Rebecca Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Contents


Before I Start Reading / First Impressions

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman L Geisler and Frank Turek was recommended to me by a commenter on my post Is the belief in a god something I must accept only on faith?. I agreed to read the book, but as I said in my reply:

I sincerely doubt this book will have any new or convincing content, for not only have I read many apologetics books before, but the very title is assuming the wrong question. Faith, by any definition, simply isn’t a requirement to lack belief. Atheism is the null hypothesis that none of the god claims put forth over the millennia have any merit. To even utter the words “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” is to fundamentally misunderstand what atheism even is.

His response was to assert that “traditional atheism” is the belief that there are no gods, not “my” definition of lack of belief in gods. Either way, however, atheism does not require faith, any more than it requires faith for me to say there are no unicorns, or leprechauns, or yetis, or transcendental teapots circling the moon. The burden of proof is on the person asserting gods or unicorns or leprechauns or tooth fairies exist, not on the person asserting such claims are unproven and therefore probably false.

Further, even if it could be shown that the position that no gods exist requires faith, which it can’t, it is still on the theist to demonstrate that a deity very obviously exists with definitive proof from varying disciplines before it even might make sense to argue that theism requires less faith than atheism.

See, atheism is the null hypothesis. Before we consider any evidence, it makes more sense to assume no gods exist than it does to assume a god exists. The title of this book sounds as though the whole 400 pages is arguing either that we cannot prove the null hypothesis (which we know by definition of what a null hypothesis is, being a negative statement rather than a positive claim) or that theism is a more reasonable null hypothesis than atheism (which is simply a misunderstanding of what the concept of the null hypothesis is).

I could be wrong, and this book could contain very clear evidence for the existence of a deity, but when the title so thoroughly misunderstands the starting point of the debate, I can’t hold up much hope.

From the back cover: “This book should disturb anyone claiming to be an atheist…perhaps enough to persuade them to begin a search for the God who has been there all along.” -Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist, host, After Hours, Fox News Channel

This quote has just so much wrong in so few words, it’s hilarious. First, it’s asserting that there aren’t any “real” atheists, just people “claiming” atheism, which is calling atheists liars. Then, it’s describing this notion that proof for a god would be “disturbing”, as though there don’t exist atheists who would love to be able to believe because everyone around them does and their lack of belief is getting them death threats. Finally, it states that all one has to do is search for god and you’ll find him, which belies my experience and the experience of many people I know.

Without further pre-judgement, because I could of course be completely wrong in my impression from the book’s title, let’s dive in.

Foreword

[EDIT: This is by David Limbaugh, not the authors.]

“There is an abundance of evidence for the reliability of Scripture, for the authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God, and that the Bible accurately portrays the historical events it covers, including the earthly life of Jesus Christ.” -pg 7

This is from the first paragraph, and already I have objections. I hope they show that evidence in this book, because archaeology has shown that the Bible can’t even get when we domesticated camels right. Indeed, there is even a scholarly book due out this year about how Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels probably never lived, and I know of no proof outside of the New Testament that shows Jesus ever existed, although I’m still studying the topic (there is some evidence, which I’ll eventually examine, though perhaps not in this review).

“This book will serve as an indispensable evangelism tool, especially when dealing with nonbelievers with “intellectual” obstacles to the faith. As we know, the intellectual obstacles are usually just an excuse for nonbelievers, but when you remove the substance of their excuse they are left naked to confront their real obstacles, their real demons.” -pg 7

No. The real reason I became an atheist was because I could not make sense of evolution and Original Sin. That is not my excuse. The evidence for evolution dragged me kicking and screaming out of my faith. I haven’t even read the full first page, and already I can’t believe this book could possibly speak to me.

“Our postmodern culture has done a number on the idea of truth. It teaches that truth and morality are relative, that there is no such thing as absolute truth.” -pg 8

We’ll talk more about morality later, I’m sure, but I for one have always subscribed to the idea that there is absolute truth. Either god exists, or he does not. If you can’t prove he does, it is only fair for me to assume he does not, or at least to live as though he does not, for he can’t affect my life in any way. However, not all truths are knowable; it might be impossible to know for sure whether a god exists, but he still does or doesn’t.

“The postmodern secularist doesn’t have to confront these questions because he rejects the idea of absolute truth and the Law of Noncontradiction. He can just go on his merry way moralizing to everyone about tolerance and never having to explain the intrinsic contradictions in his views.” -pg 8-9

I don’t think I know any atheists who accept two contrary conclusions, at least not that I’ve seen, but I know plenty of Christians who do. Does this mean Christians reject the Law of Noncontradiction?

“But the Christians’ belief that theirs is the one true religion doesn’t make them intolerant of others or disrespectful of their right to believe and worship how they choose.” -pg 9

No, their discrimination towards homosexuals and atheists makes them intolerant and disrespectful. Both groups have members tossed on the street as teenagers for revealing who they are to their parents.

“Besides, for the record, Christianity isn’t the only religion with exclusive truth claims. All major religions have such claims. Many of the central ideas of the major religions cannot be reconciled, which gives lie to the trendy tenet of pluralism that all religions at their core are the same.” -pg 9

This is actually a really excellent point, and although the author doesn’t appear to realize it, is a key reason atheism is gaining members. When reasonable people learn about other religions, and see that these two religions couldn’t possibly both be true, but that both have the same (lack of) evidence, the logical conclusion is that neither is true.

“But there is no moral imperative that we adopt the notion that all belief systems are equally true. There is a moral imperative that we do not.” -pg 10-11

I would argue that the logical imperative that we do not is at least equally important, quite honestly. Almost everyone I know who might claim all religions are equally true, though, is someone who is really saying none of them are.

“It certainly takes more faith to believe that human beings evolved from the random interaction of molecules (which somehow had to come into existence themselves) than to believe in a Creator.” -pg 12

Thanks for the warning that this book will try to deny evolution. I suppose I shall have to review Finding Darwin’s God next, just to show how easy it is to prove evolution and how little faith accepting the literal mountains of evidence takes.

Preface

“In the meantime, if you’re a skeptic, please keep in mind that you should believe or disbelieve what we say because of the evidence we present, not because we have a certain set of religious beliefs. We are both Christians, but we were not always Christians. We came to believe through evidence. So, the fact that we are Christians is not the issue: why we are Christians is the important point. And that’s the focus of this book.” -pg 14

I couldn’t agree more that the reasons and evidence are the important part. I hope the authors actually present some. That would be a first.

Introduction

“Just as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are difficult to put together without the picture on the box top, the many diverse pieces of life make no sense without some kind of unifying big picture. The question is, does anyone have the box top to this puzzle we call life? Many world religions claim that they do. Are any of them correct?” -pg 19

I usually hide the box top from myself when I do jigsaw puzzles, because otherwise there isn’t enough of a challenge. I’m trying to solve something, not follow instructions!

Anyway, I’m not sure there is a metaphorical box top to life. We can see how some pieces fit together simply by examining those pieces; we don’t need to look at the box top. It is my contention that the box top Christianity offers doesn’t match the pieces we can see and fit together, but I’m not going to tangent into that right now. There will be plenty of time during the actual content of this book, I’m sure.

“On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe—your destiny is dust.” -pg 20

I do not accept that a lack of enduring purpose necessarily entails a lack of morality, although I do agree that no matter what anyone does, they become dust. After all, just because we won’t exist later doesn’t mean that we can’t affect anything while we exist now. It still causes suffering to stab someone, so it’s still wrong to do that, and it still causes pleasure to help a friend in need, so it’s still right to do that.

“In America, truth in religion is considered an oxymoron. There is no truth in religion, we are told. It’s all a matter of taste or opinion. You like chocolate, I like vanilla. You like Christianity, I like Islam. If Buddhism works for you, then it’s true for you.” -pg 21

I disagree with that stupidity as much as the authors do. Christianity makes definite truth claims, and those claims are either true or false. They aren’t true for some people and false for others.

“The second major problem with truth in religion is that some pieces of life seem to defy explanation—they don’t appear to fit any religious box top. These include the existence of evil and the silence of God in the face of that evil. These are especially powerful objections to anyone claiming that an all-powerful (theistic) God exists. Many skeptics and atheists argue that if one true, powerful God actually exists, then he would intervene to clear up all the confusion. After all, if God is really out there, then why does he seem to hide himself? Why doesn’t he just show up to debunk the false religions and end all the controversy? Why doesn’t he intervene to stop all the evil in the world, including all the religious wars that are such a black mark on him name? And why does he allow bad things to happen to good people? These are difficult questions for anyone claiming that their theistic religion is true.” -pg 21

Yes they are, and I hope you have answers.

“An atheist, of course, is someone who does not believe in any type of God. To follow our analogy, atheists believe that what looks like a painting has always existed and no one painted it. Religious humanists would fall into this category.” -pg 22-23

I’m actually impressed; this definition of atheism is accurate. Well, except the analogy isn’t quite right; the universe might not have always existed and, in fact, almost certainly didn’t. A better phrasing would be that what looks like a painting came about through entirely natural processes without any need for a painter. Also, I’m fairly certain that “religious” humanists fall largely into the theist or pantheist camps. I think they mean secular humanists, here. I’m not certain, but I’ve heard of Jewish humanists before, and Judaism is definitely theistic.

“That is, science and religion often address the same questions: Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Are miracles possible? and so on. In other words, science and religion are not mutually exclusive categories as some have suggested.” -pg 24

I certainly agree with this!

“Yet despite these intellectual, emotional, and volitional obstacles, we submit that it’s not faith in Christianity that’s difficult but faith in atheism or any other religion. That is, once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian. This may seem like a counterintuitive claim, but it’s simply rooted in the fact that every religious worldview requires faith—even the worldview that says there is no God.” -pg 24-25

As I explained before starting the book, this is a misunderstanding of the null hypothesis. The author has yet to show that there is evidence for Christianity, so they might be right that it is unreasonable to reject it after examining the evidence (although that’s simply false based on the evidence I’ve examined so far), but that still wouldn’t mean that the null hypothesis requires faith.

Also, atheism is not a religion or a worldview. It’s holding to the null hypothesis on the issue of god, and that’s it. Atheists do typically have a similar worldview, and possibly because of their atheism, but atheism itself does not have a claim about ghosts, or evolution, or how the universe exists, or anything. It simply says there are no gods.

The book says some very true stuff about concluding beyond reasonable doubt because we are working in the realm of probability, but then goes on about how atheists have faith, so maybe the authors don’t understand atheism as well as their definition would imply – or maybe they don’t understand the concept of the null hypothesis. The section “The Faith of an Atheist” on pages 25-27 pretty well demonstrate that the authors don’t grasp the concept of a null hypothesis, as they say that “There are no neutral positions when it comes to beliefs.” (pg 27) The problem with that is it essentially denies that a null hypothesis can exist. They also say “that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa).” (pg 26) Again, this denies the very concept of the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis cannot be proven, only disproven. There cannot be evidence for atheism any more than there can be evidence that unicorns never existed. The only thing we can do is say, “Well, all of the evidence put forth for all god hypotheses so far has been shown to be bad evidence. Can you prove your claim?”

I might not want to harp on this too much more, for at least the authors are accepting the burden of proof, but even if they do manage to demonstrate Christianity true based on the evidence, that still wouldn’t mean that atheism requires faith, as the null hypothesis doesn’t by definition.

On a side note, the fact that they keep saying atheism requires faith if the evidence supports Christianity looks pretty bad for faith. It makes it sound as though faith is the continued belief in something despite evidence to the contrary. But that can’t be what they mean. Right? They are also implying thereby that faith is unreasonable. But surely that’s not intended, either. Not by Christians. Right?

Much of the rest of the Introduction sounds much like what I wrote when I was introducing my facebook note version of the Complete History project. They even have an outline similar to mine, except I skipped showing that truth is a real thing that we can know, probably because it never really crossed my mind that anyone seriously doubted that. I still don’t know anyone who really does, so I probably won’t have much to say about the first couple of chapters.

“If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity—reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian?” -pg 30-31

I think I would – of course I would. After all, the reason I stopped believing is because I saw flaws in the evidence for Christianity that I had been taught. However, I am also extremely confident that this will never happen, especially as I have spent so much time studying the arguments for Christianity and have found flaws in all the arguments I have seen. I especially doubt that this book can provide the evidence I require to believe in Christianity, for this book appears to want to argue creationism, which I know isn’t true.

Chapter 1: Can We Handle the Truth?

Around pages 42-43, the authors show that they don’t know the actual difference between an agnostic and an atheist (not for the first time, but this is likely the only comment I’ll actually have for this chapter, so I may as well bring it up). Norm claims that an atheist says “I know there is no God” while an agnostic says “I don’t know whether there is a God” and claims to have made someone from an atheist to an agnostic by pointing this out. Unfortunately, this isn’t what the terms actually mean. All but a very few atheists are also agnostic, because the words answer different questions. Gnosticism has to do with whether a person claims knowledge; theism has to do with belief. There are four different places to be, generally speaking: gnostic theist, agnostic theist, agnostic atheist, or gnostic atheist. Gnostic atheists, those who claim to know there are no gods, are very rare; even on atheist forums, I’ve seen no more than a few. I myself am an agnostic atheist, because while I don’t believe in any gods and am quite adamant that this is a justified belief due to the lack of evidence otherwise, I don’t claim to know for sure. By the same token, I am agnostic about the tooth fairy, and unicorns, as are most Christians. “Agnostic” as a label by itself doesn’t mean very much.

I was right; that is the only real contention I see as worth bringing up with this chapter. As I said, I accept that there is such a thing as truth, and that it is at least sometimes absolute and to some extent knowable. For instance, if we accept that our senses tell us about reality, we must accept that the universe is absolutely older than 6,000 years – otherwise, we would not be able to see stars from 7,000 light years away. However, although we can say that it appears life is made largely of carbon, we cannot make the absolute statement that all life everywhere is made of carbon – we might have lifeforms based in other elements somewhere else in the universe. We can’t know for sure, at least not yet.

Chapter 2: Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?

“If the Bible is true, then my friend has chosen an unpleasant eternal destiny. In fact, if the Bible is true, then everyone’s eternal destiny can be read from its pages. On the other hand, if the Bible is not true, then many Christians are unwittingly wasting a lot of time, money, and, in some cases, even their lives by preaching Christianity in hostile territories. Either way, truth in religion matters.

“It also matters if some other religion is true. For example, if the Qur’an is true, then I’m in just as much trouble as my non-Christian Navy friend. On the other hand, if the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity.” -pg 68

Many clever atheists have refuted this sort of claim, or at least many atheists have cleverly refuted it. Penn Jillette says, “I murder and rape as much as I want, and the amount that I want is zero.” Others argue that if eternal consequences are your only reason for doing the right thing, you are not moral at all.

“After all, if we’re merely the product of blind naturalistic forces—if no deity created us with any special significance—then we are nothing more than pigs with big brains. Does this religious (atheistic) “truth” matter? It does when kids carry out its implications. Instead of good citizens who see people made in the image of God, we are producing criminals who see no meaning or value in human life. Ideas have consequences.” -pg 68

In this case, it is surely odd that our relative primates have morality and only a very tiny percentage – 0.07%, to be precise – of those in prisons are atheists. Only a psychopath would need the threat of eternal torment to behave morally; the rest of us have empathy.

Again, I essentially agree with much of the rest of this chapter. I very much care about what is true. That’s why I’m an atheist.

Chapters 3-7 promise to prove the existence of not just a god, but a theistic one. The outline lists four arguments: Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Anthropic Principle, and Moral Argument. I don’t think any of these arguments are new to me, but I’m still open to seeing what these two can present. From this outline on page 71, it looks like the remainder of the book assumes chapters 3-7 have convinced the reader of god, so I probably won’t have as much to say about chapters 8-15 as I will about 3-7. Unless, of course, this is the book atheists have been searching for – the one that finally shows evidence for god.

Chapter 3: In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

These authors form the cosmological argument like so:

1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.

2. The universe had a beginning.

3. Therefore the universe had a cause. [pg 75]

I do not immediately accept the first premise, although I agree that it aligns with common sense and most observation. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it true.

When we say something had a beginning from a cause, we mean there was a point in time wherein it did not exist, followed by a point in time wherein it did exist after a specific “push”. Can beginnings even be relevant if we are speaking outside of spacetime? What would that mean? The very language of causality depends on the notion that we are working within time and therefore within our universe. In that sense, I would argue that we don’t know whether the universe could have had a cause, because we don’t even know what that would really mean.

“Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy, and the Second Law states, among other things, that the universe is running out of energy.” -pg 76

That is a funny claim. Wikipedia says, “The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems always evolve toward thermodynamic equilibrium, a state with maximum entropy.” The important part here is “isolated system”. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says nothing about the universe; the universe is not an isolated system. The authors make the same mistake on the next page, when they say that the Second Law means entropy is increasing in the universe. Again, this law only speaks of isolated systems, not of the universe as a whole.

I also am very skeptical that there exists a physics professor who does not understand this nuance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applying to isolated systems, as claimed in the story on pages 77-78.

“Good scientific theories are those that are able to predict phenomena that have not yet been observed.” -pg 79

I’m making a note of this for later, when the book gets to evolution.

“In fact, chronologically, there was no “before” the Big Bang because there are no “befores” without time, and there was no time until the Big Bang. Time, space, and matter came into existence at the Big Bang.” -pg 79

Again, in this case, what does it even mean to talk about what caused the Big Bang?

For the record, I do accept that the universe had a beginning (after all, that’s what the evidence says), but to then assert that it must therefore be caused by a god rather jumps the shark. If god can exist without a cause, why can’t the universe?

If not god, what did cause the Big Bang? I don’t know yet, but I have an autographed copy of A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss that promises an explanation for how a universe could have come from nothing. I’m tempted to drop this book to read that one, but I won’t, at least not now.

“[T]here’s also scientific evidence from geology that the universe had a beginning. As many of us learned in high school chemistry, radioactive elements decay over time into other elements. For example, radioactive uranium eventually turns into lead. This means that if all uranium atoms were infinitely old, they would all be lead by now, but they’re not. So the earth cannot be infinitely old.” -pg 90

The age of the earth is not the same thing as the age of the universe. Further, that radioactive dating is one of the key evidences for the earth being old enough for evolution – and indeed, is one way we know fossils are of varying old ages. Just keep that in mind for the evolution chapter(s).

“Now, here’s how this proves that time had a beginning: since the line certainly ends on the right, the timeline cannot be infinite because something that is infinite has no end. Moreover, you can’t add anything to something that is infinite, but tomorrow we will add another day to our timeline. So our timeline is undeniably finite.” -pg 91

Just as there are not an infinite number of whole numbers because they certainly end at 0. Oh, there are an infinite number of whole numbers? Well, then an infinite can have an end on one side, then. Also, in maths, we absolutely can add to an infinite; in fact, we can add two infinites together, the set of all odd numbers and the set of all even numbers to create the set of all whole numbers. The size of all three sets is infinity.

As it happens, I accept that time did have a beginning – that is what the Big Bang tells us, again. This just doesn’t seem to be an argument that holds water.

“So why then doesn’t God need a cause? Because the atheist’s contention misunderstands the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality does not say that everything needs a cause. It says that everything that comes to be needs a cause. God did not come to be. No one made God. He is unmade. As an eternal being, God did not have a beginning, so he didn’t need a cause.” -pg 92

How do you know? There are an awful lot of unfounded assertions here! Also, by claiming god didn’t need a cause, aren’t you assuming he exists to prove your argument?

“When you get right down to it, there are only two possibilities for anything that exists: either 1) it has always existed and is therefore uncaused, or 2) it had a beginning and was caused by something else (it can’t be self-caused, because it would have had to exist already in order to cause anything).” -pg 93

As I mentioned above, I’m not entirely convinced that asking what caused time is a sensical question.

Namely, we can discover some characteristics of the First Cause just from the evidence we’ve discussed in this chapter. From that evidence alone, we know the First Cause must be:

  • self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial (since the First Cause created time, space, and matter, the First Cause must be outside of time, space, and matter). In other words, he is without limits, or infinite;
  • unimaginably powerful, to create the entire universe out of nothing;
  • supremely intelligent, to design the universe with such incredible precision (we’ll see more of this in the next chapter);
  • personal, in order to choose to convert a state of nothingness into the time-space-material universe (an impersonal force has no ability to make choices). [pg 93]

I find it strange that they describe the First Cause as “self-existent”, seeing as they just said that nothing can be self-caused. Maybe there is some fine semantical difference there that I can’t see.

The Big Bang started with a singularity. How do we know the First Cause wasn’t just powerful enough to create that? It takes a lot more power to drive for a million miles than it does to start the car (also, I would love a car with the ability to drive a million miles without having to stop for gas).

Why assume the precision was purposeful? Maybe this is the 20th try and the last 19 didn’t produce life. We have literally no way of knowing, even if we accept that there was a being causing the universe we live in and not some previous force caused in turn by something else.

Again, we have no reason to assume that the beginning of our universe is where someONE needed to be. Even if we accept the universe had a cause, it might have been something entirely different than a being; it might have been the death throes of another universe, or a black hole. We can’t know, at least not yet. It’s a frontier of science.

“These characteristics of the First Cause are exactly the characteristics theists ascribe to God. Again, these characteristics are not based on someone’s religion or subjective experience. They are drawn from the scientific evidence we have just reviewed, and they help us see a critically important section of the box top to this puzzle we call life.” [pg 93]

I hope I have sufficiently shown how those characteristics don’t necessarily follow from the evidence. There is no more reason to assume an intelligent designer god than there is to assume a drunken idiot designer spaghetti monster.

“‘If there is no God, why is there something rather than nothing?’ is a question that we all have to answer. And in light of the evidence, we are left with only two options: either no one created something out of nothing, or else someone created something out of nothing. Which view is more reasonable? Nothing created something? No. Even Julie Andrews knew the answer when she sang, ‘Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could!’ And if you can’t believe that nothing caused something, then you don’t have enough faith to be an atheist!” -pg 94

‘As Nobel Laureate physicist Frank Wilczek has put it, “The answer to the ancient question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ would then be that ‘nothing’ is unstable.”’
http://www.csicop.org/sb/show/why_is_there_something_rather_than_nothing

I’m not qualified to answer the question, but it didn’t take me long to find a physicist who is. Perhaps after I read my copy of A Universe from Nothing, I’ll understand enough to articulate an answer on my own. Maybe I’ll do that book next. In the meantime, “I don’t know” is a perfectly honest and acceptable answer. It’s a better answer than asserting a god of the gaps, which is all the First Mover argument really is.

In summary, it isn’t meaningful to talk about the causality of the Big Bang, because as far as we can tell, that is when time began, and timeless causality doesn’t make semantic sense; the very term “causality” assumes acting in time. Even if we accept that something must have “caused” the Big Bang, there is no reason to assume that was a being and not just an undiscovered (and admittedly possibly undiscoverable) force of nature. It could just as easily be that black holes produce universes, because it makes sense that black holes create singularities, although we don’t yet know that – it’s just a reasonable hypothesis. I realize that only pushes the question back further to “What caused the first universe?”, but that’s not a question we can answer – maybe that universe is eternal. We don’t know and can’t know at this point.

I understand how unsatisfactory it is to have “I don’t know” as the answer; one of the things I miss most about being able to believe Christianity is all of the certainty I had. I thought I had all the answers, and that was quite comforting. Unfortunately, jumping to a conclusion based on insufficient evidence is never appropriate, and that is all that the First Mover argument asks us to do. Also, even if we do accept that there was a First Mover, that doesn’t bring us any further than deism; it certainly cannot be shown that the First Mover is necessarily a theistic god.

Chapter 4: Divine Design

The chapter starts with this quote:

“Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.” -James Tour, Nanoscientist

It’s really incredible that the majority of members of the National Academy of Sciences are rookies. But let’s continue with the actual content.

The Teleological Argument goes like this:

1. Every design had a designer.

2. The universe has a highly complex design.

3. Therefore, the universe had a Designer. [pg 95]

Well, not everything that looks like a design has a designer – animals all arose through a completely natural process, and slime mold can create quite intricate “designs” without having a brain. There simply isn’t a reason to assume the universe actually is a design, even though it is highly complex. It could have just happened this way. We don’t know for sure.

“Scientists are now finding that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. In fact, the universe is specifically tweaked to enable life on earth—a planet with scores of improbable and interdependent life-supporting conditions that make it a tiny oasis in a vast and hostile universe.” -pg 96

Yes, in exactly the same way that a desert is specifically designed for fish because it has a tiny oasis in the middle where fish can technically live.

“The Anthropic Principle is just a fancy title for the mounting evidence that has many scientists believing that the universe is extremely fine-tuned (designed) to support human life here on earth.” -pg 96

Let’s think about this for a minute. First of all, many physicists now think there might be some form of multiverse. If so, probability dictates that human life would be supported in at least one universe, regardless of other factors, because rolling a fair hundred sided die a million times means each side will appear at least once. Second, even if there is and only ever has been this universe, it is foolish to argue that the billions of galaxies and trillions upon trillions of planets all exist only to “fine tune” this universe for life specifically on earth. Again, probability dictates that human life would be sustainable on at least one of those planets. To suggest all of this is just for us is akin to an ant walking into the United States of America and thinking it exists for him and him alone. Third, if the universe really were fine-tuned for human life, why would over 99.9999999% of the universe be hostile to it? If a designer were creating a universe for humans, why make billions of galaxies we can barely see, let alone visit? Why make more than one galaxy? Why even make more than one solar system? Heck, why even make more than one planet? Even in our own solar system, the majority of the planets cannot sustain human life! How can anyone argue the universe is designed for humans in the face of that?

Let’s take it a step further. We all know that roughly three quarters of the surface of the earth is ocean. As humans cannot live in the ocean, that means only a quarter of the surface of the planet is even possibly inhabitable. Of that quarter, about a third is desert and about a quarter is mountainous, leaving less than an eighth of the earth’s total surface as inhabitable for human life. And that’s just the surface! If we tried to dig down, we would soon find solid rock, where we can’t live, and deeper still is a molten core, where we would just die.

The entire universe was designed so one species could inhabit one eighth of the surface area of one planet out of a handful in a solar system that circles one star out of millions of stars in a single galaxy out of billions of galaxies? The argument that states the universe is designed for black holes has more to go on.

Again, by this logic, deserts are designed for fish and oceans are designed for camels.

Further, the reason we are able to survive on this planet is because we evolved based on the environment of it. Saying the earth was designed to fit us is backwards; it’s like a puddle saying that a pothole is designed to fit it because the pothole fits the shape of the puddle so well (credit to Douglas Adams).

At least the First Cause argument agrees with human intuition that things don’t just happen (that intuition just happens to be wrong sometimes). This just flies in the face of all sense.

Anthropic Constant 1: Oxygen level—On earth, oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. That precise figure is an anthropic constant that makes life on earth possible. If oxygen were 25 percent, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were 15 percent, human beings would suffocate.” -pg 98

Once again, if there weren’t the right constants on Earth, there would be on some other planet… that we would probably still call Earth. There’s too many planets to argue that the universe is designed for life just because we can live on one of them.

The second, third, and fourth Anthropic Constants they point out can be met with the same response. I’d like to call special attention to the fourth one, though.

“If the CO2 level were higher than it is now, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop (we’d all burn up).” -pg 101

This is actually happening now – that’s what global warming is; the CO2 levels are rising. I’d like to know whether these authors deny that science.

“If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we.” -pg 102 (Note: I may have miscounted the number of 0’s.)

The citation for that number is personal correspondence with a UCLA research physicist, so there’s not a good way to fact check how accurate that is. In the end, however, it doesn’t really matter whether it is that precise; that still doesn’t mean it’s evidence for design. If nothing else, there’s no reason an omnipotent being could not have made it so we could live with a different gravitational force.

“As we have seen, scientists have discovered that the universe—like a spacecraft—is precisely designed to create the very narrow envelope of life-supporting conditions here on earth.” -pg 104

Because just as we can only inhabit a tiny part of a tiny planet, humans can only live in a small corner of a spacecraft specifically designed to support us. Wait, aren’t we smart enough to design spacecraft such that we can live in the entire interior? That’s weird, why couldn’t god do something like that with the universe?

“The extent of the universe’s fine-tuning makes the Anthropic Principle perhaps the most powerful argument for the existence of God.” -pg 105

Actually, it’s a really weak argument, just absurd, truthfully. The First Cause argument is stronger, and that makes more assumptions.

The authors then list some more examples of things that couldn’t be different and still have life on earth, and then cite Hugh Ross calculating a chance of just one in 10^138 that a planet could simply happen to have all of the proper 122 constants. They also declare that there are only 10^22 planets, which is fairly close but still a lowball estimate. Unfortunately, this isn’t really much more than a bad understanding of probability. I’ll outsource the rest of my counter-argument, because someone already said it well: http://www.unifreethought.com/2011/03/the-fine-tuningteleological-argument/

“There are multiple problems with this multiple-universe explanation. First, and more significantly, there’s no evidence for it! The evidence shows that all of finite reality came into existence with the Big Bang. Finite reality is exactly what we call “the universe”.” -pg 107

This lack of evidence may have been true a few years ago, but not anymore. While scientists cannot yet prove a multiverse, they have found evidence that shows it might exist. Until there is other evidence, it is no less reasonable to assume multiverse than it is to assume god.

“Second, as we discussed in the last chapter, an infinite number of finite things—whether we’re talking about days, books, bangs, or universes—is an actual impossibility. There can’t be an unlimited number of limited universes.” -pg 107

I’m going to outsource this argument, too. This article talks about how there can be an infinite number of things, and cites the infinite set of whole numbers, as I did above.

“Third, even if other universes could exist, they would need fine-tuning to get started just as our universe did (recall the extreme precision of the Big Bang we described in the last chapter). So positing multiple universes doesn’t eliminate the need for a Designer—it multiplies the need for a Designer!” -pg 107

I have two responses to this. First, the authors have just admitted that their designer needs a designer in turn, for anything sufficiently complex to create a universe would also need fine-tuning by their own words. Second, it’s entirely possible that the universe that started this one is eternal, which eliminates the need for a creator quite nicely by the authors own admission in the previous chapter. Until we have more evidence, again, assuming god is no more reasonable than assuming the multiverse.

“Fourth, the Multiple Universe Theory is so broad that any event can be explained away by it. For example, if we ask, “Why did the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?” we need not blame Muslim terrorists: the theory lets us say that we just happen to be in the universe where those planes—though they appeared to be flown deliberately into the buildings—actually hit the buildings by accident. With the Multiple Universe Theory we can even let Hitler off the hook. Perhaps we just happen to be in the universe where the Holocaust appeared to be murder, but actually the Jews secretly conspired with the Germans and sent themselves to the ovens. In fact, the Multiple Universe Theory is so broad that it can even be used to excuse the atheists who made it up. Perhaps we just happen to be in the universe where people are irrational enough to suggest that such nonsense is the truth!” -pg 107-108

And this is the sentence that clinches it – this book was never meant to convince anyone. It was only meant to make Christians feel better for believing their nonsense by pretending other people believe worse nonsense. Such insults would never be hurled if this book actually wanted to reach me where I am and show me the evidence.

In any case, however, this is a misunderstanding of Multiverse Theory. In fact, this whole section is. Scientists are coming to accept and refine that theory because that’s what the evidence points to, not because they don’t want to accept design. Even Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and atheist activist, is on record as saying he does not like the multiverse theory, but that’s where the evidence points. And the thing is that we can’t use the multiverse to explain those things, because we have evidence of what did happen.

“Believing without observation is exactly what atheists accuse “religious” people of doing. But, ironically, it’s the atheists who are pushing a religion of blind faith. Christians have good reasons based on observation (such as the Big Bang and the Anthropic Principle) for believing what they believe. Atheists don’t. That’s why we don’t have enough faith to be atheists.” -pg 111-112

Firstly, atheists don’t necessarily believe in the multiverse, but many of them do because that is where the evidence of physics is pointing. Secondly, even if you could show that the universe must have been designed, which you haven’t, you are still not showing that that designer is still around or has any characteristics. Thirdly, the atheist, if honest, merely says “I don’t know”; Christians claim a level of certainty that is frankly completely unwarranted. And that is why Christians still are demonstrating more faith while atheists need none; we have no answers to believe in!

If the best this book has to offer really is logic that can just as easily be used to say deserts were designed for fish, I’m entirely unimpressed. There isn’t evidence for design; there’s evidence that we crawled our way up from slime in the face of tremendous odds and only just happen to exist in the few tiny corners of an immense universe that are just barely capable of sustaining us.

 Chapter 5: The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?

“Naturalistic biologists assert that life generated spontaneously from nonliving chemicals by natural laws without any intelligent intervention. Such a theory might have seemed plausible to a nineteenth-century scientist who didn’t have the technology to investigate the cell and discover its amazing complexity. But today this naturalistic theory flies in the face of everything we know about natural laws and biological systems.” -pg 114

Here is where the science denialism starts. Clearly a philosopher and a theologian are much more learned about biology than biologists, so let’s learn what they have to say.

“To show you what we mean, let’s consider so-called “simple” life—a one-celled animal known as an amoeba. Naturalistic evolutionists claim that this one-celled amoeba (or something like it) came together by spontaneous generation (i.e., without intelligent intervention) in a warm little pond somewhere on the very early earth. According to their theory, all biological life has evolved from that first amoeba without any intelligent guidance at all. This, of course, is the theory of macroevolution: from the infantile, to the reptile, to the Gentile; or, from the goo to you via the zoo.” -pg 115

Right off the bat, there are at least two problems with this. First, it confuses abiogenesis with evolution; abiogenesis is the theory regarding how life started, whereas evolution is the theory about how the first form(s) of life became all the forms we see today. Second, it tries to separate macroevolution as though that were a separate theory from microevolution. This is simply false. The only difference in the biologists’ eyes between macro and micro evolution is the amount of time involved.

Also, most likely, the first life was even simpler than an amoeba.

“Forget the Darwinist assertions about men descending from apes or birds evolving from reptiles. The supreme problem for Darwinists is not explaining how all life forms are related (although, as we’ll see in the next chapter, that’s still a major problem). The supreme problem for Darwinists is explaining the origin of the first life. For unguided, naturalistic macroevolution to be true, the first life must have generated spontaneously from nonliving chemicals.” -pg 115

Actually, no. That’s completely false. Evolution says nothing about the origin of the first life, so it doesn’t have to explain it at all. Further, the theory, or rather hypothesis, which you are actually accusing of being wrong, abiogenesis, has several reasonable explanations for the origin of the first life. Here’s a resource for those actually willing to learn more.

I haven’t mentioned it before, but my copy of the book is actually used, and there are markings and notes from whoever read it before. There’s one that I thought was worth bringing to attention.

“For example, Richard Dawkins named his book The Blind Watchmaker in response to William Paley’s design argument we cited in the last chapter. The appearance of design in life is admitted on the first page of The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Two pages later, despite acknowledging “the intricate architecture and precision-engineering” in human life and in each of the trillions of cells within the human body, Dawkins flatly denies that human life or any other life has been designed.” -pg 119

In the margin next to this paragraph is written in red ink, “How does he not believe then?” Well, I haven’t read much by Dawkins and have only met him once very briefly, so I can’t speak for him. However, I am willing to bet that he doesn’t accept that organisms have actually been designed because he understands evolution and the evidence for it. Quite probably, he also understands the problem with the Teleological Argument, which assumes that everything that looks designed actually is.

The creation-evolution debate is not about religion versus science or the Bible versus science—it’s about good science versus bad science.” -pg 120

I could not agree with this statement any more thoroughly. This is a fact far more people need to realize. Of course, I disagree about which is the bad science, but I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

“Spontaneous generation is what critics of evolution call a “just-so” story. Evolutionists provide no evidence to support spontaneous generation. It isn’t supported by empirical observation or forensic science principles. It’s “just-so” because life exists, and since intelligent causes are ruled out in advance, there can be no other possible explanation.” -pg 120-121

Evolution doesn’t need evidence to support spontaneous generation. Evolution has absolutely nothing to say about the origin of the first life.

The link I pointed to above shows some of the evidence we have so far for spontaneous generation.

The fact that on the same page this book cites a scientist hypothesizing that life was started by intelligent aliens demonstrates pretty conclusively that intelligent causes are not ruled out at all, let alone in advance. This is the second time I’ve found the authors contradicting themselves on the very same page. I’m beginning to wonder whether they even considered a proofreader who would try to criticize.

“(Dawkins may think he has a “real explanation,” but, as we have seen, his explanation is against all of the observational and forensic evidence.)” -pg 123

That has not been demonstrated, in point of fact. You might have shown that there wasn’t any evidence supporting it (if I hadn’t had access to google and find some), but even so, that doesn’t say there is any evidence against abiogenesis. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, after all.

I don’t even want to bother pointing out my problems with the rest of this chapter. It’s starting with bad definitions and bad understandings and building on them to bad conclusions – exactly as it accuses atheists of doing. It has a few things right, perhaps, but nowhere does it give any actual evidence for god. In fact, so far, all this book has done is say, “See how scientists can’t explain this! That means there’s OUR GOD!” That’s God of the Gaps, not a piece of evidence. Give me something to work with, here.

Although it is amusing that they keep insisting atheism is a box top to the puzzle of life. That’s pretty stupid.

 Chapter 6: New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?

“The process of macroevolution, if it’s possible at all, can’t even begin unless there’s preexisting life.” -pg 139

Yes, which is not a problem for evolution, as evolution has nothing to say about the origin of that first life.

“It’s the belief that all life forms have descended from a common ancestor—the first one-celled creature—and all of this has happened by natural processes without any intelligent intervention.” -pg 140

This is their definition of macroevolution, and it’s mostly accurate. The only problem is that the process may have begun with something even simpler than a one-celled organism, and it was probably a group of somethings, not one.

“Darwinists say this happened by natural selection. But the term “natural selection” is a misnomer. Since the process of evolution is, by definition, without intelligence, there is no “selection” at all going on. It’s a blind process. The term “natural selection” simply means that the fittest creatures survive. So what? That’s true by definition—the fittest survive (this is called a tautology—a circular argument that doesn’t prove anything). Logically, these are the creatures that are best equipped genetically or structurally to deal with changing environmental conditions (that’s why they survive).” -pg 140

That’s a really good explanation, actually. So what’s the problem?

“Here’s what observation tells us: the surviving bacteria always stay bacteria. They do not evolve into another type of organism. That would be macroevolution. Natural selection has never been observed to create new types.” -pg 141

Ah, yes. This argument. Sure, if we ignore all of the fossil and DNA evidence and assert solely from adherence to a philosophical presupposition that there is no way for one “kind” to become another “kind”, despite the fact that no evidence exists illustrating why that might be true or what is preventing such a thing, then yes, we can argue that macroevolution has not been proven.

Unfortunately, I can’t ignore the fossil and DNA evidence, and I don’t have enough faith to believe there’s some sort of “stopper” to natural selection that can’t be demonstrated, so I just don’t have enough faith not to be an atheist. Sorry.

“So even when it is intelligently guided, evolution hits walls. In other words, even when scientists intelligently manipulate creatures with an end in mind—which is the antithesis of the blind Darwinian process—microevolution still doesn’t work! If intelligent scientists cannot break genetic barriers, why should we expect nonintelligent natural selection to do so?” -pg 144

Mostly because we have seen it happen in the fossils, and because that is what the DNA evidence shows us. Remember back on page 79 when they said, “Good scientific theories are those that are able to predict phenomena that have not yet been observed.”? Well, evolution has done that, and I can think of two examples offhand. One was to go looking for a fossil of a mostly fishy creature that also crawled on land in a particular place. Scientists found it. Another was that if humans and apes have a common ancestor, humans likely have a chromosome made of two ape chromosomes stuck together. Scientists found that was chromosome number 2. Here’s a list of some other predictions.

Are you absolutely sure it is the Darwinists who are doing bad science?

The rest of the chapter is just more misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. If you want to see the evidence “Darwinists” have to offer, the book I recommend is Finding Darwin’s God. It’s by a Christian, so it’s not as though he’ll try to convert you away from Christianity. Or, if you’d prefer to learn about programming rather than biology, you can look up the natural selection algorithm. I can’t think of a better tool for understanding how the process works than setting it up and letting it go.

As that book answers basically everything put forth in this chapter and I plan to do a review of it soon, I’ll move on to the next chapter.

 Chapter 7: Mother Teresa vs. Hitler

“Don’t you have this deep-seated sense of obligation that we all ought to “help people”? We all do. Why? And why do most human beings seem to have that same intuitive sense that they ought to do good and shun evil?” -pg 170

Most likely, this stems from the fact that societies without this sense can’t survive. For instance, in most primate communities, if a male hurts an infant, that male is beaten up by the other apes. If males were allowed to hurt infants without repercussions, all or most of the infants would be killed by the adult males in the community and there wouldn’t be a replacement population. That community would die out. It’s the same way for a lot of other animals; if they don’t work together, they die.

This Moral Law is our third argument for the existence of a theistic God (after the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments). It goes like this:

1. Every law has a law giver.

2. There is a Moral Law.

3. Therefore, there is a Moral Law Giver. [pg 171]

The question we should ask is, do other animals have a moral law? If some do, such as wolves and bonobos, did that necessarily require a lawgiver or could that just be the forces of natural selection at work? If it did require a lawgiver, why do only animals that live in communities have these morals? We are faced with the dilemma that either god chose to give morals only to certain animals, or god is not necessary for morality.

I prefer to simply follow the evidence and see that there is no reason morals could not have evolved on their own, and indeed we see at least rudimentary morals in all animals that work together for survival, just as we would expect were the forces of natural selection at work.

I do accept that there is a moral standard, and I don’t need a god to explain it to me; I just need empathy and experience. The moral standard is that suffering is bad. I know this because I have suffered. Because I know suffering is bad and because I have empathy, I know that causing suffering in others is bad. That’s really all there is to it.

“Third, Wilson says that social morals have evolved because those “cooperative” morals helped humans survive together. But this assumes an end—survival—for evolution, when Darwinism, by definition, has no end because it is a nonintelligent process.” -pg 188

This is pretty… uninformed or dishonest. While evolution does not have an “end” per se, a change cannot be passed down to offspring unless the organism with the change survives. Saying that a trait helped humans survive doesn’t mean evolution has an end; it means the beings with that trait were able to continue evolving.

“Indeed, I may inherit a capacity for math and learn the multiplication tables from my mother, but the laws of mathematics exist regardless of how I come to know them. Likewise, morality exists independently of how we come to know it.” -pg 188

And like morality, the laws of mathematics are meaningless if they are abstract. What does 2+2=4 mean if not that I can get four objects if I take another two in addition to the two I already have? In the same way, what does “murder is wrong” mean if there is nobody to murder?

It is my contention that morality is definitional. Causing suffering is bad because “suffering” is the word we have for experiences we don’t want. Why do we need anything else?

“In other words, racism and then genocide is the logical outworking of Darwinism. On the other hand, love and then self-sacrifice is the logical outworking of Christianity. Ideas have consequences.” -pg 189

Unfortunately for this argument, the consequences of an idea have nothing to do with the truth of it.

“The racism associated with evolution was exposed during the famous 1925 Scopes Trial.” -pg 190

And the racism associated with Christianity was exposed for decades when pastors preached that slavery was god’s will. Does this make Christianity false? If you say no, by what standard can you argue that evolution is then false? If you think evolution is false because it has been used to support racism, then you must admit that Christianity is false, for it has been used to support exactly the same idea.

For an explanation of how morality could have evolved, check out the work of Frans de Waal.

I could also talk about how Mother Teresa really wasn’t all that saintly, but I’ll leave that research as an exercise for the reader.

Also, again, even if I accept a Lawgiver, that doesn’t make that lawgiver any particular god. Indeed, the very fact that we point to Hitler as the example of someone whose actions were morally wrong rules out the god of the Bible as that lawgiver, for that god ordered genocides, but our morality condemns them. (The link only points to one citation, but even one genocide is too many for a lawgiver to order who also taught us that genocide is wrong.)

Chapter 8: Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility?

Before I even start reading this chapter, I’d like to say that I think miracles are not impossible and that they would point to something supernatural by definition. Unfortunately, they can’t really point to any god in particular because they could just as easily point to a bored pantheon messing with us so we think that that god is real.

And unfortunately, as I’ve been saying, none of the arguments put forth thus far necessarily point to any god at all, let alone a theistic one. Indeed, the moral argument, as put forth in this book, certainly cannot point to Christianity, as the same arguments prove Christianity false at least as effectively as they prove atheism false.

“For if there is a God who can act, there can be acts of God (miracles).” -pg 209

Yes, I agree. I’m still not convinced there is a god, though.

“In short, if the Resurrection actually occurred (and we’ll investigate that question later), it has God’s “fingerprints” all over it.” -pg 212

Sure, that makes sense. Of course, the key word is “if”.

Judging by the outline on page 219, this book will not even try to prove a contemporary miracle, only the Resurrection and other stories in the New Testament. The next four chapters are meant to give us reasons to believe in the New Testament; let’s see if they hold up to scrutiny.

 Chapter 9: Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus?

“If you include the Christian sources, authors mentioning Jesus outnumber those mentioning Tiberius 43 to 10!” -pg 222

I’m not qualified to refute most of the claims in this chapter, although I can remember reading refutations, but I did find an article showing just how false that “statistic” is.

I have been trying to research about Jesus from an historical perspective for a few months now. Suffice it to say, the arguments presented in this book thus far are not irrefutable; however, I find no need to refute them, as I have already shown many flaws in the arguments that a god exists at all and even twice shown that arguments in this book can be used to prove Christianity false.

 Chapter 10: Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?

“With painstaking detail, Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research.” -pg 256

I’ll merely point out this analysis, pulling out a quote that is within it: “It is enough to remark that the reviewer has read a large number of detective stories which were completely correct in their description of legal and police procedures–and pure fiction.” [Citation]

Indeed, I recommend that entire work, although I pulled out only a small section of it.

“In light of the fact that Luke has proven accurate with so many trivial details, it is nothing but pure anti-supernatural bias to say he’s not telling the truth about the miracles he records. As we have seen, such a bias is illegitimate. This is a theistic world where miracles are possible. So it makes much more sense to believe Luke’s miracle accounts than to discount them.” -pg 260

By this same logic, it is anti-supernatural bias to disbelieve the movies about Thor because they get details of the cities in which they take place right. After all, Thor could certainly exist by all the arguments presented in the book, so why couldn’t he have saved the world as portrayed by Hollywood?

Further, what about the miracle claims of other religions? Are they false regardless of what context they are presented in? Why? Are they false only because you have a pre-existing philosophical bias towards Christianity? Only a small percentage of the population of the earth has been Christian; are you saying that every single non-Christian miracle claim is necessarily false? This is something this book sorely needs; if they are going to chop down the options only to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, they need to talk about the reliability of the Old Testament and the Qur’an, too. Having the New Testament be reliable means very little if the Qur’an is just as historically accurate. How could we tell which one is right? Further, the New Testament depends heavily on the Old Testament. Can we really trust the newer one to be more accurate than the older one, if they both came from the same deity? I certainly don’t.

“Another historically accurate detail can be found in Luke 22:44. That’s where Luke records that Jesus was in agony and sweat drops of blood the night before his crucifixion. Apparently, Jesus was experiencing a rare stress-induced condition we know today as hematohidrosis. That’s when tiny blood vessels rupture due to extreme stress, thus allowing blood to mix with sweat. Since Luke probably didn’t know of this medical condition 2,000 years ago, he could not have recorded it unless he had access to someone who saw it.” -pg 262

This argument doesn’t appear to me to hold any water. It seems like saying no fisherman ever lied about how big the fish he caught was, because fish that size exist. Further, there’s no reason he could not have made it up and just happened to hit on a medical condition, and certainly no reason to assume he had never observed someone else sweating blood and decided that’s probably what happened to Jesus, too.

“Now here’s the crucial point: Since Luke is telling the truth, then so are Mark and Matthew because their Gospels tell the same basic story. This is devastating to skeptics, but the logic is inescapable.” -pg 262

I can escape that logic with one example. Suppose I am told that vaccines cause autism because they contain aluminum. If I go around telling other people this, trusting the source I learned it from, am I telling the truth? So far as I know, I am, and vaccines do contain aluminum (actually, I recently learned they don’t anymore, but let’s pretend they still do). Does it then follow that the original source was telling the truth about vaccines causing autism? Of course not; that source came first, and I was merely relating it (and besides, multiple studies have confirmed that vaccines don’t cause autism). In the same way, Luke’s attempt to be accurate in the historical details does not prove the accuracy of Mark, who was one of his sources! Further, Matthew also got his basic story from Mark, so if Luke does not prove the accuracy of Mark, it cannot prove the accuracy of Matthew.

This is an important point: Luke was relying on sources. His adherence to getting certain verifiable details right does not mean that the sources he was using were trustworthy sources.

“Archaeology confirms the use of stone water jars in New Testament times (John 2:6).” -pg 263

This is the very first example of historically accurate detail in John’s Gospel. Really? You expect me to be impressed that a first century citizen knew the material of the water jars in his era?

Other things on the list are slightly more impressive, but the general response is the same as that given for list of accurate details in acts. I’m pretty sure the stories of Hercules had a lot of historically accurate detail, too, but that doesn’t make Hercules any less of a myth.

 Chapter 11: The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth

Most, if not all, of the arguments in this chapter are refuted in Not the Impossible Faith by Richard Carrier, available online in an earlier edition. (I can’t remember for sure all of the facts put forth in that book.)

To their credit, the authors do bring up that Islam has martyrs and miracle claims as well, but say that Islam did not begin to spread until they spread by the sword. While this is likely true (I don’t know for sure), the interesting thing is that, as shown in the book I just mentioned, Christianity also did not spread until it became the state religion. It remained a minority cult until it had some force behind it.

And yes, I am getting lazier in this review, because the later parts of the book aren’t really relevant when I haven’t accepted the arguments that god exists.

 Chapter 12: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

Much of this chapter is also refuted in the book I just mentioned. However, a more specific refutation of the resurrection claim in particular by the same professional historian is here.

I am not going to analyze chapters 13 and 14. According to page 324, they will cover that Jesus claimed to be god, confirmed this claim with miracles, and therefore he is god and teaches truthfully that the Bible is the Word of God.

However, even granting the Resurrection and all of the other miracle claims in the New Testament, that still doesn’t prove that Jesus is god. He could have thought he was god, but it is still possible that the miracles he thought he performed were simply a bored pantheon messing with him. Is this more likely than Christianity? I don’t know, but it’s a better explanation for miracle claims in other religions than “All of them must be false because only Christianity is true”.

The fact is that I simply can’t buy that the New Testament is historically accurate. I’ve seen too many flaws with it. While I won’t yet say definitively that Jesus never existed, I’m unable to see the evidence any other way at this point. As I mentioned above, I am still researching the topic.

Further, I have already shown that some of the logic put forth in this book is equally successful in proving Christianity false as it is in proving anything else, and a few of the arguments are just ridiculous.

There just isn’t a reason for me to be thorough in reading these two chapters, because I don’t accept the premises on which they depend.

 Chapter 15: Conclusion: The Judge, the Servant King, and the Box Top

“God loves you so much that he even respects your decision to reject him.” -pg 379

I wrote a whole article about how I react to this sentiment. I did not reject god; if anything, he rejected me. I had no choice in the matter, and would have given a lot to be able to remain a believer. That simply wasn’t possible.

Most of the conclusion is an attempt to guilt the reader into believing by talking about how sinful we are and how much suffering Christ allegedly went through.

“Finally, have you ever thought about questioning your doubts?” -pg 388

I question my doubts every day (or nearly every day). I still look for evidence of Christianity, but I still can’t find any that is convincing now that I am outside, after over three years of searching. I am all too aware that my inability to believe is risking eternal torment, and hell is still my biggest fear. But I cannot believe or even see that fear as rational.

I’m still not convinced an accurate box top exists.

 Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?

This is presented as a dialogue, so I’m going to paraphrase an argument being made as well as pull a direct quote.

Asking why evil exists presupposes god, because there cannot be an objective standard without a god to put it there. -pg 389

We can have a standard without a god, and I’ve already described it: Suffering is bad. We know this standard by experience. We don’t need anything to tell us. A god who allows unnecessary suffering cannot, by definition, be good.

“The source of evil is our free choice.” -pg 390

What about the evil of natural disasters? Earlier, this book argued that earthquakes were a sign of fine tuning in the universe. Why did an all-powerful god choose to make it that way instead of a way that wouldn’t cause untold deaths? Why does an all-powerful god choose to destroy his creations with tsunamis? Pointing to the fall is not satisfactory, because it can be demonstrated that there was no first human.

Further, if there is free will in heaven, but no evil, then it is possible to have free will without suffering.

Further still, I accept that there could be some suffering coexistent with a loving god. Just not all of the unnecessary suffering that we can observe, such as child rape or bone cancer in children. The rest of this appendix, by assuming I think god should eliminate all suffering, fails to respond to my actual argument. In formal logic, this is called a strawman.

I don’t see Appendix 2 as worth addressing – it’s just a conversation of a fictional atheist reluctantly accepting the conclusions of the book because the Christian sticks to them. I also don’t see a point in addressing Appendix 3, as I have no reason to defend the Jesus Seminar.


Takeaways / After I Finished Reading

This book presented essentially three arguments for the existence of god:

  1. The universe had a beginning, so it must have had a first cause.
  2. The universe is finely tuned for human life, so there must be a fine tuner.
  3. Morals exist, so there must be a source of morality.

Here are my responses, summarized to a sentence each:

  1. While I admit that it makes intuitive sense that something caused the Big Bang, there is no reason to assume that something was a being and not a natural process, and even if we assume it was a being, this gets us no further than deism, if it gets us that far; the universe could have been an accidental creation.
  2. Arguing that the universe is finely tuned for human life is like arguing that the desert is finely tuned for fish; yes, we can live on earth, and fish can live in an oasis, but it’s ludicrous to think the vast desert where fish can’t live exists so the fish can live in the tiny oasis.
  3. There is a source of morality; it’s called empathy, and it evolved because groups survive better with it than without it.

As you can clearly see, there is no reason any of this gets us to theism, let alone Christianity.

In addition, when arguing for a theistic god based on the existence of morality, the book presents two arguments which can be used to show Christianity false:

  1. If an idea can be used to support racism, it is false; both evolution and the Bible have been used to support racism, so if this is a valid argument, both are false.
  2. The continual pointing to Hitler as someone whose actions we know are bad because he ordered genocide shows that the god of the Bible cannot be the Lawgiver the Moral Argument allegedly points to because that god ordered genocide.

Further, the tone of this book shows that it was written for Christians, by Christians. It is not meant to convince atheists; it is insulting to atheists on multiple occasions. I can see how it would keep someone Christian, but I sincerely doubt it would actually convince anyone in my position.

All in all, this is much like my original idea for the Complete History project; I probably would have written something similar had I been able to continue that project as a Christian. Unfortunately, now I can see how weak these arguments really are, and I hope I have been successful in conveying that.

I don’t expect to have convinced anyone with this post that Christianity is definitely false, or that atheism is true, but I hope I have shown the weakness of some of the arguments used by Christian apologists.

The only thing this book was really missing was a push for a specific denomination of Christianity. Maybe that’s not an argument a Protestant can reasonably make?

25 thoughts on “Rebecca Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

  1. It seems to me that in the Foreward the authors are attacking a strawman. If so, then it puts lie to their intentions in writing this book. If they can’t truthfully and accurately articulate an atheist’s or secularist’s position, they’re not trustworthy and everything they write should be taken with extreme skepticism.

    My intellectual and moral objections are not without substance, and they’re doing themselves no favors by pretending that they are. You can’t just make a blanket statement about someone else’s beliefs when you haven’t even shown you understand them and expect to be taken seriously. To dismiss everyone who doesn’t hold their beliefs as being “naked” is almost the height of intellectual dishonesty.

    And they wonder why we don’t take them seriously.

    Moving on from that, I don’t know where they get the idea that our society is entirely post-modern. Further, I don’t think you’re going to find many honest atheists (not the Kirk Cameron “I was a dogmatic atheist”) who think that the truth is relative and who reject the law of noncontradiction. As you said, many theists hold contradictory views, and I think that’s necessarily because of their faith.

    I get the sense that with the relative truth thing they’re going to try to set up false dichotomies and try to exclaim, “THIS is the absolute truth!” But we both know that when you’re in a discussion, the person who doesn’t believe the claim doesn’t have a burden of proof for it.

    Why? The answer is simple: the God hypothesis has two positions. 1) God doesn’t exist. 2) God does exist. If we make the assumption that God doesn’t exist (which is an assumption made in the frame of naturalism or materialism given what we know of science and the extreme lack of evidence for any god) we have to make less corollary assumptions. For instance, a theist has to make assumptions about the nature of god, and what his motivations are, and why he does what he does. An atheist doesn’t. Often, we see the theist mistake the claim for evidence (the Bible) and it results in some pretty vicious circular reasoning.

    If you want to claim that the universe has a transcendent cause that has an identity and a sense of self and is capable of some kind of thought, you have to prove it. All an atheist assumes about the beginning of the universe is that it happened, somehow (though we might not know how). Even a theist will grant that as an axiom (existence exists). So what does an atheist need to prove? That the universe exists without a god? That’s not a positive claim. We’re not adding complexity to the universe. We’re not pushing causes back a step. The reason you don’t try to prove a negative is because you can’t possibly take accounting of all scenarios, situations, and arrangements of matter and energy inside and (possibly?) outside the universe to prove that something can’t exist or happen. It’s the same reason I think “Everything that begins to exist has a cause” is flawed–the “everything” bit. How can you possibly know?

    Regarding other religions and truth claims, as you’ve pointed out, it’s one of the reasons the “nones” are rising as well. The truth claims of various religions cannot be reconciled, which is a score for the authors being correct for once. But what evidence do the authors have that their god is the right one and the others are wrong that the other religions don’t also have? Holy books? Check. Miracles? Check. Tons of followers? Check. Speaking to god or gods? Check. Moral absolutes? Check.

    I can’t think of one thing piece of evidence that one has the others don’t. So how do they disprove the other claims without also disproving their own? It gets at the question I posed to a certain Southern Baptist of our mutual acquaintance: How do you make it so belief in the Christian God is properly basic, but beliefs in Allah or Vishnu are not? I don’t think you can, given Plantinga’s requirements for claiming proper basicality. The obvious question, then is: so why does a claim of proper basicality even matter?

    I get the sense that the moral imperative that we do not accept all religions as equally true will reveal that Christianity can only be the right one. I’m sure a Muslim, a Jew, and a Hindu will all disgree for similar reasons (with just as much legitimacy).

    “It certainly takes more faith to believe that human beings evolved from the random interaction of molecules (which somehow had to come into existence themselves) than to believe in a Creator.”

    1) Human beings didn’t evolve from the random interaction of molecules. 2) Why are they so eager to throw out the laws of physics and chemistry when it suits them? 3) Evolutionary theory doesn’t rest solely on randomness, which is why this sentence sets off red flags to me. Either they don’t understand evolution, or they’re purposefully misrepresenting it here. We’re talking natural or artificial selection, scaffolding, competition for resources, and so many other pressures which drive evolution. It’s not the random interaction of molecules.

    AND FOR ZEUS’ SAKE evolution is not abiogenesis and neither of those have anything to do with big bang cosmology or astronomy. It’s glaringly obvious these two are so blinkered by their beliefs that they can’t even accurately represent the science.

    1. “AND FOR ZEUS’ SAKE evolution is not abiogenesis and neither of those have anything to do with big bang cosmology or astronomy. It’s glaringly obvious these two are so blinkered by their beliefs that they can’t even accurately represent the science.”

      As you may have already seen, this is my main complaint for about two chapters in a row…

  2. Regarding the preface:

    I think it’s a red herring. I am not skeptical because they identify as Christians, I’m skeptical because, as their introduction shows, they don’t understand what they’re writing about. They’re arguing against strawmen. A skeptic or an atheist reading this should already have several alarms going off. Someone with scientific knowledge or knowledge of rational discourse should see the errors in their representations of the theory of evolution and their horrible reasoning.

    Those are reasons for skepticism, their evidence notwithstanding.

  3. I don’t think the introduction is very promising, either.

    “Just as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are difficult to put together without the picture on the box top, the many diverse pieces of life make no sense without some kind of unifying big picture. The question is, does anyone have the box top to this puzzle we call life? Many world religions claim that they do. Are any of them correct?”

    Yeah, it might be difficult, but you can do it if you study the pieces and you logic. I don’t think you need a “unifying” big picture to make sense out of the pieces. It depends on how much you know about the pieces, and how certain that knowledge is. Is there a big, unifying picture for the universe like what matches this analogy? I don’t know. I think saying that there is a claim in need of proof. I mean, it seems that the universe operates in several different domains. Does the puzzle analogy even hold water?

    And does this box top look the same for everyone?

    “On the other hand, if there is no God, then your life ultimately means nothing. Since there is no enduring purpose to life, there’s no right or wrong way to live it. And it doesn’t matter how you live or what you believe—your destiny is dust.”

    This is another claim that needs to be proven. Who gets to decide what meaning is? And does one person’s meaning matter to another person? Who gets to decide what is the right or wrong way to live, and what does that mean in the context of so much variation in the world’s cultures? Is it wrong to live your life in service to Vishnu? I don’t have an opinion on that for other people, but it’s not right for me. But no matter what you believe, your destiny is dust. You will die. There is simply no escaping that, so why should we pretend anything will ever be any different?

    I agree with you with respect to the bit about “truth in religion.” Things are not true or false from person to person with respect to questions like that, and I don’t like it when people claim that they are (which, incidentally, in my experience happens with religious people).

    I agree with you about the difficult questions bit as well, but color me skeptical that these two are going to give us any new answers or ways of thinking about them that don’t succumb to the same flaws that other explanations do.

    “An atheist, of course, is someone who does not believe in any type of God. To follow our analogy, atheists believe that what looks like a painting has always existed and no one painted it. Religious humanists would fall into this category.”

    This is a bad analogy because it biases itself toward the “if it looks like a duck…” line of reasoning. They use a painting, specifically, because it is something we KNOW is painted. We know there are painters who paint paintings. They’d like to carry this over to a designer who designs the design. By putting atheists at the opposite end, people who think that something that looks like a painting wasn’t painted but always was, puts the thumb on the scale of the argument in their favor. What if we said it was a beach? Are beaches normally built? What about mountains? Are they designed? So I have to disagree with you on this point. They’re comparing existence (no evidence of designer) to a painting (which was painted). This is a category mistake, and I feel like it biases their definition of atheism. So while it seems reasonable on the surface, it’s anything but.

    I agree that science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive on a metaphysical level. They ask the same questions, and in their own ways seek to investigate. But the methodology IS mutually exclusive, as are the consequences and ramifications. Religion may ask the questions, but it doesn’t have a way to consistently provide answers. Science asks the questions, and comes up with a way to consistently provide explanations through experimentations, etc. So I’m not in total agreement here.

    I agree with you about faith an atheism when they get to that bit. They’re using words in ways that are contradictory, or novel. I know that there are religious people who would like to say that you need “faith” to believe science or the assumptions underlying science (do you need faith to say “existence exists”?), but it’s nonsense. If I don’t know, I say I don’t know. If I have a reason to believe something, I explain my reasons. I don’t have to take it on faith. If I can’t explain it, then I have no warrant for holding a belief. Nowhere do I say, “I have faith that this is true.”

    And you’re right that atheism isn’t a worldview. It’s not even a philosophy. It’s a word that describes a stance on a question. One stance on one question. It does nothing more to describe a person, how they think, or what they believe. Scientific skepticism is closer to a worldview. Naturalism is a worldview. But not atheism, just like a-unicornism isn’t a worldview. What they’re trying to do is say that since belief in a god is the norm that means that disbelief is a positive claim. And that’s nonsense.

    “There are no neutral positions when it comes to beliefs.”

    There certainly damn well are! It’s true that the truth value of a claim has no neutral position. It’s either true or false. But do you believe something? Well, yes, no, or I don’t know. I don’t believe there is a god. I do believe that gravity exists. I don’t know if there are aliens, but I do think it likely–so do I believe there are aliens? I don’t know. I’m neutral. It’s possible, but I don’t have any proof. This is a neutral position on the alien question because we cannot answer it and we have nothing that would really give us a solid foundation for belief either way. I am not REQUIRED to have belief in anything as I am not REQUIRED to take a position on the truth value of any given claim.

    So what I see that they’re trying to do here is set up the dominoes so that they fall toward their conclusion. “It takes more faith to be an atheist argle-bargle!” But…how does that make any sense? I am an atheist that says if I don’t have any good reasons to believe something, I do one of two things: I don’t accept the claim and disbelieve it, or I don’t accept the claim and remain neutral (i.e., I don’t know). And I think this gets at another thing we fear–admitting that we don’t know something. It’s ridiculous to think that because you’re being honest–that you don’t know–this is somehow a weak position. But my lack of knowledge about what happened before Planck Time does NOT give you warrant to shoehorn any number of ridiculous scenarios because we have no knowledge.

    “If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity—reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt—would you then become a Christian?”

    I am a proponent of the scientific method. I am a proponent of scientific skepticism. I am a proponent of freethought. One thing these concepts all have in common is that when something is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you have reason to accept the claim. If–IF they could provide reasonable answers with SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE that I can examine, replicate, and study for myself I would give their claims more merit. I would have more questions, obviously, once those ones were answered, so the buck doesn’t just stop when the low-hanging fruit is addressed. If I have reason to accept the God hypothesis, I have many more questions after that which need to be addressed.

    This is not stubbornness, this is consistency.

    1. You have to admit that on the surface of it, a lot of things appear to be designed – tigers appear designed to hide in shadows, cheetahs appear designed to be excellent sprinters, etc. The problem is that the evidence shows there isn’t a need to insert a designer into the factors that made those animals that way – and often, the design is far less perfect than it appears on the surface, like our eyes having a blind spot while the eyes of an octopus don’t.

      “A theist is someone who believes in a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe. This would be roughly equivalent to a painter and a painting. God is like the painter, and his creation is like the painting. God made the painting, and his attributes are expressed in it, but God is not the painting.” -pg 22 (italics left out because this is a comment)

      This is probably why they chose this analogy – it works really well for theism!

      “By contrast, a pantheist is someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe. So, rather than making the painting, pantheists believe God is the painting.” -pg 22 (italics left out because this is a comment)

      Of course, it isn’t as perfect for pantheism, and breaks down completely for atheism, as you saw. I don’t really think there exists an analogy that would really work for all three views – maybe you can think of one? I do think pointing to the beach isn’t helpful because they would argue that the beach is designed by god, and probably would say that pointing to something where we have a natural explanation for its apparent design is tipping the scale in favor of atheism.

      “I agree that science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive on a metaphysical level. They ask the same questions, and in their own ways seek to investigate. But the methodology IS mutually exclusive, as are the consequences and ramifications. Religion may ask the questions, but it doesn’t have a way to consistently provide answers. Science asks the questions, and comes up with a way to consistently provide explanations through experimentations, etc. So I’m not in total agreement here.”

      This is a really good point, and one I knew but failed to mention. So thanks! I don’t think we’re actually in disagreement, here, because I did not think about the varying methodologies, and I did not get the sense that the authors meant to be talking about them, only that they ask the same questions sometimes.

      “I am a proponent of the scientific method. I am a proponent of scientific skepticism. I am a proponent of freethought. One thing these concepts all have in common is that when something is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you have reason to accept the claim. If–IF they could provide reasonable answers with SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE that I can examine, replicate, and study for myself I would give their claims more merit. I would have more questions, obviously, once those ones were answered, so the buck doesn’t just stop when the low-hanging fruit is addressed. If I have reason to accept the God hypothesis, I have many more questions after that which need to be addressed.

      “This is not stubbornness, this is consistency.”

      Another great point. Also, something I don’t think either of us have said yet: believing in the Christian god does NOT necessarily lead to following that god. After all, Americans believed in Hitler but did not follow his rules; indeed, we deemed them immoral and joined a war to stop him from further genocide. I know people who say they would do the same if they believed in Yahweh.

  4. Well, I agree with your thoughts on chapter one, at least. I don’t know if confusing agnosticism and atheism is a mistake on their part or intentional. I see it so often that I could believe that it’s a mistake, but these are supposedly educated people who should understand the meanings of words and their etymologies.

    So I don’t know if I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here. I am an agnostic atheist. I don’t know if there is a god or not for sure, but I do not believe that there is because I haven’t been convinced. I lack the knowledge required to say definitively, and in this case I reject the claim and maintain that there are no gods. This, at least, seems to comport to reality as we understand it. I’m not making any extra assumptions. I’m not making any extra truth claims.

    Your bit about the age of the universe (light traveling from distant reaches of space) and life being made of carbon are good examples here. The photons that reach the planet now from our sun were made 10 million years ago. That’s how long it takes for them to get from the center where they are made to the outside and into space. Light from galaxies millions of lightyears away could only get here in millions of years.

    But the carbon bit is interesting in another way. Life as we know it is organic; that is, it’s carbon-based. Inductive reasoning tells us it is likely, given the uniqueness of carbon chemistry and the varieties of life on the planet, that this is the norm for life. We haven’t seen other examples of life, so we have no reason to assume that it happens? Is it possible? Maybe. But carbon chemistry is the bees’ knees.

    1. Shh, I want to believe Futurama could be real! 🙂

      Seriously, though, it sounds like I should go learn (more/again) about carbon chemistry.

  5. Ah, Chapter 2.

    “On the other hand, if the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity.”

    I don’t know any reasonable atheist who would ever claim this. This is a common argument we hear from theists, which I think reveals more about their character than an atheist’s. They need a stick and a carrot from a transcendental arbiter of right and wrong and can’t come up with other reasons for being a decent human being. I pity them.

    We can start to find possible reasons for morality and ethics in different scientific disciplines. We see some morals and ethics in animals, especially ones that are social in nature.

    But…damn. This has ALWAYS disturbed me. The fact that there are atheists…lots of them…who don’t act this way says a lot about the kind of reasoning they use here. I like society, and I like rule of law. I like things to exist in an orderly fashion for mutual benefit. I’m not an anarchist and I’m a very ethical person. I don’t like lying.

    “After all, if we’re merely the product of blind naturalistic forces—if no deity created us with any special significance—then we are nothing more than pigs with big brains. Does this religious (atheistic) “truth” matter? It does when kids carry out its implications. Instead of good citizens who see people made in the image of God, we are producing criminals who see no meaning or value in human life. Ideas have consequences.”

    I agree with everything you’ve said about this, including the statistic. I’d like to add some stuff, though.

    First, we’re not merely the product of blind naturalistic forces. There is so much animus in this sentence. We’re the product of the naturalistic forces of the universe, and there is something amazing about that. Chemistry, physics, biology–complicated phenomenon that could happening millions of different ways throughout the universe. It’s so much more fantastic than they want to admit it is. We don’t even need to imagine we were created with special significance because the fact that our molecules and DNA are organized this way defies probability, but since it happened, it was inevitable. There’s significance in that, even if it happens with literally everything in the universe.

    We are more than pigs with brains. It’s a shame they think so damn lowly of humanity. Again, I pity them.

    But then, they have to say this “religious (atheistic)” BULLCRAP they made up is a “religious (atheistic)” truth? What the heck does that even mean? Gah. There might be some context I’m missing but this is just bad.

    So the dichotomy they are writing about is this: children with god = good, children without god = bad. Man. I’m sure they have data to back that up, right? I mean, being an atheist means being a narcissist? Why does my life meaning have to be the same as your life meaning? Why do I need to found it on religious mythology? Why can’t I find meaning in empathy and compassion?

    That paragraph. Man. So horrible.

    1. “But…damn. This has ALWAYS disturbed me. The fact that there are atheists…lots of them…who don’t act this way says a lot about the kind of reasoning they use here. I like society, and I like rule of law. I like things to exist in an orderly fashion for mutual benefit. I’m not an anarchist and I’m a very ethical person. I don’t like lying.”

      I used to think I would become a serial killer without god to base my morals in, or at least commit suicide, and it took a very long time for me to understand why murder is wrong without a god. I think a couple of years, at least. So I can sympathize with them, but that doesn’t make them even a little bit right.

      “We don’t even need to imagine we were created with special significance because the fact that our molecules and DNA are organized this way defies probability, but since it happened, it was inevitable. There’s significance in that, even if it happens with literally everything in the universe.”

      This does not make sense on the surface, and only makes sense to me because I’ve studied probability at a fairly high level. I think most people need it pointed out and usually explained before they can understand that the probability of a past event is always 1.

      “But then, they have to say this “religious (atheistic)” BULLCRAP they made up is a “religious (atheistic)” truth? What the heck does that even mean? Gah. There might be some context I’m missing but this is just bad.”

      The context is that Muslims teaching their children that infidels should be killed led to 9/11 and they also teach that Jews are pigs. They then say that evolution teaches there is no essential difference between any human and a pig, which is not untrue in that both are evolved beings and there was no divine intervention making the human not an animal.

      That’s really not better, is it?

      1. Evolution does indeed teach that there are essential differences between humans and pigs, just not the kind the theist wants.

  6. The cosmological argument. Chapter three is going to be thick and esoteric.

    Perhaps I’m picky, but I don’t think I can accept the first premise, or grant it. It’s based largely in “common sense” perceptions and on intuition. I don’t think these things always serve us well when it comes to trying to understand the complex tapestry that is the universe.

    “Everything that had a beginning had a cause.”

    Well, the old question is, “How do you know?” We often see this argument made from the perspective of things we see come into existence in spacetime from matter that already existed. For instance, you can say that a hammer had a beginning and a cause. Well, sure. But you can’t confuse the hammer for its constituent parts. Did the atoms come into existence when the hammer was made?

    Does the universe itself play by the rules that govern things within it? That’s a relevant question and I don’t think it always does. It can expand faster than the speed of light, for instance. But the “everything” in the premise is what gives me pause. I don’t think you can possibly know this, especially because the beginning of the universe is an open question. Did it have a cause? I don’t know, and nobody else does either. Not for sure. And if it did, what was it? What caused the cause? What caused the cause of the cause? What does “first cause” even mean when we can’t even say that time and causality as we know it could even exist outside of the universe?

    Anyway, moving on.

    “Can beginnings even be relevant if we are speaking outside of spacetime? What would that mean? The very language of causality depends on the notion that we are working within time and therefore within our universe. In that sense, I would argue that we don’t know whether the universe could have had a cause, because we don’t even know what that would really mean.”

    This is sort of my reasoning, and I don’t think I’ve heard any clear explanation that gets past these problems, or doesn’t make new ones. Does timeless A cause timeless B? Does timeless A cause timeful B? It’s not clear these can make sense. So I think the first premise is very much in need of quite a bit of justification.

    “Thermodynamics is the study of matter and energy, and the Second Law states, among other things, that the universe is running out of energy.”

    This is a really, really, really, really bad definition of thermodynamics. I’ve studied thermodynamics as it relates to chemical reactions and it’s much more esoteric than this. I think this definition lends itself to misunderstandings.

    A better definition of thermodynamics can be found on wikipedia: “a branch of natural science concerned with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work.” It’s more concise, specific, and meaningful. This is important because thermodynamic systems are vital models when understanding how heat, temperature, energy, and work interact.

    Thermodynamics encompasses rather hard to understand concepts like entropy and enthalpy. What can I say for sure about the definition of thermodynamics they give here? It’s misleading, especially when we get to what they say about the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

    It’s clear to me that they don’t actually understand the science. That’s the most charitable I can be. Wikipedia gives us exactly what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says: “The entropy of any isolated system cannot decrease. Such systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — the state of maximum entropy of the system.”

    What is an isolated system? Well, let’s turn to the First Law: “The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.”

    The first thing you have to note is that, technically, you’re wrong about the status of the observable universe (our bubble of space-time). It is widely accepted to be an isolated system, which explains why we have the conservations of mass and energy (since mass and energy are interchangeable–e=mc2). That is why the second law predicts the heat death of the universe, or that the isolated system that is our universe will eventually reach thermodynamic equilibrium as the “thermodynamic free energy” in the universe can no longer sustain actions which consume energy. Basically, it means that energy can no longer be sustained to perform work. There is no measurable energy being added to the universe that results in a net gain, as far as we can tell (there is also no measurable net loss). This means that eventually, the universe will achieve maximum entropy as no more entropy will be created (because no work is being done). No energy is added to the system, and no entropy is being removed from the system.

    The second thing both of us have to note is that even given that the observable universe is trending toward thermodynamic equilibrium (not the global universe–physicists recognize a difference here, and it’s a good to know that), it doesn’t mean that our universe is LOSING energy. It isn’t. It’s constant. It’s just in a different, useless form known as heat. So they’re imprecise language here betrays one of two things: an incomplete understanding of thermodynamics or a willful act of misleading their readers. Either way, I do not think they are qualified to comment on it or use it for their book.

    “I also am very skeptical that there exists a physics professor who does not understand this nuance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics only applying to isolated systems, as claimed in the story on pages 77-78.”

    Maybe a really bad one. More often than not, I see creationists not understanding this, so they claim that evolution is impossible because of the second law. Only, well, they don’t understand that Earth is not an isolated system.

    “Again, in this case, what does it even mean to talk about what caused the Big Bang?”

    Or what was “prior” to it at t = -1? The language we use to talk about time is just not precise enough to talk about this capably.

    “For the record, I do accept that the universe had a beginning (after all, that’s what the evidence says), but to then assert that it must therefore be caused by a god rather jumps the shark. If god can exist without a cause, why can’t the universe?”

    I accept that the expansion of the universe had a beginning, and possibly the matter and energy began at the big bang (but then, the singularity was made of something, too). I think it’s important to note that some aspects of the universe had a beginning, but do other aspects? I don’t know. It’s why we can have valid eternal universe models.

    You last question is very relevant, though. Why not? They never really give us a good answer.

    “I don’t know yet, but I have an autographed copy of A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss that promises an explanation for how a universe could have come from nothing.”

    Honesty! I’m jealous about the book, though. I think what you’re going to see is something about how the net energy of the universe is zero and can therefore come from nothing. But I can’t wait to get to it myself.

    “[T]here’s also scientific evidence from geology that the universe had a beginning. As many of us learned in high school chemistry, radioactive elements decay over time into other elements. For example, radioactive uranium eventually turns into lead. This means that if all uranium atoms were infinitely old, they would all be lead by now, but they’re not. So the earth cannot be infinitely old.”

    Ugh. You said it first: the age of Earth != the age of the Universe. Radioactive decay is fascinating, and one thing we know is that it is constant! There are parent and daughter products and we use the ratio of these things to measure the passage of time. Yay half lives!

    But these two, for some reason I cannot fathom, have forgotten about atomic fusion. I don’t think there is a chemist or a physicist who would claim that uranium atoms are infinitely old. Atoms are constantly cooked in the nuclear furnaces of supermassive stars, even now, through atomic fusion. Hydrogen in our star is now being fused into helium (but not anything else because our star is not energetic or massive enough to fuse helium).

    So how can we explain new uranium in the universe after the big bang? Simple! Supernova nucleosynthesis. Massive, heavy stars tend to explode under specific circumstances. When this happens, light elements are fused into heavier elements (this happens in the cores of the star as well before it goes supernova). But what you tend to see are elements like silicon, sulfur, argon, titanium, and others. In a process that’s a bit too complicated to describe in great detail here, there’s a process of neutron capture and another of proton capture in the supernova that fuses the heaviest elements. This is thought to create uranium. So the uranium in the Earth that we get from mining is thought to have been created 6 billion years ago in a few different supernovas through similar processes.

    But notice that nowhere is there any hint that all the uranium that exists now has always existed, or that there isn’t new uranium being created somewhere even now!

    But nobody ever said Earth was infinitely old. We have a pretty good explanation of how it was created, about 4.54 billion years ago. That’s not infinitely old, last time I checked.

    Your response about the line and infinity is good. I don’t think I have anything to add.

    “So why then doesn’t God need a cause? Because the atheist’s contention misunderstands the Law of Causality. The Law of Causality does not say that everything needs a cause. It says that everything that comes to be needs a cause. God did not come to be. No one made God. He is unmade. As an eternal being, God did not have a beginning, so he didn’t need a cause.”

    You said it: how do you know? And why do we need god when we can put in “the universe” just as easily? I do actually understand the law of causality, I just reject their application of it. Why? Well, because they’re making claims in need of proof! God did not come to be? Well, how do you know that? No one made God? Well, how do you know that? Isn’t this just special pleading? We cannot we say this exact thing about the universe? Indeed, some physicists actually do!

    You noted the circular reasoning, so I won’t touch on it.

    “When you get right down to it, there are only two possibilities for anything that exists: either 1) it has always existed and is therefore uncaused, or 2) it had a beginning and was caused by something else (it can’t be self-caused, because it would have had to exist already in order to cause anything).”

    Well, you know, maybe. There could be other ways. Let’s study the universe more to find out before we make proclamations about what “only” is possible.

    “self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial (since the First Cause created time, space, and matter, the First Cause must be outside of time, space, and matter). In other words, he is without limits, or infinite;”

    It’s funny how they’re quick to give their “First Cause” agency. But how can an entity be timeless, self-existent (which is different than being self-caused), nonspatial, and immaterial? I mean this as an honest question. They’re describing what is isn’t, essentially, by using negative words. So what is it? Give me some positive words that explain what it means to be the opposite of material, timeful, and spacial. Like, the opposite of up is down. We don’t call down “unup.” What is “unup?” It’s not up. Is it down? Well, that’s not clear from the characteristic of being “not up.”

    “These characteristics of the First Cause are exactly the characteristics theists ascribe to God. Again, these characteristics are not based on someone’s religion or subjective experience. They are drawn from the scientific evidence we have just reviewed, and they help us see a critically important section of the box top to this puzzle we call life.”

    No, they are not drawn from the scientific evidence. They simply are not. The science does nothing to compel any of the characteristics they’ve ascribed to their agentic “First Cause.” There is no scientific principle which establishes any of that. They need it, in fact, to be that way, even if there is no objective basis for it from science. What area of science deals with things that are timeless, self-existent, or immaterial? So what we have here is base conjecture, based on taking scientific knowledge and misusing it to come up with these metaphysical qualities.

    “Unfortunately, jumping to a conclusion based on insufficient evidence is never appropriate, and that is all that the First Mover argument asks us to do. Also, even if we do accept that there was a First Mover, that doesn’t bring us any further than deism; it certainly cannot be shown that the First Mover is necessarily a theistic god.”

    EXACTLY. The furthest any of this speculation can POSSIBLY take us, if we grant certain conditions that the theist wants, is deism. It doesn’t prove it is personal, it doesn’t prove it is God. If there was a “first cause” they have no way to argue it isn’t just another physical phenomenon.

    1. “The first thing you have to note is that, technically, you’re wrong about the status of the observable universe (our bubble of space-time). It is widely accepted to be an isolated system, which explains why we have the conservations of mass and energy (since mass and energy are interchangeable–e=mc2).”

      Correction accepted. I guess I haven’t studied enough physics!

      “So they’re imprecise language here betrays one of two things: an incomplete understanding of thermodynamics or a willful act of misleading their readers. Either way, I do not think they are qualified to comment on it or use it for their book.”

      That was more or less my conclusion.

      “You last question is very relevant, though. Why not? They never really give us a good answer.”

      I will point out that there’s large parts of the text I obviously left out, so they could have provided an answer and I just failed to include it in the review for whatever reason, but it’s my contention that they really didn’t answer why the universe could exist without a cause at all, just asserted that something causeless must also be personal because… well, they didn’t give a real reason, just asserted that it followed!

      “So how can we explain new uranium in the universe after the big bang? Simple! Supernova nucleosynthesis. Massive, heavy stars tend to explode under specific circumstances. When this happens, light elements are fused into heavier elements (this happens in the cores of the star as well before it goes supernova). But what you tend to see are elements like silicon, sulfur, argon, titanium, and others. In a process that’s a bit too complicated to describe in great detail here, there’s a process of neutron capture and another of proton capture in the supernova that fuses the heaviest elements. This is thought to create uranium. So the uranium in the Earth that we get from mining is thought to have been created 6 billion years ago in a few different supernovas through similar processes.”

      We have different definitions of simple! But thanks for this explanation – it’s a very important part of refuting that argument. You’ve always been the one to point out everything wrong with an argument, whereas I normally just say, “Here is one thing wrong with your argument that entirely ruins it. Go find a new one.”

      “But nobody ever said Earth was infinitely old. We have a pretty good explanation of how it was created, about 4.54 billion years ago. That’s not infinitely old, last time I checked.”

      It just seems like it, given how short our lifespans are. 🙂

      “I do actually understand the law of causality, I just reject their application of it.”

      Exactly!

      Hold up, you understand the difference between self-caused and self-existent? Can you explain how they aren’t just contradicting themselves here?

      “No, they are not drawn from the scientific evidence. They simply are not. The science does nothing to compel any of the characteristics they’ve ascribed to their agentic “First Cause.” There is no scientific principle which establishes any of that. They need it, in fact, to be that way, even if there is no objective basis for it from science. What area of science deals with things that are timeless, self-existent, or immaterial? So what we have here is base conjecture, based on taking scientific knowledge and misusing it to come up with these metaphysical qualities.”

      I suppose one might argue some of these things are …somehow from the evidence? It feels like they pulled them out of a hat, honestly. The point I tried to show is that they don’t necessarily come from the evidence – someone else could look at the same evidence and go no further than deism or not even that far; we know because people have done exactly that. I more or less glossed over the fact that they don’t come from the evidence at all, but it’s good to have that noted. At the very least, they never showed how these things followed from the evidence; they just said they did, and only someone who already agreed, I think, would accept that assertion.

      “EXACTLY. The furthest any of this speculation can POSSIBLY take us, if we grant certain conditions that the theist wants, is deism. It doesn’t prove it is personal, it doesn’t prove it is God. If there was a “first cause” they have no way to argue it isn’t just another physical phenomenon.”

      Well, clearly they can argue that – just not reasonably. That’s why I brought up the “maybe the first universe was eternal” thing. We have no way of knowing for sure, at least not yet, and neither do they. They could point to divine revelation, but that just makes the circularity of the argument more obvious.

      Amusing anecdote: my roommate told me as I was discussing this book with him that he had an assignment to show the flaws with the First Cause argument as part of a logic course in college. He was not a philosophy major; someone with a PhD in philosophy has no valid excuse for not seeing the flaws in the argument.

  7. Chapter 4. Yay. Teleology. Like we don’t deal with that often enough.

    The funny thing is that I can agree with the first premise of the argument. Everything that was designed has a designer. Isn’t that a tautology? Like saying you know biology because you’re a biologist? So things which are designed, by definition, have a designer. Otherwise the adjective “designed” would be misused.

    The problem really comes with the second premise. Does the universe actually have a highly complex design? I would agree that the universe is highly complex. But is it a design? That adjective bothers me. First of all, it’s a claim that’s in need of evidence (and not God because that’s what the argument is trying to prove). Is the universe designed, and does it have evidence of a designer? How do you determine what is designed in the first place? If it is complexity, wouldn’t a crystal lattice count? Those are formed, as chemistry has shown us, through natural processes that have no designer and thus are not designed.

    So saying that universe is highly complex is obvious–as obvious as existence exists. But saying it is a design is conjecture based on complex patterns that have naturalistic explanations. They like to deny those explanations, or they get something like Intelligent Design to poke holes in it (but curiously don’t do anything to actually show evidence for ID).

    “Scientists are now finding that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. In fact, the universe is specifically tweaked to enable life on earth—a planet with scores of improbable and interdependent life-supporting conditions that make it a tiny oasis in a vast and hostile universe.”

    Disingenuous. It’s complex and ordered in a precise way, but according to already-discovered laws of physics. This does not imply design, no matter how many times they use this word. From this it sounds like circular reasoning to me: they’re assuming the design without showing the design (though I could be missing other context). However, I’m willing to bet that they never actually get around to actually showing how it is designed, or how you’re supposed to identify the design apart from naturalistic explanations of how it works.

    If it is circular, it’s viciously so. We don’t have to assume it is designed. We also don’t have to assume it’s not designed. We have to look at what the evidence shows, and the evidence and the math and our theories don’t require a designer.

    Now, with the universe being tweaked to support life, that’s highly speculative because we don’t actually know the parameters in which life can thrive. All we have are our current physical constants. We have no way to study how life fairs with other physical constants outside of some mathematical speculation. So any time anyone uses the fine-tuning argument, what they’re doing is making an argument with a baked-in unproven assumption that life is not possible with other physical constants. What if the gravitational constant was a bit different? Life impossible? Prove it. What if the weak force was just a bit weaker? Life impossible? Prove it. What if the strong force was just a bit different? Life impossible? Prove it! And this is what should be asked anytime anyone uses the fine tuning argument. It’s weak because it can’t answer any questions about what other parameters are possible for life because we only have one example in this universe.

    But maybe Earth isn’t the only oasis in the Universe. Maybe there are kinds of life that can thrive in places we can’t, like in the vacuum of space or on the surface of barren planets. We just don’t know, and we can’t make any definitive claims on it. Fine tuning has always failed to impress me because there are other ways to explain it that don’t require unproved assumptions that cannot actually be proven in our universe.

    So I’m afraid I have to discount all reasoning related to these points because it isn’t supported and it isn’t warranted.

    “The Anthropic Principle is just a fancy title for the mounting evidence that has many scientists believing that the universe is extremely fine-tuned (designed) to support human life here on earth.”

    Wrong. Wrong. Triple wrong. This is a mischaracterization of what the anthropic principle is. I’m not surprised to find it here. First of all, they’re unjustifiably inserting “design” into the concept. Second of all, let’s actually look at what it is: “the philosophical consideration that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it.”

    That’s far from “scientists believing that the universe is extreme fine-tuned (designed) to support human life on Earth.”

    What it actually says is that since we are here to observe the universe, it is not surprising or noteworthy that the universe is arranged that way. In essence, the chance that the universe has the right constants necessary to support life is 1 because we are here to observe it.

    I’m in favor of the weak anthropic principle, or the idea that the fine-tuning appears through selection bias: “only in a universe capable of eventually supporting life will there be living beings capable of observing any such fine tuning, while a universe less compatible with life will go unbeheld.”

    Basically, you see what you want to see.

    But you get into something else after your righteous examination of how much of the universe humans can actually thrive in (so miniscule it can be said to be nothing). Life appears designed on Earth because it evolved to suit its environment. Basically, evolution is a force which renders life plastic to its environment for maximum survival. It looks designed because it fits, just like a liquid looks designed to fit in a cup because it fits in it perfectly.

    “Anthropic Constant 1: Oxygen level—On earth, oxygen comprises 21 percent of the atmosphere. That precise figure is an anthropic constant that makes life on earth possible. If oxygen were 25 percent, fires would erupt spontaneously; if it were 15 percent, human beings would suffocate.”

    Cyanobacteria.

    (http://sites.bio.indiana.edu/~bauerlab/images/origin/fig1.gif)

    It wasn’t always 21%, and we have proof for that. It isn’t a constant for life on Earth to be possible unless your definition of life is extremely narrow to “modern life.” Would human life suffocate? Probably. Would other forms of life, like bacteria or insects? No. So the only way that they can claim this is by narrowly defining life so as to be completely useless. So it is the anthropic principle because it is necessary for our life to be possible so we can observe. That’s its only real significance.

    “If the CO2 level were higher than it is now, a runaway greenhouse effect would develop (we’d all burn up).” -pg 101

    This is actually happening now – that’s what global warming is; the CO2 levels are rising. I’d like to know whether these authors deny that science.”

    Exactly so. The CO2 levels are rising, and we have a greenhouse effect. Is it runaway? Not entirely, but it can be under certain circumstances. This is just mind-numbing stupid on their part.

    “If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we.”

    I also have know way of checking this number. I’m skeptical. It could be true that our star wouldn’t exist as it is now. Maybe with such a difference it might not have had the gravitational force to form. But this says nothing about other kinds of stars in different kinds of solar systems. Perhaps it would be possible for other kinds of life to form in other solar systems with this difference? See, this is the thing with this argument: we’re special, so if we can’t exist naturalism is wrong. But it’s simply not true. They’re not disproving all life under different constants, but our life. I don’t find this honest, and I find it entirely too narrow.

    “As we have seen, scientists have discovered that the universe—like a spacecraft—is precisely designed to create the very narrow envelope of life-supporting conditions here on earth.”

    Assuming human life is privileged above all others on earth, and presuming above all others that might exist in the rest of the cosmos. Again, this isn’t a commentary on fine-tuning, it’s a commentary on how life in certain circumstances arose and why it isn’t compatible in other areas. To get this argument off the ground, they have to imagine a spacecraft–but what good would a spacecraft that could only travel in one direction be?

    “The extent of the universe’s fine-tuning makes the Anthropic Principle perhaps the most powerful argument for the existence of God.”

    Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions, assumptions. Prove fine-tuning. Get the anthropic principle right. Then we’ll talk.

    I guess I don’t have anything else to say about probability other than to add: statistical thermodynamics. If it exists, it’s inevitable. We have a privileged perspective because we can actually observe and think. We imagine that it’s all designed because it puts US on a pedestal. We’re the specialest in all of the universe. But the fact that we can observe, and that this fact means it was inevitable we would be here, doesn’t mean it was fine-tuned or designed. It just means that probability happened and we are the consequence. It doesn’t privilege us. It doesn’t give us warrant to say probability, ergo god.

    “This lack of evidence may have been true a few years ago, but not anymore. While scientists cannot yet prove a multiverse, they have found evidence that shows it might exist. Until there is other evidence, it is no less reasonable to assume multiverse than it is to assume god.”

    Right. We have evidence which was predicted to exist under multiverse theories, which is HUGE. But I find their whole speech about evidence hilarious considering what they’re putting forward. An atheist isn’t required to believe the multiverse theory is true. I certainly am not willing to say it is, but I want to see where the science goes on it. Could it be? Maybe.

    I am glad you used the Philosophical Disquisitions blog. I find it VERY useful. The guy is smart. But I think that they’re misrepresenting the argument about an infinite universe, anyway. So, you know, moving on.

    “Third, even if other universes could exist, they would need fine-tuning to get started just as our universe did (recall the extreme precision of the Big Bang we described in the last chapter). So positing multiple universes doesn’t eliminate the need for a Designer—it multiplies the need for a Designer!”

    Only if it is fine-tuned for life, apparently, so they’re contradicting themselves. So does the anthropic principle exist in a universe exist in which life is impossible? No. Did God design universes with no life? If so, why? Was the Big Bang precise? How do they know? They’re assuming every universe conforms to specific parameters. Pretty big assumption there.

    “And this is the sentence that clinches it – this book was never meant to convince anyone. It was only meant to make Christians feel better for believing their nonsense by pretending other people believe worse nonsense. Such insults would never be hurled if this book actually wanted to reach me where I am and show me the evidence.”

    It’s obvious by this point that the book isn’t meant to convince but to reinforce. It’s another apologetic. Another bad apologetic. I agree with you–if the book wanted to actually convince someone like you or I with the knowledge we have it wouldn’t be condescending and it wouldn’t be so completely wrong.

    “Firstly, atheists don’t necessarily believe in the multiverse, but many of them do because that is where the evidence of physics is pointing. Secondly, even if you could show that the universe must have been designed, which you haven’t, you are still not showing that that designer is still around or has any characteristics.”

    But if you’re not skeptical of their positions in the first place you’re not asking the right kinds of questions. You’re not asking “is this what atheists believe.” You’re not asking “do all atheists have to believe the multiverse theory is true?” You’re not asking “do we actually have the evidence to prove that the universe is designed?”

    You’re nodding sagely. “Yes, yes,” you say. “These points are good points. I know, because they use a lot of big words.”

    This is supremely frustrating. I don’t have to believe M-theory is true. I don’t have to believe the multiverse is true. I don’t have to believe string theory is true. Some of these are still hypotheses in need of proof and not actual theories. It’s possible we may never actually be able to prove them. If that’s the case, well, they’re still novel ideas about how the universe and reality works and they’re worth studying and expanding.

    But I get the feeling that they’re arguing that these things should be ignored and left to die. Ignorance.

    1. “The funny thing is that I can agree with the first premise of the argument. Everything that was designed has a designer. Isn’t that a tautology? Like saying you know biology because you’re a biologist? So things which are designed, by definition, have a designer. Otherwise the adjective “designed” would be misused.”

      Fair enough. That’s something I overlooked above, largely because we tend to call things “designed” that really aren’t, such as the mantis shrimp being perfectly designed to murder its prey.

      “I would agree that the universe is highly complex. But is it a design? That adjective bothers me. First of all, it’s a claim that’s in need of evidence (and not God because that’s what the argument is trying to prove). Is the universe designed, and does it have evidence of a designer? How do you determine what is designed in the first place? If it is complexity, wouldn’t a crystal lattice count? Those are formed, as chemistry has shown us, through natural processes that have no designer and thus are not designed.”

      I think this alone is enough to debunk the argument, honestly. Unless we can otherwise show a designer exists, how can we know something is designed?

      “However, I’m willing to bet that they never actually get around to actually showing how it is designed, or how you’re supposed to identify the design apart from naturalistic explanations of how it works.”

      Not that I could see, at least.

      “This is a mischaracterization of what the anthropic principle is.”

      I did not realize this, so thanks (once again) for pointing out something I missed.

      I missed pointing it out before, but it is worth noting that the earth is better designed for tardigrades than humans, when it comes down to it. After all, they can live everywhere, not just on a few isolated patches of land.

      “They’re not disproving all life under different constants, but our life. I don’t find this honest, and I find it entirely too narrow.”

      Exactly this.

      “An atheist isn’t required to believe the multiverse theory is true. I certainly am not willing to say it is, but I want to see where the science goes on it. Could it be? Maybe.”

      I’m willing to say it is, or at least might be, even though I know I’m jumping the gun. But at least that’s a more reasonable conclusion than Christianity, if this is the best argument they have!

      “This is supremely frustrating. I don’t have to believe M-theory is true. I don’t have to believe the multiverse is true. I don’t have to believe string theory is true. Some of these are still hypotheses in need of proof and not actual theories. It’s possible we may never actually be able to prove them. If that’s the case, well, they’re still novel ideas about how the universe and reality works and they’re worth studying and expanding.

      “But I get the feeling that they’re arguing that these things should be ignored and left to die. Ignorance.”

      Right – any successful attempt at conversion should start with understanding my position well enough to argue it. And that’s the edge I have on Christians – I know their arguments and have responses for them because I had to think through them for myself. Most Christians who have tried to convert me (back) never really understood where I was, or worse, called me a liar (usually indirectly).

  8. I have the feeling that chapter 5 is going to test my patience. The title is the first hint, presenting what is essentially a false dichotomy: if it isn’t evolution, it must be divine! Of course, the real dichotomy is this: evolution yes, or evolution no. If evolution is wrong, it doesn’t automatically lend any credence to any other theories or hypotheses (or metaphysics).

    “Naturalistic biologists assert that life generated spontaneously from nonliving chemicals by natural laws without any intelligent intervention. Such a theory might have seemed plausible to a nineteenth-century scientist who didn’t have the technology to investigate the cell and discover its amazing complexity. But today this naturalistic theory flies in the face of everything we know about natural laws and biological systems.”

    This is a good start. As you note, they’ve already started the science denialism, and actually they’re conflating two different schools of science.

    They start out with scientists who study the scientific hypothesis of abiogenesis. Indeed, these scientists do contend that life arose out of non-living organic compounds on early Earth, in an environment in which there were trillions of pounds of the organic compounds which make life. These hypotheses contend that intelligent intervention would be unnecessary, and instead the life arises out of chemistry and physical phenomena like thermodynamics.

    These scientists don’t think that these hypotheses are unreasonable now, and I would imagine the majority of biologists with advanced degrees think that abiogenesis somehow happened. You have to remember that in the 19th century, they also hadn’t discovered the atom, or DNA. That they didn’t know how complex cells are doesn’t really bear on this.

    And no, these theories do not fly in the face of, well, anything we know about natural laws and biological systems. Unless, of course, you’re purposefully conflating the theory of evolution and the various hypotheses of abiogenesis. Because, remember, evolution describes the diversity of life, not the beginning of life.

    Because of that big glowing thing in the sky we call Sol, simple chemical reactions can become more complex as more energy is poured into the systems. So, you know…they’re really off to a bad start. I mean, think about it: what, really sustains all life on Earth? The sun.

    “To show you what we mean, let’s consider so-called “simple” life—a one-celled animal known as an amoeba. Naturalistic evolutionists claim that this one-celled amoeba (or something like it) came together by spontaneous generation (i.e., without intelligent intervention) in a warm little pond somewhere on the very early earth. According to their theory, all biological life has evolved from that first amoeba without any intelligent guidance at all. This, of course, is the theory of macroevolution: from the infantile, to the reptile, to the Gentile; or, from the goo to you via the zoo.”

    SIGH Where to I start with this pile of nonsense?

    Is an amoeba simple? I’ve looked at them under a microscope and they exhibit very complex behavior. They don’t have brains because they’re single-cell organisms. Is this simple, though? Well, any geneticist will tell you that the amoeba has THE MOST GENETIC INFORMATION of any lifeform we’ve mapped so far. How many base pairs does the amoeba have? 670,000,000,000. How many does a human have? 2,900,000,000. That’s 231 times more for the amoeba. So what, I ask, is simple?

    Well, this is exactly what they’re getting at with the “claims” of “naturalistic evolutionists.” However, you will not find anyone who knows or studies evolutionary biology that will say that anything even remotely like the amoeba spontaneously generated in early Earth conditions. As you note, they’re again conflating evolutionary biology with abiogenesis and they’re absolutely mangling the science, betraying a very, very deep ignorance of the science between both of the authors.

    The amoeba is an evolved life form, not a primitive life form. And that’s where they’re confusion lies. “Simple,” “single-cell,” and “small” does not equal primitive. Bacteria, for instance, are very pernicious forms of life–evolutionary heavyweights that are suited to survive in crazy environments–and they’re currently kicking our butts in the evolutionary antibiotics arms race. For evidence, look up MRSA and full-resistance mycobacterium tuberculosis.

    “According to their theory, all biological life has evolved from that first amoeba without any intelligent guidance at all.”

    No. No. No. No. No. No. It does not. According to their straw man and very incorrect interpretation of the theory, maybe, but not according to the actual theory. If they cannot actually talk about what abiogenesis and evolution are without resorting to a horrible and incorrect analogy I don’t know why I don’t just skip the rest of chapter 5 because they obviously have no authority here.

    “This, of course, is the theory of macroevolution: from the infantile, to the reptile, to the Gentile; or, from the goo to you via the zoo.”

    What does this even mean? It’s completely without substance.

    “The supreme problem for Darwinists is explaining the origin of the first life.”

    No, no it isn’t. Another conflation of evolutionary theory and abiogenesis.

    “The appearance of design in life is admitted on the first page of The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Two pages later, despite acknowledging “the intricate architecture and precision-engineering” in human life and in each of the trillions of cells within the human body, Dawkins flatly denies that human life or any other life has been designed.”

    We’ve already covered the teleological argument. It holds no water, even here. Again, we can bring up the true anthropic principle, and we can talk about the appearance of design (which we want to see because it’s just so darned complex) does not imply design. Pyrite has a crystal habit of forming perfect cubes. Are they all designed that way? Is the liquid in your cup designed to fit in the cup? It fits it so perfectly.

    So, no. This is nonsense.

    “Evolutionists provide no evidence to support spontaneous generation. It isn’t supported by empirical observation or forensic science principles. It’s “just-so” because life exists, and since intelligent causes are ruled out in advance, there can be no other possible explanation.”

    Sigh

    First of all, they don’t need to. Evolution is not abiogenesis. The theory of evolution is well established. Abiogenesis is just starting out. I wonder what they’ll say when we have more evidence of the spontaneous non-enzymatic synthesis of primitive 5′-3′ RNA strands? Because we have those kinds of things now. We can make them spontaneously in a lab mimicking early-Earth conditions.

    And, as you say, intelligent causes aren’t always ruled out. I think it was Crick who believed in panspermia, or that life on Earth came from space and was intelligently designed by aliens. So it’s not ruled out. It’s just not likely. At all. In fact, all of the evidence points to blind naturalistic processes. Where is the evidence for design? But no scientist rules out intelligent causes in advance. The idea with the least assumptions usually wins the day, and in this case naturalistic explanations like evolution have all the data and explanatory power you could hope for. Remember the anthropic principle: life shows us exactly what evolution predicts and what one would expect to find had there been no designer.

    “This is the second time I’ve found the authors contradicting themselves on the very same page. I’m beginning to wonder whether they even considered a proofreader who would try to criticize.”

    I, too, see this as a contradiction, and that it happens on the same page implies, to me, pretty sloppy thinking. I wonder the same thing.

    “That has not been demonstrated, in point of fact. You might have shown that there wasn’t any evidence supporting it (if I hadn’t had access to google and find some), but even so, that doesn’t say there is any evidence against abiogenesis. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, after all.”

    The problem is actually more profound. Dawkins’ position about evolution is incredibly well-evidenced, so their claim actually runs counter. But the thing is, there ISN’T any evidence against abiogenesis. Their is evidence FOR it–lots and lots of evidence–but it isn’t a theory because we don’t have a refined model for it yet because we’re still gathering data. So here they’re just flat-out wrong.

    “It’s starting with bad definitions and bad understandings and building on them to bad conclusions – exactly as it accuses atheists of doing. It has a few things right, perhaps, but nowhere does it give any actual evidence for god. In fact, so far, all this book has done is say, “See how scientists can’t explain this! That means there’s OUR GOD!” That’s God of the Gaps, not a piece of evidence. Give me something to work with, here.”

    This has been my observation. Disproving evolution is not evidence for god. Arguments against evolution are not automatically arguments for god. Intelligent Design is not a defacto argument for god because all you have to do is replace god with aliens and it’s exactly the same idea (unless you’re out-and-out going for a creationist/theological vibe, which is what they want to deny because otherwise it is religion).

    And it would be nice if they could give you something to work with. It’s the same thing I was saying with the “unup” bit relating to timeless, spaceless, and immaterial nature of this entity. What is it, then, if not spaceful, timeful, and material?

    This was an ordeal for me to get through. I had to go out and edit some less-than-polite language.

    1. For me, it was enough to point out (twice) that evolution and abiogenesis are different things, then link to one site I found with evidence for the latter. As you may have seen, they actually discuss evolution in the next chapter.

      I’m not sure I agree that these two are actually creating a strawman, honestly. I think that would require them to be at least somewhat aware of the real position, and they pretty clearly demonstrate for pages on end that they have no clue about the life sciences – at least, it seemed to me that they got more things right about cosmology, whereas they don’t appear to know what abiogenesis or evolution even is. Unfortunately, such terrifying ignorance is common among creationists, but my experience crossing that fence tells me only a cursory look at the evidence is enough to change a very stubborn mind.

      I clearly don’t understand these topics as well as you do (I’m sure my commentary on this chapter would be much longer if I did), but even with my limited understanding from popular science books, I know enough that their arguments look foolish.

      1. Hm. Maybe you’re right about them not straw-manning, but to me the conflation between abiogenesis with evolution completely obfuscates what the science actually is, especially when they make claims about what “evolutionists” need to prove.

  9. I’d also like to add with regards to their whole crappy amoeba analogy that the evolution of the cell from simple self-sustaining solar-powered chemical reaction to the building blocks of life was actually step-wise.

    The modern cell doesn’t just spontaneously generate. There are pieces that had to come together over time. We know, for instance, that phospholipids form bilayers and micelles spontaneously in aqeous environments. It was only a matter of time until cells incorporated this stricture as a matter of chemistry.

    Further, modern cells have mitochondria. Primitive cells did not. They were incorporated at some point in the cell’s evolution from a form of life that were probably just floating mitochondria. It’s why they have their own DNA separate from the rest of the cell.

    I bring this up because that whole analogy really didn’t sit well with me. If they gave an honest presentation of evolution, they wouldn’t have gone that route. My assumption is that they’re straw-manning it because they have no real case against it.

    1. Thanks for this addition – I wanted to point something out about how abiogenesis wouldn’t spontaneously generate a fully-formed amoeba, but ended up leaving it out.

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