Tag Archives: Theism

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.

Why does talking about religion make people uncomfortable?

In a recent post, I argued against Christians who hide their faith in public. I said that although hiding your faith may make you happier and more popular, it is more loving to confront others as an informed Christian ambassador. Your goal should be to help your friends to be reconciled with God through Christ, by telling them the truth and answering their questions, if they are willing.

In this post, I want to survey a research paper by evangelical Christian philosopher Michael J. Murray. In a previous post, I surveyed his answer to the question “Why does God hide his existence from us?” in this post, the question is “Why are we afraid to discuss our faith in public?”

Murray begins with a distinction, as philosophers love to do:

…we would be perfectly happy to have a discussion of claims like…”Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century BCE with the appearance of the Mahayana sutras.” … It is OK to speak of religion… as a historical phenomenon or a socio-cultural influence. It is something altogether different to discuss religious commitments that one owns. That is the sort of religion that troubles us.

People who aren’t religious feel discomfort about hearing about the religious beliefs of others, because those beliefs influence public policy, but (they think) those beliefs are based non-rational factors, such as place of birth, parental beliefs, peer groups, emotions, prejudices, superstitions, etc. They are uncomfortable living in a government that was voted in by people whose views are based on irrational religious beliefs.

He has some illustrations of this “theo-phobia” here:

…think about the last time you heard a devoutly religious person argue, on explicitly religious grounds, that gay marriage should be banned, or that intelligent design should be taught in the public school biology curriculum, or that abortion is murder and thus should be outlawed.

And I agree with that. I feel uncomfortable when people argue for positions from faith-based premises. But do discussions of religious beliefs necessarily have to be about faith-based personal preferences? Or is there another way to discuss religion that doesn’t make non-religious people squirm with discomfort?

In the remainder of the paper, Murray explores five reasons why theo-phobia exists in academic settings:

  1. Religion supports oppression, violence, and tyranny and is thus best ignored, excluded or perhaps even actively opposed.
  2. Religion is a personal or subjective matter and as a result can’t be subjected to canonical standards of rational scrutiny.  It thus has no place in the academy.
  3. Religion can’t have a role in scholarly inquiry since it at best plays a balkanizing role in the scholarly world.
  4. If religion is allowed to have a role in the academy it will quickly intrude into domains where it does not belong.
  5. Reason #5 is kept secret until the end of the paper.

Regarding point 1, Murray argues that religious excesses can be controlled by falsifying the religion using reason and evidence, because religions make testable claims. So, if academics are afraid of the excesses of a dangerous religion, they should falsify it by arguing that its claims are false. There is no reason to be afraid of expressions of religious belief when you are free to argue against the testable truth claims of that religion.

I repeat: different religions make different claims about the external world. Either the universe had a beginning (Christianity) or it didn’t (Mormonism). Either Jesus died on the cross (Christianity) or he didn’t (Islam). If academics are worried about the effects of some religion, they can argue against it! If a religious person is not willing to defend the testable truth claims, then they are discredited anyway by refusing to engage.

For the remaining 4 points, especially the last one, I recommend you read the whole article. Give it to your friends, religious and non-religious, who believe that faith is fundamentally different from  other academic disciplines. Some truth claims of different religions can be tested. And Christians especially should help others to feel comfortable talking to them by sticking to testable truth claims and publicly accessible evidence.

I’ll give you a hint about reason #5, from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel of New York University. Nagel is quoted as follows:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(“The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

So we learn from Murray that religions stand or fall based on logical consistency and empirical validation against the external world, just like any other academic discipline. So long as you stick to discussing the public, testable claims of religions, there is no reason to be uncomfortable about discussing religions. Don’t discuss the parts of a religion that can’t be tested, only discuss the parts that can be tested.

(Note: Nagel isn’t all bad, he defends intelligent design as science in a research paper summarized here). To see how religion is debated in academia, (public debates held on university campuses, that leverage arguments from published research across academic fields), look here.

William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel and Christopher Hitchens panel discussion

UPDATE: Audio and video from a  panel discussion with Hitchens, Craig, etc. is linked here.

UPDATE: My play-by-play transcript of the debate is here.

This just in… William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Doug Wilson, Jim Denison and Christopher Hitchens will be participating in a panel discussion at the Dallas Convention Center. The event is being organized by Christianity Today and is being held on Saturday, March 21, 2009 from 1:00 – 3:00 PM.

The event is on the web here.

The New Atheists usually make two charges against Christianity: (1) that it is untrue and (2) that it is harmful. A panel of apologetics experts respond to an atheist critic with evidence from Scripture, science, and history about why the faith is both reasonable and good for the world.

Moderator: Stan Guthrie, Christianity Today

  • Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for a Creator (Zondervan)
  • William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Crossway)
  • Douglas Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World? (Canon Press)
  • Christopher Hitchens, Is Christianity Good for the World? (Canon Press) and God Is Not Great (Twelve Books)
  • Jim Denison, Wrestling with God (Tyndale)

More information about the 2009 Christian Book Expo is here.

Video from Hitchens’ last debate with Dinesh D’Souza, is here.

There is one thing you really have to admire about Christopher Hitchens, in addition to his sound views on the war on terror. And that is that he has never run from a debate with anybody. It seems like it took forever to get Richard Dawkins to face-off against John Lennox, but Hitchens has no fear. He’s debated some pretty good Christian scholars, like Frank Turek (video) and Douglas Wilson (transcript).

You have to admire the man, and I hope that he does a good job of presenting his views and that our side, and the audience, is courteous and appreciative. This man has courage.

Incidentally, the Dawkins-Lennox debate is here, if you haven’t seen it. It’s a hoot, but it’s not my preferred debate format. I don’t know of any other debates with the other new atheists… if anyone has any links, post it in the comments.

UPDATE: I analyze Hitchens’ case against God here, from his debate against Frank Turek.

Atheism, Christianity and the problem of evil and suffering

In Christian theology, a classical definition of evil is found in the work of Augustine of Hippo. He states that the evil is not a thing itself, and therefore is not brought into being by God. Instead, evil is the privation of right order. Or, to put it more simply, evil is the state of affairs when things are the way they ought not to be. So, if a mugger mugs you and steals your money, that was evil, because humans ought not to do that. And if a tsunami leaves thousands of people homeless, that’s evil, because the world ought not to be like that. (Let’s bracket why God might allow natural evil, such as the latter example, for another post).

The point is that when you talk about evil and suffering, it pre-supposes that the world is not the way it ought to be. But that means that the world ought to be some way. If the world “ought to be” any way other than it is, then that pre-supposes a designer, who had a purpose for the world, i.e. – a way the world ought to be.

But that’s not my point today. My point today is that atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God until they define what they mean by evil.

It seems to me that there are 2 choices for what evil could be on atheism. What is NOT open to atheists is the solution above, namely, that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Because the universe is an accident on atheism – it is purposeless – there is no way the universe ought to be. We are accidents on atheism. There is no way we ought to be.

So evil must mean one of two things on atheism:

  1. Evil means something that the atheist finds personally distasteful. It is a subjective preference that each person decides for themselves. Just as some people don’t like broccoli – some people don’t like murder or tsunamis. It’s up to each person. But that cannot be used as an argument against God, because who says that God’s moral purposes ought to be connected to the personal moral preferences of atheists? It won’t work.
  2. Evil is what society says is counter to the social conventions of a particular time and place. If we decide that murder is against our society’s conventions today, then for that time and place, murder is “evil”. But then, not signaling when you turn right at a stop sign is also “evil”. It’s all just made-up conventions. And again, it is difficult to see why God should be bound by a society’s conception of good and evil, they are just conventions of accidental people, on an accidental planet, in an accidental universe. (Again, we will bracket the problem of deciding what a society is for this discussion).

So, now I am going to ask you atheists. When you say that there is gratuitous evil in the world, (i.e. – a state of affairs that is apparently pointless, apparently without morally sufficient justification for God to permit it), what do you mean by evil? Does not the invocation of a standard of right and wrong that applies to God himself imply an objective morality? (a moral standard that is independent of personal or cultural preferences) And if there is an objective moral standard like this, where does it come from, on your atheistic worldview?

It seems to me that pressing the problem of evil is inconsistent on atheism. There is no moral standard to hold God accountable to in an accidental universe. You have to pre-suppose an objective moral standard, and a designer of the universe who makes that standard and makes it applicable, before you can proceed to hold God accountable to that standard. But then, you have already assumed God in order to argue against him.

Here is a short paper that contains a summary of everything I know about the problem of evil, (deductive/ logical, as well as inductive/ probabilistic). If you can only read one short paper on the problem of evil/ suffering, this is what you need to read. Do not pass this paper up – it is pure wisdom and will make you effective on this issue in the public square better than anything else out there.

Also, to see these arguments in action, check out the debate here, with William Lane Craig and Kai Nielsen.  If you want a book, here is one between William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, published by Oxford University Press, 2004, (audio of one of their debates here). One of my favorite scholars on this topic is Doug Geivett. If you can listen to the audio from his lecture on evil, that is pure wisdom. It’s up on the Academy of Christian Apologetics, (audio). I love the use of “noseeums” in his examples.


I was over on triablogue.com, and they were commenting on a post over at Victor Reppert’s blog C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, on the topic of morality on atheism. Also, there this debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens is fantastic for understanding why morality is irrational on an atheistic worldview.

The war between science and atheism, part one

Note: Part two of the series on the fine-tuning argument is here.

I was recently reading over at Colliding Universes, and I noticed that Denyse O’Leary was commenting on this post by Christian apologist Frank Turek at TownHall.com. Turek recounts his experiences in his debate (audio, video), with atheist Christoper Hitchens on September 9, 2008 at Virgina Commonwealth University. In particular, Turek describes his use of cosmological argument, and the scientific confirmation of that argument provided by recent discoveries in astronomy and physics.

And suddenly it struck me: atheism is dead. The big bang has killed it. And it is safe to say that in this day and age, if you meet an atheist, then that person is either ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that). And I think that is worth talking about the discoveries that led up to this theory, since this theory is the most accepted theory of the origin of the universe in astrophysics today. All Christians should be able to discuss these discoveries and explain how God created the entire physical universe from nothing – and we can know this. The creation of the universe in the Big Bang is as confirmed as the theory that the Earth goes around the Sun.

First, here is the syllogism for the argument for a supernatural cause that brings the entire physical universe into being:

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

Second, let’s review the 6 fairly recent discoveries that confirm premise 2 with scientific observations. These discoveries reversed the atheism-friendly theory of an eternal universe, and led to the theory of the creation of the entire physical universe out of nothing.

  1. Einstein’s theory of general relativity
  2. the red-shifting of light from distant galaxies
  3. the cosmic background radiation (which also disproves the oscillating model of the universe)
  4. the second law of thermodynamics applied to star formation theory
  5. hydrogen-helium abundance predictions
  6. radioactive element abundance predictions

Why do atheists deny these findings? Probably for emotional comfort – they desire autonomy and so they invent a worldview that allows them to feel good about jettisoning moral constraints and accountability . But for those of us who do constrain our worldviews using scientific discoveries, I recommend the book “God and the Astronomers” by agnostic scientist Robert Jastrow. His book is the best introduction that I have seen on the 6 discoveries that led to the Big Bang theory.

Here is the best quote from the book, (p. 116 of the second edition), where Jastrow, the former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute, explains how atheistic scientists were forced, against their wills, to accept the big bang theory.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

The acceptance of the big bang is just another example of how the progress of science whittles away at the gaps in our knowledge. These gaps are leveraged by atheists in order to cling to the delusion that the material world is all there is. But we now know that the physical universe had a non-physical, supernatural, cause that brought it into existence, just like the Bible says in Genesis 1:1.

Turek unpacks how the creation of the physical universe is best explained by a supernatural creative act.

Why couldn’t natural forces have produced the universe? Because there was no nature and there were no natural forces ontologically prior to the Big Bang—nature itself was created at the Big Bang. That means the cause of the universe must be something beyond nature—something we would call supernatural.  It also means that the supernatural cause of the universe must at least be:

  • spaceless because it created space
  • timeless because it created time
  • immaterial because it created matter
  • powerful because it created out of nothing
  • intelligent because the creation event and the universe was precisely designed
  • personal because it made a choice to convert a state of nothing into something (impersonal forces don’t make choices).

Now, I would never take the faith of atheists away from them, because it gives them comfort, and hope that no one will ever hold them accountable. It is also important for them to have some privatized, subjective way of looking down on other people, so that they can feel better about themselves, despite their flight from science and reason. I really admire the way that by sheer force of will, they are able to believe things without a shred of objective evidence. But, when we discuss these matters in the public square, I think we should insist that we limit our discussion to the available public, testable evidence.

A research paper written by William Lane Craig, and published in a peer-reviewed journal of astrophysics is available here. This paper contains thorough refutations of all naturalistic rivals to the big bang theory.

UPDATE 1: Welcome, visitors from The Anchoress. Thanks for the link, Anchoress! 300+ hits and counting… WOW!!!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Triablogue. Thanks for the link, gentlemen!

UPDATE 3: Welcome, visitors from Post-Darwinist! Thanks for the link, Denyse. First-time visitors, please take a look around the blog. There are many varied topics here, and most of my posts are not nearly as snarky as this satirical one!

UPDATE 4: Part two in the series on atheism’s war against science has been posted here.