What would happen if an experienced homicide detective applied the investigative tools he uses to prove that God exists? Could he examine eight pieces of critical evidence in the “crime scene” of the universe to determine if they point to a “divine intruder”?
Bible Gateway interviewed former atheist J. Warner Wallace (@jwarnerwallace) about his book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook, 2015).
How does God’s Crime Scene differ from other books on Christian apologetics?
J. Warner Wallace: It’s my hope to add something of value to the historic case for God’s existence by providing a new investigative framework for the evidence. While other books certainly describe the facts, God’s Crime Scene incorporates investigative techniques from real-life crime scenes to examine eight key attributes of the universe. Each chapter begins with a real crime scene, based on my work as a Cold-Case Detective. I describe the specific forensic principle we used to solve the case, then we apply this technique to the evidence for God’s existence. God’s Crime Scene doesn’t just describe the evidence, it provides readers with the detective skills necessary to evaluate the evidence so they can make the case. It’s also fully illustrated to make the case clear.
What message are you trying to convey with the title?
J. Warner Wallace: I realize God’s Crime Scene might sound like I’m describing God as a criminal suspect, culpable of some kind of crime, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, I’m simply trying to apply crime scene investigative techniques to the universe to infer the most reasonable inference for what we all experience. I’m treating the universe as a crime scene to determine if there is good reason to believe we have an external “suspect”.
How does your profession as a cold-case homicide detective help you uncover evidence for Christianity and God’s existence, which led you to write this book?
J. Warner Wallace: My journey of faith was directly tied to my work as a detective. When I first encountered the New Testament Gospels, for example, I investigated and tested them as I would any set of eyewitness accounts (I described this process in Cold-Case Christianity). At the end of that process, I was comfortable with the reliable nature of the Gospel accounts except for the existence of the supernatural miracles of Jesus and the Resurrection. I thought the Gospels were some form of historical fiction. But I decided to take an additional step in my investigation to determine if my bias against the supernatural was warranted. I examined the universe the same way I examined other targeted scenes and I applied the same scrutiny I did to other pieces of evidence in such scenes. The result is the process I describe In God’s Crime Scene.
Explain “inside the room” and “outside the room.” What common detective investigative technique do you use to examine the cause of the universe?
J. Warner Wallace: Every death investigation presents one of four possibilities; the victim 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. Accidental deaths, natural deaths, and suicides can occur without an intruder. Homicide detectives, therefore, are looking for evidence of outside involvement.
One important question must be asked and answered: “Can the evidence ‘in the room’ be explained by staying ‘in the room’?” If, for example, there is a victim in the room with a gunshot injury lying next to a handgun, but the doors are locked from the inside, all the DNA and fingerprints in the room come back to the victim, the gun is registered to the victim and there are no signs of an outside intruder, this is simply the scene of a suicide or accidental death. If, however, there exist fingerprints or DNA of an unknown suspect, the gun does not belong to the victim, and there are bloody footprints leading outside the room, detectives must consider the reasonable inference of murder. When the evidence in the room cannot be explained by staying inside the room and is better explained by a cause outside the room, there’s a good chance a murderer is on the loose. Intruders turn death scenes into crime scenes.
As we examine the universe around us, a similar opportunity awaits those who want to begin the most important of all investigations. Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside “intruder”? Can the universe be explained by natural “internal” forces, or is an external “intruder” a better explanation? God’s Crime Scene was written to help readers examine the nature of the universe as they sift through eight important characteristics of the cosmos, biological organisms, and human experience, considering each as though it were a piece of evidence at a crime scene.
How do the judicial terms of explanatory liabilities and explanatory virtues enter into your approach to proving God’s existence?
J. Warner Wallace: In every case I’ve investigated, the explanations ultimately offered by the prosecution and defense teams possess both virtues and liabilities. Even true explanations typically suffer from unanswered questions or explanatory liabilities (weaknesses in understanding or knowing precisely what happened). It’s our responsibility, then, to evaluate every explanation to see which explanation possesses the greatest number of virtues and the least liabilities. In God’s Crime Scene, I describe all the virtues and liabilities from explanations offered from “inside the room” and “outside the room”. I also point readers to the best three atheist defenders and theist apologists so readers can examine the case for themselves. In the end, the explanations offered by those who describe an all-powerful Creator “outside the room” possess the greater explanatory power and the least number of explanatory liabilities.
What do you mean when you write, “Intruders turn a sense of curiosity into a sense of urgency”?
J. Warner Wallace: Death scenes provoke a response from those who are investigating them. When a death occurs accidentally, naturally, or because of a suicide, criminal investigators may have a sense of curiosity about what happened, but there won’t be any sense of urgency to catch the murderer. If the evidence in the death scene can be explained from inside the room, curiosity will rule the day. On the other hand, if investigators believe they have a murder (because the evidence in the scene can’t be explained from inside the room), everything changes. Curiosity turns into urgency as detectives quickly move to identify and capture the intruder who is responsible for the crime. Intruders turn a sense of curiosity into a sense of urgency.
In a similar way, if the evidence in the universe cannot be explained from “inside the room”, we ought to have a sense of urgency about this reality. If there’s a Divine Intruder we ought to passionately pursue him.
What four categories of evidence do you explore?
J. Warner Wallace: In God’s Crime Scene, I identify eight pieces of evidence in the universe in four very divergent categories:
Cosmological evidence (1. A universe that has a beginning, and 2. The fine tuning of our universe for the existence of life),
Biological evidence (3. The origin of life in our universe, and 4. The appearance of design in biological organisms),
Mental evidence (5. Consciousness, and 6. Free agency), and
Moral evidence (7. The existence of transcendent, objective moral truths, and 8. The presence of Evil).
These eight pieces of evidence simply cannot be explained from “inside the room” of the natural universe. In fact, the best explanation for these features of the universe is found “outside the room,” and the divergent nature of these evidences makes the case all the more compelling.
What is the “cumulative case for an intelligent designer”?
J. Warner Wallace: Famed atheist and evolutionist, Richard Dawkins has written, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” In God’s Crime Scene I try to identify the attributes of design all of us recognize (either consciously or unconsciously) when we identify intelligently designed objects. To make these attributes easier to remember, I’ve assembled them in an acronym (DESIGNED):
D – Dubious Probability (Given Chance); Is random chance an insufficient explanation for the formation and assembly of the object we are examining?
E – Echoes of Familiarity; Does the object resemble other structures we know (with certainty) were designed by intelligent designers?
S – Sophistication and Intricacy; Does the object display specificity, sophistication and intricacy consistent with the involvement of an intelligent agent?
I – Informational Dependency; Is there any evidence the object was directed and created by way of instructional information?
G – Goal Direction (and Intentionality); Does the form and assembly process of the object process to be goal-directed?
N – Natural Inexplicability (Given Laws of Physics or Chemistry); Are the laws of physics and chemistry insufficient to account for the form and function of the object?
E – Efficiency / Irreducible Complexity; Does the object display efficient, irreducible complexity reflecting the involvement of an intelligent designer?
D – Decision / Choice Reflection; Does the object display evidence of conscious choices indicative of an intelligent designer?
We don’t need all the attributes of design to be present in order to correctly infer the involvement of an intelligent agent, but the more attributes we identify, the more reasonable the inference. There are many biological organisms that possess these attributes of design, including the modern icon of the Intelligent Design movement, the bacterial flagellum. Even if we skeptically rejected the presence of some of these design characteristics in biological micro-machines like the bacterial flagellum, the strength of the inference for design is still very strong, given the remaining pieces of the cumulative case. In God’s Crime Scene, I describe each of these design attributes in much greater great detail as I navigate the structure of flagella. I also examine the naturalistic explanations of those who deny the existence of an Intelligent Designer.
How do you approach the subject of good and evil coexisting?
J. Warner Wallace: Few people witness as much horrific evil as homicide detectives. I’ve certainly seen my share. But what do we really mean when we say something is evil? Are we saying we just don’t like it personally, or are we saying there are some things that are truly, transcendently, objectively evil? Is evil nothing more than a matter of opinion? If so, we could remove all evil by simply changing our minds about what we thought was evil in the first place. If we can’t eliminate evil in this way, we need to think about why and how transcendent notions of evil could exist.
While evil might at first appear to be a strong evidence against the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving Divine Creator, it may actually be the best possible evidence for the existence of such a Being. Unless we are prepared to dismiss evil as nothing more than whatever fails to please our private desires or opinions, we’re going to need a transcendent standard of good by which to evaluate and identify anything as evil. As crazy as it might sound at first, the existence of true evil, the kind that transcends each of us as individuals and groups, is dependent on the existence of a true, transcendent standard of good. True evil is evidence for God’s existence.
The only thing left to us, then, is to understand why an all-loving, all-powerful God might allow evil to occur. That’s what I hope to do with a seven-part explanatory template in God’s Crime Scene.
What outcomes do you hope for once someone has read your book?
J. Warner Wallace: I wrote God’s Crime Scene to chronicle my own journey from atheism, to provide the case for those who are genuinely seeking to know the truth about God’s existence, and to encourage those who already call themselves believers. If you’re a skeptic, I hope to show you to the strength of theistic explanations for the universe and the weakness of atheistic accounts. If you’re a believer, I hope to provide you with the evidence in a way that’s both easy to understand and communicate to others.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
J. Warner Wallace: I’ve been using the Bible Gateway for many years as both a pastor and case maker. It’s my “go to” website to research the Bible so I can “connect the dots” from the New and Old Testament. It’s one of only a few apps I have on my phone to study God’s Word on the go.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
J. Warner Wallace: I believe each of us is called to be a Two-Decision Christian. If you’ve already decided God exists, take a second step and decide to make the case for what you believe. Become a case-making believer. I hope to encourage believers to make this second decision, and I hope God’s Crime Scene will help them fulfill their calling. Start small. Read and study. Engage your friends. Get in the game.
Bio: J. Warner Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker, and author of Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. He’s been featured repeatedly on Dateline, FOX News, and Court TV. He’s part of a three generation law enforcement family. J. Warner and his wife have four children and live in southern California.