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How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? (A Response to Geisler and Turek, Part 2)

How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? (A Response to Geisler and Turek, Part 2) August 27, 2015

I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist Norm Geisler Frank TurekThis is a continuation of my response to the Christian apologetics book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek. Read part 1 here.

For more information, I’d like to recommend a recent excellent and thorough critique by fellow Patheos atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder.

Let’s move on to some vaguely science-y arguments in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist.

Cosmological Argument

Geisler and Turek (GT) uses the familiar form of this argument:

1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause

2. The universe had a beginning

3. Therefore, the universe had a cause (page 75)

Why the “that had a beginning” caveat? The phrase is obviously added to avoid the challenge, “But if the universe had a cause (let’s call it ‘God’), what caused God?” What that premise is trying to say is, “Everything had a beginning … except God.” That’s a remarkable claim, and we need evidence before we accept that God had no beginning.

GT labels premise 1 the “Law of Causality,” but an impressive label doesn’t make it right. In fact, the popular Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics says that it’s wrong: at the quantum level, events don’t always have causes. When an electron comes out of a decaying nucleus, that event had no cause.

Even if “Everything that had a beginning had a cause” were always true, we’re talking about two different kinds of “begins to exist.” In our world, everything that begins comes from something else. The oak tree comes, not only from the acorn, but from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. Even quantum particles, virtual or otherwise, come from the matter or energy that was there before. But GT is talking about the universe, which they think came from absolutely nothing. Science knows of no examples of such thing happening, and we’ve entered the realm of science fiction. Or religion.

Another problem is that cause implies time. X wasn’t there, then the cause happened, and now X is there. But how does this make sense when there is no time before the Big Bang?

Here are a few more ideas:

  • This is just a deist argument. If I found it convincing, I’d still be far from Christianity.
  • Physicist Sean Carroll has responded to William Lane Craig’s attempt at this argument (my summary of that debate).
  • I write more about Christians’ attempts to defend against the rebuttal, “If God caused the universe, what caused God?” here.
  • Christian philosophers like Craig often introduce pop philosophy (that is, common sense labeled “philosophy”) into the conversation. This doesn’t help.

Thermodynamics

You know the witticism about knowing just enough to be dangerous? That’s GT within science. I just wish their readership were skeptical enough to catch their negligence.

If a wind-up clock is running down, then someone must have wound it up. (p. 77)

Why someone? Why not something? GT’s agenda is showing. Childish naiveté is appealing in a child; here it’s just tiresome.

Since we know of no other supernatural explanations for natural things, we won’t be starting now.

And most cosmologists accept the idea of a zero-energy universe in which the positive energy in things like matter is balanced by the negative energy in gravity. No, this appeal to thermodynamics fails. The universe isn’t running down; from a net energy standpoint, it’s doing nothing, and no scientific laws are violated.

Science and Genesis

GT handwaves about the “overwhelming evidence for the Big Bang and its consistency with the biblical account in Genesis” (p. 84).

Yes, the evidence for the Big Bang is overwhelming, but there are no clues to it in the six-day creation account in Genesis. Where in Genesis do you find the idea of a singularity? Inflation? Quantum physics? The unification of the four fundamental forces? 13.8 billion years?

You might respond that Genesis isn’t supposed to be a science textbook, and that’s fine. But someone who agrees with this shouldn’t try to jump on the science bandwagon now.

Here’s how GT could make its case. Give an unbiased person a copy of the six-day creation story in Genesis, and ask for a one-page summary of the main scientific points with no theology. Now get the same thing from a science perspective—say from middle school textbooks that cover cosmology, geology, and evolution. Compare the two summaries. You still think they would be consistent?

The Cause of the Universe revealed!

GT wants to find properties in the Big Bang that they can match up to with properties of the Christian god.

The First Cause must be self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, and immaterial (since the First Cause created time, space and matter, the First Cause must be outside of time, space, and matter). (p. 93)

Since science gave us information for the Big Bang, to merely use that as a launching point into conjecture, jettisoning science when it’s inconvenient and swapping in Christianity, reveals their agenda. Again. Science says, “We don’t know” when appropriate, and that’s a perfectly good answer when, in fact, we don’t know.

Science doesn’t imagine any being behind the Big Bang; there simply isn’t any evidence pointing there. But that doesn’t stop GT from loving and groundless speculation in that direction. They’ve already named it First Cause, so they’re halfway to God: it must also be “unimaginably powerful,” “supremely intelligent,” and “personal” (personal, because he chose to create the universe). And when you squint at the Bible, you find those properties an exact match for (drum roll!) the Christian god!

In light of the evidence, we are left with only two options: either no one created something out of nothing, or else someone created something out of nothing. Which view is more reasonable? … The most reasonable view is God. (p. 94)

What kind of proof is that? No one creates a crystal. At a higher level, no one creates a whirlpool. At a higher level still, no one creates a solar system. We have no examples of a supernatural being creating anything and myriad examples of nature creating things. Why imagine a supernatural being creating the universe?

And who says that what came before the universe (if that’s even a well-constructed idea) was nothing? Let’s leave the nice scientists alone and let them do their work. If any discipline will tell us more about the origin of the universe, it will be science. Religion has taught us nothing verifiable about reality.

Continued in part 3.

Science doesn’t make it impossible to believe in God,
it just makes it possible not to believe in God.
— Steven Weinberg

Image credit: NASA

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