Friday, January 23, 2009

STA Answers Frank Turek, Part 1

In a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Frank Turek, hosted by the United Secular Alliance at VCU in Richmond, Virginia and focused on the question, "does God exist?", Turek employed the oft-used apologist tactic of volume -- that is, listing off as many "proofs" of God as he could in the hopes that at least a couple would stick. While I'm not going to dissect the debate (you can watch it for yourself), I would like to answer Turek's arguments, worn-out and defeated as they may be, for myself.

Turek gave three main arguments (two of which I will separate) and four minor points for why he believes in a theistic universe (note, specifically theistic, not deistic), and peppered Christian theology in along the way. He also offered a list of attributes for this deity: a space-less, timeless, immaterial, personal, powerful, intelligent, moral creator. I shall deal with these throughout my discussions on his arguments.

#1 - The Cosmological Argument
Turek summarizes this as "how could something come from nothing"? Hoping that if no one can answer this question scientifically then his premise must be true by default, Turek offers the idea that time, space, and matter all came into existence at the same time -- effectively, nature was created in the Big Bang -- and therefore the Big Bang can't be explained naturalistically because nature didn't exist to cause it, and can only be explained in supernatural terms.

I have no problem in saying that nature came into being during the Big Bang. I am not a scientist, but I do know that what is said in Big Bang cosmology is that space-time itself expanded. Turek himself has no problems with Big Bang theory at all and even did a fairly decent job in providing some proofs for it. The only difference is that he thinks he knows for sure "who banged it", that is to say, he believes his particular God was the root cause of the Big Bang expansion. As I said, he's fallacy is that since no one can provide the answer as to what was "before" the Big Bang, then it must have been Jesus's daddy. Obviously this does not follow -- you simply cannot move from the question "what caused the Big Bang" to theism. I, just as his opponent in the debate did, will grant deism as a slim possibility, but one requiring evidence to first be put forth as an answer.

Since it created space, time, and matter, Turek apples the first three attributes to his God here including that it must be powerful because "it created out of nothing", yet Turek offers zero evidence for this claim. Turek then asserts the following: "you can't go from a state of nonexistence to a state of existence without making a choice", therefore this God is a personal deity because only personal beings make choices. Yet again, he offers no evidence for this bold-faced claim. The onus is still on you, Frank Turek, to bolster your claim that existence demands choice.

#2 - The Teleological Argument
Turek uses the standard fine-tuning argument to try to prove theism. Essentially he states the various ways at how things seem to be precisely set just for us to exist -- the position of the sun and other planets, the tilt and rotation of the Earth, the force values of gravity, etc. He didn't have time to get into them all, but doing a simple internet search will provide you with these standard Christian apologetics for the argument from design.

Frank Turek is effectively capitalizing once again on the ignorance we, as the human collective, have. We do not yet have full understanding of all the laws of the universe. We don't know for sure that messing with any of the constants would result in complete absence of life. Regardless, even if we did know for sure that no life could exist with any other configuration of constants, the fact that he's using it as an argument for a specific brand of theism misses the point altogether: we wouldn't be here talking about it if it hadn't been the case. Welcome to the Anthropic Principle, Frank.

#3 - Irreducible Complexity
Continuing on his buffet of tired old arguments, Turek cites the complexity of DNA as a reason for the existence of a particular God. This tied in with the argument from design of course, being touted out as a reason for the intelligence attribute Turek ascribed to his God at the beginning. The amazing amount of information contained within our DNA, as well as various quotes mined from Collins, Crick, and Hoyle, was given as a proof for a theistic God that must also be intelligent.

Again, Turek is guilty of capitalizing on the ignorance of his audience (as well as a non sequitur). A simple search through any reputable source for evolutionary biology will yield extensive amounts of research and results that stifle the argument of "irreducible complexity". I won't waste time here, read them yourself.

#4 - Objective Morality
One of the major arguments Turek gave (and indeed a topic that Hitchens spent a great deal of his time on) dealt with morality. Turek made it clear that he wasn't saying that atheists can't be or are not moral people, nor that atheists don't know what morality is. His argument was, "atheists cannot justify morality" because there's no authority outside of them.

I personally think that morality can be justified without the need of a deity, but as an argument for the existence of a specific God, Turek's argument is pretty weak. I've written on matters of morality before, so I won't go into it here. Nevertheless, as Turek is strained to point out, the subject is objective morality. Perhaps in some sense there cannot be objective morality? We don't need an authority to be moral, Turek freely notes that he doesn't need Christianity to be moral. And, as Turek is arguing for the Christian God's existence anyway, wouldn't Yahweh's rules on incest and rape and murder have to be the objective moral standard? If so, count me -- and millions of other sane, compassionate human beings -- out. (This also raises the question of God's morality and the Euthyphro Dilemma, subjects covered elsewhere.)

I'll post Part 2 soon.



Donald said...

These are pretty shoddy arguments. You lack any sort of a cogent syllogism and at best attack the fringes of these arguments. What are YOUR reasons for this being wrong aside from "this seems to be conjecture."

All either side has, in this debate, is conjecture. Turek, however, makes pretty good arguments that rule out a lot of the stuff that you'd probably "conject."

STA said...

And his "pretty good arguments" boil down to: we don't know, therefore God.

Andrew Ryan said...

Frank's moral argument basically boils down to: Without God you can't have objective morality and therefore morality is just opinion and therefore you can't say that Hitler is more evil than Mother Theresa. After all, 'more evil' implies an objective standard, which can only come from God.

The answer to this is that I CAN give my opinion that Hitler is more evil than Mother Theresa - my own opinion is the only one I can give! It is false to say that 'more evil' suggests an objective standard - all it implies is that I have a set of values by which to make that judgement. In this case, I value human life more than honesty - so Hitler's murders are worse in my eyes than Theresa's lies.

Turek obviously shares these value, and he can't explain why by reference to the bible - unless you can point to a verse where it says 'murder is worse than lying'.

He also quotes an argument along these lines:
1. Objective morality can only come from God
2. Objective morality exists (as observed in our human interaction)
3. Therefore, God exists.

However, if he's judging that objective morality exists purely by his observation of human behaviour, then how can he be sure he can tell the difference between 'objective morality exists' and 'people believe it exists and behave accordingly'.

So the alternative possibility is thus:

1. People cannot believe in objective morality unless they believe God exists
2. People believe objective morality exists
3. Therefore people believe in God.

Thus, he's proved nothing about the ACTUAL existence in God.