Science and Faith: Are They Compatible?

The whole point of Darwinism is to explain the world in a way that excludes any role for a Creator. What is being sold in the name of science
is a completely naturalistic understanding of reality. (Phillip Johnson)

Scientists, philosophers, and theologians are pretty much agreed about this: it is the function of science to determine the facts of the universe; it is the function of religion to determine its meaning. But opinions about the origins of the universe diverge, and arguments become heated, over whether the Bible can be used as a source of scientific information. Secular scientists try to exclude biblical perspectives by limiting the inquiry to what can be tested in a laboratory. It is their position that any belief or theory with any hint of “supernatural” causes must be disregarded. Since God doesn’t appear in a telescope or under a microscope, these scientists reject from consideration any theory of a God-caused universe.

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The Cumulative Case for Christianity: Death By A 1,000 Paper Cuts

Following Dateline’s airing of our latest cold-case (“The Wire”), I received a number of concerned emails from viewers who felt there simply wasn’t enough evidence to be certain Douglas Bradford killed Lynne Knight. I think I can see their point. Dateline has done an excellent job chronicling four of our investigations, but our cases are nearly impossible to adequately represent in the limited time Dateline has to tell the stories. Why? Because our cases are complex, layered, cumulative, circumstantial cases. While I’ve written often about the nature of circumstantial evidence, one of the most evidential concepts related to our cold-cases is the role of cumulative arguments. When a large quantity of evidence point to the same suspect, the cumulative impact of this evidence can be powerful. Many of the individual facts and evidences may seem unimportant or trivial on their own, but when assembled as a set, their collective weight becomes unbearable. All my cold-cases are built in this way. We assemble dozens of facts, details, inferential statements and evidences and show the jury how the collective set of evidence implicates our suspect. I’ve often referred to this process sarcastically as “Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts”.

Defense attorneys typically respond to cumulative cases by focusing on those few pieces of evidence they believe to be the most damaging for their client. They then try to show how any number of other, unrelated causes might also explain these specific items of evidence. They want jurors to focus on the individual pieces rather than the collective set. In essence, they hope jurors will see the “trees” rather than the “forest” (and hopefully only a few of the trees, at that!) In the end, defense attorneys explain the evidences by way of many unrelated causes rather than by the simpler explanation: their client is the one causal factor who can account for all the evidence in the case. In many ways, it’s an “Ockham’s Razor” exercise. When one causal factor explains all the evidence in the case, that cause is the simplest (and most reasonable) explanation.

If you want to be a good Christian Case Maker (or you simply want to examine the case for Christianity for the first time), you’ll need to understand the power of cumulative cases. The Christian worldview is established in a collective manner: the reliability of the eyewitness Gospel accounts is built on more than one line of evidence. In fact, eyewitnesses are established based on four separate categories of evidence, expressed with four important questions: Where the eyewitnesses really present to see what they said they saw? Can their statements be corroborated or verified in some way? Have the eyewitnesses been honest and accurate over time? Do the eyewitnesses possess a bias or ulterior motive disqualifying them? These questions must be considered collectively. In addition to this, the case for each category is also made cumulatively. The issue of corroboration, for example is established on the basis of several unrelated lines of evidence including archaeology, ancient Jewish writings, ancient non-Christian Greek writings, geographic internal evidence, linguistic internal evidence, correct use of proper nouns, and the unintentional eyewitness support I describe in Cold-Case Christianity.

None of these individual elements corroborates the Biblical account on its own. They must be considered collectively. When a skeptic tries to attack the insufficiency of any single line of evidence for the Christian worldview, they are (like defense attorneys) asking the jury to ignore the implications of the collective case. They hope people will focus on a “tree” rather than the “forest”. They typically do their best to argue for an alternative explanation (or several alternative explanations) for each of these evidential facts. But the more reasonable explanation is much simpler: Christianity, if true, can explain all the evidence as the only causal factor. I’ve tried to illustrate the depth of the cumulative case for Christianity with a simple illustration (available as a free, downloadable Bible Insert on the homepage at www.ColdCaseChristianity.com):

 

When our cases are covered by Dateline, only a few evidences ever make the final edit. As a result, I often get notes from viewers who can’t understand how the jury convicted our suspect (even when some of these men later confessed to the crime!) But our juries never seem to struggle with their decision. Instead, they typically convict rather quickly. When jurors come to understand the power of a collective case, the decision is easy. The Christian worldview is also established cumulatively. If we can learn to communicate the strength of collective cases such as these, we’ll become better Christian Case Makers. If you’re examining the case for Christianity for the first time, don’t stop at the “tree-line”. Go deep. Look at everything. Assemble and assess the cumulative case.

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The Difference Between Believing the Gospels and Trusting the Gospel

I leaned over and said, “I think it may be true.” “What may be true?” asked Susie. “Christianity,” I responded. “The more I look at the Gospels, the more I think they look like real eyewitness accounts.” I spent months examining the claims of the Gospels, evaluating them with the template I typically apply to eyewitnesses in my criminal investigations. At the end of my examination, I was confident in their reliability. I believed the Gospels were telling me the truth about Jesus. But I wasn’t yet a Christian. I had what I often refer to as “belief that”. I examined what the Gospels had to say about Jesus, and after testing them rigorously, I came away with confidence in their accuracy, early dating, reliable transmission and lack of bias. But I still had a profoundly important question: “What is the cross all about? Why did Jesus have to die that way?” My wife, Susie, had been raised as a cultural Catholic, and although she was familiar with the language and doctrines of Catholicism, her answer was simply, “I don’t really know.” After months of investigation, I believed what the Gospels told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept the Gospel of Salvation.

Yesterday, CBN posted the story of my journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It’s really the first time I’ve told the story this completely, and I hope it will help you see the role evidence can play in moving someone from intellectual assent to volitional submission:

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What should we do when we fail?

I have certainly failed many times in my life. I have said hurtful things to friends that I regret. I wish I could take my words back, but my apology does not erase the past. As a thirty-two year old single man who has never married, I’ve failed in some of my dating relationships. Earlier in my career, I made some poor financial decisions. Even this evening, I let my volleyball team down. My teammates were counting on six feet seven inch tall “Big Dave” to bring home the victory. All I brought home was lots of sand.

Have you ever felt like a failure? Maybe you’ve had an unsuccessful career, a botched marriage, or made a stupid mistake that ruined a friendship. Feeling like a complete failure can be a lonely, depressing experience. One mother expressed her feelings of failure to her pastors in this way:

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The Line

One question I often get asked is: where is the line for being a Christian or not? 

You’d be surprised at how often I get asked that question.

Some people focus on a specific point and time for a decision to follow Christ. I certainly think that any decision of that magnitude should be the watershed in your history….and a hard to forget. But for some, they don’t really remember that “point”. For some it’s more gradual.

One seminary professor put it this way: “Everyone has to cross the Mississippi River to be a follower. You’re either on one side or the other. But the Mississippi River is narrower at some points than at other points. Some step over. Others ride a boat.”

I agree.

But the real problem today is that few actually knows what constitutes the “Mississippi River” of faith. Few know where the line lies. So here’s a simple way to remember:

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Is It Wrong to Have Doubts About God?

God wants us to believe in him. He wants us to place our faith in him and believe he has our best interest at heart. So is it wrong to have some doubts creep in—doubts over what God has to say about what he has commanded in the Bible or how we are to live out the Christian life?

The faith of the great John the Baptist seemed to waver when he was imprisoned and things were looking grim. He sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).

Remember this is the man who had said, “I testify that he [Jesus] is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:34). But after John was thrown into prison he must have wondered why Jesus wasn’t coming to rescue him. Like many of us do when faced with difficulties, John the Baptist experienced doubts.

I Dreamed a Dream: What Book Can Explain Jesus?

I dreamed last night that a friend I have been praying for finally became interested in Christianity. He asked me, “What’s the best book I can read to understand Christianity?” I was puzzled. At first, I thought, Mere Christianity, only to realize that Mere Christianity is better suited for a new Christian or someone who needs to become more serious about their faith. Then I was troubled. I didn’t have an answer.

My friend had asked me the question because he had recently heard me pray. While I was praying, he realized how much Jesus means to me and desired to believe—but wasn’t convinced yet—that there could be more to life. I assumed, in my dream, that the prayer made him realize that I actually believed that I was having a conversation with God: not just that I was petitioning, but that someone on the other side heard me, listened, and spoke back.

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