A Review of God and the Folly of Faith by Victor Stenger

For centuries science and religion have been at war. Both explain, or try to explain, the world around us in their own way. The more we observed, measured, and probed, the less we needed our gods. The gods of biscuits and hairdos soon made way for bakers and hairdressers and the gods of thunder and harvest made way for meteorologists and, well, meteorologists. Monotheism came and gave us one convenient god who made all these wonderful things for us to observe, measure, and probe. But the more we discovered, the less likely it seemed there was such a god.

This paved the way for the religious and atheist apologists. This is not a new phenomenon. People through the ages have been trying to marry their beliefs to what they see around them. Scientists have explained their findings and stretched reality in order to fit in their predetermined beliefs. Religious leaders conveniently forget certain parts of their Scriptures if they no longer fit in today’s society while hammering on others. Intelligent design, though a bad theory, is a good example of the religious trying to marry scientific observation with religious teachings.

On April 24th, a new book came out about this dichotomy and the problems with religion and religious apologetics in modern society. The book was called God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion by Victor J. Stenger. It is extensive, substantial, all-inclusive, informative, and beautiful in its own right, but I will get to that shortly.

First, I would implore you not to read the book.

Buy it — do buy it — but for the love of all that is, well, known to science, do not read it. And if you insist on reading it, then please, do not read it in one session. Not like you would any other book. God and the Folly of Faith is a textbook and should be used as such.

Stenger is obviously a knowledgeable and well-read individual. He has done a copious amount of reading and research and, as a result, he wants to impart as many facts as possible onto his readers. I don’t know Dr. Stenger personally, but I imagine he is a wise and friendly man, popular among his friends and feared by his enemies. And though he is probably all these things and more, he is not a good writer. Wherever he could use only five words, only two sentences, only one paragraph, he used a multiple of that. The man is as longwinded as you would expect a professor of both physics and philosophy to be.

According to Stenger, the marriage between religion and science is a ridiculous concept. He goes into a lot of background and history of the issue. He picks apart earlier arguments made by religious and atheist apologists (who also believe science and religion are compatible) and explains how a world without religion would have looked very different. He shows how some religions have stymied the development of science and how others have helped it flourish. The content is interesting; the execution, not so much.

Apart form being dry and monotonous, the tone of the book is also very angry. Stenger is obviously fed up with the lovey-dovey, hippie-esque, “Why can’t we all just get along?”-mentality and he lets his readers know this. The work is one angry diatribe against everything from mass prayer to saying “Bless you.” If it has even the lightest whiff of the occult, Stenger is there to tell us how awful it is. Many pages read like the author is screaming at you from the top of his lungs. The book preaches to the choir and the negative tone alienates the very theists who would benefit from it the most. Sure, he outlines how Islam helped science develop, rather than suppressing it, but that is just a tiny speck of positive light in an otherwise long, dark and bitter rage on everyone who has ever tried to marry religion and science at any time in our known history.

Stenger — like many New Atheists — holds that religion is basically fallacious and at the root of all our problems. I consider myself a New Atheist and as such it was hard not to agree with Stenger’s premise. This does not make the book any more readable, though. Reading the book I felt like a jungle explorer, hacking my way through quotes and dates and other peoples’ arguments to get to small nuggets of wisdom, that, like the lost city of gold, were promised before I set off on my journey. Sadly, much like the lost city of gold, the wisdom and answers were too well hidden, which leads me to believe they might not have been there in the first place. Because the book reads as one continuous piece, it is all but impossible to even find a good, succinct, quote to use for this review, let alone pluck out an eloquent and intelligent argument against the marriage of science and religion. Other than “It doesn’t work,” I can’t come up with anything.

At several points in time it has been postulated that man is made up of two parts: the body and the mind, both interacting with the world, and the soul, where the personality and the concept of “I” reside. According to proponents of this theory, this split between body and soul makes it possible for religion and science to coexist in one person. Simply put, they propose that science is far more adept at focusing on the outside world, where religious explanations are known to be primitive and untrue, and religion can provide better answers where the soul is concerned, because science can’t observe and test in this area.

This is how many religious scientists defend their beliefs, and how scientifically-curious religious people defend theirs. Stenger refutes this in his own long-winded fashion by showing how science is now able to test and observe that which the apologists would call the soul. With this he wipes this split-personality-premise off the table. There are many more of these beautiful ways in which Stenger wields reason and historical evidence to refute the idea that science and religion can coexist, but the mind-numbingly boring writing takes the shine off of most of these arguments.

If you find yourself in a discussion with a religious scientist, or a scientific theist, this book does not help. At least not as a work of reference from which you can easily look up the answer to any argument (read: fallacy) they challenge you with so you can then smash them to the ground with your perfectly logical and well-structured retort. The only way to use this book in such a discussion, would be if you had studied it long before and were able to wield it as a whole.

In conclusion, I have to say I’m on the fence.

Buy the book, but only if you’ll admit that you put it on your bookshelf because it looks pretty and it makes you look smarter.

Buy the book to read it, but read it one chapter a month and take breaks reading happier, easier fare such as A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.

Or don’t buy the book, be happy in the knowledge that it exists, and the next time somebody tries to convince you this marriage between science and religion could be the answer, point your opponent to it. Maybe that is the best option. We should inflict this book on people we don’t agree with. Not only do we get the satisfaction that we have annoyed them with a wholly unreadable book, but maybe, just maybe, they will be persuaded a bit. Maybe it will plant the seed of doubt. And maybe we can then finally sign those divorce papers.

About Tessa de Leeuw

Tessa is a 32 year old atheist who loves to read. She lives in The Netherlands - a tiny secular country in North-West Europe.

  • Saik

    I am surprised by the amount of books that claim that science and religion are incompatible. It seems that great scientists seem to disagree (Francis Collins, Newton, Maxwell, Mendel, Lemaitre, who made contributions to the fields of physics, genetics…).
    I am always baffled by these statements as I see that those making them have vague understandings religion, science and their remit. But I suppose there is a financial incentive and a public that appreciates this literature.

    Even atheists recognize the good that religion/faith can do.

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2011/05/06/what-the-church-has-given-the-world/

    Wishing you a happy feast of the ascension.

    • Skizzle

       My favorite part is all the child rape and torture that the Church gave, and then actively conspired to hide from, the world. 

      Get out of here with that weak shit.

    • Glasofruix

      Well some priest like to rape boys, does that mean that pedophilia is compatible with religion ?

      • Saik

         “Having God’s unconditional love does not mean you have God’s unconditional approval.” ~ Miles McPherson

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          That did not answer Glasofruix’s question. Perhaps you didn’t understand what he meant.

           It is true that there are priests who have raped boys. However, I doubt that anyone would consider pedophilia to be compatible with Catholicism. I assume that any Catholic would say that those priests were not acting Catholic at all when they were abusing children. Correct me if I am wrong.

          The same can be said for religious scientists. It is true that there are scientists who hold religious beliefs. However, they are not being scientific when it comes to their religious beliefs. They cease thinking scientifically in that area of their lives.

          I hope you have a happy feast of the ascension! Let us all remember the time when Jesus zoomed up into outer space! (See what I mean? If you start thinking about religion scientifically it just becomes ridiculous.)

          • Saik

             Who says you need science to hold religious beliefs? Science is there to answer questions about the natural world. Religions try to answer questions of metaphysics and ethics. Science is not omnipotent. Science does not answer historical questions, although one is still rational to believe Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan existed… Even without scientific evidence. It is similar with Christianity.

            I don’t think that Catholic belief is that Jesus zoomed into space. But if you want to read about it I am sure there are plenty of sources you can consult.

            “The language used by the Evangelists to describe the Ascension must be interpreted according to usage. To say that He was taken up or that He ascended, does not necessarily imply that they locate heaven directly above the earth; no more than the words “sitteth on the right hand of God”
            mean that this is His actual posture. In disappearing from their view
            “He was raised up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and entering into glory He dwells with the Father in the honour and power denoted by the scripture phrase.” Taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

            • FAQ

              Ah yes, the catholic encyclopedia….the bastion of truth, fact and stone cold gospel.

              Using that as a reference is like using a spiderman comic as proof there are real superheroes..?can we say tautology?

              • Saik

                 I was just using the Catholic Encyclopedia to illustrate Catholic belief on a passage of Scripture.

                • Fsq

                  Great, but it is still completely useless in the real world.

                  Quoting myth to make a point on myth is still myth.

                  Spiderman told me he is real in issue #377 of “the Amazing Spiderman” so Spiderman must be real. Why is Spiderman real? Because Spiderman comics said so…..

                  You give a snippet of hollow and irrelevant information and think it is pithy….

                  God bless you. Let me run that last statement through the christian to English translator….

                  Go fuck yourself.

            • Drakk

               “Science does not answer historical questions, although one is still
              rational to believe Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan existed… Even
              without scientific evidence.”

              Bull-fucking-shit. Every scrap of roman pottery, every corroded mongol sword and every Latin manuscript is scientific evidence for the existence of those two people.

              The classic question of science is “Does the evidence support my hypothesis?” Unearthed ancient artifacts are great at answering that question.

              • Fsq

                How much you want to bet this dingelnuts is going to come back and claim the shroud of Turin, the wood beams found in Turkey and the dead sea scrolls or archeological proof for Jesus and pals?

    • Fsq

      You really can’t realize “different times” can you. And it seems the “theory of evolution” is completely lost on you too.

      You argue from weak legs sir.

      Good luck with your GED.

      • Saik

         Well given I have a degree in genetics and about to complete one in medicine, evolution is not lost on me. Francis Collins the head of the human genome project did not think evolution was lost on him either. But he also happens to be a Christian. I invite you to read what Pope John Paul II wrote on the subject. Or what St Augustine wrote with regards to the understanding of genesis.

        Nevertheless, I thank you for taking interest in my response.

        • Djameson

          And Michael Shermer, in his wonderful book called The Believing Brain, explains precisely why even people who are extremely smart can believe stuff that is not rational. Indeed he discusses an interview with Collins himself on the topic.

          • Saik

            That is fine, and I do not deny that. Very intelligent people can believe things that are totally irrational. I confess that I used to be an atheist/agnostic myself. But I changed my mind as I saw I could not defend that position philosophically any longer. Maybe a bit like Anthony Flew who also changed his mind from Atheism to Deism.

            The human mind is very complex indeed, and the more I study it, the less I am inclined to make big blanket statements about it. And this seems to be confirmed by some of the professors in psychiatry, or psychology I have the opportunity to talk to.

            Thank you for the suggestion for the book. I hope to have time to eventually read it.

            Wishing you a nice day.

            • Dan

              Sorry, but I really have to call you out on the Antony Flew comment. Antony Flew got taken advantage of by some very disgusting people, who wrote the book for him (he admitted that he was too old to write the book so he let his Christian apologist friend write it instead). He was an expert on David Hume, and was to the point mentally where he couldn’t even remember Hume’s argument against miracles during interviews, and was deteriorating mentally so fast that he couldn’t recognize his wife less than a year after it was published. The arguments in the book were all arguments that Flew himself had demolished decades ago.

              • Saik

                 Dan, with regards to Flew, I find that there are also videos on youtube where he states his views. Nevertheless I read his book co-authored with the other person and found it interesting nonetheless.

                With regards to the arguments I find that the Cosmological argument, the moral argument are convincing. People on this site are likely to disagree, nevertheless anyone is free to agree or disagree as they please. I personally find William Lane Craig good at voicing them. A couple of my atheist friends disagree with my conclusions, but if they didn’t they would be theists I suppose. You said you read all the apologist (apologetics?). Good, few people do, I certainly still have plenty to read.

                There is much more than philosophical arguments, that bring someone to faith. And what one chooses to believe in, may it be theism or atheism is dependent on many things. Not only the Logos, but also the pathos and ethos with which the logos is expressed. One’s personal experience  and the philosophy one derives from it also come into play. For me the beauty of Christianity is something that attracted me. I understand that this comment might sound wishy washy. Nevertheless, science is not the ultimate answer to everything, as it does not answer moral questions for example. Religion and science both have their remits and non overlapping magisteria. But when I look at what science reveals I don’t expect photons or quarks to have written on them “made by God”, for me to believe.

                I personally rejected atheism for many reasons. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. To me that is proving a negative. Agnosticism which is the lack of knowledge about the existence of a God is more tenable. Dawkins himself recently described himself as an Agnostic on a debate with Cardinal Pell in Australia. But he thinks the word atheism has more punch to it. I personally like when people use words with the definitions the dictionary gives them.

                Rationality is a complex thing. And maybe if one works with people with certain psychiatric conditions, one comes to question certain assumptions more readily. 

                God bless you.

                • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

                   

                  “Atheism is the belief that there is no God.”


                  No. You don’t get to redefine things to suit your purpose.
                  Atheism is LACK of belief in deities, NOT a belief that there are no deities. Incredible that this error continues to pop up without fail in almost every exchange with theists.

                • Saik

                   So what is the difference with agnosticism then? Would you say both words are synonyms?

                  The American oxford dictionary seems to disagree with you.

                  “the theory or belief that God does not exist.”

                • Kelly

                  The dictionary was written by a bunch of theists. 

                  Let me break down the word for you, latin roots style, since you seem to be too lazy in your thinking to do it yourself:

                  a - theism: 

                  Without theism

                  theism:

                  Belief in the existence of god/s.

                • Stev84

                  “Gnosis” is Greek for “knowledge”. (A)gnosticism is about knowledge. (A)theism is about belief.

                  The two terms aren’t mutually exclusive. They complement each other. An agnostic atheist is someone who doesn’t know whether gods exist, but doesn’t believe in them

                • bubba

                  I submit that believing there are no deities is equivalent to a
                  lack of belief in deities;same thing,different syntax.And being
                  agnostic is just refusal to take a stand and believe,one way or another.

                • Fsq

                  What? Did someone sneeze?

                  I love the condescension and fake love with little signs offs like “god bless you”.

                  God bless you….you know what that makes me want to say?

                  Go fuck yourself.

                • Saik

                   I do not wish to be condescending and I would regret if it was interpreted that way. Despite the fact you disagree with me, I still wish you to experience God’s Love for you and to understand that it is possible to show Love (in the Agape sense of Love), to your neighbour. Christians are unfortunately not all living up to the standard which God set for them. I wish to try my best and ask for forgiveness and repent for when I fail. 

                • Fsq

                  And I hope you with your alleged education and intellect realize the folly of your silly myth based beliefs and come back to the side of reason, common sense and logic.

                  You do not need imaginary friends anymore.

                • http://twitter.com/adam_the_k Adam K

                  It’s amazing that Christians can sound most condescending when trying not to. I know perfectly well what it is to show love, kindness, and care to a neighbor. Agape, my foot.

                • Stev84

                  “God bless you”, like “I’ll pray for you”, is Christianese for “Fuck you” when used like this

                • Terabyte06

                   You’re very well versed and rational in conversation.  It’s sad to see you verbally attacked here simply for believing differently than we do. 

                • Reginald Selkirk

                  With regards to the arguments I find that the Cosmological argument, the moral argument are convincing.

                  I believe you are going senile.

                • http://twitter.com/adam_the_k Adam K

                  “…find William Lane Craig good at voicing them [arguments].”

                  Does not compute.

                • Kelly

                  Atheism is lacking theism. Nothing more. Someone who is an atheist doesn’t believe in any gods. There is no assertion or belief that no gods exist–it’s actually the absence of belief.
                  Rationality is something that you lack. It’s only complex for you (and probably awfully tiring) because of the mental gymnastics required to simultaneously believe in mysticism and logic.  Rational thinking and theism are incompatible. 

                • Stev84

                  All the cosmological argument gets you is “something created the universe”. That makes you a deist at best. There is no way to go from there to theism, much less to any specific religion. You still have no argument or proof for why your particular deity is any more real than any of the thousands of other gods humans made up.

                • Dan

                  I’m surprised you were swayed by William Lane Craig when you were an atheist, he was one of the people I read when I was trying to stay a Christian, and I found him very dishonest and incredibly unconvincing, I was especially upset by his repeated lies about Hawking still believing in a singularity and his lies about what Vilenkin’s work says, as well as Craig’s moral blessing for infanticide, slavery, and genocide in the OT.

                  I assume you think leprechauns don’t exist, does that mean that you think you CAN proved a negative? Atheism is a lack of belief in God, not saying with 100% certainty that no possible conception of god can exists (although I would say that most theistic definitions of god are logically incoherent, so I can say with very close to 100% confidence that they are false.)

                  I’m very surpised that you claim to have been an atheist yet don’t even seem to know the defination of that term. Agnosticism and atheism are not contradictory, most atheists I’ve ever read are agnostic atheists. And Dawkins hasn’t changed to being agnostic, his views on the subject have remained the same, as he says in the God Delusion, he is agnostic about god to to the same extend he is agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the well (it is theoretically possible, but incredibly unlikely, with no evidence to rationally support a belief in god/fairies).

                  If you want a pretty easy read about atheism, since even though you were one you don’t seem to understand what atheists believe or where the burdon of proof should be (i.e. beauty is not a guide to truth, or I would believe in Zeus since the Iliad is one of the most beautiful book I’ve read), maybe you could check out George Smith’s ‘Atheism: the Case Against God’ (or check out Graham Oppy or JL Mackie’s books for much more detailed  philosophical deconstructions of theism). 

                • bubba

                  The cosmological and morality arguments are some of the weakest arguments for theism,and science and religion do
                  not deal with non overlapping magisteria.what on earth was Gould thinking? Was he just dying and afraid?

            • Dan

               Out of curiosity, what philosophical argument for theism got you into Christianity? Even many respectable Christian philosophers think none of the traditional arguments for a god’s existence are valid. I read all the apologist stuff I could when I was trying to stay a Christian, and found the atheist objections to every one of the arguments for a god to be overwhelming.

            • http://www.facebook.com/keithacollyer Keith Collyer

               What a strange statement! There is no need to defend atheism (or at least agnosticism), it is the default position, the null hypothesis, if you will. What cannot be defended philosophically is religion.

              • Saik

                 I am sorry if I was not clear in my post. I agree that agnosticism is a “default” position. What I meant is that for me the arguments in favour of theism offered something which I could not counter with what outspoken atheists/agnostics thought on the subject. Hence I felt that to be consistent at that point in time (3 years ago), I had to believe in a God. What that God was came later after looking at a few religions. Eventually I became a Catholic after quite a bit of reading. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

                I would however say that religion is not to be defended philosophically so much as historically or theologically. Theism is much more to be philosophically argued.

                • Kelly

                  Huh?  Are you saying that you couldn’t win an argument as an atheist or agnostic* so you gave in, or that you bought into the promises that theism offers? 

                  *  “I confess that I used to be an atheist/agnostic myself.”

                  Which were you?  Atheist or agnostic?  There are theistic agnostics.  Atheists, by definition, are without theism. 

                • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

                  Agnosticism is not a position at all. It is completely compatible with both theism and atheism.

                  In fact, outside of the completely ignorant, everybody is either a theist or an atheist. You have to be one or the other. There really is no third position to take.

                  In the absence of any objective evidence for gods, the rational person will be an atheist. It is not possible to be fully rational and also be a theist (although compartmentalization is common).

            • Reginald Selkirk

              But I changed my mind as I saw I could not defend that position
              philosophically any longer. Maybe a bit like Anthony Flew who also
              changed his mind from Atheism to Deism.

              If you want to proclaim that you are going senile, fine; but it doesn’t help your argument.

      • Katherine Arrandale

        “Good luck with your GED.”

        I have a GED, and evolution isn’t “completely lost” on me. In fact, I’m in the early stages of a biology degree. (And I’m an atheist as well).

        I know it’s a small thing to have a quibble with, in amongst a heated discussion about religion, but I do wish the idea that having a GED makes you dumb would go away.

        • Fsq

          Happy you are pursuing education, however, it is with rare exception you will ever see a parent beam with pride and exclaim “my little Susie just got her GED” as a pinnacle of achievement. Nor do most parents secretly wish for a child whose goal is to achieve a mere GED. It is true. T deny it is to be insincere.

          And the vast majority of those who get a GED do not go on to post secondary schooling.

          So, yes, political correctness be damned, a GED is really nothing to brag about. And it is really a shining example of an underachievement.

          • Katherine Arrandale

            I don’t expect you to see this a week later, but…

            I suppose that getting a GED was not a “pinnacle of achievement” for me. Eventually graduating with a bachelors (and hopefully then at least a masters) will be. However, after four years of a chronic illness which forced me to drop out of high school in the 10th grade, you can bet my parents beamed with pride when I was able to start my undergraduate degree despite being unable to finish high school. 

            I cannot begin to describe what a lifesaver it was, to not have to slog through so many years of high school classes while seriously ill just so I could start taking college classes part time.

            I realize you are not attempting to insult me, or anyone else who has taken the GED in the process of working hard to get where they are (such as me, or my friend in med school who took the GED because she went to college two years early, or another friend’s brother who has autism). However, there are a million reasons why one might take the GED as part of their educational path (or as the end of their path), and I don’t think it is “political correctness” to acknowledge this and avoid using it as an insult or a lazy shorthand for “this person is stupid.”

            It’s not the GED that’s a “shining example of an underachievement” or a “pinnacle of achievement.” It’s what you do with it.

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

       

      “Wishing you a happy feast of the ascension.”

      Oh yeah, I’m feasting away and extremely happy. How’s your ascension going over there?

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Well… because they are incompatible. That doesn’t mean a scientist can’t believe in religion, although doing so clearly requires compartmentalization (and you don’t have to be a great scientist to do good science- I’d put Francis Collins in that category; I don’t think a modern scientist who believes in a god can be considered a great scientist at all, because they choose to ignore rationality in at least one part of their belief system).

      Religion explains nothing. It does not help us to understand nature. It does not help us to understand ourselves. It does not provide moral guidance. It does nothing good that could not be done better via secular methods.

      • Saik

         I think that saying science and religion are incompatible is like saying that physics is incompatible with beauty. Science and Religion do not look at the same things.

        I will let Francis Collins scientific achievements and work speak for themselves.

        I would differ with you that religion does not allow you to understand yourself as I find that it taught me a lot. If you look at the vast majority of people on this planet they are believers they definitely find something there.

        My wish is not to argue for every religion and I won’t. But when i see what the Church has accomplished and how it formed Western civilization I am fairly sure that it brought a lot. The Charity work religions do world wide is unparalleled by secular institutions. You just need to look at the work from Caritas internationalis to see that.

        In Europe the Church was the foundation of our laws, it started universities and hospitals are not completely strange to the work of the Church. The article from the Catholic herald I posted goes into more depth. Maybe you will agree that the role of religion in forming the good institutions we have is not negligible and thus that religion can lead to good.

        Anyway I got a presentation to finish on the pathophysiology of insomnia and I will get back to what science does best.

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          I disagree. I think science and religion attempt to answer exactly the same things. And where religion deals with non-scientific matters (like certain aspects of ethics, for example), it does so in an inferior way to secular approaches.

          Religion answers no questions. In every arena where it overlaps science, if fails.

        • Kelly

          “If you look at the vast majority of people on this planet they are believers they definitely find something there. ”

          Or perhaps religious propaganda works well.

        • Charon

           “Science and Religion do not look at the same things.”

          Yes… religion never says anything about how the world works, how people behave and think, the nature of reality… Have you even read Collins? He argues strongly that this view (which Gould called NOMA, non-overlapping magesteria) was bollocks.

          • bubba

            Through the centuries,religion has said much about how the world works,and ALL of it has been 100% wrong!!! Religion and science offer incompatible world-views of the same one
            reality.

        • bubba

          The only truth in this post is the garbled sentence which I in-terpret as saying that the catholic church started some uni-
          versities and hospitals in Europe.Everything else here is specious nonsense!

      • http://twitter.com/adam_the_k Adam K

        Oh, I disagree that religion didn’t help us understand ourselves. Religion helps us understand our capacity for fractiousness and misplaced certainty in the face of the unknown, and our credulity in the face of an authority claiming to speak for or understand some transcendent reality. Those are aspects of ourselves we must continually fight against.

        • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

          No, religion creates these things in us. It is only by abandoning religion that we are able to actually understand these things.

          • http://twitter.com/adam_the_k Adam K

            Right, religion is, like war, racism, sexism, and homophobia, something that by example teaches us something about our society and culture by overcoming it.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      It seems that great scientists seem to disagree (Francis Collins,
      Newton, Maxwell, Mendel, Lemaitre, who made contributions to the fields
      of physics, genetics…).

      1) Is it possible for a person to hold two views that are not compatible? (Hint: the answer starts with ‘Y.’) It immediately follows that a person holding two views is not evidence that those views are compatible.
      2) Newton and Mendel did not believe in either quantum mechanics or relativity. How can you call them great scientists? The incompatibility of science and religions has become more obvious with the passage of time, therefore your very historical list does not impress.
      3) Francis Collins, the most recent name on your list, is fine in his own field, but has demonstrated ignorance in other fields of science (physics and cosmology, and evolutionary behaviourology).

      • Stev84

        Come on. Of course Newton didn’t “believe” in quantum mechanics. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t very good about what he did know. He wasn’t even wrong. Newtonian mechanics isn’t wrong. Just not valid in all situations.

        • Reginald Selkirk

           You’re going off on a tangent. My argument is that the incompatibility of science and religion is more obvious than it was in Newton’s day, when he was willing to leave unsolved questions about orbital mechanics to the action of a deity.

    • Charon

      Beliefs of scientists who lived prior to the theories of evolution (substantially explaining life existing) and general relativity (substantially explaining the universe’s structure and evolution) are basically irrelevant. This would be all of the people in your list except Collins, who has a truly incoherent view of the compatibility of science and religion (I’m not saying that in an offhand way – I read Collins’ The Language of God).

      Science and religion are truly incompatible. It didn’t have to be that way – science could have found evidence for supernatural things, including gods. But it’s looked really thoroughly now, and found nothing of the sort. Still, individual scientists can be religious, in a large part because people easily believe contradictory things, and many people, sadly even some scientists, don’t respect truth above all else. I had a religious scientist once tell me they flat out didn’t care whether or not religion was true.

  • estraven

    Hmm. I’ve read reviews that are much more positive than this one! Regardless, it probably isn’t my cup of tea.

  • http://profiles.google.com/philboid Philboid Studge

    Not for nothing but this kind of a long-winded, repetitive “review” (if that’s what we’re calling it).  Irony much?

  • Skizzle

    Tessa, could you explain the sentence “Scientists have explained their findings and stretched reality in order to fit in their predetermined beliefs.”? 

    Please give an example of scientists ignoring evidence in order to make reality conform to predetermined beliefs, otherwise correct this rather serious (and irresponsible) accusation against the entire scientific establishment.

    • JoeBuddha

      Actually, I think that’s trivially true. There are many examples of scientists being married to their pet theories and dismissive of the facts, even in their area of expertise. Thing is, the INSTITUTION of Science eventially gets past this by pursuing the evidence and challenging the established models. The advantage Science has is placing evidence over dogma.

  • Fsq

    First, I find it mildly amusing, and not a shade ironic, that the author who constantly derides the professor for being long winded goes and writes a manifesto length review of a book that she claims is too long winded…..

    Second, it is clear she has an agenda much like the maligned hippies of the “can’t we all get along” camp. No, we really can’t.

    I’ve read the book, and yes it is a heady and erudite tome that refers a bit more thought than your typical Harry Potter or Hunger Games pablum, and that is a good thing.

    Also, the reviewer tries to take away the mans fire by using the “he is so angry” technique. So what? There is nothing wrong with anger and it is a needed component in this. Factor in the fact that the author has to deal with idiot religious arguments that fly othe face of fact daily and you bet you ass he should be angry. Don’t try to marginalized that.

    This is a worthy read, yet it request some brain cells to get through. And that is a very very good thing indeed.

  • Dan

    Is this review supposed to be satire? I’ll assume not, but maybe I’m falling for a Poe.

    Perhaps Stenger’s new book is as poor as Tessa states, but I have read two of Stenger’s other books and found them very easy to understand, entertaining, and actually a little too simplistic (but certainly much, much easier to read than Hawking). I do have to point out the irony of Tessa’s review having the characteristics that she criticizes Stenger for: way too drawn-out and extremely unclear. For example she says early in the review that this book should be used as a textbook, then later says it is inappropriate for use as a reference book. Most textbooks are used as reference books, so that is bizzare. She also describes it as both “unreadable” and “beautiful in its own right.” Ok then. And several times we are told to buy the book, and several more times not to buy it. Which is it? The accommodationist trope about the mean New Atheist is really annoying, especially since every interview and every book and article I’ve read from Stenger has been firmly written, but not mean-spirited, and I’ve read a number of comments by Christians saying they find Stenger much more respectful than the other New Atheists.

    What really annoys me about the review is Tessa’s claim that scientists “stretched reality in order to fit in their predetermined beliefs.” Sorry Tessa, science in pretty popular on this website, I’m afraid you’ll need to substatiate your claim, or at least clarify what you are talking about. The false equivalence in that paragraph between scientists and creationists is puzzling.

    All in all, this review did what a lot of the fundamentalists reviews of atheist literature on Amazon do; it make me more likely to buy the book. This is the kind of review I’d expect to see on ID sites like Uncommon Decent, not Friendly Atheist.

    • Fsq

      Funny, different perspectives and such….this is the first I have read by Stenger and I enjoyed it very much but found it much harder to read than Hawkings. You find it the opposite. I like that! Different readers, different perspectives!
      :)

  • Bob

    Nine out of 11 reviewers on Amazon.com disagree with you and praise the book. The two that didn’t were a Priest at Boy’s Town and a guy who thinks Hitler was an Atheist.

    I think I will ignore your review here and but and read this book. I’ve enjoyed and praised Stenger’s other books and I am sure I will appreciate this one too.

    • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

      If you liked his previous books, then you probably will like this, yes. But for people new to Stenger, Tessa’s review is helpful in explaining why someone might not like it.

      Personally, I think Stenger’s aggressive style is only useful for preaching to the choir. Or at least, some of the choir.

  • Terabyte06

    Just nitpicking, but it’s “A Brief History of Time.”

  • Pascale Laviolette

    Although I have not yet read the book, after seeing a speaking event with Dr. Stenger – I am not surprised at this review.  Definitely not one of our strongest “communicators” – but undoubtedly a very intelligent man…

  • Tessa de Leeuw

    Hi all,
    Thank you for all the comments. I’d like to reply to some of them, because I think you make valid points and I need to explain myself.

    Firstly, FSQ, thank you for pointing out the irony of my way too elaborate review on a book that I found long winded. I hadn’t noticed that and I think you’re right. In my defense I would say that it is much harder to explain why you don’t like a book than it is to explain why you do/ Also, I wanted to do the book a bit more credit than to just post “TL;DNR” (in this case the D would stand for “do”).

    Then you go on to say that it is “clear [I have] an agenda much like the maligned hippies of the “can’t we all get along” camp.”. Actually I don’t. Just the opposite. I apologize for not making that more clear.

    You also don’t like that I said I found the book too angry. You claim “There is nothing wrong with anger and it is a needed component in this.” I have to disagree. I can understand the man’s anger, I truly can. I also believe that if you have to raise your voice to make a point, you lose the argument. But mostly I felt that being yelled at did not make for a pleasant read. And that is what I’m here for, to tell you about the read, not to judge the content.

    I don’t want to, but I feel I have to also reply to your two ad hominem arguments: “I’ve read the book, and yes it is a heady and erudite tome that refers a bit more thought than your typical Harry Potter or Hunger Games pablum, and that is a good thing.” And “This is a worthy read, yet it request some brain cells to get through. And that is a very very good thing indeed.” I don’t disagree that more difficult or more intellectual books can be thoroughly enjoyable, but what you are saying here is “If you didn’t like this book, you must be dumb and only read simple books like Harry Potter”. You have a right to your opinion, but I felt these comments were unnecessarily rude. I don’t think this is the time or the place to defend my reading habits, but you can always email me and we can have this discussion in private.

    I’d also like to thank Bob and Garren for their comments. Yes, Bob, I know there are many positive reviews for this book. I’ve read many of them and agree with a few. What most reviewers point out is that it is an erudite work that has a well put and important message. That is very true. However, as I said before, I am here to tell you how I felt about the book, how it reads and whether or not I think it’s worth your while. I want to be honest in my reviews and as such gave it a negative review. If that puts me in the same boat as a “Priest at Boy’s Town and a guy who thinks Hitler was an Atheist”, so be it. That does not automatically mean that I agree with all their other views, obviously.  If you enjoy Stenger’s style, please, be my guest and read the book. As Garren points out, “for people new to Stenger, [my] review [can be] helpful in explaining why someone might not like it.”

    Dan states that he found my review unclear and I think I should clarify a few things. Firstly, Dan shows how “early in the review [I say] that this book should be used as a textbook, then later says it is inappropriate for use as a reference book. Most textbooks are used as reference books, so that is bizzare.” True, my choice of words here was not as clear as it could have been. What I meant (and what I thought I made clear) is that the book is not a non-fiction work to read as you would popular scientific non-fiction such as – for example – A Brief History of Time. It reads like a textbook that you use in an advanced course on the history of science and religion. Later in the review I point out that the book does not even work as a work of reference. I am still assuming you, the reader, are not planning to teach a course on this subject, but want to read the book for your own pleasure. That is why I point this out. Many people, myself included, use textbooks as reference books. This is not one of the books I would use.

    I also describe “[the book] as both “unreadable” and “beautiful in its own right.” Ok then.” What I meant is that the arguments Stenger uses are sometimes beautifully structured and I enjoy a good turn of phrase just as much as the next person. However, on a whole, the book is unreadable, due to the many (MANY) quotes, the long winded 27.000-word sentences and the anger.

    You go on to point out the following: “The accommodationist trope about the mean New Atheist is really annoying, especially since every interview and every book and article I’ve read from Stenger has been firmly written, but not mean-spirited, and I’ve read a number of comments by Christians saying they find Stenger much more respectful than the other New Atheists.” I thought I had pointed out that I, too, consider myself a New Atheist. I do believe we would all be better of if the religious would just see reason. And even though many Christians might find Stenger “much more respectful than the other New Atheists”, when he is preaching to the choir, he obviously adopts a different tone. Him being respectful to the religious would make him an accommodationist, but that is a different discussion entirely.

    You also make a valid point that Skizzle pointed out as well: “What really annoys me about the review is Tessa’s claim that scientists “stretched reality in order to fit in their predetermined beliefs.” Sorry Tessa, science in pretty popular on this website, I’m afraid you’ll need to substatiate your claim, or at least clarify what you are talking about. The false equivalence in that paragraph between scientists and creationists is puzzling.”

    Skizzle put it as follows: “Tessa, could you explain the sentence “Scientists have explained their findings and stretched reality in order to fit in their predetermined beliefs.”?   
    Please give an example of scientists ignoring evidence in order to make reality conform to predetermined beliefs, otherwise correct this rather serious (and irresponsible) accusation against the entire scientific establishment.”

    My answer to this would be along the lines of JoeBuddha’s reply: “Actually, I think that’s trivially true. There are many examples of scientists being married to their pet theories and dismissive of the facts, even in their area of expertise. Thing is, the INSTITUTION of Science eventially gets past this by pursuing the evidence and challenging the established models. The advantage Science has is placing evidence over dogma.”
    I mentioned this tendency to show that both sides struggle with equating their beliefs with the outside world and the empirical data they gather. I remember my mathematics and physics teacher saying that even Einstein tried to change his calculations in his theory of relativity to fit in his firm conviction that the aether existed. I wanted to mention this in the review, but I could not do this without proof and I had trouble finding a succinct quote to add to the review. Wikipedia alludes to this happening, but, well, it’s Wikipedia and only an allusion didn’t really help me. I do know that it is human to want to make the world fit to your beliefs and that it does happen, but, as JoeBuddha points out, the institution of science and peer review help verify theories and will eventually filter out the personal beliefs of the scientists involved.
     

    Right. Well. It seems that I am always this long winded. I apologize and I promise to never again fault an author for a flaw I myself have too. It is probably a good thing I don’t write for a living ;)

    I’d like to finish up by quoting Pascale Laviolette, who to my mind summed up my review perfectly: “Definitely not one of our strongest “communicators” – but undoubtedly a very intelligent man…”. This is how I felt about the book. If Stenger were the only author writing about our cause, we would have to be very worried. Luckily there are more of us out there. I would love to take one of Professor Stenger’s classes, though. I assume he is a knowledgeable teacher, that much was obvious from the book.

    Thank you for reading all this.

    Tessa


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