Stealing from God?

A while back, I was told by a religious critic that I really needed to read Frank Turek’s Stealing from God. Well, I’ve finally accepted the challenge (even if it isn’t much of a challenge) — and thought it might be interesting to write a series of posts as a sort of running commentary on it.
Turek, though he doesn’t come right out and say so, is a presuppositionalist — he believes that, in order to make any meaningful claims, atheists have to appropriate concepts that only make sense if there is a God. That is why we “steal” from God — and why on his view atheism is self-defeating.

But even though presuppositionalism strikes me as rather desperate, I have to admit that the idea behind Turek’s book is pretty clever. In six chapters, he considers six areas in which the atheist supposedly steals from the Christian worldview: causality, reason, information and intentionality, morality, evil, and science. These six form (well, almost) the acronym CRIMES – the crimes against theism.

The problem is that Turek is a very bad judge of the evidence, and that that’s the case is obvious right from the start. In the introduction, he claims that atheists “must make a positive case that only material things exist” — something that would come as a surprise to such atheistic critics of materialism as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel. Worse, he then lists eleven things that, according to atheism, must be “caused by materials and consists only of materials”:

The beginning of the universe
The fine-tuning of the universe
The laws of nature
The laws of logic
The laws of mathematics
Information (the genetic code)
Mind and consciousness
Free will
Objective morality

The idea that materialists (much less atheists) must claim that all of these things are caused by, and composed out of, matter is so confused that it’s hard to know how to respond. But since we'll be covering these things in greater detail later, for now I’ll just stick to a few simple points.

To begin with, materialists don’t have to accept all of the above as real, and many do not. But if there is no such thing as, for instance, objective morality, then obviously objective morality doesn’t have to be explained.

In the second place, several of the above can in fact be explained in physical terms. The genetic code and life certainly are physical. Presumably, Turek is merely claiming that they cannot have a physical cause. But that, too, is wrong.

Finally, the idea that given materialism, such things as the laws of logic or of mathematics must be caused by, and be made of, matter is so off base, it’s laughable. But that’s a topic for a future post.

So far, not a very good start for Turek’s book.

Next time: Causality.