Here is a review of the book by Jim Wilson. It should be noted that Jim went to the effort to actually read the book. While it is difficult to read a book from “the other camp,” I think it is more useful to get information about the book from someone who has actually read it. You can get plenty of opinions about it HERE but most haven’t looked between the covers. This review is thorough and fairlylong. I thought about running it in parts but it’s probably best to put it all together and those that are interested in the review can read it all in one sitting.
I don’t have enough faith to believe Geisler and Turek are being honest.
Conversing with theists about their religious beliefs and why I reject them is an enjoyable activity. I’ll gladly read any books anyone suggests and share my opinions of them if they are willing to review material I suggest. Recently, a Christian friend of mine suggested I read his copy of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, with a forward from David Limbaugh (Rush’s brother).
The book’s title is absurd. It does not take faith to reject a claim, since disbelief should be the default position for any claim until evidence is presented. We are born without a belief in God and lacked a belief until indoctrinated by parents. Even then, doubts remain. The authors choose to throw the word faith around very sloppily. They claim that any world view requires faith. For example pg. 27 states that skeptics have faith that skepticism is true and agnostics have faith that agnosticism is true. Atheism, skepticism and agnosticism are not belief systems. Skepticism is a method of determining what beliefs are true through inquiry. Atheism and agnosticism are single issue positions-one dealing with belief, the other with knowledge. The only thing all Atheists have in common is that they do not believe in a god. The authors however conflate Atheism with what some call “strong Atheism.” Atheism is a lack of belief in a God or gods while “strong Atheism” is a belief that no God exists. Many high profile Atheists including Richard Dawkins choose not to identify with the latter.
The authors paint a bizarre paranoid picture of an America populated with postmodern zealots, liberal radio hosts, and college professors who deny that any reality exists. They seem to believe that most Atheist and Skeptics share this view that there is no such thing as truth. This as a straw man attack there are few, if any, Atheists, Skeptics, or college professors who shared this view. For example on Page 37, the authors state “Contrary to what is being taught in many public schools, truth is not relative but absolute”. To my knowledge, there are no public schools that specifically teach that truth or reality is relative. The authors conflate the idea that we have a very limited ability to know anything to a level of absolute certainty with the idea that no reality exists. These are two very different concepts. Atheists and Skeptics agree that we have a limited ability to know anything with certainty but know that there is a reality. Also, the authors repeatedly propose the idea that an absolute truth exists with the idea that an absolute universal morality exists without justification. Page 40 features a good example of this.
Throughout the early chapters of the book, Geisler and Turek display a great disdain for academia which makes sense as many young people lose the beliefs they were raised with after beginning post secondary education. After all, “distance, discovery, and diversity are devastating to dogma” as Matt Dillahunty the host of the Atheist Experience television program once stated. Much of this is an attempt to relate to the books a target audience that is not well educated. It’s not for Skeptics versed in apologetics but believers looking for comfort in their beliefs. For example on page 46, the authors describe us as living in a time when tolerance “means you’re supposed to accept every belief as true.” I do not know of anyone who holds this view of religious tolerance and the fact that the authors portray this as being within the realms of mainstream intellectual thought in this country is dishonest. The authors are perfectly happy to play to the values and ignorance of ordinary American Christians who are convinced that their country is under siege by Atheist and liberal intellectuals, set on denying their rights and the even the existence of reality.
A good example of appealing to the intended audience of Christians looking for reassurance in their beliefs can be found on page 24, where the authors describe what they present as the best objections to Christianity. They lump them into categories, which include 1) intellectual objections, like the problem of evil (which has never been adequately answered) and 2) objections from scientists, and 3) emotional obstacles like Christian exclusivism, the doctrine of hell and church hypocrisy, and volitional objections like an unwillingness to change lifestyles. They overlook problems like the absurdity of the Christian world view. For example, Christians belief in an all-powerful all-benevolent being that uses blood sacrifices as a means of bestowing forgiveness, and chooses to become one of these blood sacrifices in order to save other people from his own wrath. Then there is the problem that most of us have no way of distinguishing the claims Christianity from the claims of the thousands of other religions that exist today. The authors try to help us make this distinction, but it is my opinion they fail to show us that Christianity is any more supported by evidence than any other religion.
The book centers on a 12 step syllogism and the various chapters each attempt to justify the author’s acceptance of one of the premises, ultimately building up to the conclusion that the Christian world view is correct. The arguments for the first postulate fall short. They attempt to demonstrate their argument with statements like “the truth is, there is no truth are self-contradictory”, however this does not prove that their first premise “The truth about reality is knowable”. It is highly probable that there are many true things about reality that humans do not have the capacity to know and will not for the foreseeable future.
After dedicating the first two chapters to combating the notions that reality is relative, the authors attempt to prove the existence of a theistic god. Their first piece of evidence is that science claims the universe came from nothing. This is completely inaccurate. The Big Bang Cosmology suggests the universe as it exists today expanded from a more concentrated initial state and continues to expand. I challenge anyone reading this to find one piece of scientific literature that claims the universe exploded from nothing. All literature I have come across on the subject has clearly stated that we do not know what state the universe was in prior to the Big Bang, so it is pure speculation to assume that it was nonexistent and came from nothing.
Then there is the problem that sometimes things appear to come from out of nowhere when they really did not, anyone who has attended a magic show can attest to this. Kyle Williams’ review of the same book points out that even if their claims about cosmology were taken at face value, it would only prove that the time—space universe came from a realm outside of this reality (as string theory suggests). We are not justified in assuming that this realm consists of a god or to assert anything about this realm. Making any assumptions about what caused to this universe to spring forth from another dimension amounts to an argument from ignorance.
Also in this chapter (page 90) the authors present the Kalam Cosmological argument as a refutation of the idea that universe existed infinitely. The argument is structured as such:
1. An indefinite number of days has no end.
2. Today is the end of history (history being a collection all days).
3. Therefore, there are not an infinite number of days before today.
Frighteningly enough this faulty syllogism argument is described as being rationally inescapable, in the book. It is flawed in that today is not the end of history and days undoubtedly continue to come after today. There is no reason why more distinct days cannot be added to an infinite set of days. One possibility is that it would still be an infinite set of days with just another distinct day that was not previously there. Another possibility is that there could be an infinite numbers of days in the past with a finite number of days in the future, or that there are finite days in the past and infinite days in the future. It is also possible that the nature of time is such that the notions of days or time as we know them today may not make sense in a pre-big bang universe.
In this Chapter the authors to explore the idea that because the universe has so many precisely defined constants that make life possible it must have been the result of an intelligent creator. One objection is that the constants exist to making life as we know it possible. Under different circumstances living things could be quite different. Biology shows that life evolved to suit the environment that it exists in. I have heard arguments like these compared to the water in a puddle believing that the low spot that forms the puddle was created specifically for it (which is why the puddle is shaped perfectly to the contours of the water it contains). One has to consider the possibility that the universe is not tweaked to allow life to exist, but life as we know it is well suited to existing on this remote planet in this remote corner of the universe. Instead of examining this possibility the author uses a straw-man argument by claiming that Atheists typical rebuttal is to use a multiple universe theory. The authors choose to try to debunk this argument rather than examine the possibility that life was formed here through natural processes and is suited to the conditions it evolved in.
In chapter 5 the authors are dishonest and rely on the ignorance of their intended audience. The authors are intelligent, well educated men and it takes very little time to find refutations of many of this chapter’s claims on the Internet. To believe that the authors are not dishonest, I’d have to assume that they are simply ignorant of basic biology. The authors try to argue against naturalistic abiogenesis in favor of the biblical creation story. They frequently refer to people who accept natural explanations for the origin of life on earth as Darwinists, a term that implies that these ideas are accepted on the authority of Charles Darwin and not in the wealth of discoveries in Genetics, morphology and paleontology that took place after Darwin’s death. Also this confuses the concepts of evolution and abiogenesis, which are actually two different ideas.
On page 115, the authors claim that evolutionists believe that a fully formed amoeba or something like it was spontaneously generated in a little pond somewhere on earth. This is a gross oversimplification. There are many theories of abiogenesis, but none of them claim anything like this. First we know that the earliest life would have to be far more simplistic than something as complex as amoebas and their development from inorganic matter would have to have happened gradually not spontaneously. Only after gaining the ability to self replicate would the proto-life forms begin gaining the complexity associated with living things as we know them today. We also know that organic molecules are able form in a wide variety of environments, including those in space. If self replicating organic molecules are able to form, then there is no reason why they could not gain more complexity and give rise to life as we know it.
On page 95 the authors ask the question of what one should make of a diamond studded Rolex watch found on the beach. Shouldn’t we assume it was created and not the result of natural processes and can this become pared to the complexity of living things? We can accept that the Rolex was created by intelligent beings, because we know how they are made; we can go to Rolex factory and see the watches get assembled. We cannot do this with living things or universes. If living things and the natural world were all created by an intelligent designer, then why would one be inclined to see the watch as being different from its surroundings? The authors would have to view all objects on the beach the same way they view the watch. Page 120 features a photo of Mount Rushmore and with a label pointing out that the faces carved into were put in place by an intelligence. Adjacent to this picture is a photo of the Grand Canyon which they label as being natural. However their view does not make a distinction between natural formations and one created by an intelligence, since they believe all things in the natural universe were in fact created by an intelligence.
Chapter 6 features the author’s attempt to dismiss the validity of evolution. On page 140 the authors ask, “The question if there is no God, why is there something instead of nothing?” and claim that atheists have no answer for this. This may be the case, but we generally do not claim to have an explanation to this question. Theists however present the unsatisfactory response that a supernatural being decided there should be something instead of nothing. One could just as easily ask “if Theists are correct, why is there God instead of nothing”. Using God does not answer the initial question.
Like most contemporary apologists, they acknowledge that changes occur to create diversity within a single species (which they term micro-evolution) however they reject the notion that one species can be transformed into another genetically different species. However, nowhere do they specify what it is that prevents small changes from accumulating into larger changes, except for the claim that mutations are nearly always harmful. This is false since the majority of genetic mutations are neutral, but beneficial mutations have been observed (as in the case of bacteria developing resistances to chemical, which the authors acknowledge on page 141). Perfieto’s 2007 study on E. coli bacteria in fact found that 1 in 10 functional mutations were actually beneficial. In humans genetic mutations have been identified that make the bones of individuals stronger, prevent heart disease and resistance to certain viruses and bacteria. We now know of a mutation: CCR5-delta 32 that makes individuals resistant to the AIDS virus. Another has been identified that allows some Tibetan people to be especially adept at coping with high altitudes. Mutations are actually quite common. On average each human zygote has around 128 genetic mutations.
In the section on “Genetic limits,” the authors argue that we have never seen a new species created, because there is a limit on the type of genetic change that can be done through natural selection. However, they neglect to tell what the limit is. They also fail to mention that we have in fact observed the formation of new genetically distinct species through natural and artificial selection. For example there species of Cichlids (a diverse family of freshwater fish) that are indigenous to parts of Lake Malawi that did not exists prior to the nineteenth century. There are species of Mimulus plants that exist in only in the tailings of copper mines, which are adapted specifically to tolerate the high sulfur content of the tailings. The London Underground also has a distinct species of Mosquito that exists only there. In addition to this, there are cases of similar species that are partially isolated geographically that have limited ability to interbreed as evolution predicts. There are also ring species, which are similar species that can interbreed with variations in immediate geographic proximity to each other but cannot interbreed with variations further up or down the spectrum.
The author argues that the variations within the beaks of the finches observed by Darwin were seasonal. [editor’s note: Jim let me jump in here with some “earth shattering” information. At the equator where the Galapagos Islands lie and where Darwin’s Finches are found, there are no seasons!] While it may be is true that populations of finches with different beak types fluctuates with weather patterns it, is false that this accounted for the variety of beak types that existed in the first place. In fact Darwin observed 15 distinct species of finch with beaks adapted for specific ecological niches. One again the Geisler and Turek almost certainly would have to done enough research on this topic to know the claim they are making is invalid but they choose not to care.