A few months ago, my brother shared a video by Prager University on Facebook. It’s called, “Does God Exist? 4 New Arguments.” I had already heard all the major arguments for god’s existence, so I was curious what the folks at Prager U had come up with. If there are any good reasons to believe in god, I want to know about them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single new argument in the video. In fact, all four of these “new arguments” are the same: they’re arguments from ignorance. For those who don’t know, an argument from ignorance is a logical fallacy where someone claims something is true because there’s no evidence to the contrary. For example, someone might say, “We can’t explain all these mysterious lights in the sky, therefore they must be aliens from another planet.” When we come across something we’re unable to explain, we can’t just jump to whatever conclusion we like.
This should be obvious, yet Christians commit this fallacy all the time, especially when talking about the origin of the universe or the emergence of life on Earth. They say that because we can’t explain these things, god must be responsible. Basically, they look for gaps in scientific knowledge, then stick their god into them. That’s why atheists often refer to the Christian god as the god of the gaps.
The problem with the god of the gaps is that as science answers more and more questions, there are fewer and fewer gaps for god to fill. As Neil deGrasse Tyson once said, “god is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.” But try explaining that to all the “intellectuals” at Prager University (which isn’t a real university, but rather a conservative digital media organization). It will go right over their heads.
Normally I don’t respond to videos, but I was really angry with Prager U when I saw their video in my Facebook feed. Why? Because of who shared it. My brother is every bit as smart as I am, yet he’s been fooled by pseudo-intellectual Christian propaganda.
These types of videos appeal to my brother because they seem smart on the surface and, like me, he respects intellectuals and wants to be a deep thinker. But in reality, the people at Prager U are pied pipers leading otherwise intelligent people down the path of ignorance.
I couldn’t resist writing a long comment debunking the video, and the rest of this post is based on what I wrote. But before we continue, here is the video in question. I’m not going to respond to every single thing said in the video. Rather, I’ll focus on the four main points.
The speaker is Frank Pastore, and he says “there are four big bangs that have to be accounted for, not just one.” He believes that since we can’t explain these four “big bangs,” god is responsible for them, thus the “four new arguments.”
1. The Cosmological Big Bang
The first big bang is the one we’re all familiar with: the universe was extremely small, hot, and dense before rapidly expanding and then gradually forming into the cosmos as we know it today. Frank claims that the big bang is “usually the answer given to the question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?'”
Actually, no, the big bang doesn’t answer that question, and I don’t think there are any scientists who claim it does. The big bang is simply as far back in time as we can see with the available evidence. That’s all.
There’s a common misconception among Christians that all atheists believe the universe came from nothing. Not true. Our position is: We don’t know where the universe came from. Perhaps it has always been here, where “always” only goes back 13.8 billion years.
It doesn’t make sense to say the universe “came from nothing” because that implies there was once a state of affairs called “nothing” and then one day the universe appeared. If there was no time before the universe, then there was no “before the universe” which means the universe has always existed. It didn’t come from nothing because there’s no such thing as “nothing” from which it could have come.
If that hurts your head, there are other possibilities. Maybe our universe emerged from another universe, maybe it existed in some other state before the big bang, maybe a god created it, maybe magic pixies created it. We don’t know.
The point is: the fact that we don’t know why the big bang happened isn’t evidence that god did it.
2. The Biological Big Bang
As Frank points out, the big bang doesn’t explain the origin of life. He asks, “How do you get life from non-life? How did abiogenesis occur, the notion that you can get something from nothing? Where’s the evidence?” He says we’ll need another “something from nothing leap of faith.”
First of all, it’s very misleading to call abiogenesis “something from nothing.” It’s not like the first lifeforms magically appeared out of thin air (actually, that’s what Christians believe). Rather, the first lifeforms were likely preceded by self-replicating RNA molecules which were preceded by simpler organic molecules. You can read all about it here.
Technically, we don’t know where or how it happened. However, the building blocks of life can be found all over the universe, and the Miller-Urey experiment showed that it’s possible for organic material to emerge from inorganic material under certain conditions, so it’s certainly plausible that life came from non-life. It’s likely that abiogenesis is an extraordinarily rare event, but it only had to happen once.
Just because we don’t know exactly how abiogenesis happened doesn’t mean god did it.
3. The Anthropological Big Bang
Next, Frank says, “We still don’t have a way to account for the great diversity of life forms, the huge difference between bacteria, plants, and animals.” I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about here. Evolution by natural selection perfectly explains the diversity of life on Earth, and genetics shows exactly how everything is related.
Then he says, “…nor do we have a way to account for the differences between man and animal.” Again, I don’t know what he’s talking about. The process by which humans evolved from ancient apes is well-documented.
Frank says Darwin never answered the core question, “How did evolution begin?” I don’t know if Darwin ever answered that specific question, but it doesn’t matter because we know exactly how it began. It began as soon as there were self-replicating lifeforms that occasionally made imperfect copies of themselves, allowing for natural selection. I don’t see the problem.
Even if we couldn’t explain this so-called “anthropological big bang,” the fact that we can’t explain something isn’t evidence that god did it.
4. The Psychological Big Bang
Okay, just one more. Frank says, “A final big bang is gonna be required to explain how a mechanistic animal brain can become a self-reflective human mind.” He calls it a “psychological big bang to account for man’s moral and aesthetic sense.” Apparently, he doesn’t understand why humans are capable of art, music, morality, introspection, and so forth, while animals aren’t.
Isn’t it obvious? The difference is intelligence. Introspection is a very complicated skill and requires far more intelligence than most animals have. If the question is why we’re so intelligent, the answer is evolution. In nature, there are countless traits that can give creatures a selective advantage. In the case of humans, intelligence became our main advantage. The smarter the people, the more likely they were to find food and mates and keep themselves alive long enough to have children.
If the thing he’s concerned with is morality, then again, the answer is evolution. There’s a selective advantage to cooperating with animals in the same group and opposing animals in other groups. This can be seen in both human tribes and in chimp tribes.
Or maybe the thing that’s really bothering him is aesthetics. Once again, it’s evolution. For example, most people find images of grassy fields and green forests with blue skies more pleasing than images of muddy swamps and barren deserts with red skies. Why? Because we’re more likely to survive in an environment with plenty of food and shade. Our sense of survival is the foundation for our sense of aesthetics. From there, it varies depending on your personality and environment growing up.
He also says, “The problem is even more basic than that. How do you account for free will?” I assume he’s talking about libertarian free will, which most Christians (other than Calvinists) believe in. If that’s the case, we don’t have to account for free will because the vast majority of atheists aren’t convinced it exists. (I’ll go into more detail on why I don’t believe in libertarian free will in another post.)
Again, even if we couldn’t explain any of these things, the fact that we can’t explain them isn’t evidence that god did it.
He sums up by saying, “It’s either faith in these four big bangs of somethings from nothings to account for what we see all around us, or faith in some kind of creator god behind it all.”
I always find it amusing when Christians use the old “you have faith, too” argument. They’re so used to having faith that they can’t even imagine what it’s like to not have faith.
Most atheists have no problem admitting that we don’t know why the big bang happened (if there even is a why). We also are willing to admit that we don’t know exactly when or how abiogenesis occurred. These positions don’t require faith because you don’t need faith to not know something.
As for the so-called anthropological and psychological big bangs, both of those have been well explained. Just look at the history of evolution, anthropology, and psychology. With that much evidence, you don’t need faith.
The thing that really bothers me is the repeated use of the argument from ignorance. Christians have so little evidence to support their religion that all they can do is resort to a logical fallacy you can find in any Intro to Logic textbook, a fallacy that was identified several millennia ago. And they actually call it a “new” argument for god’s existence. It’s incredible.
I’m sure the people behind Prager University like to think of themselves as intellectuals, so why do they keep making this mistake? Because they have to. They’re starting with the assumption that god exists, but because they don’t have any evidence, all they can do is try to poke holes in science and pretend god is the default explanation.
Sorry, Prager “University”. Better luck next time.
A well written response. Thank you for sharing your insight and for providing reasonable possibilities for that which simply can not be known. Humans have an addiction for believing and that makes us the perfect soil for the seeds of myths, legions and fairytales. We also seem to have an addiction for providing “reasons” for everything, even those things for which reasons can not be understood. How ironic that religion’s explanation for things that can not be understood is to suggest answers that have no proof.
sam philip says
Interesting, your whole issue with Christians was they are coming form Argument to Ignorance, and as a solution in all 4 case what you are offering is “May be”, “OR MAY BE”, “We don’t know but I believe”, “We don’t have to answer, because we do not believe free will exist”, ….. Interesting, but he is using his free will to decide to write, debate, argue, choose….
After all this big article about foolishness of Christian – Argument from Ignorance for their belief.. You
go on to use the same argument to state you there for are convinced – God does not exist!!!!
Ok so you do not have a problem with Argument for Ignorance , only problem is Christians do not have the right to articulate their views about Origin..
Or may be it is the other way round… these fine sounding phrases you used should not be read as Ignorance ..”May be”, “OR MAY BE”, “We don’t know but I believe”, “We don’t have to answer, because we do not believe free will exist”, …..
But Christian case for a High Probability case is redundant because you just do not want to think beyond the phrase – “I don’t care!!!”
Since you know a good bit of Fallacies, I am sure you also know about Law of Non contractiction…
Hope i do not need to explain.. YOUR ARGUMENT..
I do not see a intelligent deduction there, just a brut effort to overlook..
I would say that Prager U’s intended audience is not sophisticated enough to comprehend the logical problems of their arguments nor the subtleties of how they are dismissed. Their approach is just intelligent enough to appear to come from actual education and science when it’s actually just a cleaned up version of the same old arguments we’ve been hearing for decades. It appeals to those who want to feel secure in their beliefs and have enough education that they feel comfortable questioning their religion yet they are still pretty easily convinced of it’s validity by a slick salesman. This is actually the worst kind of religious apologist. They garb themselves in the trappings of education and science when they don’t remotely represent an honest evaluation of the arguments.