The Christian Poses Tough Questions to the Atheist

No one can demand a proof that God does (or doesn’t) exist, but where does the evidence point?

A number of apologists defend Christianity with the thinking of a courtroom lawyer or detective. One of these is J. Warner Wallace. In his essay “The Christian Worldview is the Best Explanation,” he gives ten tough questions to which he says Christianity has the better answer. Let’s take a look.

1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?

Our universe had a beginning, but what caused it? Why is there something instead of nothing?

I don’t know what caused the universe. I don’t even know if asking about a cause (which implies an action through time) even makes sense before time. (And I say “I don’t know” simply because I’m parroting the consensus view of physics. If that changes, so will my opinion.)

But there’s nothing embarrassing about pointing out where we don’t know things. Science has plenty of unanswered questions, and highlighting them shows where work needs to be done. It’s not like we’ve ever learned anything new about nature through holy books or divine revelation.

That science doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that Christians do. They still must do the hard work of coming up with evidence for the claim “God did it.” Believing by faith won’t do.

Note also that quantum events may not have causes, and the Big Bang was a quantum event. There’s no reason to demand a Big Banger, some supernatural First Cause.

As for “Why is there something instead of nothing?” show us why nothing is the default—that nothing is what a godless universe would contain. In fact, physicist Lawrence Krauss argues the opposite: that nothing is unstable and would spontaneously produce something.

More could be said on this and the other questions here, but I’m keeping it short for space reasons. Apologies in advance when I shortchange one or both sides of the argument.

2. Why Does There Appear to Be Design (Fine Tuning) in the Universe?

The constants that govern our universe appear to be remarkably fine-tuned to allow life. What explains that if not a supernatural intelligence?

I’ve touched on the fine-tuning argument before. The quick answer to this question is the multiverse—an almost infinite number of other universes defined by different constants. Most of them might be sterile, but there are enough to make one or more life giving.

The Christian might imagine atheists lamenting how the appearance of deliberate fine tuning makes a deity unavoidable and then hitting on the crazy idea of bazillions of universes so that by sheer luck at least one of them will allow life. But that’s not how it happened. A multiverse is predicted by well-established physics—both string theory and inflation.

Note also that events aren’t unique in physics. There’s more than one photon, more than one electron, more than one star, more than one object influenced by gravity, and so on. Why imagine only one Big Bang?

Wallace says that explaining the appearance of design “is a problem for philosophical naturalists only because they are precluded from considering the possibility of a designer.” If someone is closed minded to the evidence, I agree that that’s a problem. However, I’m happy to follow the evidence where it leads. Science has explored supernatural claims and found many natural causes.

Wallace says, “The Christian worldview is founded on the existence and creative activity of a Master Designer, and for this reason, it does not have to struggle with the appearance of design.” Show us that this is grounded with evidence and it’ll be more than just an ancient myth. Until then, not so much.

3. How Did Life Originate?

“Philosophical naturalists are still unable to explain how life began, and more importantly, their work in this area simply reveals how difficult the problem is to explain. … This scientifically inexplicable event can be described as nothing short of miraculous; the Christian worldview explains how the long odds against the emergence of life were overcome.”

The Christian worldview explains nothing. Christians can show how their theology addresses the question, but this isn’t evidence.

The origin of life is called abiogenesis. Though science has lots of ideas, it doesn’t have a good theory. Nevertheless, science not having an answer gives nothing to the Christian side of the question.

Do Christians think that this or any of the scientific questions are fundamental parts of their argument? I doubt it. When science reaches a consensus on any puzzle—and science’s track record for finding answers to nature’s questions is remarkable—they’ll just drop that question and pick up something new and hope that no one notices the switch. Their argument then becomes “Science has unanswered questions; therefore God.”

Continue with part 2.

The universe is simply one of those things
that happens from time to time.
— physicist Edward P. Tryon

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Wondering What to Give that Christian or Atheist on Your List?
Atheism Fails Because There Is No Ultimate Justice?
Response To an Angry Christian
25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid (Part 11)
About Bob Seidensticker
  • Jim Hoerst

    Physics makes more sense than theology. Once you have a god, you need a theology. I have yet to hear a theology that didn’t make me say, “what, how could that be?”

    • RichardSRussell

      Actually, you are being unduly generous to physics. Your question triggered a recollection of a statement by the great Nobel laureate Richard Feynman:

      I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, “But how can it be like that?” because you will go “down the drain” into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that. —Richard Feynman (1918-1988), American physicist

      But, of course, if “nobody knows” is an answer good enuf for Richard Feynman, it’s good enuf for me, too.

      • Jim Hoerst

        No sir, the field of physics has a solid history of accomplishment in significant discoveries and new technologies, theology not so much. As I understand it Feynman is saying that quantum mechanics are counter intuitive and no place for amateurs. But that doesn’t mean that quantum mechanics are absurd.

        Compare that to the Christian doctrine of the trinity. Reason can’t approach that deity or any other deity for that matter.

        • RichardSRussell

          Actually, I believe Feynman was saying exactly that quantum mechanics is absurd. How does something just vanish from one place and spontaneously reappear somewhere else? How is it that you can have nothing in a tiny volume in one moment and something the next? How can a paired particle farther away than you can reach at the speed of light “know” when the other half of the pair has changed its spin? Why is it that we can never know exactly the momentum of a tiny particle?

          Clearly, science has demonstrated that all these things occur (and demonstrated it to an astonishing degree of precision and reliability), while religion didn’t even have a clue where to start looking, let alone finding any answers. Just as clearly, these things make no sense to us, which is close to the dictionary definition of “absurd”.

          We may someday find an answer to what’s going on at the quantum level, but we don’t have one now. If and when we ever do explain these phenomena, it will undoubtedly be science, not religion, that does it.

        • Jim Hoerst

          Agreed. Science is about finding out things we don’t know. Religion wraps things in mystery. We know nothing more about the “Trinity” now then we did 2 centuries ago. Mostly because the Trinity is imaginary. But we know a lot more about the atom than we did even a decade or two ago. I suggest to you that quantum physics is a quandary rather than absurdity.

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

          Even more baffling is when Christian philosophers want to wade in and answer questions that they couldn’t even formulate within their own discipline. What good could they possibly be? (Besides clouding the issue, I mean.)

        • MNb

          Of course Feynman meant to say that QM is absurd. It is. I vividly remember my jaw dropping when I was confronted with it the very first time.
          The point is that my human brain is not well adapted to understanding stuff like this. Apologists analogous to Plantinga’s EAAN try to sneak god in but invariably fail to admit that the consequence of this argument is that religious ideas – like assuming a god – must be at least as delusional.
          Systematic human wondering about (wo)man and the Universe is perhaps 5000 years old. That’s a very short time. Science as we know it started only 500 years ago and the modern systematical approach only 200 years. The real miracle is how incredibly much progress scientists have made – without any divine intervention.
          Believers with all their supposed wonder and awe never give that point a thought even for only a second.

        • smrnda

          I agree, but I think part of this is that the meaning of our everyday works ‘beginning’ and ‘time’ and such don’t map well into the realm of quantum physics. There’s no way to accurately translate the field into everyday words, therefore we can know that some equations hold, and that’s about it.

      • Msironen

        There is actually a fairly deep sense in which no-one (not even professional physicists) understands quantum physics and that is the fact that almost a century since the dawn of quantum physics, we still have no consensus as to what the correct, physical interpretation of the equations is.

        Physicist Sean Carroll elaborates on this in a blog post here:

        http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2013/01/17/the-most-embarrassing-graph-in-modern-physics/

        If it turns out one of the currently proposed interpretations is the correct one, I guess you could say that its proponents already know it but then they don’t seem to know it well enough to convince the rest.

  • RichardSRussell

    Yes, any idiot can come up with an answer to any question:

    “Bubba, what’s the speed limit in this naborhood?”
    “Purple, except the CIA on Thursdays and your momma.”

    Christian idiots are no exceptions. They’ve had 2000 years to come up with answers to all sorts of questions, and some of those answers are even halfway convincing. But are they better than science’s actual answers? No. Religion has lost every disagreement it’s ever had with science.

    Are Christianity’s answers — their wonder stories about phenomena that science can’t (yet) explain — better than science’s non-answers? No, because those tall tales have neither coherence nor consistency nor plausibility nor verifiability; they are merely assertions, to be taken on faith, the world’s worst decision-making method.

    Are Christianity’s answers better than those of any other world myth from any of the world’s other religions or folk traditions? Heck, no. Too damn much suffering and unjustified egotism, and way too much plagiarism. Every religion has its own explanation for where everything came from. It’s practically the price of admission at the door of Religion College. None of them agree, but each and every one of them can point to the existence of the Universe as “proof” that it’s the correct one.

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

      In reading the (long) essay to which I’m responding, I’m amazed at how little evidence is offered on the Christian side. It’s just a statement of theology. The only thing missing is the admission that, no, they have none.

      • Pofarmer

        Beleiving without evidence is a feature, not a bug, it makes you a better christian.

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

          How many impossible things can you believe before breakfast?

  • MNb

    1. How Did the Universe Come Into Being?
    Good question. God did it is not a sufficient answer though. One should also answer the question how he did it, which means he used and which observations confirm the answers on these additional answers.

    2. Why Does There Appear to Be Design (Fine Tuning) in the Universe?
    2a. God did it runs into the same problems as @1. This question, as Herman Philipse has pointed out, utterly depends on question 1. If God did it is not a satisfactory answer there it can’t be here.
    2b. There does appear to be design in the Universe because our brains are biased towards recognizing patterns even if they aren’t there. Once I was lying in a meadow on a sunny day and recognized the map of entire Scandinavia in the clouds. God did it?
    2c. The Universe is not fine tuned for human life – human life is fined tuned for our little part of the Universe.
    2d. Once again Herman Philipse has pointed out that this question is as relevant as the fly wondering why the White House has specifically been build as it is to provide it with a resting place.

    3. How Did Life Originate?
    3a. Again a good question. Scientists are working hard to answer it. This field of research is called abiogenesis. I so hope that still during my lifetime scientists will be able to produce simple self-replicating forms of life in laboratoria. Anticipating this news I ask the counterquestion: if this happens will JWW deconvert? No? Then he is asking a dishonest question.
    3b. Just face another serious scientific problem: superconductivity at relatively high temperatures, which won the Nobel Price for Bednorz and Müller in 1986. Now read this:

    “Philosophical naturalists are still unable to explain how superconductivity at relative high temperatures is possible, and more importantly, their work in this area simply reveals how difficult the problem is to explain. … This scientifically inexplicable event can be described as nothing short of miraculous; the Christian worldview explains how the long odds against this phenomenon (according to BCS-theory, which also won a Nobel-price – in 1972) were overcome.”

    Could JWW explain why this version suddenly makes a lot less sense?

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

      Great points. The burden is on the Christian to show why “God dun it” isn’t just a rephrasing of “I don’t know.”

  • Spooky Tran

    If I understand things correctly, string “theory” is a misnomer from the field of theoretical physics, and is really more of a hypothesis. As such I’m personally not comfortable offering it as an explanation for Point 2. I prefer Neil deGrasse Tyson’s common sense argument, something along the lines of “99% of the universe wants to kill us.” In other words, “Fine tuned? Hardly.”

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

      “The universe is a deadly place. At every opportunity, it is trying to kill us.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

  • ichuck7

    I like to approach the fine tuning argument by referring to the crappy parts of nature. The Christian only sees the good things. Why is our source of light capable of giving us cancer? Why is nature so cruel to animals? Why is nature so cruel to humans? What about all the unnecessary suffering? This ultimately leads to the Christian claiming sin has caused these bad things. To which I respond that surely a benevolent omnipotent God could have done better than children striken with cancer.

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

      The same logic that concludes, “Wow–just look around and you see the evidence of a benevolent, good god” also concludes that he’s an abusive SOB.

      • ichuck7

        May sound weird but I think it’s cool you responded to my post. I’ve been wanting to tell you that I loved your book, Cross Examined!

        • Itarion

          It doesn’t sound weird, but Mr. Seidensticker is a fairly active member of his blog comment section.

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

          Thanks for the praise for the book! That’s what an author lives for.

          I have another one coming out in a week. Stay tuned.

    • Greg G.

      I always argue that if there is an omnipotent being, then all suffering is unnecessary and the being has chosen that suffering exists indicating the being is sadistic.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        This question gets raised in the Bible. Jesus and the disciples see a blind man in the street begging. They ask him if it was his sin, or his parents, that he was struck blind. Jesus says neither, it was so they could see the glory of God by him healing the guy. That has to take the cake for narcissistic sadism.

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

          Then there’s God hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that God could make an impressive example out of him and the deaths of thousands of Egyptians.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Right, or killing Job’s entire family over a bet with Satan (wtf?) then when he at last asks “why” essentially telling him “because, that’s why” through a hilariously inaccurate rant on everything he knows that Job doesn’t. Then he makes it up by giving Job *another* family. Yes, another wife and kids makes up for the ones God killed…right? That has to be the creepiest book of the Bible I’d say, but also most honest in revealing its overall worldview.

        • Pofarmer

          Yes. Oddly enough, I’d never heard the bit where God kills all jobs family until I read it myself. Kind of gets in the way of the ” God id indinitely good” trope.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          That’s probably why they don’t mention it. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the Job story cited for an example of “God’s grace” and “faith through adversity” without it ever being mentioned that God kills his whole family on a bet.

        • Carol Lynn

          Don’t be silly. “Women and children” are completely interchangeable. Any set of “wife and children” you happen to own is as good as any other. /snark

        • Pofarmer

          Yeah, which is why the claim of “objective morality” by Christians is so laughable. The Bible is absolutely abhorrent in the treatment of anyone but the dominant adult male clan.

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

          God doesn’t kill his wife, but he kills all of Job’s children. He gets a new set, which is fine if they’re just interchangeable workers. Not so much if you, y’know, actually love them and all that.

        • Castilliano

          I think Yahweh does kill the wife, but later, after she harangues Job. Letting her live longer was another torture according to a former pastor of mine.

        • Nemo

          Well, in the Christian worldview, the kids are in Heaven, so there’s that. But the defense you usually here of Job is that he wasn’t trusting in God’s righteousness enough. Yeah. All that because Yahweh didn’t feel like he was getting enough worship and praise.

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

          Job was blameless. We know that because God says so (Job 2:3).

          Job’s friends “comforted him and consoled him for all the trouble the Lord had brought on him” (Job 42:11).

        • Highlander

          Actually in the Christian view no one can go to heaven unless they have been saved by Jesus, so no one in the Old Testament is in heaven. Not Noah, not Abraham, not Elijah, nor David, nor Job, no one, because not one of them has accepted Jesus as their savior and been baptized. Of course that was because Jesus hadn’t been born yet, but that’s no excuse! You should see xtian’s faces fold up into an asshole and let out a little fart when this is pointed out to them. Honestly, you’d think they would think about their theology a little more carefully.

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

          They have some convoluted excuse. Or excuses.

          I’m sure they have some way for Abraham to pass Go and collect his $200.

        • smrnda

          But… there was the parable by Jesus with Lazarus (not the back from the dead one) the beggar and the man with the purple robe, and that when the man with the purple robe dies he sees Lazarus with Abraham (who he can apparently recognize somehow?)

          So… when Jesus tells a story, I guess he’s getting his own rules about who can get into heaven wrong?

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

          And in that story, the rich man is in a place so terrible that he begs Abraham to let Lazarus simply put a drop of water on his tongue. Sounds like hell to me.

          And then Christians argue that hell is locked from the inside …

        • Pofarmer

          They can’t do that, because it quickly collapses.

        • Pofarmer

          my 14 year old actually picked up on this. I never had.

  • Itarion

    nothing is unstable and would spontaneously produce something

    If you’ll excuse me, I need to go fix my brain. This is ridiculous, though not necessarily untrue because of it.

    • Pofarmer

      You gotta listen to Kraus explain it.

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

      Yep, it’s ridiculous, just like lots of quantum physics.

      I believe I’ve heard it explained like a pencil balanced on its point. It’s not stable there, and eventually, it’ll fall down, but where it falls is random. The balanced pencil is like nothing, which is unstable and collapses into something.

      But as Pofarmer says, Krauss is the one to check in with (see link to Krauss review above).

      • Itarion

        It’s a particle!
        It’s a wave!
        It’s both!
        It’s neither!
        It’s some uneven combination of the two until it interacts with something else!

        Ugh. But great fun, though, conceptually. And going to read the article now.

    • Greg G.

      If nothingness was stable, it would require something to maintain that state. So absolute nothingness is a concept, like a perfect equilateral triangle, that cannot exist in reality.

      • Itarion

        Purity is unstable, and what is more pure than nothingness? Fascinating, I like that thought.

  • Nemo

    Sigh, and here I was actually imagining an actual challenge. Instead, all we get is “science cannot fully explain the details of _______________, therefore my religion is automatically right!” Isn’t it odd how creationists would much rather attack other views than try to prove that giants were real, stars and galaxies are 6000 years old, and every language emerged from a single location at the same time?

    • Nemo

      I just read the essay, and the other questions are even worse.

      Question 4 asks about “intelligent” design: yeah, some parts of biology look intelligent. Others, not so much. The human genome includes a few genes which, when active, can have nasty effects. The esophagus and trachea are right next to each other.

      Question 5 concerns the development of consciousness: given that some animals have been shown to be self aware, I’ve little doubt that we will someday trace the origins of consciousness. In any case, this is another “goddidit”.

      Question 6 is about free will: another goddidit. Except they beg the question of assuming free will exists. Oh, Wallace acknowledges determinism, but he “refutes” it by saying he doesn’t like the idea of it being true. I’d suggest reading the essay to see this for yourself, but his argument boils down to that. Besides, many Christians don’t believe in free will. I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and we were taught that nobody is capable of ever choosing God: only if the Holy Spirit personally overrides your thoughts can you be saved.

      Question 7 asks why human nature is so contradictory: humans can be both smart and stupid, wonderful and heinous. Christianity, Wallace says, uses the wise argument of goddidit. The problem, as I noted with the fifth question, is that some animals also demonstrate erratic “nature” as well. I’d trust a psychologist with years of study before I trust Wallace on the matter.

      Question 8 is the moral argument: uh, Wallace doesn’t prove that transcendent morals truths exist. At all. Yeah, we (including myself) would not hesitate to look back at past cultures and judge them by our own standards. That does not prove that our standards are transcendent. Wallace probably thinks that my horror at the Nazi genocide proves “objective” morality, but would simultaneously say that my indifference to thoughtcrime proves I am a rotten sinner. For that matter, how would introducing Yahweh into the equation make morals objective? If Yahweh were either unwilling or unable to use force against those who didn’t conform to his commands, would those commands still be objective moral goods? I don’t think Wallace would say they would be. In this case, this so called “transcendent” moral truth is derived from the threat of force and nothing more.

      Question 9 is do we believe human life to be precious: most atheists I’ve met would say yes. The Bible says no*: you can be struck down and sentenced to eternal torture simply for thinking in the wrong way. The fact that Yahweh doesn’t do this, apologists say, is an amazing act of mercy.

      Question 10 is why does pain and injustice exist: another attempt at the moral argument. Still, if Wallace means why do people feel pain, physical pain lets you know that something is wrong with your body and to stop that from happening. It is a necessary survival mechanism. If he means emotional pain, that can be caused by the severing of a personal attachment. As for things that most on this blog would argue is unjust (genocide, discrimination, etc), those exist because humans fear those whom they don’t understand and despise those whom they fear. As for Christianity’s answer to that question, here’s an excerpt: “My child, while my heart is broken for you, I know this small fraction of your life will make sense in light of eternity. When you close your eyes for the last time here, you will begin your life with God. I will be with you soon enough. Then we will understand the power that suffering has had in our lives; all justice will be served and there will be no more pain or suffering. Take heart; the best is yet to come”
      Uh no, Christianity says that child is burning in Hell. Jesus promised that the overwhelming majority of people (Matthew 7:13) would be sent into Hell by him for not properly devoting themselves to him. Christianity has some nice words for the Christian who lost a Christian loved one. It has venom for anyone else who lost someone. Your friend is suffering. Now worship his torturer lest he do the same to you. Also, the torturer loves you. A lot.
      * Yeah, yeah, I know Christians talk about how precious Yahweh thinks humans are, but the Bible clearly says Yahweh reserves the right to strike a guy down at any moment and send him to Hell for any reason. And not all of his victims were cartoon villains. Onan would be one example.

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        Well said. I didn’t know there were Lutherans that accepted theological determinism, though I’m aware that the LCMS is quite conservative. Being raised nominally Presbyterian, I’ve been interested by the Calvinist idea of predestination (although the US Presbyterian Church is pretty liberal and doesn’t go for that anymore). The standard Christian world view is bad enough, but that has to be the worst. It’s laughable when I see Christians say, as regularly happens, that atheism is so dark and depressing. Not that this has anything to do with whether it’s true, of course, but their religion beats the hell out of atheism in the depression department.

        • Nemo

          It’s been awhile since I read my Catechism, but the meaning, according to Luther, of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, begins by saying “I believe that I cannot by my own power believe in Jesus Christ…”. I’d suggest reading Cranach over on the Evangelical Channel here for a view of what conservative Lutherans believe.
          The main difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism is that in Calvinism, both the saved and damned are that way because God wants them that way for his own glory. According to Luther, everyone is rotten and depraved, but God elected a few to show grace to. In Lutheranism, if you are saved, praise God, if not, blame yourself. Calvinism blames God for both sides. God would like to save everyone, but, well, uh, mysterious ways and such. It’s possible Lutherans do believe in free will, but not when it applies to religion. Only the Holy Spirit, they say, can make you find Real True Christianity appealing.

        • Pofarmer

          I started reading the Catholic Catechism, but I didn’t have boots deep enough to get past the first few pages in.

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

          “for his own glory”? What a narcissistic SOB. Who’d want to worship that guy?

        • Nemo

          Oh, it’s shockingly easy. Convince the potential convert they are worthless monsters before this perfect God. After all, he has the power. You don’t. So he is the good guy who decides what is good and evil. You don’t. Ray Comfort calls it the “good person test”. You can’t apply it to God, because who are YOU, rotten sinner, to question the perfect, holy, God? Are you perfect? You can see where this is going.

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

          Wallowing in self-loathing? Sure! Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?!

        • Pofarmer

          It’s kind of standard kit, and I’m tired of it. I don’t know if yoj’ve ever been to a Catholic mass, buf thewhole thing is basically about how horrible and unworthy we are.

        • wtfwjtd

          “Only the Holy Spirit, they say, can make you find Real True Christianity appealing.”

          I guess many of rest of us find Real True Christianity appalling…

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

        Good analysis.

        4. The recurrent laryngeal nerve.

        8. Christians often confuse “transcendent” (supernatural explanation) with “widely shared” or “deeply felt” (natural explanation).

        10. On the subject of Onan: another example is that guy who tried to steady the ark and was zapped for touching what was forbidden.

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

      I keep worrying that I’m reading just the poor-quality apologetics sources, and yet I can’t find anything better. Amazing. Where’s the good stuff that supports this house of cards? Why do thoughtful Christians hang around?

      • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

        I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it’s not primarily about evidence, but emotional appeal. The arguments just back up what people desire to believe already. Witness the common refrain “atheism/determinism/materialism etc. are so depressing.” Even if that were true…so what? They magically become false? Sometimes things are depressing, yeah. Deal with it. Problem is, they deal with it by denial wrapped up in this sophistry.

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

          I can’t count the number of times someone has says that atheism is depressing when the topic is, is atheism true?

          And the Christian can simply look at atheists to realize that his guess that atheists must be depressed or suicidal or something must be flawed somehow.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Yeah, it’s the ever-popular appeal to consequences fallacy, i.e. atheism makes me unhappy, therefore it’s false, or the opposite, Christianity makes me happy, so it’s true. You can’t win. Of course there are atheist who have depression, like people all over, but according to them, every atheist should be depressed to the point of being suicidal. They actually complain about atheists not fitting this stereotype, saying it’s “dishonest” and lamenting they’re different from the old atheists like Nietzsche who were more bleak (in their view). It’s absurd.

        • wtfwjtd

          Don’t forget anger! All atheists are bitter and angry! Those that seem otherwise are just pretending…they are just putting on a show ’cause they secretly believe in god and are just in rebellion!

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

          And the hedonism. The atheist’s motto is, “If it feels good, do it.”

        • James

          What I find is that they lack true empathy: they’ve been conditioned to believe that life is meaningless without god, so they can only imagine themselves without god, as oppossed to trying to imagine anyone else without god. They think that all people secretly believe in god and that we’re just rebelling, hence no cognitive dissonance when they see that we live happy, healthy, meaningful lives without their god (which they insist must still somehow be less happy and fulfilled than their own lives). What I find is that Christians simply cannot imagine, again due to dubious empathy, that someone else could view their god no differently than how the believer himself views Zeus.

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

          And yet they’ve been satisfied by such meager signs from “God” that it’s surprising that they imagine their lives being far more fulfilled.

        • Ella Warnock

          I know it’s a familiar refrain, but the more I accepted that I didn’t believe, the more my lifelong depression lifted. No more anti-depressants. It’s not that, well, magical, for everyone; but it was an amazing and unexpected recovery nonetheless.

        • Scott_In_OH

          Hear, hear. It really surprised me how much weight was lifted from my shoulders when I seriously started to question. I’m still unsure, but the journey so far has not been what I expected.

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

          Interesting. My journey from faith was gradual and painless. Christianity never did much for me, so there wasn’t much to lose.

          I’m interested in those journeys that were so different from my own.

        • Pofarmer

          Right there with ya scott. The hardest thing has been sharing with my kids while my wife is still verh, very Catholic.

        • Pofarmer

          It’s 100% emotion. They played a Catholic apologist last sunday at mass named Michael Kelley(another crazy from Australia) who talks about a horrible disease wherd thehy find out the blood of one boy cures it. Unfortunately, they have to take all of his blood and if kills him. And of course, we should worship and venerate this boy and feel horrible if we don’t do it at least once a week. It’s 100% appeal to emotion, but especially guilt.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Catholics especially seem to play on guilty feelings. That story appears to be similar with the Christ story as well.

      • James

        Q: “Why do thoughtful Christians hang around?”
        A: We don’t.
        I taught apologetics for years at my old mega-church. The “answers” we gave were always very embarrasing to me, so I largely stuck to teaching church history (yes Evangelicals, lots of things happened in between the book of Acts up until the reformation of a reformation of a reformation by way of schizm that your church is based upon). I wound up an atheist; imagine that.

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

          Good to hear from someone who saw the problem as a Christian. Thanks.

        • wtfwjtd

          Yeah, it gets really, really tiresome constantly trying to defend the indefensible, both in your own mind and to other people. I know that frustrating feeling!
          Ironically for me, I had never heard of “apologetics” until a few years ago, when a relative got into it in a big way. After a little digging, I was shocked to find just how flimsy the basis for Christianity really is. It had a definite influence on me all right!

      • ctcss

        “Why do thoughtful Christians hang around?”

        I guess it all depends. I certainly can’t speak for other thoughtful Christians, since I am not of the mainstream variety, but questions like these don’t even have a place in what I was taught. Matter and matter-based considerations don’t under-gird my religious beliefs at all. Thus, questions like these are non-starters for me since they don’t really have anything to do with God, since God is Spirit, not matter.

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

          So what does convince you that your Christian path is correct? If any intellectual arguments, which ones?

      • http://batman-news.com Anton

        “Why do thoughtful Christians hang around?”

        We don’t. Apologetics is the Playskool version of philosophy. Anyone who bases his or her faith on a deductive proof or the speculative nature of our knowledge about the original biomolecules has a bizarre faith indeed. People who outgrow that form of belief either end up with a more sophisticated faith or they abandon it altogether.

        And furthermore, fundamentalists have a lousy sense of humor.

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

          OK, so we agree that anything like a literal interpretation of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is foolish. So what did happen? And how can you believe that since you’re so quick to dismiss the nonsense in the Bible?

  • Greg G.

    Oh, I get it. It’s a search for gaps to stuff with a homeopathic remedy. There’s no active ingredient used but it works as a placebo for people who don’t need true medicine.

    • Carol Lynn

      I recently saw an ad for a homeopathic remedy that claimed to work better than the competition because it was “concentrated”. My brain and my irony meter both exploded trying to sort that one out. I feel the same way about apologetics.

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

        I remember some sort of weird medicine in the back of a comic book labeled “guaranteed placebo.”

        (If you come across that homeopathic ad again, pass it along. That’s a hoot!)

        • Carol Lynn

          Ask and ye shall receive –

          http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fast-acting-insomnia-remedy-delivers-guaranteed-relief-for-millions-of-sleepless-americans-167658285.html

          “As a fast-acting, chemical-free alternative, Forces of Nature® has introduced a concentrated homeopathic remedy that promotes deep, restful sleep without harmful side effects”

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

          That is truly disturbing. Reminds me of the lecture Randi gave where he downed an entire bottle of sleeping pills. (Luckily, they were homeopathic.)

        • Greg G.

          I’m worried. Can I overdose by not buying it?

        • Itarion

          Technically, it can do these things. It’s referred to as the placebo *blather blather you know all this crap already blahdee blah.

        • Greg G.

          I recall seeing an ad for “the strongest placebo on the market”.

      • Itarion

        So… you take a little stuff, and dissolve it in a lot of water. Then you take a little of that, and boil most of that little bit of water off, and you’re left with… what? Three drops of 0.1 molar concentrations? Then you stick that into a gel capsule and sell this hyped up, souped up lie?

        *sigh. This is why 1 semester of each of the basic sciences should be required in high school.

        • Carol Lynn

          You didn’t read it… it’s concentrated so all you need is three drops of it *on your forehead*. No need to ingest. It goes right to your brain through the skin.

        • Itarion

          I think I get it. You put it on, then concentrate on all the good effects its having?

  • AbnormalWrench

    Krauss is good on the issue of “something from nothing”, but I think it is worth reading Victor Stenger on the subject also. He makes a similar point that the concept of “nothing” is based on intuition and not physical reality, and that, regardless of how you define “nothing”, there is no examples of it, so why assume it is more likely/the default? When you observe every inch of the universe is “something”, then how do you argue “nothing” is the default?

    • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

      Stinger also notes that a lot of these so-called “fine-tuned” constants really aren’t. He’s shown how they would have to be way off to prevent things from developing entirely. It’s not so precise as many think.

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

        Stenger’s Monkey God experiment explores this.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          He wrote an entire book on that called “The Fallacy of Fine Tuning.” It demolishes the whole idea. There’s no need for multiverses to explain it.

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

          I read it. It was pretty weighty. I probably need to read it again to pull out the useful arguments. Let me know if you’ve found a summary of the good stuff.

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

      I’ve heard some apologists (Greg Koukl comes to mind) schooling cosmologists about what “nothing” actually is. Some physicists say that empty space is as “nothing” as you would ever get in reality (but of course empty space is still something).

      Koukl et al point to the “philosopher’s nothing” (which is just nothing) as if they’re adding to the conversation.

      • AbnormalWrench

        But that is the thing, nobody defines “nothing” to include virtual particles, which means the “nothing” they are talking about, simply has no evidence of existing in any form.

        It is like talking about pink invisible unicorns. The fact that unicorns haven’t been demonstrated to exist, doesn’t really reduce the plausibility of unicorns that are also pink and invisible. The concept is incoherent regardless.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          The problem with “nothing” is that it can only be defined by its opposite, something. Every time people talk of a “nothing” it turns out to be “something” from what I can tell.

        • Itarion

          You mean to say that every time there is a nothing, it is unstable and crashes down into something? I knew that I liked this thought: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/11/the-christian-poses-tough-questions-to-the-atheist/#comment-1129118967

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          I mean that any time someone describes “nothing” there ends up being some characteristic to it, a “something.” It then is no longer “nothing. So yeah, I agree with Greg G.-nothingness is wholly abstract.

        • Itarion

          Well, as I like to say, [starting right now, at least] if you can’t explain your philosophical construction in terms of the physical world, it ain’t worth it. I think that I’m a materialist.

        • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

          Agreed.

        • MNb

          Probably yes – that’s an idea I have met before. The thing is that even a nothing like that is not nothing. It supposes quantum fields (like the one for the higgs-particle) independent from time. Then we can interpret Genesis 1:3 as “let there be quantum-fields”, which is justified because the foton is the bearer of light and also has its own quantum-field.
          Not that there will be many theologians following this path as it results in a god playing dice.

        • Greg G.

          IPU Creed: We know invisible unicorns exist because nobody has ever seen one. We know they are pink by faith.

      • avalon

        The “something from nothing” argument seems to ignore the most basic theory of theology. Namely, that God is the only thing that has always existed. Not God AND nothing, just God. God alone would fill every nook and cranny with no room for nothing.

        So why create nothing in order to create something from it? Seems like an unnecessary step (creating nothing). If only God existed why wouldn’t he create from himself (pantheism)?
        The Christian theory of creation pictures God sitting alone in a vast nothingness of hyper-space. Which leads to the obvious question of which came first, God? or hyper-space (nothing)? If God is the eternal Something, my question to Christians is: “Why is there nothing rather than Something?”

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

          The Mesopotamian creation myths typically had a god creating from something–that is, reshaping something to make the earth and humanity. The Genesis account could be read that way as well, so it’s not even clear that the Bible says “God created something from nothing.”

        • JohnH2

          Bob,

          You have to go to Apocrypha of the Old Testament (which is part of the Catholic Bible since the Council of Trent) to get ‘God created something from nothing’: the usual argument that the verb for God creating something is different then what other people use to create things in the Bible falls apart when it comes to wells.

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

          The NET Bible agrees with you. About the verb “create,” it says, “The verb does not necessarily describe creation out of nothing … it often stresses forming anew, reforming, renewing”

      • Pofarmer

        “Koukl et al point to the “philosopher’s nothing” (which is just nothing) as if they’re adding to the conversation.”

        And therein lies the inherent problem with philosophy. You can come to a conclusion whether there was ever any evidence of the premise or the conclusion being based in testable fact.

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

          Thanks to Christian apologists, I have a poor view of philosophy. I try to keep an open mind, but seeing the BS some of these guys shovel out–with no interest in finding the truth but simply shoring up their presuppositions–makes me wonder what it’s good for.

        • MNb

          Far from all philosophers are christian apologists.

        • wtfwjtd

          Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water just yet Bob. I heard Dr. Richard Carrier give an enjoyable lecture on modern philosophy at Skepticon, and he says that one of the things that modern philosophy has done correctly is to define discussions that use supernatural explanations as pseudo-philosophy, much like “creation science” has been defined as pseudo-science.
          I know, you are talking about the BS that apologists shovel around,and have the gall to call it philosophy–most of that is very poorly done, and even a layman like me can see that. And yet, it seems to be the best that they are able to come up with. Very disturbing.

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    I wondered about this guy’s site after you linked to it on Mormonism. Glad to see you’re interested to address some of his stuff. Also, your link quantum events may not have causes is dead from what I can tell.

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

      I fixed the link; thanks.

  • NothingIsAbsolute

    I think it’s also worth noting that the Fine Tuning Argument seems to imply that god was subject to certain rules for his creation. If the universe had to be “just-so” then god was forced to follow some odd “recipe” for lack of a better term to create a universe compatible with human existence.

  • Paul

    ” The quick answer to this question is the multiverse—an almost infinite number of other universes defined by different constants.”

    But the multi-verses haven’t been observed. It also raises the question: What caused the mulitverses?

    “The origin of life is called abiogenesis.”

    Not quite true. Abiogensis is the idea that life came from non-life.

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

      But the multi-verses haven’t been observed.

      Right. My point is that it wasn’t just pulled out of a hat
      to avoid inconvenient Christian truths.

      What caused the mulitverses?

      And science doesn’t know, which again gives zero support to
      the Christian position.

      Abiogensis is the idea that life came from non-life.

      Right. I’m missing how my version was wrong.

      • Fallulah

        The Multiverse has not been observed but the theory is derived from the quantum properties of sub-atomic particles which HAVE been observed. Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

    • MNb

      “What caused the mulitverses?”
      First of all: multiverse – only one is enough.

      http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/10/28/why-we-think-theres-a-multiver/

      Next: the assumption that the multiverse needs a cause is only human bias. Modern physics is thoroughly probabilistic and has been since 80 years or so. This probabilism has given us the nuclear bomb for instance.
      If you’re going this line and still want to argue for god you’ll end up with a god playing dice. Which is OK to me, but not consistent with any christian god-image.

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

        One physicist observed that the demand to explain the laws of the universe is malformed. Explain in terms of what?

  • Greenfxd

    It appears, in #2, that you are agreeing that the cart goes before the horse, but it is a different color. The simplest response is that fine tuning is a fallacy regardless of what one feels. Life adapts to the conditions presented, the conditions are not presented to fit life. Much simpler than any multiverse argument. The appearance of fine tuning is exactly that, an appearance created in the mind through faulty perception.

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

      I’ve read a modest amount on the fine tuning problem, but I’m sure there’s much I’ve missed.

      My understanding was that the scientific establishment acknowledged that some of the claims of fine tuning are correct.

      Of course, lots of questions come to mind. Since we don’t even fully understand life in the one place that we know it exists, how can we say what conditions all forms of life require?

      Or: the fine tuning depends on these constants being independent of one another, but perhaps we’ll discover that they aren’t (simple example: 1 quart = 4 cups, exactly).

      Stenger’s Monkey God simulation also shows that life-giving universes might not be so unlikely after all.

      They claim that life couldn’t even form. For example, that stars would burn out so quickly that there would be no novas to produce the heavy elements that life (supposedly) needs. In this case, there is no life to adapt, so I’m not buying your claim.

  • kso721

    #1 fails because it assumes the answer that there was a beginning. we don’t know that the expansion of the universe was the beginning. it’s just the only point of reference we have from our position. very well could be a cyclical universe for all we know.
    #2 fails because the appearance of fine tuning doesn’t mean it is. the ‘tuning” wasn;t a constant that started with the expansion of the universe and was actually much later in the in the evolution of galaxies, planets, and life. all of these things arose AFTER the conditions were right. If there were fine tuning, it would have been present from the start and galaxies, planets, and life would have occured much much earlier. well, immediately if we’re referring to the involvement of an all powerful omnipotent conscious caring complex being who is more complex himself than the universe.
    #3 is a tba. doesn’t mean science won’t figure that out. we just don’t know YET. But, we do know that all the organic elements that lead to life on earth occur practically everywhere in our measured universe. we’ve seen complex organic molecules in everything from asteroids to comets to complex sugar clouds in the vast distances of space.
    i’m pretty sure it’s not that hard of a gap between organic chemical and the right conditions for life arising. urei-miller experiment comes to mind.

    these are not questions solely for atheists to answer. it’s on all of us to answer these honestly.

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

      And the “answer these honestly” seems to trip up the apologists. They can do nothing except spin the facts to support their preconception.

  • Balboa

    Ultimately i think the author is correct, but these are responses to questions by a former cop and atheist turned christian. What’s next, is the author going to prove his martial prowess by karate chopping some eight year olds? Instead of fielding philosophical and religious questions about god from a guy who thinks he’s sherlock holmes, how about we take on questions from professional scholars of religion and philosophy like Stephen Prothero or Peter Kreeft?

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

      Down, boy. I do the authors the honor of taking their arguments seriously.

      There’s no goal here to seek out just the easy stuff because the good arguments are too hard.

  • Jim Jones

    > I’ve touched on the fine-tuning argument before. The quick answer to this question is the multiverse—an almost infinite number of other universes defined by different constants.

    That’s dubious. IMO the real answer is that we are using the wrong math. You should be impressed by Euler’s Identity (which appears nowhere in the bible although it would be great evidence for a god).

    Equally, once we have it figured out, the math of the universe will probably turn out to be just as simple but equally amazing.

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

      I would call it “compact,” not “simple,” but I’ll agree that the fundamental theory might be marvelously simple.

    • http://maxfur.com/ Max T. Furr

      What strikes me about the “fine-tuning” teleological argument is that it is obviously false–and the obvious answer is that the universe is nothing like a watch. Galaxies, stars, and planets collide–blowing themselves to cosmic dust and gas. Remove or damage any part in the mechanics of a watch, and the entire process comes to a halt.

      The neat thing about the above galactic event, is that the galaxies, stars, and planets are reborn as the cloud of dust and gas, by the force of gravity, condenses into galaxies, stars, and planets. But they are not the SAME stars and planets, nor is the number of them the same. Think about rocks that are beaten to grains of sand by rain or surf, then over time, reform into rocks once again. If a watchmaker could make a watch to do that, then I would call her a god.

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

        This gets to the fundamental problem of Paley’s watch example: the watch stands out from the background. It’s startling because it’s designed. But if it looks different enough to be noticeable, then apparently the other stuff doesn’t look like it! The “but they all look designed” argument vanishes.

        • Jim Jones

          Without knowledge gained from experience, how can anyone tell which one of a cabbage and a loaf of bread is made and which was grown?

        • http://maxfur.com/ Max T. Furr

          Likely you can ask the same question in reference to the knowledge that a god would require to create anything. How could it gain the knowledge to create time and everything thereafter from nothingness (timelessness).

        • http://maxfur.com/ Max T. Furr

          Quite true. Nothing in the universe looks designed except for what we see designed by humans–and as I say, take a moving part out of the workings of a watch, and the entire system stops.

  • Paul

    “That science doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that Christians do.”

    What do you mean when you say “science doesn’t know something”? WE either know something or we don’t, but science doesn’t have a mind. Science is a tool we use to help us understand and evaluate the world around us. Could you please clarify what you mean? Thanks.

    • MNb

      Science doesn’t know this:

      http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1987/press.html
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-temperature_superconductivity#Possible_mechanism
      http://www.nature.com/news/superconductor-breaks-high-temperature-record-1.10081

      It has been observed, but there isn’t a theory satisfactorily describing it.
      Needless to say that christians don’t know it either.

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

      By “science,” I mean the scientific community in this context. Was that not obvious?

      • Paul

        Why not just say “scientific community” instead of “science”?
        “That science doesn’t know something doesn’t mean that Christians do. They still must do the hard work of coming up with evidence for the claim “God did it.” Believing by faith won’t do.”
        What do you mean by “faith”? Do you mean “fideism”, belief without evidence?

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

          Why not just say “scientific community” instead of “science”?

          (1) That equivalence is common.

          (2) It’s fun to speak in code so no one understands me.

          What do you mean by “faith”? Do you mean “fideism”, belief without evidence?

          I use “trust” for believing with evidence.

  • Paul

    “A multiverse is predicted by well-established physics—both string theory and inflation.”
    But is there any actual observable evidence of a multiverse? Even the scientists in “The Fabric of the Cosmos” with Brian Greene were saying that the multiverse is unscientific because it’s unobservable.

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

      We have evidence for inflation, and inflation predicts the multiverse.

      • Paul

        So no observable evidence, just a prediction? Has the prediction been verified by any observable evidence?

  • Paul

    “There’s more than one photon, more than one electron, more than one star, more than one object influenced by gravity, and so on. Why imagine only one Big Bang?”

    We can observe more than one photon, more than one electron, more than one star, more than one object influenced by gravity, etc. We can also observe the expansion of THIS universe. It’s the only “Big Bang” that’s observed. Sure, you can IMAGINE other Big Bangs. You can imagine a lot of things that aren’t scientifically testable.


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