Tag Archives: Theism

How good are the atheistic arguments of Christopher Hitchens?

I thought that I would go over an opening statement from a previous debate featuring Christopher Hitchens to find out what atheists are like in debates. 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 being 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.
  • Hitchens cannot complain about morality because he has no foundation for objective moral facts. What he is really expressing is that he personally does not like such-and-such a state of affairs, based on his own arbitrary personal preferences, and the arbitrary social customs that evolved in the place and time that he finds himself in. On atheism, “morality” is just describing what people do – either individually or as groups living in different times and places. There is no objective right and wrong, and no objective way we ought to be. All statements are subjective. They describe what the speaker personally likes and dislikes. Just like taste in foods or taste in dress – which varies by individually, and is influenced by time and place ARBITRARILY.

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, and Frank Turek won. That’s because Frank Turek talked about the external world, and Christopher Hitchens thought he was on the couch in psychiatrist’s office.

Christopher Hitchens = Worst. Debater. Ever.

The only reason why unsophisticated lay atheists think Christopher Hitchens is so great is because atheism is not something they adopted on rational grounds, but on emotional grounds – as a kind of tantrum against morality. Lay atheists want to pursue pleasure without moral constraints. And they think that Hitchens’ insulting style is the best way to bully and intimidate people into not calling their hedonism to account. They want to silence Christians so they can do as they please without feeling bad. And bullying is their preferred method of operation.

UPDATE: Commenter Jim writes:

C-SPAN2′s BookTV will broadcast a debate “Does Atheism Poison Everything?” with Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski this weekend.

To learn more, see here and here.

You may also be interested in my previous post that assessed the arguments of atheist Richard Dawkins.

Walter Bradley presents the fine-tuning argument at UCSB

Walter Bradley is one of my favorite lecturers in the whole universe!

Here’s a 5-minute sample of the lecture he presented at the University of California (Santa Barbara).

And if you like it, you can watch the whole lecture here on Vimeo.

Here’s a bio from his faculty page at Baylor University:

Walter Bradley (B.S., Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin) is Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor. He comes to Baylor from Texas A&M University where he helped develop a nationally recognized program in polymeric composite materials. At Texas A&M, he served as director of the Polymer Technology Center for 10 years and as Department Head of Mechanical Engineering, a department of 67 professors that was ranked as high as 12th nationally during his tenure. Bradley has authored over 150 refereed research publications including book chapters, articles in archival journals such as the Journal of Material Science, Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites, Mechanics of Time-Dependent Materials, Journal of Composites Technology and Research, Composite Science and Technology, Journal of Metals, Polymer Engineering and Science, and Journal of Materials Science, and refereed conference proceedings.

Dr. Bradley has secured over $5.0 million in research funding from NSF grants (15 yrs.), AFOSR (10 years), NASA grants (10 years), and DOE (3 years). He has also received research grants or contracts from many Fortune 500 companies, including Alcoa, Dow Chemical, DuPont, 3M, Shell, Exxon, Boeing, and Phillips.

He co-authored The Mystery of Life Origin: Reassessing Current Theories and has written 10 book chapters dealing with various faith science issues, a topic on which he speaks widely.

He has received 5 research awards at Texas A&M University and 1 national research award. He has also received two teaching awards. He is an Elected Fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), the largest organization of Christians in Science and Technology in the world. He is President elect of the ASA and will serve his term in 2008.

You can read more about his recent research on how to use coconuts to make car parts in this article from Science Daily.

My favorite lecture of all

My favorite lecture of all is “Giants in the Land”.

He delivered that lecture at the University of Georgia in 1997.

Denyse O’Leary and William Dembski author new book on theistic evolution

Here’s a post by Denyse on Uncommon Descent.

Excerpt:

In Christian Darwinism: Why Theistic Evolution Fails As Science and Theology (Broadman and Holman, November 2011), mathematician Dembski and journalist O’Leary address a powerful new trend to accommodate Christianity with atheist materialism, via acceptance of Darwinian (“survival of the fittest”) evolution.

[…]In the authors’ view, no accommodation is possible. More to the point, accommodation is not even necessary. There are good reasons for doubting Darwin and good reasons for adopting other models for evolution – or for deciding that there is not enough evidence to make a decision.

Dembski and O’Leary insist that this conflict has nothing to do with the age of the Earth. Darwinism is, as they will show, the increasingly implausible creation story of atheism, which diverges at just about every point from the Christian worldview on which modern science was founded.

Denyse’s blog on intelligent design is here.

My regular readers know that I consider theistic evolution to be equivalent to atheism. If a Christian thinks that we can’t detect God in the world using science apart from subjective opinions, then they might as well be an atheist. Christianity is a knowledge tradition, not a blind-belief tradition.

Do miracles imply a violation of natural laws?

Article here.

Excerpt:

Are miracles really possible? I’m not talking about how some describe a baby being born as “the miracle of life.” I’m talking about biblical reports of Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, and physically rising from the dead. Atheists sometimes say miracles overturn the laws of nature—and that’s not possible. Before considering the evidence, however, many skeptics have already decided that naturalism is true. But what about this? Do miracles—by definition—really overturn the laws of nature?

In the foreword to The God Conversation, Lee Strobel notes how J.P. Moreland responded to this challenge with a simple defense: ”The laws of nature are the way we describe how the world usually works. If someone drops an apple, it falls to the floor. That’s gravity. However, if someone were to drop an apple and I were to reach over and grab it before it hit the ground, I wouldn’t be overturning the law of gravity. I would simply be intervening. In a similar way, God is able to reach into the world that he created by performing a miracle. He isn’t contravening or overturning the laws of nature. He’s simply intervening” (7).

Human beings are non-material minds. We have bodies that our minds can control. We cause effects on our bodies by using our free will. And God is a non-material mind just like us. Only he doesn’t have a body, so he can intervene at any point in space and exercise his will. It’s not a violation of natural laws when we do it, and it’s not a violation of natural laws when he does it.

John Lennox on the god-of-the-gaps and the progress of science

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is a charge made by naturalists against theists.

First, some introduction. Naturalists believe that every effect in the universe has a material cause. Theists believe that it is possible that God, who is not material, can cause effects in nature. Theists think that these effects are detectable because the creating/designing capabilities of material causes are insufficient to explain certain effects either deductively (creating out of nothing) or probabilistically because of the limits of time and space available for material processes to act within (biological information). The naturalist thinks that all effects in nature have physical causes, the theist things that some effects in nature are caused by non-material causes.

In the past, some effects in nature were thought to be caused by God but later were found to be the result of natural (material) processes, often through the scientific method. Because the trend has been to explain these “gaps” in our knowledge with material causes, the naturalist now assumes that every effect in nature will be found to have natural causes. Even discontinuities in nature that are real, like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of biological information, etc. are now assumed to have material causes, even though the progress of science has made these effects MORE DIFFICULT to explain with natural causes. The naturalist calls any attempt to attribute an effect in nature to a Creator/Designer a “god-of-the-gaps” fallacy, because the naturalist points to the past and asserts that a natural material cause will eventually be found for whatever gaps we have in nature.

But suppose a material explanation of every effect in nature could be found. Does that mean that there is no role for God anywhere?

Glenn Peoples writes:

Let’s imagine that the following is true: God does not intervene in the world. Once upon a time people who were more ignorant than we are thought that gods, angels, demons, spooks or spiritual forces lurked behind everything that we didn’t have a handy natural explanation for. But in fact, this is all god of the gaps reasoning, and God doesn’t intervene in nature at all. Never. There is a true natural account for everything that goes on in the universe that we know of.

If you don’t think that’s true, relax. We’re imagining, OK? I don’t think that the above is true, since I’m one of those crazy people who thinks that at least some miracles have taken place. But let’s suppose that the above account were true. Here’s where things take a step off the cliff of logic. Take the above account, and then add the following statement: “Therefore, since God isn’t required to explain any phenomenon, we have no need of the God hypothesis at all, and we have as good as shown that he need not be thought to exist.” God, some have said, can now be treated as a redundant hypothesis that explains nothing at all. Nothing.

And then Glenn cites John Lennox:

Science has been spectacularly successful in probing the nature of the physical universe and elucidating the mechanisms by which the universe works. Scientific research has also led to the eradication of many horrific diseases, and raised hopes of eliminating many more. And scientific investigation has had another effect in a completely different direction: it has served to relieve a lot of people from superstitious fears. For instance, people need no longer think that an eclipse of the moon is caused by some frightful daemon, which they have to placate. For all of these and myriad other things we should be very grateful.

But in some quarters the very success of science has also led to the idea that, because we can understand the mechanisms of the universe without bringing in God, we can safely conclude that there was no God who designed and created the universe in the first place. However, such reasoning involves a common logical fallacy, which we can illustrate as follows.

Take a Ford motor car. It is conceivable that someone from a remote part of the world, who was seeing one for the first time and who knew nothing about modern engineering, might imagine that there is a god (Mr Ford) inside the engine, making it go. He might further imagine that when the engine ran sweetly it was because Mr Ford inside the engine liked him, and when it refused to go it was because Mr Ford did not like him. Of course, if he were subsequently to study engineering and take the engine to pieces, he would discover that there is no Mr Ford inside it. Neither would it take much intelligence for him to see that he did not need to introduce Mister Ford as an explanation for its working. His grasp of the impersonal principles of internal combustion would be altogether enough to explain how the engine works. So far, so good. But if he then decided that his understanding of the principles of how the engine works made it impossible to believe in the existence of Mr Ford who designed the engine in the first place, this would be patently false – in philosophical terminology he would be committing a category mistake. Had there never been a Mr Ford to design the mechanisms, none would exist for him to understand.

It is likewise a category mistake to suppose that our understanding of the impersonal principles according to which the universe works makes it either unnecessary or impossible to believe in the existence of a personal creator who designed, made, and upholds the universe. In other words, we should not confuse the mechanisms by which the universe works either with its cause or its upholder.

John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2007), 43-44.

I’m with Glenn – I think that God is a real agent who exists in time subsequent to Creation just like you and I. He can cause effects in nature like you and I, the same way that you and I can – by using our immaterial minds to affect the natural world freely. But even if everything has a mechanistic explanation – which I don’t for a minute agree with – that still would not rule out an intelligence acting to bring the entire universe into being fine-tuned for complex life, with certain potentialities that would unfold over time.