So recently, I’ve been watching talks by atheist talks by people like Seth Andrews and Aron Ra, and I’ve learned some really fascinating stuff. What’s interesting, however, is that whenever the theists decide to debate one of these speakers, they inevitably fall back on a series of fallacious arguments to prove the existence of their particular god. I’m reminded of the constant stream of fallacies that MRAs and Gators brought out to refute Anita Sarkeesian’s videos. So I’m going to do the same thing here that I did there.
First and foremost, to avoid an ad hominem circumstantial, let me start by saying that it’s not entirely accurate to call me an atheist. I don’t fit nicely into any spiritual category; if anything, I’m a bit of an agnostic deist in that I think there is an intelligence embodied in the universe itself. However, I also believe that this intelligence is utterly unknowable and that no Earthly religion has ever or will ever do a satisfactory job of explaining it. That said, I do agree with atheists on topics like the scientific method and skepticism. So it really grind my gears when theists misquote scientists to advance their arguments. Here are some fallacies committed by Bob Dutko in his debate with Aron Ra.
1) Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
This particular theist argument goes something like this. “Science tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed. There is energy in our universe, and our universe has definite beginning. Therefore something supernatural must have created the energy.” Um…no. To be honest with you, if you’re going to misapply the Law of Conservation of Energy, then it seems to me the more natural conclusion would be to say that since energy cannot be created or destroyed and energy exists today, it therefore follows that energy must have always existed. That too would be a fallacy, but it flows a little more organically.
The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the amount of energy in an isolated system cannot change. There is some debate as to whether or not the universe is an isolated system, but even if it is, this faulty theist reasoning is easy to refute.
It’s generally accepted that the universe began in a state that we call a singularity, and in a singularity, the laws of nature themselves break down. Thus, the Law of Conservation of Energy might not apply to the universe in its infancy; for all we know, it is entirely possible that when the universe began, energy was in fact created out of nothing…by nothing. The random, spontaneous generation of energy from nothing all. At the moment, there is no scientific principle that says this is impossible.
2) You can’t create something from nothing.
This is a more general form of the Conservation of Energy argument. It goes something like this. “The universe is here now. The universe is something. Something cannot be created from nothing. Therefore something else created the universe.”
The typical atheist response is to say “Okay, and what created the something that created the universe?” To which, theists generally respond, “Oh, God is eternal” and leave it at that. However, I like to get a little more creative. (Pun intended).
When a theist tells me you can’t create something from nothing, I respond with “Prove it.” At this point, he usually looks at me like I’ve just sprouted horns or started speaking Swahili. I can see the confusion on his face. “Did Rich really just ask me to prove that you can’t create something from nothing? Come on! Everyone knows you can’t do that!”
Actually, no. No one knows whether it is possible for something to spontaneously generate from nothing. I had this debate with a young man in my twelfth-grade philosophy class. (Let’s call him Dave). At one point, Dave lifted his empty palm and said “Look! There’s nothing in my hand.” Then he winced really hard and grunted. A few moments later, he opened his eyes and said “I just tried to create a gold brick, and look; there’s still nothing in my hand.”
I smiled in response and said, “You haven’t proved anything. Because it was never the case that there was nothing in your hand.”
“You wanted the brick to appear over your palm, right?”
“Well, that means the space where the brick was to have formed is currently occupied by air molecules. You haven’t proved that you can’t create something from nothing. The only thing you’ve demonstrated is that you can’t transform something into something else simply by concentrating really hard.”
For those of you who think we should repeat the experiment in a vacuum, I’m afraid that won’t do either. A vacuum is still something, and it’s just bustling with energy. Space and time themselves are discreet quantities. True nothingness does not exist within the confines of our universe. Thus it is quite impossible to prove that something cannot spontaneously emerge from nothing.
Which is not to say that’s what happened, mind you. For all I know, this universe was consciously created by an intelligent being. My only point here is that you cannot use the laws of nature – such as the Law of Conservation of Energy – to prove that’s the case. Attempting to do so would be twisting the laws of nature to say things they don’t actually say.
If you believe in a god, then you do so on faith alone. Which is fine. Unlike Aron Ra, I do not believe that faith is in and of itself dishonest. What is dishonest, however, is trying to misapply scientific principles to justify your faith. It doesn’t work that way.
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