This week I was able to spend some time reading apologetics book E-mails to a Young Seeker by a former professor of mine, David S. Hogsette. I made it through to the fifth “email exchange” between Hogsette (or as he tirelessly refers to himself, Prof Dave) and his fictional “seeker” college student.
Before even getting to Hogsette’s misunderstanding of evolution, his misdefinition of atheism, or his gross misuse of the word “science”, I can’t help but point out my disgust with his overall tone and the set-up of the book. I know that apologists are trying to defend their Christian viewpoint, but it seems they can never even veil their bias or try to pretend to come off as fair; it showed in Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator when he only interviewed creationists, and it shows here as well. Hogsette’s overall tone towards this fictional seeker is unbelievably condescending and arrogant, and he portrays this college student as one of the greatest, most bumbling idiots I’ve ever seen. The seeker’s tone is as follows: “Whoa Prof Dave! I always thought evolution was, like, true, but you’re probably the smartest prof ever. Like, you gave me so many totally smart facts to think about. I can’t believe you’re so smart, Prof Dave, dude!”
I don’t know about you, but in my four years of college, and my twenty-two years of being alive, I’ve never addressed any college professor (not even my apologetics teacher, or Dave here), as “Prof”. In my own email exchanges with the author (not regarding apologetics), I never considered addressing him as anything but “Dr. Hogsette”. I’d always considered it a matter of respect and professionalism. But hey, if you want to be called Prof Dave, then I guess that’s on you.
With that out of the way, the first five email exchanges were as follows:
Exchange 1: Am I an atheist or an agnostic?
Exchange 2: Why do theists claim the universe had a beginning? Isn’t it just as reasonable to hold to an eternal universe and to believe that, possibly, God is the universe?
Exchange 3: Can’t some things be created by chance?
Exchange 4: Isn’t evolution an adequate scientific explanation for the origin of life?
Exchange 5: But isn’t theistic creation just a mindless god-of-the-gaps idea?
You can only imagine how much fun this was to read. Let me try and break down as many of Prof Dave’s fallacies as I can without losing my mind!
Although Exchange 1 is titled, “Am I an atheist or an agnostic?”, the question the seeker actually asks is, “What’s the difference between an atheist and an agnostic? I don’t know where I stand on all this god stuff.” Honestly, this is a good question. The mistake is that whoever the seeker really is, he asked it to an apologist. He was doomed from the start.
I still don’t know whether the seeker was an atheist or an agnostic. He didn’t give a specific enough definition of his position, and Prof Dave never pinpointed it for him. Prof Dave did provide a half-right distinction between atheism and agnosticism before spending pages on why he hates both positions, which is the opposite of helpful for someone trying to understand their own position. As expected, he defined atheism in terms of positive, gnostic atheism, which some people subscribe to, although it is very rare. The default, and probably the most popular atheistic position, is negative and agnostic.
I won’t dwell on all those definitions, given that you probably already know, but if you want to read up on all the types of atheism, take a look at this post. But what Prof Dave is basically saying is that all atheists know for sure that there is no god. I don’t usually spend that much energy anymore on the technicalities between “I don’t believe in a god” and “I believe that there is no god”, but in this case, the author uses the latter to assume that “you would basically have to be all-knowing to know that there is no all-knowing being like God,” which is not only a fallacy, but also a tongue-twister.
Exchange 2 echoes the interview with William Lane Craig that was featured in The Case for a Creator. In it, it is argued that the universe is not eternal, the big bang did occur, and therefore, there is a god (of course, the god of the bible, duh). Checkmate, atheists!
The main thing that I genuinely don’t understand about this argument is that I didn’t know there was anyone left that didn’t believe that the universe had a beginning. Theists know it, and atheists know it, and I’m pretty sure that everyone in between knows it. So who is he trying to convince? Why, why, is an apologist who will later argue for a literal Genesis, trying to prove the big bang and disprove evolution? Does he not know that the big bang and evolution fit into the same narrative of the old earth? Does he not know that the big bang contradicts the entire ex nihilo part of Genesis?
When I saw the title of Exchange 3, “Can’t some things be created by chance?”, my first thought was, “Prof Dave had better not try to portray ‘chance’ as some conscious being that atheists claim can create things. It’s just a mathematical probability.” But what he did was even worse: he claimed that chance is nothing more than a mathematical probability, not some conscious being that can create things. Basically, he turned the entire question around into this huge strawman rather than explaining how the anthropic principle works, which would have been the appropriate response.
If someone were to ask me, “Can’t unlikely things happen by chance?” I wouldn’t respond with, “Well, Chance isn’t a being that can make things happen. Hahaha! Wait. Was that a legitimate question? So you wanted a legitimate answer? Not just a dad joke?” A better response would be one given by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion where he explains the probability of the earth being habitable for life in this unfathomably gargantuan universe. Given that there are approximately a billion billion planets, even if the likelihood of life arising on any given planet was 1/one billion, statistically, there would still be a billion planets which can sustain life. That, my friends, is how the arisal of life is explained by chance (although I’m no expert, and I don’t have half the arrogance that Prof Dave has, or even that Dawkins has, so if I have something wrong, please tell me!).
Exchange 5 was nothing more than a reiteration of Exchange 4: why the author believes in microevolution and not macroevolution. Frustratingly, I’m not an expert on evolution, but even I could sense how saturated with fallacies his arguments were. He began the entire exchange with, “I used to believe in evolution, and I tried to reconcile my belief in evolution with my belief in God as Creator.” In my margin, I wrote, “and that’s all you need to know.” He started with his conclusion and worked backwards from there to find supporting evidence. The problem is that most of his evidence has either been refuted or it was never there in the first place.
He pulled all the classic moves:
“Evolution isn’t actually a settled topic at all in the scientific community.”
“Also, anyone who tries to refute it gets made fun of for being ignorant. Even though it’s just a theory, so it should be open for debate!”
“Microevolution happens within kinds, but macroevolution is scientifically impossible.”
“Random genetic mutations can’t create new information, which is required to make a new species.”
“With the amount of dog breeds there are, there’s still only one species. So evolution doesn’t exist.”
“Evolution defies the second law of thermodynamics.”
“The fossil record doesn’t have transitional forms!”
“How do transitional forms work anyways? If fish transformed into birds, then that’s impossible because how would a half-fish half-bird even do anything? Take that Darwin!”
“Irreducible complexity. Michael Behe. Checkmate, atheists!”
A more succinct summary of these two chapters would be, “I don’t know how evolution works, so it’s not true. Which is convenient because I decided it wasn’t true before I even began my study.”
I don’t want to go through and refute the entire list in this post, but if you want to learn a great deal on evolution and how to respond to “intelligent design” proponents, I highly recommend Viced Rhino’s YouTube channel. He’s insanely knowledgeable. And in the coming weeks, in order to learn more about evolution myself, I’m going to read Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True. I hope it helps me shed my ignorance!
Unfortunately, however, some people are ignorant by choice. They revel in it, because it allows them to see the world through their narrow worldview and share it with others. College professors who have this mindset are especially frustrating for me, because they have so much power to influence the minds of my peers, some of which are probably just like the seeker in this book. This is why I find it so necessary, as someone who came out of an institution with this kind of teaching, to reveal everything that the professors, who we are supposed to trust, got so totally wrong.