his comments Dingojack has not read the book.

    And if I felt that strongly about this (which I do) I would install an ad blocker (which I have).

  15. Anneliese says

    I’ll second the request for a Kindle edition. Reading print books is becoming difficult; the Kindle is much easier on my failing eyes.

  16. says

    I’m rather baffled by dingojack’s logic as well. If a publisher advertises a book, that guarantees that you won’t buy it? Or only if they buy ads online, on a website that would clearly include people who would be interested in such a book? What, exactly, would be the difference between Prometheus Books buying an ad for the book on this website rather than, say, in Free Inquiry or Skeptic? They’re telling people who are likely to want to read the book that the book is out. Your argument just makes no sense, especially when you tell other people that they should read a better book instead, but you haven’t read the book yourself. Just weird.

  17. michaelgibb says

    Based on that blurb Victor Stenger’s book sounds like nothing more than your standard atheist pabulum. It sounds like he is following in the footsteps of Andrew Dickson White and trying to pin on the Church a mantle of anti-science, even though professional historians no longer consider the conflict thesis legitimate.

    Furthermore, that point made in the blurb that the Reformation is partly how this “anti-science” religious mentality was overthrown is not actually an argument for science and Christianity being incompatible. The Reformation was a religious movement. If the argument is that the Reformation changed the social/political environment to one more friendly to science, then one has to take into account the fact that it was Christian opposition to the Church that drove the Reformation.

    Not having read Stenger’s book I don’t know if this is in there, hopefully someone here has read it and can correct me, but does he discuss the economic changes that swept through Europe prior to the Scientific Revolution? Does he factor in the discovery of the New World and the influx of wealth the discovery caused? Does he also discuss the political forces that were behind many of the changes, including the discovery of the New World?

    There is a very good reason for why historians, including historians of science, do not accept the conflict thesis anymore. It’s bunk. The historical reasearch that went into the thesis has been found to be faulty, and if this blurb is anything to go by Stenger is just repeating the same old arguments that have been refuted. How about doing some actual historical research and not simply trying to support the same old tired personal beliefs, all of which have no truth to them.

  18. says

    Furthermore, that point made in the blurb that the Reformation is partly how this “anti-science” religious mentality was overthrown is not actually an argument for science and Christianity being incompatible. The Reformation was a religious movement. If the argument is that the Reformation changed the social/political environment to one more friendly to science, then one has to take into account the fact that it was Christian opposition to the Church that drove the Reformation.

    That’s a horrendous reading of the blurb. Key sentence:

    It is significant, he notes, that the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century occurred only after the revolts against established ecclesiastic authorities in the Renaissance and Reformation opened up new avenues of thought.

    In other words, the Reformation challenged the authority of the Church, which was a step in the right direction toward more scientific thinking.

  19. lpetrich says

    Sastra, Richard Carrier has been considering this theme of Christianity the only scientific religion, and he considers it just plain wrong. He did his PhD thesis on Greco-Roman proto-science, and he wants to publish it as a book.

    He makes a strong case for Greco-Roman philosophers having been close to a scientific revolution. He even proposes that practicing science depends on these values:
    * Curiosity — inquiry into unknown things is good
    * Empiricism — observation and experiment are the final judge
    * Progress — it’s possible to improve on earlier work
    As to believing in a rational god, several of these philosophers did also. Certainly more rational sorts of gods than the God of the Bible.

    Contrary to some Xian apologists’ stereotypes, these pagan philosophers were not exactly literal believers in the capricious and all-too-human deities of the Olympian pantheon.

    Early Xian theologians were the opposite. Curiosity? They thought that if God had meant for us to know something, then he would have revealed it to us or something like that. Empiricism? Their favorite epistemology was inspiration and revelation. Progress? If anything, degeneration.

    It was only after 1200 CE that the pagan philosophers’ works started getting better-known in Europe, and that led to philosophers and theologians moving to viewpoints like those of pagan philosophers. This eventually led to the rise of modern science.

    What caused this great disaster? The Roman Empire was economically unsustainable, and that led to massive inflation and civil war in the 3rd century. Diocletian tried to slow down the decline with price controls, without much success. The western half eventually fell, but the eastern half proved more sustainable, lasting another millennium.

    Richard Carrier notes that many pagans turned to mystical enlightenment and revelation during those disasters; Neoplatonism became very popular. Xianity won because it was the best-organized, and what we see as Xianity is the result of what Xian sect that got the official favor.

  20. lpetrich says

    Sastra, another thing. You had once posted on substantial vs. insubstantial mental categories, and how it gave rise to “material” vs. “spiritual”. Where might I learn more about such things?

  21. dingojack says

    As I may have explained before, at the moment my connection is S–L–O–W. The ads (which are clearly far more important than the content) have priority in loading, leaving me with an ad and nothing more. Then the ad takes up more time with it’s riduculous graphics, preventing anything else from loading. Being able to load a page in less than five minutes would be a good thing.

    So, if you went to a public park would you expect to find nothing but an intrusive forest of billboards and men loudly spruiking their wares? What if the claims were clearly exaggerated nonsense that prevented any other kind of communication?
    How would feel about it?

    Dingo

  22. Konradius says

    @dingojack
    First: a public park is paid by your taxes, this site is not.

    Ok, that blew all your ‘arguments’ clear out of the water, but lets stomp on them some more.

    If you have a slow connection, the thing to blame is having a slow connection. Would you also blame a C-64 that it cannot load this site?
    If you have a slow connection a good thing to research is how to use sites with a slow connection. On top of my head:
    – check if the site has a mobile version
    – check if the site has a newsfeed with the complete posts
    – use an add-blocker

    I actually think all those 3 tips individually should make your problems disappear.

    How would feel about it?

    I would feel pretty stupid to be honest.

  23. says

    Dingojack-

    I’m just mystified that you think that has anything at all to do with whether you should read a book or not. You recommend someone read a book other than Stenger’s because your have a slow internet connection? Holy non sequiturs, Batman.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    In a sweeping historical survey …

    Uh-oh.

    With all due respect for Dr. Stenger, he does seem to be getting far out of his specialty here, and the precedents don’t look all that good.

    And he’s not even as adept a prose stylist as Stephen Jay Gould.

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