In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of “free will”. Strict atheistic determinists like Sam Harris don’t even make an effort to explain how free will could exist “inside the room” of the natural, physical universe. Instead, they describe free will as completely illusory and challenge the rest of us to explain why we find it necessary to possess (or account for) it in the first place. Harris sees no need for free will to effectively prosecute law breakers: “We need not have any illusions that a causal agent lives within the human mind to recognize that certain people are dangerous.” Criminals still need to be isolated from potential victims, even if their actions are not the result of free will. In the end, according to determinists like Harris, we need not acknowledge nor accept the existence of free will to explain our need for a criminal justice system. In fact, Harris argues our world would be a far better place if we accepted the non-existence of free will: “Once we recognize that even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are, the logic of hating (as opposed to fearing) them begins to unravel.” Harris believes our inclinations toward hatred would be reduced if we came to accept free will as an illusion. But is Harris’ optimism justified, and does this attitude toward free will do anything to explain our own experiences of free agency?
This Explanation Is Not Supported By the Evidence
Our experience of (and belief in) free will appears to be an innate and necessary characteristic of human beings, and studies continue to show what happens when we reject this attribute of our being. Our native experience of free will seems to cut across cultural boundaries. In a 1998 International Social Survey Program study, people from thirty-six countries were surveyed. More than 70% agreed their life was in their own hands. More importantly, a number of studies have demonstrated people behave differently if they can be convinced they have no free will. In 2008, researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia conducted experiments highlighting the relationship between a belief in Determinism and immoral behavior. They found students who were exposed to deterministic literature prior to taking a test were more likely to cheat on the test than students who were not exposed to literature advocating Determinism. The researchers concluded those who deny free will are more inclined to believe their efforts to act morally are futile and are, therefore, less likely to do so. In addition, a study conducted by researchers from Florida State University and Kentucky University found participants who were exposed to deterministic literature were more likely to act aggressively and less likely to be helpful toward others. Even determinist Michael Gazzaniga concedes: “It seems that not only do we believe we control our actions, but it is good for everyone to believe it.” The existence of free will is a common characteristic of our experience, and when we deny we have this sort of free agency, there are detrimental consequences.
This Explanation Eliminates the Hope of Rehabilitation
I work closely with Corrections Officers who operate and supervise correctional facilities (jails and penitentiaries) in our county and state. If free will is an illusion, none of us is truly free to make decisions of our own volition. In a world like this, correctional facilities are unnecessary. If none of us is able to make the decisions necessary to change or correct our behavior, jails and penitentiaries are nothing more than detention facilities. If Determinism is true, we can detain those who might hurt us, but there’s little point in trying to rehabilitate evil-doers by encouraging them to change their behavior. I have seen men and women experience transformation while in prison and emerge with renewed purpose and character. While it may be rare, it does occur. But this kind of true transformation requires people to make different choices, and this assumes people have the ability and freedom to do so.
Atheists who are willing to deny the very existence of “free will” pay a huge price when doing so. If our free agency is simply an illusion, so is any expression of love, empathy or compassion. If free will is illusory, so is any expression of creativity or reasoning. No genuine act of love, empathy, compassion, creativity or reasoning occurs without a free choice. Worse yet, no one could truly be held culpable for any act unless he or she was acting freely. The existence of “free will” is an important piece of evidence in the universe and is impossible to explain if atheistic determinism is true. Denying the true existence of free agency only makes the problem worse. The best explanation for “free will” is simply the existence of a creative Free Agent outside the limits of the physical universe who has created free humans in His image. This short blog post is a limited excerpt from God’s Crime Scene. For more information, please refer to Chapter Six - Free Will or Full Wiring: Are Real Choices Even Possible?
In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe the difference between inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. Facts or circumstances pointing toward the involvement of a particular suspect are said to be inculpatory. Evidence that might clear a suspect from suspicion is said to be exculpatory. While my book outlines a comprehensive, cumulative case inculpating a Divine Creator (based on the origin and fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life and appearance of design in biology, the existence of consciousness and free will, and the presence of objective moral truths), we must weigh these inculpating evidences against the one potentially exculpating piece of evidence: the presence of evil and injustice.
Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
Given the abundance of evidence pointing to a Divine Creator (described in the book), I believe it’s reasonable to conclude this is the most sensible explanation for the uncaused first cause of the universe. From this conclusion we can test our suspect in light of additional evidence. While evil is only a single piece of exculpating evidence relative to the many other inculpating evidences we’ve discovered, it is not an insignificant piece of data. As professor of metaphysics, Robin Le Poidevin says: “It is an indisputable fact that the history of the world contains some of the most appalling suffering imaginable, suffering that is either the result of natural disaster, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, disease and famine, or the result of human actions, such as wars, ecological disasters and religious persecution. Does this present a problem for theism? Certainly there is a case to answer if we believe in a deity who is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good. If he is all-knowing, he will be aware of suffering; if he is all-powerful, he will be able to prevent suffering; and if he is perfectly good, he will desire to prevent suffering. But, clearly, he does not prevent suffering, so either there is no such deity. Or, if there is, he is not all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly good. Though he may be one or two of these.”
Can these evils such as those describe by Poidevin be reconciled to the existence of a Divine Creator? I believe they can, and I provide a seven part template in God’s Crime Scene in an effort to describe the complex, interconnected, causal relationships involved in any single act of evil. But a more foundational question must be asked before we can even begin to apply any thoughtful template to the problem of evil. In a universe without God, can true evil exist in the first place?
I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best prosecutors in the State of California. The very best, in my opinion, is Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin. We’ve been working cases together for nearly twenty years, and we’ve faced some of the finest defense attorneys in the county. Most recently, we investigated and tried a cold-case homicide in which Robert Shapiro (of O.J. Simpson fame) defended our murder suspect. The trial occurred in Los Angeles over the course of several weeks, and the defense team called a number of witnesses in an effort to demonstrate their client’s innocence. None of these witnesses were effective. In fact, John Lewin systematically rebutted each and every one of them during his cross-examination. Some of these witnesses were caught in lies. Others eventually agreed publicly with our conclusions related to the guilt of the defendant rather than with the defense’s conclusions related to the innocence of the defendant.
When this happened in front of our jury, Shapiro’s defense witnesses unwittingly became our best possible prosecution witnesses. There are times when what seems like an asset to one side of the argument becomes an asset for the other. In a similar way, while the existence of 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. In my effort to describe why evil is, in fact, evidence of the Creator’s existence, I’ve yet to find a description as clear and evocative as that of C. S. Lewis:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: A fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too - for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense.
Unless, like Lewis suggests, we are prepared to dismiss evil as nothing more than whatever fails to please our “private fancies,” we’re going to need a transcendent “straight line” by which to evaluate the “crookedness” of evil. Unless there is a transcendent, Divine standard of “straightness,” evil is simply a matter of opinion. If this is the case, we can eliminate evil tomorrow. All we have to do is change our opinion of it.
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 the seven-part explanatory template I mentioned earlier. This brief blog post doesn’t do justice to that effort, so I’ll commend God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Eight - The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist?
In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I describe eight pieces of evidence “in the room” of the natural universe and ask a simple question: Can this evidence be explained by staying “inside the room” or is a better explanation “outside the room” of naturalism? One important piece of evidence I consider in this effort is the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. Many atheistic philosophers, while they recognize the existence of such truths, attempt to explain them from “inside the room” by describing moral truths as “brute facts” of the cosmos. Like mathematical truths and the laws of logic, moral truths are described as “fixed features” of the universe. According to these naturalistic philosophers, humans don’t create such truths; we simply become aware of them after careful reflection. Moral laws, under this view, are every bit as binding on us as the laws of logic or math. By claiming moral truths are simply brute facts, atheists are able to explain their existence from “inside the room,” but this explanation, while it recognizes and affirms the existence of objective moral truth, fails to adequately explain its origin:
This Approach Fails to Account for Moral “Obligations”
It’s one thing to acknowledge a particular fact, but another to be obligated to submit to such a fact. Describing moral truth as a brute fact of the universe serves to identify and affirm moral truths without explaining why there are moral obligations. Philosophers David Baggett and Jerry Walls put it this way: “Naturalism can make good sense of why we might feel or believe that we have moral obligations, but it has a much harder time explaining moral obligations themselves, and its deterministic framework means that vital moral categories, to survive, have to be watered down and replaced.” The laws of mathematics and logic describe “what is,” but moral laws describe “what ought to be,” and moral claims and legal statutes represent obligations between persons.
This Approach Fails to Explain Why There Are Brute Facts
Those who describe the existence of objective moral truth claims as brute facts of the universe have only taken the first step in explaining their existence. When I discover a piece of evidence in a crime scene, it’s not enough for me to simply identify its existence. I’ve got to figure out how the evidence got in the scene in the first place. Why is it there? If moral truth is a brute fact of the universe, we should reasonably ask why this is the case and begin to examine what kind of universe would necessarily possess moral obligations in the first place.
This Approach Disconnects Morality from Mind
As philosopher John Rist observes, moral ideals are “objects of thoughts, not mere constructs or concepts.” This poses a problem for those who think transcendent moral truths are a brute fact of the universe. The notion of a transcendent, eternal “object of thought” without a transcendent, eternal “thinker of thoughts” is incomprehensible. Baggett and Walls put it this way: “The need for Platonic forms ultimately to be grounded in a mind that recognizes them is once again keenly felt. ‘Free floating metaphysical items’ do not have the ontological strength and stability that we think morality must have. Even if we discern these moral truths before we identify their deeper foundations, this only reminds us again that the order of knowing is distinct from the order of being.”
This Approach Suppresses Further Investigation
As with similar efforts to explain the reason for the universe’s existence (I also describe these in Chapter Two of God’s Crime Scene), explanations such as “that’s just the way it is,” or “that’s a pointless question” are largely unsatisfying and serve to suppress further investigation rather than lead us to the truth. Detectives who take this approach typically don’t solve many murders. If reasonable explanations are available, we ought not to ignore them in favor of “that’s just the way it is.”
Atheist philosophers who recognize the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths have a difficult task at hand. How can such transcendent truths and personal obligations be grounded in something other than a Transcendent Personal Being? The better explanation is a transcendent, all-powerful Being “outside the room” of the natural universe. If such a powerful Being exists, He would certainly have the power to eliminate moral imperfection. This kind of Being could adequately ground the objective, transcendent moral truths we all recognize. This short blog is an excerpt from God’s Crime Scene. For more information, refer to Chapter Seven - Law and Order: Is Morality More Than An Opinion?
In my new book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I examine eight pieces of evidence in the universe by asking a simple investigative question: “Can I explain the evidence ‘in the room’ (of the natural universe) by staying ‘in the room’?” This is a question I ask at every death scene to determine if I actually have a crime scene. When evidence “in the room” can’t be explained by staying “in the room”, I’ve got to consider the involvement of an intruder. If the evidence inside the universe can’t be explained by staying “inside” the natural realm of the universe, we must similarly consider the involvement of a cosmic intruder. One critical piece of the evidence in the universe is the existence of transcendent moral truths. Can we explain these truths by staying “inside the room”?
Many atheistic philosophers and thinkers seek to explain moral truth from “inside the room” of the natural universe by offering societies and cultures as the source of morality. According to this view (termed “moral relativism”), morality varies from culture to culture. There are no objective, transcendent, universal moral standards “on all men at all times.” Moral relativists believe cultures and people groups create their moral codes rather than discover them. Moral codes are a social construct designed by the majority to help the group maintain social harmony and increase their ability to survive. But if cultural agreement determines moral truth, several problems emerge:
This Approach Confuses Cultural Diversity with Moral Clarity
Moral relativism rightly recognizes the cultural and moral diversity of our world, but this observation fails to falsify the existence of transcendent, objective moral truths. Cultures can differ on their beliefs about what causes tuberculosis, for example, but this does not mean there isn’t an objective truth about the cause and nature of the disease. Diversity of subjective belief has little to do with the existence of objective truth.
This Approach Fails to Identify Which “Culture” Reigns
If moral truths emerge from the consensus of people groups, which people group gets to decide? Does size or power dictate which groups are qualified to be an authority? Moral relativism denies us the ability to declare one group more authoritative than the other, unless we are willing to appeal to an authority transcending all groups.
Illustrations from God's Crime Scene
This Approach Silences Cross-Cultural Criticism
If moral truth is a product of cultural consensus, no specific culture is in the position to criticize or praise the behavior of any other culture. Moral relativism does not allow us to say, “Torture is objectively wrong.” At best we can simply proclaim, “We don’t like torture here in our culture.” But why should anyone care what we think in the first place if moral truth is relative to each culture? If morals are simply the product of cultural opinion, proclamations about moral truth are like statements about food preferences: interesting, but ultimately meaningless.
This Approach Is Too Dependent On Agreement
If people groups decide what is morally right or wrong, how are we to consider a particular act if there is no definitive cultural agreement? Does this mean an act has no moral status until a majority of us can agree? And how large does the majority have to be? The issue of abortion, for example, is still a fluid and hotly debated topic. Consensus is sometimes difficult to find, particularly in some regions of the United States. Does the lack of consensus mean abortion is neither morally right nor morally wrong? If moral relativism is true, we can’t make a declaration on the moral status of any act until we’ve reached a cultural consensus.
This Approach Marginalizes Moral Reformers
If moral truth is decided by cultural agreement, based on the beliefs of the majority—how are we to evaluate those individuals in the minority? Wouldn’t they be considered immoral by definition? Moral reformers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who began their efforts at moral reform as individuals advocating a minority view, would be powerless to effect change if moral truth was truly established as moral relativists propose. Reformers such as these appeal to moral truths transcending the majority opinion when they argue for change. If moral truth begins at the level of culture, there is no authority above one’s society to whom we can appeal.
This Approach Encourages and Employs Immoral Behavior
If moral codes are systematically created and embraced by cultures in an effort to maintain social harmony and increase survivability, how are we to avoid culturally selfish acts? If a particular activity increases the social harmony and survivability of our culture—but accomplishes this at the brutal expense of a neighboring culture—does this make the behavior morally acceptable? Slavery can actually increase the survivability of one culture over another—especially over the cultures enslaved. In fact, one argument for the continuation of slavery in America revolved around its benefits to the economy. Goals related to survivability, including economic survivability, can and have been co-opted to excuse self-serving immoral behaviors.
This Approach Confuses Recognition with Existence
While it’s clear people groups employ moral principles to further their own well-being and survivability, those who claim societies are the source of such principles—either through some process of social progress or psychological evolution—are confusing moral recognition with moral existence. Even the most robust evolutionary proposals related to the origin of moral truth simply offer a description of why and how humans have employed moral principles to increase their survivability. Cultures may recognize and employ moral principles, but this doesn’t mean they created these principles. In fact, many scientists and philosophers are suspicious about any causal relationship between evolution and moral virtue. The evolutionary process often results in disharmony and strife; morality seems to require us to overcome the “evolved beast” in each of us.
Moral relativism is simply another failed attempt to stay “inside the room” of the natural universe to explain the existence of objective moral truths. The best explanation for the existence of transcendent moral truth is simply the existence of a transcendent source of moral obligation “outside” the room of the natural universe. This brief summary is excerpted from God’s Crime Scene and is part of a larger chapter on the existence of objective, transcendent moral truths. The existence of moral truth and obligation is just one of eight evidences “inside the room” that point to the reasonable inference of a Creator God “outside the room.” For a much more detailed examination of this important piece of evidence, please read Chapter Seven: Law and Order - Is Morality More Than An Opinion?