Monday, May 6, 2013

Responding to Randal Rauser

It’s pretty extraordinary for me to get so fired up about something in the morning that I’ll put off finishing the coffee to start a response, but that's what happened this morning when I checked out Randal Rauser's latest post.

What I'd like to point out before I start ripping into what the guy posted is that I actually think Randal has got the character of a champion, especially when you consider him in comparison to other Christian apologists.  He rejects the idea that god commanded the genocides of the Old Testament, that god actually endorsed slavery in the Old Testament, or that god will inflict eternal conscious torture on anyone in hell.

That said, I can't help but get frustrated by Randal's apologetics given that he's misrepresenting so many standard positions atheists hold.
So I posted the following as a comment reply on his blog, but I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to publish it here as well.

It must be very easy to pretend atheists hold beliefs that take extraordinary evidence when you can make up positions for those atheists to hold.

1.)    “It seems to me that the claim that the universe sprang into existence uncaused out of nothing”
No atheists that I know of hold that the universe was uncaused out of nothing, at least in the sense that you’re using the word.  This includes Lawrence Krauss who wrote the book “A Universe from Nothing”.
Because every scientist that starts talking about what happened before the first plank second in the Big Bang largely starts talking about quantum nucleation/tunneling.  One of the largest criticisms leveled at Krauss, including by theists, was that his title was misleading – since he uses the scientific definition of nothing, which is the quantum vacuum; and he shows that with just that existing, a spacetime like ours can come into existence thanks to quantum mechanics.

You can ask “Well where did the quantum vacuum come from?” but the answer is very straight forward: “The same place your god did.”  

In fact most atheists I know of do hold that some form of material reality has always existed, which is perfectly consistent with the Big Bang Theory, since there is absolutely no evidence that we ever had a state of “nothing” existing where “nothing” is the “absence of anything”.  

We already know that the Big Bang Theory is incomplete before the first plank second, since we don’t yet have theories that account for quantum gravity, and at that scale of the universe in the big bang, quantum effects will be strong enough to override classical gravity effects as we understand them in relativity.

2.)    "explain this apparent fine-tuning by invoking trillions of universes"

First, many atheists reject the idea that our universe is “fine tuned”.  We have no idea to state that all the “constants” that we currently use in physics are independent of one another.  They are as far as we know, but we suspect quite strongly that there is something out there that does connect all the dots so to speak.  For instance, string theory could be true, in which case we could explain why we have various values for each “constant”.

Second, it could very well be that the fundamental properties of the universe (ie. the laws of physics) are such that the parameters are connected relationally, such that by adjusting one constant, you necessarily effect others, which would still result in a universe where life of some kind is possible.

Third, but most importantly, you’re misrepresenting the atheists position on the “multiverse” which is the objection to the teleological argument you’re bringing up.

Scientists aren’t simply positing that there are ‘trillions of universes’ in order to explain fine tuning.  What we have found from quantum mechanics is that there are very good reasons to believe that there are other universes out there, and that there is some mechanism that generates “universes”.  Once we start analyzing that, we find that there would be trillions, possibly an infinite number, of these universes as a result of this mechanism.

3.)    “Consider as an example the different way that theists and atheists process the claim that Jesus was resurrected. Atheists often invoke the principle to dismiss the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. And granted, if one starts as an atheist then the belief that Jesus rose from the dead will appear extraordinary. But if one is a theist then one assesses a resurrection claim relative to theism. And as a result the claim becomes a viable possibility.”

This would be the smallest of my issues with your post.

If you want to claim that theists are justified in believing that Jesus resurrected because you already assume a god exists, then that’s a claim we can deal with, but if that’s the case then please stop using the resurrection arguments in debates about the existence of god.

Now if you want to start from the existence of a god, then you still have major issues claiming that Jesus being resurrected is not necessarily extraordinary.  Even if god exists, the prior probability of him resurrecting people is still extremely low given the number of people who’ve died and stayed dead, so the resurrection of Jesus is still an extraordinary claim.

Next, this line of reasoning isn’t exactly valid, since it justifies belief in literally any kind of miracle.  It justifies believing that Mohammad went to heaven on a flying Pegasus, that Sathia Sai Baba really did perform miracles, that Joseph Smith really did get golden tablets from the angel Moroni.  

Frankly we don’t have to limit this to religious concerns, we could even say that people being abducted by UFO’s isn’t an extraordinary claim since they could start from the belief that aliens exist and want to visit earth.  In fact this would even invalidate the idea that Dave came from the planet Saturn is an extraordinary claim, since if someone has prior belief in aliens and UFO’s, it’s entirely plausible that Dave just arrived from the planet Saturn.


  1. Great stuff! It would be great if you could debunk some Lennox's and Turek's arguments.

    1. Thanks! I don't know Lennox at all, but I do have an idea for doing something on Turek, but it may take a bit given how life is right now.

    2. If you want some good writing on Turek check out this link:
      The writer goes chapter by chapter and takes IDHEFTBAA down completely and totally.

      Between that and Hitchens' debate with Turek I think he's pretty much washed up, but I always like Counter Apologist's writing so I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to reading his opinion.

      Another great piece by the way man.

  2. Some of this argument is about semantics. It depends how you view the vacuum:

    (1) The universe (something) came out of the vacuum (nothing).

    (2) The universe (something) came out of the vacuum (something).

    If you take position (2), then to the question, how did something came out of nothing, the right answer is, it never happened.

  3. Maybe I am expressing profound ignorance here, but isn't the orthodox Catholic position that the universe was created out of nothing? Creation ex nihilo? So, perhaps given my ignorance, I find it odd that some apologists claim that atheists think this.

  4. @Jason T.

    As far as I know, Christian theists believe that the Universe had an efficient cause (God), but no material cause.

  5. @Jason

    This depends on how you view quantum physics.

    Some scientist claim (please note this is very layman) that since subatomic molecules seem to pop into and out of existence from "nothing"and without cause, thus deductible why not the universe?

    This is probably why a few apologists claim (with merit) that atheists might think this is true. Some atheists have argued this, but this is more of a minority. Of course, not all do and that's why generally atheists at a much more reasonable but still problematic (all versions of atheistic and theistic origins of the universe have their problems) believe in some form of a eternal material universe.

    Hope this helps.