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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label testimony. Show all posts
Showing posts with label testimony. Show all posts

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should an Atheist Sit on a Jury?

Should an atheist suit on a jury? The question seems bigoted; why should anyone want to exclude atheists simply because of their denial of the belief in God? I wouldn't disqualify someone simply because he or she identified as an atheist. Atheists as much as anyone else should be able to do the things jurors are called upon to do: weigh testimony, weigh evidence, and deliberate with other jurors to seek a just and impartial decision for the case at hand.

In order to do those things a juror must be have some kind of criteria for what counts as evidence and what doesn't. But upon what standards do they rely in order to accomplish this? What is the juror's understanding of evidence and is it important? Of course it is, which is why our legal system has a practice of voir dire in selecting the jury. Voir dire is a French term for the preliminary portion of the trial when potential jurors are called to the courtroom and the attorneys for both sides ask them questions to see whether they may be biased or somehow otherwise disqualified from serving on that particular case. If a potential juror would say something like "I won't accept a verdict of guilty through eyewitness testimony; I must have physical evidence or see the crime committed myself!" you can expect that person to be eliminated from the jury.

A Strained Epistemology

I bring this up because I recently had a conversation with an atheist that led me to question his understanding of what is reasonable evidence for belief in anything. He claimed that while he was an atheist, "I can think of lots of things that would make me believe - nothing too difficult would be needed." When asked for an example, he replied that saying "hello" would do and a chat with him and his wife would be better. I then asked if God appearing only to his wife and having her relay the appearance to him would be sufficient. "No I don't think that would do. I'd want more than second-hand evidence." I pressed and asked what if his wife's claim was corroborated by multiple others. He replied, "I can't really tell, but I doubt if the claims of the other people would really make any difference. Lots of people think they know when someone is lying. But they can't. It's why evidence is essential." He defined his term , too. "I meant corroborating evidence. E.g. photos, DNA, records."

This is where I would ask the gentleman to be excused from the jury. There is nothing appropriate about holding to criteria where knowledge on big questions can only be gained from direct, first-hand experience. The criterion isn't even consistent within itself. First, how do you know the evidence wasn't faked? Must one follow the chain of custody personally to prove it was gathered, stored, and analyzed without tampering or is he going to accept the testimony of the witness presenting the evidence that this is so? Even if one grants the evidence is factual, how do we know that it actually points towards the defendant? Is my atheist friend an expert in DNA and genetics or is he taking the word of someone else? Why does he know that DNA analysis cannot provide a false positive? How does he even know which genetic markers were tested and how unique they are? All of this is trusting in the testimony of another person!

A Faulty Deliberation

Another issue arises once the trial is concluded and the jury is sent to deliberate the case. Now, you have to listen to the opinions and thoughts of eleven other jurors who are also weighing the evidence and the testimony. Will he discount their views on what makes up convincing evidence if they believe in God? Is that appropriate to do? The skeptical stance of rejecting testimony because "people can lie" is unreasonable. Worse is characterizing those who believe in God as "believ[ing]in magic," and dismissing their testimony or opinion in the jury room. This is in no way a reasonable foundation upon which to weigh truth claims.

 Now I want to be fair and note that he did later qualify his answer. He said, ""[It] depends on the claim being made. If someone says they had toast for breakfast I believe them." That's fine. By what criteria does one judge where testimony is no longer sufficient? Unfortunately, we had to end our conversations before I could ask that question. But the problem doesn't go away. My guess, given the "belief in magic" comment, is only discussions about the supernatural rise to that level of incredulity. But such a distinction is arbitrary; there's no reason to exclude the supernatural from being evidenced by testimony. It simply shows bias on the part of the atheist, and as a biased party he cannot be relied upon to provide an unbiased verdict on the question of God. The juror is excused.

Photo courtesy CALI - Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why I Am a Christian: Because of the Problem of Evil

Yesterday, I began to explain why I hold to Christianity. Of course, as I've said before, there is only one good reason to believe anything and that is if it's true. I believe Christianity is true and I've been laying out my reasons why Christianity is true. One reason I want to talk about today seems rather backwards. In fact, many will tell you that this particular issue is the toughest challenge to Christianity and a lot of atheists became such because of the problem of evil in the world. But I believe that Christianity is true because of its approach to the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is usually presented like this, "How can an all-powerful, all-loving God exists when there is so much evil in the world?" That seems to be a hard question, and even though the argument fails logically, it intuitively strikes people as an objection needing an answer, and Christianity does offer one. Christianity teaches that God simply isn't done with us yet. God allows evil for certain period of time in order to accomplish the purposes He set out for man and His creation. Once those purposes are complete, He will vanquish all evil. The cross of Christ has guaranteed that Jesus has triumphed over death and sin and the Christian rests assured that evil will not exist for all eternity. In a relatively brief period, God will vanquish all evil yet preserve our freedom to exercise our love towards Him forever.

What other worldview provides a better answer?

The interesting thing in this question, though, is that it isn't incumbent on only the Christian to answer it. Evil is recognizable in any religious system or non-religious system. Every worldview needs to account for the problem of evil; not just Christianity. How do the other belief systems measure up?

When someone offers an objection to God on the basis of the amount of evil in the world, they are conceding at least two things:
  1. There is an objective "good" whereby we can measure actions and label them as good or evil.
  2. The fact that evil actions exist means there are problems in the world that need to be solved.
Given that those two facts can be established, they open up questions of their own. For the first, one must ask "Where are you getting this idea of good and evil from? Is evil real? If so, what is that objective standard whereby we can measure actions as good or evil?" The next question can then be, "and what is the solution to evil according to your worldview?"

These questions pose significant problems for other worldviews. Atheists, for example, cannot ground their understanding of evil in anything objective. Evil becomes relative to the individual or the community, and therefore true, objective evil cannot really exist. An atheist who claims that the natural world is all there is would say that's just the way the world works. People are born and they die and eventually our sun will be extinguished with no thought at all toward humanity. The result of an atheist worldview is that suffering will never be able to be overcome. Cruelty is woven into the fabric of life and there is no hope of vanquishing it.

Eastern faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism would provide a different understanding. They hold that the evil we experience is as illusory as our earthy existence. We have forgotten that we are one with the divine and we need to become one again. Only by being liberated from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth through enlightenment can one escape the karma that is responsible for our discomfort. Once this happens, evil will vanish like the illusion it is. The result of this view is that they ignore the reality of evil and ignore the reality of suffering people experience.

Finally, there are faiths that hold that God exists, but evil is something that sits outside His complete control. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner voiced this view in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. God is limited in His power so he cannot control all the evil that we see. He can work within the natural order of things, but the conquering of evil is beyond His reach. Such a view robs God of His position as God and is internally incoherent. The result becomes that evil is stronger than God and there is no hope for vanquishing evil.

I've made the claim that Christianity is both internally consistent and externally coherent. It does not contradict itself in its own claims, even though it makes claims about huge concepts like the nature of God, the nature of man, how people work, and the nature of morality. It also helps us make sense of the world and how we experience it. Looking at how other worldviews answer the problem of evil shows that the difficulties their positions create are far greater than the challenge to the Christian. Christianity offers both a compelling understanding of the fact that real evil does exist and it offers the believer the hope that one day that evil will be vanquished.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I'm A Christian - Part 1

I've been doing apologetics for nearly 20 years now. In that time, I've had the opportunity to engage in conversation with many who either don't believe in Christianity or don't believe in God at all. There have been a lot of conversations where we've traded various proofs for our point of view, but I cannot point to one extended conversation where someone has asked me, "So tell me, why are you a Christian?"

I've talked before about why it is important to ask people why they believe as they do. It helps you to understand the important things that motivate the person to believe as the do. It also keeps you from constructing straw men, something that everyone should avoid. I stress this because not arguing against a straw man shows that one is really interested in the truth, not merely "winning" some kind of debate contest. But I do find it interesting that in all my engagements with atheists, I simply don't get asked this question.

There was a recent Twitter exchange where I posted a link to the testimony of Matt Walsh. An atheist responded to my tweet and asked, "so why did you end up deciding to believe in the particular deity you did?" Given the way he phrased the question, I had a suspicion that he wasn't truly interested in my story (and the ensuing conversation, which you can read here, proved my suspicions true). My answer was that Christianity was the only faith I've found to be both internally and externally coherent, meaning that it doesn't contradict itself within its own tenets and it matches our experiences with the outside world. So let me now share with you, dear reader, why I am a Christian.

Why I am a Christian - Christianity Meets Natural Expectations

The first reason why I am a Christian is because it is natural to assume that God exists. Children really don't require much teaching to believe in God. They look at the design in nature and they intuitively know that something doesn't come from nothing and design requires a designer. These are usually my first two arguments when I speak to someone about the existence of God, but they only require that level of sophistication when someone is denying either of those points. Because there is something rather than nothing and because the something that we see (creation) shows balance and design, it makes sense to conclude that a mind created it. God fits.

While one may try to argue that there are a lot of gods who create (most religions have some kind of creation story), the fact that the Christian God created the universe out of nothing as opposed to the elements of the universe already existing. The fanciful nature of those myths, such as the Hindu and Chinese creation stories where God springs from an egg to form the universe or the Greek and Babylonian accounts of the elements of creation actually being the ancient gods don't offer an explanation of where these elements came from. They also have a diminished view of deity, as their gods can come into being and cease to be. They simply don't make sense.

Why I am a Christian - The Christian Faith is Rooted in History

Another reason why I am a Christian is because I found that there really was a man named Jesus of Nazareth who really lived some 2,000 years ago. The historical evidence of Jesus' life and ministry is as strong as anything we could hope for from ancient sources. When one views the New Testament documents, it is clearly evident that those who wrote the New Testament lived in the time and place which they are describing. The Bible doesn't read as some far-off, third hand account. It reads like ancient history.  Jesus also had a great impact on not only his immediate followers but his teachings radically changed western society. The proof of Jesus' life is like the proof of a stone thrown into a pond: you may not see the stone, but you can look at the surface of the pond and see the stone's effect. You can know he was real.

The historical aspect of Christianity is not a secondary consideration, but a primary one. From its very beginning, Jesus' disciples pointed to the real events of the resurrection and their eyewitness testimony. Paul tells the Corinthian church that the resurrection must be historical or their faith is worthless and he points to eyewitnesses. History and multiple people attesting to the facts surrounding the origin of Christianity are crucial to its very existence. Therefore, Christianity isn't merely a "take it by faith" type of belief system, but one that is rooted in an historical event: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tomorrow, I will continue to offer my reasons as to why I am a Christian, but for now, I hope you'll consider these points. Any belief system needs to correspond to itself, that is it should be internally consistent, and it needs to clarify what we experience in life. I think Christianity does both.
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