Video and audio from Christopher Hitchens panel debate

UPDATE: My play-by-play transcript of the Biola debate is here.

Over on Apologetics 315, I’ve found links to video and and audio from the recent debate panel from the Christian Book Expo in Dallas, TX. This is a useful preview for the upcoming debate on April 4, 2009 between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig.

Below is a summary of the initial 4-minute speeches of all of the participants, in order of speaking:

Lee Strobel

1. There are good arguments for the existence of God:

  • creation out of nothing (the big bang)
  • cosmic fine-tuning
  • biological information (DNA, etc.)
  • consciousness (intentionality)
  • free will
  • historicity of the resurrection

2. Christianity makes a positive difference on people’s lives.

Christopher Hitchens

1. Christianity is not needed for personal morality or social cohesion.

2. Christian stories are not unique, they are paralleled in other religious. Therefore, they are not historical, but invented.

3. Christian leaders say and do things that are harmful, but also inconsistent with their stated beliefs.

William Lane Craig

1. There are good arguments for the existence of God:

  • the contingency argument
  • creation out of nothing
  • cosmic fine-tuning
  • the argument from objective moral values
  • the argument from objective moral duties
  • the ontological argument
  • historicity of the resurrection
  • religious experience (in the absence of any defeaters)

James Denison

1. It is not effective to argue against religion in general by citing the specific bad behaviors of certain religious people in a variety of religions.

Doug Wilson

1. Rational thought is not compatible with atheism, because atheism is committed to materialism. If human behavior are totally determined by chemical reactions, then it is not possible for humans to reason about the world.

Further study

To read more about these arguments, please see my index of arguments used in debates. To see an analysis of Hitchens’ case that he used in his recent debate with Frank Turek, click here.

What conditions are needed to create a habitable planet?

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Post-Darwinist! Thanks for the link Denyse! New visitors may be interested in this post, which is a jumping off point for all of posts on science and faith issues.

Everyone who isn’t Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins already knows about the standard fine-tuning argument. But have you ever considered what it takes to make a planet that is capable of supporting the minimal requirements of living systems? The area of science that specializes in answering this question is called astrobiology. Let’s take a look!

I will be working from a lecture (with Q&A) delivered in October 2007 at California State University – Fresno, by two of my favorite scholars, Jay Wesley Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez.

The Copernican Principle

Richards introduces the idea of the Copernican Principle. This principle states that the progress of science will show that there is nothing special (designed) about man’s place in the universe.

The minimal requirements for life

I’ve written about this before here, but basically life requires a minimum amount of encoded biological information to allow it to replicate itself. The only element in the periodic table that allows you to encode information is carbon. Carbon is the hub of large molecules which form the paper and text of biological information. No carbon = no life.

Secondly, you need some environment in which to form molecules around the carbon, such as amino acids and proteins. That environment is liquid water. And you need the liquid water to be at the surface the planet where you want life to exist.

The requirements of a habitable planet

Here are just a few of the requirements mentioned in the lecture.

  • a solar system with a single massive Sun than can serve as a long-lived, stable source of energy
  • a terrestrial planet (non-gaseous)
  • the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to preserve liquid water at the surface – if it’s too close, the water is burnt off in a runaway greenhouse effect, if it’s too far, the water is permanently frozen in a runaway glaciation
  • the solar system must be placed at the right place in the galaxy – not too near dangerous radiation, but close enough to other stars to be able to absorb heavy elements after neighboring stars die
  • a moon of sufficient mass to stabilize the tilt of the planet’s rotation
  • plate tectonics
  • an oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • a sweeper planet to deflect comets, etc.
  • planetary neighbors must have non-eccentric orbits

Note that these requirements are connected. If you mess with one, some of the others will be thrown out of tune. For more habitability requirements, see this article by Gonzalez and Richards.

What are the probabilities that we will get these conditions?

Richards explains that the question of whether this is designed is like winning the lottery. Your chance of winning depends on two things:

  1. the odds of getting all the conditions correct
  2. the number of tries that you get

If the odds of winning are 1 in a million, you could still win by buying a million tickets with all the different numbers. In the universe, there are only about 10^22 possible solar systems. So if the odds of getting a habitable planet are 1 in 10^9, you’ll get tons of life. But what if the odds are 1 in 10^40? Then you’re not likely to win.

But this is not the argument that these two are making, because even though there are a lot of factors needed for a habitable planet, we still can’t say for certain how likely it is that each of these conditions will obtain. Therefore, we can’t make the argument except by estimating the odds of getting each condition.

Although you could use very generous estimates, it would still be guessing, and you can win a debate by guessing. So are we stuck?

How to make a design argument using habitability

Gonzalez explains why you can still make an argument for design by arguing that the coorelation between habitability and measurabiliy is intentional. (By measurability, he really means the ease of making scientific discoveries). And you do this by correlating the conditions for sustaining life with the conditions for allowing scientific discoveries.

Gonzalez gives two examples:

  1. Solar eclipses require that the sun and moon have certain sizes and certain distances from the sun. The surface of the Earth is the optimal location in our solar system for observing solar eclipses. We were able to make many valuable discoveries due to this fine-tuning, not the least of which was confirming the theory of general relativity, which was cruicial to the science of cosmology.
  2. The location of our solar system is fine-tuned within two spiral arms of a spiral galaxy. We escape from radiation and other dangers, but to also allow use to capture heavy elements that are needed to make a suitable Sun and humans bodies, too. But the same conditions that allow life also allow us to make scientific discoveries, such as star formation theory and cosmic microwave background radiation measurements, which was needed in order to confirm the creation of the universe out of nothing (the big bang).

Spooky. And what until they list off a half-dozen more examples in their book “The Privileged Planet”. It’s downright terrifying!


Richards sums up the argument with an illustration. He asks why scientists construct observatories high up on mountains. The answer is in order to avoid “light pollution” from nearby cities, which ruin the ability of scientists to observe the stars and make discoveries. And this is what we see with our planet and solar system. No one builds a planet that can be used to make scientific discoveries in a place that doesn’t support life. It turns out that the very places in the universe that are good for making observations are also the best places for supporting life.

Further study

I would recommend checking out the documentary DVD, if you find the book too scary. There is also a university lecture DVD with both authors, filmed at Biola University. If you want to see the DVD online for FREE, then click here (narrated by John-Rhys Davies). Awesome! Go science!

The story of the Wintery Knight blog so far…

Those of you who have been reading the blog know that the blog is split between Christian apologetics and policy analysis. Here’s a little list of the topics that I have touched on related to Christian apologetics, with topics yet to appear later in italics.

Positive apologetics

Scientific arguments for theism:

  • the creation of the universe out of nothing (Warning: SNARKY)
  • the fine-tuning of physical constants and ratios to support the minimal requirements for life (Warning: SNARKY)
  • the origin of biological information in the simplest living organism
  • galactic, stellar and planetary fine-tuning to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the sudden origin of all animal phyla in the Cambrian explosion
  • the natural limits of biological change

Philosophical arguments for theism:

  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil
  • the origin of non-physical mind, rationality and free will

Historical arguments for Christianity

Negative apologetics

Scientific objections:

Philosophical objections

Emotional objections

Moral issues


Apologetics advocacy

John Campbell takes a shot at Obama’s budget

This is Representative John Campbell letting the Democrats have it with both barrels.

I found the video linked on his blog, where he has some advice for how to explain to your neighbors what this budget will really cost taxpayers.


If you want to see what a 30% tax increase looks like, take your paycheck and multiply the total taxes deducted by 1.3.  Then, subtract that from your gross income and that will be close to your new net income. So, if you made $3,000 gross and $2,000 net, you will now only net $1,700. Oh, and that won’t include the cuts your employer has to make in order to pay for their tax increases. By the way, this budget includes all kinds of things that are minor in the grand scheme of things, but big to certain people. For instance, it would repeal the use of the ‘Last In, First Out’ (LIFO) inventory accounting method.  This will dramatically raise taxes on all retail businesses who carry inventory.

Gateway Pundit has a list of the top 10 facts about the budget here. On economist Robert P. Murphy’s blog, I found a link to this story in Bloomberg.


The U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent, lent or committed $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches the value of everything produced in the country last year, to stem the longest recession since the 1930s.

New pledges from the Fed, the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. include $1 trillion for the Public-Private Investment Program, designed to help investors buy distressed loans and other assets from U.S. banks. The money works out to $42,105 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. and 14 times the $899.8 billion of currency in circulation. The nation’s gross domestic product was $14.2 trillion in 2008.

Representative John Shadegg has a list of the taxing/spending records that Obama’s budget is breaking in a post on Red County. And remember, the Democrats caused this mess and the Republicans tried to stop them. More details from John Boehner and Mike Pence about what’s in Obama’s budget here. The Republican alternative budget is here.

Mark Sanford interviewed by the Acton Institute

Governor Mark Sanford
Governor Mark Sanford

Acton Institute blog posted this interview with Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Sanford is my runner-up for the 2012 Republican nomination. The Acton Institute is the think tank that best expresses my deepest concern – the concern for freedom of religious expression. And they believe that certain public policies, such as fiscal conservatism, protect that freedom.

The interview with Sanford is enlightening and encouraging, because it talks about ideas and ideals, in detail. I was particularly interested to see if he would make the connection between free market capitalism and liberty. Here is a relevant excerpt:

I would say that we got to go back to the basics. And the vision would be for a prosperous, competitive America in what has become a very, very competitive global world. It needs to be based on an advance and adherence to free market capitalistic principles, and on maximizing the sphere of individual freedom.

And that includes religious freedom. And I was also interested to see how Sanford connected his faith to the public policies that he advocates. The interviewer asks him: “When it’s convenient, many politicians say they can’t bring their own religious views to bear on important issues because they represent all the people. What’s your view?”

Here is his reply to the question, in full:

I don’t agree with that. What people are sick of is that no one will make a stand. The bottom line in politics is, I think, at the end of the day to be effective in standing for both the convictions that drove you into office and the principles that you outlined in running. And that is not restrained to simply the world of Caesar, it applies to what you think is right and wrong and every thing in between.

Now we all get nervous about the people who simply wear it on their arm sleeve to sort of prove that they’ve got that merit badge. But I think the Bible says, “Let your light so shine be fore men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father that’s in heaven.” Hopefully, by the way in which you act. The way in which you make decisions. They’re going to see that something’s there.

I would also say the Bible says in Revelation, “Be hot. Be cold. But don’t be lukewarm” [Rev. 3:15]. And there’s too many political candidates who walk around completely in the middle—completely in neutral. With regard not only to faith, but with regard to policy. And that’s what people are sick of. Everything’s gotten so watered down. So I have people come to me frequently saying, “Look, I voted for you. In fact, I completely disagree with you on these different stands over here. But at least I know where you stand.”

And so I would say it’s a mistake to confine one’s belief to only matters of government. If you have a religious view, it’s incumbent upon you and it’s real to have that. The Bible talks about the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. There ought to be certain things that are clearly observable by your actions.

I remember when I first gave a Christmas address, a candle lighting event on the state house capitol. And people were freaking because they said, “You can’t say Jesus.” I said, “Look, I’m not trying to offend anybody. But if that’s my personal faith, I can say what I want to say. I’m going to say what I want to say.” I’m not going to be rubbing anybody’s face in it. But I say you can’t dance around that which you really believe. And so I’d say we need people who are more bold in taking stands on all kinds of different things.

Now, you know what to do: read the whole thing!

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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