More on Frank Turek

The following are pulled pretty much verbatim from the notes I took during Frank Turek’s talk back on the 11th of this month. There was a lot more that I objected to about what Frank said – largely, his misrepresentation of the state of our current scientific understanding of things – but I couldn’t possibly write it all down fast enough. So… here goes.

Frank claimed that science relies on philosophy, so it’s essentially no more reliable at discerning reality than any other philosophies. This is a category error: science is the only philosophy that self-corrects on the basis of observations of reality and empirical experimentation, rather than purely logical consideration and thought experiments.

He claimed that we’re right to doubt our beliefs, but that it’s possible to know absolute truth. This ignores that knowing absolute truth or reality would require direct access to it. As long as we perceive reality through the imperfect filter of our biological senses, it is not possible to directly access the outside world.

He made a false equivalence between “objective” and “absolute” truth. If we define what we’re judging, we can make objectively true statements about subjective concepts – for example, beauty or pain.

He called atheism a worldview.

He equated the universe to space, matter, and time, and said they had a beginning… but is that all the universe is? Theoretical physics (e.g., string theory) posits up to 11 dimensions (or more). Space, matter, and time are only in four of those. Could the cause of space, matter, and time have been something in those other dimensions (or even something about those dimensions themselves)? And why would the cause have to be personal?

He claims that belief based purely on faith isn’t good enough to convince someone else – you need evidence. But 200 years ago, Frank wouldn’t have had most of the evidence he gave for God. So for about 1800 years, people were totally unjustified to be Christians?

He said that gravity didn’t exist until space, matter, and time did. I’m not sure whether or not this is true.

He called back to a debate with Christopher Hitchens where Christopher demurred at the charge to rebut a question about physics by admitting he wasn’t a physicist. He criticized Hitchens for this. Turek isn’t a physicist either, but somehow we’re just supposed to buy what he said because he wasn’t humble enough to admit it?

He made the tired argument about all the things that had to be “just right” about Earth’s location for us to exist here. This is Douglas Adams’ puddle metaphor. Not to mention that there are about half a billion planets in their stars’ “Goldilocks” zone just in our galaxy. We aren’t nearly so rare or special as he’d like us to think.

He argued that the chances of a modern cell arising spontaneously from non-living matter are too small to consider. Does he really believe the original cells were just like modern ones?

He said that God is the standard by which all things are judged, and that God is infinite in every attribute. Seeing how there are conflicting attributes, that violates the law of non-contradiction.

He called DNA a “message.” DNA is about as much a message as a blood splatter. You have to build a human system of interpretation to get a meaning out of it. It’s just physics, chemistry, and biology.

He claimed that nobody knows how the cells of an embryo know how to build their final forms. Quick, someone call PZ Myers and tell him that developmental biology is a myth!

He used the terms “absolute” and “objective” interchangeably in his discussion of morality. This doesn’t fly. Morality requires a goal to determine right and wrong. His is the will of a god. Mine is human solidarity and the promotion of human well-being. Can I order you to obey this moral standard? No. But according to the standard I choose, I can make objective moral decisions.

Many of his arguments are just the fallacy of the appeal to consequences. He keeps talking about how atheism leads to all sorts of undesirable conclusions. Whether they’re desirable or not is irrelevant to whether or not there is a god. Example: “Atheism provides no immaterial objective standard for morality.” Response: “And?” That’s only a problem if you believe there is an immaterial objective standard for morality. So many of his statements can be responded to with “And?” or “So what?” because he simply doesn’t show how it follows that his position must be correct as a result of the consequences he doesn’t like.


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