The Case for a Creator: Atheistic Meteorology

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 2

In the second chapter of Case, Lee Strobel worries whether evolutionary theory, by its undirected nature, rules out the possibility of a creative and purposeful deity. He admits that some prominent evolutionary scientists, like Christian de Duve or Kenneth Miller, do believe in God, but sweeps them under the carpet with little fanfare. Without ever directly discussing their views, he insists that evolution does rule out a creator because:

…textbooks affirm that evolution is “random and undirected” and “without either plan or purpose” and that “Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis by attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than supernatural creation.”
    If this is how scientists define Darwinism, then it seemed to me that God has been given his walking papers. [p.22]

Strobel’s argument here is rooted in a profound misunderstanding of what science does. His problem, like that of many Christians, is that he insists on a god whose existence does not rest purely on faith, but on a visible god who is actively involved in the world and constantly performing empirically verifiable miracles. As previously discussed, evolution does not rule out the possibility of any god whatsoever, but it does mean that God is not necessary to explain the diversity of life. That diversity is explained as arising from the interaction of natural forces. A theist could say that there is a god, and that those forces are his tools; an atheist could likewise say that no god is needed, because those natural forces are perfectly sufficient on their own to explain what we observe.

But to creationists, this is anathema. They demand scientific validation of their beliefs, demand that God be not just possible but necessary. But the question suggests itself – why, then, do they focus their ire on evolution? Doesn’t every other branch of science partake of the same atheistic, purposeless, undirected explanations that Strobel finds so distasteful?

After all, doesn’t geology teach that earthquakes and volcanoes occur due to the grinding of the Earth’s tectonic plates, and not because of God’s wrath against sinners? Doesn’t meteorology teach that lightning results from the buildup of electric potential around tall objects during thunderstorms, rather than resulting from divine smiting of the ungodly? Doesn’t quantum physics teach that atomic nuclei undergo radioactive decay at random times, and not when God sovereignly wills?

None of these branches of science clearly indicate the fingerprint of God, but insist that the natural phenomena they study are random and undirected, occurring without discernible plan or purpose. Aren’t they therefore opposed to an active, creative deity every bit as much as evolution is?

This is Strobel’s dilemma: he’s set himself not just against evolution, but against all of science. He demands that science pay proper deference to his religious beliefs, and when it stubbornly persists in discovering natural phenomena that occur without the need for divine intervention, he denounces it as the tool of atheists. It may only be when it comes to evolution that he perceives the conflict, but the problem is all around him whether he recognizes it or not.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Actually, I think the TOE does have a special place in making atheism scientifically defensible. As Dawkins says:

    An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

    I assume Strobel is content to allow God to create all the physical phenomena once and for all without behaving like Zeus everytime lightening strikes, but for him life is God’s special creation and humans even more so. Darwin is the big enemy for YEC.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    This is Strobel’s dilemma: he’s set himself not just against evolution, but against all of science. He demands that science pay proper deference to his religious beliefs, and when it stubbornly persists in discovering natural phenomena that occur without the need for divine intervention, he denounces it as the tool of atheists. It may only be when it comes to evolution that he perceives the conflict, but the problem is all around him whether he recognizes it or not.

    Indeed. I wish more people understood this point.

  • velkyn

    well, many Christians and creationists piously prate that their god only wants “faith” to excuse their god’s lack of any real miracles but then turn around and insist that they have “proof” that God created everything. As usual, they are hypocrites and liars. Strobel is just one more creationist that accept science when it conveniences him but lies about it when it destroys his myths.

  • yaab

    I like this line of reasoning. The field of probability and statistics provides the purest form of this argument, I think. Books like Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk explain that in ancient times, games of chance were thought to be settled by the will of the gods rather than by the laws of probability, which were unknown at the time.

    I don’t hear a lot of theists complaining about those godless professors teaching prob & stats, promulgating the heresy that a coin toss will, on average, yield 50% heads, 50% tails, without supernatural intervention! So is God maintaining a running universal heads/tails count and individually determining the outcome of each flip, or can this phenomenon be explained without resorting to supernatual intervention?

  • exrelayman

    There must be supernatural intervention. How else explain the miraculous persistence of faith contrary to evidence? Therefore God exists. QED

  • Erika

    I have always wondered at the Creationist obsession with the word “random”. If I were religious I would use the following analogy to reconcile the word with a belief in god. Suppose you were a mouse hitting a bar and sometimes getting food. The sequence of how many times you must hit the bar to get food starts 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9, 2, 6, 5, 3, 5. Seems pretty random to your limited rodent mind. But it is obvious to the humans who set up the dispense that there is a pattern, the digits of pie.

    The problem that most Creationists, and many other Christians, experience is that they believe in a god that they can understand.

  • Paul S.

    I’ve always been fascinated with people who pooh-pooh evolutionary science as not being real science, but have no qualms accepting science when it suits their needs. The same scientific method used to discover the polio vaccine is the same scientific method used to discover the evolutionary process. But do we here people arguing against the science that helped eradicate polio? Of course not.

  • http://makingmyway.org Robert

    Hmm…pie

    Good point Erika. Now go grab something to eat. :)

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “Books like Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk explain that in ancient times, games of chance were thought to be settled by the will of the gods rather than by the laws of probability, which were unknown at the time.”
    Yes, but in the Bible (Lev 16:8, among others), it’s really His will. When other people did it in other books that weren’t ably assisted by the One True God™, it was just silly superstition.

    “So is God maintaining a running universal heads/tails count and individually determining the outcome of each flip, or can this phenomenon be explained without resorting to supernatual intervention?”
    It’s competing gods. They’re like that.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Interesting point about geology and meteorology. I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way. And of course it’s true — any science that sees the physical world as resulting from a combination of natural laws and random chance is every bit as blasphemous as evolution.

    I think the reason evolution gets singled out is that evolution has to do with us, with human beings. The question of who we are and how we got here is much more central to most people than the question of what earthquakes and lightning are and how they happen. And that’s especially true for hard-core believers. We are, as far as most hard- core believers are concerned, the pinnacle of creation, its central purpose, the linchpin on which the entire universe hinges.

    It’s one thing to say that earthquakes and lightning storms happen through a combination of chance and the laws of nature. You can just sort of shove the cognitive dissonance into the back of your mind. It’s another thing entirely to say that about human beings. To let go of the view of humanity as the single most important and beloved project of the creator of the entire Universe, and instead see ourselves as just one more little twig on the evolutionary tree… that’s much harder. And it’s not as easy to just shove onto the back burner.

  • Scotlyn

    Yes, why do they pick on evolution? Take medicine, for example – if the Bible can teach us about science, here is its explicit teaching about issues of health and illness: proper worship results in health (Exodus 23:25); while disobedience results in every kind of sickness (Deuteronomy 28:61); and so does taking the Lord’s supper in the wrong frame of mind (I Corinthians 11:30); while those not fortunate enough to be able to resort to the healing touch of Christ and the Disciples (too many refs to cite) can attend their church elders for prayer and anointing with oil, which is effective for healing sickness and obtaining forgiveness for sin (James 5:14 – 15). There is a complete and self-referentially logical medical system here. Why would any Christian want or need to resort to the treatments of Godless doctors with their unbiblical (just a) theory of germs? Or their ungodly concept of the body as anything other than a temple? Or their refusal to see illness as just retribution for sin?

  • Scotlyn

    Should perhaps have said, “a complete and ser-referentially logical HEALTH system”…

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    To follow up on Greta’s comments, it probably has to do with the Bible in Genesis saying that we were created in God’s image. The TOE directly contradicts that by saying that we evolved from primate ancestors.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Maybe god also evolved from primate ancestors?

  • Alex, FCD

    I think the reason evolution gets singled out is that evolution has to do with us, with human beings.

    Were that the case, you would think that they would go after neuroscience with equal vehemence.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I don’t think most apologists are even aware of what neuroscience is, or else they might.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Oh, they’re aware. They’re aware that neuroscience hates God so much that it refuses to detect souls. To them, a human brain just looks like a chimp brain with a bunch extra on the front. Pah!

  • Leum

    As a geology-type, I’ve always been mildly offended at being ignored by the creationists. Biology’s got nothing on geology in terms of disproving Genesis. Not so sure about intelligent design, since ID doesn’t actually make claims beyond “Oh, and there was a creator. Who can be proven to have been present in genetic mutations because, um…irreducible complexity! Yeah, and, um, tornado in junkyard!”

  • Alex Weaver

    But do we here [sic] people arguing against the science that helped eradicate polio? Of course not.

    Yes.

  • pellirunner

    What made the dark ages *The Dark Ages* if not for the religious perspective you’ve described? The Dark Ages were dark precisely because all the questions had been answered. Everything was completely understood. Plagues, earthquakes, lightning, etc. all the “…divine smiting of the ungodly”. Origins of the universe and life on earth? Goddidit, of course.

    So, if god is the answer, why is it necessary or desirable to look for other explanations? And if you are looking for an alternative explanation, isn’t that a way of denying “goddidit” as a valid explanation? Those questions sound so 12th century (there’s an inquisition lurking in there somewhere) but then, if “goddidit” is not a valid answer for questions about the natural world, how can it be a valid answer for *anything*, including those involving personal issues?

    Natural explanations, particularly where origins are concerned, have to be very threatening for religious folks. At some level, they realize the explanatory power of TOE far exceeds their pat, religious answers, and it frightens them.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Were that the case, you would think that they would go after neuroscience with equal vehemence.

    Actually, Alex FCD, I’ve actually seen it speculated that neuropsychology and neuroscience will be the 21st century’s version of evolution: i.e., the form of science that hard-core Christian fundamentalists go after most vociferously. It’s still too young a science… but even in its infancy, it’s pointing to a theory of human consciousness and selfhood and choice that makes the theory of the soul unnecessary, and that in fact flatly contradicts it. The more we learn about how the brain produces thought and self, the clearer it becomes that this is an entirely physical process… and the fundies are not going to stand for that.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    As a geology-type, I’ve always been mildly offended at being ignored by the creationists.

    Leum, the creashunists don’t ignore geology. The Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s Flood and as for plate tectonics, God just made it look that way. I like to say, if Noah’s Flood caused the Grand Canyon, why is there a bigger canyon on Mars?

  • Eric

    Why don’t creationists fight against the teaching of historical linguistics? We know that words change time and taht no one uses the names Adam used. We have written records of languages being diverse before the Tower of Babel happened on the shortest YEC timetables, and some records of languages that remained relatively unchanged throught the Babel period. Linguistics denies Genesis.

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    This is Strobel’s dilemma: he’s set himself not just against evolution, but against all of science.

    Many creationists lump several different scientific disciplines under “evolution.” The scientific estimates for the age of the earth and the age of the universe are, to creationists, simply justifications for evolution. The separate sciences of cosmology and geology don’t exist, as far as they are concerned. I’m sure that, as they become more aware of the recent findings of neuroscience, they will take the same approach.

    Creationists tend to be skeptical of climatology, too, though I haven’t seen them lump climate change with evolutionary theory — yet.

  • Alex Weaver

    I like to say, if Noah’s Flood caused the Grand Canyon, why is there a bigger canyon on Mars?

    Maybe God really had to take a leak and couldn’t wait until the next rest stop? ^.^

  • JLT

    I greatly enjoy reading critics of apologetics books and I’m sure I’ll enjoy your discussion of The Case for a Creator as much as your other posts.

    For all who like this kind of chapter-by-chapter analysis, Tiny Frog brillantly dealt with another Lee Strobel book, The Case for Faith.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Books like Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk explain that in ancient times, games of chance were thought to be settled by the will of the gods rather than by the laws of probability, which were unknown at the time.

    I don’t hear a lot of theists complaining about those godless professors teaching prob & stats, promulgating the heresy that a coin toss will, on average, yield 50% heads, 50% tails, without supernatural intervention!

    That’s an excellent point, yaab. To illustrate your statement, according to the Bible, the apostles chose Judas’ successor by drawing lots (Acts 1:26). Clearly, the authors of the New Testament shared the belief you described above, that God was in control of such events. Why then don’t we hear them ranting about “godless statistics”, which attributes those outcomes to random chance?

    Actually, Alex FCD, I’ve actually seen it speculated that neuropsychology and neuroscience will be the 21st century’s version of evolution: i.e., the form of science that hard-core Christian fundamentalists go after most vociferously.

    I think that’s very likely. In fact, I think the only reason the fundies haven’t been attacking neuroscience is because they’ve been slow to realize the implications.

    The first blow that science struck against the fundamentalist worldview was the Copernican revolution, which took away the Earth’s privileged status at the center of the universe. The Christian church fought against that for a long time, as with Galileo, but for the most part, they’ve finally come to accept it.

    The second blow was the Darwinian revolution, which demoted humanity from the apex of God’s creation to just one twig on the tree of life. (Honestly, I think that’s why the creationists fight against evolution so hard: it’s not being related to apes that bothers them, it’s the idea of not being the crowning glory of life on Earth.) Some churches have come to accept this, but many of them are still fighting against it.

    The third blow is going to be the neuroscientific revolution. For the most part the fundies haven’t even felt this blow yet, even though the science is already fairly advanced; but when it hits, it’s going to be the biggest of the three. The scientific evidence showing that mind and personality emerge from the structure of the brain presents a far more direct challenge to religious doctrine than evolution or heliocentrism ever did. It’s surprising how many creationists and other fundamentalists have been slow to grasp the implications of the fact that you can take a pill which changes your personality or your consciousness.

  • Obi-Wan Quixote

    Hey Ebon,

    Though technically not scientific, I’d like to suggest the Hume/Kant philosophic boundary as blow 2, if I’ve got my timing right: arguably as influential as Darwinism.

    We’ll have to wait and see on the neuroscience. If highly sophisticated AI accompanies it, and it seems plausible it will, the two will be linked, I’m certain. It’ll be interesting to see which way this association turns in people’s minds.

  • rennis

    Just wanted to check in on the most recent discussion. Seems like most comments tonight are more mean spirited than usual. Why is it necessary to insult and demean those who believe in God? It seems like some people spend a lot of energy directing anger and insult to those who hold values different from them.

  • Obi-Wan Quixote

    Hey rennis,

    I’m as conservative a Christian as you can find, and from Texas to boot. I’ve yet to be treated poorly or unfairly here in over a year.

  • rennis

    “….Hey rennis, I’m as conservative a Christian as you can find, and from Texas to boot. I’ve yet to be treated poorly or unfairly here in over a year…” Comment by: Obi-Wan Quixote

    I agree, I haven’t personally been treated poorly or unfairly in the few posts I’ve made. This, as a general rule, is one of the most respectful sites where comments rely on intellectual argument. I was refering to the comments such as “hypocrites and liars” “god neeeding to take a leak”…. etc. We need to learn to discuss without resorting to such comments……regardless of whether one is an athiest or Christian. Lord knows I’ve seen enough comments from “Christians” on other sites that are not from the Biblical perspective of loving our neighbors.

  • Brian

    Some attacks have already begun regarding neuroscience—just google “non-materialist neuroscience.”

    It doesn’t help that we have some (bad) scientists. Rick Strassman, for example, did a lot of research concerning DMT and the pineal gland, after which he concluded that DMT is the “spirit molecule.” He offers his research as evidence, conjures some unfalsifiable opinions, and then states that we shouldn’t reject ideas until we disprove them (and he’s a researcher?).

    A theist looking for a good dose of confirmation bias may look at Strassman’s research and think their position is perfectly validated!

    I can’t tell you how many theists I’ve debated with who cite Strassman, rattle off debunked hypotheses concerning irreducibly complex organelles, and conclude that there must be “something more than just blind chance.”

  • Leum

    Obi-Wan Quixote, so you are (MS) Quixote? I thought to. Glad you’re still around.

  • lpetrich

    rennis:
    Seems like most comments tonight are more mean spirited than usual. Why is it necessary to insult and demean those who believe in God? It seems like some people spend a lot of energy directing anger and insult to those who hold values different from them.

    Let’s let whoever has committed no sin throw the first stone here, shall we? Look at all the religious leaders and believers who demonize atheists as the moral equivalent of mad dogs. Like waving around Psalms 14:1.

  • Pi Guy

    I might’ve read it here last week but the reason that evolution is so contentious is that, if humans didn’t show up in the the Garden of Eden in their current form, there was no Eve. If there was no Eve, then no one committed the first sin. Without original sin, Jesus’ execution was pointless.

    Actually, Alex FCD, I’ve actually seen it speculated that neuropsychology and neuroscience will be the 21st century’s version of evolution: i.e., the form of science that hard-core Christian fundamentalists go after most vociferously.

    I guess that it’s not surprising then that Sam Harris is a neuroscientist.

    The other two revolutions that Greta notes, the heliocentric solar system and evolution, speak in direct contradiction to what’s written in the Bible and, so, Bible literalists at least have citations to quote to back their claims. Where will the religious go in the Bible to support their refutation of the newest findings in the neurosciences? I don’t think that they’re addressed. This issue stands to be even uglier than the first two revolutions because now consciousness (and the soul, I presume) can be attributed to something other than divine intervention. Saving souls is what Xianity is all about.

  • Pi Guy

    Ooops – it was Ebonmuse that identified the three revolutions.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    It seems to me that, if someone has to make a case “for” something primarily by building a case “against” something else, he has a pretty weak case.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    If there was no Eve, then no one committed the first sin. Without original sin, Jesus’ execution was pointless.

    I wonder how Neanderthals fit into the Creationist scheme of things.

  • Leum

    They think Neanderthals are just funny-looking members of Homo sapiens.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    …or the people at the family reunion. (Take that, non-branching areas of my family tree!)