At the age of 35 I found myself, a committed atheist, sitting in an evangelical church service with my wife. I was a tenured detective at a local police agency in Los Angeles County, and I was known as a skeptic by those few believing coworkers who dared to engage me on issues related to the existence of God.
None of the Christians I worked with could tell me why Christianity was evidentially true. After every conversation with these well-meaning believers, I was increasingly confident in my atheism.
But there I was, sitting in church with my wife, who was far more open to the claims of Christianity. I grudgingly agreed to go, and about halfway through the sermon, the pastor started talking about Jesus as a smart, ancient sage — the source of valuable, time-tested wisdom.
I had no interest in God, but I always admired smart people, so a few weeks later I bought my first Bible and started reading about Jesus. The more I read the Gospels, the more I saw similarities between the New Testament accounts and the multiple-eyewitness statements I’d investigated as a detective.
I found myself testing the gospel authors the same way I tested eyewitnesses in my professional work. After about six months of diligent (my wife would say obsessive) study, I determined the Gospels were reliable in every way I could test them. (You can learn a lot more about this process in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity.)
But there was still one problem: these accounts included a record of supernatural events (such as the Resurrection), and as a committed philosophical naturalist, I couldn’t accept the possibility of anything supernatural. That’s when I started a serious investigation into the existence of God, which I write about in my latest book, God’s Crime Scene.
Homicide detectives employ a simple strategy when trying to determine if a death is a murder. Every death investigation presents one of four possibilities: the victim either died accidentally, died from natural causes, committed suicide, or was murdered.
Only one of these circumstances requires someone outside the room to enter the scene. Homicide detectives, therefore, are looking for evidence of outside involvement. We ask one important question: Can the evidence “in the room” be explained by staying “in the room”?
I applied this approach when I examined the evidence for God’s existence. I ask the simple question: Can the evidence “inside the room” of the natural universe be explained by staying “inside the room?”
I came to a rational, if not uncomfortable, conclusion. The best explanation for the evidence we see in the natural universe doesn’t lie in the universe at all. Here is a very brief summary of four evidences pointing to a Divine Creator of the universe:
1. The cosmological evidence
Evidence has been mounting for many years suggesting we live in a finite universe — all space, time, and matter had a beginning. But if the universe has a “beginning,” what “began” it? Physicists are now searching for the vastly powerful, non-material, a-temporal, non-spatial cause of the universe, and most have conceded this cause must exist “outside” the natural realm.
Scientists also admit the universe appears to be designed, even if many refuse to acknowledge the existence of a supernatural designer. The forces in the universe are incredibly and finely calibrated (at many levels) to make carbon-based life possible. Any small alteration of just one of hundreds of laws and conditions would destroy the possibility of life as we know it.
Is the existence of our life-permitting universe simply a matter of good fortune, physical necessity, or observational phenomena? Each answer from “inside the room” fails to provide an adequate explanation. If, however, there is an “external” fine-tuner with a purpose and goal in mind, our fine-tuned universe isn’t all that surprising.
2. The biological evidence
The development and diversity of life is typically explained scientifically through some process of neo-Darwinian evolution, but the transformation from non-living chemicals to the first, most primitive forms of life (a process known as “chemical evolution”) is still a complete mystery.
Those who try to explain the origin of life from “inside the room” are unable to provide a reasonable location or chemical pathway. The laws of nature inside our universe simply cannot account for the emergence of life.
Most scientists agree biological systems “appear” to be designed. Many molecular, biological structures and organisms display attributes of design, including irreducible complexity, similarity to other objects we know to be designed, goal direction, natural inexplicability, signs of decision making, and perhaps most importantly, informational dependency.
Scientists recognize the guiding role DNA plays in the formation of biological systems. DNA is actually a digital code; it is information, and our common experience tells us information is always the product of an intelligent agent. What intelligent agent “inside the room” of the natural universe could account for such information?
3. The mental evidence
As humans, we are aware of our existence and a variety of mental states (thoughts, beliefs, desires, volitions, and sensations). The question, “What’s on your mind?” makes sense because we recognize we have private, immaterial thoughts we can share. We think, believe, recall, desire, and emote.
We answer the question, “Who are you?” with more than a simple physical description because we are more than our physical bodies. But how does non-material consciousness emerge in a purely material universe? Naturalists searching for an answer “inside the room” simply cannot provide an adequate explanation for what they have termed “The Problem of Mind.”
Our experience also leads us to believe our actions are not simply caused by some prior physical force or event; we believe we have the freedom to act in spite of such material forces. We experience “free agency” as it were.
In addition to this, we live in societies that presume “free agency” on the part of every human being within the larger group. We write laws and hold each other accountable as though we had the freedom to either obey or disobey these laws. But how can we explain such free agency from “inside the room” of a purely physical universe?
If atheistic naturalists are right, our thoughts and decisions are nothing more than the consequence of prior physical events beyond our control. Honest, thoughtful atheists actually reject free agency as illusory. But this isn’t supported by the evidence of our daily experience.
If a conscious Mind “outside the room” of the universe created us in His image, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves experiencing the conscious mental life (and free agency) we all enjoy.
4. The moral evidence
Each of us feels a certain obligation to “moral duty” — an intuitive sense of moral “oughtness.” We recognize some things are right and others are wrong, regardless of culture, time, or location.
It’s never morally “right,” for example, to torture people for the “fun” of it. We also recognize true moral virtues like courage and compassion. These moral vices and virtues are objective in the sense that they stand above (and apart from) all of us as humans; they are not simply creations of our liking. Instead, they are independent and transcendent.
We may discover moral truth, but we do not invent it. Because of this, we are able to look across history and culture and make meaningful judgments about the moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of actions. We recognize individuals and cultures cannot be the sole source of moral law; there is instead a “law above laws” transcending all of us.
So, where does transcendent, objective moral truth come from if it doesn’t come from the individuals and cultures who live “inside the room” of the natural universe?
If evil can be defined and grounded in personal or cultural opinions “inside the room” of the universe, we could eliminate all evil by simply changing our opinions. But we know this simply won’t do. Real, transcendent evil requires a real, transcendent standard of good by which evil can be measured and evaluated. This kind of standard must transcend the universe we live in and can best be explained by a transcendent source of moral good “outside the room” of the universe.
* * *
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a homicide detective, it’s this: the more evidence you have pointing to the same suspect, the more reasonable the inference. There are eight pieces of evidence, in four categories, pointing to the existence of a Divine Creator of our universe.
The best explanation for the evidence “inside the room” of the universe is an uncaused, all-powerful, non-spatial, a-temporal, non-material, purposeful, intelligent, communicative, creative, resourceful, conscious mind with the freedom to choose personally and act as the source of moral truth and obligation, even as He provides the standard by which we define evil.
The best explanation for the evidence “inside the room” is a suspect “outside the room.” For a committed naturalist like me, this conclusion was difficult to accept, but it was clearly the most reasonable inference given the evidence.
Amazingly, this external “suspect” sounds a lot like the God of the Bible, and I was able to develop this suspect profile without ever opening a page of Scripture. I eventually found myself surrendering to the power of the case. How could I not? Four separate lines of evidences demonstrate we are living in a God-created universe.
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