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Frank Turek’s Criminally Bad C.R.I.M.E.S. Argument: Evil and Science

This is the conclusion of a critique of Frank Turek’s arguments in favor of Christianity made at a recent debate. See the beginning of the discussion here.

The E in CRIMES is Evil

Turek wants to turn around the Problem of Evil (“Why would a good god allow so much bad in the world?”) to make it work for him.

Objective evil presupposes objective good, and objective good requires God.

That is, from evil we get objective morality, and from there, God. As C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a straight line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” God’s morality is that straight line.

Once again, Turek makes a bold assertion of objective morality with zero evidence that it actually exists (more in the critique of his morality argument). Drop this assumption, and his argument deflates like a flabby balloon.

The S in CRIMES is Science

Turek asks why the laws of nature are predictable.

Why does he ask? Would it be more likely to have the laws of nature to be unpredictable? That’s an interesting claim—I invite Turek to show that in a godless universe, we’d expect the laws of nature to be unpredictable. Only with that will his question be provocative.

Turek says that God is holding the universe together right now. Again, that’s an interesting claim with no evidence to back it up.

Next, he quotes Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible” and concludes,

Science can’t be done if atheism is true.

Turek turns Einstein’s provocative observation into a supernatural conclusion. He says, “Ooh! Ooh! I know! It’s because God did it.” No, you need evidence.

Turek thinks that the success of science proves God, though the scientists who actually understand the science disagree. If the fact that we can do science disproved atheism, wouldn’t we learn that first from science? In fact, the higher up the science ladder you go, the less the Christian belief. Only one third of U.S. scientists believe in God, far less than the fraction in the general population.

Science is built on a foundation of immaterial realities that theism, not atheism, can explain.

Sure, you can explain the foundation of science. You can explain anything. But is your explanation worth listening to?

Think of the map of world religions—Protestants in the green area and Roman Catholics in the blue and Hindus in the yellow. Consensus extends to the boundaries of a particular religion or religious sect and not beyond. Simply understanding another religion better doesn’t mean that the boundary will break down, because religion isn’t built on a foundation of evidence.

Contrast this with science. Why is there a map of world religions but not world science? Understanding and evidence do break down barriers within science. Incompatible theories demand resolution, and further experiments determine which theory explains reality better. There is no map of world science (say, with the Geocentrists in green and the Heliocentrists over there in blue).

Axioms of science

He moves on to a long list of fundamentals that science can only assume but his theology can explain.

Science does have axioms that we take as givens and are not built on still-more-primitive axioms. Turek seems to imagine that they’re taken on faith, but axioms are continually tested.

Let’s imagine that 1 + 1 = 2 were such an axiom. If that were an axiom at the foundation of an argument that came to crazy conclusions, every step, including this axiom, would be reconsidered. There is no dogma within science. Everything is challengeable, and nothing is sacred. If 1 + 1 = 2 were only true in some situations but not others, that would be duly noted. For example, Newton’s law of gravity worked until it didn’t, and relativistic caveats are now part of that law.

Here are three of Turek’s fundamentals.

  • We assume orderly natural laws. Show us that disorderly laws are to be expected. Without that, why is your observation interesting?
  • Causality. “You have to assume the law of causality to do a science experiment.” If the “law of causality” states that every effect must have a cause, we know that that’s not the case. Quantum events may not have causes, for example. Second, nothing is taken on faith, including any assumption of causality.
  • Laws of logic. When presented with a puzzle such as “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” (or a square circle or a married bachelor), I’ve heard apologists sidestep this by saying that God can only do things that are logically possible. But in so doing, they defeat Turek’s objection. God is then bound by logic; logic is external to God. Logic becomes a property of reality, not an invention of God.

WWSD (What Would Sherlock Do?)

Sherlock Holmes observed, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” While this sounds appropriately wise from the Sage of Detection, I find this dictum useless in practice.

Say that I’m looking for my car key. I drove home and haven’t left since, so it has to be in the house. But it’s not in the key drawer or my pants pocket, and my wife didn’t take it. With the obvious options eliminated, does that mean that “ghosts took it” becomes a viable option? Of course not. The weak part of Holmes’ scheme is being sure that you’ve eliminated the impossible. I’ll likely find that my key was in the key drawer but I didn’t see it, or it’s in the pocket of my other pants, or my wife did take it but forgot or misunderstood my question.

This seems to be Turek’s approach to apologetics. He tries (ineptly) to eliminate natural explanations and show, by elimination, that his pet theory is the winner.

No, it doesn’t work that way. Does God exist? Great—then show us the evidence. Science has to; why should you get a pass? Without evidence, your hypothesis isn’t even in the running.

Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders,
or is God one of man’s?
— Friedrich Nietzsche

If God has made us in his image,
we have returned him the favor.
— Voltaire

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Rick

    Let’s address one of your favorite topics, the alleged scientific consensus behind naturalism and against any form of theism. The survey you cited was a survey of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is a robust organization, but contains as of Wikipedia’s 2008 (most recent) count only 126,995 individual and institutional members. In a nation of 300 million of so folks, this is not likely to be even a significant minority of actual practicing scientists, especially since the number of institutions was not broken out separately.

    In addition, the same source shows that this association has a belief statement reflected in this quote:

    Since 2006, AAAS’s CEO Dr. Alan I. Leshner has published many op-ed articles discussing how many people integrate science and religion in their lives. He has opposed the insertion of non-scientific content, such as creationism or intelligent design, into the scientific curriculum of schools.

    Wikipedia:
    American Association for the Advancement of Science

    In other words, if a pro-theistic scientist has any integrity, he won’t join this group. If there is any surprise in the survey, it is that as many as a third of the surveyed scientists actually claim to be members of an organization that exists to advance the cause of holding back any semblance of consideration for creationism and intelligent design.

    Statistics without context can sound much more convincing than they actually are when their basis is evaluated.

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

      Let’s address one of your favorite topics, the alleged scientific consensus behind naturalism and against any form of theism.

      No, this isn’t one of my favorite topics. I don’t think I’ve made much at this blog of the correlation between intelligence (or scientific knowledge) and atheism, this post being a rare exception.

      this association [the AAAS] has a belief statement reflected in this quote

      (1) That statement comes from Wikipedia, not from the AAAS. Are you saying that the AAAS has a Statement of Faith that contains something of this sort?

      (2) Are you objecting to “He has opposed the insertion of non-scientific content, such as creationism or intelligent design, into the scientific curriculum of schools”? First, this didn’t come from the AAAS. Second, is there something problematic here?

      if a pro-theistic scientist has any integrity, he won’t join this group.

      You’ve lost me. If a biologist supports Creationism, I agree he wouldn’t feel comfortable here. That sucks for the handful of degreed biologists in that situation, I suppose, though I don’t have any sympathy. If your point is that any anti-Creationism bias skews the results, I’m missing it.

      If there is any surprise in the survey, it is that as many as a third of the surveyed scientists actually claim to be members of an organization that exists to advance the cause of holding back any semblance of consideration for creationism and intelligent design.

      (1) Show me that rejecting Creationism is a major part of the role/mission/purpose of the AAAS.

      (2) Most scientists don’t have a problem with science. The fraction of biologists who reject evolution is what—maybe 0.1%? I challenge you to understand what the 1/3 of Christian scientists believe about evolution. Maybe if you’d listen to the people who can actually evaluate the evidence (unlike you and me) you’d see things differently.

      (3) The AAAS probably also stands in the way of astrology, homeopathy, geocentrism, and alchemy whenever they get the chance. Show that they’re treating Creationism unfairly.

      Statistics without context can sound much more convincing than they actually are when their basis is evaluated.

      That’s why Christians are so valuable here. Atheists are just liars.

      • Rick

        Interesting twist. You responded, “I don’t think I’ve made much at this blog of the correlation between intelligence (or scientific knowledge) and atheism, this post being a rare exception.

        I didn’t say that you had. I said one of your favorite points was “the alleged scientific consensus behind naturalism and against any form of theism.” What that has to do with a correlation between intelligence and atheism, I haven’t a clue. Nice strawman you made however. Have fun tearing it down, did we?

        I do have to ask though, since you didn’t like Wikipedia as a balanced source regarding the position of AAAS, did you think their summary was wrong? Because from news releases I found at the AAAS web site, it looked like the Wikipedia information was correct in the position of the organization. Feel free to correct me with actual research rather than sarcasm and innuendo though.

        I didn’t assert that atheists are liars, so I certainly won’t address that thinly veiled condescension. Chill, Dude!

        As for the rest, you also nicely twisted pretty much every other assertion I made, so no point in trying again.

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

          I said one of your favorite points was “the alleged scientific consensus behind naturalism and against any form of theism.”

          Yes, you did. And I just rejected your claim that this is a favorite point of mine.

          What that has to do with a correlation between intelligence and atheism, I haven’t a clue. Nice strawman you made however. Have fun tearing it down, did we?

          I’ve no idea. Show me the strawman that I made that I then destroyed. If instead you’re saying that I’m confused by your comment, I’ll happily plead guilty to that.

          You also nicely twisted pretty much every other assertion I made, so no point in trying again.

          Twisted deliberately? Or was I simply unable to make sense of your comment? I think I peppered my response with enough questions so that you can clarify your unclear comments if you choose.

          I do have to ask though, since you didn’t like Wikipedia as a balanced source regarding the position of AAAS, did you think their summary was wrong?

          Your comment seemed to me to be equating what Wikipedia said about AAAS and what they said about themselves. I was making clear that distinction.

          It was your claim of a “belief statement” that I was responding to. I don’t think faith plays much part in the AAAS; let me know if you have evidence to the contrary.

          Also, as I said (in that wicked last comment of mine that brought on so much wrist slapping), I can see that they won’t be supporting Creationism, but you seemed to be imagining some sort of dogma. Hence my question: show me where anti-Creationism is a key part of their mission. Another approach: show me where anti-Creationism fits into the big picture for them.

        • Rick

          Thanks for the clarification. This was easier to follow.

          I don’t think you deliberately twist. I think your point of view has coalesced in your mind to you believe your point of view is equal to truth. But you have a belief system, just as AAAS does. I don’t see this assertion as extraordinary. We all have things in which we trust. You trust in the ability of “science” to solve all questions eventually.

          I think some things are better explained outside of physical empirical evidence. The appearance of matter itself suggests a first cause larger than anything physical. The organization of data into DNA belies any naturalistic explanation I have seen. From my perspective, you have blind faith in what we don’t know, but that we may eventually discover. I think an orderly creator is a better explanation.

          But you still have a trust element involved in your confidence in scientific disciplines to discover what we don’t know. I’ll try not to ever call that a belief again, since that is such a hot button for you.

          I tried to take one assertion you made, not to address the whole article in my comments. I think you addressed my response as if I were critiquing your main points. Not so.

          I still think my comments were pretty clear and you took them well afield, and I have guests. No time to continue clarifying for now. Pick one thing at a time for me to address and that may be easier. Otherwise we get very scattershot.

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

          I think your point of view has coalesced in your mind to you believe your point of view is equal to truth.

          In the case of science, who cares what my point of view is? It’s not like I’ll be able to sift through the evidence of a field with which I’m not familiar and reject the consensus.

          My point of view here is: if there’s a scientific consensus, take it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the consensus is the truth, just that it’s our best approximation.

          But you have a belief system, just as AAAS does. I don’t see this assertion as extraordinary.

          But I do need more clarification. Are you thinking of things like, I believe that the consensus is our best approximation of the truth? I’d accept that, of course. But the word belief is, unfortunately, freighted with a lot of baggage that I wonder if we share a definition.

          You trust in the ability of “science” to solve all questions eventually.

          I’m afraid that’s another thing where you misunderstand me. This is not my view.

          I think some things are better explained outside of physical empirical evidence.

          Perhaps you’ll agree that you must avoid simply relabeling a problem and then congratulating yourself for advancing the cause of knowledge. Answering “What caused the Big Bang?” with “God did it!” would be an example.

          The appearance of matter itself suggests a first cause larger than anything physical.

          We can’t just agree that this is something that science hasn’t resolved yet and leave it at that? Or is the tension so great that it must be resolved immediately with whatever explanation is at hand?

          The organization of data into DNA belies any naturalistic explanation I have seen.

          I wrote an entire blog post on how DNA alone rejects the Design Hypothesis. I don’t remember much pushback from you on that one, but that is where I get quite specific.

          From my perspective, you have blind faith in what we don’t know, but that we may eventually discover.

          Expand on your point here. I’ve already made clear that “science will eventually answer all natural questions” is no dogma of mine.

          I think an orderly creator is a better explanation.

          Vacuum explanations (“No obvious explanation from science? Anyone? OK, then we’ll put ‘God did it’ here.”) don’t convince me. They’ve been overturned by science actually answering them too many times.

          But you still have a trust element involved in your confidence in scientific disciplines to discover what we don’t know.

          “Trust” meaning not certainty? You’re right.

          I trust in science to give us the answers to questions about nature because it’s the only discipline that ever has (and what it has given us is a tsunami of information we couldn’t have dreamed of centuries ago).

          Guests? Invite them to comment as well!

        • FullertonXJ

          “The organization of data into DNA belies any naturalistic explanation I have seen.”

          It’s a good thing that the scope of scientific knowledge extends far beyond the bounds of only those “explanations that you’ve seen.” Whew.

        • MNb

          “a trust element involved”
          Sure. Because it worked in the past. Internet is a fine example. It enables me, Dutchman, to communicate with you even while living at the edge for the jungle.
          It’s the apologist who has to account for this, not atheist me. Religion has nothing that even remotely compares. That doesn’t disprove religion, but it poses some problems that atheists don’t have to solve.

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

          When you ask, “What have you done for me lately?” science has a new Top Ten list every year. One list included the Higgs boson, Curiosity landing on Mars, and a new synthetic DNA-like molecule that can store information. And that was just for last year.

          Religion’s Top Ten list? Not so much.

  • Greg G.

    Just as the Demon Theory of Disease was premature, any explanation that uses the supernatural is premature. Whenever that explanation is accepted, it stifles further research.

  • smrnda

    I would expect a universe without god or gods to be more orderly than one with them. If you have powerful supernatural beings who can do the impossible at will, if they’re active at all you won’t see a universe obeying orderly laws since there’s always some god interfering.

    Science is about testing hypothesis – some phenomena don’t obey regular laws, and science is about separating things that do from things that don’t and explaining what laws seem to be followed in cases where we see regularity. I don’t see how gods are relevant there at all.

    The only way they would be relevant is if you tried to test god hypotheses scientifically, and so far, no conclusive results there. Most god claims are unfalsifiable and can’t be tested which make them pure speculation.

    • RichardSRussell

      “I would expect a universe without god or gods to be more orderly than one with them.”

      Not for nothing do major mythologies almost always have a trickster god like Loki, Eris, Kokopele, Puck, coyote, Satan, Anansi, Krishna, Seth, or Legba as an excuse for why the Universe isn’t orderly and predictable.

      • smrnda

        I actually think, from a purely philosophical standpoint that polytheism makes more sense than monotheism. You get some big problems with an all good, all powerful and all knowing god, but a bunch of different gods with competing agendas, trickster gods, that would be perfectly consistent with the universe as we see it, and doesn’t give us so many messy problems to solve or have to explain away.

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

          Going down that same path, some of the alternate Christianities like Gnosticism and Marcionism nicely dismantle the Problem of Evil because they hypothesize that Jesus didn’t come from the god who made our world. They can blame all the world’s problems on this nutty god, saying that Jesus is the messenger from the actual good god.

  • Guest

    The world is comprehensable to us because we evolved in it. Brains that cannot comprehend the world wouldn’t be able to find food or avoid predators and would not survive to pass on their genes.

    • RichardSRussell

      Furthermore, we evolved at the “middle Earth” level, halfway up the logarithmic scale from the Planck length (down there at the quantum level) to the diameter of the Universe, and we would be woefully ill adapted to exist either very much larger or very much smaller than we actually are.

      The problem with living at Planck size is that you’d have to do everything yourself. The problem with living at galactic size is that the fridge is always empty.

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

        Right in the middle. Bam! How much more perfect do you want God’s perfect creation to be? Or something?

    • Greg G.

      The comprehension of the universe needn’t be perfect. It only has to provide a selectable advantage that is greater than the cost of feeding the extra brain power with food and oxygen.

  • avalon

    “Turek asks why the laws of nature are predictable.”

    Since when? There’s lots of unpredictability in the laws of nature. Things like weather, fluid dynamics, just about everything at the quantum level, etc…

    “Turek says that God is holding the universe together right now.”

    The universe is flying apart:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerating_universe

    Maybe God fell asleep at the wheel?

    • RichardSRussell

      Chaos theory, Cantor and Hilbert’s work with transfinite numbers, Escher drawings, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and self-referential metastatements (like “This sentence is a lie.”) are hardly examples of the predictability of nature.

      However, one thing you can be sure of: Our understanding of them, however partial or imperfect, does not come from prayer, inspiration, holy books, divine revelation, God’s self-proclaimed spokespeople, miracles, or any other religious source. Religion is worthless as a method of learning anything about the way the world really works.

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

      Yeah but … yeah but … yeah, but imagine how much less together the universe would be without God!

      Gotcha!

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

      Chaos theory–I’d forgotten about that.

  • Ron

    “Objective evil presupposes objective good, and objective good requires God.”

    Can I play, too?

    Shoelaces presuppose shoes, and shoes require Leprechauns.

    Aversion presupposes desire, and both require Cupid.

    Meatballs presuppose spaghetti; ergo, FSM exists.

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

      Golly–I can’t argue that shoelaces don’t exist. Your logic is airtight!

      • Ron

        Yep! The argument from shoelaces is the aLeprechaunist’s worst nightmare — trips ‘em up every time.

  • MNb

    “Turek asks why the laws of nature are predictable.”
    I hardly understand what that means. Can Turek predict what the laws look like which describe superconductivity correctly? If so he should publish his predictions immediately, it will earn him the Nobel Price.
    Or does he mean that those laws predict what happens in nature? Well, that’s what they are supposed to do. Science is based on the supposition that the Universe is consistent and until now we have very little reason to think otherwise.
    Either way Turek asks a silly question.

    “Turek thinks that the success of science proves God”
    Turek can’t present any scientific theory – and I specifically exclude bogus like ID – that includes god. One other assumption science is based on – it became clear about 200 years – is that science doesn’t need supernatural entities. This is called methodological materialism. Science doesn’t say anything about god – not pro, not contra. You won’t find the word in any scientific book or article. By definition you can’t use methodological materialism to say anything about the supernatural.
    Only thing we can do is point out that science works. Apologists can try to accommodate science and religion (though I tend to think that this is easier with pastafarianism than with christianity because of the many bad arguments christian apologists seem to need) but that’s all. As for so called “other forms of knowledge” – give me concrete objective results.
    Arguments for or against god belong to philosophy and theology. Their methods are more limited (no empiry) than those of science, so belief systems like all metaphysical systems should adapt to science. The other way round is a guarantee for failure and ridicule. It would be nice if apologists began to realize this simple statement. At the other hand – if they don’t religion runs a bigger risk to disappear.

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

      What do you think about philosophy? Any attempt to denigrate philosophy brings up, “Yeah, well logic comes from philosophy.” Or “The very foundation of science is philosophy.”

      This strikes me as simply a definitional thing. OK, if we want to draw a circle around those things and call them philosophy, that’s great. Maybe the question I’m wrestling with is: “What has philosophy done for me lately?”

      The best I’ve come up with is stuff at the edge of science or math that philosophers try to claim as their own. I dunno–maybe Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle or Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem. But these guys weren’t philosophers!

      So help me out here, people. Am I too harsh on philosophy? What has philosophy (or philosophers?) done for me lately?

      • MNb

        “The very foundation of science is philosophy.”
        You need philosophy to make clear what the foundations of science are. Popper’s falsifiability (and the critics on it) is a fine example. I’d like to point out though that philosophy always seems to come as an after thought. Still I think we understand better how science works than we did say 150 years ago.
        In fact I would like it if professional philosophers wrote about the implications of Heisenberg and Gödel.

        “What has philosophy done for me lately?”
        Besides Popper (he also wrote some stuff worth considering on politics) I’d also like to mention Sartre on human condition. It’s not that I necessarily agree with them, but they investigated some important topics I might otherwise not even have been aware of.
        This doesn’t necessarily mean either that you are too harsh. There always have been only a few important philosophers in a sea of irrelevant ones. Who still reads the followers of Spinoza these days?
        But yes – for relevant modern cosmology one should rather read Sean Carroll than any prof I know. Next time I will point it out to you when you use an argument already formulated by Bertrand Russell. Maybe then you will appreciate philosophy a little more.

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

          Maybe so. But if we’re talking about the human condition, did Sartre do more to illuminate it than Shakespeare, for example? I’m no Sartre expert, so if his partisans want to claim his work as important in this domain, that’s fine. But it seems that lots of non-philosophers have done work of the same caliber.

          So perhaps my question needs to be sharpened. Consider this: What have philosophers (not philosophy) done to advance knowledge (as opposed to obfuscating things) in the area of science or apologetics (rather than all domains of thought) lately?

          And not to hammer on Wm. Lane Craig too much (though, admittedly, he deserves a lot of hammering), but he enjoys talking about inifinities, time, cosmology, and other areas that are outside his domain of expertise. As a well-educated amateur, I won’t deny that he could be a useful popularizer, pointing out or making clear ideas and arguments from science and mathematics. But my own rule is to only get my science and mathematics from scientists and mathematicians. In other words, WLC is no authority.

          Does that rule work for you?

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