So, there are all these “Questions atheists can’t answer” videos out there. Most of them are by Christians and most have been responded to by several atheist video bloggers. I decided to try and respond to a Muslim one for a change of pace since this seems less common.
The video I watched was: “How to Conquer Atheism in 8 minutes” by Mohammed Hijab.
I wrote my comments as I watched … so there is some repetition and I mention stuff that I’ll get back to which I don’t since he didn’t go in the direction expected. In a few places I went back and commented on this, others I didn’t bother.
He first asks the following question from the quran 52:33
“Were they created from nothing? Or were they creators of themselves?”
We’ll get to the nonsense of this passage soon enough (note: he never actually discusses this passage, just throws it out there, so I never bothered getting back to it). But first he goes on to say that all educated atheists agree that the universe had a beginning and claims it is scientifically proven. I don’t know if this is an intentional lie or if he is just ignorant, but this is simply not true. To have a serious discussion about this we’d have to start by defining what we are talking about when we say “universe”, which is not at all obvious if you dig into it. But if we assume it to mean something like our locally continuous piece of spacetime, then no, it is not at all clear it had a beginning.
He then talks about asking atheists what happened before the beginning claiming the atheist answer is “We don’t know!”. The real problem here is that this question doesn’t necessarily even have any meaning, and the issue may just be a failure of imagination on the part of the theists. If our local spacetime had a beginning, then that was when time itself started. There is no meaning to talking about anything “before” time itself existed.
But, let’s go with the “I don’t know” answer to keep things simple for those who have trouble and are potentially afraid of difficult to grasp abstract concepts.
He then seems to make a common but outdated semantic argument about the meaning of the words atheist and agnostic. I’m not going to argue the “actual” meaning of words, since that is a pointless exercise. Words change and their only meaning is that which is agreed upon by their users. Most modern atheists take the word “atheist” to mean the lack of belief in a god or gods, not the claim that one doesn’t exist. So that whole line of arguing is a waste of time. On top of that, even if we take atheism to mean the active belief that a god doesn’t exist, there is no contradiction with saying “I don’t know how the universe began” and being this type of atheist. It’s a bit strange to even claim there is a contradiction here which is probably why he hurries past this part and goes on to something else without elaborating.
At 1:53 in the video he starts in on the Kalam (after a big build up). I’ve already debunked this nonsense in my first blog post. No need to repeat myself here.
At 3:28 he puts forth the challenge “try and break down this logical argument”. As already mentioned, I (as well as many others) have completely broken down this illogical argument. It’s just slight-of-hand nonsense.
At 3:38 he stats in on the fine turning argument.
He starts by making another false statement (again I don’t know if it is an intentional lie or just ignorance). He claims that there is broad agreement by scientists that the universe is fine tuned for human life. This is a misrepresentation of the facts. There has been much written on this already by scientists (proving the untruth in his statement), so I will only touch on the highlights (note: I never got back to this since he didn’t actually develop the fine tuning argument as I thought we would, but only gave one value as his evidence).
He then goes on to say there are only three options to “how this universe became so finely tuned”. Besides assuming the fine tuning to start with, claiming these tree options are the only options only shows a lack of imagination in the speaker. There is no support provided for why these the only three options.
His first option is “It evolved somehow”, which he doesn’t even explain. What does this mean? It is using the common theist trick of vague and poorly defined words to make something sound meaningful and obvious when it isn’t. It is the ultimate strawman tactic. Since he never explains what he actually means, it is impossible to even discuss it.
His second option is that “It was a product of chance”. Which he claims most atheists say. It doesn’t really matter what most atheists say on this topic, but rather what most cosmologists would say. Now, again, he is not really being clear on what he is talking about. But if we are generous and assume he is talking about the values of the physical constants of the universe, then no, most cosmologists do not make the claim that they have their values based on chance.
He then follows a now clear pattern and twists some quotes from Roger Penrose. Now, cosmologists are concerned with some questions of entropy, this is true, but not in the way put forth in the video. I mean, if you are going to quote Penrose, then you should go with more of what he proposes and thinks for a starter. Like, that this is evidence for a cyclical universe, so that, in effect, Mohammed Hijab is now arguing against himself by bringing up Penrose. But I’ll just include a quote from Sean Caroll which I think covers it well. He says a lot more, but this about covers it:
“We have a universe with a certain amount of stuff in it, and we can think about all the different ways that stuff (photons, neutrinos, atoms, dark matter) could be arranged. Almost all of those ways look like thermal equilibrium — basically, huge amounts of empty space plus a few particles with some extremely low temperature. But that’s not at all what the universe actually does look like; the matter is arranged into planets and stars and galaxies. So we are “low entropy.” The early universe was an even more non-typical arrangement (even lower entropy), with all that matter very smoothly distributed over a large region of space. If you randomly chose a configuration that the universe could be in, the chance that it would look like our early universe is about 1 in 10^(10^120). Very small, and certainly something that cries out for an explanation. (If you explain the low entropy of the early universe, you also explain the not-quite-as-low entropy of the current universe, since we’re in the midst of the gradual march toward equilibrium.)
From this we can safely conclude that our early universe is not well explained by choosing a random configuration of stuff. Nobody disputes that, and people like me are hard at work trying to come up with physics mechanisms to account for it.
However, we certainly can’t conclude that it’s designed. Indeed, theologically-minded folk who pick on this particular cosmology problem have fallen completely into a trap. The point is that if the universe were designed for life (in particular, for human beings), there is absolutely no reason why the entropy at early times would have to be anywhere near as small as it was. The “God did it” theory, to the extent that it accounts for anything at all, makes a prediction: the universe should be finely-tuned enough to support us, and no more. Every galaxy in the universe has a much lower entropy than it might have, and none of those galaxies (over 100 billion) is at all relevant to the existence of life on Earth. Indeed, the other stars in our galaxy aren’t really relevant. You could have done with just the Sun and Earth, maybe the Moon if you’re picky. (You need some heavy elements to create biochemistry, which in the real world come from supernova explosions — but God can just snap His fingers.)The rest of the universe should be in thermal equilibrium — a smooth gruel of ultra-cold particles spread thinly throughout empty space.”
Hijab’s third option is “There was a designer”. There is no reason to believe this is even an option, and there is certainly no evidence that this might even be true. This three options nonsense is just a strawman argument. It is akin to me saying “There are only two options, Mohammed Hijab is either a frog or he is a liar. Everyone agrees he is not a frog, so he must be a liar.” This is nonsense in exactly the same way as his three options are nonsense.
He then abandons his whole fine tuning argument. So he never went into any detail about it, and his whole argument rests on just the Penrose entropy calculation. That isn’t even a strong fine tuning argument … there are much more detailed ones out there, and they have also been discussed (and countered) in great detail. Since he didn’t go into any more detail, I won’t either in this response. I may eventually write another blog post on just the fine tuning argument having to do with the universal constants (which is what I initially assumed he was going to discuss).
The best part is that around 6:30 in video he then says all his arguments don’t matter. He claims they are logical (which they are not), but then says they are irrelevant. So he basically threw out all his own nonsense. That makes this even easier.
His argument then turns to it being “natural” to believe in god as his main argument. He says we are predisposed to believe in god. My favorite part is where he says you don’t have to be a smart person to believe in god. I’ll let that one sit without comment.
This is his silliest argument yet. I’ll agree that humans are predisposed to magical and supernatural thinking. That has nothing to do with it being true. This is such a meaningless argument it boggles the imagination.
It gets funnier from there. He then says we need to be released from the “oppressive shackles of atheism”. A religious person saying this is about as ironic as it gets.
So, that was 8 minutes that didn’t even come close to “conquering atheism”. Didn’t even pose any challenging questions. Kind of disappointing.