The Folly of Answering Distracting Atheistic Arguments
by Clay Jones and Joseph E. Gorra
Christian apologists regularly face what we call the distraction challenge: the temptation to take seriously insubstantial objections against God’s existence. An insubstantial objection involves reasoning that is beyond or in spite of intellectual reasons or evidences; it may include nonintellectual or even anti-intellectual factors. We’re not saying that these insubstantial objections are unanswerable or that it is somehow wrong to answer them; we’re just saying that it might be more wise and prudent if our arguments and replies are attentive to the “reasons of the heart” and not only to those of the head.
Although atheists employ other types of insubstantial arguments, for the purpose of this article we will just consider as insubstantial their arguments from “luck.” Certainly not all atheists utilize insubstantial arguments of the kind that we describe. But our concern is this: by lending credence to insubstantial arguments, the Christian apologist risks dignifying folly, encouraging self-satisfying flattery, and ultimately diminishing the power of gospel proclamation.
DISTRACTING ATHEISTIC ATTITUDE
It is not uncommon for atheists to argue for the following claims:
The universe is all there is and it luckily popped into existence, out of nothing, uncaused. The universe’s fine- tuning, or ability to support life, is the result of luck and luck explains the origin of first life. Lucky positive mutations worked on by natural selection explain the complexity of life forms. It is more believable that the universe came about by luck than for God to exist because evidence for His existence is less obvious and more inaccessible.
These claims, at the very least, reveal the atheist’s overall attitude or an epistemic stance (i.e., how they approach what is knowable); not only about God’s existence, but also about the role of evidence and wishful thinking in one’s belief formation.
Consider Richard Dawkins’s admission in The Blind Watchmaker that “we can accept a certain amount of luck in our explanations, but not too much….We can allow ourselves the luxury of an extravagant theory [regarding the origin of life on our planet], provided that the odds of coincidence do not exceed 100 billion billion to one.”1 Dawkins goes on to say that “gradual evolution by small steps, each step being lucky but not too lucky, is the solution to the riddle” of how first life arose.2
Dawkins is not alone in these pronouncements. Other scientists have asserted similar explanations. For example, Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod wrote that “chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution.”3 Similarly, in an attempt to explain the origin of the universe itself, physics professor Edward P. Tyron considers that “in answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.”4
Should we entertain these arguments with a straight face? Are such atheist supercalifragilisticexpialidocious explanatory appeals to luck a distraction from the real issues? Above we noted that Dawkins said that our explanations shouldn’t be luckier than “100 billion billion to one,” which is 1020. But Fred Hoyle, who Dawkins himself called a “brilliant physicist and cosmologist,”5 likened the probability of life originating on Earth as “no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.”6 We can’t even imagine that happening, right? Similarly, Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick reported that the pure luck assembly of one polypeptide chain “of rather modest length” to be 10260. To explain the immensity of this luck, Crick pointed out that all the atoms in the visible universe only come to 1080.7 What does belief in this supercalifragilisticexpialidocious kind of luck tell us about those who argue for it? How should we respond to such claims?
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