(RNS) The atheist community is mourning the death of Victor Stenger, a prominent physicist who championed rooting out religion from the public sphere and was best-known for quipping: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”
Stenger, who also graced a very short list of authors who hit the New York Times best-seller list writing about atheism, died Aug. 25 in Hawaii. He was 79.
“Vic was an unassuming physicist and teacher who took on the challenge (of) taking science out of the classroom and applied it to some of our most sacred cows, from psychics and New Age belief to Intelligent Design creationism,” skeptic D.J. Grothe said on The Friendly Atheist blog.
Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization with a long association with Stenger, said on the same blog, “With Vic Stenger’s death, the secular and skeptic communities have lost an articulate, knowledgeable, and relentless defender of the naturalistic, scientific worldview.”
Though best-known in recent years for his atheism, Stenger was also a well-known particle physicist who contributed to groundbreaking work on gamma rays, quarks and gluons. One of his last projects was working on an underground experiment that showed the neutrino, a subatomic particle, has mass. He held professorships in physics, astronomy and philosophy.
But he gained his widest notoriety in 2007 with the publication of “God: The Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” which reached the New York Times’ best-seller list, a first for Prometheus Press, Stenger’s longtime, small publisher. That book — and several subsequent ones promoting science over religion — placed Stenger in the ranks of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, the so-called “four horsemen” of New Atheism.
Though he never matched the book sales of those best-selling authors, he far outpaced them in his output. Stenger died less than two weeks before the publication of his 13th book, “God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos.”
“I’m just amazed by how prolific Stenger was,” said atheist author Hemant Mehta, who announced Stenger’s death on his blog. “Not only that, but he wrote about some of the biggest topics, too, like the incompatibility of science and religion, the universe, and atoms. There was literally no topic too large or small for him to tackle. He’ll be missed but he won’t be forgotten anytime soon.”
In addition to churning out a book a year, Stenger maintained a breakneck pace as a speaker. Addressing a Center for Inquiry meeting in 2012, he said, “I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.”
But no remark of his was as far-reaching as his comparison of science and religion with flying to the moon and into buildings. It has appeared without fail on T-shirts, stickers and posters at skeptic and atheist conventions for the last five years.
“I used to joke with Vic that hanging out with him was like dog hours — seven to one — he’d give me more to think about in one hour than seven hours of anything else I could possibly do,” said Peter Boghossian, author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists” and a friend of Stenger’s. “He will be missed beyond measure.”
YS/MG END WINSTON