BOOK REVIEW: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion

The latest (April 2012) from physicist and author Victor J. Stenger is God and the Folly of Faith. Those familiar with Stenger’s other books — I think there are 10 of them now — will not be surprised to learn that he believes science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. But in this volume he sharpens his focus on that point, firmly rejecting the notion that science and religion can function as non-overlapping magisteria, portraying them instead as “diametrically opposed worldviews.” He makes it quite clear that the two worldviews are not of equal value, as religion involves “magical thinking” that “warps all areas of life,” while science alone has a “commitment to truth.” He ends the book with a call for the “eradication of foolish faith from the face of this planet.”

Stenger’s approach is mostly historical, which Is perhaps the book’s only weakness, since he isn’t a historian. He makes a few minor mistakes, only with regard to historical contexts, and none that harm his arguments. But when it comes to understanding the theories of physics of different eras, and his ability to explain them clearly, there is no room to doubt his mastery. This book is worth reading for its review of cosmological theory alone, ignoring its treatment of the tensions between science and religion.

Stenger is committed to the demystification of physics. Yes, quarks and quanta can do some pretty incomprehensible things, but only at the subatomic level. The rules being worked out at that level lead directly to the more comprehensible physics of ordinary human experience. He derides modern-day gurus who toss the word “quantum” into any half-baked notion in an attempt to make room for divine miracles or just plain magic. The universe is complex and some processes can only be explained in statistical terms, but those facts don’t add up to mysticism.

If the universe is comprehensible by logic, religion is not. It leads people to deny evolution, global warming, and other plainly observable facts. It leads people to hold political and policy positions that are based only in myth. It dumbs down America in a world increasingly reliant on science and technology. Never mind the religious right’s allegations about a war against religion. Religion is an assault on science, and there simply is no way for the two to coexist peacefully.

God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion, by Victor J. Stenger. Prometheus Books (2012). ISBN: 9781616145996. 375 pages.

Jim Dugan