Tektonics.org critique of Smith's book, "Atheism: The Case Against God


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I focus on the Addenum.


On page 14, Smith makes the statement that babies are not born with the idea of God. Now that's a well and good assertion, but I'm the type who needs some evidence to believe an assertion. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has made a strong case that belief in God can be properly basic. The same way we believe the external world exists, we can believe God exists.

Wow. Brilliant. The truth of the Christian world view is built into everyone.

I suspect this comes largely from Locke's theory of Tabula Rosa, where it is stated that babies are born with a clean slate and no knowledge. When I heard this in a class at college, the first question I asked was "Is a baby born knowing how to learn?" If not, how can you learn how to learn?

I don't need to respond for you to see how fucking stupid that question is.

Now when Smith goes on to describe the idea of god (little g for generalities and big G for the Christian God), he uses again a straw man idea. His belief is that if something is incomprehensible, it is not true. I will agree that I cannot comprehend the Christian God but that doesn't make him false.

You don't know what you're talking about but you do. Boy are you swift.

The difference is between comprehension and apprehension. Smith makes it sound like if we don't have comprehension, then we have no idea. Personally, I don't even have a full comprehension of myself. How, then, can I have one of God? However, I can apprehend God. There are some basic concepts about God that I can understand. I can understand that God exists for instance.

Smith means that if we comprehend something we know what it means and can basically "get" what we preceive and recite it back to others. Guess you can't do that with God. So you're really an agnostic. You believe in some magical something.

So, with that, let's move on to the Christian God. I personally think Smith's book should have been called "The Case Against Christianity", because this seems to be the only kind of theism he wants to defeat. I do not recall mention of Hinduism or Islam.

Uh, didn't the word "God" in the title of his book clue you in to that it was primarily against Christianity. Oh I know. You forgot to read the introduction whereby he further stipulated (like he did by virtue of his title) that he was attacking the Christian concept of God. And not to worry about Islam or Hinduism. The arguments against natural religion in the third part of the book will work for that.

Smith poisons the wells at the beginning of his third chapter by referring to God as a creature. God is never referred to as a creature in Christian literature. He is separate and distinct from his creation.

So God is not a creature and yet you call him a he. Great move genius. :notworthy

Smith also makes the case that God-behaving attributes would rule out negative attributes. I agree! So what's the problem? We know if God is all-powerful he can't be non-powerful at the same time. Smith makes it seem that if God is to exist he must be perfect and impefect at the same time and in the same sense. This from one who claims to value the Law of Noncontradiction?

Nice try but Smith knew you'd pull this so he was ready to criticize the attribute of omnipotence and render it to the point of not being understandable. Not understandable=not in understanding=can't be meaningfully talked about.

I find it interesting how he says on page 52, that God cannot be described and neither can non-existence. I find this odd since he just described God as a being who cannot be described and non-existence as something that cannot be described.

This is cute. More linguistic trickery from the theist. Smith's point is only that whatever the Christian is talking about can not be meaningfully and satisfactoraily described and to that extent, he is not describable. There. Finished. Try picking your battles more carefully Nick P.

He then goes on to attack the attributes. He attacks ominpotence with the straw man that God can do anything. This is not Christian teaching. The Bible makes it clear that God cannot lie for instance. (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18.) So what can God not do? God cannot do anything that goes against his nature. His nature is also logical. He cannot contradict the laws of logic.

So you believe that God is not all powerful then. Fine. But then he is not omnipotent. You have to accept that omnipotence means all powerful. You can't just ignore years of Christian theology just because it may get uncomfotable for you at some philosophical instance. And don't worry. Smith will agree with you and Aquinas that not being able to do a logical contradiction does not limit God. There is a difference between impossible and really difficult.

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Furthermore, assuming God does know all future choices, that does not mean that he causes future choices.

How could he possibly know them then? Oh right. Automatic, unverified knowledge. But that contradicts knowledge as we know it and thus your omniscience attribute plunges us into agnosticism. A point Smith made in his book which you "forgot."

on matter for it's existence."p.67

For instance, we would not say because the weatherman knows it's going to rain on Friday, that means he's making it rain on Friday. God can know in advance all free-will choices of all creatures and the choices still be free.

But the weatherman knows what will happen because of laws that are pre-determining. The path of the clouds is not free. But humans are. So you still haven't explained anything.

And of course, God's goodness. (Notice Smith never gave his ultimate standard for good and evil). He merely bases it on what brings happiness. However, one could argue that the Israelites slaughtering the Midianites and looting them brought them happiness, and was even evolution fulfilling survival of the fittest.

Nice try but no cigar. An example is implied when Smith talks about God letting natural disasters harm innocent people. And he calls that evil. As well, since the Midianites' happiness was destroyed, Smith's ethics hasn't left them out in the cold.

The cases of human sacrifice are isolated incidents I'd say really. J.P. probably has more info on this than I do, but I will say the majority are not sanctioned by God, but are often the result of stupid decisions on the part of men.

So tell me why a good god would allow isolated incidents of sacrifices that he did not endorse to take place at all.

Smith talks about the killing of the firstborn in Egypt. He neglects to mention the earlier 9 warning plagues and that the Egyptians were told how to avoid the death of the firstborn.

And you neglected to mention that God hardened the heart of Pharoah so that he couldn't let the people go. God even bragged about doing it so that he could show off his power.

Smith makes it seem that the definition of faith is straight from the school of Archie Bunker. Faith is "Believing in things that you know ain't so." He asks for a biblical definition. You know, when I want a definition I usually go to a dictionary.

That's because the definition of it in Hebrews, which Smith quotes, bothers you. That it's the hope of things unseen. Seems like a blind faith totally devoid of evidence and good reasons for believing.

Smith speaks a lot of sensory detection which just makes me wonder about something. Has Smith ever had sensory perception of his own thoughts? Has he ever had sensory perception of the laws of logic?

This is nonsense and he knows it deep down.

In fact, in the debate between Stein and Bahnsen, this was the point that Bahnsen got Stein on. Stein wanted some other nonmaterial thing that existed and Bahnsen said "Laws of logic."

And Stein answered that the immaterial laws of logic is not the same thing as an immaterial being (whatever that means). So Bahnsen was in error.

Now by Smith's argument, if the only things that exist are those we have sensory perception of, then we must conclude that the laws of logic do not exist and that Smith's own thoughts do not exist.

1. Speaking of straw men...Smith says that we preceive sensory things. However, since we have the power of reflection, we know things about ourselves. What we call thoughts refer to chemical changes in the brain. Chemicals and brains are physical and preceived by the senses. Horray for Smith. Boo for you.

2. Nice try but Smith already takled the existence of immaterial things. "The theologian may object here, pointing out that many words - such as 'justice'...do not signify material objects...While it is true that 'justice' does not designate material beings, the theist must remember that they do not refer to immaterial beings either. 'Justice' is a moral abstraction derived from various aspects of man's nature and social interactions. 'Justice'...depends on matter for it's existence."p.67

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On page 166, Smith says that no one is allowed to ask questions and one is condemned when they ask. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I love it when people ask questions of me. I wish more people would ask questions. One of my main sayings to students of mine is "Question everything" and I recall Ravi Zacharias' advice to parents of "Teach your children how to think." In fact, Norman Geisler has said that next to Jesus Christ, logical reasoning can be a Christian's best friend.

Your personal lack of anti-reason does not explain away what Smith wrote on page 166. "Acceptance by faith is a virtuous act. 'Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,' and as Paul warns, 'whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.'"

Where does reason come from? Is matter capable of reasoning? If not, and all people are is matter, then how can it be that we were somehow able to reason?

Well obviously, some objects that are composed of matter can reason and gain knowledge; and those would be humans. Yeah a plant for example is matter and can't reason but so what? What's with the stupid questions?

I simply said, "I've got one question about evolution. We know from science that matter is irrational. That means that it does not possess rationality and cannot think and reason. Now when we look at the world around us, it seems that so many species like humans can think and reason and possess rationality. Now if Hume is right and water doesn't rise higher than its source and an effect can't be greater than its cause, how do you get rationality from irrationality?"

Matter is irrational? What in the world does that mean? When something is irrational, for me, usually that means that a person is uttering a contradiction for example. Some things that aren't human but are matter just exists and does certain things.

I have never heard such shuffling. The host immediately said that the guest would have to answer that question. The professor told me it was the $64,000 question and that we really didn't know, but we know God didn't do it because we'd just have to ask who created him. (A point I will answer later.) My case was sealed though and I never got a chance to respond.

Yeah your case was sealed alright. You sure proved God with that question there.

My view is that reason and faith go hand in hand. Faith simply means to trust and when you see enough evidence, you trust the evidence by faith.

Your view is irrelevent to Smith's critique of faith as Hebrews describes it: the conviction of things unseen.

Smith then moves on to miracles. While he has earlier condemned theists for interpreting everything to support a theistic outlook, he says on page 212 that "Explanations, by their very nature, must fall within the realm of natural causality." Ah! When theists do it, it's wrong, but if an atheist wants to stack the deck in advance, that's perfectly acceptable.

Congratulations on "forgetting" about the rest on page 212:

"An unknowable power must be responsible." But this explains nothing. One cannot answer the question, "How is it possible?" with the response, "An unknowable being using unknowable means did it...Since the positing of a god explains nothing, one cannto infer the existence of a god from an unusual event as a causal explanation...it is never rational to jump from the statement, 'x is unexplained' to the statement, 'Therefore, a supernatural power must have caused x...to posit the supernatural as an explanation is to posit the unknowable as an explanation, and this is nothing more than an exercise in futility."

Then there is this from page 229:

"An explanation builds a conceptual bridge from the known to the unknown, linking the unexplained to the context of one's knowledge...The process of explanation consists essentially of integrating a new idea or concept within the context of one's present knowledge...An explanation must provide understanding, and one cannot understand something that lies beyond one's conceptual frame of reference...one cannot explain the unknown with reference to the unknowable."

His argument against miracles is pretty much saying that the natural law cannot be violated and a miracle would violate it, so that is not possible. Smith hasn't proven his case though. Miracles are rare events. That's why we call them "Miracles"! In fact, look at some miracles. Water turning into wine? Sure. Happens all the time. That's how wine is made with water. Jesus just speeded up the process.

No testimony is sufficient to establish a past occurence of a miracle.

Here he says that naturalism cannot be defeated by argumentation. Now, there is a problem with any theory if you have no way of falsifying it.

Read above the quotes from 212 and 229. Naturalism is the only possible way of explaining things. If we bring in the unknowable, we understand nothing and everything collapses.

However, Smith misrepresents the Cosmological argument on page 236 by saying "Every existing thing has a cause." This isn't the Cosmological argument. It's a straw man. The argument is "Everything that begins to exist has a cause."

It's not a straw man. It's just an older version. And the fact you guys have to use a new one just proves his point about the now older version being wrong back when he wrote the book. But kalam isn't that much better either. Dan Barker with insights from Michael Martin showed this about Kalam in Barker's Cosmological Kalamity.

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Smith fails to answer the question of the infinite regress. If time is a series of causes and effects, then how did we get to this effect? If there's an infinite past, then there was an infinite set of causes and effects completed. Now if we complete an infinite set, the Law of Noncontradiction has been violated because the set is no longer infinite.

Smith's answer is simply "Who created God?" The problem is that Smith doesn't realize that in the Christian view, time is a creation of God as well. The start of creation began with time.

"Creating time" is a contradiction. And I thought you were big on logic. :D

Smith's argument against design is weak, and shoots itself in the foot when he asks "Who designed God?" First off, let's assume that God is complex. (Actually, if Smith wanted to know about God, he could have checked a tome on Systematic Theology and found that an attribute of God is simplicity, meaning he has no parts.) What if we say "God doesn't need a designer."

Smith could say "Complex things need designers." At that point, we have to ask who designed the complex universe. If he says "Okay, then complex things don't need designers", we can smile and say "Glad you agree. God doesn't need a designer either."

But if a greater thing such as God does not need a designer, then why not a less complex thing? By reverting back to God, you just prove Smith's point about how appealing to complexity and God's complexity gets you nowhere.

Smith paints the picture of a burning Hell. He neglects to mention that biblical conservatives like myself and Moreland and many others deny Hell as a fiery furnace. It's highly symbolic language.

WHAT JESUS CHRIST SAYS ABOUT HELL! "fire" Matt 7:19, 13:40, 25:41 "everlasting fire" Matt 18:8, 25:41 "eternal damnation" Mark 3:29 "hell fire" Matt 5:22, 18:9, Mark 9:47 "damnation" Matt 23:14, Mark 12:40, Luke 20:47 "damnation of hell" Matt 23:33 "resurrection of damnation" John 5:29 "furnace of fire" Matt 13:42, 50 "the fire that never shall be quenched" Mark 9:43, 45 "the fire is not quenched" Mark 9:44, 46, 48 "Where their worm dieth not" Mark 9:44, 46, 48 "wailing and gnashing of teeth" Matt 13:42, 50 "weeping and gnashing of teeth" Matt 8:12, 22:13, 25:30 "torments" Luke 16:23 "tormented in this flame" Luke 16:24 "place of torment" Luke 16:28 "outer darkness" Matt 8:12, 22:13 "everlasting punishment" Matt 25:46

It must be hard to try to live knowing that your belief in a metaphorical fire is wrong.

Smith also makes it seem that we obey God out of fear. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Naturally, if we have wronged God, there is something to fear.

So you do admit it? Cool.

Would it be any other way? Would an all-good God allow evil to go unpunished? Smith cries against evil, but then complains when God punishes people. It makes no sense.

Would an all good God allow a 28 year old woman and her two kids to die in a fire just because they forgot to extinguish a candle before going to bed? This happened in my city a couple years ago.

I obey God for the same reason I obey my parents. I love them. I don't want to do something that would hurt them.

So now you can hurt God? I thought he was omnipotent?

I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.

I don't have enough faith to be a theist in light of your "refutations" of Smith.

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Existence has always existed, vitiating the "first cause" and only real argument for God, frankly. "Non-existence" only makes sense juxtaposed to "existence." The negative is nothing, the positive is something. I could never understand the objective need for a book about this, but Smith did one. If "God" doesn't exist then how did he cause anything? If God exists (or existed) then what caused him? Etc. If God exists then while he is the first cause, if he was, of our cause, he is not the first cause of his cause. And the beat goes on. God is the god inside us all. He is not "out there." But he is more powerful if we disown this for the idea of a superior, if not familiar force.


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I don't understand why all the flamethrower shit. I thought we weren't doing that stuff here (genius).


I thought frustrated Christians were an ass- pain until I saw angry atheists. <---note swanky, natural aliteration

Edited by Rich Engle
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Welcome to OL (I think).

I am delighted to see George's book discussed, but frankly I am confused about the format you chose. Have you had any interaction with "Nick P." or James Patrick Holding anywhere else on the Internet that you decided to continue here?

I admit that I HATE candy-striping discussions without substance like you just did (and George deserves far better and you seem intelligent enough to do better), but before even dealing with this, I have a question. Is there any reason you suppose that either of these two gentlemen would read your post here on OL? I ask this in earnest. I am curious.

Frankly, I never heard of Holding until you linked to him and the incomplete name of Nick makes it impossible to identify him. Is Tectoniks an important site in the Christian world? Why are these people important enough to blast the way you did at the start?

What is the context of all this?


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I have not found a way to contact Nick P yet. Far as I could see, there was no email to reach him at.

I was going for a quick attack on Nick P; merely an adequate one. I could have gone into more detail but I wanted to be as brief as possible. I doubt Nick P would ever see this as I have no way to contact him and I doubt George would read it. Does he even post here? I do not know as I just arrived.

Tektonics seems fairly important to me in the Chirstian world though not as much as say William Craig. I also once saw tektonics smear Ingersoll and call him a bigot so I had the impression that they were big boys given that they were trying to throw punches that big.

The overall context, is that I am a new poster who was looking for information about George's upcoming book HAPPINESS IN A GODLESS WORLD, who loves his work, owns his book, and will defend them come what may. If anyone wishes to add any comments to Nick P's or even my own - such as mentioning other arguments I could have made or pointing out a weakness in one, etc - they are welcome.

Just recently, I came across a criticism of Smith's first book by Anthony Flood on the internet. It was quite long and I will get to responding to it and posting this response in a few days. I may also send it off to him if he has a contact email available.

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I hope this does not sound like an argument from authority but shortly after Atheism was published I had reason to speak to a prominent academic philosopher associated with Objectivism and Libertarianism. This philosopher said he been approached for a quote for the book but he had declined. His basic contention was the arguments offered by Smith were not terribly new.

Edited by Chris Grieb
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I've heard of the Tekton apologetics site. Here it is, for those who want to check it out:


It has a reputation as being a "pull no punches" intellectual defense of Christianity.

I'm also a big fan of George's book. He posts here very occasionally.

I'd suggest a less sarcastic approach. Leave that to the theists. It puts people off and accomplishes nothing, other than venting your own spleen. If that's all you want to accomplish, then of course that's fine, but if you want to convince anyone of anything, keep your tone cool and objective. Tell us what the person with whom you disagree said, tell us why you disagree, and back it up with facts.


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