I had received an invitation to debate Frank Turek, author of the abysmal I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, in April at TAMU-CC. However, just yesterday I got this email from the organizers.
Unfortunately, Dr. Turek decided to back out of the debate. An email he sent said, “you can’t successfully debate some people because they violate the rules of the debate by bringing up too many diversion that you don’t have time to answer.”
He says “diversions”, but I think he means “arguments”. Does he think I get up on stage and drop my pants instead of giving arguments to support my position? Giving arguments for why your opponent is wrong is kind of what you’re supposed to do in debates.
Clearly, he was talking about William Lane Craig, the debater he has pretty much tried to clone in all appearances. WLC is fully aware that it takes longer to rebut an argument than it does to make one, and so he’ll throw out a shit ton of arguments waiting to point out all the ones that were “dropped” in an effort to win on points. It’s a pretty shoddy trick, but it’s the new hotness for apologist debaters.
Anyway, Turek was willing to debate Hitchens, but won’t debate me. This will put a little pep in my step for the rest of the day.
And to show that I’m perfectly willing to engage in what Turek actually says, here’s a peek at why his book sucks (much of this is taken from a review I wrote four years ago, hence the capital Gs in “god”).
On page 18, the book speaks about one of Turek’s religion professors who, when asked if there was a god or not, responded “I don’t know”. Here is how Turek responds:
“Wait a minute, you’re teaching that the Old Testament is false, and you don’t know whether there’s a God or not?”
One does not need to be certain that god does not exist in order to dismiss the myth of Christianity in full, especially the portion of the myth that resides in the Old Testament. The God hypothesis should not stand or fall based on its most unpleasant candidate. The fact that the teacher admitted his ignorance as to whether some other manifestation of a creator existed (one whose attributes were not frequently in conflict with logic and common sense) in no way indicates that his understanding of the Old Testament is incomplete. The truth is that nobody knows whether or not an ambiguous creator exists, and just because the teacher elected to concede this does not mean his understanding of ancient scripture is lacking.
In the world of intellectual honesty, “I don’t know” is a very defensible position when faced with a reasonable mystery. It is far more honest than using sacred mysteries as a shield behind which to hide your false certainties. This should have been obvious to Turek, instead he uses his professor’s honesty as a criticism.
Turek then goes on to attack universities (all of them). He suggests that universities should should show how the fields of art, philosophy, the physical sciences, mathematics, etc, fit together to provide a unified picture of life. He accuses universities of failing this task, while teaching that every viewpoint, no matter how ridiculous, is as valid as any other. His example?
“…except the viewpoint that just one religion or worldview could be true. That’s the one viewpoint considered intolerant and bigoted on most college campuses.”
One needs to look no further than the absence of intelligent design in the science curriculum to realize that collegiate academia is more than willing to reject bad ideas, even against the will of the majority of the population. Furthermore, I know several professors who believe that one worldview can be true (head over to the biology department of your local campus, and most of the professors will affirm this for you). Contrary to Turek’s claim, I strongly doubt there are many teachers with a liberal understanding of many religions who suggest that more than one of them can be true: this is because most faiths are incompatible with one another; Christians believe in only one god, therefore all the Hindus are wrong. Muslims think anybody who believes in the divinity of Jesus is going to hell (Koran 5:71), so all the Christians are wrong; etc. The divisive, incompatible nature of our various faiths are so palpable that they continue to produce nearly unthinkable levels of violence in their defense.
Turek then claims:
“If God exists, then there’s ultimate meaning and purpose in your life…On the other hand, if there is no God, your life ultimately means nothing.”
What a load of unadulterated rubbish. Simply because our lives may not have some form of ultimate, cosmic significance does not mean that our lives have *no* significance. Without god, life is what you make it personally, and many decisions you make hold the significance of affecting others. Additionally, for those embracing religious certainty as a healthy segue to ultimate meaning, the significance of how our actions affect others is frequently lost, buried beneath an unwavering desire to serve the will of an invisible god – a will that not even his followers can agree upon.
There are lots of reasons to live that don’t include paying lip service to the same god that supposedly thought cancer was a great idea when he was creating the earth. And you can damn sure have a more noble purpose in life than living by the moral rules of the bible. If you rank bowing to the moral conclusions of a handful of zealots from the first century over spending time with family, playing video games, holding a loved one’s hand, or even scooping the fucking litterbox, you are missing this whole thing called “life” that is happening all around you. And if you think that all of those things are meaningless as a purpose for living because only caring about what those same people from the first century wanted you to do with your life can give someone a reason to live, your intelligence is probably rivaled by the contents of said litterbox.
I am really trying to find something positive in the introduction to this book – I really am. I’m currently on my sixth trip through its pages, and I have found so very little that makes logical sense as this book attempts to set the foundation for its case. I could literally do a line by line dissection of the introduction clearing up the rampant misconceptions of Mr. Turek. That being said, I’ll focus on the things that jump out at me.
The book continues on, employing several blanket generalizations such as:
“Easygoing Americans are more apt to believe that no religion is the truth.”
Pew says that 78.4% of Americans are Christians, so this line is unmitigated bullshit. And even if it were true, hooray? Who gives a shit what percentage of the population believes particular things about religion? A better consideration would be the soundness of their reasons, which Turek is pretty light on.
Turek then goes on to claim on page 24 that because religion and science address the same questions (where did we come from, etc) that science and religion are not “mutually exclusive categories as some have suggested.” He’s right, they’re not. And science has concluded that people don’t rise from the dead and walk on water. These things are called miracles expressly because they violate our understanding of how the universe works. This does not seem to phase Turek.
To quote Sam Harris:
“Faith has obliged us to lie to ourselves repeatedly and at the highest levels about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science. It is time we conceded a basic fact of human discourse: either a person has good reasons for what he believes, or he does not. When a person has good reasons, his beliefs contribute to our growing understanding of the world. For instance, there happen to be very good reasons to believe that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Consequently, the idea that the Egyptians actually did it lacks credibility. Every sane human being recognizes that to rely merely upon “faith” to decide specific questions of historical fact would be both idiotic and grotesque – that is, until the conversation turns to the origin of books like the Bible. The breadth of our scientific understanding includes all reasonable claims to knowledge about ourselves and the world. If there were good reasons to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin these beliefs would necessarily form part of our rational description of the universe.”
Of course, the claims of Christianity are not included in our rational description of the universe, and rightfully so.
Next we find the sentence:
“Is Christianity reasonable? We believe it is.”
Of course you do, otherwise why write the book? I can appreciate this. However, just three sentences before this one, Turek wrote:
“Some [truth claims made by Christianity] are unverifiable dogma.”
This also occurs on page 24. Unverifiable dogma is not reasonable. Period. Consider that only 19 short years ago, Galileo was absolved of his heresy. His crime? Making claims about reality that conflicted with the “unverifiable dogma” of the Catholic Church. 400 years after being forced to recant his understanding of the Earth’s motion under pain of death, the Catholic Church finally, begrudgingly said “our bad.” Was this reasonable? No. Was this purely the product of unverifiable dogma? Yes, yes it was.
Right after that, Turek gives us this sentence completely in italics, as though this will be the monumental straw that breaks the atheist’s back:
“Once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian.”
Is it really a departure from our skepticism to reject the idea that Christians are in possession of a magical book? Or that a man was born of a virgin over 2,000 years ago? Or that he rose from the dead? Or that he ascended into Heaven? We do not need to accept anything on insufficient evidence (faith) to reject these claims – and neither do Christians.
Is it a leap of faith for any Christian to deny that Muhammad spoke with the angel Gabriel in his cave? Is a Christian being morally irresponsible if he/she finds the following claim to be repulsive: “It’s the universal, divine will of God! That is why the caste system of Hinduism (which results in tons of discrimination, violence, and death) is a moral necessity?” Despite what practicing Muslims and Hindus will say, Christians need not disprove these things to dismiss them as being not only completely without merit, but utterly worthy of our intellectual contempt. Yet here is Frank Turek, informing me that it is unreasonable faith when I do the exact same thing.
Now, why do Turek (and Geisler) think that atheism requires faith? They believe this because people do not hold absolute beliefs – they hold probable beliefs. Finally I have found some common ground where I can actually agree with Turek. People do hold probable beliefs, and this is important to note because of an oft-cited canard from the theistic side that is present throughout the book. Many times, Christians will say something like “Yes, the evidence suggests that Jesus’ resurrection is almost certainly a myth, but couldn’t something turn up down the road that proved it to be true?”
Yes, yes it could. That doesn’t make it reasonable to believe your particular proposition about god without any good evidence now. This argument can be used to justify belief in anything (couldn’t we turn up evidence one day that giant hamsters are running on a wheel in the middle of the sun?), and Christians will laugh this argument off when it is used for anything but their own God. No sane human being can be expected to hold beliefs based on information they don’t have (but are hoping to discover in the future), let alone information that no human being has. Yet this is the very life-blood of faith-based religion – that of pretending to know things you don’t.
So, why would Turek bring this up when the fact that we hold probable beliefs is a cudgel to be dropped with particular force on most Christian ideas? He does this to illustrate that, though we do not hold all of the answers, this does not mean we are not able to come to a conclusion. He says that faith covers a gap in knowledge, so that if a Christian has 95% certainty in the divinity of Jesus, faith only covers the 5% that is unknown.
Here is the problem with that, and this problem should be obvious to virtually anybody. Atheists have unknowns the same as anybody, but we are not forcefully shoving ad hoc explanations into the crevices of the known. We simply say “I don’t know”. Again, many Christians will respond “so there’s a chance I’m right because you don’t know!” Well, yes there is, but it is still unreasonable to believe things based on bad reasons right now, just because there’s an insanely small chance that a good reason might surface in the future. You still believe in things on bad reasoning right now, and what is to be celebrated about that?
Turek is implying that faith covers unknowns, but that is not how Christians utilize it. To them, faith covers things we do know, with almost all the certainty we could possibly desire, that conflict with the conclusion that Jesus is Lord. Here is the difference in how “faith” applies to the atheist (the way Turek would like to apply it to Christianity) and the way it applies to Christians:
Everything in the world that we have been able to study at length has turned out to be the product of mindless forces working on inanimate objects, even the order we observe. So it is logical to have “faith” that observable order elsewhere is also the product of these forces.
Even though it is obvious without invoking the relevant sciences that men cannot fly, I still believe that Jesus flew into the sky after his resurrection, which is something else we know doesn’t happen.
In one case, we are honestly leaving the unknowns intact and acting off what we do know. In the other case, we are attempting to demolish override what we do know with bad conclusions and virtual impossibilities. Unfortunately, it seems the rest of the book is based upon the reader being unable to note this very important difference in application.
Turek then tries to claim that science supports Christianity, even though 93% of the members of the National Academy of Science, our most prestigious scientific body, claim to be irreligious. Here are some of his claims with brief rebuttals:
1. The Big Bang.
While Turek smartly admits the Big Bang occurred, he says that we are left to choose whether nothing came from nothing or whether someone (read God) created something from nothing. But his representation of the Big Bang is not the one held by cosmologists.
First, why is non-existence a more natural state than existence? This is Turek’s premise and he does nothing to defend it.
Second, something coming from nothing is the religious position. Something about god creating stuff “out of the void.” But, of course, what is a deal-breaker for one side is a miracle for the other.
Third, Turek has no idea what preceded the Big Bang. Neither do cosmologists (though we have theories based upon known science).
For this unknown of what caused the Big Bang, we are left to determine if it was more likely natural causes or an intelligence that had no time to evolve, no time to do anything, etc. Now quite literally everything we have ever explained about the operation of the universe has been found to be the product of mindless forces acting upon inanimate objects. All of it. So when deciding what most likely is responsible for unknowns, we need to go with the historic trend in discovered knowledge.Look at it this way: if you have two boxers who have fought millions of fights, and one boxer has won every single one of them, and they’re about to fight again: on which boxer do you bet your life savings? Clearly, on natural causes.
DNA contains a lot of information, which Christians believe could only have been put in place by an intelligent creator. Turek says that Christians have evidence for this conclusion (omg it’s super complex! As though nature doesn’t create complexities all by itself, and as if we don’t know the mechanisms by which it does so with DNA).
The first DNA strand would not have held so much information, but instead it would have held just enough to get it started so it could evolve, and it would not require much to get the original strand started: only an array of polypeptides that were present in the prebiotic earth. Of course, you’d also need a little luck: you would need fluctuations of temperature sufficient to remove portions of the pools from thermal equilibrium, and these occur in just the same way that organized convection cycles arise naturally when water is heated. With these things in place, as they likely were in the beginning stages of our planet, virtually all biologists believe the development of complex reproducing systems is guaranteed, as a result of naturally-occurring “autocatalytic cycles” (Nature Dec ‘05 p.38).
That would be enough to get a self-replicating molecule started, and from there evolution does the rest.
Or, you know, it might have been an intelligence that existed before it had a chance to evolve, who made the first human beings from dirt, even though all the evidence points to the fact that we evolved.
The “prophesies” of Christianity are numerous and far-reaching – to go through and illustrate why all of them are either uncompelling or easily fabricated would take far more time than I’m willing to put into this review. Besides, if they are prophesies from the One True All-Powerful God, all I would have to do is disprove one of them, and any Christian with their empiricism intact should concede that this is not difficult.
In psychology they deal with a phenomenon called postdiction – perceived clairvoyance after the fact, essentially. In the last century this view, as an explanation for pretty vague and bland prophecy, has been accepted by many in Judaism, in theologically liberal branches of Protestant Christianity, and in Unitarian Universalism. However, this view continues to be totally rejected by Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians today.
Take a moment and imagine you could go back in time, just as a human being with no omniscient knowledge of the future, which god would have surely had. You could make very precise predictions of the future without the need to hide in ambiguity. Some of my predictions would look like this:
“In the 21st Century, there will be a system by which information is spread throughout the entire world, and this system shall be called ‘the internet.'”
“In the future, people will think that deafness and blindness are a result of being afflicted by the devil. This is not true. These maladies are the result common flaws in DNA replication and you should treat them as equals, since it’s not their fault.”
“Stars are not tiny points of light, as you currently believe. They are actually huge – they’re just really far away. They’re not going to fall to the Earth.”
“In the second century of Rome there shall be five emperors, and they will be named Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.”
Once again, this is what I could offer with a knowledge of what has transpired between then and now that is far inferior to what god’s would have been. Why is it that I could have been infinitely more clear and accurate than god, even with only the capacity of a fairly young mortal?
It should also be noted that, if even one prophecy amongst them is untrue, then that nullifies god’s perfection on the matter. ‘lo and behold, there are several that are just patently false. The Tyre prophecy is one such example, as Tyre still exists, contrary to the prophecy. This prophecy is one of several fishy biblical claims, not just for its inaccuracy, but because it was added to the bible during the Persian era, rather than by a pre-exile prophet of Israel.
Then there are the prophecies that function only because the history of the bible is off. For instance, the book of Daniel was actually authored around 160-170 B.C., rather than in the 6th Century B.C. to which it purports. So many of the prophecies in this case are easily the result of historical inaccuracy at best, and dishonest retroactive fabrications at worse. Either way, god could certainly have done better.
Then we get Turek’s 12-point logical progression, many of which are self-evident such as #2: the opposite of true is false. But what gets me is #3 (I touch on some of them more in-depth here):
It is true that the theistic God exists. This is evidenced by:
1. Beginning of the universe (Cosmological Argument)
2. Design of the universe (Teleological Argument)
3. Design of life (Teleological Argument)
4. Moral law (Moral Argument)
Friends, these arguments are antiquated and dead – it’s just that many Christians don’t know it. Look them up on wikipedia, the relevant science and refutation to them are up there. I’ll just do some brief touching on them.
1. Cosmological Argument
The idea here is that everything that exists had to have a creator. The theistic solution to this: a being that requires no creator. Ingenious. Christians, like atheists, already concede that something can exist without a cause. It doesn’t necessarily follow that whatever exists without a cause has to have a mind/conscience, as Christians claim.
2. Design of the Universe
To establish this, Christians will point to pockets of order, insinuating that all order requires a designer. Again, the mind of God must be a highly ordered, highly complex thing, yet Christians will not drop the same standard on their own beliefs here.
Romans did the same thing, pointing to the motion of the planets as order. Then along came Sir Isaac Newton, who established that the order of the planets was not God’s doing, but simply the force of gravity.
The next step for Christianity, amongst other superstitious groups, was to say that God was the cause of gravity. Well, then came along Albert Einstein who determined that gravity was just the bending of space-time, and that all you need to bend space-time is, as I said earlier in this review, objects. The next step for Christians is to say that God gave objects their ability to bend space-time, but this is starting to look like a pretty bad argument. The point is that order arises out of disorder in our universe naturally, as the product of mindless forces working on mindless objects. On the other hand, we’ve never once found evidence of divine influence on anything. So even if we have an instance of inexplicable order, we have no reason to believe that this order is the product of God and not of natural forces.
3. Moral Law
I find it baffling that Christians will shout moral law until they’re blue in the face, and then defend their “magical” book with the same tenacity, even though the Bible is full of the most reprehensible moral ideas imaginable. Other books write far more concisely and with infinitely more wisdom about morality than the Bible: the Tao Te Ching and the Vedas for starters.
After this, Turek admits on page 30 that many Christians believe simply because they enjoy the cloying proposition of an afterlife that Christianity has to offer. This is understandable. Who can be surprised at the spread of a notion that conforms to our sense of wishful thinking at every turn?
But then Turek says that atheists “believe” in atheism because they want to. Really? We know of the empty promises that serve as the theistic motivation for wanting to believe – what is the atheist’s motivation? Turek says it is because we don’t want to give up control of our lives. I suppose this is true to an extent, but we have already given up control of our lives in many areas: to government, to laws…various things indicative of the social contract. Personally, I am simply unwilling to surrender my mind, my skepticism, and the best methodology for determining matters of truth, as Christians and other faithful people have done – as God demands that we do in Proverbs 3:5:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”
Why would a God ask that we do this? Wouldn’t God make finding him to be the product of a reasonable set of thought processes? Geisler and Turek claim to think so, but then why is this line present in God’s holy book? Of course, Christians will attempt to manufacture excuses for verses like these, but a good and wise man’s message would not need excuses. It follows that the Bible was written neither by the wise nor the good.
The very last thing I’ll touch on in the introduction to this book is the free will argument, which it seems cannot be avoided in discussions about Christianity. Actually, I’ll let Richard Carrier do it for me:
“Either the human will is more powerful than the will of God, and therefore can actually block his words from being heard despite all his best and mighty efforts, or God cares more about our free choice not to hear him than about saving our souls, and so God himself “chooses” to be silent. Of course, there is no independent evidence of either this remarkable human power to thwart God, or this peculiar desire in God, and so this is a completely “ad hoc” theory: something just “made up” out of thin air in order to rescue the actual theory that continually fails to fit the evidence.
Meteorologists can disagree about the weather forecast, but they all agree how weather is made and the conditions that are required for each kind of weather to arise. And they agree about this because the scientific evidence is so vast and secure that it resolves these questions, often decisively. It can’t be claimed that God has violated the free will of meteorologists by providing them with all this evidence. And yet how much more important is salvation than the physics of weather! If God wants what Christianity says he wants, he would not violate our free will to educate us on the trivial and then refuse to do the same for the most important subject of all. Likewise, if a doctor wants a patient to get well, he is not vague about how he must do this, but as clear as can be. He explains what is needed in terms the patient can understand. He even answers the patient’s questions, and whenever asked will present all the evidence for and against the effectiveness of the treatment. He won’t hold anything back and declare, “I’m not going to tell you, because that would violate your free will!” Nor would any patient accept such an excuse–to the contrary, he would respond, “But I choose to hear you,” leaving the doctor no such excuse.”
I and countless others have chosen to give God a fair hearing if only he would speak. I have read the Bible cover to cover more than once. I would listen to him even now, at this very moment, yet he remains silent. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that I am “choosing” not to hear him. And therefore, the fact that he still does not speak refutes the hypothesis. Nothing about free will can save the hypothesis here.
I will conclude by saying that writing this has exhausted me – not because my mind is being taxed to produce counter arguments to Turek’s, but because I shouldn’t have to. I’m sure I could write 20 more pages on just the things wrong with the introduction to this book, much of it just as obviously illogical as the rest.