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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sceptics Dinner Meeting with Victor Stenger

Last night was the sceptics dinner meeting, where we were graced by the presence of Vic Stenger, author of the bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis.

As always, the dinner meeting was a great opportunity to chat with fellow questioners of bunkum and the turnout was quite impressive, with 170 attendees all up. The agenda favoured the buffet dinner over the guest speaker, which was a slight dissapointment (RSL club buffets aren't the most vegetarian friendly affairs, it was roast pumpkin and lettuce all the way!). We were lucky to get there early enough to get some good seats and ended up in the company of 'the regulars' from sceptics in the pub.

At about 8:30pm, after dessert was served, Richard Saunders gave a news rundown where he spoke about the recent bigfoot controversy and his involvement in 'The One' before handing the mic to Martin Hadley, who introduced Stenger.
Stenger began with a joke. "Australia got all the convicts, America got the christians. Australia must have had the first choice" before moving on to explaining that agnostics are actually atheists and defining the god that his work referrs to as the theistic god of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions, which he differentiated from the pantheisic and deistic varieties of god mythologies. He will be covering the other types of gods in his next book "The Quantum Gods".

Stenger's argument is based on the assumtion that if the theistic god existed, there should have been some evidence to support it by now. He rejects the common addage 'abscence of evidence is not evidence of abscence' and says that the abscence of evidence means that we have no reason to believe in the proposition of a god and that the evidence against the existance of a god, through testing the claims made by religious followers (such as prayer, supernatural intervention etc), leads one to the conclusion that the existence of god has been disproved beyond a reasonable doubt. This definition of 'proof' has more in common with the legal tradition than the scientific model, which has been one of the main arguments against Stenger's book.
Stenger then went on to quickly debunk the main arguments for the existence of god;
the cosmological argument;
the argument from creation/design, to which he explained some instances of 'unintelligent design' including the single hole for food and air leading to hundreds of deaths by choking each year;
the argument from revelation, which could be supported if anybody produces new information through a revelation experience;
the fine tuning argument, to which the inherent hostility of the universe was enough;
and the hiddenness argument, where Stenger said that a god that deliberately hides from people who want to believe cannot be a moral god. "An evil god would btter fit the data" was Stenger's response.

The night then opened up for a QnA session.
Stenger was asked to clarify a point where he refered to a 40 billion year old universe, which he explained as an artifact of the expansion of the universe, to which the age is 13.7 billion years, but there are objects 40 billion light years away.

Stenger was then asked to speak about his involvement in paranormal research. He explained that his interest in the subject lies in the misuse of quantum mechanics and spoke about some particularly terrible examples such as 'What the Bleep do we Know?', 'The Secret' and Deepak Chopra's work on quantumn healing.

All in all, it was a pretty good night. I wish Stenger had have been given more time, but it was a good quick overview of his major arguments. After his talk, we had the opportunity to meet him and have a quick chat and we found him to be quite personable.
Stenger will be taking part in the IQ2 debate on Tuesday 19th of August. The topic will be "We'd be better off without religion". It will be a 3 a side debate and Stenger will be flanked by Richard Ackland and Lyn Allison. They will battling it out against John Lennox, Suzanne Rutland and Ian Plimer.
We'll let you know how it goes.

For more info on Stenger, look here. To read some reviews on God: The Failed Hypothesis, go here and here.

1 comment:

  1. What a great night. He was extremely approachable, and more than happy to pose in loads of photos. I like the fact that he is not afraid to admit that "God" (with a capital 'G') is testable within the realm of science, as the claims that are made about such a god occur within the natural world. If God does indeed answer prayers, we should certainly see evidence that cannot be otherwise explained.