Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Read It So You Don't Have To: God's Crime Scene

Christian apologetics is hardly anything new in American literature, but the genre’s latest work by author J. Warner Wallace has taken a novel new approach in making a case for the existence of God. Wallace, a former L.A. County detective and former atheist, claims to apply his years of experience in examining evidence to conclude that the universe must have had a divine creator. “God’s Crime Scene” joins a growing number of books that attempts to use an atheist’s favorite tools – evidence and reason – against them. Unfortunately for Wallace, this tactic hasn’t worked for creation scientists and it doesn’t work now.

In making his case, Wallace attempts to use a number of analogies, which – judging from a number of reviews – seem to be quite engaging and convincing. This is as one would suspect from other theists who are not adapt at questioning whether an analogy is correct, much less question the conclusion the author draws. For example, Wallace begins the book by describing a possible suicide inside a house and looking for clues that might give him reason to think that what took place was actually murder. To do this, Wallace is going to look for things that may not be native to the scene such as mud on the floor or another person’s fingerprints or DNA. In other words, can Wallace account for things in the room as only being from inside the room? And right here, at the very beginning, Wallace’s analogies go awry.

If one is in the habit of questioning, one would be inclined to ask if a house is like the universe. The answer would be “no” because we have knowledge of things that can be outside of a house and brought in, but we have no knowledge of things outside of the universe that can be brought into the universe, seeing how we’ve never seen something inside the universe outside of the universe. To begin a book with such a flawed analogy does not help Wallace establish any credibility. Any credibility or benefit of the doubt one might have given Wallace for being a detective evaporates so quickly, one suspects Wallace took part in the now infamous O.J. Simpson case. (Defending or accepting Wallace’s arguments on the account of his credentials is The Argument from Authority logical fallacy anyway.)

Soon thereafter, Wallace glides into his first chapter which attempts to determine if the universe had a beginning. This appears to be an important point to apologists since given an infinitely old universe, an infinite number of possibilities might take place, such as the emergence of life. So then, the thinking goes, if the universe had a beginning, something must have set it in motion. (And, if the evidence indicates the universe was designed, it must have had a single designer. Nevermind that you never see complex structures built by a single person, but, whatever.) In order to argue against an infinitely old universe, Wallace likens a cause and effect universe to an infinite number of handguns in his police armory. If Wallace removes every fourth gun, he says, he is removing an infinite number from an infinite number, which is clearly nonsensical. The author then concludes that you cannot do the same thing with causes and effect either, so clearly the universe cannot be infinitely old. Problem is, infinite and abstract causes and effects are nothing like an infinite number of material objects. Nor is it hard to imagine how an infinite number of causes and effects are possible if one considers God’s (supposedly) infinite nature. Another bad analogy from which Wallace derives one of just many rushed conclusion.

Because it is an important point to apologists, Wallace perhaps feels (rightly so) that this argument isn’t enough to convince a skeptic and continues to argue for a universe with a beginning. So, using science to lend his argument validity, asserts that cosmologists and physicists largely agree that the universe began with the Big Bang. This is true, though Wallace doesn’t mention here that the Big Bang theory is running into a number of competing theories about the universe’s origin lately. (The least of which include a holographic universe theory and corrections to Einstein’s theory of general relativity.) A bit more on target, Wallace argues that we could never arrive the finish line that is ‘today’ without there being a beginning from which to start from. Nice try, Wallace, but what is ‘today’? Is it right…now? But now has already come and gone, which makes one wonder just how long is now? Like the universe’s origin, Wallace doesn’t give any thought here to the slippery concept of time which most physicists agree is in a lot more trouble than theories of the origin of the universe. Wallace even gives too much credit to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as it is not entirely sure that the universe is a closed system. (Of course, anyone who knows anything about science knows that nothing is 100% certain, which makes it curious that any apologist would lean on science to argue for the existence of God. Or maybe it’s not so curious as theists are finding out that appealing to blind faith is not enough to withstand criticism.)

Throughout the book, Wallace continues to make bad analogy after bad analogy from which he continually derives conclusions long since discredited by atheists. (Honestly, I don’t know why apologists are still using the ‘fine tuning’ argument.) At best, Wallace’s arguments would result in there being multiple entities involved in the construction of the universe, or to use Wallace’s own analogy, suspects in this ‘murder.’

Reviews for “God’s Crime Scene” have been glowing, which is understandable once you consider the book’s audience, most of whom do not possess the philosophical skills to call B.S. when they see it much less the bravery to say so when they do. I do think the author’s approach is intriguing – hence my initial interest in the book – and the book is written with a clear, easy to understand voice. The side bars that describe the methods by which detective work is conducted is interesting as well, but these skills obviously do not translate into believable conclusions about the supernatural. As the author indicates, he is a former detective and not a lawyer, with a lawyer being someone who would destroy Wallace’s conclusions in an actual trial on the matter.

I give the book two stars (out of five) for a gallant and unique effort in a field crowded with philosophical shenanigans. Wallace’s prose is clearly written for the layperson, but so much so that his arguments fall deaf upon trained ears. I wish Wallace better luck with his next book; “Cold Case Islam.”

[“Cold Case Islam” would be Wallace’s next logical book and a follow up to his first book, “Cold Case Christianity” in which the author’s investigative skills lead him to conclude that everything the Bible says about Jesus is true. Given that there is far more evidence for the life of the prophet Mohammed, I would be curious to see what conclusions Wallace would make about the Muslim prophet.]

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