Home > Religion > The lack of a case for a creator

The lack of a case for a creator

I just finished up Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator. As you might imagine, seeing as I haven’t been on here proclaiming my faith in God, I didn’t find it convincing.

You’ve undoubtedly seen Strobel’s The Case for… books around. Judging from Creator and bits of others I’ve read, they’re fairly accessible accounts of the typical apologetic efforts of conservative Christians. They consist of a series of interviews with “experts” who attempt to answer some question or objection directed towards Christianity or science.

The experts in Creator are an interesting phenomenon. Strobel generally finds scientists with solid credentials who hold views that are decidedly out of the mainstream. He interviews these people to discover where science is pointing, while playing the skeptic himself. I find the setup a bit problematic. This the third The Case for… book Strobel has written (The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ are the previous two). Strobel comes out on the side of Christianity and Faith in his previous books, both of which require a creator. This would indicate that Strobel is biased towards accepting evidence for a creator uncritically, something that is not good in light of his playing the skeptic here. A better approach would have been to engage critics of these experts as well (with a bit of editing you could keep the book the same length without sacrificing content – more on that in a bit). This is fairly typical of apologetics, but is inexcusable in a supposedly skeptical, hard-nosed journalistic account. Strobel isn’t a total loss; he manages to ask a few useful questions of his experts, but is inevitably convinced by whatever reply they give him.

Strobel’s writing is generally pretty clear, but the book is about twice as long as it should have been. Strobel throws in a good portion of descriptive material: descriptions of his transformation, the credentials of his experts, his experts’ physical appearance and interview settings, etc. Perhaps this is personal preference, but those parts were a chore to read, even if they were fairly short and spread out. I just don’t need to know what Michael Behe is wearing, nor do I care that J.P. Moreland’s mustache is neatly trimmed. We also get interjections from Strobel that amount to ‘Oh my God, I’m so convinced.’ I don’t see the purpose of those kinds of comments. They look like a poor attempt at leading the reader towards Strobel’s preferred conclusion. There are also the rampant ad hominems against scientists who disagree with Strobel’s experts. Generally coming from his experts, attacks on the metaphysical commitments of scientists offering a different point of view are not particularly useful. If including them is really necessary (which it probably isn’t), they should be relegated to a couple paragraphs in the conclusion, not a part of nearly every discussion in the book. All this together suggests a book that could be significantly streamlined and a lot more critical discussion included.

I’m not inclined to give a detailed rebuttal of the arguments presented by Strobel’s experts (a good review is here), but some general comments are in order. The arguments presented are:

  • General problems with evolution
  • Kalam cosmological argument
  • Fine-tuning: overall universe
  • Fine-tuning: fitness for life
  • Behe’s Irreducible Complexity
  • General problems with abiogenesis
  • General problems with a naturalistic account of consciousness

They’re more or less arguments from ignorance. To Strobel’s credit, he does bring this up occasionally. Behe’s response is the worst:

You know, Darwinists always accuse folks in the Intelligent Design movement of making an argument from ignorance. Well, that’s a pure argument from ignorance! They’re saying, “We have no idea how this could have happened, but let’s assume evolution somehow did it.” You’ve heard of “God-of-the-gaps” – inserting God when you don’t have another explanation? Well, this is “evolution-of-the-gaps.” Some scientists merely insert evolution when they don’t understand something.

Of course, this isn’t an answer. It’s a tu quoque fallacy.

Another answer is:

No, not at all. I’m not saying intelligent design makes sense simply because other theories fail. Instead, I’m making an inference to the best explanation, which is how scientists reason in historical matters. Based on the evidence, the scientist assesses each hypothesis on the basis of its ability to explain the evidence at hand. Typically, the key criterion is whether the explanation has “causal power,” which is the ability to produce the effect in question.

Sounds good, but the problem is with the nature of supernatural explanations. “An unknown intelligent designer did something, somewhere, somehow, for no apparent reason” (stolen from here) is not really an explanation. It covers everything and can’t be shown to be wrong. For example, Quantum Mechanics (ignoring Bohm’s theory) says it’s impossible to predict the outcomes of some experiments (whether a horizontally polarized photon will pass through a 45° filter, for example). By Meyer’s criteria, God deciding which photons get through and which don’t for any unknown reason would be a better explanation, as it explains causally why one photon passes and another doesn’t. Virtually any scientific account can be improved upon in this manner, meaning Meyer’s argument essentially dispatches with the whole of modern science in favor of ‘God did it.’

Fine-tuning isn’t an argument from ignorance, though it’s pretty close. Essentially it’s “Wow, this is so unlikely I can’t believe it happened naturally, therefore it must have been God.” Terrible reasoning. How do you know the probability of God creating the universe with the needed parameters is greater? A good article on why this argument doesn’t work is here. To Strobel’s credit, he does bring up the multiverse argument (with a large number of universes it becomes likely there’s one with the necessary features). It even seems to be accepted as a valid objection. The expert moves to essentially a first cause argument when confronted with it, saying that you need a “multiverse generator” which would have to be built by a creator.

Other than that, there’s the evolution stuff, which is just wrong, and the Kalam argument, which there are plenty of objections to.

This isn’t a bad book. If you want a fairly concise (but not concise enough) account of the “scientific” arguments for a creator, it’s pretty useful. If you’re looking for critical investigation, you’re going to be disappointed. Maybe this is the best theists have to offer, but it has nothing but a superficial caricature of the counter-arguments.

Categories: Religion
  1. January 23, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    Like you said, it’s disingenuous for Strobel to play the part of a fence-sitter when he is clearly operating with the a priori assumption of divine creation. Activism is one thing, but schlock like “a journalist investigates” is straight up lies.

  2. Amjad Martinez
    February 6, 2006 at 8:14 am

    I haven’t read the book yet, however , I’ve read a lot of reviews about it.
    I don’t belive science could point in anyway to a creator.
    Frist of all, science states that you cannot create matter and energy from nothing, howver, an all-powerful creator IS able to create anything from nothing.
    The idea of the soul also counters any biological concept, if you take a look at the human body, or any other organism, it’s actually nothing but a highly-compilcated machine, it takes “physical” or “chemical” actions for anything to happen in the human body,well then, where is the soul’s role in the proccess?
    I believe that the modern God is a modern legend, after all, the idea of Gods existed since the FIRST civilization!

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