An author by the name of Ray Comfort has recently launched a campaign to "pull the plug on atheism" at this site. It may seem odd that I, an atheist, would waste time promoting the site, but, honestly, the first argument I read there was so mind-bogglingly bad that I can't help but think he's going to be doing atheism a big favor.
In a post titled "Atheism's Big Secret," Comfort makes this supposedly shocking statement: "An atheist is someone who believes that nothing made everything." He considers this to be the ultimate intellectual absurdity. He goes on to argue: "if I say that I don’t believe that a builder built my house, then I am left with the insanity of believing that nothing built it. It just happened. " In another article he states: "You cannot have a creation without a creator. You cannot have things made without a maker."
It doesn't require a lot of effort to see the fallacies in all of these statements. Working backwards: First, I suppose it depends on what you mean by "made." If you simply mean "come into existence," then things come into existence all the time without the efforts of a conscious maker. No one makes mountains or oceans or storms. These things come into existence unguided by any sentience. A tree makes other trees, a chicken makes other chickens, but I don't think that's what Comfort has in mind. The fact is, it doesn't take a lot of effort to see that most things exist in the world without the active guiding hand of a creator. While I may wax poetic about the world and call it "creation," I do not, in fact, regard it as a creation.
The classic argument against atheism is, suppose you were walking on the beach and found a watch. You would assume that there was a watchmaker. But the main thing I find when I go walking on the beach is a bunch of sand. Do I therefore assume there's a sandmaker? It seems more plausible that the sand I'm walking on is the finely ground remnants of former mountains, which ceaselessly churning natural forces have turned into a nice place to get a suntan. Show me a beach covered in watches and you'll have an argument. (Though, if I actually found a beach covered in watches, I'd look for an overturned tanker with "Timex" written on the side.)
As for the builder who built Comfort's house: I don't think any atheist is going to argue with him. Yes, houses are obviously built by designers who plan for men (and occasionally birds and dogs) to dwell in them. The earth, alas, doesn't show such careful and intentional design for human dwelling. We are a species that lives on land and drinks fresh water. The world is 80% saltwater oceans. Of the 20% land, vast chunks of it are covered with ice, or deserts, or volcanos, or disease-ridden swamps. Man has, of course, made footholds in just about all these environments, but, still, despite the panic attacks of environmentalists, there's a lot more of this planet where people either can't live or don't particularly want to live than there are really sweet spots. If the world was created for humanity, it was created somewhat carelessly, I would argue.
Which brings us back to the first argument... the damning one that's supposed to shatter any intellectual pretense left to atheism, the idea that something can arise from nothing. First, I'll quibble a little: I don't think that most scientists would agree with the contention that our universe arose from "nothing." I think it would be more accurate to state that if you wind the clock of the universe backwards far enough, you reach a point beyond which the laws of physics fail and we are left with the unknown and the unknowable. I don't think you can factually argue for or against nothing beyond the point of the Big Bang. All evidence for what went before has been erased. It is this big void of the knowable that gets the "nothing" tag hung on it.
Some people would like to insert God to fill this void of knowledge. What came before the first click of the clock? God! But... where is the evidence? There is no more evidence of this than there is of "nothing." However, let's say for a moment that you make the serious argument that God existed before the first tick, and was the one who was there to wind the mainspring. If this is a scientific argument, then the question arises: What are his properties? What existed before him? Who made God? Most religious people would argue: No one made God. His properties are unknowable. Nothing came before. An infinity of time existed in which there was nothing... and then suddenly, God decided there would be something.
So, the very same absurdity that supposedly wrecks atheism is present in the God argument. You reach a point where you cannot know what came before. Here's the point where the atheist and the theist differ, I think: Atheists are tough enough to look at that inpenetrable moment of nothingness and shrug it off. So what if there's a wall to the knowable? We'll muddle through. Theists, however, seem crippled by the thought of nothing. What came before creation? What was God doing before us? Why did he wait for infinity before deciding it was time for some company?
Theists hold a very human centric view of "creation." All time and space exist so that we may exist. Distant galaxies, billions of years of star formation and destruction and formation and destruction and planets forming and dying and forming again all occur so that humans can exist for a few thousand years on a moral testing ground created so that God can judge their behavior and decide whether or not he wants to spend more time with any given individual, or whether any given individual should suffer unending punishment for a few decades worth of sin.
Atheists, on the other hand, can see that humanity occupies a very, very, very tiny speck of all time and all space. We aren't the point of the universe. We're not even an afterthought, or any thought at all. We're just brief blips of improbability, having fun while it lasts.
I can live with that.