- Before I Start Reading / First Impressions
- Chapter 1: Can We Handle the Truth?
- Chapter 2: Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?
- Chapter 3: In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
- Chapter 4: Divine Design
- Chapter 5: The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?
- Chapter 6: New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?
- Chapter 7: Mother Teresa vs. Hitler
- Chapter 8: Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility?
- Chapter 9: Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus?
- Chapter 10: Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
- Chapter 11: The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth
- Chapter 12: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
- Chapter 15: Conclusion: The Judge, the Servant King, and the Box Top
- Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
- Takeaways / After I Finished Reading
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.
[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.
“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
“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.”’
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.)
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
This book presented essentially three arguments for the existence of god:
- The universe had a beginning, so it must have had a first cause.
- The universe is finely tuned for human life, so there must be a fine tuner.
- Morals exist, so there must be a source of morality.
Here are my responses, summarized to a sentence each:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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?