In God’s Crime Scene, I make a robust cumulative case for the existence of God from eight pieces of evidence in the universe. Evidence that points toward a particular conclusion (or suspect) is described as inculpating evidence, and evidence that points away from the same conclusion (or suspect) is called exculpating evidence. Given the abundance of inculpating evidence pointing to a Divine Creator (as described in God’s Crime Scene), it’s reasonable to conclude this is the best explanation for the first cause of the universe. But many believe the existence of evil presents a problem for our case. 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. Professor of Metaphysics, Robin Le Poidevin, describes the problem in the following way:
“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.”
Whatever explanation we consider for the problem of evil, it must account for the existence of moral evil (like the evil caused by humans), natural evil (like the hardship we see resulting from earthquakes and tsunamis), and pain and suffering (like the anguish experienced by disease). Can evils such as these be reconciled to the existence of a Divine Creator, and if so, what are the complex, interconnected, causal relationships between the explanations? In God’s Crime Scene, I offer a template of seven important considerations when explaining and understanding any particular act of evil. One of these seven considerations is God’s desire to use evil to draw us to Himself:
Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
Most of us, whether we believe in an all-powerful, all-loving Creator or not, have secretly whispered a prayer at times of desperation. I did it on occasion as a committed atheist, even though I saw it as nothing more than a reflex. But for many people, an encounter with evil is often the first time they seriously think about the existence of a Creator.
As a Christian homicide detective, I’ve seen the power evil has to draw families and victims to the throne of the Divine. When people reach their own limits, realize their true frailty and come to understand the transient nature of their material lives, they often begin to seek transcendent answers. Many of the families who have suffered the loss of a loved one at the hands of a brutal murderer have been drawn to an “other-worldly” source of strength, hope and deliverance.
If an all-powerful, all-loving Creator truly exists, some evils might be reconciled based on their ability to refocus our attention, remind us of the nature of eternal life, and draw us to our Creator. C. S. Lewis once put it this way:
“Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them.”
And philosophy professor Eleanore Stump adds:
“No amount of moral or natural evil, of course, can guarantee that a man will seek God’s help. If it could, the willing it produced would not be free. But evil of this sort is the best hope, I think, and maybe the only effective means, for bringing men to such a state.”
No single explanation will account for every act of evil. There are often several causes involved in explaining any given episode of suffering. But one thing is certain: Thousands of Christian believers tell a story of conversion involving some act of pain or suffering. In that time of crisis, they turned to God for the very first time. In fact, most of these new Christians can recall a number of people who shared Christ with them prior to their time of trouble, but these efforts fell on deaf ears. Only through the prompting of pain and suffering were these people brought to the end of themselves and the beginning of their relationship with Jesus. God may certainly use evil to reach those who won’t listen any other way. To better understand the interconnected relationship between the seven considerations I’ve mentioned, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Eight – The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist?
In my 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”. Some philosophers and scientists have speculated free will might simply “emerge” from a deterministic system. Emergence is a concept described in sciences such as physics, chemistry and sociology. When a property appears spontaneously in a system, unpredicted by the laws governing the individual parts of the system, it is said to “emerge.”
University of California professor of Psychology, Michael Gazzaniga cites the analogy of automobile car parts: “If you look at an isolated car part, such as a cam shaft, you cannot predict that the freeway will be full of traffic at 5:15 pm, Monday through Friday. In fact, you could not even predict the phenomenon of traffic would ever occur if you just looked at a brake pad . . . A new set of laws emerge that aren’t predicted from the parts alone. The same holds true for brains . . . When more than one brain interacts, new and unpredictable things begin to emerge, establishing a new set of rules. Two of the properties that are acquired in this new set of rules that weren’t previously present are responsibility and freedom.”
While this may seem reasonable by way of analogy, a closer examination exposes the weakness of this explanation:
This Explanation Fails to Address the Phenomenon of Free Will
Physical analogies such as the one offered by professor Gazzaniga fail to explain the emergence of consciousness or free will. Automobile parts (even when assembled in the form of automobiles) are still unable to consider or experience the phenomena we call “traffic.” Car parts aren’t even the cause of traffic in the first place. Instead, humans with minds cause traffic given our free choices related to the way we use automobiles. Traffic isn’t an emergent property of automobile parts, it’s a consequence of human free agency. Analogies such as these only highlight the role of our free will and the difference between physical systems and human free agency. As David Chalmers observes, “No explanation given wholly on physical terms can ever account for the emergence of conscious experience.”
This Explanation Fails to Explain How Brains “Interact”
To say free will emerges “when more than one brain interacts” fails to explain how these material organs can physically interact to accomplish this goal. The interaction we experience between one another as thinking human beings requires non-material consciousness and free will before the interaction can take place. If materialism is true, how do material brains physically interact to produce non-physical consciousness and free will?
This Explanation Acknowledges the Existence of Non-material Properties without Explaining Their Origin
Even Gazzaniga admits emergence as an explanation for consciousness or free will has been largely dismissed by neuroscientists. Materialist neuroscience continues to reject dualism and has labored diligently over the past century to demonstrate the sole existence of the brain (while rejecting the mind as illusory). When scientists attribute free will or consciousness to “emergence” without explaining precisely the physical process responsible for the transition, they might as well say, “We have no idea how conscious free will appears, but somehow it just does.” This sort of explanation allows for free will, but fails to account for it from the materials available “inside the room”. Even Michael Gazzaniga recognizes the problem: “emergence is mightily resisted by many neuroscientists, who sit grimly in the corner and continue to shake their heads. They have been celebrating that they have finally dislodged the homunculus out of the brain. They have defeated dualism. All the ghosts in the machine have been banished and they, as sure as shootin’, are not letting any back in. They are afraid that to put emergence in the equation may imply that something other than the brain is doing the work and that would let the ghost back into the deterministic machine that the brain is.” As a result, it acknowledges the necessity of an extra-natural, external source for consciousness.
Illustration from God’s Crime Scene
There is simply no evidence to support the mysterious concept of “emergence”. For this reason, emergence has been largely dismissed by neuroscientists. Emergence (as an explanation for free will) concedes the dualistic nature of the mind and the brain (one emerges from the other), but tries to explain it as a consequence of the laws of physics and chemistry within the material universe. This is also logically inconsistent, however, since non-material explanations are not available unless we are willing to step “outside” the parameters of a material universe. 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?
The “problem of evil” is often cited by skeptics to defend their disbelief: Why would an all-powerful, all-loving God allow His children to experience pain and suffering? In my latest book, God’s Crime Scene, I examine the problem of evil as one of eight pieces of evidence in the universe. Evil is typically considered a form of “exculpating” evidence, eliminating the reasonable inference of God’s existence. An ancient form of the problem is sometimes attributed to Epicurus:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
If the morally benevolent, all-powerful, Divine Creator of the universe I describe in God’s Crime Scene does indeed exist, how are we to explain the existence of evil? My experience as a homicide detective taught me a lot about how difficult it is to explain any act of evil. When trying to understand the manner in which a crime occurs (or when trying to make a case for the involvement of a particular suspect), we must always be prepared to explain and illustrate the cumulative, complex, interconnected causal factors involved. There are no easy answers. The truth is always more complicated than we would like.
In a similar way, whatever explanation there may be for the presence of evil and injustice in the world, it will certainly involve a cumulative, complex set of explanations and causal factors. There will be no easy answer. Instead, we should expect a tangled web of complexity. In God’s Crime Scene, I offer a seven-part template to illustrate the important considerations that must be taken into account when trying to explain any act of evil. One of these is simply our definition of “love”:
Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
What precisely could a Divine Creator hope to accomplish by allowing evil to exist “inside the room” of the natural universe? One outcome, noted by many philosophers, is the development of character.
Many of my cases involve families who have suffered the violent loss of a loved one. In their prolonged grief (as they waited decades for the cases to be solved) many developed new virtues and characteristics they never anticipated. They grew in their patience and empathy toward others. They developed endurance and perseverance. Many have since begun to volunteer in victim’s rights groups and family support organizations. None of this would have happened had they not suffered the evil they experienced.
Similar character development often occurs after natural disasters. Relief organizations experience their largest influx of volunteers in the days following a major hurricane or earthquake. Consider the following noble attributes:
These character traits are venerated by all of us, regardless of religious belief or metaphysical worldview. Yet none of these attributes can be achieved unless the following conditions exist:
The virtues described in the first list are simply the appropriate responses to the pain and suffering described in the second list. If you want a world in which these noble characteristics are possible, you must allow for a world in which these unfortunate conditions are possible. It’s in the face of trials, disasters and other forms of evil, true courage, compassion, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and charity are developed.
Without hardship, good character is hard to come by. Wisdom is typically the product of failure, not success, and without loss, we seldom appreciate gain. When we experience evil, we learn to value goodness all the more. Even naturalist philosopher Theodore M. Drange admits: “One merit of this defense, I think, is that it shows that some suffering is needed in an ideal world. Without any suffering whatever, the world would be bland and people could not experience the sorts of joys that they presently possess.”
Hardships educate, train, hone and prepare us to be better people. Philosopher Richard Swinburne puts it this way: “Agents [need] to have the knowledge of how to bring about evil or prevent its occurrence, knowledge which they must have if they are to have a genuine choice between bringing about evil and bringing about good.”
This character-building purpose for some forms of evil would certainly be consistent with an all-powerful, all-loving Divine Creator, especially if such a Creator has eternity in view and is concerned more with our character than our comfort. As C. S. Lewis argued, “To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because he is what he is, his love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because he already loves us he must labor to make us lovable.”
To better understand the interconnected relationship between the seven considerations I’ve mentioned, please refer to God’s Crime Scene, Chapter Eight – The Evidence of Evil: Can God and Evil Coexist? Today’s article has been excepted from that chapter.
Some critics have argued the "virgin conception" of Jesus is a late mythological addition attributed to Christian believers many centuries after the fact. These skeptics presume, of course, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written far later than the 1st Century, when eyewitnesses would have been available to refute the additional mythology. The history of the early Church reveals, however, that the "virgin conception" was recognized and accepted very early in history. The first opponents of Christianity recognized that Mary gave birth to Jesus without an identified earthly father and claimed that Jesus was, therefore, illegitimate. Celsus (a Greek philosopher and opponent of Christianity) echoed this charge in the 2nd Century in his work entitled, "The True Discourse". It's clear that the issue of Jesus' parentage was an early concern, and the first believers were committed to the idea of the "virgin conception":
The Early Church Fathers Believed It
The early leaders of the Church taught that Jesus was born of a virgin and they wrote about this in their letters to those they led. They agreed with the Gospel of Matthew and interpreted Isaiah's prophesies as predictions of the virgin conception:
Ignatius (35-117AD, the third Bishop and Patriarch of Antioch)
"He was truly born of a virgin" (from his "Letter to the Smyrnaeans", written around 103AD)
Justin Martyr (100-165AD, the early Christian Apologist)
"But you (Jews) and your teachers venture to claim that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, 'Behold the virgin will conceive,' but, 'Behold, the young woman will conceive, and bear a son.' Furthermore, you explain the prophecy as if (it referred) to Hezekiah, who was your king. Therefore, I will endeavor to soon discuss this point in opposition to you". (from his "Dialogue with Trypho", written around 160AD)
Irenaeus (115-202AD, the Bishop of Lugdunum)
"Christ Jesus, the Son of God, because of His surpassing love towards his creation, humbled himself to be born of the virgin. Thereby, He united man through Himself to God." (from his "Against Heresies", written around 180AD)
Clement of Alexandria (150-215AD, the Christian Theologian)
"... Jesus, whom of the lightening flash of Divinity the virgin bore." (from his "Paedagogus, Book I", written around 195AD)
Tertullian (160-220AD, the Christian Apologist)
"This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient time, descended into a certain virgin, And He was made flesh in her womb. So, in His birth, God and man were united." (from his "Apology", written around 195AD)
Origen (185-254AD, the Christian Apologist and Theologian)
"A sign has been given to the house of David. For the virgin conceived, was pregnant, and brought forth a son." (from his "Contra Celsus, Book I", written around 225AD)
The Early Non-Canonical Writings Affirmed It
In addition to the writings of the earliest Church leaders, there is also evidence from many non-canonical books and gospels that the "virgin conception" was an early established belief. While these writings are not considered scripture, they do reflect the fact that the story of the "virgin conception" was already well known by the time the Christian "Pseudepigraphon" was forming:
Ascension of Isaiah (Late 1st to Early 2nd Century)
This text was written very near the time of the canonical Gospels and records a narrative of the miraculous appearance of Jesus to the Virgin Mary:
"And I saw a woman of the family of David the prophet whose name (was) Mary, and she (was) a virgin and was betrothed to a man whose name (was) Joseph, a carpenter, and he also (was) of the seed and family of the righteous David of Bethlehem in Judah. And he came into his lot. And when she was betrothed, she was found to be pregnant, and Joseph the carpenter wished to divorce her. But the angel of the Spirit appeared in this world, and after this Joseph did not divorce Mary; but he did not reveal this matter to anyone. And he did not approach Mary, but kept her as a holy virgin, although she was pregnant." (Chapter 11, verses 2-5)
The Infancy Gospel of James (approximately 150AD)
This apocryphal Gospel also includes a claim to Mary's perpetual virginity and presents her as the new "Eve":
"And the priest said unto Joseph: Unto thee hath it fallen to take the virgin of the Lord and keep her for thyself." (Chapter 9, verse 1)
The Early Creeds Proclaimed It
The early recognition of the "virgin conception" is also apparent in the creeds that emerged in the Church from the earliest times. Even before the emergence of the first creed of the Church (the Apostle's Creed), the first believers were forming creedal statements that included the "virgin conception":
Irenaeus’ “Rule of Faith” (Late 1st to Early 2nd Century)
Irenaeus' early written work was highly influential to believers at the time, and he was an excellent apologist for the faith. He found himself battling with a number of false teachings within Christendom, and as a result, he developed a statement of faith designed to affirm a number of Christian truths, including the "virgin conception":
“…this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; And in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; And in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race…”
The “Interrogatory” Creed of Hippolytus (approximately 215 AD)
Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus and he included language that was distinctly similar to Irenaeus’ “Rule of Faith” in his "Baptismal Instructions". Hippolytus used the following instructional statement to prepare his new converts for baptism and to confirm that they had a correct understanding of the Christian Worldview:
"Do you believe in God the Father All Governing? Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Who was begotten by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died (and was buried) and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church and in the resurrection of the body?"
The Apostle's Creed
The first widely accepted creed of the Christian Church continued the claims of both Irenaeus and Hippolytus related to the "virgin conception":
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen"
The early Church believed that Jesus was conceived of a virgin. These writers did not invent the concept, as it appeared within just a few years of the canonical Gospels (Ignatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans approximately 10-13 years after John wrote his Gospel). They simply repeated what they had been taught by the first generation eyewitnesses. The "virgin conception" was not a late invention that appeared for the first time centuries after the fact. It is, instead, part of the early, reliable testimony related to the nature of Jesus.