Ben created three basic categories which all of his arguments fell into.
The first category of his arguments sought to prove that:
"1. A theistic worldview cannot account for many features of our universe that an atheistic worldview can account for."
His central argument on this point was that the universe was far too big and unreachable to have been made with humans in mind. Ben argues:
“The Christian claims the universe was created for the benefit of us, the creation. So why the excess? Why, if the universe is a gift to us, are we limited to just one of a hundred billion trillion planets? Why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us? Why are all of the planets within our reach also deadly to us, with their crushing gravity, sulfuric acid rain or freezing temperatures? Why is everything outside our solar system kept off-limits to us by overwhelmingly vast distances and the laws of physics?”
I could point out that this is really a side-point. If the universe requires a cause, and design requires a designer, then the question of the importance of human beings cannot overturn the positive case for a Creator. However, I am arguing as a Christian here, and it is also my goal to demonstrate that Christianity, not just theism, contains the answer for why something exists rather than nothing. Speaking as a Christian, I would ask Ben what he means by benefit. Certainly if there was a verse in the Bible which said that God made all of the planets specifically for us to dwell upon, this would contradict our experience, and Ben's argument would be a valid one. Of course, the Bible doesn't claim this, as Psalm 115:16 demonstrates:
"The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind" (NIV).
Instead, the Psalmist claims that, "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV). In other words, one of the chief purposes that the universe serves for human beings is to point us to the beauty, majesty, and brilliance of its Creator, not to give us real estate to build a restaurant at the end of the universe.
All of that being said, one can't help but wonder if the problem with this argument is that it suffers from an inability to consider options outside of a non-atheistic framework. In truth, one could turn this objection upon itself. Instead of asking, "why is most of the universe constructed of empty space that is deadly to us?" one might just as easily ask, "why is it that earth is oddly habitable?"
For instance, Earth resides in the small habitable circumstellar “Goldilocks Zone” at just the right distance from our sun. The type and size of sun we have, the distance we are away from it, and numerous other characteristics of Earth, the sun, and our moon, all work together to make life possible on Earth. While Ben could ask why God would create a sun we can't build condominiums on, a more pressing question might be, "how is is that Earth's precise relationship to the sun is such that it allows for not just life (which seems tough enough), but highly complex thinking beings to exist?" Similarly, Earth's location in the Milky Way Galaxy, about half-way between the center and the edge, is also in a life-permitting “galactic habitable zone.”
Ben could retort by saying we are here by chance and that pointing out how bad the odds were for us getting here doesn't change the fact that we are, possibly without the aid of God. This is a fair criticism, but it's beside the point. My goal in responding to this particular claim is not necessarily to make a positive case for God, but to show that Ben's argument is not only a straw man, but a false dichotomy. There are other reasonable options which Ben has excluded because of his bias.
Ben also made a sidepoint in this section, but I think it's important to point it out. He said, "life is not the goal of the universe, just a quirk of it, like the storms on Jupiter or the methane lakes on Titan."
Ben's statement here asserts that human life is comparable to a methane lake on Saturn's moon Titan. As a necessary result of this, the universe did not intend to endow Ben with reason. If Ben is able to reason at all, this is an unintentional “quirk.” As such, it would obviously be highly unlikely that Ben's reason is trustworthy. Ben attempts to attack God using a tool that could only have reasonably originated from God. In other words, it is his atheist worldview which can't account for this very important feature in our universe. He can either admit that his reason is untrustworthy (thus rendering logical discourse pointless), or else he must assert by faith that it came about unintentionally.
Ben's second type of arguments fell into this category:
However, this is false. Particles don't come into being out of nothing but out of the quantum vacuum, which is, according to philosopher William Lane Craig, "a sea of fluctuating energy. [An] arena of violent activity, and it is governed by physical laws." According to Craig, on the Copenhagen model of quantum mechanics (which is the model Ben is probably appealing to), the energy in the vacuum fluctuates and spontaneously spins off particles which then dissolve back into the energy of the vacuum. This stands in marked contrast to a universe which comes out of nothing.
After this, Ben paraphrased a claim Hawking made in his new book:
Ben is correct that Hawking and Mlodinow say this. On page 180, they claim that, "because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing... Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." Of course, this sentence taken plainly is nonsensical. When someone argues that X causes Y, they are presuming the pre-existence of X to bring about Y. But what of an argument where X causes X? How can X pre-exist itself to bring itself into existence? It obviously can't. Thus, the universe cannot create itself, and it certainly can't do so through gravity, which requires a pre-existent natural universe for its own existence.
This is a worthwhile point to bring up in this discussion. I think there are different ways to answer this challenge. First of all, it could be argued that a complicated hypothesis with far-reaching explanatory power is better than a simple hypothesis with little to no explanatory power. The hypothesis that, "in the beginning nothing blew up for no reason and here we are," is certainly simple, but it hardly explains everything that it's supposed to. In contrast, the God hypothesis can easily account for the appearance of design and order in the universe, the existence of complex life which can reason, irreducibly complex biological structures, moral facts, and even the existence of the universe itself. So even if God were more complex than His effect, the God hypothesis would still be preferable to the allegedly simple naturalistic atheistic hypothesis. However, I think Ben may be mistaken in assuming that God is complex, if I am correct that this is his contention. Unlike the universe, God does not consist of multiple, complex parts. In fact, as a non-physical mind, God would actually be quite simple, even though His thoughts and creation are complex. If God's mind is the standard for truth, reason, and goodness, this most certainly makes Him a remarkable Being, though not necessarily a complex one.
Click here to read Ben's rebuttal to my opening statement.