Review of “Cold-Case Christianity”, Chapter 1: Skeptics Should Drop their Bias Against the Supernatural

Image result for image of j. Warner Wallace

This is an ongoing review of Christian author and former homicide detective J. Warner Wallace’s book, Cold-Case Christianity.

Mr. Warner starts the first chapter with a story from his detective days.  One of his first murder cases involved finding the body of a middle-aged woman in the bedroom of her apartment with signs of violent trauma.  There were no signs of forced entry.  There were photos on the bedroom dresser of the deceased woman and a man.  The chief detective told the rookie Wallace:  “The husband did it.  It’s always the husband or boyfriend in these circumstances.  Stranger killings without forced entry are rare.”

As it turned out, the husband did not do it.  The twenty-five year old neighbor had committed the crime.  The victim had opened the door since she knew him.

Wallace:  We had already decided where the evidence would lead and were simply looking for affirmation.  Luckily, the truth prevailed.  All of us hold presuppositions that can impact the way we see the world around us.  I’ve learned to do my best to enter every investigation with my eyes and mind open to all the reasonable possibilities.  I try not to bite on any particular philosophy or theory until one emerges as the most rational, given the evidence.  …you simply cannot enter into an investigation with a philosophy that dictates the outcome.  Objectivity is paramount; this is the first principle of detective work that each of us must learn.  p. 26

Gary:  Sounds like a good strategy to me!  However, I’m curious.  How does Mr. Wallace define “rational”?  Is it rational to even consider the possibility that invisible beings with supernatural powers operate in our universe?  To a Christian or other theist the answer is obvious:  Yes!  But ask the same theist if it is rational to consider the possible existence of unicorns and leprechauns and they will look at you like you are an idiot!  Oh well.  I’m going to go with Mr. Wallace’s argument and see what evidence he presents that would make belief in invisible beings with supernatural powers rational.

Mr. Wallace All homicide investigators presume that supernatural beings are not reasonable suspects, and many detectives also happen to reject the supernatural altogether.  …We [detectives] presuppose a particular philosophy as we begin to investigate our cases.  This philosophy is called “philosophical naturalism”.  p. 27

Philosophical naturalism:  the presuppositional belief that only natural laws and forces (as opposed to supernatural forces) operate in the world.  Philosophical naturalists believe that nothing exists beyond the natural world.

Most scientists begin with this presupposition and fail to consider any answer that is not strictly physical, material, or natural.  Even when a particular phenomenon cannot be explained by any natural, material process or set of forces, the vast majority of scientists will refuse to consider a supernatural explanation.  p.27

Gary:  Although I have no doubt that Mr. Wallace is an excellent homicide detective he is not a scientist.  As a non-scientist he fails to understand one key point about science:  the supernatural is not within the realm of scientific study and investigation!  Scientists are scientists because they use the scientific method to investigate our material universe.  That is the job description of a scientist.  Scientists do not use palm reading, tarot cards, or holy books to investigate the universe.  They only use one method:  the Scientific Method.  For Mr. Wallace to expect and insist that scientists go outside that method of study to investigate truth claims about our universe is like asking a homicide detective to investigate a murder using tarot cards.

It is an unreasonable request.

The supernatural is outside the expertise of scientists.  It is not their field.

WallaceScience is skewed to ignore any supernatural explanation, even when the evidence might indicate that natural, material explanations are lacking.  pp.27-28

Gary:  Yes, Mr. Wallace.  Science is skewed (designed) to ignore the supernatural.  That is why it is science and not theology.   Science CANNOT investigate the supernatural.  It would not know how to even start.  By definition, the supernatural defies the laws of nature/science.  But those are the very laws that guide scientific investigation!

But here is an even more important point:  Just because science “lacks” evidence today for a particular event in our universe, does not mean that we should jump to the conclusion that there is no natural explanation.  It very well may mean we just have not yet discovered that natural explanation.  How many times in the history of human beings have theists declared something to be an act of a god to later be forced to retract that position when science discovers a very natural explanation for that particular phenomenon (droughts, floods, lightening, epileptic seizures, etc.)

WallaceEven though I am a Christian today, I understand that much of the phenomena we observe can be explained satisfactorily by simple relationships between matter and the laws of nature.  For this reason, I try to be careful not to jump to supernatural explanations when natural causes are supported evidentially.   …I try to encourage my skeptical friends to reexamine their natural presuppositions, but I am careful to respect the claims of naturalists when they are evidentially supported.  p. 32

Gary:  That is very reasonable thinking.  But a word of caution:  Just because there is no apparent evidence for a particular natural explanation for an event does not mean that a supernatural explanation is more probable than a natural explanation for which we do not (at least at the present) have any evidence!  Let’s go back to Mr. Wallace’s murder scene above:

Imagine that in addition to no evidence of forced entry, there are no detectable finger or foot prints in the home other than that of the victim.  Imagine that detectives do not find any DNA in the home other than that of the victim.  Due to a lack of evidence for a natural explanation for this crime, should we assume that a supernatural being committed the murder?

Answer:  Of course not!

5 thoughts on “Review of “Cold-Case Christianity”, Chapter 1: Skeptics Should Drop their Bias Against the Supernatural

  1. Gary: Science CANNOT investigate the supernatural. It would not know how to even start.

    Me: I know what you’re saying Gary, and I agree with you, but it’s important to be clear. Science cannot confirm supernatural causation, but that doesn’t mean that science cannot investigate supernatural claims. After all science is a method of investigation.Since we don’t have any way to control “supernatural forces”, we have no means to determine if something supernatural was actually a cause.

    I reject all supernatural explanations because we have no way to confirm that they are real, true, or even probable. Even if we cannot find any reasonable natural explanation that doesn’t justify a supernatural explanation, as that would be an argument from ignorance.

    Look forward to more of your review of this book.

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    1. I guess I should qualify my statement by saying that science cannot investigate the supernatural unless the claim in question states that the supernatural interacted with the material world. How would science investigate whether God sits on a throne in a place called heaven? How would science investigate the claim that God is omnipresent? I don’t think we can.

      However, if one claims that God caused a great flood to cover the entire planet, science can investigate that claim.

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  2. I.

    Lamentably, some criminal investigations and prosecutions do not rely on science.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/the-crisis-of-american-forensics/

    II.

    So far, I am unimpressed with the introduction of the book.

    I used to have an interest in the philosophy of science.

    Briefly, I would say that there is no uniform “scientific method”. This is not an attack on the enterprise of modern science or an insinuation that its methods are inadequate to detect “real” supernatural phenomenon.

    I would say that our understanding of “science” or “naturalism” is based on “custom”.

    You propose then, PHILO, said CLEANTHES, to erect religious faith on philosophical scepticism; and you think, that if certainty or evidence be expelled from every other subject of inquiry, it will all retire to these theological doctrines, and there acquire a superior force and authority. Whether your scepticism be as absolute and sincere as you pretend, we shall learn by and by, when the company breaks up: We shall then see, whether you go out at the door or the window; and whether you really doubt if your body has gravity, or can be injured by its fall; according to popular opinion, derived from our fallacious senses, and more fallacious experience. And this consideration, DEMEA, may, I think, fairly serve to abate our ill-will to this humorous sect of the sceptics. If they be thoroughly in earnest, they will not long trouble the world with their doubts, cavils, and disputes: If they be only in jest, they are, perhaps, bad raillers; but can never be very dangerous, either to the state, to philosophy, or to religion.

    Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, chapter I.

    Suppose, again, that he has acquired more experience, and has lived so long in the world as to have observed familiar objects or events to be constantly conjoined together; what is the consequence of this experience? He immediately infers the existence of one object from the appearance of the other. Yet he has not, by all his experience, acquired any idea or knowledge of the secret power by which the one object produces the other; nor is it, by any process of reasoning, he is engaged to draw this inference. But still he finds himself determined to draw it: And though he should be convinced that his understanding has no part in the operation, he would nevertheless continue in the same course of thinking. There is some other principle which determines him to form such a conclusion.

    36. This principle is Custom or Habit. For wherever the repetition of any particular act or operation produces a propensity to renew the same act or operation, without being impelled by any reasoning or process of the understanding, we always say, that this propensity is the effect of Custom. By employing that word, we pretend not to have given the ultimate reason of such a propensity. We only point out a principle of human nature, which is universally acknowledged, and which is well known by its effects.

    An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Chapter 5.

    The character Cleanthes suggests that if one is truly skeptical of one’s judgments and common reason, then one could disregard the inference that one would suffer grievous injury by exiting a building by the window. After all, there is no necessary a priori principle or reason why that should be the necessary consequence of jumping out a window. One only infers that would one suffer bodily harm if one jumped out of a window due to the basis of prior experience.

    Hume calls this prior experience “custom” where the mind associates constantly conjoined events and experiences together. It is induction to supposed (implicitly) that the conjunction between similar events would occur in the future. Since one observes through the senses that these events are constantly conjoined, they become familiar to us.In the excerpt from the Enquiry, Hume only notes constant conjunction, and as an empiricist, one cannot ascertain the “ultimate reason of such a propensity” (i.e. principles of causation and underlying powers behind the phenomenon).

    On the fundamental philosophical level, I am skeptical of the notion of “causation” in general, since one could only observation the constant conjunction of events, not necessarily the “hidden powers” influencing the events. Consequently, on the basis of this skeptical conclusion, there is no basis to discriminate between “natural” and “supernatural causes”.

    However, what is deemed “natural” merely are the phenomenon and events that one observes that are within the purview of our experiences or ‘”custom”. In other words, what is regarded as “natural” is simply conflated with “custom” and what is familiar to us through one’s experience of the world.

    Wallace says:

    Most scientists begin with this presupposition (of philosophical naturalism) and fail to consider any answer that is not strictly physical, material, or natural.

    I believe this statement says more about Wallace than about scientists. Of course, scientists and lay individuals would rely on their common experiences to uncover the relationships between objects or events. Wallace is trying to suggest that scientists have an obdurate commitment to some philosophical principle that it would prevent them from ascribing extraordinary (i.e. supernatural) causation to certain events. It seems that this is a thinly veiled attempt by Wallace to encourage one to distrust their normal cognitive processes of relying on the familiar relations that one has ascertained through prior experience.

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  3. Sigh. Once again, an apologist deliberately confuses philosophical naturalism (the material world is all there is) and methodological naturalism (the material world is all we can investigate). I’ve had a fundie brother-in-law who thought he was an apologist throw that at me too.

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