When I wrote my review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I said that Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great was the next book that I’d be reading. Well, I started it, but then when I went home for Christmas, I started reading Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Towards God, as it was more family friendly–at least around my family. Now that I’ve finished it, I will actually read God is Not Great soon, but not until I officially end my time with The Case for a Creator by publishing this review post.
If you want the short version, I recommend this review that an angry reader once wrote. It’s more forward than my response, but we share the same sentiments.
The book starts off with Lee Strobel promising the reader that he will be as skeptical and unbiased as humanly possible. He tries to warm us up so that we will believe that he’s playing the part of the skeptic for us and so that we accept every conclusion that he and his friends reach:
“My approach would be to cross-examine authorities in various scientific disciplines. . . I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, . . . who refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism . . . I would stand in the shoes of the skeptic, reading all sides of each topic and posing the toughest objections that have been raised. More importantly, I would ask the experts the kind of questions that personally plagued me when I was an atheist. . . Strip away your preconceptions as much as possible and keep an open mind as you eavesdrop on my conversations. . . I once had a lot of motivation to stay on the atheistic path. I didn’t want there to be a God who would hold me responsible for my immoral lifestyle” (30).
I was almost fooled by this initial promise to be intellectually genuine. As it turned out, these doctorate-level professors certainly aren’t the top experts in their fields, but the best-known intelligent design proponents in their fields. While Strobel chose William Lane Craig, Stephen Meyer, and J. P. Moreland to interview about the topics of cosmology, DNA, and consciousness, I would have interviewed Lawrence Krauss, Francis Collins, and Daniel Dennett.
Furthermore, as Strobel claims to be raising the toughest objections to the intelligent-design claims, he’s clearly never heard any greater objections than musings like “Amazing! Tell me more,” “You’ll have to elaborate on that,” and “Have you heard of ____ objection? . . . Oh, well, you have an answer to that, too!? Well, that solves it!” And, of course, Strobel admits that when he was an atheist, he didn’t want to be held responsible for his immoral actions such as bullying people, so he didn’t believe in God because he didn’t want to. First of all, this man needs to learn how to take responsibility for his own actions. But more so, he’s never gone a day without some form of extreme bias in his life.
After creating the illusion of skepticism, Strobel goes on to try to disprove evolution, so we already know we are off to a bad start. He uses four “flawed” concepts that once steered him towards evolution, and ultimately atheism, in his high school biology days: The Stanley Miller Experiment of 1951, Darwin’s initial sketch of the Tree of Life, Ernst Haeckel’s embryo drawings, and the archaeopteryx fossil.
According to Strobel and his friend Jonathan Wells, the Miller Experiments don’t explain the origins of life because the experiments’ conditions weren’t identical to those of the early earth, Darwin’s sketches don’t perfectly line up with later fossil discoveries, Ernst Haeckyl doctored his drawings of different animal embryos so that they would look more alike, and the “bird/reptile” archaeopteryx didn’t live perfectly between the times of ancient reptiles and more recent birds. I’m not an evolutionary expert, but I must commend Strobel on his attempt to disprove evolution using these four concepts that have either already been ruled out as evidence for evolution or that he and Mr. Wells are blatantly and proudly misunderstanding as a step in the intelligent-design direction.
Speaking of evidence, one of my greatest problems with this book is Strobel’s passion for blindly substituting his favorite word, evidence, for what he is actually collecting, which are arguments. Lee. Arguments are not evidence. Okay? You can argue your head off about God existing for 365 pages, but none of us are going to listen to you until you can back those ideas up in a double-blind experiment in a peer-reviewed, non-religiously-affiliated, scientific journal. And you haven’t given me that. So you haven’t given me evidence.
Now that that’s off my chest, I will now re-name and respond to the greatest problems in each chapter of The Case for a Creator.
“The Evidence of Cosmology” a.k.a. The Kalam Argument with William Lane Craig
The first thing that is worth noting on this chapter is that they’re using an argument that only works with the existence of the big bang. This means that Strobel is, that’s right, arguing that the big bang hypothesis is true but evolution is not. I don’t even know what kind of point he is trying to make with that. He never specifies, and I don’t know how it supports his case at all.
But this chapter has a more glaring problem than that: Craig himself claims that the thought of something being infinite in time is paradoxical. He gave what I thought was a good explanation of why the concept of infinity can exist only theoretically but is paradoxical in reality. But is the infinite God immune from this paradox? Of course he is! Why? Because . . . because . . . wait, Lee, why didn’t you raise that objection?
“The Evidence of Physics” a.k.a. The Fine-Tuning Argument with Robin Collins
Collins and Strobel reject the multiverse hypothesis on the basis that a multiple universe generator would have to be extremely complex, and it just pushes the issue of creation back further. Interesting that they can apply this concept to anything they want—except God. Oh yeah, God is immune to everything!
“The Evidence of Astronomy” a.k.a. The Unique Earth Argument with Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards
I honestly think that Strobel and his two friends Jay Wesley Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez just made this argument up. I wasn’t sure what to call it; in my notes by the title, I scribbled “there aren’t aliens aka pulling arguments out of your ass” and “earth is special -> earth is pretty”. Basically, they start by listing all of the reasons why no planet anywhere else in the entire universe—the majority of which is completely unobservable to us—can ever possibly support life ever: we have a perfect moon and sun and solar system and galaxy and on and on. By the end of the chapter, the men are marvelling at how super pretty the Earth is, and God totally must have designed it so that we could explore it and learn about it with science and discover God’s special creation. Checkmate, atheists!
“The Evidence of Biochemistry” a.k.a. The Irreducible Complexity Argument with Michael Behe
Ohh, irreducible complexity. A classic argument, or as Strobel and Behe would say, Totally Undeniable Evidence of the Christian God. This is an argument that comes up again and again, often with various examples, commonly the bacterial flagellum and the human eye. How about instead of boasting about how “no one knows how these systems came to be”, Behe tries his hand at figuring it out? Evidently, however, it has already been figured out, as was ruled in the intelligent design court case of Kitzmiller V. Dover: “Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large.”
“The Evidence of Biological Information” a.k.a. Where Did DNA Come From/The Origin of Life Argument with Stephen Meyer
This chapter lays out weak, weak arguments: “in DNA, we see lots of organized information, and usually when we see organized information like in computer codes and books, it comes from intelligence, so DNA must come from intelligence, too,” and, you guessed it, “science has failed to find out exactly how we got living cells from non-life, so it must have been God,” but not before blindly holding a double standard and accusing the other side of the exact same thing: “To suggest chance against those odds [of a protein molecule assembling by random chance] is really to invoke a naturalistic miracle. It’s a confession of ignorance. It’s another way of saying, ‘We don’t know'” (284). Lee: you just wrote an entire book about the existence of miracles. And you just used “I don’t know” as an argument for God. So why are these suddenly bad things?
“The Evidence of Consciousness” a.k.a. The Consciousness Argument with J. P. Moreland
After everything else, I still think that this last argument is the worst one in the book. Strobel’s interviewee himself claims, “most of the evidence for the reality of consciousness and the soul is from our own first-person awareness of ourselves and has nothing to do with the study of the brain” (337). I wrote in the margin, “and you don’t see anything wrong with this?” Throughout the chapter, J.P. Moreland accuses evolutionists of having too much blind faith that science will one day figure out the “mystery of consciousness,” although it seems to me that he and Strobel have so conveniently never stumbled upon such works as Dan Dennett’s Consciousness Explained, which was published years before The Case for a Creator was.
At the end of the book, Strobel pretends to be so surprised that “all of the evidence pointed toward God, which he totally didn’t expect at all.” Not that he interviewed only Christians . . . or never asked the actual questions that an atheist would ask (as he initially promised) . . . or acknowledged that several of his chapters cited only works written by the same colleagues that he had just interviewed, and which had never been published in a scientific journal. Not to mention that if the argument indicated that something was grand and awe-inspiring (like fine tuning or the “look-how-pretty-the-Earth-is” argument), he attributed that amazing creativity to God, while if the argument indicated that something was confusing and unexplained (like the origin of life or irreducible complexity) he attributed the explanation to God snapping his fingers so that the seemingly impossible is suddenly possible.
In The Language of God, which I read last summer, Francis Collins dedicates only one chapter to refuting intelligent design, and one of his claims particularly stood out to me: the god of intelligent design/god-of-the-gaps didn’t appear to Collins to be an almighty, all-powerful, perfect God, but a clumsy god who has to step in at regular intervals to fix the problems within his own creation. For reasons like this, Strobel’s arguments appear more and more self-defeating the longer you think about them.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator: a journalist investigates scientific evidence that points toward God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
*Note: any quotes within this blog post were paraphrased by me unless they are directly followed by a page number, in which case they are direct quotes from the book.