Tag Archives: Atheist

Jeff Hester debates William Lane Craig on the topic “Is Belief in God Rational in a Scientific Age?”

This is an accurate protrayal of what went down in this debate
This is an accurate protrayal of what went down in this debate

I was very excited to see a recent debate by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig against atheist astronomer Jeff Hester. When I summarize a debate, I do a fair, objective summary if the atheist is intelligent and informed, as with Peter Millican, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong or Austin Dacey. But the following summary is rated VS for Very Snarky, and you’ll soon see why.

The debate itself starts at 29 minutes:

Thanks to Enrique for the link to a version with better audio.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech

Dr. Craig went first, and he presented 4 arguments, as well as the ontological argument which I won’t summarize or discuss. He later added another argument for theism from the existence of the universe that does not require an origin of the universe.

A1. Counter-examples

Theists who are elite scientists cannot be “irrational”, for example: Allan Sandage, Gustav Tammann, George Ellis, Don Page, Christopher Isham

A2. Kalam cosmological argument

  1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe requires a cause.

A3. Fine-tuning of the universe to permit complex intelligent life

  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance or design.
  2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
  3. Therefore it is due to design.

A4. Moral argument

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Dr. Hester’s opening speech

Dr. Hester went second and presented two arguments which both committed the genetic fallacy, a logical fallacy that makes the arguments have no force.

Hester starts his opening speech by asserting that Albert Einstein was irrational, because he denied quantum mechanics.

Hester explains that he became an atheist at 15. This would have been before the evidence for the origin of the universe became widespread, before we had very many examples of fine-tuning, before the discovery that the origin of life problem is a problem of the origin of complex, specifed information, etc. What kind of reasons can a 15-year-old child have for becoming an atheist? It’s hard to say, but I would suspect that they were psychological. Children often desire autonomy from moral authorities. They want to be free to pursue pleasure. They don’t want to be thought of as superstitious and morally straight by their non-religious peers.

Later on in the debate, Hester volunteers that he hated his father because his father professed to be a Christian, but he was focused on his career and making money. In the absence of any arguments for atheism, it’s reasonable to speculate that Hester became an atheist for psychological reasons. And as we’ll see, just like the typical 15-year-old child, he has no rational basis for atheism. What’s astonishing is how he continues to hold to the atheism of his teens when it has been falsified over and over by scientific discoveries in the years since.

He says that Dr. Craig’s deductive arguments do not have premises that reach a conclusion through the laws of logic. On the contrary, he just asserts that God exists as his conclusion, and then says that this assertion is the best explanation of a gap in our scientific knowledge. Some of the gaps in our scientific knowledge he uses in his arguments are: 1) he doesn’t understand why the Sun moves through the sky, so God exists, 2) he doesn’t understand why the wind blows, so God exists.

What counts as “rational” are things that have not been disproved. The progress of science has shown that the universe did not need a casuse in order to begin to exist, and also there is no cosmic fine-tuning.

A1. The success of evolution in the software industry proves that there is no God

All hardware and software is developed using genetic algorithms that exactly match Darwinian processes. All the major computer companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, etc. are just generating products using mutation and selection to evolve products over long periods of time. If you look over a typical software engineering degree, it’s all about Darwinian evolution, and nothing about design patterns, object-oriented design, etc.

This widespread use of evolution in the software industry undermines all of the arguments for God’s existence. Evolution caused the origin of the universe. Evolution explains why the universe is fine-tuned for life. Evolution, which requires replication already be in place in order to work, explains the origin of the first self-replicating organism.

A2. Theist’s view of the world is just a result of peer pressure from their tribes

All of Dr. Craig’s logical arguments supported by scientific evidence don’t matter, because he got them from a primitive tribe of Christians that existed 2000 years ago. Everyone gets their view of origins, morality, meaning in life, death, etc. from their tribes. Except me, I’m getting my beliefs from reason and evidence because I’m a smart atheist. I don’t have an atheist tribe in the university that would sanction me if I disagreed with nonsense like homosexuality is 100% genetic, transgenderism, man-made catastrophic global warming, fully naturalistic evolution, aliens seeded the Earth with life, infanticide is moral, socialism works, overpopulation will cause mass starvation, nuclear winter, etc. Also, my argument isn’t the genetic fallacy at all, because smart atheists don’t commit elementary logical fallacies that even a first-year philosophy student would know.

A3. Our brains evolved so our rational faculties are unreliable, so God does not exist

The logical reasoning that Dr. Craig uses to argue for theism are all nonsense, because human minds just have an illusion of consciousness, an illusion of rationality, and an illusion of free will. Everything Dr. Craig says is just deluded nonsense caused by chemicals in his brain. He has cognitive biases the undermine all his logical arguments and scientific evidence. He just invented an imaginary friend with super powers. Except me, I’m a smart atheist, so I actually have real consciousness, real reasoning powers, and no cognitive biases. Also, my argument isn’t the genetic fallacy at all, because my arguments would not get an F in a first-year philosophy course.

Discussion

I’m not going to summarize everything in the discussion, or the question and answer time. I’m just going to list out some of the more interesting points.

Dr. Craig asks him how it is that he has managed to escape these biases from tribalism, projection, etc. He talks about how brave and noble atheist rebels are. The moderator asks him the same question. He repeats how brave and noble atheist rebels are.

Dr. Hester is asked whether he affirms a causeless beginning of the universe or an eternal universe. He replies he states that the universe came into being without a cause, because causality doesn’t apply to the beignning of the universe. He also asserts with explanation that Borde, Guth and Vilenkin have undermined the kalam cosmological argument, mentioning a web site.

Dr. Craig replied to this phantom argument after the debate on Facebook:

Speaking of which, although I haven’t had time to consult the website mentioned by Dr. Hester concerning Guth and Vilenkin on the kalam cosmological argument, I know the work of these two gentlemen well enough to predict what one will find there. Since neither one is yet a theist (so much, by the way, for the dreaded confirmation bias!), they have to reject at least one of the premises of the kalam cosmological argument.

Guth wants to deny premiss (2) The universe began to exist–for which Vilenkin has rebuked him. Guth would avoid the implications of their theorem by holding our hope for the Carroll-Chen model, which denies the single condition of the BGV theorem. This gambit is, however, unsuccessful, since the Carroll-Chen model does so only by positing a reversal of the arrow of time at some point in the finite past. This is not only highly non-physical, but fails to avert the universe’s beginning, since that time-reversed, mirror universe is no sense in our past. The model really postulates two different universes with a common beginning.

So Vilenkin is forced to deny premiss (1) Whatever begins to exists has a cause. He says that if the positive energy associated with matter exactly counterbalances the negative energy associated with gravity, then the net sum of the energy is zero, and so the conservation of energy is not violated if the universe pops into being from nothing! But this is like saying that if your assets exactly balance your debts, then your net worth is zero, and so there does not need to be a cause of your financial situation! As Christopher Isham points out, there still needs to be “ontic seeding” in order to create the positive and negative energy in the first place, even if on balance their sum is zero.

Dr. Hester is asked how he explains the evidence for fine-tuning. He literally says that “Life is fine-tuned for the Universe”, i.e. – that evolution will create living beings regardless of the laws of physics, constants, etc. For example, he thinks that in a universe with a weaker stong force, which would have only hyrogen atoms, evolution would still evolve life. And in a universe that recollapses in a hot fireball, and never forms stars or planets, evolution would produce life. Physicist Luke Barnes, who was commenting on the YouTube chat for the video, said this:

“Life is fine-tuned for the Universe” – complete ignorance of the field. Read a book.

Hester tries to cite Jeremy England to try to argue for life appearing regardless of what the laws of physics are. Barnes comments:

Jeremy England’s work supports no such claim.

Hester appealed to the multiverse, which faces numerous theoretical and observational difficulties. For example, the multiverse models have to have some mechanism to spawn different universes, but these mechanisms themselves require fine-tuning, as Robin Collins argues. And the multiverse is falsified observationally by the Boltzmann brains problem. It was so ironic that Hester claimed to be so committed to testing theories. The mutliverse theory cannot be tested experimentally, and must be accepted on faith.

Dr. Hester is asked how he grounds morality on atheism. He says there are no objective moral values and duties. He instead lists off a bunch of Christian beliefs which he thinks are objectively wrong. Even his statements about these moral issues are misinformed. For example, he asserts that homosexuality is causally determined by biology, but this is contradicted by identical twin studies that have a rate of 20-40% where both twins are gay.

Dr. Hester is asked about free will, which is required in order to make moral choices. He denies the existence of free will, which undermines his earlier statements about morality. Morality is only possible if humans can make free choices to act in accordance with a moral standard. So, he claims that Christians are immoral, then he claims that they have no freedom to act other than they do.

Dr. Hester also volunteered that his father believed in the prosperity gospel, and tithed in order to be rewarded with money by God. Dr. Craig immediately says “no wonder you’re in rebellion against Christianity”. Indeed.

Dr. Hester is asked about his view that human beings are unable to unable to perceive the world objectively. How is he able to perceive the world objectively, when all of the rest of us are unable to? His response is that he is just smarter than everyone else because his ideas have never been falsified by testing.

Scoring the debate

Dr. Craig’s 5 arguments went unrefuted. Hester’s argument about genetic algorithms was ludicrous to anyone who understands software engineering. His arguments about tribalism and unreliable mental faculties were self-refuting, and committed the genetic fallcy. At several points, Hester denied mainstream science in favor of untested and untestable speculations. It was the worst defeat of atheism I have ever witnessed. He was uninformed and arrogant. He didn’t know what he was talking about, and he tried to resort to speculative, mystical bullshit to cover up his failure to meet Dr. Craig’s challenge.

How can the four gospels be independent sources?

Previously, I blogged about the historical criteria that historians use to evaluate documents. One of the criteria is “multiple independent sources”. If a story is reported in multiple independent sources, then historians are more likely to evaluate it as historically accurate. But how about the four gospels? Are they independent sources? The answer might not be what you expect.

Here’s how the question was put to Dr. Craig:

The latest video, “Did Jesus Rise From the Dead,” is especially compelling, but I had a question about it. In the part one video, you cite as evidence, the Gospels plus Acts and First Corinthians and you refer to them as “independent” and “unconnected” sources. But this isn’t exactly true, is it? After all, two of these books were written by the same author, Luke, and so Luke and Acts are connected by authorship. Furthermore, isn’t it true that much information relayed in Matthew and Luke were taken from Mark? This two facts would make it untrue to call the Gospels “independent” and “unconnected” would they not?

Here’s the video he’s talking about:

Dr. Craig answers the question in a recent question of the week. I think this answer is important for those who aren’t aware of how the gospels are organized.

He writes:

The objection is based on a simple misunderstanding. It assumes that the sources I’m referring to are the books of the New Testament.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.

New Testament critics have identified a number of sources behind the New Testament, sources on which the New Testament authors drew. For example, Matthew and Luke drew not only upon Mark as a source but also upon a source which scholars designate “Q,” which appears to have been a source containing Jesus’ sayings or teachings. Thus, if you could show that a saying in Matthew or Luke appears in both Mark and Q, that would count as multiple, independent attestation.

What does this mean? It means that although there is overlap between Matthew and Luke, called “Q”, there are actually three independent sources there: Matthew’s source, called M. Luke’s source, called L. And the material common to Matthew and Luke, which therefore PRE-DATES Matthew and Luke, called Q.

Dr. Craig lists out several independent sources in his full reply:

  1. the pre-Markan Passion story used by Mark
  2. the rest of the gospel of Mark has a source
  3. Matthew’s source (M)
  4. Luke’s source (L)
  5. John’s gospel which is very different from Mark, Luke and Matthew
  6. the sermons in Acts have a source
  7. the early creed found in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15

So if you are trying to lay out something from the New Testament, and you can find it in two of these sources, and at least one of them is very early, you’re in pretty good shape.

Although the questioner and the other critics might question the “minimal facts” that pass the historical tests, many of these facts are not questioned by even atheistic scholars.

Here’s a useful tip for non-professionals who want to disagree with Dr. Craig. Dr. Craig publishes his arguments in academic presses like Oxford University Press, not to mention scholarly peer-reviewed journals. He’s also debated his ideas against famous atheist historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg, James Crossley, Bart Ehrman, etc. So it’s probably a good idea for people who want to disagree with him to first read some academic literature, or at least ask a professional. Before you post your YouTube video. You could even just ask a professional atheist historian. They will tell you what’s wrong with an argument like your “the sources are not independent” argument. Just check yourself before you post something in public. A lot of people who are still puzzling out these questions will look at a mistake like this, and immediately dismiss atheism as a sloppy, anti-intellectual worldview.

You can watch more of Dr. Craig’s videos in his playlist, here. These are especially useful for people who want to get the overall scope of the battlefield before deciding where to focus in study. Everybody should know about all of these arguments regardless of where you choose to specialize.

How the WMAP satellite confirmed nucleosynthesis predictions and falsified atheism

Prior to certain scientific discoveries, most people thought that the universe had always been here, and no need to ask who or what may have caused it. But today, that’s all changed. Today, the standard model of the origin of the universe is that all the matter and energy in the universe came into being in an event scientists call “The Big Bang”. At the creation event, space and time themselves began to exist, and there is no material reality that preceded them.

So a couple of quotes to show that.

An initial cosmological singularity… forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity… On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.

Source: P. C. W. Davies, “Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology,” in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (Berlin: Springer Verlag ).

And another quote:

[A]lmost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.

Source: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, The Isaac Newton Institute Series of Lectures (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 20.

So, there are several scientific discoveries that led scientists to accept the creation event, and one of the most interesting and famous is the discovery of how elements heavier than hydrogen were formed.

Nucleosynthesis: forming heavier elements by fusion
Nucleosynthesis: forming heavier elements by fusion

Here’s the history of how that discovery happened, from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) web site:

The term nucleosynthesis refers to the formation of heavier elements, atomic nuclei with many protons and neutrons, from the fusion of lighter elements. The Big Bang theory predicts that the early universe was a very hot place. One second after the Big Bang, the temperature of the universe was roughly 10 billion degrees and was filled with a sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons and neutrinos. As the universe cooled, the neutrons either decayed into protons and electrons or combined with protons to make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). During the first three minutes of the universe, most of the deuterium combined to make helium. Trace amounts of lithium were also produced at this time. This process of light element formation in the early universe is called “Big Bang nucleosynthesis” (BBN).

The creation hypothesis predicts that there will be specific amounts of these light elements formed as the universe cools down. Do the predictions match with observations?

Yes they do:

The predicted abundance of deuterium, helium and lithium depends on the density of ordinary matter in the early universe, as shown in the figure at left. These results indicate that the yield of helium is relatively insensitive to the abundance of ordinary matter, above a certain threshold. We generically expect about 24% of the ordinary matter in the universe to be helium produced in the Big Bang. This is in very good agreement with observations and is another major triumph for the Big Bang theory.

Moreover, WMAP satellite measurements of mass density agree with our observations of these light element abundances.

Here are the observations from the WMAP satellite:

Scientific observations match predictions
Scientific observations match predictions

And here is how those WMAP measurements confirm the Big Bang creation event:

However, the Big Bang model can be tested further. Given a precise measurement of the abundance of ordinary matter, the predicted abundances of the other light elements becomes highly constrained. The WMAP satellite is able to directly measure the ordinary matter density and finds a value of 4.6% (±0.2%), indicated by the vertical red line in the graph. This leads to predicted abundances shown by the circles in the graph, which are in good agreement with observed abundances. This is an important and detailed test of nucleosynthesis and is further evidence in support of the Big Bang theory. 

“An important and detailed test”.

For completeness, we should learn how elements heavier than these light elements are formed:

Elements heavier than lithium are all synthesized in stars. During the late stages of stellar evolution, massive stars burn helium to carbon, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and iron. Elements heavier than iron are produced in two ways: in the outer envelopes of super-giant stars and in the explosion of a supernovae. All carbon-based life on Earth is literally composed of stardust.

That’s a wonderful thing to tell a young lady when you are on a date: “your body is made of stardust”. In fact, as I have argued before, this star formation, which creates the elements necessary for intelligent life, can only be built if the fundamental constants and quantities in the universe are finely-tuned.

Now, you would think that atheists would be happy to find observations that confirm the origin of the universe out of nothing, but they are not. Actually, they are in denial.

Here’s a statement from the Secular Humanist Manifesto, which explains what atheists believe about the universe:

Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

For a couple of examples of how atheistic scientists respond to the evidence for a cosmic beginning, you can check out this post, where we get responses from cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, and physical chemist Peter Atkins.

You cannot have the creation of the universe be true AND a self-existing, eternal universe ALSO be true. Someone has to be wrong. Either the science is wrong, or the atheist manifesto is wrong. I know where I stand.

Positive arguments for Christian theism