Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Review: God's Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace

This book is an argument for the existence of God. Like Cold-Case Christianity, Wallace uses a lot of analogies from criminal investigations to clarify his arguments. While I found the analogies in CCC to be useful, they seem a bit forced and unnecessary in this book. They didn’t add to the clarity of his arguments the way they did in his first book. This book probably could’ve said just as much in half the length if he cut all those out, and it wouldn’t have suffered.

I wrote in my review of CCC that I was surprised and relieved that his use of detective work didn’t come across as gimmicky. I can’t say the same about this book. For example, he calls his end notes “Case Files: The Investigative Notes.” That’s worse that gimmicky. That’s downright cringe worthy.

I wrote these little blurbs about each chapter as I was reading them, so, for example, under chapter 7 when I said I read the chapter “last night,” don’t take that to mean last night. I did minimal editing after I finished the book, for example the parenthetical comment under chapter 5 on emergentism.

Chapter 1: The cosmological argument

Wallace gave multiple reasons for why the universe had a finite past, then jumped to the conclusion that the universe came into being from nothing. He needed more argument to justify that leap. After all, William Lane Craig, who has made this argument popular, thinks that both God and the universe have a finite past, yet the universe came into existence and God did not. So merely having a finite past is not a sufficient reason to infer that the universe came into being from nothing. This chapter just really needed more meat. Any Christian who takes this into the lion’s den is going to be torn apart.

Chapter 2: The argument from fine-tuning

Wallace presented this argument in three stages—the foundational level, the regional level, and the local level. The foundational level had to do with the fine-tuning of the constants of the universe. The regional level had to do with the properties of our galaxy, and the local level had to do with the particular features of the earth in the solar system. I think he should’ve stopped at the foundational level because the regional and local levels could easily be explained by the enormous explanatory resources in our universe. There are countless galaxies with countless stars and planets. The fact that one would be just right for life is not that remarkable. Wallace cited more sources in his discussion of the constants than he did when he got to the regional and local levels, and some of his claims seemed doubtful.

Chapter 3 and 4 The argument from biology

In chapter 3, Wallace considers the origin of life and the information contained in DNA. In chapter 4, Wallace takes a closer look at features of biological organisms that point to a designer or engineer. I don’t know enough about biology to judge the merits of these arguments, but I doubt anybody who has read Richard Dawkin’s book, The Blind Watchmaker, would find them persuasive. Wallace brings up arguments that Dawkins responded to many years ago, but he doesn’t deal with those responses. I understand the desire to want to keep the book simple since it’s an introductory type book, but I really don’t see how one could do justice to the topic in such a short amount of space. So while Wallace’s arguments are a bit thin, he can’t really be blamed in this case.

Chapter 5: The argument from mind

I thought this chapter was pretty good. He shows that the mind and brain are not the same thing because there are several things true about one that are not true about the other. And he argues that the mind is not reducible to the brain. I thought this argument needed a little more meat because it gives the false impression that materialism entails that the mind and brain are identical when, in reality, most materialists think the mind is a property of the brain. Wallace should’ve dealt with property dualism and/or emergentism (he does eventually deal with emergentism, but only at the end of the book as a supplement to his chapter on free will). One of the best succinct presentations of these same arguments is in chapter 3 of J.P. Moreland’s book, Scaling the Secular City. Wallace relied on a lot of Moreland’s arguments, but he simplified them a little too much for my taste.

Chapter 6: The argument from free will

This is the worst chapter so far. Mostly it suffers from lack of precision. Although he acknowledges compatibilism in the end notes, he doesn’t discuss it in the chapter. His view of freedom violates the law of excluded middle since he thinks free acts are neither determined nor indetermined. He advocates libertarian freedom but does not explain how it differs from indeterminism. His view of human freedom seems downright Palagian, which is odd because I thought he was a Calvinist. In this chapter and the previous one, he leaps from we have a mind, and we have free will to God has a mind and God has free will, but there’s not near enough meat in his argument to make that leap. He came back to this point toward the end of the book but still didn't say anything sufficient to make that leap. This chapter was so bad I was tempted to write a stand-alone post critiquing it.

Chapter 7: The moral argument

I thought this chapter was decent when I read it last night, but skimming back over it this morning, I wonder if my first impression is because my standards and expectations get lower as I go along. He brings up several alternatives to moral realism but hardly does anything to refute them. Like previous chapters, the arguments in this chapter are kind of thin. At the end of this chapter as well as all the others, he has a little box called “What is the nature of our ‘suspect.’” Then he lists what we learn about the “suspect,” e.g. that he is external to the universe, uncaused, a mind, and finally in this chapter, “the personal source of moral truth and obligation.” The problem, though, is that he doesn’t make any argument to show that the “suspect” in each chapter is the same entity as the “suspect” in the other chapters. He just assumes that.

Chapter 8: The argument from evil

This chapter really doesn’t do the problem of evil justice. He offers several theodicies that might be sufficient to account for some manifestations of evil, then tells us we don’t have to have every question answered before we can render a decision. Sure, but that knife cuts both ways, and it isn’t obvious that Wallace’s theodicies even account for most evil. His free will theodicy is especially weak. He says that free will (in his libertarian sense) is necessary for love, reason, and rebellion, but he does very little to defend these assertions. Even a lot of Christians, myself included, don’t agree with him. The best part of this chapter was his long quote by C.S. Lewis who argued that the real existence of evil is actually evidence for God. But Wallace didn’t say anything about the claim that Christianity is internally contradictory since it asserts both the existence of evil and the existence of a perfectly good God. That version of the problem of evil doesn’t depend on evil being an objective feature of the world. Nor did Wallace address the problem of suffering in light of God’s love for mankind, which doesn’t depend on evil at all (he does address this somewhat at the end of the book when he basically says that suffering builds character).

Closing Argument: Making a decision

In this section, Wallace tied all his evidences together and concluded that God is the culprit behind the beginning of the universe, the design in the universe, minds, free will, and morality. I thought this section was pretty good. He compared the attributes of his “suspect” in each chapter to the attributes of God in scripture and concluded that the “suspect” must be God. Very well done. This would’ve been a powerful conclusion if his case in the previous chapters had been better.

The secondary investigation

In the final section of the book, Wallace deals with objections to his arguments, especially attempts to explain the origin and design of the universe, free will, etc., without appealing to anything outside of the universe, like God. He’s not exhaustive in responding to every attempt, but then we shouldn’t expect him to be as long as he responds to the most obvious or frequent objections. There are strengths and weaknesses in this section. I won’t go into detail because this review is long enough already, but I'd give it a B. I wish instead of having this separate section at the end of the book that he had just responded to these objections in the chapters in which they applied. That would’ve made the flow of the book better, I think, and his arguments in the chapters wouldn’t have appeared as weak.


I know Wallace has more to say on these topics because I’ve seen his blog posts. But I think that in his effort to dumb these arguments down, he went too far and gutted these arguments of some necessary substance. I can’t recommend this book. I don’t think it would prepare anybody to defend these arguments. If somebody read this book, then tried to take these arguments to an on line discussion forum, he’d be torn apart. Then he’d be discouraged and might even come away thinking these arguments are useless when in reality, this book just left him unprepared to defend them. There’s simply not enough meat in this book.

If Wallace had asked me, I would’ve told him to cut out all the criminal investigation stories and analogies and give more meat to these arguments instead. He’s a very articulate person, and I don’t think adding more detail would’ve made the arguments harder to understand.

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