EDIT: I will no longer be responding to challenges to my arguments from anonymous posters. If you want me to take you seriously, take 30 seconds to create a free account.
I apologize for the delay on this second part, but I do have a job and such. This is something I do out of a personal desire.
If you have not seen the precusor to this post, you should read it first.
In this section, I will be looking at some of the specific questions and arguments. It will almost certainly be updated with more arguments and details. I am not a journalist of any kind, and I was not taking notes. Thus, I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things. If so, please let me know, and I will do my best to address them.
To be clear, when I refer to “God,” I am referring to the general conception of a theistic god.
Mr. Turek's Arguments
I would like to make a general observation about some of Mr. Turek’s arguments. There seemed to me to be the underlying implication that an atheist must be an expert on the sciences in order to justify their lack of belief. Many Christians take the stance, for example, that if an atheist cannot defend every step in the development of life through natural selection, then they should not accept it. This is silly.
Why? As a society, we have developed largely through specialization. You trust your mechanic to know what he’s doing (though maybe not to be fair with his price,) you don’t tell your doctor she doesn’t know what she’s talking about (though you may not always eat as healthily as she suggests,) and you confidently trust the zoologists when they talk about the behaviors of animals on the Discovery Channel (sharks, especially.) All of this seems to go out of the window when it comes to evolution, however. Now that they are contradicting our beliefs, the biologists can’t be trusted. Is it a conspiracy, the devil, or are they all just too blind?
This is patently absurd. It is not the duty of every atheist to be able to defend the theory of evolution. All the atheist is doing is accepting the consensus of experts, which we all do, all the time, on most other subjects. It is the duty of the creationist to demonstrate that the experts are wrong.
That being said, Christopher Hitchens, as a somewhat professional debater, has more responsibility when it comes to understanding the various arguments. I do wish that his responses to some of the scientific questions had been more salient during this debate. Cosmological Argument
There is another analysis of his arguments here, with many insights I did not have.
How did something come from nothing? An age old question, which will be asked until the end of human history. There are a few things I would say in response to the implication that because something cannot come from nothing, it must have been god.
It is impossible for any of us to conceive of the Big Bang. We can understand it mathematically, but never really grasp it. Both debaters tonight were guilty, I think, of brushing over this point. The idea of time expanding is one that baffles human comprehension. We don’t know that the Big Bang was the beginning of everything. All we know is that it is the beginning of the observable universe, the beginning of what we understand and that we will never be able to know if anything preceded it.
I am not a scientist, but there are many who postulate ideas of the state of things before the Big Bang. None of these are scientific theories, because we cannot test them, but it’s quite possible that the universe was always here, in one form or another. You may say this sounds far fetched, but it is no more far fetched than a god who has always existed.
The other point, and I think a stronger one, is that one cannot speak of anything “coming into being” if there is no time. Remember, our current knowledge says that time as we understand it did not exist before the Big Bang. The act of “coming from nothing” is one that acts through time. We cannot imply these intuitive concepts to the state of existence surrounding the Big Bang. It defies all of our common sense.
Hitchens’ response to this was barely sufficient, I think. He pointed out that since he was not the one making a claim about the origin of the universe, the burden of proof was not his. While this is technically true, it is not a very effective, or convincing, debate tactic under these circumstances. He pointed out that the design of the universe was seemingly wasteful and cruel but that does not speak to whether there was a designer, only to his tastes in decoration.
Hitchens answers the concept of God as the prime mover well in this debate with Rabbi Boteach, from 14:40 to 15:10.
Mr. Turek made some sort of one sentence argument using mathematics to support the existence of God. To be honest, I think he tried to cram a little too many arguments in there (one of the weaknesses of his presentation,) and I did not get the gist of what he was trying to say here. If anyone wants to explain it in a comment, I will answer as best I can.
Hitchens did not address the question, though I cannot hold this against him, because it was not one that was sufficiently expounded upon.
I will give credit where credit is due here and say that Mr. Turek at least admits that one does not need religion to be moral. Instead, he makes the somewhat more sophisticated argument that although one can be moral without religion, there is no objective way to justify morality without God.
There are several things to be said about this argument. For one thing, as a defense of God’s existence, it’s a complete non-starter. I don’t think this to be the case, but it may be true that objective morality isn’t possible without god. What would this mean? Well, it would suck, but it would certainly not mean that God must exist just because we really want there to be objective morality.
The second argument against this line is to point out the fact that Christianity doesn’t seem to grant objective moral values. There are several things one can point to in order to back this up, such as the evolving stance of Christians on many moral issues such as slaves and infidels. An extreme biblical literalist (which I do not think Mr. Turek is) would likely wish to stone Christopher Hitchens rather than debate him. If Mr. Turek chooses to take Jesus’ command to “slay them before me” as a metaphor, I wonder what he uses as guidance to make that decision.
At a more philosophical level, one must ask the question: “Does God command acts because they are good, or are they good because he commands them?” When God commands murder in the Old Testament, whether singular or en masse, does this make the act good because God commands it? If you say yes, then you are saying that God can command anything and make it “good.” This, to me, seems a very arbitrary sort of objective morality, and I certainly do not want to associate with anyone who would think murder good if commanded by their lord. If you say no, or you say that God only commands good things, then you are admitting that there is a standard of morality outside of God, which means that God is not the source of objective morality.
I personally *do* think that morality can be justified without God but, as it is a very long argument, and says absolutely nothing about whether God actually exists, I will leave it for a later post.
Hitchens and Turek talked at cross purposes about morality for the entirety of the debate. Hitchens made some good points on religion and the religious being immoral, but didn’t really address the objectivity challenge. He makes some good points on the topic in this debate with Alister McGrath. Chapters 19 & 23 of the video address some of the same moral points.
“Fine Tuning” Argument This is an area in which Turek very effectively capitalizes on a lack of understanding concerning a topic. He says that the “constants” of the universe are especially tuned for life and our well being. If these constants were just a little different, we might not be here. What are the odds?
The biggest failing of this argument is it’s unsupported assumptions. It assumes that it is possible that these constants might have been different, a viewpoint that has not been proven. We have still not achieved a full understanding of the laws of the universe, what is often referred to as a Grand Unified Theory. If and when we do so, it’s more than possible that we will see that the constants could not have been any different.
There are many other, and better stated arguments against this line of thinking. I do not have time to summarize them all, but a number of articles on it, both for and against, may be found here.
Mr. Hitchens did not address this question directly at all, which is a shame because there are many ways he could have.
Abortion / Fetuses
I may have been missing something here. If so, please point it out to me.
Both debaters agreed on the point that a fetus was a human being. Mr. Turek seemed to be criticizing Hitchens for not then, concluding that abortion was always wrong. Mr. Hitchens maintained that it was a complicated issue. While he thought abortion was a terrible thing, things like having an embryo stuck in the fallopian tubes of a mother (which makes the fetus unviable, and endangers the mother,) demonstrates that the issue is not cut and dry. I think he carried this point; if you disagree, say so.
Hitchens made an excellent point here, though. He said that the attacks by the religious on contraception weakens their attack on abortion. I think this is a very astute observation. Certainly, were contraception more widely used, and teenagers more informed about it, abortion would be much less frequent.
Some additional arguments have been put forth, both scientific and philosophical, and I will address them as promised.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
The idea behind this argument is that everything tends towards disorder over time. It would be more precise to say that the total amount of useful energy in a system decreases over time. Thus, a closed system, if left to itself for an infinite amount of time, would run out of usable energy. The theist concludes that if the universe was infinite, it would have run out of energy by now. Therefore, it is finite, and god must have created it.
There are two objections to this line of argument. One is that if the Big Bang is, indeed, the beginning of our universe, there is no reason to conclude that god did it. Again, I point out that time, as we understand the concept, was brought into being at the Big Bang, and therefore we can't even speak of anything existing before the Big Bang. It is an unfortunate limitation of our primitive mammalian brains that we can't really intuitively grasp the idea of time as anything other than absolute. Nonetheless, everything we have observed, including the Theory of General Relativity which Turek uses as an argument, points towards its extreme malleability.
The second objection is that it makes an unwarranted assumption: that the same laws which we have observed in our universe today operated at the Big Bang. We do not know if the Laws of Thermodynamics applied to the bunch of stuff which expanded outwards, or whether those laws were formed in the instance after the event. There is likely no way we will ever know this, due to limitations on what we can observe.
General Relativity & Radiation From The Big Bang
These seem to me just arguments that the Big Bang occurred, which no one is disputing. Again, I point out, that while it is possible that the Big Bang is the beginning of our universe, all we know is that it is the beginning of the observable universe, the beginning of what we can measure in any way. Thus, these arguments don't seem to favor one side or the other.
Great Galaxy Seeds
This is an argument given by an anonymous poster below. Read their post for the details.
The first part of this argument again seems to be that the Big Bang occurred. Again, you would have a difficult time finding someone to disagree with this nowadays. I will point out though, that as with most new theories in cosmology and others sciences, it was strongly opposed by theists for a long time.
The second part of the argument is just another facet of the fine tuning argument, which I addressed above. I would have to see the data before I'm convinced about what you are saying, and also check to see if anyone else has commented on the discovery, or updated it in the last 16 years (which seems likely.) Even if I accept what you are saying fully, you still have to answer the charges laid out against the fine tuning argument.
The idea here is that absolute truth cannot exist in a materialistic world. This seems to me to be very transparently silly, but I will address it as best I can.
To start with, events occur. Even if there is nothing but matter, energy and void physical and chemical events still occur. We can observe a chemical reaction and say what happened. Now, you can be pedantic and argue that the words we assign to the event can never really represent the truth of the event but, nonetheless, the words are representative of an actual occurrence. Extreme subjectivists say that that nothing really exists outside of our conscious observation, that everything is an "illusion" as it were. While this is arguable possible, it's very silly as it is an unnecessary hypothesis meant to explain that which is better explained by a physical reality.
The second, and I think more damning indictment of Mr. Turek's point is this: He says that objective truth does not exist without god, and yet he uses objective evidence to conclude that god exists. The conflict is this. You cannot use god to support evidence of god. This is called circular reasoning. You cannot say, "I use objective evidence A to show that god exists, and I use god's existence to support the evidence's objectivity. If objective truth does not exist without god, then perhaps you are just being fooled by subjective experience into thinking that God exists.
Finally is a similar point I made concerning Absolute Truth. There are two possibilities for the Christian who claims that God is the source of objective reality. One is that God creates the truth of things by his will. If this is the case, then he can choose to make anything true, and truth then becomes arbitrarily dependend on the will of a supreme being. If he wants to say 2 + 2 is 5, he can, and it will be. This is not a very pleasant form of absolute truth, and it is malleable. The second possibility is that he is operating by a standard of truth outside of himself, which means he is not really the source of it. That is, "Are things true because God says so, or does he say so because they are true."
Mr. Hitchens' Points
The great problem with many of Hitchens' points is that, although they were often clever and incisive, not many of them addressed the question of the existence of a deistic god.
He had some good arguments against the Christian conception of god. Unfortunately, he often brought them out when they had little to do with the question being asked of him. In the end, he made a good case that Theism was undesirable. This, however, was not the topic of the debate. Nonetheless, I will go over some of these points, and link to a good example of them on video.
I am unavoidably biased, because this is the side I agree with, but tell me if you think my assessment is unfair.
Argument From History of Humanity
This is what I personally think to be Hitchens' most powerful argument from his various debates. Hitchens begins by pointing out how many tens of thousands of years homo sapiens has been around. He details the horrors humanity went through in its prehistory, and points out that any God must have allowed this state of affairs to continue before finally deciding to intervene a couple thousand of years ago. This is not an argument against a Deistic worldview, but it is an argument against the conception of a benevolent God.
A strong example of this is in this debate with Rabbi Boteach, from 16:00 to 19:20.
Argument From Abjection and Solipsism
In this argument Hitchens describes what he refers to as the "sadomasochistic" nature of monotheism. He says that religion appeals to our masochism by saying that we are base unworthy creatures, and also to our solipsism because it says that God has a plan for us. This is weak as an argument against the existence of God, but it is a strong argument against the desirability of the religious mentality.
See Chapter 5 of this video for a good example.
Argument From Totalitarianism
This is an argument against the desirability of the Theistic worldview. Hitchens points out the totalitarian aspects of religion. You are under constant, never ending surveilance. You can be convicted of thought crime. The authority involved is unappealable, and you have no say in being placed under its jurisdiction. He concludes that the desire for a Theistic god is the wish to be a slave.
Argument From Immorality
The argument here is that religion has nothing to do with morality, and often in fact encourages immorality. "Name me a moral action performed, or a moral statement made, by a believer, that you cannot imagine being performed or made by a non believer," asks Hitchens. But, he points out, many wicked things can only be done by believers (i.e. suicide bombing.)
This is a strong line of argument, but it fell flat in this debate, because Turek conceded most of these points from the beginning. He did not argue that Theism led to greater morality.
See Chapter 2 of this video for an example.
Sleeplesslongnights below made me realize that I had been somewhat unclear in my assessment of this argument. I think this is a strong rhetorical argument against the practical value of theistic belief systems in this world. It is not, however, at all a strong argument against the truth of theistic belief. They are correct to say that it would be more convincing with proper behavioral studies to back it up.
Hitchens' is at his strongest when arguing against the desirability and practical value of theistic belief. When it comes to arguing about the truth of those beliefs, there are other, much better writers and debaters.
What would it take to convince you... An audience member asked what it would take to convince each contestant that they were wrong. The answers from both debaters were terrible.
Mr. Turek said, essentially, that if all the evidence that he saw for God was not there that he would change his mind. This is an answer to “What would have caused you to come to a different conclusion,” but it is not an answer to what would change your mind. In the eyes of an observer, the meaning of the question is, “What reasonably conceivable event or evidence would change your conclusion.” Turek as good as said that nothing would.
Mr. Hitchens was even worse, as he didn’t really answer at all. He said that, if he *did* come to the conclusion that God existed, then he would consider himself condemned to totalitarianism. I happen to agree with this, but it would have been better if he’d answered the question that was actually asked.
I will add more arguments and details as I remember them, or as they are pointed out to me.