Tag Archives: Fine Tuning

Analyzing Christopher Hitchens’ case against God

UPDATE: My play-by-play transcript of the April 4, 2009 debate at Biola is here.

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In preparation for the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens, I thought that I would go over his opening statement from a previous debate to see what we can expect from him. I used his opening speech from his debate with Frank Turek. The audio from that debate is here, at Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 site.

Now the important thing to remember about a generic debate on whether GOD EXISTS is that there should be no mention of any particular God, such as the Christian God, and no mention of the history of any particular religion. All arguments that assume specific theological or moral doctrines or specific religious history are irrelevant to a debate on generic theism.

The question to be debated is: does a God who created and designed the universe, who has all the traditional properties of God, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omni-benevolence, etc. exist? That is the question being debated in a “Does God Exist?” debate.

Frank Turek’s case for theism:

Frank Turek made 4 relevant arguments for theism, each of which alone would support his conclusion, that God exists:

  • the origin of time, space, matter and energy out of nothing
  • the fine-tuning of the physical constants to support the minimum requirements for life of any kind
  • the origin of the biological information in the first self-replicating organism
  • objective, prescriptive moral rules need to be grounded by the designer of the universe

And he also listed 4 features of the universe that are more consistent with theism than atheism (= materialism).

  • non-material minds that allow rationality that would be impossible on materialism/determinism
  • the mathematical structure of the universe and its intelligibility to the scientific method
  • free will, which is required for moral responsibility and moral choices, requires a non-material mind/soul
  • our first person experience of consciousness is best explained by a non-material mind/soul

Hitchens’ case against theism

To counter, Hitchens has to argue against God using arguments in one of two forms:

  1. The concept of God is logically self-contradictory
  2. An objective feature of the world is inconsistent with the attributes of God

The claim that God does not exist is a claim to know something about God, namely, that he does not exist. This claim requires the speaker to bear a burden of proof. In a debate on “Does God Exist?”, Hitchens must deny that God exists. Let me be clear: Hitchens must defeat the arguments for the claim that God exists, and then defend the claim that God does not exist, and support that claim using arguments and evidence.

Hitchens makes 2 basic claims:

  • There are no good reasons to believe that theism is true
  • There are good reasons to believe atheism is true

So far so good. But what are his good reasons for atheism?

  1. I personally don’t like Christianity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Catholicism getting rid of limbo
    – Premise: I personally don’t like Hell
    – Premise: I personally don’t like some episodes in church history
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  2. The plurality of religions means that no religious claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: There are lots of religions
    – Premise: The religions all disagree in their truth claims about the external world
    – Conclusion: No religion’s claims can be correct, therefore God doesn’t exist
  3. I believe in one less God than you, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: You disbelieve in every God I do, except one
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  4. Religious people are stupid and evil, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Religious people are ignorant
    – Premise: Religious people are fearful
    – Premise: Religious people are servile
    – Premise: Religious people are masochistic
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  5. Evolution explains how life progressed from single cell to today’s bio-diversity, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Modern theists like Turek believe in Paley’s argument, and argued it in this debate
    – Premise: Paley’s argument was refuted by evolution
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  6. God wouldn’t have made the universe this way, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: If God exists, then he would have made the universe my way
    – Premise: The heat death of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The extinction of species wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The size of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The amount of open space wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The large number of stars wasn’t done my way
    – Premise: The age of the universe wasn’t done my way
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  7. Religion makes people do things that I don’t like, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Some religions do suicide bombing
    – Premise: Some religions do child abuse
    – Premise: Some religions do genital mutilation
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  8. If you speak a sentence, I can repeat the same words as you said, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: Anything that you say is good, I can say is good too
    – Premise: Anything that you say is bad, I can say is bad too
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  9. Atheists are morally superior to religious people, therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Premise: You don’t act in a way that is consistent with my personal, arbitrary moral preferences
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  10. If I believe in God, I would have to submit to an authority
    – Premise: If I believe in God, then I can’t do whatever I want
    – Premise: But I want to do whatever I want
    – Conclusion: God doesn’t exist
  11. I don’t like certain Christian doctrines, therefore arguments for God from science fail and therefore God doesn’t exist
    – Premise: I don’t like the atonement
    – Premise: I don’t like the virgin birth
    – Premise: I don’t like the incarnation
    – Premise: I don’t like original sin
    – Premise: I don’t like the resurrection
    – Conclusion: Arguments that are built on recent discoveries from the progress of science like the big bang, fine-tuning, origin of life, etc. are incorrect, and therefore God doesn’t exist

General comments about Hitchens’ case:

  • The form of all of these arguments is logically invalid. The conclusions do not follow from the premises using the laws of logic, such as modus ponens and modus tollens.

Specific comments about each argument:

  • Argument 1 tries to disprove God by arguing from Hitchens’ personal preferences about specific Christian doctrines. Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And there is no reason why God should be bound by the personal, subjective preferences of one man. In fact, the concept of God entails that his unchanging nature is the standard of good and evil. So, this argument doesn’t disprove God, it’s just a statement of personal, subjective preference.
  • Argument 2: Just because there are different truth claims made by different groups, doesn’t mean no one is correct. Mormons believe that matter existed eternally, and Jews believe it was created out of nothing. The big bang theory shows that the Mormons are wrong and the Jews are right.
  • Argument 3: First of all, the debate is a about a generic Creator and Designer, not any particular religious conception of God. So the argument is irrelevant. Moreover, Christians reject Zeus, for example, because Zeus is supposed to exist in time and space, and therefore could not be the cause of the beginning of time and space.
  • Argument 4: This is just the ad hominem fallacy. Hitchens is attacking the character of the theist, but that doesn’t show theism is false.
  • Argument 5: This argument can be granted for the sake of argument, even though it’s debatable. The point is that it is irrelevant, since it doesn’t refute any of Turek’s actual scientific arguments like the big bang, the fine-tuning of the physical constants, the origin of information in the simplest living cell.
  • Argument 6: Again, there is no reason to think that God should be bound by Hitchens’ personal opinion of how God should operate.
  • Argument 7: This is the ad hominem fallacy again. The good behavior of religious believers is not a premise in any of Turek’s FOUR arguments for theism. Therefore, Hitchens’ point is irrelevant to the debate.
  • Argument 8: The fact that the atheist can parrot moral claims is not the issue. Being able to speak English words is not what grounds objective, prescriptive morality. The issue is the ontology of moral rules, the requirement of free will in order to have moral responsibility and moral choices, ultimate significance of moral actions, and the rationality of self-sacrificial moral actions.
  • Argument 9: This is just the ad hominem fallacy again.
  • Argument 10: This is not argument so much as it reveals that the real reason Hitchens is an atheist is emotional. One might even say infantile.
  • Argument 11: Again, these specific Christian doctrines are irrelevant to a debate about generic theism. And Hitchen’s subjective, personal preferences about Christian doctrine certainly do not undermine the objective scientific support for the premises in Turek’s 3 scientific arguments.

So, in short, Hitchens lost the debate. A talking parakeet who could only say the 3 premises of the Kalam argument over and over, in a squeaky high-pitched voice, would have defeated him. Atheists and agnostics can do a lot better. That is, if the purpose of the debate is to win and not to just hurl insults at people on the other side.

Worst. Debater. Ever.

Here are some posts on defending Christianity: the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the irrationality of morality on atheism, debates on morality, the irrationality of moral judgements against God on atheism, the hiddenness of God, the problem of evil, religious pluralism, the problem of the unevangelized and how to defend the resurrection without assuming that the Bible is generally reliable.

UPDATE: On Hot Air, I noticed that legions of British atheists are signing up to be de-baptized. Probably fans of Hitchens and his “I woudn’t have done it that way” case against God. As well, Hot Air is covering a story that scientologists and atheists are uniting. Because, you know, they are both science-based.

First report from William Lane Craig’s Quebec speaking tour

William Lane Craig completed his tour in Quebec, Canada on 2/13/09. One of the Quebecois students named Martin wrote to Dr. Craig, challenging him on many aspects of his presentation. Quebec is widely regarded as the most secular and progressive of the Canadian provinces, so I was delighted to hear from this student, but I don’t think Dr. Craig spent enough time replying to him, so I will help.

First, if you need a refresher on Craig’s standard 20 minute opening speech, look here (opening speech from the Craig-Pigliucci debate, audio from the Craig-Stenger debate, video from the Craig-Dacey debate). Bill usually argues for God from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for permitting life of any kind, objective moral values, the resurrection of Jesus as a historically-testable miracle claim, and the immediate personal experience of God.

The student Martin starts off by complaining that atheism is an adequate foundation for rational moral behavior. He writes:

…you know as well as I do that any thinking person, atheist or no, understands why rape isn’t acceptable in modern society. Being an atheist isn’t being a hedonist, and I feel that it’s pathetic I need to remind you of this.

Notice that Martin links the moral rules to the time and place in which he lives. Rape isn’t really wrong for all times and places, it’s wrong for us in this society in this time.

First of all, on atheism morality is an illusion. In an accidental universe, the only morality that exists is when societies make them up. In that sense, morality is similar to the fashion of clothing – it is purely convention. It varies by time and place. It is completely arbitrary. Let me explain some of the problems with briefly here, but a longer treatment is here.

On atheism, there is no non-physical soul, and no free will. There are therefore no moral choices nor is there moral responsibility. On atheism moral behavior is ultimately futile, as humans are all going to die individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe: it does not matter if you are moral or not, on atheism. On atheism, there is no standard by which to judge individual moral progress, or the evil in other cultures, such as widow-burning or slavery.

When an atheist speaks about morality, is isn’t talking about the way humans everywhere ought to be, he is talking about social conventions. When an atheist acts morally, he is simply imitating the fashions of the people around him – either to please himself by feeling moral, or to please other people. If they can escape the social consequences, it would be irrational for them to do the right them if it gives them no pleasure.

By the way, it’s not just me who says this. Richard Taylor, an atheist who once debated against William Lane Craig, says this:

The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough… Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can…be understood as those that are imposed by God…. But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation…still make sense? …The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone. (Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 83-84)

Next, Martin argues that the anthropic principle is an adequate refutation of the fine-tuning of the physical constants of the universe for life. The anthropic principle is the idea that the presence of intelligent life causes the constants to be fine-tuned 14 billion years ago. He writes:

Impressing a room full of vaguely interested people with figures about the extremely rare conditions that allow life to exist is all well and good – handwaving away the entire anthropic principle with a single bad analogy is not.

Regarding Martin’s claim about fine-tuning being explained by the anthropic principle, let me say this. First, the fine-tuning is real. If you change the constants of physics in the big bang, the universe will not support life of any kind. Consider another Martin, Martin Rees, an atheist and the British Astronomer Royal. In his book “Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape The Universe”, he discusses 6 finely-tuned numbers.

Rees writes here:

These six numbers constitute a ‘recipe’ for a universe. Moreover, the outcome is sensitive to their values: if any one of them were to be ‘untuned’, there would be no stars and no life. Is this tuning just a brute fact, a coincidence? Or is it the providence of a benign Creator?

It is impossible for humans, who just appeared relatively recently, to have any causal impact on the selection of these physical constants 14 billion years ago. I discuss two known responses to the fine-tuning problem, (unobservable multiverse and non-existent observer), here.

The war between science and atheism, part two

In part one, you’ll remember that I argued that the progress of science in confirming the big bang disproved atheism, and I on went to speculate about why there are still atheists today, given this tremendous scientific discovery. This time, I want to discuss the fine-tuning of the initial constants and conditions of the big bang and see how atheists responded to these recent scientific discoveries.

In nature, the values of physical constants, (e.g. – the force of gravity), are set at the instant when the universe is created. Initially, atheists assumed that the constants could be any value, and life would still exist. But the progress of science has shown that if these constants were altered even slightly, then the resulting universe would not permit life. For example, physicist Brandon Carter has shown that if the force of gravity were stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, life-sustaining stars could not exist. While each possible value of the force of gravity is equally unlikely, the vast majority of these possibilities prohibit complex life of any kind. That means that any one value picked at random is as likely as any of the others, but it is overwhelmingly likely that the one picked will not permit life.

And how do atheists respond to the evidence of a universe that is finely-tuned for life? Well, there are two responses I’ve seen. The first is to speculate that there are actually an infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned, (i.e. – the gambler’s fallacy). All these other universes don’t support life. But, lucky us, we just happen to be in the one universe that popped into being out of nothing, and is fine-tuned to an incredible degree for life. What’s that you say? “Wintery! How can we be sure that these other universes even exist?” Why, you just have to have faith, because there is no way of directly observing these other universes. So, to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist, you have to believe in billions and billions of demons unobservable universes.

Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.

The second response by atheists is that the human observers that exist today, 14 billion years after the universe was created out of nothing, actually caused the fine-tuning. Now you say to me, “Wintery! How can fairies humans fine-tune constants that were set before humans even existed!” Well, it’s true that causality in science has never been known to go backwards in time. But hey, atheists already believe that the entire physical universe popped into being out of nothing. What’s one more anti-science delusion to someone already against the law of conservation of mass and matter? I mean, if you’re already against the progress of science, why not double down?

…maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation… observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

So what makes people become atheists? It isn’t arguments or evidence, because the progress of science repudiates atheism-of-the-gaps. Atheism is really just a long-running tempter tantrum. Atheism is caused when a child’s selfish autonomy runs into moral obligations, or when a child feels alienated because they are raised in a minority religion. The extreme reactions to these typical childhood experiences is triggered by the atheism-module of the brain. Scientists now believe that the atheism-module causes atheists to want to start wars, such as the wars of atheistic communism, which killed over 100 million people, and still enslaves millions in North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc.

A podcast with scientist Scott Chambers, an active researcher on the fine-tuning is here. Here are two posts (first, second) discussing Newsweek’s evasions of the fine-tuning, (related podcast here). Five podcasts with atheist scholar Bradley Monton on cosmic fine-tuning are here. Physicist Robin Collins argues here that even if you take the blind leap-of-faith into multiverse-land, you still need a fine-tuning intelligence. Further discussions of the unobservable multiverse delusion are here and here. Further discussions of the non-existent observer delusion are here and here. For a serious, non-snarky, non-satirical look at the psychology of atheism, by a former atheist Professor of Psychology at New York University, look here, (related podcast).

UPDATE 1: Welcome, visitors from The Anchoress. Please take a look around while you are here. And thanks for the link, Anchoress!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Colliding Universes. Thanks for the link, Denyse! Denyse’s other excellent blogs are Post-Darwinist and Mindful Hack.