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Further Reading

Basic Training

Christian Case-Making 101

What You Can Learn from a Crime Scene Investigator

by Terrell Clemmons

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 35

J. Warner (Jim) Wallace was new to homicide. From the front porch, he could clearly see through the window the deceased's body splayed atop a worn recliner, head open and exposed, a handgun lying on the floor to his left as the TV blared on. Wallace suspected the man had committed suicide.

"Be very careful here, newbie," said his senior partner, Alan Jeffries, extending his arm to slow Wallace's entry. "This is a homicide." How did he know? Wallace wondered. Jeffries rattled off several observations. The deceased was right-handed, as indicated by the coffee cup and reading glasses to his right. But the gunshot wound and gun were to his left. The DVR was recording a show. Who records a show when he's about to kill himself? Then he pointed toward the floor. Two oddly shaped bits of mud looked out of place.

As it turned out, Jeffries was right, and for the next 30 hours the team meticulously collected every fragment of evidence and pieced them together to reason back to the most likely source. Within two days, they had the culprit under arrest.

As this scene demonstrates, evidence doesn't come labeled. One must learn to look with a keen eye, gather it, analyze it, and trace it to its source. Jim Wallace would go on to serve as a detective for some 30 years, and over the course of his career he would enter scene after scene asking the question, What happened here? Every investigation would necessarily begin with the evidence.

In his first book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, Wallace detailed how as a 35-year-old atheist he applied this investigative methodology to the New Testament Gospels and found them to pass every test of reliability as eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus. At the conclusion of that investigation, Wallace became a Christian because he had become convinced that the claims of the New Testament Gospels were true.

But just as importantly, he also found that the Bible as a whole offers an undeniably accurate description of the universe in which we live. And so his second book, God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, takes a similar approach to argue for a Creator God.

God's Crime Scene

In God's Crime Scene, he sets the life-permitting universe we find ourselves in as a metaphorical "crime scene" and then regarding it, takes up the question, What happened here? Each chapter begins with a real crime scene to show how the investigative thought process applies, and step by step, like a detective presenting before a jury, he lays out a cumulative, comprehensive case for a personal, all-powerful, divine being as the most likely "culprit." Evidence is drawn from four categories. Here's a 50-thousand-foot flyover:

Cosmological evidence: According to big bang cosmology, the universe is finite. It is neither eternal nor self-existing. Everything in it—matter, energy, time, and space—is co-relative and began to exist at a zero point, an absolute beginning. This argues for a cause that is not "inside" the universe but that transcends it. In addition to that, the extremely precise fine-tuning of the laws of chemistry and physics, along with the unique positioning and composition of Earth and its home solar system for supporting life, suggests a cause that is rational and purposeful.

Biological evidence: The information content of DNA, which must necessarily exist prior to the appearance of the first living thing, argues for a cause that is intelligent and personal. Furthermore, the striking complexity of molecular machinery inside the cell, the step-by-step construction of which was specified and directed by that information, argues for a designer that is creative and resourceful.

Mental evidence: The universal human experience of "mind"—of consciousness—suggests a nonphysical, nonmaterial aspect of reality traceable to a pre-existing nonphysical, nonmaterial mind. And the common human experience of free agency—that we are subjects capable of choosing our actions—points to a cause that is free to choose and act at will.

Moral evidence: The universal recognition of some kind of moral dimension to life and of moral obligations argues for a personal source of moral truth. And finally, Wallace addresses a common moral charge raised as evidence against a morally good God—the presence of evil in the world. And while acknowledging that there are unanswered questions about the difficulty of evil, pain, and suffering, he offers several entirely plausible conditions under which evil can be reconciled with the existence of a morally good Creator.

A fair-minded thinker, Wallace addresses at each step alternative explanations of the evidence and refers readers to "expert witnesses" who have argued both sides of the "case." And finally, just like in a court of law, he wraps it all up with a closing argument that briefly recounts the evidence and urges readers to render a verdict.

Abductive Reasoning

Jim Wallace is clearly a first-rate detective and criminal court case-maker. Throughout his career, he never lost a case. He's equally skilled as a writer and Christian case-maker. If readers just get the evidential data from his books, their time and money will have been well spent. But I think there's more we can learn from Detective Wallace. To be specific, we would do well to learn to think like a detective and to build persuasive evidential cases after the same manner.

In Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace devotes an entire chapter to explaining the investigative methodology a detective uses. It's called abductive reasoning, or "inference to the best explanation." "In logic," he explains, "inference refers to the process of collecting data from numerous sources, and then drawing conclusions on the basis of this evidence." Possible explanations are evaluated on the basis of feasibility, their ability to account for all the evidence, their simplicity in doing so, and their logical consistency.

Although the term may be unfamiliar, the process is not. Physicians use abductive reasoning to diagnose illnesses. They gather evidence in the form of symptoms and observations from an exam and then run tests to zero in on the most likely cause. Historians and scientists as well employ this methodology regularly. All of us use it intuitively, in fact. Any mother who walks into a messy kitchen goes immediately into abductive mode: What happened here? Or maybe more specifically, Who's responsible?

General Revelation & Special Revelation

Except for Christian thinkers specializing in apologetics, though, abductive reasoning is rarely practiced when it comes to theological beliefs. But it can and should be—if for no other reason than that people outside church circles are not inclined to accept anything based on church authority.

They are, however—or at least believe themselves to be—open to reason and evidence. And there exists a wealth of evidence for a transcendent Creator. So much so that the God inference is by far the best explanation of the data. The hurdle for church people accustomed to considering theology in terms of doctrine is, I think, this: the believer must be willing to "step outside" his doctrinal or catechetical construct, so to speak, for a time.

Understanding the concepts of general and special revelation will be helpful here. The distinction is associated with St. Thomas Aquinas, and it goes like this: General revelation, sometimes called natural revelation, refers to that knowledge about God that is available to all people at all times. "The heavens declare the glory of God," wrote the Psalmist. And all people possess some inner moral intuition. We call this conscience, the word conscience literally meaning "knowledge together with." Nature is one element of general revelation. Conscience is another.

Special revelation refers to those instances in which God intervenes or acts to reveal something of himself over and above what can be known generally. Means of special revelation include dreams, prophecy, the Bible, and the person of Jesus Christ.

Thinking Evidentially

So what does this have to do with abductive reasoning? It's this: Sound abductive reasoning operating on truths accessible by general revelation is the beginning of good apologetics. It's not that we withhold information from people, but that we engage with secularized thinkers on their own terms—using reason and evidence fully accessible to everyone.

It's entirely doable. For as scientific knowledge continues to accumulate, an ever more compelling case for the God hypothesis can be constructed from science alone. Sure, secularists may dismiss it, but then they will have dismissed it, not for lack of evidence, but due to their own refusal to engage with the evidence presented.

For many Christians, this will feel unfamiliar as a way of thinking about theological truth and evangelism. But the times require it. Christians have been criticized, with some justification, for poor thinking. Shallow adages like "I believe because that's the way I was raised" or worse, "The Bible says it; that settles it" amount to a preemptive surrender to secularists, who have proven themselves more than happy to squat, smugly satisfied, on unearned intellectual ground. And, worse, however sincere and well-meaning such shallow phrases may be, they offer little to genuine seekers beyond a plausible reason to dismiss Christianity as intellectually unfounded.

Evidence for God exists literally all over the universe. What is required of the Christian case-maker is a keen eye to see it, analyze it, and skillfully construct the cumulative case, tracing it back to its Source. Wallace's books are outstanding primers on how to do this. Also, the TrueU DVD trilogy, produced for prospective college students by Focus on the Family in conjunction with Coldwater Media, provides excellent forays into abductive reasoning and case-making for adults as well.

The Reasonable Standard of Proof

After making his closing argument in God's Crime Scene, Wallace the atheist-turned-Christian gets deadly serious. It's important to distinguish between what's possible, he says, and what's reasonable. Anything is possible. The question before a jury and before every individual, after all the evidence has been presented, is, What is the most reasonable conclusion?

"The standard of proof (SOP) in the most critical of criminal trials is 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' not 'beyond a possible doubt,'" he says. "When it comes to the case for God's existence, there's enough evidence." Indeed there is. In a secularized culture, then, our part is to learn to see it and connect it to its Source. 


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