In my last post, I described J. Warner Wallace’s new book, God’s Crime Scene, and how it looks at the case for God’s existence based on cumulative evidence from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the design of life, our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality.
When I published a link to that post on my blog’s Facebook page, one of my atheist readers commented that he is “more than skeptical because, of [the author’s] 8 chapters, 6 can be easily explained away.”
I’m really glad he made that comment, because it brings up a very important point that your kids need to understand about the evidence “for” God:
All of the evidence that Christians believe points to God can have non-God (“naturalistic”) explanations.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that your kids understand this. I recently received an email from a mom of a teenage son who started studying evolution and became an atheist after he was surprised to learn about all the naturalistic explanations for the development of life.
This happens to a lot of kids who grow up in Christian homes where they aren’t exposed to secular views. The eventual shock factor when they encounter naturalistic explanations is enough to torpedo an entire childhood of faith.
Our kids should never leave home without having been exposed to these other views.
It’s also important that kids not only understand other views, but have a framework with which to evaluate them. Otherwise, you’ll be sending them swimming in a tidal wave of information.
With respect to the evidence “for” God, here’s a simple framework even the youngest kids can and should understand. I’ve woven an example throughout the five points that can help you easily teach these concepts.
1. Evidence is a body of facts that require human interpretation.
Evidence alone doesn’t “say” anything. When we talk about evidence, we’re simply talking about an existing body of facts. Humans are needed in order to interpret those facts and draw conclusions.
This clarification is a vital starting point for discussion. Atheists say, “There’s no evidence for God!” Christians reply, “There’s lots of evidence for God!” Those are two opposing claims that can leave your kids feeling very confused if they don’t understand that evidence alone isn’t for anything. Atheists and Christians are both stating their interpretation of the evidence when they make such claims.
Imagine that you find chocolate chip cookie crumbs all over your kitchen floor, next to a Mickey Mouse cup and a blanket. That is the evidence at the “scene.” The evidence itself doesn’t tell you who the cookie culprit was, however. A human is needed to interpret the facts.
2. All pieces of evidence can have multiple possible explanations.
The aforementioned atheist commented on my blog that he was skeptical about God’s Crime Scene because the evidence Det. Wallace details can “easily” have non-God explanations.
But with any evidence, there can be multiple possible explanations. The fact that multiple possible explanations exist says nothing about the plausibility of any one explanation. We should expect there to be competing explanations for evidence.
Let’s say you have a dog, a 2-year-old, and a 7-year-old, and that the Mickey Mouse cup and blanket belong to the 2-year-old. Perhaps your 2-year-old happened to leave the cup and blanket in the kitchen but it was your dog who actually got into the cookies, leaving the crumbs. Perhaps the 2-year-old broke into the cookie cabinet, set down his cup and blanket, and enjoyed a forbidden treat. Perhaps the 7-year-old old ate the cookie but framed the 2-year-old by putting the cup and blanket there.
Based on the facts of the scene, those are all possible explanations. However, identifying the possible explanations tells you nothing about which one is correct.
3. The best explanation for a collective picture of evidence isn’t necessarily what you would conclude from any one piece of evidence.
As God’s Crime Scene brilliantly demonstrates, a good detective never draws conclusions from pieces of evidence in isolation; he or she looks for the best explanation for the collective picture.
For example, many people believe God does not exist because there is so much suffering and evil in our world; they see the evidence of evil in the universe and make a conclusion based on that alone. But to accurately draw conclusions, we have to look at all relevant evidence…and there’s much more to consider than the problem of evil (see point 5).
If you only look at the Mickey Mouse cup, knowing it’s your 2-year-old’s favorite thing, you might immediately jump to the conclusion that the cookie-eater was him. However, if you add to the evaluation your knowledge that this happened during your 2-year-old’s naptime, the best explanation for the collective picture of evidence is probably not that it was him.
4. If you rule out certain possible explanations before you even look at the evidence, of course you won’t find evidence that points to those explanations.
Many people presuppose (assume beforehand) that God does not exist and will only consider naturalistic explanations for evidence in the universe. But if you rule out certain possible explanations before you even consider the evidence, of course you will conclude there is no evidence that points toward those explanations!
Let’s say that you dote on your dog to the point that you would never believe precious Bowser would do something so ungracious as to get into the cookies. Though in some ridiculous, hypothetical world, it could have been him, you don’t consider him a real possible explanation. When your kids both say they didn’t do it, you tell them that of course one of them had to have done it, because there’s no evidence Bowser did it. They point out fresh dirty paw marks on the cabinet, fur on the blanket, and the fact that Bowser has cookie crumbs on his face…but you insist Bowser could not possibly have been involved.
5. The goal when looking at evidence is to search for the explanation that best fits all known facts, but that doesn’t mean you’ll reach absolute certainty.
Christians look at evidence from the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the design of life, our experience of consciousness, free will, and morality and see a compelling cumulative case for God as the “best explanation,” even though one particular piece of evidence—the problem of evil—alone wouldn’t necessarily lead a person to that conclusion.
The particular challenge to understand with this point is how one defines the “best” fit for the evidence. Christians can look at all of this and conclude that the cumulative case “best” points toward God. Atheists can look at all of this and conclude that the cumulative case “best” points to a series of naturalistic explanations.
That’s why it’s critical that your kids have the opportunity to look at the evidence for themselves. Instead of getting rocked when they start hearing atheists proclaim there’s “no evidence for God,” they’ll have an understanding of the underlying facts involved and know that what’s being discussed is how to best interpret that collective evidence.
After further consideration, your kids convince you that you can’t rule out Bowser because there is so much evidence that really does point to a dog being the culprit. You realize you can’t ignore the paw marks, fur, and cookie crumbs on his face any longer. Then, right in front of you, little Bowser goes to the cookie cabinet and pulls out more cookies. With all the evidence in front of you, you conclude that the explanation that best fits all known facts (even though you don’t have absolute certainty) is that Bowser did it.
For help learning about all the “facts” of the universe that require explanation, be sure to get God’s Crime Scene!