New Atheist Doesn’t Understand Science

Victor Stenger has written an article for the New Scientist making the misguided argument that science can determine whether or not God exists.  He begins it as follows:

THE party line among scientists – believers and nonbelievers alike – is that science and religion are what Stephen Jay Gould called “non-overlapping magisteria”. In 1998 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a statement asserting “Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

Yet according to a survey the same year, 93 percent of the members of the academy do not believe in a personal god. Since about the same percentage of all US citizens say they do believe in a personal god, it makes one wonder what, if not their science, leads the elite of US scientists to differ so dramatically from the general population.

Right from the start, Stenger abandons critical thinking, for there are two obvious errors in his reasoning here.  First, he confuses causation with correlation.  Secondly, he confuses the practice of science with the personal beliefs of scientists.  If he wants us to embrace his fringe views and reject the NAS statement, he needs a whole lot more than the personal opinions of scientists.  He needs to show us all the experiments they did which tested the existence of God.

Stenger continues:

The gods worshipped by billions either exist or they do not. And those gods, if they exist, must have observable consequences. Thus, the question of their existence is a legitimate scientific issue that has profound import to humanity.

We can consider the existence of god to be a scientific hypothesis and look for the empirical evidence that would follow.

Stenger thinks the existence of God is a testable scientific hypothesis.  But then why is it that this emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii has never carried out a single experiment to test God’s existence?  You would think a scientist who preaches about the ability of science to test God’s existence would have a lengthy record of peer-reviewed publications that document such tests.  So where is it?  This is a common flaw among all the New Atheist scientists.  With their lips they claim that science can test the existence of God.  But none of them will lift a finger to do an actual experiment that carries out this test.

So why doesn’t Stenger come up with a hypothesis and experimental design that will help all scientists determine if God exists?  Why doesn’t he write it up as a grant proposal, send it in, secure funding, do the experiments, and publish the results in a peer-reviewed scientific journal?  Because he can’t.  All that proud talk about science testing God’s existence is nothing more than bluster.

Doubt me?  Let’s let Stenger clarify the type of experimental design he has in mind:

Many of the attributes associated with the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God have specific consequences that can be tested empirically.  Such a God is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means.  If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.

Whoa!  So for science to detect God’s existence, some unknown scientist would have to set up a properly controlled experiment and come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means.  Because then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.

There is a name for this experimental design – the God-of-the-Gaps approach.  Did you get that?  Stenger’s whole case is nothing more than advocacy for the God-of-the-Gaps approach.  He wants to include the God-of-the-Gaps approach in science.  He wants to turn anomalies in science into evidence for God.  He wants to turn the failure in coming up with an naturalistic explanation in 2012 into evidence for God.

Of course, we can refute Stenger’s position by quoting the same Victor Stenger, who has previously dismissed this God-of-the-Gaps approach:  

The assertion that God can be seen by virtue of his acts of cosmological fine-tuning, like intelligent design and earlier versions of the argument from design, is nothing more than another variation on the disreputable God-of-the-gaps argument. These rely on the faint hope that scientists will never be able to find a natural explanation for one or more of the puzzles that currently have them scratching their heads and therefore will have to insert God as the explanation. As long as science can provide plausible scenarios for a fully material universe, even if those scenarios cannot be currently tested they are sufficient to refute the God of the gaps.

So Stenger wants scientists to incorporate an approach he himself has dismissed as disreputable.  Why does Stenger expect any scientist to take his New Scientist argument seriously when Stenger himself believes it is disreputable?  Why is he advocating an argument that he believes to be disreputable?

In summary, Stenger’s whole argument has collapsed into a cloud of incoherent dust.  He confuses the personal opinions of scientists with the practice of science, he makes bold assertions about the ability of science to test God’s existence when he himself has never backed up this claim with his own experiments and published results that tested God, and, as it turns out, his idea of scientific testing is nothing more than borrowing from the creationists to advocate that science include the God-of-the-Gaps approach, even though he is on record as dismissing this approach as disreputable.

After watching Stenger’s argument go down in flames, perhaps you can grasp the wisdom of the US National Academy of Sciences’ statement asserting “Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral.”

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6 Responses to New Atheist Doesn’t Understand Science

  1. ageofreasonxxi says:

    observable evidence cannot show God exists? really? there goes Kalam, fine-tuning or any other argument that cashes in on scientific discoveries (those are all scientific arguments: that is, arguments that can be shown to be sound /unsound using science)
    even unicorns or fairies can, at least in principle, be demonstrated to exist using science! If God cannot, he’s out of any conversation, where the participants do not already accept he exists through revelation or some purely philosophical argument like the hopeless ontological argument, for good.

    the NAS statement is another example of accommodationism, I doubt many at NAS actually believe it or think science is not the reason they are non-believers. but then, the money necessary to do science comes from that same public over 80% of which believe in god. I can assure their statement would’ve been very different if that percentage was 5 or 10.

    the rest of it is just too stupid to comment, except to say that you have little clue what science is.

  2. Michael says:

    the rest of it is just too stupid to comment, except to say that you have little clue what science is.

    So you say. Is the following the God-of-the-Gaps argument?

    As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means. If a properly controlled experiment were to come up with an observation that cannot be explained by natural means, then science would have to take seriously the possibility of a world beyond matter.

  3. Michael says:

    For the record, notice that ageofreason refused to answer.

  4. Dhay says:

    > So why doesn’t Stenger come up with a hypothesis and experimental design that will help all scientists determine if God exists?

    Fishman tries to, in his paper, “Can Science Test Supernatural Worldviews” (http://www.naturalism.org/Can%20Science%20Test%20Supernatural%20Worldviews-%20Final%20Author's%20Copy%20(Fishman%202007).pdf); off-hand, I’d say it’s more of a vague proposal than a test, but one (single) example test is included as Appendix A, “Testing God: A Bayesian Approach”, which starts, “A believing Christian amputee prays to the Christian God for the re-growth of his arm:” and includes the explanatory text, ‘…this is based on the passage in the KJV: “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matt 21:22)’ This in turn comes from the New Atheist ‘Why won’t God heal amputees’ (http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/) website.

    “Semitic exaggeration”, anyone, especially in context; it’s not particularly Semitic either, because I wouldn’t hesitate to say I have “tons of” jam in the fridge, and nobody (except perhaps a New Atheist) would then worry about plummeting fridges.

    New Atheists – and the WWGHA website in particular – plainly embrace biblical literalism with a fervour rarely found among ‘believing Christians’. Fishman’s figures, and the text explaining his choice of figures, function best as evidence of the gullibility of Fishman.

    The Bayesian formulae look very impressive and ‘scientific’, but Fishman’s Bayesian result – that God is very unlikely – comes down to this: garbage in; garbage out.

    So, no valid hypothesis and experimental design from Fishman.

  5. Michael says:

    LOL! This reminded me of a golden oldie I just reposted.

  6. Pingback: Shadow To Light - Thinking Christian

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