In my book, God’s Crime Scene, I explain how free agency presents a problem for atheistic naturalists who try to explain it from “inside the room” of the natural universe. In God’s Crime Scene, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe to determine if the best explanation for these evidences are found “inside” or “outside” the “room”. Free agency is one of the eight evidences I investigate. Materialistic atheists must address an important dilemma: according to their worldview, we live in a physical universe in which natural laws act on matter over time, yet we have the persistent, practical experience of making what appear to be free choices as we love, reason and make moral judgments. We also condemn or praise each other as though our choices and decisions are our own. How are we to reconcile the material, deterministic nature of the universe with our own experience of free will and responsibility?
One way to reconcile the deterministic nature of our material universe with our perception of free will is simply to redefine what we mean by “free will” in the first place. Some philosophers characterize free will as the unrestricted ability to make a choice when one “could have done otherwise.”
But what do they really mean when they say, “We could have done otherwise”? Many thinkers argue this simply means “I could have made an alternative choice if I wanted to.” While our choices are limited by our foundational desires and wants, as long as we are able to do what we want, we can be said to act freely. Under this definition, it really doesn’t matter if my initial wants or desires have been determined by physical processes; if my choices are at least aligned with these desires, one could say I am “doing what I want” freely.
Princeton University philosopher Harry Frankfurt categorized desires and wants into a two part hierarchy, distinguishing between “first-order” desires and “second-order” desires. Suppose, for example, my partner and I, while working a patrol shift, have a strong desire to eat. Suppose we also wish we didn’t have this desire, so we could handle our calls without distraction.
Our desire to eat is, according to Frankfurt, a “first-order” desire. Our desire to be rid of our desire to eat is a “second-order” desire. According to this view, “first-order” desires (or impulses) may simply be the result of material processes in our brains. If this is the case, we can’t be blamed for having these kind of desires. But humans have the unique ability to reflect on their desires and motivations, and this self-reflection is the foundation of free will, according to philosophers such as Frankfurt.
Even though our first-order desires may be determined by physical processes, if we evaluate these desires, agree with them, and then act on them willingly, we are (according to philosophers like Frankfurt) exercising “free will.” We can, therefore, be blamed (or praised) for our actions. But explanations such as these fail to account for free will for the following reasons:
We Don’t Typically Experience “First-Order”/“Second-Order” Thought Processes
Critics of Frankfurt’s explanation challenge the “first” and “second” order hierarchy on experiential grounds. Philosopher Gary Watson, for example, says we don’t typically ask ourselves “second-order” questions about our desires when making a decision. Instead, we usually ask “first-order” questions about what we should do. Critics like Watson believe Frankfurt has inaccurately described the nature of our free-will deliberations, and this criticism seems to be evidenced in our own personal experiences.
“Second-Order” Desires Are Just As Materialistically Restricted as “First-Order” Desires
The most obvious objection to “hierarchal” definitions of desire like the kind offered by Frankfurt is in understanding why higher, “second-order” desires would be any less physically determined than their lower, “first-order” counterparts. From a materialistic perspective (“inside the room” of a purely physical universe) how can we possess the “second-order” autonomy to freely evaluate and reflect upon “first-order” desires in the first place? The physical processes guiding (and limiting) our foundational wants and “first-order” desires are the same processes guiding and limiting our ability to evaluate these impulses at any higher level. How can one set of desires be determined, yet the other not? Unless we are free from the deterministic limits of matter and brain chemistry, all choices, regardless of position within the hierarchy of desire, are simply the result of physical processes beyond our control.
Efforts to solve the problem of free will by redefining it fail, just like other efforts from inside the room (including those described in God’s Crime Scene):
Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
Efforts to stay “inside the room” of the natural universe for an explanation of free agency simply fail to provide us with an adequate explanation for the freedom we all experience as conscious, thinking humans. If the explanation for free will isn’t found “inside the room”, maybe it’s time to look outside. For a more lengthy explanation of the role free agency plays in the case for God’s existence, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Six – Free Will or Full Wiring: Are Real Choices Even Possible?
Last Friday I posted a list of resources to help you make the case for Christianity. That list was borrowed from Cold-Case Christianity. Today I’d like to offer a short list of resources from God’s Crime Scene designed to help you make the case for God’s existence. In God’s Crime Scene, I explore the evidence in the universe using a simple investigative technique I borrowed from death scene investigations. 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’?” As we examine the universe around us, a similar opportunity is available. 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”?
God’s Crime Scene examines 8 different pieces of evidence in the universe. Can this evidence be explained by natural “internal” forces, or is an external “intruder” a better explanation? I read over 130 books to write God’s Crime Scene, and the book contains an “Expert Witness” section listing some of them. This section provides readers with three experts who try to explain the evidence from “inside the room” and three who explain the evidence from “outside the room”. In this post, I’ve listed the theistic authors who make the case for God’s existence from “inside the room,” using each category of evidence. These books (organized by chapters from God’s Crime Scene) are worth your time and should be part of any Christian Case Maker’s collection:
In the Beginning: Was the Universe an Inside Job?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the origin of the universe
William Lane Craig, with Quentin Smith and Paul Copan
Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology (Oxford University Press, 1995)
Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time (Crossway, 2001)
Creation Out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical and Scientific Exploration (Baker Academic, 2004)
John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn (Editors)
The Mystery of Existence (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)
Robert John Russell (Editor)
Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989)
Tampering With the Evidence: Who Is Responsible?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the fine-tuning of the universe
Neil A Manson (Editor)
God and Design; The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (Routledge, 2003)
Alister E. McGrath
A Fine Tuned Universe; The Quest for God in Science and Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009)
The Creator and the Cosmos (NavPress, 2001)
The Origin of Life: Does the Text Require an Author?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the origin of life
Stephen C. Meyer
Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne, 2009)
Werner Gitt, Bob Compton, and Jorge Fernandez
Without Excuse (Creation Book Publishers, 2011)
Who Made God? (Evangelical Press, 2012)
Signs of Design: Is There Evidence of An Artist?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the appearance of design in biology
Michael J. Behe
Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Free Press, 2006)
William A. Dembski
The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press, 1998)
The Cell's Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator's Artistry (Baker Books, 2008)
Our Experience of Consciousness: Are We More Than Matter?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the existence of consciousness
Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner's Guide) (Oneworld, 2007)
Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (Routledge, 2008)
Joel B. Green and Stuart L. Palmer (Editors)
In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem (IVP Academic, 2009)
Free Will or Full Wiring: Are Real Choices Even Possible?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from our experience of free agency
Mind, Brain, and Free Will (Oneworld, 2007)
Saint Augustine of Hippo
On Free Choice of the Will (Hackett Publishing Company, 1993)
Human Freedom and the Self (Lindley lecture) (University of Kansas Department of Philosophy, 1964)
Free Will (Robert Kane, Editor) “Human Freedom and the Self” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001)
Law and Order: Is Morality More Than An Opinion?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the existence of moral truth
David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls
Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oneworld, 2007)
John E. Hare
God and Morality: A Philosophical History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
Morality, Autonomy, and God (Oneworld Publications, 2013)
The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist?
Resources addressing the case for God’s existence from the presence of evil
C. S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain (HarperOne, 2009)
N. T. Wright
Evil and the Justice of God (IVP Books, 2013)
Peter Van Inwagen
The Problem of Evil: The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of St Andrews in 2003 (Clarendon Press, 2006)
I hope these resources inspire you to make the case for what you believe as a Theist. This short list has been excerpted from God’s Crime Scene. Please refer to my book to get the expanded list (including the list of books from atheist authors on the same topics. You’ll find it in “The Expert Witness” appendix of the book.
After speaking at a recent Christen leadership camp, the coordinator asked me to suggest some follow-up resources for the attendees. I sent the following list from the “Expert Witness” Section of my first book, Cold-Case Christianity. I’ve always considered my books to be “gateway” books for those who may not yet be familiar with the incredible scholarship available to all of us as Christians. It’s my goal to introduce you to people who are writing and teaching in the field. The following list is organized based on each chapter of Cold-Case Christianity. These books would make an excellent “starter” library for anyone interested in making the case for Christianity.
Don’t Be a “Know-It-All”
J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig
Will testify to the philosophical biases and presuppositions that impact issues of faith and reason in their book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2003).
Learn How to “Infer”
Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
Will testify to the minimal facts and evidences related to the resurrection in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004).
William Lane Craig
Will testify to the causal evidence related to the cosmological argument in his book The Kalām Cosmological Argument (Wipf & Stock, 2000).
Will testify to the fine-tuning evidence related to the anthropic principle in his book Universes (Taylor & Francis, 2002).
Will testify to the design evidence related to the teleological argument in his book God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (Routledge, 2003).
Paul Copan and Mark Linville
Will testify to the moral evidence related to the axiological argument in their book The Moral Argument (Continuum Publishers, 2013).
Test Your Witnesses
Will testify to the nature of the New Testament Gospels as eyewitness accounts of the life of Jesus in his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006).
Will testify to the early collection of the eyewitness accounts and their formation into the New Testament in his book The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (Oxford University Press, 1997).
Hang on Every Word
Will testify to the “forensic” methods of “textual criticism” that can be employed to study the Gospels and discuss some of the conclusions that can be drawn from this effort in his book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 2007).
Daniel B. Wallace
Will testify to what can be learned “forensically” about the early transmission of the New Testament documents in the compilation Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence (Kregel, 2011).
Separate Artifacts from Evidence
Will testify to the early formation of the biblical text, while exhibiting a number of ancient biblical manuscripts in her book In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000 (Smithsonian, 2006).
Will testify to the nature of the early New Testament papyrus manuscripts and the methodology used to re-create the original accounts in his book Early Manuscripts & Modern Translations of the New Testament (Wipf & Stock, 2001).
Resist Conspiracy Theories
Will testify to the nature of the lives and deaths of the apostles who claimed to see the resurrection of Jesus in his book The Search for the Twelve Apostles (Tyndale, 2008).
Respect the “Chain of Custody”
Mark D. Roberts
Will testify to the historical manuscript evidence and early appearance of the biblical record in his book Can We Trust the Gospels?: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Crossway, 2007).
Will testify to the writings and teachings of the early-church fathers in his book The Fathers of the Church, Expanded Edition (Our Sunday Visitor, November 2006).
Know When “Enough Is Enough”
Will testify to how we come to “know” something is true in his book, Epistemology: The Justification of Belief (InterVarsity Press, 1983).
Will testify to the classic atheist presentations of the “problem of evil” and the classic defenses (theodicies) that have been offered by theists in his book God and the Problem of Evil (Wiley-Blackwell, 2001).
Prepare for An Attack
Will testify to the assumptions and dubious sources account for some of the theories and tactics that have been employed by skeptics in Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 2006).
Will testify to successful and reasoned approaches that can be employed by those who seek to defend the Christian worldview in Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Zondervan, 2009).
Were They Present?
Will testify to the Semitic origin of the synoptic Gospels and how they were formed amidst the Jewish culture of the first half of the first century in his book, Birth of the Synoptic Gospels (Franciscan Herald Press, October 1987).
Will testify to an alternate theory about the early dating of the Gospels (that places Matthew ahead of Mark) by comparing the Gospels to one another and to the writings and records of the church fathers in his book Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem (InterVarsity Press, March 1992).
Were They Corroborated?
Will testify to the ancient Jewish references to Jesus that are scattered throughout the Talmud in his book Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton University Press, 2009).
R. T. France
Will testify to the nonbiblical ancient sources that corroborate the existence of Jesus in his book The Evidence for Jesus (Regent College, 2006).
Will testify to the archaeological corroboration of the New Testament in his book Archaeology and the New Testament (Baker, 2008).
Will testify (as an archaeologist) to the archaeological evidence that corroborates the final days of Jesus’s life in his book The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (HarperCollins, 2009).
Were They Accurate?
Will testify to the writings of the students of the apostles in his book The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Baker, 2007).
Will testify to the early history of Christianity and many of the characters who played a part in the “chain of custody” in his book Story of Christianity: Volume 1, The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (HarperOne, 2010).
Will testify to the transmission (and copying) of the gospel accounts in his book Lost In Transmission?: What We Can Know About the Words of Jesus (Thomas Nelson, 2007).
Were They Biased?
C. Bernard Ruffin
Will testify to the lives and martyrdoms of the apostles in his book The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary (Our Sunday Visitor, 1998).
Josh and Sean McDowell
Will testify to the reasonable conclusions that can be drawn about the testimony of the apostles in their book Evidence for the Resurrection (Regal, 2009).
I hope these resources inspire you to make the case for what you believe as a Christian. A few of these resources are rather academic, but most are easily accessible, popular works. They are a good first step related to the scholarship surrounding the New Testament Gospels and Christian belief. For more information related to the aforementioned chapters and the case for Christianity (including my perspective as a Cold-Case Detective), please refer to Cold-Case Christianity.
Even atheistic scientists stipulate to the appearance of design in biological organisms. Richard Dawkins would be the first to agree: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” One example of the appearance of design in molecular organisms has become the icon of the Intelligent Design movement. Biochemist Michal Behe wrote about the bacterial flagellum twenty years ago in his famous book, Darwin’s Black Box. The flagellum bears a striking resemblance to the rotary motors created by intelligent designers. University of Utah Biology Professor David Blair describes the amazing similarities: “An ensemble of over forty different kinds of proteins makes up the typical bacterial flagellum. These proteins function in concert as a literal rotary motor. The bacterial flagellum’s components stand as direct analogs to the parts of a man-made motor, including a rotor, stator, drive shaft, bushing, universal joint, and propeller.”
In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene, I describe eight attributes of design and explain how the presence of these attribute is best explained by the activity of a designer. When these eight design characteristics are present in objects we observe in our world, we quickly infer a designer without reservation. As it turns out, the same attributes of design (dubious probability, echoes of familiarity, sophistication and intricacy, informational dependency, goal direction, natural inexplicability, efficiency/irreducible complexity, and decision/choice reflection) are present in bacterial flagella, making them prohibitively difficult to explain on the basis of chance mutations and the laws of physics or chemistry alone. Life at its simplest and most foundational level demonstrates a staggering level of efficient complexity.
The natural mechanisms of strict evolutionary processes can’t explain the flagellum for an important reason: these processes can’t account for efficient, irreducibly complex micro-machines. Darwinian evolution requires a gradual and incremental pathway to any finished micro-machine. Like complex structures built from LEGO building blocks, sophisticated micro-machines, if assembled through an additive process of natural selection, must come into existence incrementally—“block by block.”
Committed as he is to the creative power of natural selection, Dawkins understands the necessity of gradualism and “incrementalism” in explaining the existence of micro-machines (such as the bacterial flagellum): “Evolution is very possibly not, in actual fact, always gradual. But it must be gradual when it is being used to explain the coming into existence of complicated, apparently designed objects, like eyes [or bacterial flagellum]. For if it is not gradual in these cases, it ceases to have any explanatory power at all.”
Dawkins recognizes the power irreducible complexity has to falsify naturalistic explanations (like any combination of chance, natural law, or natural selection). Even Charles Darwin recognized this dilemma when he wrote On the Origin of Species: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”.
The flagellum has dozens of necessary, interactive, inter-reliant pieces. With just one less part, the flagellum fails to operate as the efficient motor needed to provide motility to the bacterium.
The irreducible complexity of this large assemblage of pieces means the finished design of the flagellum must be constructed in one sweeping step; it cannot be assembled over several generations, unless the prior intermediate micro-machines also offer some advantage to the bacterium. If they don’t offer an advantage, and are instead a misshapen liability, or simply an unnecessary addition, natural selection will not favor the presence of the structure within the organism. In other words, natural selection will not “select” the “intermediates” to allow for further additions. Efficient, irreducibly complex structures point most reasonably to an intelligent designer. Philosopher and mathematician, William Dembski, puts it this way: “Once intelligence is out of the picture, evolution, as Darwin notes . . . has to be gradual. You can’t just magically materialize completely new structures out of nowhere. There has to be a path-dependence. You have to get there by some gradual route from something that already exists.”
Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
New officers at our police agency are issued Glock Model 21 handguns. We prefer these pistols for a number of reasons, including the fact they’re constructed from a smaller number of moving parts tha other models. As a result, they’re much easier to disassemble and clean, and far less likely to breakdown.
Even at a minimum level of complexity (relative to other handguns), the design inferences are obvious. My Glock 21 is irreducibly complex; the removal of just one piece in the overall assembly will not only render the weapon inoperative, but may, in fact, make it deadly to operate, especially for the officer trying to use it. The irreducible complexity of the handgun betrays the intelligent design of its creator. No process of chance, natural law (or even natural selection) can account for the Glock 21.
In a similar way, intelligent causation most reasonably accounts for the irreducibly complex nature of the bacterial flagellum, and alternative explanations relying on some evolutionary combination of chance, natural law or natural selection cannot. Dembski again: “Indeed, the other side has not even been able to imagine a putative evolutionary pathway, to say nothing of providing a detailed, step-by-step, fully articulated, testable evolutionary pathway to the flagellum.”
The most obvious and reasonable inference seems to be elusive to naturalists who try to account for the appearance of design in biological organisms. No explanation employing the laws of physics or chemistry from “inside the room” of the natural universe is adequate. The appearance of design in biology is yet another evidence demonstrating the existence of an “external” Divine Designer. This brief summary of evidence for design is excerpted from God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Four – Signs of Design: Is There Evidence of An Artist?