Friday, October 03, 2008

An Evening Wasted with Frank Turek

This week I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Frank Turek, co-author of ”I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” speak at a local university. I am firmly convinced some discussions deduct IQ points. Just by listening and following the conversation, you become stupider the longer you give it any deference. While I can’t say the total evening consisted of such conversations, there were moments…

Dr. Turek initially started off indicating four points were in contention: (actually there were five, but I forget the additional point—it was encompassed within these anyway):

1. Does Truth Exist?
2. Does God Exist?
3. Can Miracles Occur?
4. Is the New Testament reliable?

We were immediately informed he would not be able to get to the fourth point, and after talking around a bit, he also indicated he would not be covering the third point either. So we were going to be talking about the first two only. From the collective “Amen’s” and “That’s right” at the appropriate Jesus-moments throughout the speech, I would guesstimate the audience at 85-90% Christian. The “True Christian” pk-readings maxed out at 74.5% at one point.

Dr. Turek introduced the law of non-contradiction. (Yawn.) Explained it, and then jumped in with “Does Truth Exist?” “Truth” was defined as “what actually is.”

O.K. so far—no worries. He conspiratorially let in the audience on a big secret as to how to refute skeptics. Are you ready? “Turn the claim on itself.”

On the PowerPoint Screen (used liberally) up popped the statement, “There is no Truth.” Dr. Turek indicated how he hears this “all the time” and how we hear this “all the time” and how we may have even said it at one point. He then unwrapped the mystery of how to “turn this claim” on itself and refute it.

If you are reading my blog and you do not know how to respond to “There is no truth”—I suggest you stop reading right now. In fact, I recommend you pop over to Line Rider--a lovely little drawing game that will remind you of the pleasure of drawing from young childhood. And you don’t even have to stay in the lines!

A graphic was added, accompanying his statement, “In fact—you will look like a genius when you rebut this statement.” Somebody’s genius-gauge has been set way, way too low. And broken. And then stolen.

I was begrudgingly granting this may be necessary ground to cover. For many Christians—this may be new territory, and needed establishing. I eagerly waited for the next point. I did not know I had time to get a bite to eat, make some phone calls and catch a quick nap before it would come.

Dr. Turek felt this Grand Idea needed reaffirming. Over and Over and Over. We entered into a dreary routine. Up would pop a statement like “That may be true for you, and this is true for me” and he would ask how to refute it. After the requisite pause, some audience member would figure out how to turn it into a question, and yell it out. And then another phrase would appear, “You can’t know the truth.”

We built and burned this strawman. Then we built and burned the strawman’s wife. Then we built and burned the strawman’s kids. We were deep into Second Cousins, I think, before Dr. Turek was satisfied we had sufficiently absorbed the technique.

[Although this did give me an opportunity to test the theory as to whether this made one “look like a genius.” After one man shouted out the correct response, I peered at him intently, looking for signs of genius. He did not appear geniusified…but I discovered I felt pretty stupid for looking for signs of genius when there shouldn’t be any. Perhaps the system works; a “reverse-osmosis” sort of thing.]

Now that we had established “truth” exists (because we are SUPER-geniuses) we could move on to the next question—“Does God Exist?”

Dr. Turek decided to give us a heart attack by saying, “I believe in the Big Bang!...[dramatic pause]” You could feel the audience swell with tension: Big Bang = Big Bad Science = Darwinism = Burn the Heretic and we didn’t Bring. Enough. Matches! “…and I know who the Banger is!” A collective sigh; he was back on the right side. The creepy kid in the corner stopped menacingly flicking his Bic.

He then spent some time proving the Big Bang. (Red shift, radiation noise, Einstein, blah, blah, blah.) Actually gave some pretty good facts and figures. I don’t want to shock you too, but I believe in the Big Bang as well. I was only paying half-attention as I listened, waiting for him to get to the next point. Again.

And after proving the Big Bang (whoopee!) out pops this morsel of yesterday’s head cheese:

“So atheists say that something (universe); came from nothing (prior to the Big Bang). What sounds more reasonable? That ‘something can come from nothing’ or that ‘something came from an eternal something.’?”

Stop the busses and back up! There is something seriously incorrect here. While this term may be colloquially used--Dr. (we want to know “the truth,” right?) Turek, could have provided more clarification to our situation.

We begin observation of our universe at 1 Planck Time (that is 1/10 to the 43rd power of a second. A very, VERY short time) after the Big Bang. We cannot observe prior to that instant We simply don’t know if there was “nothing” at Big Bang, or a singularity, or what. We don’t know!

Secondly, we should note that while quantum physics works, and the theory of relativity works—both of these are incompatible. We don’t know how both can work. Further, both completely break down, and do not exist prior to that 1st Planck. Dr. Turek’s “law of causality” does not exist. The very law he is attempting to utilize to prove what was in place at this point in time--does not exist at this point of time!

Thirdly, we must note that time (and space and matter) began at the Big Bang. This is difficult to wrap our hands around. “Time” is a measurement in change. We go from one status to another status by time ticking forward. To our minds, one “second” there was ____, and the next “second” the Big Bang occurred. Yet no such “seconds” could happen, because there was no “time.”

It is incorrect, really, to use the term “prior to the Big Bang,” since “prior” implies a comparison in time, and there IS no prior to our observable time. (Note, this is as difficult a problem for a theist as the non-theist. Most theists, to avoid this problem, conveniently declare by definition [but they really don’t know] God is “outside” time. Never really explaining what “outside” means other than “a fancy philosophical term that sounds good to get me out of the current time conundrum.” But if God is outside time, He/She/It has the same problem of never changing. Never going from “God” to “God and Creation” since no time can occur to allow God to change from being alone to being with us.)

Back to our Dr. Turek. The audience is nodding their approval to such a fantastically astute statement as to how reasonable the notion of “something from nothing” is not, and “something from something we made up” is. To tighten up what the comparison (if accurately stated) we should have:

1. Cosmologists say the observable universe can only be seen back to 1 Planck time after the Big Bang. What happened before that, and what existed we do not (and possibly cannot) know.

2. Dr. Turek says the observable universe can only be seen back to 1 Planck time after the Big Bang. What happened before that, and what existed we do not (and possibly cannot) know. Therefore there must be a God we cannot observe who did…something… What that “something” is [the creation process] we do not (and possibly cannot) know.

Now, in comparing those statements—which is more reasonable? “I don’t know.” Or “I don’t know, so a God we don’t know must have done it in a way we don’t know.” Seems to me one “I don’t know” is sufficient.

And now we launched into Dr. Turek’s three (3) proofs for God:

1. Kalaam’s Cosmological Argument.
2. Teleological Argument
3. Moral Argument.

It was the standard presentation of Kalaam’s. Whatever begins must have a cause. [At the end of the talk, prior to the question and answer period, Dr. Turek raised this again, and stated, “perhaps you wonder how this applies to God?” Sure enough, one of our audience members was kind enough to indulge by asking “What Caused God?” which allowed Dr. Turek to pounce with glee on the ”whatever BEGINS” must have a cause, and since God doesn’t have a cause, he is exempt from the law.]

Again, having heard these arguments, I tuned out. (Do you see a pattern here? Hmmm…)

The Teleological Argument is one of design. (If you need the argument it goes like this:

1) See all these amazing facts about the universe/the cell/humans/small sea animals?
2) Aren’t those facts amazing?
3) There must be a god, ‘cause those facts are so amazing!)

We hit the same tired analogies. Yep—the watch. Mountain vs. Mt. Rushmore. He did introduce a spilled box of Alpha-bits spelling out a message. ½ point for the new analogy. He didn’t mention “Shakespeare” to my surprise. Extra 2 points. He failed to tell us how to compare a designed object by a designer within our universe and an object not designed by this designer within our universe. Minus 10 gadjillion points.

It was during this argument I noticed a very bizarre thing. See, I’m the type of person who does his research. Prior to the speech I had downloaded a number of youtube videos of Dr. Turek, popped ‘em on my iPod, and listened on the way. One of them was on the fingerprints of God.

Dr. Turek launched into the same speech. When I say “same speech” I do not mean similar illustrations, or arguments. It was the exact speech. Word-for-word. The same pauses. The same inflection. The same jokes. The same moments in time when he read the Bible. This was far more than mere memorization—even that will have some hiccups.

It was as if he was an actor, and had performed this play so many times, with the same lines and the same tones and the same breaths, and this was one more performance. I’m telling you—I could have played the video over the loudspeakers and shut off his mike, and no one there would EVER accuse him of lip-syncing. I started saying his exact words immediately before he did. It was eerie.

Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with this—I understand speakers have prepared speeches they use repeatedly. I just have never heard one so…exactly imitated.

We finished the beating the design argument, and zipped right into the moral argument:

1. Every law has a lawgiver.
2. There is moral objective law.
Conclusion: Therefore there is a moral objective law giver.

The first point was considered a given. The second point was “proven” by the concept we all have a sense of morality, so it couldn’t just be opinion, right? Godwin’s Law came into force, as Mother Theresa was compared to Hitler. (Personally, I wouldn’t have used Mother Theresa.)

And if it is just your opinion Hitler was wrong…why…that’s ludicrous; people are outraged by the notion morals could only be opinions. And golly gee, we all share some opinions, so they must be objective. Right? That proved objective morality, right?

Alas, the conclusion does not necessarily follow, in that we failed to answer the question “objective to WHOM?” There is more I could discuss in response, but this argument was kinda rushed through due to timing.

One thing I found fascinating was that Dr. Turek had three (3) books on stage: “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” “The Bible” and ”The God Delusion.” I remember him pointing out his own book twice, each time to promote it. (I have no problem with that, by the way. He is a paid speaker earning a living.) He used the Bible as an illustration once (“If there is no truth; THIS can’t be true.”) and read from it once. But he pointed out and picked up, and used for illustrations “The God Delusion” half a dozen times.

I heard Dawkins name again and again. If we counted up the words in this speech, “God” would be number one, with “Dawkins” firmly in second. “Jesus” would have been a far, far third. At one point, I looked around for Dr. Dawkins, because it seemed Dr. Turpek was addressing him so much, I thought it was a debate! I wanted to stand up and say, “Since Dr. Dawkins could not make it this evening—could you address us, please?”

And then came the Question and Answer period. I wondered how some of these people could process thoughts well enough to put one foot in front of the other. It is here I must commend Dr. Turek. Questions that I would have said, “Sit down and stay here for 3 hours until you can complete two sentences that are coherent” he politely nodded his head. Good responder, always found a point of agreement, avoided the tough questions with a question (people feel obligated to answer questions, so he often used the tactic, “Well…let me ask you a question…”) and was polite to things that were barnyard inane. He did an outstanding job of catering to his majority audience, while refraining from disassociating the questioner.

One question:

“I am a ‘gnostic’ [I couldn’t tell if he said “Gnostic” or “agnostic” so I will put in an apostrophe to be safe] “and you brought up some interesting points. That stuff about how the universe was designed, and from the Big Bang. I don’t know about all those things on morals and such….and you mentioned how that school…Harvard?” [Audience: “YALE!”] “Yeah…Yale…how it was founded on God and stuff. See, some of that stuff your God did, like in the Old Testament, and in those communities, how it was O.K., but you talked about a moral objective and, well…my question is this:

“Why is it God is always referred to as a male?”

You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, the question was much, MUCH longer, and much more rambling, and never gave us a clue as to where it was headed.

Then we had the Christians who stood up and gave us their testimony and how it is better to believe in a god and be wrong, then not believe in a god and be wrong. Thank you Dr. I-Just-Came-From-My-Bowling-League Pascal. Or if we would just ask Jesus, he would provide all the answers…..if we are sincere, of course.

I never ask questions at such things. The audience is [extremely] hostile, the speaker well-prepared, and even if you DO manage to catch them up, they respond with:

1) Asking a question with a question;
2) State they don’t have time, and recommend a book.
3) Modify the question to a sound bite pleasing to the audience.

About the only thing you can hope for is to ask a question pertinent enough, someone who is actually interested in learning more talks to you afterward.

Was it really a “wasted” evening? Naw—I enjoyed it. Once in awhile I still get cravings to go back to church. Fit in. Be part of “that scene” once more. An evening like this?—great reminder as to why I don’t fit in. If this was “intellectual heavy” for Christian get-togethers, I would commit hari-kari with a pew-pencil in the “emotional-light” situation of church.


  1. Wow, and you listen to Al Mohler too? I seriously respect you for your ability to sift through these materials competently, and for your graciousness and patience in seeking to understand others. Well, scratch the graciousness and patience part for *this* post anyway. ;^)

    Thanks, I really enjoyed reading today.

  2. Oh, this was too funny. I was actually laughing at some of the comments.

    **If this was “intellectual heavy” for Christian get-togethers, I would commit hari-kari with a pew-pencil in the “emotional-light” situation of church. **

    I do kind of find this sad, though. If Christianity is the absolute, no holds barred Truth ... it should be as intellectually stimulating as possible.

    And yet, can it be? Fair warning, I'm about to generalize.

    We find in a lot of places that if we truly know 100% that God exists, then that eliminates the need for faith. Some of the doctrines are mind-twisty (like the Trinity, or free will vs. God is in control). There are even sections in the Bible that cast a poor light upon knowledge, as opposed to faith.

    Plus, look at the current political election. The Religious Right is a huge force for the Republicans, and Republicans do seem to focus a bit on the "elitists." Whereas Sarah Palin is someone just like you and me -- average person, average education, and as opposed to elite as you can get.

    For many, events that you witnessed might be as good as it gets. Perhaps there's some sort of clash between forsaking all worldly knowledge and what it offers, and then needed to use knowledge in order to prove that one's faith is true. Maybe you end up with knowledge like this.

    I'm not saying that every single Christian is like this, or that there aren't very intellegent Christians who do have a firm grasp, and use, "worldly knowledge."

  3. Magnificent! You owe me a new keyboard: it was my bad fortune to be drinking a beer as I was reading this piece.

    You should definitely submit this to Carnival of the Godless.

  4. "I am firmly convinced some discussions deduct IQ points. Just by listening and following the conversation, you become stupider the longer you give it any deference."

    I am convinced of the same thing, and worse. You knew instinctively to "tune out" at various times just as a matter of self preservation. I used to marvel at your ability to stay in the god fray, you must be one of the more "fittest" among us.

    It seems to me that fundamentalist anything is mostly sustained by propaganda. Was "Arbeit Macht Frei" emblazoned over the door of the lecture hall?

    On wanting to "fit in," that seems 'natural' to me. I lean towards group selection vs. individual selection. I wonder at the process of evolution, and those who are the catalyst for change. Those who help the survival of the group by going outside the status quo, lose the benefits of being in the group during times of change. I think that's kind of interesting.

  5. Thank you for the kind notes. My pen was a bit more barbed than usual.


    Before the start of the lecture, a local pastor stood up and gave a pretty speech:

    “I once thought I was pretty good in apologetics. But after this week, I was blown away! I realize I knew nothing as compared to what you are about to hear tonight. This will be mind-blowing as to all the information you will learn.”

    Afterwards I recalled that speech. To me, these were pretty basic claims. Cosmological argument? Argument from Design? And from what I have read of Dr. Turek’s claims on the New Testament—nothing too surprising here, either. (Acts written before 62 CE, ‘cause it doesn’t mention Paul’s death. Eyewitness testimony. Embarrassing statements. Yadda, Yadda, Yadda.)

    And this Pastor, this person who is teaching a congregation, didn’t know these things? Look, if your teacher doesn’t know the concept of a variable in a mathematic formula, how could they teach you the quadratic formula? Simple—they can’t. The congregations are not being intellectually stimulated because the teachers have nothing to stimulate them with.

    There are exceptions—I’ve encountered a few. But the vast majority, I fear, are represented by this pastor.

    It is not the lack of knowledge, though, that bothers me. It is the misrepresentation. If you have to lie about my position in order to prove it wrong—you haven’t proven anything. Maybe that is why I am a little more barbed.

  6. Dagoods

    Very good article. I am amazed that you could actually sit there and listen and not speak up though. Lol.

    "Once in awhile I still get cravings to go back to church. Fit in. Be part of “that scene” once more. An evening like this?—great reminder as to why I don’t fit in."

    Even though I never totally bought the Christian idea, my wife and I did enjoy much of the service(music and gathering). I for the most part am not that well versed Biblically, but I knew there was a serious problem when the Pastors in our church couldnt or wouldnt answer my questions about the faith. It was not long after I started my inquiries that the cold shoulders began. Sometimes we do miss it, but like you it doesnt take much to remind us why we dont associate with them anymore. Thanks for your insightful blogs. Funny how I have learned more Biblically from a Non believer than from the so called Devout ones.

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  8. Kudos to you for sitting through Turek's lecture. I actually read I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist when I was de-converting. The lecture you attended seems to follow the structure of the book. I realized pretty quickly that the book was not reinforcing my faltering faith. Nevertheless, I plowed through to the end. By the time I finished, my atheism was firmer than it had been when I opened the book. That was Turek's intention, of course, but that's where a critical reading of his book led me.

  9. correction: was not Turek's intention...