Stealing from God: Turek’s Case for Christianity

Having established the truth of theism to his satisfaction, Turek next attempts to demonstrate the truth of the Christian religion. He thinks this can be done provided one shows that the answer to four questions — “Does truth exist?”, “Does God exist?”, “Are miracles possible?” and “Is the New Testament historically reliable?” — is yes. And he believes he’s already accomplished the task with regard to the first two. Nevertheless, he summarizes his argument up to this point in the book, which gives him the opportunity to introduce further mistakes. For example, in his defense of objective truth, he makes several false statements, such as that “Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote a five-hundred-page book filled with talk about God to tell us that all talk about God is meaningless.” (Note to Turek: It is not a good idea to present falsehoods whenever making a case for truth.)

He then moves on to the other two questions. His argument in favor of miracles starts by pointing out that everyone, whether theist or atheist, believes (as a religious blogger whom he quotes put it) “something unbelievable.” And he lists several things on each side to make his point. Among the “incredible things” believed by theists are the virgin birth, resurrection from the dead, Jesus walking on water, angels, and Jonah surviving for three days inside a “great fish.” Among those on the atheist side are “random mutations producing the raw material for new organs,” the multiverse, “speciation by unguided, natural selection,” lacking an immaterial soul, and the existence of alien life forms. I’ll let the reader be the judge of which list actually contains unbelievable things. And yet, Turek complains, “somehow just theists are viewed as unreasonable” for their beliefs.

All of this shows (what everyone who has read the previous posts in this series should already know) that Turek just doesn’t get it. But it is once he begins making his positive case for the existence of miracles that Turek’s lack of understanding really manifests itself. For, in order to show that there is no problem about God being able to “overpower natural forces” — and thus no problem with the notion of miracles — Turek makes a truly astonishing claim (though it is clear that he has no idea how astonishing it is). He argues that, not just God, but all intelligent agents can “interrupt” the operation of natural laws. The forces of nature, he tells us, can be stopped on their tracks by the actions of a human being — and that, “in fact, we do it all the time.” For instance, if an object is falling to the ground, we can catch it and thus stop the effect of gravity on the object.

This of course follows from an error in Turek’s reasoning already pointed out last time, that of making a distinction between “natural” and “intelligent” causes. For, in his view, the laws of nature merely tell us “what normally occurs when nature is left to itself” (emphasis added). When intelligent agents get involved, he believes, physics no longer completely applies. In other words, Turek failed to grasp the meaning of the physics he was taught in high school.

This is all the funnier (or sadder, depending on your perspective) when one realizes that he didn’t have to make any such claims to merely argue that a God who created the laws of nature can alter or interrupt those laws. If there were such a being, of course he could perform miracles. The real question, though, is whether we have any reason for believing in the actual existence of miracles. And in answer to that, Turek says very little. He merely attempts to explain why we never see them these days. The reason, he tells us, is that miracles have to be rare in order to have any kind of impact, and that they were more common during biblical times because people back then needed to be shown signs that they were receiving a new revelation. He also adds that the atheist’s view is much harder to accept, and in fact “takes far too much faith to believe,” because it supposes that “every miracle… in the history of the world has to be false.” Why it should take faith to believe that isn’t explained.

Turek wraps up his chapter with a defense of the reliability of the New Testament in which he makes many of the usual claims — e.g., that there were eyewitnesses to the events in question, that there are non-Christian sources for those events, and so on. Some of the arguments he presents are reasonable, but at most show that there really was a preacher named Jesus who had some followers and who was the basis for the stories later told about him. There’s nothing unbelievable about something like that (though if you want to read such arguments, I recommend Bart Ehrman over anything by Turek).

He also makes the common argument that Jesus’s followers had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by making things up. And he adds that anyone who thinks “for more than thirty seconds” about it “will realize how stupid” the claim that they made anything up is. For, he tells us, they simply had no motive for doing so. All it got them was “excommunicated from the synagogue and then beaten, tortured, and killed!” But in that case, how does Turek explain the many other religious preachers at around the time of Jesus who also had followers and who also were strongly disliked by the religious authorities, yet made different claims — claims that are incompatible with those made by the Christians? Obviously, they couldn't all have been telling the truth. And for that matter, what did the Mormons have to gain by following a made-up religion that led to their being run out of town, eventually all the way to Utah? Does this mean we should accept Mormonism? Will Turek convert? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

(I had originally planned to cover Turek’s final two chapters in one post, but there was just too much in them. There will therefore be one more entry in this series.)

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.