This is the second in a series rebutting Ravi Zacharias’s 2004 book titled The Real Face of Atheism. It’s taken me a while to write this post partly because Zacharias gets so much wrong it’s infuriating. Either he is knowingly lying and misleading or he doesn’t have a clue about atheism or in this chapter – science (“Is there not a Cause”). In either case, I have a hard time respecting him.
Zacharias starts off this chapter, once again, with a complete misunderstanding of atheism. He says:
“Postulating the nonexistence of God, atheism immediately commits the blunder of an absolute negation, which is self-contradictory. For, to sustain the belief that there is no God, it has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, ‘I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.’”(Kindle location 427)
Atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist It does not postulate “infinite knowledge.” Most atheists don’t believe in deities because there is no compelling evidence for them. Given evidence most atheists would become theists. Evidence based on a “holy” book is not evidence. Besides, I could easily turn the tables and say the theists are claiming “infinite knowledge” based on believing in a god in spite of there being no evidence. This argument is a non sequitur and It only sounds good to the believer. (If you still don’t believe me, substitute "pink unicorns” for “god” in the quote above. No one can prove absolutely that pink unicorns don’t exist but most people think they are fables because their is no evidence of their existence. No one is claiming “infinite knowledge” in regards to pink unicorns. However, if one was found – evidence – then we would believe in them.)
I think Zacharias’ major premise for this section can be summed up as follows:
“Scientific facts have often been discarded with fresh discoveries, old laws have surrendered with the advance of new hypotheses. The divergent views of dissenting voices over the last century have been many, and deep-seated conflicts remain.” (Kindle location 508)
He says this as if it were a drawback to science and with the implication that religion is immune from this. First and foremost – hello – this is how science works!!! This is the strength of science. Hypotheses are formulated and tested. As data comes in and re-evaluations are made, old hypotheses are discarded and new ones are made. Fraud is rooted out. Evidence is king. A body of well supported hypotheses are formulated into a Theory. (A theory is not the nebulous thing used in common vernacular, but the closest thing science has to truth and fact.) At this point a Theory is so well supported it is highly unlikely that it will be overturned – modified and refined, yes. All truth in science is supported by evidence. Not so in religion or theology.
In fact, Zacharias is sorely mistaken if he thinks there are no “deep-seated conflicts” within the realm of his beloved Christianity. Christianity had many battles trying to iron out its belief (e.g. Lost Christianities, Jesus Wars). In fact, I would venture to say that what most Christians believe today would be considered heresy to the early Church. Even today, with some 38,000+ “denominations” the Christian world can’t agree on such key doctrines as how to be saved, baptism, church government, the role of the Old Testament, worship, the end times, evangelism, and a host of other topics. Many doctrines that evangelicals hold dear, such as Jesus as friend and buddy and the rapture, are relatively recent inventions. Christianity evolves with society (often lagging far behind). It is not immune to it. The problem with Christianity, and religion in general, is that there is NO evidence to support their theology. There is just a “holy” book subjected to varying interpretations and, for some, tradition. Evidence be dammed, it is faith that counts. I’ll throw my lot in with evidence and science any day over the subjective whims of theology.
Zacharias, obviously hates evolution, recycling the same tired uninformed fundamentalist Christian arguments:
“The progress in microevolutionary processes and the extrapolation into macroevolution, with particular application to origins, is neither scientifically nor metaphysically sound.” (Kindle location 445)
“For example, Sir Fred Hoyle has argued in his book The Intelligent Universe that the idea that life originated by the random shuffling of molecules is “as ridiculous and improbable as the proposition that a tornado blowing through a junkyard may assemble a Boeing 747.” He calculated that the likelihood of life beginning in such a way is one in ten to the power of forty thousand.” (Kinde location 532)
Sigh. There is no fundamental difference between micro- and macroevolution. The terms are used by “creationists” to try to get around the fact that organisms evolve – they change. The mechanisms are the same. The only difference is time. (see Micoevolution vs Macroevolution for a good summary). Sir Hoyle’s 747 analogy and his probabilities have been answered many times. Simply put, while genetic mutation is random, Natural Selection is anything but random. Advantageous traits are selected! This makes all the difference. It is not analogous to a tornado in a junkyard. Far from it. For a good layman’s account of evolution I recommend Dawkin’s book The Greatest Show On Earth. For Zacharias to make and include these statements in his book shows either dishonesty or ignorance.
Zacharias goes on to use the anthropic principle as evidence of a god:
“The exactness of our universe argues for the anthropic principle, which basically states that the existence and sustenance of man is not brought about by a random universe but is dependent on a universe with a very particular character in its basic laws and circumstances.” (Kindle location 622)
At best, this argument can only be used formulate a case for a deist type god, not a personal creator that is concerned with his creation and wants to have a relationship with it. Such a god, a creator that sets the universe in motion and then stands back and watches, is essentially indistinguishable from no god at all. I readily admit that I can’t rule out such a deity but, again, there is no compelling reason to believe that such a being exists. As Hawking and Mlodinow point out, the universe is explainable purely from the laws of physics:
“ "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.." (I highly recommend their book The Grand Design as well as Chapter 5 in John Loftus’s book Why I became an Atheist for readable information on the anthropic principle.)
Finally, I think we get the the heart of Zacharias’ problems with science:
“Science cannot answer the how, much less the why of there being something rather than nothing." (Kindle location 546)
Actually science can. This is what science does best. It answers the HOW and sometimes the why of things based on evidence not an ancient “holy” book. If, however, Zacharias means that science can’t answer the question of purpose – what purpose is there to the life, the universe and everything, he is correct. While this may make him uncomfortable, I have no problem. Life is enough; although, I hear 42 is a good answer.