I ordinarily don’t do this. Through gradual tapering I’ve more or less stopped responding to atheists altogether, at least in forums or other places where there’s an immediate and direct back-and-forth. (This is why I may well never write another “Atheistic Chestnuts Refuted” article, for instance.) There are two reasons. First, because most of the atheists you’ll talk to respond to your arguments with nothing more than talk that is little different from the insults of an elementary schooler, and their behavior otherwise is no less immature or appalling. They even use directly childish idioms and reference points, each more puerile and needlessly obnoxious than the last. (For instance, take their cliché analogies to God: Santa Claus, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, invisible pink unicorns...stop and think for a minute how odd it is to hear this coming from the mouths of grown-ups.) Some of them try to rationalize away their constantly insulting way of speaking by saying that humor helps to open the mind or that anyone who believes the “silly” things we do deserves
to be mocked ruthlessly (apparently their sense of justice is no more advanced beyond the fifth grade than their sense of humor); others make no apologies but still get just as defensive anyway when you label their horrible behavior for what it is. I’m not saying that there aren’t
civil atheists out there: probably there’s a lot of them, and years ago I was close friends with one. But the more vocal ones almost always seem to be the ones who mock and deride instead of reason: this trait reaches far beyond the ubiquitous forum trolls who exist among people of every stripe and goes all the way into many if not most of their most esteemed, “professional” scholars.
The second reason is that you can’t win with these sorts anyway since they’re constantly shifting their ground or fortifying themselves with catch-22’s. The modern atheistic intellectual zeitgeist is little more than a mass of self-contradictory double standards which leave no conceivable means for even a theoretical possibility to slip in from any quarter of anything making the holders of these standards change their minds. If one or two extraordinary events happen then the skeptics say that of course
that doesn’t indicate anything because it’s obviously a fluke instead of a sign or divine intervention because after all, it’s not like such unlikely things happen all the time
; if they do
end up happening all the time then these people say that of course
it doesn’t mean anything because it’s obviously just the statistical effect called clustering: an epidemic of extraordinary things has to happen to someone eventually. A lot of these skeptics walk around saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” yet if they do see something themselves they pass it off as a hallucination or some other sort of phantasm or illusion. They complain (rightly, perhaps) of atheists always being depicted, in fiction and even in real life, as being merely prejudiced by some emotional or psychological impetus like a personal trauma or something, but at the same time they go around talking about religious faith like it is automatically and inherently a purely emotional or psychological phenomenon, or even a mental illness. Some of these atheists (many of them the same people who on other occasions demand miracles as proof) claim that if something were to break the laws of physics then that would just necessitate a redefinition of those laws—again, leaving no room for any persuasion that there was divine intervention. Something in reality that doesn’t fit your worldview? Just patch it up by redefining a word.
Most egregiously of all, they criticize creationist “science” (again, rightly) of bringing the subject of the supernatural into science when by definition science is the study of the natural world only and therefore it’s like mixing oil and water, but then many of these same people also say that they disbelieve in God because there is no scientific evidence for Him. It’s no use pointing out to them that if scientific proof of the supernatural is impossible then so is scientific disproof of the supernatural, or that it is unreasonable and irrational in the first place to say that you disbelieve in God, a supernatural Being and therefore something that wouldn’t and couldn’t yield scientific evidence of His existence even if He did
exist, because there is no scientific evidence for His existence. Oh, they’ll get
the self-refuting and mind-closing discrepancy involved but somehow they still won’t get what’s wrong with holding to it. Do you see my predicament now? How are you to argue with a man who insists that something can’t be in the next room behind a locked door because his methods of studying this
room have disclosed no reason to think that the object is here
in it, even though he very well knows this is not where the object could possibly be if it exists, and he doesn’t care (or even takes pride
) in how beside the point his reasoning is? And that’s not even close to the worst thing you have to deal with when trying to reason with these folks. It’s difficult and seemingly pointless to go on—in person, at any rate.
Every now and then, though, I come across a piece of anti-theism propaganda that is so very asinine, unoriginal, and nigh unreadable behind the words FALLACY being written all over it a thousand times in giant bold letters—and yet so likely to be talked about endlessly--that I know a refutation seems necessary and even with my ordinary distaste for such things I can hardly resist anyway. Such a piece is Stephen Hawking’s recent cant about God having no role in the universe
. This is one of those articles that is so drenched in illogic that it seems necessary to go through it bit by bit:
STEPHEN HAWKING: GOD HAS NO ROLE IN UNIVERSE
, by Theunis Bates
LONDON (Sept. 2)—Entering the ongoing debate between faith and science, renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking claims that modern physics has now proved that God played no role in the creation of the universe.
In a new book—“The Grand Design,” co-written with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow—the theoretical physicist sets out to demolish Sir Isaac Newton’s claim that an "intelligent and powerful Being" must have shaped the universe, which he believed could not have emerged from chaos. Hawking and Mlodinow rule out the possibility of divine intervention, saying that new theories have made the idea of a supernatural creator redundant.
I refer you to what I said above. Science, the study of nature, could no more prove anything about supernature one way or the other than linguistics could prove a mathematical formula. I suppose the idea is that nauseatingly old “God of the Gaps” nonsense, which posits that the real purpose of theism is to explain things that science has not “yet” explained. I’ve always had two serious problems with this theory. First, there’s the absurd literalism and historical snobbery involved with the implications and typical explanations or supports of the idea. Second, science has, in the end, not explained diddly squat as a replacement for how nature works as opposed to divine agencies or whatever. All science has done is put the words "the forces of nature" in as a placeholder and pretend that it already is what it is a placeholder for
, and for that matter that these words even have a definition in the first place—or at least one that’s specific, coherent, articulate, and meaningful enough to have any practical value whatsoever so that it really makes any difference whether the definition is there or not. The concept of “the forces of nature” is a non-explanation—indeed, it’s really a non-concept. Descriptions are not the same thing as explanations. Saying the word “force” does not supply any new information. It doesn’t even communicate anything. Science can describe, to some degree, what gravity or electromagnetism does
, but not what it is
, or what causes
it. The laws of the universe are just patterns of consistent behavior for which science has no actual explanation whatsoever, just semantics masquerading as explanations. These people notice a common type of occurrence, affix a label to it, and then say, “There, now the occurrence is explained.” Well, maybe they don’t go so far as to put it directly into words like that: one wouldn’t want to openly reveal the malarkey for what it is and force oneself to face the reality of one’s ignorance and, worse, one’s denial.
Not to mention that even if a fact does render something redundant, that is not the same as rendering it untrue. Or that these “forces of nature” themselves form an arabesque of pattern and organization to begin with which in every other instance is an evident mark of design. We are a colony of microscopic creatures living in one isolated corner of a vast Persian rug, and once we’ve seen enough of our corner to notice some patterns in the rug which form the basis and structure that our little “world” stands on, a few of us come up with names for these patterns, pretend the names are themselves existential and causal accounts, and then, most puzzlingly of all, use these names as evidence that we must not be on a woven thing of any sort. Because consistency is a sign of lack
of design, apparently. At least when you give it a name which allows people to forget that you’re not talking about
anything in the first place more specific and explanatory than things behaving consistently in certain ways. Such is “the forces of nature”.
But wait, if we read on then we see that Mr. Hawking isn’t saying that: no, it’s worse. He’s saying that not only was there no weaver, the rug wove itself
"Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing," the pair write, in an extract published in today's London Times. "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going."
Except that there must have been something to light the paper with, and something to have ignited it and set it to the paper. It seems ridiculous that I should actually have to explain
that and why things can’t create themselves, let alone out of nothing, but all right. For one thing, something has to exist before it can perform any action or function such as creation. And if it already exists to begin with, that means it’s already been created, and furthermore...oh, enough of this. Like I said, it shouldn’t bear explaining. (Additionally, even if it were not necessary
to invoke God, that would not mean that He’s not there. “Necessary” and “real” are two very different concepts, and thus to say that an absence of necessity indicates an absence of reality is to speak in non-sequiturs.)
"The Grand Design," which goes on sale next week, is a significant shift away from Hawking's previous comments on the divine. In his 1988 best-seller, “A Brief History of Time,” he suggested that it was possible to believe in the concept of God as creator and also hold a scientific view of the universe. "If we do discover a complete theory...of why it is that we and the universe exist...it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God," he wrote.
And in a 2007 interview, he appeared to portray himself as an agnostic. "I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," he told the BBC. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."
The “mind of God” statement is open to various possible interpretations. Indeed, many people have suspected Hawking of being a flat-out atheist all along, who didn’t want to admit to it because it would mean a drop in book sales or reputation. He has been maybe a little vague and evasive on the subject, and I do seem to remember reading at infidels.org or somewhere a few years back, in some article about how more atheistic celebrities should proudly proclaim their atheism rather than keep it a secret, that...I can’t remember the author’s name for the life of me, but whoever it was put months of “tremendous pressure” (i.e. obnoxious poking, prying and pestering instead of letting the poor man have his right to privacy) on Hawking until finally his secretary said, “When Mr. Hawking says ‘God’ he is referring to the forces of nature.” I don’t know if that’s true or not—it was
only secondhand information from a secretary who may have just been trying to shut that badgering fellow up—but in any case, whatever
Hawking believed Bates should not just declare a flip-flop in Hawking’s position on theism when his previous position was not at all clear and he himself has not said anything about changing his mind.
Hawking now argues that Newton's assertion that the laws of nature cannot alone explain the existence of life and the universe started to fall apart in 1992, when astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets (planets beyond our own solar system) orbiting other sunlike stars.
"That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions—the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings," he writes.
“Just to please us”?! I’ll be generous and assume that was a silly little careless poor choice of words. As for the rest, it’s all that same endlessly repeated line about how modern knowledge of science somehow means less evidence of teleology because the individual (and usually, mostly abandoned per se
) straw man argument is treated or implied as standing for all teleological thought. Usually this is done by saying that the theory of evolution itself has disproven the teleological position; now Hawking is speaking as though the likelihood of life on other planets has, and in mere reference to the ancient words of Isaac Newton. This makes Hawking no better than the creationists who attack selected, oversimplified statements written by Darwin himself as if that could refute the entire theory of evolution. I have already discussed above why the “forces of nature” are more likely to be signs of design than of undesign, and I have discussed it further, with refutations of the inevitable counter-arguments, in the other thread where I gave the excerpt from my own book in progress. If—pardon me, when
—I must explain it all over again, it should be in another thread still, because to go into it here would be prolix and slightly off topic.
Hawking believes that other universes, as well as other solar systems, are also likely to exist. But if God's purpose was to create mankind, he wonders, why would He make these redundant and out-of-reach worlds?
doesn’t make you wonder why even the most intelligent nontheists in the world cannot formulate intelligent arguments, I don’t know what will. Apparently Hawking is one of those nontheists who automatically equate belief in God with belief that God made the world only to make humans, or mainly to make humans. Another straw man, though not at all of an uncommon stripe: nontheistic literature is replete with attacks on theism itself by way of attacking individual, select beliefs of certain groups of theists. Lots of theists do not believe that God made the world just to make mankind: indeed, the notion is explicitly denied in the Koran, which was written in the Dark Ages: “The creation of the heavens and the earth is certainly greater than the creation of humans, though most humans don’t know it.” (Surah 40, verse 57) This is one of the dangers of ignorance and stereotype: they strike even the smartest people, making them think such manifest malarkey as that “X existing in the first place=X having certain motives” is a necessary truth that is so obvious as not even to be considered. Heck, God’s role as creator and designer doesn’t even indicate that any viewpoint about His motives at all
, religious or unorthodox, is necessarily correct.
Second of all, what makes other worlds redundant? The Koran, again, stated that there are many earths (surah 65, verse 12). Even if we are
alone out there, the vast size of the universe beyond us—which we know we can only barely begin to detect, the detectable parts alone being unimaginably cyclopean—is anything but redundant: it just goes to show how us how great and inconceivable its Creator would be. There is nothing redundant about a master who needs nothing yet who still creates people out of the kindness of His heart coming up with a few more servants: if anything, it stands to reason. And what the heck could the worlds being out of reach of each other (if they even are, for a more technologically advanced and long-lived species than our own) have to do with it?? There may be another colony of microscopic organisms living farther away from us here on this great Persian rug than we can ever hope to reach, but that doesn’t change the fact of the arabesque in the rug itself. And besides, it’s not like the existence of intelligent life on other planets is even proven in the least yet, though Hawking seems to be taking the matter purely for granted.
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and high-profile atheist...
Okay, stop right there. Dawkins may be high-profile in the literal sense of being famous, but only
in that sense. The implication here seems to be that he is a respected member of the intellectual community and yet I don’t even know of very many atheists
who take him seriously. I think very little of him myself.
...welcomed the book, telling the Times that Hawking had developed a theory of Darwinism for the entirety of nature, not simply the creatures that live within it. "That's exactly what he's saying," Dawkins told the paper. "I know nothing of the details of the physics, but I had always assumed the same thing."
I spoke too soon. It looks like they did
go ahead and tow the “evolution automatically refutes a teleological view of the universe” line after all in addition to the rest. I really should have seen this coming.
However, religious commentators have criticized Hawking's theorizing, saying he can never hope to explain what is essentially unexplainable.
"If all the physical laws had been explained and proved—which is a million miles from the case—our understanding of the actions of God would not be one whit greater: his existence and his actions are of a different order," writes Quentin de la Bedoyere, science editor of the U.K.'s Catholic Herald newspaper. "Most particularly it would not touch the question of how something existing comes out from nothing. That is a question which science cannot answer, and will never answer, because nothingness is not within its domain. ... Neither [Hawking], nor you, nor I will ever explain creation, except through faith."
He was doing so well until that final sentence. But because he messed up there and said that “faith” line, he has allowed the psyches of thousands of atheists reading his words to focus on that one thing and overlook the common sense of the rest. A week after reading the quote, it will be the only thing they remember him saying.
Stephen Hawking has given many signs lately that in the best case scenario what brilliance he may have once genuinely had is slipping, and in the worst case scenario he is losing his capacity for original and rational thought, or isn’t bothering to use said capacity. One of his other most recent articles is just one long cliché about how aliens probably exist and will probably be hostile toward us and must be of vastly superior intelligence and so on. Barring all the other errors involved, you’d at least think that he of all people would understand that the only thing necessary for a race to develop interstellar travel is not super
human intelligence but only intelligence that’s at minimum
approximately human, given that the human brain has not grown definitely and noticeably more intelligent in the few thousand years we’ve been really developing our technology, and obviously still will not have if in a few more thousand years we’ve taken it to new levels like interstellar travel ourselves. It just takes a mind like our own and a lot of dedicated time and practice, not an inherently greater intellect. Perhaps it is dedicated time and practice that Mr. Hawking has fallen out of, because for the reasons I have given (and I’m really only scratching the surface) he hasn’t given any more sign of applying mental effort to the subject of theism either. As Stephen King wrote in On Writing
, no one can be as intellectually lazy as a really smart person. Nevertheless, Hawking’s words are good for one
thing: they go to show that even the most intelligent nontheists in the world can’t come up with any argumentation that’s even remotely new, logical, or even interesting.