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How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? (A Response to Geisler and Turek, Part 3)

How Much Faith to Be an Atheist? (A Response to Geisler and Turek, Part 3) August 31, 2015

This 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.

I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist Norm Geisler Frank TurekFine Tuning Argument (the Anthropic Principle)

Geisler and Turek (I’ll refer to the book as GT) make the typical fine-tuning argument.

If the gravitational force were altered by 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and, therefore, neither would we. Talk about precision! (p. 102)

Science uncovers puzzles, and it tends to resolve them. Let’s give it time.

If we reran the Big Bang over again to get another universe with the same fundamental constants, humans wouldn’t exist. A universe with humans is like being dealt a particular hand of cards, and if the deck were reshuffled and dealt again, we’d get a different hand. We care that we exist, but nature doesn’t. The only interesting question is whether life (or intelligent life) would exist in a different universe.

The most effective arguments from the Christian side are obtuse ones like this fine-tuning argument, and that shows the weakness of their position. Instead of obvious evidence for God (we’re told God deeply wants us to know him, so why isn’t his existence indisputable?), Christians must point to some oddity within nature as a clue. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, God has (for these apologists) devolved into “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

GT next rambles on about the fine tuning of the Earth’s conditions, but I wonder, what fine tuning? Over the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year life, conditions have changed dramatically. For example, the oxygen level in the atmosphere is now 21%, but it’s varied wildly over the last 600 million years. Initially 0%, it has risen to over 30% for two long periods. The temperature has also changed, and the Snowball Earth hypothesis speculates that most or all of the water on earth may have been frozen in one or more periods before 650 million years ago. If life can thrive during these chaotic conditions, perhaps it’s a lot more robust than we imagine.

The Multiverse hypothesis—that our universe is just one of uncountably many other universes governed by different constants—is a corollary of well-established science (cosmic inflation) and nicely rebuts the challenge of fine tuning. To avoid repeating additional responses I’ve made before, I’ll just provide links: Sean M. Carroll’s response to fine tuning, some other innovative responses, and my response to a previous Frank Turek argument for fine tuning.

Problem of Divine Hiddenness

GT parrots the free-will argument given by C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters:

The Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of [God’s] scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. (p. 31)

Oh, please. God is forbidden from making his presence known because then we’d know for sure that he exists? Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, and the others in the Old Testament had direct experience of God, and they didn’t complain. A stranger doesn’t impose on my free will when he comes into my sight. This childish argument is what you’d fall back on if there were no god.

This is Stupid Argument #19a, “God’s making himself plainly known would impose on your free will.”

The Road Runner Tactic

This is GT’s name for the trick of exposing a self-refuting statement, of turning a sweeping generalization back on itself. For example, if someone said, “There is no truth,” GT would ask in response, “Is that statement true?” to show that the statement refutes itself (p. 38). Or to “All truth is relative,” ask, “Is that a relative truth?”

If we supposed that GT encourages us to use precise language, this observation about self-refuting statements is helpful, but that’s not their goal. GT is more interested in sidestepping tough questions. Many of these self-refuting statements are simply poorly worded and can be easily salvaged into an incisive challenge. For example:

Bob the Atheist: “There is no absolute truth.”

Christian apologist: “That sounds like a pretty absolute statement to me, smart guy—you’ve undercut your own statement!”

Bob the Atheist: “Okay, fair point. Let me rephrase: I see no evidence for absolute moral truth. If you claim otherwise, provide the evidence.”

And then the conversation proceeds beyond this little roadblock. More.

Awe

We’re all subject to powerful feelings like awe, and GT imagine this as a point in their favor.

A recitation of [some scientific theory] certainly wouldn’t have expressed the awe the astronauts were experiencing [when they saw the Earth rise over the Moon]. (p. 111)

And analyzing love or courage or selflessness through brain chemistry might also be a bland explanation, but it could still be correct. Scientific theories don’t give awe, but science certainly does. Let’s remember that we got to the moon using science! The Bible’s insight about the moon is to describe it as “the lesser light to govern the night.” Uh huh—awe inspiring.

Genesis gives the uninformed speculations of a primitive desert tribe from 3000 years ago. If you want awe, use science. Try this experiment: go outside on a clear night. Hold out your hand, arm extended, and look at the nail of your little finger. That fingernail covers a million galaxies, and each galaxy has roughly 100 billion stars. Look at how vast the sky is compared to that one tiny patch. And how does the Bible treat this inconceivable vastness? “[God] also made the stars” (Gen. 1:16). Yawn. I get my awe from science, not from the Bible.

Science gives you the vastness of the universe, the energy of a supernova, the bizarreness of quantum physics, and the complexity of the human body. The writers of the Bible were constrained by their imagination, and there is so much out there that they couldn’t begin to imagine.

Continued in part 4.

Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?
And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?
— Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Image credit: Gisela Giardino, flickr, CC

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