“Yesterday there were 400 talks in this town on the existence of God. Tonight we’re going to have one with the opposite point of view.”
With that, Kenny Duzan of the Show-me Skeptics welcomed between 50 and 60 people to a lecture by Victor Stenger at the Columbia Public Library on Monday night.
The retired professor of physics from the University of Hawaii came to Columbia at the invitation of the Show-me Skeptics and the MU Brights to discuss his new book, “God: The Failed Hypothesis.” The thrust of his argument is that the question whether God exists is one that can be answered by applying the scientific method.
“The point is that the God that most people worship plays such an important role in the universe that you should be able to use the scientific method to detect his presence,” Stenger said.
If the kind of God that most people in the West believe in existed, it would have effects that would violate the laws of physics and that would be empirically measurable. Otherwise, a universe with God would look exactly like a universe without God, and there would be no rational reason for assuming God’s existence.
Stenger said he was motivated to write the book by what he saw as the “misuse of science” by New Age mystics like Deepak Chopra or advocates of Intelligent Design. Asked whether he thought applying the scientific method to what many people believe to be a spiritual question would only contribute to the confusion, he said he felt the question of whether God exists was not outside the competence of science “as long as we handle it in a rational way.”
Not everyone was convinced.
“I do not disagree with his conclusion,” said Atish Sem, of Columbia, “but I find his arguments restrictive. His arguments are made based on his definition of God.”
John Marshall, a doctor of internal medicine at MU, said he also thought science could potentially answer the question whether God exists, but he came to the opposite conclusion of that reached by Stenger.
“I think it is much easier to prove God than to disprove God,” Marshall said. Marshall is a proponent of Intelligent Design, the idea that the universe and life are too complex to have arisen spontaneously by natural processes.
But many others gave favorable reviews.
“It’s nice to hear rational thoughts, rational arguments,” said Mike Ferro, a doctoral student in entomology. “The reason I appreciate this is because it is based on evidence and falsifiability.”
Is he afraid that his book will be viewed by some on the religious right as just another salvo in an ongoing assault on religion in contemporary culture?
“I find it amusing that they think they’re victims,” he said.
“Scientists don’t feel you have to go out and shove things down people’s throats,” Duzan said. “We just present the evidence. We don’t take a bunch of 6-year-olds and tell them they’re going to hell if they don’t believe what we tell them.”