The Common Good

Victor Stenger, Atheism’s 'Fifth Horseman,' is Dead

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.”

Victor J. Stenger, physicist and prolific writer on atheism, has died at the age
Victor J. Stenger, physicist and prolific writer on atheism, has died at the age of 79. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Related Reading

Take Action on This Issue

Circle of Protection for a Moral Budget

A pledge by church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs who have come together to form a Circle of Protection around programs that serve the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world.

Stenger, who also graced a very short list of authors who hit the New York Times best-seller list writing about atheism, died August 25 in Hawaii. He was 79.

Atheistskeptic and science blogs, in the U.S. and in England, were filled with tributes and remembrances over the long holiday weekend.

“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.”

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Via RNS.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Resources

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)