Those Who Lack a Belief In God Usually Lack an Argument

By Frank Turek Published on September 8, 2018

I just had a two hour plus debate with Dr. Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, on the question: “What better explains reality: Theism or Atheism?” Given the title of the debate, both of us had the burden of proof to detect the cause (or causes) for certain effects we all see. That’s what scientists, philosophers and investigators do — they observe effects and attempt to discover their causes. Since science is a search for causes, I thought Dr. Shermer, who writes for Scientific American each month, would posit adequate causes for reality in this debate. He didn’t.



But before I unpack where I think Dr. Shermer went wrong, I want to commend him for his kind manner and for agreeing to engage in cross-examination. So many formal debates are nothing but dueling speeches where the two debaters never interact and can, therefore, ignore each other’s points. This debate was not like that. After we each gave 20-minute opening statements, the hour after that was a spirited back and forth, first between us, and then between us and the audience. (We then took it to a restaurant where my friends Oleg and Karina treated us to the best steaks we ever had!)

Spiritual Readiness Logo - 400In my opening statement, I gave evidence to support my conclusion that six major effects comprising reality — presented with the acrostic CRIMES — are better explained by God, and, in fact, wouldn’t exist unless God existed. I started with the most obvious effect that needs to be explained: the Creation and fine-tuning of the universe itself. Then I moved on to our ability to Reason, the Information found in the genome of living things, objective Moral values and obligations, the existence of Evil and an orderly natural world that allows us to do Science. (If you want more detail than a 20-minute statement, there is a chapter on each of the CRIMES in my book Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case.)

“Science” Isn’t a Reason

In his opening statement, Dr. Shermer assumed he didn’t have any burden of proof. Instead of giving evidence how reality could be explained by causes other than God, he just claimed that science is superior and would one day find naturalistic causes for CRIMES. But that claim is, ironically, a faith position. In fact, it is a blind faith position because it’s impossible in principle to find a natural cause for each of the CRIMES.

Consider Creation. If the entire natural world (space-time and matter) had a beginning, as most atheists admit, then the cause can’t be part of the natural world but must transcend it. The cause of nature must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful to create the universe out of nothing, and personal and intelligent in order to choose to create. In other words, we’ll never find a natural cause for all of nature. Whatever created nature must be beyond nature (which is what the word “supernatural” means).

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The rest of the CRIMES are not subject to the scientific method either, which means, despite Dr. Shermer’s charge, they are not “God of the gaps” arguments that can one day be overturned by some future scientific discovery. For example, we’re never going to find the cause of orderly natural laws or our ability to reason — including the laws of logic and the laws of mathematics — by running some kind of experiment. We must assume those laws in order to do the experiment! In other words, science is built on metaphysical principles that can’t be explained by science — they are needed to do science.

Materialism Can’t Explain Morality

Objective moral obligations can’t be explained through science or materialism either. If there is no God and we are all just moist robots dancing to our DNA (as Richard Dawkins put it), then how does a materialist explain the fact that love is objectively better than hate? You can’t explain that by running an experiment or by appealing to mere molecules in motion.

Dr. Shermer didn’t even try. Instead, he shifted the problem by talking about how we know what’s right rather than explaining how an objective standard of rightness exists in the first place. (This is a common and illicit move by atheists: they want to focus on epistemology — how we know morality or goodness — and ignore ontology, which seeks to identify the grounding of morality or goodness.)

Dr. Shermer asked the audience to think of reasons, other than God, as to why we ought not sexually abuse children. He said it’s wrong because it hurts other sentient beings and you wouldn’t want anyone to do that to you.

Shifting the Problem Instead of Solving It

But those “reasons” merely appeal to other moral principles that need grounding themselves. He’s merely shifted, not solved the problem. Why is it wrong to hurt other sentient beings? Why should we follow the Golden Rule? Who said? If we’re just overgrown germs dancing to our DNA and fighting for survival, what is the cause or source of such moral obligations?

They don’t come from science or the natural world. Science can help you discover how to create a bomb, but science can’t tell you whether or not you ought to use it. You need a moral standard that transcends human opinion for that. You need an immaterial, authoritative essence known as Goodness, Righteousness or Justice. You need God’s Nature (see our first debate for much more on that).

Scientists Presuppose Philosophy 

It might come as a shock to atheists, but science is not the only way of discovering causes. In fact, in order to explain CRIMES, you need to use other disciplines outside of science. These may include philosophy, history, reason and direct observation.

Dr. Shermer may scoff at philosophy, but he actually uses it as do all scientists. It’s required in order to do science. Why? Because science actually doesn’t say anything — scientists do. All data needs to be gathered and all data needs to be interpreted. Science doesn’t gather and interpret the data; it’s scientists applying philosophical principles who do that. The philosophical principle that Dr. Shermer applied was to rule out God in advance. Dr. Shermer kept saying, “God is not an explanation.” Well, how does he know that? He’s assuming what he’s trying to prove. He’s not showing it; he’s merely asserting it.

If Dr. Shermer just “lacks a belief in God,” then he’s only making a statement about his psychological state and nothing about external reality.

Perhaps Dr. Shermer thought he didn’t have to provide reasons for atheism because — according to him — atheism is just the lack of a belief in God. “It just means we don’t believe in God. Full stop.” He said atheism entails no other beliefs. (By the way, that’s another philosophical position, not a scientific one).

But if Dr. Shermer just “lacks a belief in God,” then he’s only making a statement about his psychological state and nothing about external reality. Yet the cause of external reality is what we were there to debate! So why did he even show up?

Stealing From God

If two homicide detectives discover a dead body with a knife in his back, bloody footprints leading out the door and a cryptic note from the killer, both should hunt down a suspect. If one detective shows evidence that suspect A is cause of this murder, the other detective isn’t doing his job if he merely says “I just lack a belief suspect A is the murderer,” and I’m not required to investigate anymore. He should give reasons why A isn’t the real murderer, and then provide evidence that another suspect had the ability and the motive, and actually committed the murder.

Dr. Shermer did not do that. He neither refuted the evidence for my suspect (God), nor did he identify another suspect who could account for CRIMES. The materialistic causes he suggested — evolution, quantum vacuums and speculations about aliens and bouncing universes — even if true require causes or preexisting laws themselves and have no ability to cause the immaterial aspects of CRIMES.

Materialists Allowing Themselves Immaterial Realities

Instead of providing evidence for his positon, Dr. Shermer did what most atheists do in debates. Despite being materialists, they grant themselves immaterial realities such as the laws of logic, math, morality and orderly natural laws, and then extol the virtues of science that require those laws while making complaints about how God is running the universe.

Without an objective standard by which to judge, materialists steal a standard from God and judge that there’s too much evil in the world, that God is evil or that if God existed He would do things differently (like heal everyone or write the atheist’s name in the sky). And don’t forget — religious people are stupid and religion is evil. None of that shows there is no God or explains reality in the absence of God. In fact, evil actually demonstrates God’s existence because there would be no thing such as evil unless there was an objective standard of Good, which is God’s nature.

Complaints Are Not Arguments

In short, atheists don’t have arguments — they have complaints. And complaints are not arguments.

So what best explains reality: theism or atheism? I gave my case for theism. I’m still waiting to hear the case for atheism.

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  • That was pretty good. Similar to Edward Feser, which is a huge compliment from me.

  • Lincoln Annie

    A simpler argument than CRIMES is this: there’s no such thing as spontaneous generation.

    However, when I pointed that out in my last debate with an atheist, he insisted that the universe had always existed. There was no dent to be made in that ‘reasoning,’ I can tell you.

    • Ken Abbott

      “Always existed,” as in eternal? But without a beginning, how do we arrive at now?

    • swordfish

      If we assume that the universe started with the big bang, then time started with it also (because time and space are linked). In other words, there was no time where the universe didn’t exist. This is quite distinct from the hypothesis that the universe has always existed in one form or another.

    • “there’s no such thing as spontaneous generation”

      Right, but who said there was? The evidence points to abiogenesis as the origin of life on earth.

      If you’re saying that science has unanswered questions, you’re right, of course. But before you say that “God dun it!!” explains every one of these, you need to show us that God exists.

  • It’s amazing how arrogant many atheists are even though their atheism explain absolutely nothing, zip, zero, nada.

    • Jim

      The same can be said for religionists such as yourself.

      • Absolutely wrong per usual.

        • Jim

          Sure I am…..

        • Jim

          Opinions vary. It must be exhausting to be so upset about those who don’t believe as you do.

          • Who said I’m upset, Jim. You’d like to believe I am, but you would be mistaken.

    • Do you know what “atheism” means? It’s simply one answer to one question. It’s not supposed to explain anything.

      Christianity, on the other hand, is far, far more. It makes moral declarations (which are often questionable–read the Old Testament), and it explains lots of things (though never convincingly).

  • John Akridge

    Just as a painting is evident of a painter and a building is evidence of a builder, creation is evidence of a creator.
    The universe always existing is as ridiculous as spontaneous geration. These types of arguments wreak of desperation on par with Obama being responsible for the economy the non existence of a deep state within our government.
    The Truth truly stings the eyes of the denier.

    • Bezukhov

      Can you prove beyond a shadow of doubt that it was your version of the Creator that was responsible for everything?

      • All needs an uncreated, uncontingent Prime Mover. This is who we call God.

        you rather pathetically deny God because you have wronged him and you are full of shame. This is why you hide yourself from what you already know.

        • Bezukhov

          I believe our Universe is the product of some hyper dimensional 6th grader, and its his/her/its science project.

          • So you think sneering will help your ego?

          • Bezukhov

            I have as much proof for my beliefs as anyone else has for theirs.

        • Jim

          No reason to deny that which has no evidence to support its existence.

          • God is not a created or contingent thing like you are.

          • Jim

            Your god is nonexistent

          • So you make 2 assertions:
            1) you think you can claim God does not apply to you
            2) you think denying God apotheosizes you

            False on both accounts

          • Jim

            I made one assertion. Your god is nonexistent. Try reading.

    • swordfish

      So is a tree created, or does it just grow from a seed? You can’t just generalise from examples where we know a human was involved to assume that the universe requires a creator.

    • When you see a sand dune, do you conclude that there’s a sand dune maker? Or can we say that natural laws (governing wind, say) are a satisfactory, natural explanation?

  • Chip Crawford

    They just lie and deny. Assert “science” that is not as their proof and blast any biblical archeology or science you offer as totally bogus. They are bullies as much as anything else. They need God. It definitely appears in the natural sense that they need a knuckle sandwich, but not actually so …

    • Jim

      Those are some ridiculously broad statements you’re making. They’re also laughable at best. Why can’t you just agree to disagree?

      • Because you are wrong and do great evil

        • Jim

          And you’re too funny

      • Paul

        “Why can’t you just agree to disagree?”

        I would ask the same of atheists, especially those in academia. But no, creationists must be hunted down, ridiculed and silenced, banned from books and schools. No one offering to agree to disagree and bring into the classroom the opportunity for students to learn an alternate view of the universe and decide for themselves. Sorry but no, creationists won’t rest and politely stay in churches and leave atheists with the full control what kids learn. We’re coming and the truth will win out.

        • swordfish

          The truth *has* won out. Young Earth Creationism is just plain wrong about everything. Why should we teach kids ideas which are known to be wrong? Do you think we should waste time in classrooms allowing flat earthers to teach their alternative views? How about hollow earthers? How about people who think there are Nazis living in a secret underground base at the south pole?

          • Paul

            Did I say anything about young earth creationism? No.

          • Jim

            Creationism or young earth creationism, matters not. There’s absolutely no scientific support for it.

          • Paul

            And the scientific proof for getting something from nothing? Good luck with that.

          • Jim

            That one statement shows your complete lack of knowledge on the subject

          • Paul

            What it shows is my complete lack of adherence to atheist orthodoxy. I have yet to see any compelling argument that we get this extreme complexity from nothing while working against the second law of thermodynamics.

          • Jim

            Atheist orthodoxy? Now that is funny.

            This idea has been put forward by many people to try to prove that evolution is impossible. However, it is based on a flawed understanding of the second law of thermodynamics, and in fact, the theory of evolution does not contradict any known laws of physics.

            The second law of thermodynamics simply says that the entropy of a closed system will tend to increase with time. “Entropy” is a technical term with a precise physical definition, but for most purposes it is okay to think of it as equivalent to “disorder”. Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics basically says that the universe as a whole gets more disordered and random as time goes on.

          • Paul

            We were discussing creation of life from nothing, evolution is something completely different.

          • Jim

            No we weren’t

          • Paul

            Feel free to reread my comments, you won’t find mention of evolution, just creation.

          • swordfish

            What nothing?

          • Paul

            Nothing, as in no order or life becoming ordered to the point where living organisms started to exist.

          • swordfish

            Nothing isn’t the same as ‘no order’.

          • swordfish

            What do you mean by “creationism”, then?

          • Paul

            It simply addresses the concept that life as we know it was created by an inteligent creator as opposed to the belief that all this is merely a result of chance.

        • Jim

          What truth? The bible? There’s no such thing as creation science.

          • Paul

            Your Christophobia is obvious. But leaving the Bible out of it for the moment, when I see any complex mechanism I wonder how it was made. Things we make pale in comparison to the complexity of living organisms. You can keep on believing that all this complexity of living organisms resulted by chance from nothing, I’ll accept that someone made it and consider how it may have been done. Either position involves faith, and I’d argue your position of mere chance demands far more of it. Exploring how life was created can be done completely independent of the Bible, your Christophobia is obscuring your vision.

          • Jim

            Lol! I don’t have a problem with christians. That’s just your persecution complex showing itself. It requires no faith for disbelief. I’m trained in the sciences and will continue to believe in the scientific method.

  • Samsquanch

    If the whole argument boils down to “Dumb Luck” vs “God Did It”, then the latter actually makes more sense.

    • Evolution is a lot more than “dumb luck,” if that’s what you’re referring to.

      • Samsquanch

        Go much further back.

        • Further back … in geological time? In the comment thread?

          Sorry, I dunno what you’re referring to.

          • Samsquanch

            To the very beginning of all things.

          • OK, so we’re at the Big Bang. Now what?

          • Samsquanch

            You’ve already forgotten?

          • Are you stumbling toward a point? I’m just about bored enough that I don’t care, but if you have something you actually want to say, do so quickly.

          • Samsquanch

            I’ve already said it. You’ve lost track and now you’re boring yourself.

  • swordfish

    “In his opening statement, Dr. Shermer assumed he didn’t have any burden of proof.”

    Dr. Shermer was right – atheists don’t have a burden of proof, or at least they don’t if their position is simply that they don’t believe that God exists.

    “the Creation and fine-tuning of the universe itself.”

    This presupposes that the universe was created, for which I see no evidence. And it sneaks in a second argument in the form of fine tuning. If the universe is fine tuned for life, how come 99.9999999999999999999999999% of it is uninhabitable and we are living on the only planet known to support life?

    “our ability to Reason”,

    If Turek thinks that this requires God as an explanation, I’m wondering exactly how that would work? Is he claiming that God tampered somehow with our genome, or is he proposing a mysterious immaterial mind, for which no evidence exists, as an “explanation”? You can’t explain one mystery with another mystery. In any case, what is so unique about reasoning that it cannot have evolved naturally? Many animals demonstrate the ability to solve puzzles, which is reasoning by any reasonable(!) definition.

    “the Information found in the genome of living things”

    We have an explanation for the complexity of DNA, which is evolution. No need to say anything else here.

    “objective Moral values and obligations”

    This is a matter of opinion, but I’d say there are no objective moral values. The existence of morality in the first place is explained by our evolution as a social species. Simplistically, if we behave badly, we get thrown out of the group. Turek’s idea that there has to be an objective standard otherwise we can’t make any judgements doesn’t make sense. We can judge how the behaviour of others affects us without having to look it up in some objective list.

    “the existence of Evil”

    This is Turek’s weakest argument. He says: “there would be no thing such as evil unless there was an objective standard of Good”

    How does this even make sense? We don’t need an objective standard of good in order to be able to recognise that some things are less good (more evil) than others.

  • swordfish

    Why are my comments being put in moderation? I haven’t posted anything offensive, any rude language, or any links.

  • swordfish

    Every comment questioning this article has been put in moderation. If Turek wants to know why he hasn’t heard any atheist answers to his questions, maybe that’s the reason.

  • “Those Who Lack a Belief In God Usually Lack an Argument”

    The burden of proof lies with the person claiming the supernatural. When a Christian whines about his burden of proof and insists that the atheist share it, I wonder if sharing arguments for God’s existence is … a burden.

  • DoorknobHead

    WHERE’S THE BEEF? (beef = evidence)

    “Those who lack a belief in [insert unverifiable claim] lack an argument”. Yet an argument isn’t evidence. The problem is, why do people believe fake news, and how can we put up counter-measures against believing fake new — fake news such as god-X (pick any god). Philosophy and arguments won’t get us there, the answers will come from more rigorous pursuits such as behavioral evolutionary genetics, biology, neurology, etc, and will be complex answers that exist upon spectrums and will often have ambiguous results. Something religion is good at: creating an “intolerance of ambiguity” such that “I don’t know” is made unacceptable and unverifiable binary “answers” are inserted where none are warranted or valid. Con job.

  • GLT

    Listening to Shermer presents an enormous challenge and it is not due to his intellect. The man is like an explosion in a scrap yard, junk flying in all directions. I don’t think the man is capable of presenting a cogent argument, he simply flings about rhetoric and hopes something will stick. That kind of tactic only works when you’re dealing with confused minds such as his. He seems to be incapable of answering a direct question with a direct response. It is simply painful to watch.

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