A Detective’s Approach:

Looking for evidence of God

by

Published: 11 July 2019 (GMT+10)
Peter Falk as Colombo, Public domaindetective

Probably the greatest crime-solving TV show of all time, or at least my personal favorite, is Colombo. Peter Falk did a tremendous job portraying a dishevelled but clever detective. He would casually investigate the scene, picking up on the tiniest details which pointed at a particular culprit, and then he would proceed to interrogate this culprit, often in such a way that they did not, at first, realize they were actually under suspicion.

There are several things we can learn from detectives like Colombo that we can apply to the enterprise of Christian apologetics in general, and creation apologetics in particular.

The Big Question

Skeptics and unbelievers in the modern era almost always make the same claim about their unbelief: they say they would believe if there were only sufficient evidence for God’s existence. They claim to have examined all the supposed evidence out there and found it all unsatisfactory. There is one simple question that anyone can ask such skeptics, however, that very often stops them dead in their tracks:

“What evidence would you expect to find of God?”

Asking this question seems rather obvious, but you’d be surprised how many long-winded debates go on where this question is never brought up. The skeptic enjoys being in a comfortable debating position of being able to say “I’m not convinced” every time a believer shows a piece of evidence in favor of God, yet that same skeptic shoulders no burden of proof themselves. But skeptics are making a claim just like believers, namely, they claim that there is insufficient evidence to believe in God. That is a positive statement, and such a statement requires support. Before such support can even be given, however, what would count as evidence must be understood.

A home break-in

For a useful illustration, let’s turn to an instance of a possible home break-in. Imagine you are a detective, and your first job must be to determine whether or not a home has, in fact, been broken into. What do you look for? Obviously, one of the biggest indicators of a home break-in would be signs of forced entry. Are there any broken windows? Are there any doors that have been busted off their hinges, or broken with an axe or some other object? If a detective were to examine a house and find no signs of forced entry, then several conclusions could be possible from this. Perhaps there was no break-in at all, or perhaps the victim knew the perpetrator and willingly let them into the house.

Applying this method of reasoning to the existence of God, we must ask: what sort of clues would we expect to find, if God did exist? For the unbeliever: how would this world / universe look different if God did exist, compared to how it looks now? Amazingly, very few skeptics are able to answer this question at all. Many times, they will simply refuse to answer the question, or attempt to deflect and claim it is not their burden to think of what evidence might look like.

What counts as evidence?

But can you imagine if detectives behaved this way? Imagine, after investigating a crime scene, a detective were to conclude “I do not accept that any crime occurred here.” When asked why, the detective replied, “I do not find any of the alleged evidence convincing.” The next natural question is, “What sort of evidence would you have expected that you don’t find?” Imagine if the detective were to reply, “I have no idea!” Would you have any confidence in this detective’s ability? I know I wouldn’t. Being able to discern what potential evidence would look like is the first prerequisite to investigating a crime scene, and any detective who can’t do that is not worth hiring.

The same is true for skeptics. Anyone claiming to be a skeptic who cannot tell you what evidence for God might look like is no real skeptic at all. They are just ignorant, and they refuse to accept the responsibility for their own ignorance. But sometimes, a skeptic will venture a response to this challenging question. The responses I’ve heard have mostly fit in one of two categories: the ‘Genie’ response and the ‘Test tube’ response.

The Genie Response

The first category of answers to ‘the big question’ I’ve heard I will call ‘genie’ responses because they essentially boil down to the skeptic asking God to perform miraculous tricks for them personally, on command, just as a magical genie in a bottle might do.

“If God exists, may he strike this table with lightning right now!”

This sort of thinking is arrogant to the extreme. We, as God’s creations, are responsible to God—not the other way around! God is not on the hook to perform tricks for us on command. God certainly has the ability to perform miracles, and we can read about many of them in Scripture. But these miracles were done because God deemed them necessary, not because an arrogant unbeliever demanded it and God gave in to their demands. In response to this sort of thinking, Jesus said in Matthew 12:39-40,

“A wicked and adulterous generation demands a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Responding to this answer is not particularly difficult. Simply say, “Imagine a scenario where God exists but for whatever reason (as he is God and you are not), He decides not to give you a miraculous sign when you ask for it. What evidence would you look for to discern if this God exists or not?” Simply attempt to move the conversation past the unhelpful and unrealistic demand for instant miraculous signs. Obviously, there is no logical reason why God cannot exist without providing these signs on demand, so this retort by the skeptic is entirely unsatisfactory.

The Test Tube Response

The other most common response I’ve heard from skeptics is a ‘test tube’ style response: they expect God to be accessible to empirical scientific testing. For example, they might ask for a scientific study that shows a statistically-significant advantage in praying for healing to the Christian God compared to any other god, or to not praying at all. Without getting into the contentious issue among Christians of whether God still performs miraculous healings today, we can still say this is a wrong-headed approach; God is not a blind natural force. God is a personal being of the highest order, and our prayers to God are part of a personal relationship—not a scientific test! Imagine if you applied this logic to earthly parents: do a study to see if they tend more often than not to give you what you ask, when you ask for it, and if they don’t, you conclude you have no parents! That is exactly the kind of ridiculous logic this particular response is using. Just as with the first response, this response also unrealistically expects God to perform on command.

The obvious, and not so obvious, evidence for God

Now that we’ve explored some of the responses you are likely to get from skeptics, what about the real answers to this question? What really are the reasonable expectations for evidence of God? The obvious sorts of things we might look for (corresponding to the signs of forced entry in our home break-in example) would be things like:

  • Evidence for design, rather than randomness, in the cosmos
  • Evidence for design, rather than randomness, in our earth and solar system
  • Evidence for design, rather than randomness, in life

As the apostle Paul wrote,

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, emphasis added)

And in Hebrews 3:4,

“For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.”

Beyond this, we would also look for signs that God had communicated to us (i.e. in a body of Scripture). Why would a god bother to create something like our planet Earth, fill it with life including human life, and then do nothing else and remain totally silent? It seems very straightforward that if a god exists, we should expect to find evidence of communication from this god to us.

As it turns out, there are numerous competing claims of alleged divine revelations throughout history (and these competing claims are mutually exclusive because they contradict one another), so we would also need to look for clues like miraculously fulfilled prophecy to authenticate this Scripture as genuine. There would probably be other markers to distinguish true divine revelation from frauds; in the case of the Bible, we have a single coherent message with a beginning, middle and end which was given to dozens of authors over a period of thousands of years. This in itself is extremely impressive, and indicative of divine authorship. But we should also expect that God’s communication would be unique in its accuracy, and its ability to be confirmed by the available evidence.1

These are the obvious signs, but there is something a bit less obvious as well: the fact that we are able to think rationally and have knowledge at all actually points back to and depends upon God. If there were no God and therefore no designer for human life, what would that say about the usefulness of our brains for properly understanding truth? If there is no ultimate Authority governing the cosmos, does the concept of “truth” really hold any meaning at all? If we deny God’s existence, we are actually undercutting the validity of our own reasoning altogether. In the final analysis, all human knowledge depends upon God, and if God did not exist we would not be able to know anything for certain at all.

The next time you’re in a discussion or debate with a skeptic, ask them The Big Question, and push for a real answer. This is the quickest way to cut to the heart of the matter and reveal if the skeptic is being intellectually honest when dealing with the overwhelming evidence we do have of our creator, God.

References and notes

  1. A real-life crime scene detective, J. Warner Wallace, has written an excellent lay-level presentation of the powerful evidences for the reliability of the New Testament which I highly recommend: Cold Case Christianity. See coldcasechristianity.com for more on this resource. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Christianity for Skeptics
by Drs Steve Kumar, Jonathan D Sarfati
From
US $17.00
How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
From
US $3.50

Readers’ comments

Sue C.
Brilliant! Thanks Paul. I can't wait to try this with my sceptical friends.
Paul Price
Best of luck in your conversations, and God bless.
Gian Carlo G.
David Wood also addressed a similar issue with respect to the quality and expectation of evidence. In his live chat with Sam Shamoun, for example, he addresses the claim from an atheist that David misrepresented Richard Dawkins. David plays clips that reveal that Richard Dawkins, not only admittedly doesn't accept any evidence because he thinks he can explain it away, but he also admits to "pay lip service" to the scientific community, that a scientist should change his/her mind in accord to the evidence, implying Dawkins never really believed such a criteria for evidential assessment in the first place. Another is how he compares in another video, Fred, from Scooby-Doo: Zombie Island, to the New Atheists in that they raise the bar unrealistically high, that if it were to applied to them, these same atheists wouldn't be able to prove to you they exist right in front of you. Because you can always explain it away with anything! Be it unobservable aliens or blind chance or Descartes' demon. The New Atheists evidential scheme is perfect for a solipsist, but inadequate for any other philosophical position.
Richard G.
Wonderful Bro Paul and you admirably handled a new matter for me. Let's be irresistible and unstoppable and supremely confident in pressing the truth on people. Then wait for the Holy Spirit to act knowing as He does whether a person will follow the truth. Firm assurance is needed that we are doing the right thing by being obedient in preaching the gospel. I often wonder whether your readers can grasp and then use all the correct arguments that CMI kindly gives us.
Let us give people the chance to acknowledge our truth and then handle any response without worrying whether we can convince them. I think some people have accepted an imperfect response to their objections but ultimately believed! Jesus gave the perfect arguments to all but He didn't win them all.
Today July 11th begins my 60th year of church-planting in Japan. Only about 15 churches but I doubt whether long age Christians win many for Christ,trying to agree with the unsaved people's 'science' at any cost. My six children are still with me in Japan and even some of my grandchildren are preaching the gospel. Let us trust God to help us handle any response. Let's suggest people read the Bible or pray, or study the relevant material that CMI has so wonderfully and laboriously compiled. We spread the gospel in Japan in newspaper advertisements, tracts (with invitations), in letterboxes, outside schools and workplaces and on the street. We are not the ones on trial as to whether we can answer objectors. They are the ones on trial for their lives including their eternal destiny. Jesus summed it up with John 7:17. " If anyone is willing to do God's will they shall know..." It's no shame to let the spittle run down your beard when unable to answer objections. David did it and successfully!
Paul Price
Thank you and God's blessings on your important work in Nihon.
Michael S.
This is a very good article because you have qualified evidence correctly with a succinct and well articulate case, and shown the wrong way to qualify it (the atheist way). With both the, "genie", and "test-tube", type requests, these are manufactured by atheists because they already know through hindsight, that there isn't this type of evidence. It's the same with design, they won't qualify the features of intelligent design as evidence of design, they will request something silly, like observing the process of creation, or say that God is supernatural and there is no proof of the supernatural. All of this underlines and paints the picture of a deliberately uncooperative customer by analogy.

Atheists hand-pick evidence for God as evidence they already know is not there, rather than asking what evidence of God would truly be.
William H.
Thank you, Paul, for this well-reasoned article with links to other articles.
I must be patient and ask such question too with skeptics/unbelievers :)
Yes, the evidence for God is everywhere around us, and the evidence for Christ as Saviour is substantial and sufficient.
Michael B.
How many millions were invested in SETI to seek for signs of intelligence by looking for patterns encoded in the random noise of space yet that same type evidence is claimed to be the result of randomness when it comes to the DNA of life.
It's like claiming the Windows or Apple operating systems were actually downloads from space that were the result of billions of years of random space noise and somehow also having computers ready to receive the download and execute the commands.
Their logic is corrupt.
Your Brother in Christ,
Michael
Mitch C.
Hi Paul,

A practical example of this approach occurred in a debate held at UC Irvine in 1985 between Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen and atheist Gordon Stein . Someone in the audience asked Stein, "What for you personally would constitute adequate evidence for God's existence?"

Stein replied:
"If that podium suddenly rose into the air, five feet, stay there for a minute, and then drop right down again, I would say that that was evidence of the supernatural, because that would violate everything that we know about the laws of physics and chemistry, assuming there wasn't an engine under there, or a wire attached to it, to make those obvious exclusions. That would be evidence for a supernatural, violation of the laws…or maybe we would call it a miracle, right in front of your eyes. That would be evidence I would accept. Any kind of a supernatural being putting in an appearance, and doing miracles that could not be staged magic would also be evidence that I would accept."

However, my experience has been that atheists will always appeal to "undiscovered laws of science" when compelling evidence is presented to them. They cannot explain how DNA formed or was programmed with the instructions to replicate the first life form, but they are confident that future scientific research will uncover a naturalistic explanation.

Even if God were to grant their demand for a miracle, they would reject that evidence and still try to come up with a naturalistic explanation. They would far rather appeal to alien intervention than to submit to the truth that a sovereign, holy Creator exists who has the right to set moral standards for our obedience.

Thank you for this very helpful article!
John Z.
Paul, which of the two skeptic replies do you find "better" than the other?
Paul Price
I guess you could say that the test tube response is slightly less arrogant than the genie response, but the're both wrong-headed, as I explain here. It doesn't really matter which one is "better" because they both represent very wrong ways of looking at the question of God's existence that place God on a plane which is subservient to, rather than in dominion over, humanity.

Another common response I didn't mention in the article is for them to bring up the problem of evil, which is well-answered in places such as: Why death and suffering?.
Dan B.
Mitch above makes a very good point. The fact is that what people consider to be "against the laws of physics" varies from age to age depending on our state of knowledge. So, thinking along the lines of Stein's illustration, before 1783, the levitation of hot air balloons would have been considered magic (Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote also comes to mind), and similarly with maglev before mid-20th century, and indeed space rocket propulsion, and on it goes.

If Stein personally ever did witness such a thing, and then reported it, he would be irritated when skeptics who hadn't seen it simply dismissed him as a liar or deluded, yet that's exactly what he himself does with all the people who witnessed Jesus' miracles....

Anyway this is an excellent 'angle' taken in the article, and I've already quoted it in a forum when someone "duckspeaked" about "lack of evidence", lol
Howard B.
Thank-you for presenting scientific and intellectual responses to the skeptics. Prophecies fulfilled in Jesus are also referenced. What is almost always overlooked as evidence is what YHVH Himself gave as His witnesses: Israel and the Jewish people, especially back in their land in these end-times as a proof of the God of Israel being the one and only true God, Creator of the heavens and the Earth. (see, among other Scriptures, Is 43 - 45; Ezek 38:14-23)

For some reason (maybe not being politically correct in these days; or maybe due to replacement theology?), the history of the Jews is side-lined as a witness to the truth of Genesis and the whole rest of the Bible through to Revelation. Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews, is the Truth of the matter!
Guillermo P.
An outstanding article! Thank you very much and may God continue to bless you and this ministry!
Boon T.
The evidence for randomness is so remote and yet the atheists will believe in it. I cannot understand the logic of their belief in the face of a diminishing statistical possibility of randomness in creation.
Brian R.
Interesting...if someone (as did Mr Stein) states they would believe in God if they seen something that would "violate everything that we know about the laws of physics and chemistry" I would respond that that is indeed the reason why they DON'T believe he exists!!!! That is exactly why scientists claim they can't find proof he exists!
Tammy S.
This is a fantastic way of turning the tables, which has become one of my favourite ways to engage skeptics in conversations about the existence of God. The excitement of having so much knowledge about good sound reasoning regarding creation has at times led me to overzealously babble on in conversation, sometimes to the detriment of the goal - to open the door to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Disappointingly, one comes to realize that the best arguments in the world cannot, in and of themselves, cause a skeptic to become a believer. Rather than solely attempting to get skeptics to see my point of view, I now favor attempting to get skeptics to see THEIR OWN point of view. So many skeptics have not thought all the way through the things they profess to believe because they haven't been expected to.
Another thing I will say is that it seems to me that the SETI program has been an effort to find an alternative to God BECAUSE design is undeniable deep down. Had aliens been discovered, the atheists would promptly have jumped ship on the macro-evolution theory in favor of supporting the "aliens did it" theory instead.
Robert B.
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden (over their sins), and I will give you rest (Matt.11:27, 28).

And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, should we again break Your commandments...? (Ezra 9:13, 14).

Personal guilt and need of sins forgiven followed by undeserving grace is all the evidence one needs (Psa.72:12, 13).
Paul Price
God does not call us to blind faith (fideism), so your comments here are totally off the mark. God has made His existence manifest and evident to all such that no one has an excuse to deny God. I suggest you read these articles on the topic of apologetics and faith: Why use apologetics for evangelism?, Who has an answer?
Del U.
“What evidence would you expect to find of God?”

First off, you'd need to be able to DEFINE God. What or who is God under suitable parameters that can be falsified or disproven or conversely.

If you cannot even do this, then there's no need to even bring up the question since God can simply be Russell's teapot.

"Asking this question seems rather obvious, but you’d be surprised how many long-winded debates go on where this question is never brought up. "

A good debate needs good definitions. If you want people to progress in asking about God, you'd need to first give them a definition of God where they can start from.

"Applying this method of reasoning to the existence of God, we must ask: what sort of clues would we expect to find, if God did exist? For the unbeliever: how would this world / universe look different if God did exist, compared to how it looks now?'

This sort of comparison through analogy is inadequate for 2 reasons:

1.) It already assumes a Creator or Designer. the analogy is worded ins such a way that there MUST be a perpetrator to begin with. That's establishing a tautological setup where God HAS to already exist a priori. A better example would be finding a dead body and then trying to infer if there really was someone behind it or if it was suicide or even death by natural causes.

2.) It says nothing about the perpetrator. It could be Vishnu or Satan or Cthuluhu, not necessarily God. And that's a central part of proving GOD not just that some supernatural force "created everything".
Paul Price
This 'definitions' challenge is a smokescreen. By God I mean the tri-personal Spirit that reveals Himself in the Bible as Yahweh. One can learn much about the attributes of God through the revelation of Scripture (e.g. omniscient, atemporal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, etc.)

"This sort of comparison through analogy is inadequate for 2 reasons: 1.) It already assumes a Creator or Designer. the analogy is worded ins such a way that there MUST be a perpetrator to begin with. That's establishing a tautological setup where God HAS to already exist a priori."

No not really. It's not taken for granted that a home invasion occurred at all. But away from the analogy: you quoted but ignored the important question here. What evidence would you expect to find of God? One cannot claim that there is no evidence if one cannot define what one means by "evidence" and what sort of evidence one would accept.
Howard B.
To Del and to Paul,

I would say that this is a perfect opportunity of using Israel and the Jewish people as evidence of the truth of God, and of that God being YHVH, the triune God who is the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and the seas and all that is in them. Give Him glory.
Paul Price
Howard,

I appreciate your enthusiasm for that piece of evidence, but perhaps this is a learning opportunity for you as well. Your desire to bring up this evidence from the outset is actually counterproductive from a strategic point of view, and it runs contrary to the whole message of my article. What I am trying to communicate is that for effective evangelism to the skeptic you cannot bring your evidence from the outset and say "Here, look at this!". It generally doesn't work because you aren't addressing the specific needs of your listener. I know this seems very convincing to you, but what is convincing to one person may seem trivial to another. What you need to do is refrain from mentioning evidences until you have gotten your listener, the skeptic, to admit what sort of evidence they would accept in the first place. Then you can give them exactly what they ask for (or, you can show them that their demands are unrealistic or unreasonable). We Christians have a whole toolbox of evidences at our disposal, so let's not try to force a square peg into a round hole. Hope this helps.

Paul
Howard B.
Thanks, Paul, for your response. I am not trying to say that Israel should be the first thing to bring up, just like when witnessing to the Jewish people we don't start with Jesus is God in the flesh. They will eventually bring that question up at some point. And the 'evangelist' needs to have an OT answer for that. I was trying to say that Israel is often left out as an evidence, not that Israel is the only or even primary one.

Blessings to you and to CMI for the glory of His name.
Daniel M.
I recommend also looking at Gioacchino (Jack) Michael Cascione's book, "Repetition in the Bible" as another testament to the supernatural nature of the Bible.
Daniel Curtis Sexton D.
Christian Caller: Hey Matt, what kind of evidence would you expect if a God existed?

Matt Dillahunty: I don't know what evidence would convince me, but if the god of theism does exist then that god would know what would convince me and yet your god has not done so. Now this means either this god does not exist or does not care about the nature of evidence to present it. Now which one of those two possibilities do you think is correct?


(Paul Price, What do you think of this response?)
Paul Price
Daniel,

Thanks very much for commenting. I am assuming you got this transcript from one of the YouTube videos of The Atheist Experience, correct? It's extremely revealing. Here is a guy who is renowned as an atheist activist (a dysangelist of atheism). He is even, according to Wikipedia, the president of the Atheist Community of Austin. Yet apparently he has not even bothered to consider this most basic and foundational of questions: what evidence am I looking for? This is a great example of how powerful and disarming that question can be.

Dillahunty's response here can be categorized as a type of the 'Genie' response: he is basically saying that it's up to God to miraculously appear and provide exactly that evidence which would convince him (though he himself is apparently under no obligation to even consider the matter). His god is himself and he is expecting the true God to submit to him, in effect. I must say this is an extremely intellectually lazy and repugnant answer, but I'm very glad you shared it.

Paul

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