Monday, January 18, 2016

God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe - A Book Review

A Brief History of a Reluctant Book Reviewer

I sighed despondently as the book that I had been asked to review once again caught my attention. Still lying there, right where I left it, reminding me of my unfulfilled promise to J. Warner Wallace. I had a free advance copy of God’s Crime Scene on my desk. I’d had it for months. Why was I so hesitant to take on the task of reading and reviewing it? As I was lost in my thoughts it struck me. I was pretty sure this was going to be boring. I’ve had an interest in apologetics for several years. I’ve read several books, watched numerous debates, and listened to countless hours of podcasts. Was this latest popular-level apologetics book going to tell me anything I hadn’t heard before? Doubtful. This was probably going to be a drag.

Reluctantly I picked up the book. Getting started is half done. Or so they say. I read the introduction. Then the first chapter. After a few more reading sessions it occurred to me that I was actually enjoying this book. Most of the material was familiar, but the way Wallace presented it didn’t feel stale or redundant. From cover to cover it kept my interest and I even learned several new things along the way, in addition to deepening my understanding of topics I hadn’t given much attention to in the past.

I’m confident that if you take the time to read this book, whether you’re well acquainted with contemporary apologetics or are looking for good introduction, you’ll find the experience both informative and entertaining. In the spirit of the apologetic task, I’ll do my best to make a defense of my assertion in the following paragraphs that reading this book will be well worth your time. Since other reviewers have more that than sufficiently summarized the content, my review will give a broad outline of the arguments, while focusing more on format and other aspects that make the book an enjoyable and informative read.

A Cold Case Detective Looks at the Evidence for God’s Existence

To begin with a few words about the author are in order. J. Warner Wallace comes from a family with strong roots in law enforcement. In keeping with past generations Wallace has made a lifelong career in the field and his professional journey shaped him into an astute Cold Case Detective who has worked on several cases that have received the attention of the main-stream media. However, Wallace has also broken the family mold significantly. Although he comes from a family with a dedication to serve and protect he doesn’t come from a family with a long Christian heritage. His journey from atheism to Christianity was a result of following numerous lines of evidence that led him to the conclusion that God exists and has revealed himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his book, God’s Crime Scene, Wallace shows readers how applying the skills he acquired as a career detective to the question of God’s existence compelled him to abandon atheism. He invites the readers to follow the evidence, to think carefully about it, and to determine for themselves whether his conclusions are warranted by the evidence.

Unsolved Mysteries Meets Contemporary Apologetics

In some ways reading Wallace’s book evokes the same kind of intrigue that kept the now defunct crime documentary series Unsolved Mysteries running for so many years. Wallace starts each chapter with a description of a case he worked on and then begins to outline how his experience with each investigation relates to the search for evidence of God’s existence. As He readily admits, some of the details of the crimes are disturbing. His experiences with cases involving apparent suicides, abducted children, gruesome homicides, and other crimes all have something to tell us about the case for God. Yet, while navigating us through some of the harsher realities of human nature he handedly succeeds at making this strange concoction of seemingly unrelated elements work together beautifully to guide us to the conclusion that God exists.

In keeping with the detective theme Wallace starts the book with an Opening Statement in which he makes his intent clear and outlines the various lines of evidence the book will pursue. In seven chapters he investigates the evidence from the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the signs of design in biological organism, and our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality. Before making his Closing Argument he also dedicates a chapter examining what detectives call exculpatory evidence. In court cases exculpatory evidence exonerates the defendant from guilt. In other words it disqualifies the person from being a suspect in the crime. All of the aforementioned lines of evidence point to God as our suspect, because purely natural explanations fail to account for the beginning and fine-tuning of the universe, and so forth. However, if there is conclusive evidence that disqualifies God, then the other lines of evidence become largely irrelevant. That is where the Problem of Evil comes in. Does all of the seemingly meaningless, gratuitous evil in the world disqualify God from being our suspect in a search for an explanation of all of the facts we know about the universe? Wallace makes a convincing case that it doesn’t.

The only detail he omitted that I would have liked to see him discuss is the distinction between the logical and probable version of the Problem of Evil. The very fact that virtually no respected philosopher defends the view that it is logically impossible that God exists in light of all of the evil in the world is a significant concession. The best the atheist can hope to do is to show that God’s existence is improbable given the amount of gratuitous evil in the world. A short paragraph pointing this out would be worth including. Nonetheless, the points he makes in his argument are sufficient enough to show that the Problem of Evil isn’t then death knell of theism.

Throughout the main chapters of the book Wallace includes several handy tools designed to help the reader make her own thoughtful investigation and look more closely at the various details in the case for God. This includes useful illustrations that summarize and clarify the content presented in each chapter and descriptions of investigative techniques used by detectives to solve cases he nicknames Tools for the Call-Out Bag. The brief profiles of Expert Witnesses, which include scientists and philosophers from various religious and nonreligious backgrounds, who are experts in their field are also helpful.

After making his Closing Argument Wallace includes about another seventy pages of content he calls The Secondary Investigation. This contains more detailed material for readers who want to dive deeper into the arguments made throughout the book. Numerous additional illustrations are given there that aid readers in wrapping their minds around the gritty details of the various points and counterpoints made in exchange between those who argue for and against the existence of God. Lastly, Wallace includes a bibliography he calls the Case Files, which list the Expert Witnesses mentioned in each chapter as well their published writings that are relevant to the topic and, in keeping with the theme, the end-notes, which are labelled Investigative Notes.

From start to finish Wallace demonstrates how one can apply all of the tools in a cold case detectives repertoire to the question of God’s existence and come out the other side with God as the most likely suspect in the search for an explanation for all the facts we know about the universe. The overall effect of the mixture of the thematic elements from Wallace’s background in crime scene investigation with cutting-edge apologetics arguments is one of true-crime suspense intermingled with a logical force that draws the reader to the most reasonable explanation of the evidence: God exists!

Does Wallace Succeed?

Now, I can almost hear the sarcasm-laden thoughts of my more cynical readers with whom I am not entirely unsympathetic given my own cynical inclinations: “This sounds like a cute gimmick!” Well, maybe. But if it is, it is a very thoughtful, sophisticated, well-played, and highly entertaining gimmick. But one way or another the question is: Do the arguments and evidence succeed in making a case for the existence of God? I am persuaded that the evidence Wallace provides warrants the conclusion that God exists. But, you shouldn’t take my word for it. At the end of the day, the only way to be sure is for you to jump into the investigation yourself. And I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to get started than by reading God’s Crime Scene. At minimum Wallace’s book is a great place to get a broad overview of some of the leading contemporary arguments for the existence of God in an entertaining way. It also provides enough information to guide readers who want to continue their investigation by reading the works of the primary contenders in the current debate. Overall, God’s Crime Scene is a useful tool for fair-minded seekers and skeptics, a refreshing treatment of familiar content for amateur apologists, and well-researched, popular-level apologetic for the existence of God.