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Frank Turek’s C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument for Theism is Criminal

Frank Turek's Christian apologetics CRIMES argumentsThere are so many bad arguments for Christianity stated with so much ill-deserved confidence that I feel the need to slap down some of them. Frank Turek’s opening statement in a recent debate with American Atheist president David Silverman provides that opportunity.

The debate topic was “What Better Explains Reality, Theism or Atheism?” Turek’s opening argument for theism used the acronym CRIMES for his six main points. I’ll respond over several posts.

To shorten this discussion, I haven’t included any analysis of David Silverman’s remarks, but feel free to add in the comments anything that rounds out the discussion of Turek’s argument or Silverman’s rebuttal.

The C in CRIMES is Cosmos

Turek wants a beginning for the universe, so he likes the Big Bang. “I believe in the Big Bang,” he says. “I just know who banged it.”

A Big Banger? Can you likewise not have a sand dune without a sand duner? Or rain without a rainer? Or a mountain without a mountain maker? Causes can be natural.

And Turek believes in the Big Bang? Turek appears to be coming at science with a religious mindset. In religion, you can believe some things (the Trinity, Jesus died for our sins) and not believe in other things (reincarnation, Mohammed visited heaven on a winged horse). Some claims are contradictory, and you can’t believe them all. But in science, the consensus view about an issue is the best approximation to the truth that we have at the moment. These consensus views aren’t incompatible, so you can accept them all. Turek has no science degrees, and laymen like Turek and me have no choice but to accept the scientific consensus on all topics. (By what logic would we reject them?)

He quote mines famous scientists to make his points, and yet he has little respect for science. He picks and chooses the bits that he likes as if science were a salad bar. That cosmology looks nice, so I’ll have some of that. The theologically unpalatable bits like evolution he discards as if they’re wilted lettuce.

One of quotes he gives is from cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin. Here, Vilenkin refers to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem (2003):

With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape, they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.

Yes! Let’s see the atheists wriggle out of that one. The universe had a beginning, which demands an explanation for the cause.

But the problem with quote mining is that you often miss the context. On the very … next … page we find Vilenkin saying this:

Theologians have often welcomed any evidence for the beginning of the universe, regarding it as evidence for the existence of God … So what do we make of a proof that the beginning is unavoidable? Is it a proof of the existence of God? This view would be far too simplistic. … The theorem that I proved with my colleagues does not give much of an advantage to the theologian over the scientist.

Oops.

If Vilenkin’s work is compelling evidence, as Turek imagines, surely it is convincing to the originator himself. So then is Vilenkin a theist? I doubt it.

Read my critique of the remaining points in Turek’s argument:

Our science is not an illusion!
An illusion it would be to suppose
that what science cannot give we can get elsewhere.
— Sigmund Freud

Photo credit: Wikimedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    There are 4 hypotheses for the existence of the Universe:
    (1) It’s always been there (the one consistent with all our other experience of matter, energy, and space).
    (2) Some agent or agents put it there (tho notice that “agent” is pretty dang vague and non-specific).
    (3) It sprang into being spontaneously (as happens all the time at the quantum level).
    (4) It isn’t really there at all; it’s only an illusion in your mind.

    People who prefer one or another of these hypotheses usually either haven’t considered the others or can’t give you a solid reason for why they favor the one they do or (most often) both.

    Anyone who claims he or she knows which one is true is blowing smoke up your ass. Nobody knows, not even Vilenkin, with his abuse of the word “proof”. Why not? Well, you see, all the evidence was destroyed in this giant explosion you may have heard of.

    • MNb

      Actually not – the remnants of that non-explosion (it wasn’t one) still can be observed.
      But yeah – science hasn’t settled yet on a definite answer.

  • Rain

    The first time I saw Frank Turek, I wondered how the heck it came to be that Christopher Hitchens was debating this know-nothing, seemingly dishonest, very silly and childishly naive nobody person? Turns out he wasn’t a nobody, but he is at the top of the heap. One of the bestest of the bestest. Who knew! Apparently all it takes to be a “good” apologist is to be a good self-promoter. And… being a most excellent and vain self-promoter, he no doubt reads the criticisms and refutations, and couldn’t care less if they make sense or not.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      So he’s a no-nothing silly naïve somebody?

      I listen to his podcast. He’s often pretty condescending. It helps remind me that, when I get a little offensive from the standpoint of my antagonists, there’s a lot of that going around.

    • UWIR

      Reminds me of this: http://xkcd.com/125/

  • MNb

    1. Tunek needs to show conclusively that the Big Bang and the End Crunch don’t coincide. In his logic, if they do and the chain of cause and consequence appears to be circular, he will have to abandon his belief system. Will he be that honest? Somehow I doubt it.

    2. The Big Bang was highly probably a quantummechanical event, which means that it’s probabilistic. Apparently Turek’s god loves to play dice.

    “The universe had a beginning, which demands an explanation for the cause.”
    That’s a non-sequitur. No way that explanation has to be causal.
    If I can mention one, just one non-causal event, will Turek de- or reconvert?

    3. Things get even more interesting if we combine the cosmological argument with fine-tuning. The two are related. Why would the Big Bang contain only one beginning of one chain of cause and consequence? Why not more? Fine-tuning argues for the latter. There are quite a few natural constants that needed to be fine-tuned – if we accept the argument – and that argues for polytheism. Every single natural constant needs its own cause. Will Turek become a polytheist?

    4. Turek needs to explain why the Universe is so huge. The cosmological argument contains a teleological argument: his god started and eventually guided the whole shenanigan with the purpose of getting Homo Sapiens on Earth. But for our existence only the Solar System is relevant, which is only a tiny part. Turek is like a fly landing on the White House, concluding that the building has been placed there to give him a place to rest. As such his argument is a sign of arrogance and thus contradicts christian values.

    5. Of course Turek still needs to show that his particular brand of god is the right one. Why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    Turek just confirms what you recently wrote: apologists are not capable of objective thinking.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Will he be that honest? Somehow I doubt it.

      When apologists point to some puzzle within science as a catastrophic flaw in naturalistic thinking, I want them to own it. If science does eventually come through (as I’m betting) with a theory that explains things and gets almost universal support within that field, will the apologists abandon their faith? Or will they drop this issue and go find another one without apology or acknowledgement?

      If it’s the latter, it can’t have been that big a factor in their argument.

      Things get even more interesting if we combine the cosmological argument with fine-tuning.

      Hold that thought. Fine tuning comes up next time. I’ll be interested in your reaction.

      Turek is like a fly landing on the White House, concluding that the building has been placed there to give him a place to rest. As such his argument is a sign of arrogance and thus contradicts christian values.

      Lyin’ for the Lord. Hallelujah!

      Of course Turek still needs to show that his particular brand of god is the right one.

      This debate only asked about theism, but, looking at the big picture, you’re right. What amazes me about fundamentalist debaters in general is that their best arguments are deist arguments. The First Mover, the Designer, the Moral Law Giver—these are all roles that any deity, including (as you note) the FSM, could fill.

      • UWIR

        I don’t think that it’s legitimate to argue the converse of a God of the Gaps argument. Suppose you were investigating a murder in which the victim was given something he’s allergic to, and you’ve determined that your current suspect was the only person in the room with the victim, was the only person who knew the victim was allergic to the substance, was the only person was the only motive, and the only person with access to the substance. If you later found out that there was someone else in the room besides the victim and the suspect, would you abandon your belief that the suspect is guilty?

        “What amazes me about fundamentalist debaters in general is that their best arguments are deist arguments. The First Mover, the Designer, the Moral Law Giver—these are all roles that any deity, including (as you note) the FSM, could fill.”

        No purely logical argument can produce any conclusion that is not implicit in the premises. Hence, if you want a logical proof of God, you have to either increase your premises to the point that you’re just assuming Christianity from the start, or decrease your conclusion to the point that the “God” you’re proving is completely vacuous.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If you’re saying that the argument “yeah, I know science doesn’t know yet, but it will!” is flawed, I agree. But note the lack of symmetry here. The popular “God did it!” claim is never upheld by science and frequently overturned. On the other hand, confidence in science is pretty well placed.

          Did I understand your concern?

        • RichardSRussell

          There are many questions about nature that have arisen thruout the millennia where religion has taken one viewpoint and science has settled on a different one. A small minority of the ensuing conflicts are still unresolved. For all the rest — the ones that have been decided — science has won every single one of them, and religion has lost.*

          So, if yer a bettin’ man, where ya gonna plunk yer dollar down on the next one?

          ––––––
          *My favorite examples in this regard are the stories from the American west of churches in boom towns where the pastor was convinced that lightning strikes were the result of divine will rather than electricity and so refused to install blasphemous lightning rods like the heathen saloons and sin-soaked brothels that flanked “God’s house”. So along would come a good thunderstorm, and the tallest structure in town was often the church steeple with its big, fat metallic bell and its nice rain-slicked rope leading down to the unfortunate sexton who was tugging on it when “God’s will” asserted itself. Turns out that the likker and the ladies were still able to carry on just fine on either side of the smoking rubble that formerly represented the losing side in this particular religion-vs.-science conflict. “Teach the controversy” indeed!

  • WalterP

    Turek has no science degrees, and laymen like Turek and me have no
    choice but to accept the scientific consensus on all topics. (By what
    logic would we reject them?)

    The majority of scientists are theists.

    Looks like you have “no choice but to accept the scientific consensus on all topics”–theism it is.

    • Anathema

      “Scientific consensus” is not synonymous with “opinions on any random topic which a majority of scientists happen to hold.”

      A scientific consensus refers to a conclusion about a particular subject that scientists studying in relevant fields generally think is correct based on the results of scientific research.

      Tell me, which field of science deals with the existence of God? What research has been published which demonstrates that God probably exists?

    • UWIR

      Where are you getting your figures? According this study, only 33% of scientists believe in God:

      http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

      Also, what Anathema said.

    • Kodie

      The problems is you are so far up your own ass, you will never understand why you are wrong.

    • MNb

      “The majority of scientists are theists.”
      Thanks again for confirming BobS’ hypothesis that christian thinkers can’t be objective. I’d like to add that in the natural sciences less than 20% are believers and that this is true for philosophy as well.
      Now will you be honest and admit that you’re wrong and (again) an argument for theism has failed?
      Somehow I doubt it – but I would be glad if you proved me wrong.

    • RichardSRussell

      Linus Pauling was one of the most brilliant scientists in history. He won 2 separate Nobel Prizes, for chemistry and peace. He was one of the founders of quantum chemistry, which also requires a deep knowledge of physics. He was also a complete quack when it came to his promotion of vitamin C as a panacea for what ails ya.

      Isaac Newton — need I say more to establish his street cred as a scientist? — believed in numerology and the occult.

      Thomas Jefferson, an intelligent, accomplished renaissance man and natural scientist, couldn’t see any way around the need for a Creator to get the universe started, so he was a deist who acknowledged the existence of a non-participatory “Nature’s God” (definitely not Yahweh) in the Declaration of Independence. A thorogoing skeptic, he also said of 2 Yale faculty members who had verified a meteor strike: “I would rather believe two Yankee professors would lie, than that stones have fallen from the heavens.”

      And there are countless other examples of scientists who may be brilliant in their fields of expertise but who are just as gullible and prone to confirmation bias and conformity in other areas as you and me. The endlessly adaptive human brain is marvelously adept at compartmentalized thinking. It’s a survival trait.

      Besides, reality is not subject to majority rule. There was a time when almost everybody in the world thot the earth was flat and the sun went around it. Didn’t make it so, no matter how many people believed it.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Shockley is another Nobel winner (for the transistor) who inadvisedly drifted outside his area of expertise in his later years.

    • Greg G.

      The majority of scientists are theists.

      Do you not understand that “majority” means “more than half”? 33% is not a majority. Also, a consensus means general agreement.

  • UWIR

    “What Better Explains Reality, Theism or Atheism?”

    Seriously? Sorry, I think you’ve pretty much lost the debate, just by accepting that topic. Atheism doesn’t explain anything. It does not consist of any positive claims. Now, one can argue that a wrong explanation is worse than nothing at all, but I hardly think that’s going to be a convincing argument to a Christian audience.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Good point. I imagine that David Silverman would agree with your concern but point to the few words they had to play with in the title.

      • MNb

        I disagree. It’s a bad point.

    • MNb

      “Atheism doesn’t explain anything.”

      Wrong. Atheism explains both the Problem of Evil and the Problem of Hiddenness. Herman Philipse succesfully argues that
      a) theism is meaningless;
      b) if it has meaning, that it doesn’t have any predictive power;
      c) if it has meaning and does have predictive power then atheism has more predictive power.
      According to him the Problems of Evil and Hiddenness belong to category c. He also writes about the cosmological argument; I have taken several arguments from his God in the Age of Science.

    • RichardSRussell

      I think both UWIR and MNb have cogent comments to make on this subject. However, I think UWIR’s concern is addressed by the likelihood that most audience members, regardless of the formal wording of the question, will mentally translate it to “Do you need God to explain reality?” And, to the extent that the answer is “no”, the alternative is atheism.

      In that regard, I note with bemusement that the formal statement of Occam’s Razor is Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. (Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.)

  • Richard Hollis

    Ah, the old ‘who caused the Big Bang?’ argument. It’s astonishing how popular this is.

    The problem with the theist position is that it is arguing for an Uncaused First Cause (UFC), but only allowing God to be that UFC. It is a shell game of definitions. By their own admission theists accept the existence of something which requires no cause, but refuse to accept that anything other than God can possibly fit this description.

    If we have a chain of known causes starting with the Big Bang, then positing a God to explain the Big Bang is simply adding a totally hypothetical link to the beginning of the chain. It is superfluous and pointless. If you insist there must have been an UFC then fine – by why not provisionally assume that the Big Bang is that UFC?

    • Whirlwitch

      Turtles all the way down!

  • http://hausdorffbb.blogspot.com/ Hausdorff

    “A Big Banger? Can you likewise not have a sand dune without a sand duner? Or rain without a rainer? Or a mountain without a mountain maker? Causes can be natural.”

    Absolutely brilliant!

  • SparklingMoon-

    The continuous expansion of the universe is described in the Quran about
    thirteen centuries before in following words:”And the heaven We built with Our
    own powers and indeed We go on expanding it ”.( Quran 51:48)

    The discovery that the universe is constantly expanding is of prime significance to scientists, because it helps create a better understanding of how the universe was initially created. It clearly explains the stage by stage process of creation, in a manner which perfectly falls into step with the theory of the Big Bang.

    The first step of creation as related in the Quran accurately describes the event of the Big Bang in the following words: The heavens and the earth were a closed-up mass (ratqan), then We clove them asunder (fataqna)? And We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?( Quran21:31)

    The arabic words”Ratqan ‘(closed-up mass), and ‘Fataqna ‘(We clove them asunder), carry the basic message of the whole verse. One meaning of ratqan,is
    ‘the coming together of something and the consequent infusion into a single entity’ and the second meaning is ‘total darkness’. Both these meanings are significantly applicable. Taken together, they offer an apt description of the singularity of a black hole.

    A blackhole is a gravitationally collapsed mass of colossal size. It begins with the collapse of such massive stars as are 15 or more times the size of the sun. The immensity of their inward gravitational pull causes the stars to collapse into a much smaller size. The gravitational pull is further concentrated and results in
    the further collapse of the entire mass into a supernova. At this stage the basic bricks of matter such as molecules, atoms etc. begin to be crushed into a nondescript mass of energy. Thus that moment in space-time is created which is called event horizon. The inward gravitational pull of that something becomes so powerful that all forms of radiation are pulled back so that even light cannot escape. A resultant total darkness ensues which earns it the name black hole,
    reminding one of the word ‘Ratqan’ used by the Quran indicating total darkness. This is called singularity which lies beyond the event horizon.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      This is off topic, but I wonder if you’ve had any reaction to Reza Aslan’s success with his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I heard him speak on Monday.

      Some Christians were shocked that a Muslim would write about Jesus (though I’m sure they have no problem commenting on Mohammed).

    • SparklingMoon-

      A black hole once created grows rapidly because even distant stars begin to be pulled in with the progressive concentration of gravitational energy. As its gravitational field widens, more material from space is drawn in at a speed close to that of light.
      The process of ‘Ratqan’ is completed resulting into that singularity which is both completely closed as well as comprising total darkness. In answer to the question as to how the universe was initially created, the two most
      recent theories are both Big Bang theories.They claim that it was initiated from a singularity which suddenly erupted releasing the trapped mass leading yet again into the creation of a new universe through the event horizon. This dawn of light sprouting from the event horizon is called the white hole(RONAN, C. A. (1991) The Natural History of the Universe. Transworld Publishers Ltd., London.)

      One of the two theories relating to the expansion predicts that the universe thus created will carry on expanding forever. The other claims that the expansion of the universe will,at some time, be reversed because the inward gravitational pull will ultimately prevail.Eventually, all matter will be pulled back again to form perhaps another gigantic black hole. This latter view appears to be supported by the Quran.

      The Quran clearly describes its ending into yet another black hole, connecting the end to the beginning, thus completing the full circle of the story of cosmos. The Quran declares: ”Remember the day when We shall roll up the heavens like the rolling up of written scrolls.” ( Quran 21:105 ) The clear message of this verse is that the universe is not eternal. It speaks of a future when the heavens will be rolled up, in a manner similar to the rolling up of a scroll. Scientific descriptions
      illustrating the making of a black hole, very closely resemble what the Quran describes in the above verse.

      A mass of accretion from space falling into a black hole, as described
      above, would be pressed into a sheet under the enormous pressure created by the gravitational and electromagnetic forces. As the centre of the black hole is constantly revolving around itself, this sheet—as it approaches—will begin to be wrapped around it, before disappearing into the realm of the unknown at last. The verse continues: . As We began the first creation, so shall We repeat it; a promise binding on
      Us; that We shall certainly fulfil.( Quran21:105 )

      Following the eventual collapse of the universe into a black hole, here we have the promise of a new beginning. God will recreate the universe, as He had done before. The collapsed universe will re-emerge from its darkness and the whole process of creation will start yet again. (Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth The Quran and Cosmology
      by Mirza Tahir Ahmad)

  • avalon

    Every time I hear this bogus argument I want to scream!

    Watch and learn:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uabNtlLfYyU

  • Foxhole Atheist

    The apologists, by necessity, posit a god who is outside space-time and is immaterial…if we were to witness the creation of the universe it would appear to arise out of nothing whether there was a good or not (owing to the qualities of God that renders god not a thing)…by virtue of occam’s razor we would have to conclude that the most simple and plausible explanation is that something can come from nothing rather that the more convoluted ‘god did it’. http://www.foxhole-atheist.com/2013/08/02/william-lane-craigs-cosmological-argument-from-contingency/

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