Five Investigative Principles That Will Help You Be A Better Christian Case Maker

I was recently interviewed for Los Angeles Magazine due to our success over the years working Cold-Case Homicides in the County of Los Angeles (like the recent Lynne Knight case). As a result, Matthew Segal posted a story entitled, “How to Operate Like a Cold Case Detective.” He quoted me on several principles we’ve employed in our investigations and prosecutions. While reviewing the list, I realized it paralleled much of what I’ve described at ColdCaseChristianity.com related to the investigation of Christianity. Here is part of the text of the article with hyperlinks to posts I’ve written as a Christian Case Maker. I hope these investigative principles will also help you become a better defender of Christianity:
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Do Neurological Studies Prove Free Agency Is An Illusion?

Can atheists explain the existence of “free will” from “inside the room” of the natural universe? I don’t think so, and in my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I illustrate the problem naturalism has trying to account for human free agency. Many consistent atheists, like neurological philosopher Sam Harris, do not believe free agency exists in a deterministic, material universe. Harris denies any of us have the ability to choose freely: “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have… You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts. You can do what you decide to do—but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.” (Sam Harris, Free Will, page 5 and pp. 37-38).

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Are Atheists Right? Is “Free Will” An Unnecessary, Unimportant Illusion?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of “free will”. Strict atheistic determinists like Sam Harris don’t even make an effort to explain how free will could exist “inside the room” of the natural, physical universe. Instead, they describe free will as completely illusory and challenge the rest of us to explain why we find it necessary to possess (or account for) it in the first place. Harris sees no need for free will to effectively prosecute law breakers: “We need not have any illusions that a causal agent lives within the human mind to recognize that certain people are dangerous.” Criminals still need to be isolated from potential victims, even if their actions are not the result of free will. In the end, according to determinists like Harris, we need not acknowledge nor accept the existence of free will to explain our need for a criminal justice system. In fact, Harris argues our world would be a far better place if we accepted the non-existence of free will: “Once we recognize that even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are, the logic of hating (as opposed to fearing) them begins to unravel.” Harris believes our inclinations toward hatred would be reduced if we came to accept free will as an illusion. But is Harris’ optimism justified, and does this attitude toward free will do anything to explain our own experiences of free agency?
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My Goal in Every Conversation with Mormons

The following post first appeared on Stand to Reason.

Last week some Mormon missionaries showed up at my door. I was unavailable at that moment, so we set up an appointment for them to come back next week. I’m looking forward to the conversation, but I don’t anticipate much impact…in that single conversation. After years of dialoguing with Mormons, I’ve learned to take it slow. Indeed, ex-Mormons will tell you that a patient approach is the best one. 

Think about the Mormons you know. Most of them probably grew up in the LDS Church. Their parents are Mormons. Their family members are Mormons. Most of their close friends are Mormon. The LDS church plays a preeminent role in their life, touching every area. With this in mind, is it realistic to expect Mormons to abandon their faith after one or two conversations? Probably not. That’s an unrealistic goal. 

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Evil Is Evidence God Exists

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe the difference between inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. Facts or circumstances pointing toward the involvement of a particular suspect are said to be inculpatory. Evidence that might clear a suspect from suspicion is said to be exculpatory. While my book outlines a comprehensive, cumulative case inculpating a Divine Creator (based on the origin and fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life and appearance of design in biology, the existence of consciousness and free will, and the presence of objective moral truths), we must weigh these inculpating evidences against the one potentially exculpating piece of evidence: the presence of evil and injustice.
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Are Moral Truths Simply Brute Facts About the Universe?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. Many atheistic philosophers, while they recognize the existence of such truths, attempt to explain them from “inside the room” by describing moral truths as “brute facts” of the cosmos. Like mathematical truths and the laws of logic, moral truths are described as “fixed features” of the universe. According to these naturalistic philosophers, humans don’t create such truths; we simply become aware of them after careful reflection. Moral laws, under this view, are every bit as binding on us as the laws of logic or math. By claiming moral truths are simply brute facts, atheists are able to explain their existence from “inside the room,” but this explanation, while it recognizes and affirms the existence of objective moral truth, fails to adequately explain its origin:

This Approach Fails to Account for Moral “Obligations”
It’s one thing to acknowledge a particular fact, but another to be obligated to submit to such a fact. Describing moral truth as a brute fact of the universe serves to identify and affirm moral truths without explaining why there are moral obligations. Philosophers David Baggett and Jerry Walls put it this way: “Naturalism can make good sense of why we might feel or believe that we have moral obligations, but it has a much harder time explaining moral obligations themselves, and its deterministic framework means that vital moral categories, to survive, have to be watered down and replaced.” The laws of mathematics and logic describe “what is,” but moral laws describe “what ought to be,” and moral claims and legal statutes represent obligations between persons.

This Approach Fails to Explain Why There Are Brute Facts
Those who describe the existence of objective moral truth claims as brute facts of the universe have only taken the first step in explaining their existence. When I discover a piece of evidence in a crime scene, it’s not enough for me to simply identify its existence. I’ve got to figure out how the evidence got in the scene in the first place. Why is it there? If moral truth is a brute fact of the universe, we should reasonably ask why this is the case and begin to examine what kind of universe would necessarily possess moral obligations in the first place.

This Approach Disconnects Morality from Mind
As philosopher John Rist observes, moral ideals are “objects of thoughts, not mere constructs or concepts.” This poses a problem for those who think transcendent moral truths are a brute fact of the universe. The notion of a transcendent, eternal “object of thought” without a transcendent, eternal “thinker of thoughts” is incomprehensible. Baggett and Walls put it this way: “The need for Platonic forms ultimately to be grounded in a mind that recognizes them is once again keenly felt. ‘Free floating metaphysical items’ do not have the ontological strength and stability that we think morality must have. Even if we discern these moral truths before we identify their deeper foundations, this only reminds us again that the order of knowing is distinct from the order of being.”

This Approach Suppresses Further Investigation
As with similar efforts to explain the reason for the universe’s existence (I also describe these in Chapter Two of God’s Crime Scene), explanations such as “that’s just the way it is,” or “that’s a pointless question” are largely unsatisfying and serve to suppress further investigation rather than lead us to the truth. Detectives who take this approach typically don’t solve many murders. If reasonable explanations are available, we ought not to ignore them in favor of “that’s just the way it is.”

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Are Moral Truths a Product of Culture?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe by asking a simple investigative question: “Can I explain the evidence ‘in the room’ (of the natural universe) by staying ‘in the room’?” This is a question I ask at every death scene to determine if I actually have a crime scene. When evidence “in the room” can’t be explained by staying “in the room”, I’ve got to consider the involvement of an intruder. If the evidence inside the universe can’t be explained by staying “inside” the natural realm of the universe, we must similarly consider the involvement of a cosmic intruder. One critical piece of the evidence in the universe is the existence of transcendent moral truths. Can we explain these truths by staying “inside the room”?
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Can An Understanding of Eternal Life Change the Way We See Evil?

In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe as I make the case for God’s existence. When a piece of evidence points toward a particular suspect it is called inculpating evidence. If it points away from a suspect (or, more precisely, excludes the possibility a particular suspect is involved), it is called exculpating evidence. The existence of evil in the universe has been trumpeted by many skeptics as a form of exculpating evidence, excluding the reasonable existence of God altogether. After all, how can an all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to persist? An ancient form of the problem is sometimes attributed to Epicurus:
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Are Atheists Correct When They Claim Mental States Are Merely Brain States?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe as I make a cumulative case for the existence of God. One important piece of evidence is our common experience of consciousness. If atheism is true, our natural universe is nothing more than space, time, matter and the laws of physics and chemistry that govern such things. In this material, physical environment, it’s easy to account for brains, but difficult to explain our experience of “mind”. Brains are material, minds are not. Some naturalistic atheists who try to stay “inside the room” of the natural universe for an explanation argue brains and minds are identical. From this perspective, mental states (such as anger or pain) are identical to brain states in which, for example, a particular set of neurons may be firing. If our mental states are nothing more than brain states (physical, neurological activities of one kind or another), it would be easy to account for mind from the materials and processes available in the physical universe. But while it’s increasingly popular to think of the mind as nothing more than the activity of the brain, this approach has significant liabilities. Here is a brief summary of the problems related to this explanation:

There Are Several Irreconcilable Differences Between Mind and Brain
In God’s Crime Scene, I identify five important differences between mental and physical states and entities. Any attempt to form an identity relationship between the mind and the brain must overcome these differences, yet no theory has yet been able to do so. The power of this dilemma shouldn’t be underestimated. The five distinct differences between the mind and the brain stand as five good reasons to reject the notion our brains are identical to our minds.

Physical Activity in the Brain Cannot Be Generalized
If certain types of physical brain activities are identical with particular kinds of mental states, we ought to be able to match the two neatly, even in a variety of individuals and settings. But this isn’t possible. It turns out our mental states are interconnected with our past experiences, subjective histories and personal idiosyncrasies. They are specific to individuals; researchers are unable to identify a “type to type” relationship between physical processes and mental states generally. In fact, species other than humans—dogs, for example—also experience mental states (like pain) even though they have very different brain structures. If, on the other hand, brain states cannot be generalized as “types” and are, instead, specific to individuals, we would be unable to talk about broad categories of mental states. It would be difficult to refer to “pain,” for example, if the mental state is identical to a physical brain state, yet different in every member of the species because it is specific to individuals.

Logical Connectivity is Different from Physical Causality
Mental states are complex and interconnected. They are specific to the subjective thoughts and experiences of the person who holds them, and their connections are logical, rather than causal. While physical objects are subject to laws of physics, mental states are subject to laws of logic. In other words, while logical relationships between mental states determine (at least in part) what kind of mental state we might experience, no such relationship exists between neurons firing in the brain. As philosopher Edward Feser observes, “There seems to be no way to match up sets of logically interrelated mental states with sets of merely causally interrelated brain states, and thus no way to reduce the mental to the physical.”

We Could Imagine the Existence of Mind without Brain (and Vice Versa)
To make the situation even more difficult, most philosophers and scientists acknowledge the metaphysical possibility a mind could exist without any brain at all. One could imagine, for example, extra-terrestrial creatures who might be physiologically different from humans, possessing minds with completely different physiologies (and without any neuron activity at all). Philosophers have also proposed examples of brains without minds. All of us are familiar with the fictional concept of zombies, but from a philosophical perspective, zombies are an important hypothetical proposal. Imagine a human being who is identical to you in every physical and functional way, yet without any mental life whatsoever. From a philosophical perspective, zombies seem metaphysically possible, and if they are, strict materialism is false. We could exist like zombies, yet we don’t. As humans, we possess more than the simply physical, behavioral and functional abilities of zombies; we have a mental life over and above the purely physical life of zombies. If minds can exist without brains, and brains can exist without minds, mental states cannot be identical to brain states.

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Can Naturalists Explain Where Life Originated?

In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, I make a comprehensive case for the existence of God from eight pieces of evidence in the universe. In Chapter Three (The Origin of Life: Does the Text Require an Author?), I describe the futility scientists have experienced when trying to identify the location in the universe where life might have originated without the intercession and involvement of an Intelligent Designer. The origin of life requires the emergence of pre-biotic molecules (amino acids and nucleotide bases). Where could this have happened? Could life have originated from “inside the room” of the natural universe? If so, where, and is there a better explanation for the origin of life “outside the room” of the universe? (For more on this “inside the room” or “outside the room” investigative analogy, please refer to the Opening Statement of God’s Crime Scene). Naturalistic scientists have repeatedly failed to identify an evidentially reasonable location for the origin of life, despite a concerted effort over many years. Here is a very brief summary of the failed attempts to locate a reasonable naturalistic point of origin:

Could Life Have Started in the Atmosphere?
You may remember the famous 1952 Miller-Urey experiment from your high school or undergraduate biology class. Stanley Miller and Harold Urey mixed ammonia, methane, water vapor, and hydrogen and passed an electric charge through the circulating gases. Within a week, they found several types of amino acids had been created. This experiment later became the “poster child” for a naturalistic explanation of the basic building blocks of life. Many believed it proved amino acids could be formed naturally in the atmosphere of the early earth. But with the evidence we now have about the conditions of the early atmosphere, we know the gases used by Miller and Urey were not present in the quantity or proportion they used. While this experiment may have some historical significance, it does not prove life could originate in the atmosphere. In fact, scientists now believe the early atmosphere simply could not produce amino acids at any significant or necessary level.

Could It Have Started in Water?
Like the Miller-Urey experiment, the concept of an ancient “primordial soup” is an iconic fixture in most entry-level biology textbooks. Soviet biologist Alexander Oparin first proposed the idea in 1924, arguing “chemical evolution” took place in the Earth’s early waters, resulting in the formation of amino acids, then primitive proteins. But aside from the fact we have no physical evidence to support the existence of a “primordial soup,” we now know the “chicken and egg” relationship between proteins and polymer chains (DNA) makes their simultaneous appearance in water extremely unlikely (to put it mildly). In addition, the absence of significant sources of phosphate for the early formation of DNA, RNA or ATP is prohibitive in this environment. Worse yet, there would be no way to limit the proportion of left and right “handed” amino acids, nucleotides and sugars in the “primordial soup”, making the formation of DNA and RNA molecules exceedingly difficult.

Could It Have Started On Land?
Some researchers have proposed a scenario in which local terrestrial conditions, such as those occurring in clay, might capture water on occasion, allowing the necessary molecules to form and interact. But when trying to recreate these conditions in the laboratory, scientists have come to realize the impossibility of stabilizing the environment to allow for the formation of the necessary cellular components.

Could It Have Started In the Earth?
Some scientists have proposed an underground location for the origin of life where molecular formation would be protected from water and atmospheric interference. But the underground locations available in the early earth would have been incredibly hostile to the formation of bio-chemical precursors, proteins and RNA. Just as problematic would be imagining a scenario in which these primitive forms of life could then transition from their underground origin to their eventual homes above ground.

Could It Have Started In Space?
Some scientists, frustrated with the lack of progress locating a reasonable earthly source for pre-biotic molecules, have turned their attention to outer space. But even if the basic building blocks for life, amino acids, were delivered to earth in a meteorite, this would still fail to explain how the simple molecules formed into the more complex proteins and nucleic acids necessary for life, given the “chicken and egg” problem (refer to Chapter Three of God’s Crime Scene). And if these more complex organic elements came to us from space, how did they originate there and how could they survive the entry into earth’s atmosphere?

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