Friday, August 29, 2014

"Keep up the battle against unreason"

Visit Vic's web site
Victor J. Stenger (1935 - 2014)
"Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Vic in person. I discovered him in the late 1990s, and he immediately filled the void in my life that was left by the death of Isaac Asimov (who died in 1992) and Carl Sagan (who died in 1996). When I joined Vic's mailing list I was immediately impressed by his accessibility, his kindness, and his willingness to engage with, and listen to, someone like me (who had only just finished an undergraduate degree in mathematics).

When Vic starting writing Has Science Found God? I anxiously waited for each new draft chapter to be sent out to the list so I could read it, but I enjoyed the vigorous debate and robust discussions that resulted from his drafts even more. Vic understood quite well that the growth of knowledge results from "bold conjectures and vociferous refutations," and he lived it too! He not only sought out and encouraged individuals with a wide diversity of opinions and perspectives, but he also treated everyone with respect and listened to what they had to say. His books benefited immensely from this open give and take with people he both agreed and disagreed with.

I made some relatively minor contributions to Has Science Found God? (mostly some copy editing and suggestions designed to make some of the content more accessible to lay audiences, but also a couple of substantive changes which he incorporated), and he was gracious enough to credit me in the preface to the book. As he also notes in the preface: "The original manuscript of this book was mailed to the publisher on September 11, 2001, the day three thousand lives ended abruptly at the hands of Muslim terrorists. While many have assumed that their motives were political, there can be no denying that their fanaticism was fueled by their faith. They fully believed they were acting in the name of God." And as recent events in Iraq and Syria attest, religious fanaticism unfortunately remains with us today.

So to my fellow skeptics, I will leave you with the words that Vic inscribed in my copy of his book: "Keep up the battle against unreason." I can think of no better way to remember him. He will be sorely missed by many of us.

P.S. If you are not familiar with Vic's work, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of one of his books. His 2007 New York Times bestseller would be an excellent choice. And here are a few of my favorite short essays to give you a sense of his clarity and style: one on the theological significance of inflationary cosmology, one on intelligent design, and an early essay on Has Science Found God? from Free Inquiry magazine.

Online statements and tributes to Vic (more coming)...