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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Robin Collins' Fine-Tuning Argument

Robin Collins is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He has done some extensive work on the fine-tuning of the universe and why the features we see point to the existence of God. Below is the core of his argument, taken from a shortened article he has made available on his web site. For more information and resources, visit him online at

The Fine-Tuning Argument

Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.

Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.2

Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence to favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

At this point, we should pause to note two features of this argument. First, the argument does not say that the fine-tuning evidence proves that the universe was designed, or even that it is likely that the universe was designed. In order to justify these sorts of claims, we would have to look at the full range of evidence both for and against the design hypothesis, something we are not doing in this chapter. Rather, the argument merely concludes that the fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

In this way, the evidence of fine-tuning argument is much like fingerprints found on the gun: although they can provide strong evidence that the defendant committed the murder, one could not conclude merely from them alone that the defendant is guilty; one would also have to look at all the other evidence offered. Perhaps, for instance, ten reliable witnesses claimed to see the defendant at a party at the time of the shooting. In this case, the fingerprints would still count as significant evidence of guilt, but this evidence would be counterbalanced by the testimony of the witnesses. Similarly the evidence of fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis, though it does not itself show that everything considered theism is the most plausible explanation of the world. Nonetheless, as I argue in the conclusion of this chapter, the evidence of fine-tuning provides a much stronger and more objective argument for theism (over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis) than the strongest atheistic argument does against theism.

The second feature of the argument we should note is that, given the truth of the prime principle of confirmation, the conclusion of the argument follows from the premises. Specifically, if the premises of the argument are true, then we are guaranteed that the conclusion is true: that is, the argument is what philosophers call valid. Thus, insofar as we can show that the premises of the argument are true, we will have shown that the conclusion is true. Our next task, therefore, is to attempt to show that the premises are true, or at least that we have strong reasons to believe them.

Support for the Premises

Support for Premise (1).

Premise (1) is easy to support and fairly uncontroversial. The argument in support of it can be simply stated as follows: since God is an all good being, and it is good for intelligent, conscious beings to exist, it not surprising or improbable that God would create a world that could support intelligent life. Thus, the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism, as premise (1) asserts.

Support for Premise (2).

Upon looking at the data, many people find it very obvious that the fine-tuning is highly improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis. And it is easy to see why when we think of the fine-tuning in terms of the analogies offered earlier. In the dart-board analogy, for example, the initial conditions of the universe and the fundamental parameters of physics are thought of as a dart- board that fills the whole galaxy, and the conditions necessary for life to exist as a small one-foot wide target. Accordingly, from this analogy it seems obvious that it would be highly improbable for the fine-tuning to occur under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis--that is, for the dart to hit the board by chance.

Typically, advocates the fine-tuning argument are satisfied with resting the justification of premise (2), or something like it, on this sort of analogy. Many atheists and theists, however, question the legitimacy of this sort of analogy, and thus find the argument unconvincing. For these people, the Appendix to this chapter offers a rigorous and objective justification of premise (2) using standard principles of probabilistic reasoning. Among other things, in the process of rigorously justifying premise (2), we effectively answer the common objection to the fine-tuning argument that because the universe is a unique, unrepeatable event, we cannot meaningfully assign a probability to its being fine-tuned.2


1.For an expanded view that deals with the many-universes hypotheses, see Dr. Collins' article here. 2. Collins, Robin. "The Fine-Tuning Design Argument". Home Page of Robin Collins. Accessed 4/10/2014.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Defending Your Faith May Help Save a Christian

Why should Christians learn how to defend their faith? Many  people think that while specialists like professional apologists can argue for Christianity, it isn't necessary for the person in the pew to know all those things. Perhaps it's better to ignore the Jehovah's Witness or Mormons knocking on your door, rather than get into countless arguments. However, such an attitude may be more dangerous than you know, and we can lose church members because of it.

In this short video, I tell a story about one man who left the Baptist church to become a Jehovah's Witness because his pastor wouldn't help answer the objections they gave him. Apologetics can help keep Christians in the fold as well as provide reasons for those outside the faith.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.

Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.


1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.]
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.  Accessed 4/8/2014.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013. Accessed 4/8/2014  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What Did Jesus Consider as Scripture?

When we discuss the makeup of the Bible, the New Testament is usually the center of discussion. Given the discoveries of various 2nd and 3rd century gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi, the success of The Da Vinci Code, and recent manuscript claims such as the Jesus' Wife fragment one can easily see why the question of which books belong in the Bible would center on the New Testament. However, people will question the legitimacy of the Old Testament canon as well.

The accumulation of books in the Old Testament is a much longer one than that of the New. The canon begins right where the Jewish faith begins, with the first five books of Moses. These books were called collectively the Laws of Moses or simply the Law. There are books by various prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and so on that hold the definitive "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. They also provide the validation of predictive prophecy. We also have several books are historical in nature, such as Joshua, Judges, and the sets of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. Because these documented God's dealing with the nation and they held stories about the various prophets interacting with the nation, they too were classified by the Jewish priests as part of the writings of the Prophets. Lastly there are the literary books, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes that were used in worship services. As well as other historical books like Daniel, the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles. These were classified as the "Writings".

According to Norman Geisler and William Nix, "Philo the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, alluded to a threefold classification of the Old Testament, and Flavius Josephus arraigned the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections, saying that the twenty-two books ‘retains the record of all the past;… five belong to Moses, … the prophets who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain the hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life."1 There is evidence of a more ancient two-fold division, which would fold the writings into the prophetic section. This is used in the writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as throught the New Testment writers.2

Jesus' Validation of the Old Testament

Jesus never provided a book by book list of the Old Testament canon. It simply wasn't necessary as the Jews of that day all knew what was meant by Scripture. He did refer to the Scripture as authoritative, though and we can see what He meant whenever he talked about them. First, Jesus would quote passages from various Scriptures and refer to them as such. He quoted multiple times from each of the books of Moses, and from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharaiah, Hosea, Micah and Malachi.3 He also quoted from the Psalms calling them scripture (John 10:24, John 15:25) and called Daniel a prophet of God (Matthew 24:15). So Jesus quotes from each of these three divisions in a way that recognized those books as authoritative scripture.

Further, Jesus referred to the collection of books several times. He talked of "the Law and the Prophets" in Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, and John 1:45. In Luke 24:44, He refers to the Scriptures in the threefold context, saying "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus rebuked one of the experts of Scripture by saying, "the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Abel is the first person to die in the Hebrew Bible and Zechariah is the last. This reference would be obvious to such an expert, but it also confirms the canon of the Old Testament was accepted as authentic.

So, while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" must be fulfilled. Therefore, we can hold a high level of confidence that the Old Testament is truly the word of God.


1. Geiseler, Norman and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). 24.

2. Ibid. 23. 3. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scripture." Jews for Jesus Web site. Accessed 4/7/2014.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Supreme Court, Christian Prayer, and Town Meetings

The Supreme Court decision in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case is a step in the right direction for religious freedom. The case centered around Greece, a Rochester, NY suburb, inviting local pastors to open their town meeting in prayer. The town did not preview the prayers nor did they limit the invitation to any religious affiliation; they simply opened the opportunity up to local clergy. It so happened that the clergy who asked to be included were all Christians and they (understandably) prayed Christian prayers.

However, the overt Christian terminology used in the prayers bothered at least two town residents (identified by USA Today as an atheist and a Jew) who filed suit and petitioned the court not to ban the practice of opening the meeting with prayer, but "to limit the town to 'inclusive and ecumenical' prayers that referred only to a 'generic God.'"1 The Second Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the lawsuit, but the majority of the Court disagreed and overturned the verdict on a 5-4 decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy made some lucid points about the problems with the suit. I'd like to look at some key points. (All emphasis in the quotes below is mine.)

The Historical Precedent for Prayer

First, Kennedy pointed to both the historical and legal precedent for allowing government meetings to be opened in prayer. Citing both a 1983 decision (Marsh) on the government funding of chaplains and a 1989 case of groups displaying specifically religious holiday displays on public lands, Kennedy writes:
There is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well. Marsh teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted "by reference to historical practices and understandings." … Respondents' insistence on nonsectarian prayer is not consistent with this tradition. The prayers in Marsh were consistent with the First Amendment not because they espoused only a generic theism but because the Nation's history and tradition have shown that prayer in this limited context could "coexis[t] with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
Kennedy further notes that the First Congress, just after crafting the First Amendment, voted to appoint chaplains and they opened their meetings in prayer, thus demonstrating that their intent was not to quell these activities.

The Problem of Governmental Censoring of Prayer

Kennedy then notes that if the law were to require governmental agencies to preview and approve or disallow specific prayers based on their use of sectarian language, it would create a much bigger problem. It would, in effect turn a bureaucrat or the court itself into the faith police. This would open up a can of worms. Government, the courts, or even the majority view judging which prayers should be banned and which are permissible becomes subjective and makes government more involved in religion than the current practice does.  He writes:
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact. Respondents' contrary arguments are unpersuasive. It is doubtful that consensus could be reached as to what qualifies as a generic or nonsectarian prayer. It would also be unwise to conclude that only those religious words acceptable to the majority are permissible, for the First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.

Understand that the Government isn't the Final Word

Another salient point Kennedy makes is that respectful, ceremonial prayer before a government assembly, no matter which creed administers it, serves a function for all. By appealing to God and asking a blessing on the proceedings, the invocation essentially declares that governments and those that run them are never the last word. People are fallible. Political organizations are fallible. We must recognize that while our representatives seek to make the right decisions and serve the will of the people as best they can, their decisions are not themselves foolproof.
The tradition reflected in Marsh permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing reference to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition. These religious themes provide particular means to universal ends. Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief."

Even those who disagree as to religious doctrine may find common ground in the desire to show respect for the divine in all aspects of their lives and being. Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.

The Difference Between Offense and Coercion

The last key phrase I'd like to point out is one that I would hope extend well beyond this particular decision. Our culture today is sick. People have assumed that the pursuit of happiness somehow means that they should never feel any discomfort or disagreement while participating in a public function. Kennedy succinctly dismisses this claim:
In their declarations in the trial court, respondents stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected. Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.
To that I say "Amen."


1. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
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