#STRask: July 10, 2017

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Published on 07/10/2017

J. Warner Wallace is on a timer and answers questions about miracles, emotional barriers to Christianity, and getting an atheist’s attention to make a case for Christianity.


  • Can miracles be historically proven if miracles are the least likely to occur and historians look for what most likely happened?
  • How do you get past emotional barriers in this culture with sound intellect?
  • If you had just a few minutes to try to get an atheist’s attention to hear your case for Christianity, how would you do it?


Melinda: Well, hello there. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer. This is Stand to Reason’s #STRask podcast. The short podcast. Short questions. Short answers. You send us your questions on Twitter and this time we are blessed to have J. Warner Wallace with us again.

J. W. Wallace: Okay. Unlike the past, I’m actually gonna make this a short answer. You always ask me short questions, and I give you like, super long answers.

Melinda: Well, because they’re so interesting and you know, believe me, I would cut you off if I thought, but...First of all, you’re here so rarely and then secondly, sometimes I’ll save certain questions for you and they’re worth really getting into, so...

J. W. Wallace: Okay. I’m gonna try to be disciplined, so go ahead.

Melinda: So, don’t worry. So, believe me. I am the final arbiter, and if I wanted to cut you off, I would.

J. W. Wallace: Cut me off. Okay cool.

Melinda: So don’t worry about it. So go to twitter. Use #STRask and we’ll find your question and pose it to the guys. We usually get around to most all of the questions. Sometimes there’s a question that’s not quite clear enough or sometimes it’s a question you really can’t do justice in a short format.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. It’s a great idea, though, to have a...

Melinda: Not going to do damage...More damage than good, so anyway. So if you sometimes wonder when your question is coming up, you know, most of them eventually.

J. W. Wallace: Right. Right. Exactly.

Melinda: So, first question. Can miracles be historically proven even though they’re very unlikely to occur? They’re very rare and historians generally look for what is more likely to have happened.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. I get it. And I think the question becomes what do you define as proven or how would you prove these? What do we even mean when we say the word prove, which I hardly ever use anymore, even in front of a jury. It’s just the most reasonable inference from the evidence. I think you can do that. I think you can say, “Okay. I’ve got this event and I’ve got to explain it some way.” Like the resurrection. Okay, how do I explain that? Well, there’s like seven or eight possible explanations for all of the claims related to the resurrection. The empty tomb, the transformation, the disciples, whatever you want to say are the claims. Well then the question is...

Well, and one of those options is that he just rose from the grave, a miracle. But I think most people would say, “Well, I’m not going to jump to that first. I’d have to eliminate as reasonable all the other potential explanations.” But even if I did that and I eliminated all the other possible explanations and the last one standing is a miracle, would people find that approach abductive reasoning? Would they find that satisfying? Many people wouldn’t. But I think it actually is satisfying because in the end that’s how we operate in daily life about everything. Well, who left this paper on the desk? Well, we kind of go through this process of abductive reasoning and we get to the most reasonable inference and we say, “Okay. I’m satisfied.”

Now, I grant you, this is a bigger kind of claim, but I think the process is the same. So if that’s what you mean by prove, to make the most reasonable inference from evidence, then yes, we can clearly do it. The question is, is that going to be satisfying for you? That’s really what it comes down to.

Melinda: So he says historians look for what most likely happened. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would be hard for a historian to come to the most likely conclusion that a miracle happened. Because really, all historical events are unique...

J. W. Wallace: Yes.

Melinda: To some extent and so it’s not like historians...This is harder for a historian than other things, right?

J. W. Wallace: And then what happens is you just have presuppositional definitions that historians adopt, which are really based on biases. So for example, I think most historians are like scientists that would say that there is never an appropriate time to insert a less than natural or extra-natural or supranatural explanation. If you are going to claim something supernatural is the best explanation, you’re in a genre difference. You’re not talking about history. You’re talking about mythology. We include supernatural claims in mythology but we never on the basis of a presuppositional bias...We refuse to even accept explanations that are supernatural or supranatural or extra-natural. But that’s really a foundational kind of starting point bias rather than would this possibly be the best explanation? Would it most reasonably explain what we see?

So I think that a lot of it for me was just saying is it...For example, when you study the evidence in the universe, scientists are more than happy to ask five of the six questions that every good detective asks. What, when, how, where, why. They’re happy to ask those five. And we ask those five as detectives, but if you only stop there, you will never take anyone to jail because you haven’t asked the who question. When it comes to causal explanations, scientists will say you’re not allowed to ask that sixth question. That sixth question is...There’s never going to be a who answer for cause. It’s event causation, straight up, straight down. That’s all there can ever be. You can ask what, when, why, how, where but you cannot ask who. Well, why not? Because we don’t ask who in science.

Melinda: They used to.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. Exactly.

Melinda: Science used to.

J. W. Wallace: Exactly. But why don’t you ask them now? Because this is not doing science. Well, why isn’t it doing science? Because that’s how we start. Okay, it sounds to me like you’ve taken a presuppositional bias, a philosophical position, and the same thing the historians do where those things are just out of bounds. Sorry, can’t ask those questions. Well, what if the information we see in DNA is best explained by intelligence. But that would require a who, but I’m not allowed to ask who so now I’m going to give you every kind of wacky, crazy explanation for DNA information that’s really a twist of the imagination and is really stretching the boundaries of reason because you simply refuse to ask who. It doesn’t seem right.

Melinda: I remember when I read Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus, to review it for the website, for the blog, he and his co-author made a big deal about using the Gospels as evidence and blah, blah, blah and you know, we’re strictly limited to the evidence and all this. And so, of course, most of what they ended up writing about in the book they’re taking from the Gospels.

J. W. Wallace: Right.

Melinda: But every time it came to a miracle...

J. W. Wallace: Yes.

Melinda: “Oh, well, we can’t say this really happened.” I’m going, “Really? Why not? It’s from the same exact source you just took the last thing you talked about.” You know, but no. Suddenly, it’s the same kind of thing. There’s a bias now saying somehow we can trust this source on these things but now we suddenly can’t trust the source on the supernatural thing.

J. W. Wallace: Yes.

Melinda: If they’re reliable on one thing, why aren’t they reliable on the other thing?

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. So I think it is a presuppositional bias against anything supernatural because, for example, if you didn’t have any claims of miraculous behavior on the part of Jesus, would any credible reasoning person not accept the entire historicity of Jesus as offered by the Gospels without any question? Of course they would. What causes us to question the historicity of Jesus at all is simply the supernatural elements. And why do we do that? Because we don’t think those things could ever happen. So we have really...We’re stepping into a...Although, if you are an atheist, you already have extra-natural beliefs because you believe something other than space, time, and matter began everything we see in the universe, and all the stuff we describe as natural is simply space, time, and matter and the laws of physics and chemistry that interact with space, time, and matter. Everything else is something extra-natural and you already know you need an extra-natural first cause to create that stuff. So, look, you’re already halfway home. You already accept that there’s some extra-natural first cause. Well, couldn’t that cause also still be active in the universe? If so, everything else is going to open up to you. So it’s a matter of deciding what opens up to you.

Melinda: Yeah. It’s like J. P. Moreland said: Christianity doesn’t close your mind. It actually opens your mind up to more of the possible answers.

J. W. Wallace: Exactly. Yes. But it does give us a burden. It gives us a burden not to jump to...Not wanting to explain things from a natural perspective. I get that.

Melinda: Sure. But we have other categories of answers that they’ve closed off.

J. W. Wallace: That we can go to. That’s right. Yes.

Melinda: Next question comes from EnabledByHim. How do we get past emotional...And you’re a good one for this. How do we get past emotional barriers in this culture with sound intellect?

J. W. Wallace: Oh boy. That’s tough.

Melinda: Your big lean is the evidence and presenting it in a compelling way.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. I think we ask jurors if you’re in this category, are you somebody who...Because everyone we pick is going to have a set of biases. There’s no unbiased people. That’s just not possible. What we ask instead is, “Are you going to be able to suspend your biases to make a fair decision?” We recognize you’re going to have some inclinations, some opinions, some strong opinions. And you may have some emotional responses. We ask people this all the time. This is a child murderer. A small child has been murdered. This is going to be an emotionally volatile case. You’re going to see some graphic images. You’re going to hear some very painful stories and very painful evidences. Are you the kind of person who’s going to be able to detach an emotional response that might prejudice you against a witness or against the defendant to be able to make a fair...

Now, some people will just tell you, “I just don’t think I can do it,” and if you think they’re being honest and they’re saying they don’t want to just get off jury duty, that they actually can do it, then we’re not going to impound that person. We get it. The hard part about this is that this requires a mental, intellectual effort. But if you’re the kind of person who’s emotionally driven anyway and you’re trying to figure out how do I become more rational about this, it might be hard to do.

Melinda: Yeah. They don’t know how to do it.

J. W. Wallace: And there are some people who just are not qualified in that area to serve on juries. We’re not going to risk this. We’re not going to say, “Well, try your best.” No. If we’ve got a choice, we’re not going to put you on the panel because if you’ve been...And by the way, we all know these folks.

Melinda: Yeah, but the defense usually wants them on the jury.

J. W. Wallace: Oh, sure. Absolutely. And you all know these people because these are the kind of people who you would say in their lives, you know, you’ve seen them make what you might consider to be one illogical choice after another or maybe one choice driven by emotion. We all have someone in our family who operates this way. And I think this is a really difficult...I think if you’re asking this question of yourself, though, then you probably are already on the first step to becoming more reasonable because at least you recognize I need to control this impulse. Right?

Melinda: Yeah. I mean, when I’ve...I mean, putting this in the legal venue, not the Christian venue...The couple times I’ve sat on juries, I mean, I realize...And this has come up in jury questioning. You know, do you think the police are always right? Look, I have a natural bias to believe the police. But do all police tell the truth? Are they always right? No.

J. W. Wallace: Right.

Melinda: So I recognize my bias...

J. W. Wallace: That’s right.

Melinda: So that helps me be more open to listening to the evidence and evaluating...Making sure my bias doesn’t drive me.

J. W. Wallace: Yes. That’s exactly...It’s true of every juror, by the way. We don’t find people who are neutral because there’s no neutrality. What we find are people who are inclined either for the prosecution or for the defense but who will say and articulate that yet, I have a brother who’s a defense attorney and he’s a great guy and I think a lot of people are falsely accused, but I am fair, so if you can show me the evidence...I mean, it doesn’t mean he’s been falsely accused. Just because I think it happens doesn’t mean it happened to him. So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for people who can articulate that way. So you don’t have to eliminate your emotion, but there are going to be times when you’re going to have to ask yourself, “Am I letting my emotions run with this or am I really thinking this through?” And of course, those are the biggest life issues, relationships usually, where you have to do that the most. It’s hard.

Melinda: Yeah. So kind of going back to his question in the Christian realm. When you’re talking to somebody that perhaps you already know is sort of driven emotionally, would you kind of approach it the same way as you were just describing approaching a jury and say, “If I could show this to you, are you willing to consider this?”

J. W. Wallace: Yes. Ask the question.

Melinda: And you talk about this in Forensic Faith - how to choose your audience or how to select a jury. It’s an interesting book because it’s a little bit more about methodology as opposed to evidence. So that may be helpful to read, EnabledByHim. But that’s what you would kind of do is...It’s almost like jury questioning.

J. W. Wallace: Right.

Melinda: And lay the ground, are you willing to listen to this and consider it?

J. W. Wallace: Yes. And what’s helpful about that is then when we go to closing arguments or we’re about ready to dismiss the jury and you are in rebuttal, you can remind the jury of their initial pledge.

Melinda: Yeah. When they’re just rejecting stuff, you can come back and say, “Well, wait a minute. You told me you’d be willing to...”

J. W. Wallace: Exactly. It doesn’t mean that they will get...They still may hang your jury. They still may decide against you on whatever it may be, but at least because you first asked for that commitment, you can remind them of the commitment later. That’s helpful. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it’s helpful for some. Because this is all going to be a matter of well look, if I said, “Okay, how do I resist eating my favorite dessert, whatever it may be?” Well, if you’re driven just to act on your impulses, then guess what? We’re never going to be able to give you any advice. In the end you are going to have to make a decision that there’s some greater thing you’re trying to achieve by resisting the desert. And if you don’t think there’s a greater thing to achieve by resisting the desert, you won’t do it. So part of this is saying well look, these are the most critical issues that we can possibly examine. If there’s one time you need to resist your emotional response, it’s probably here. If they can see that there’s a greater goal, they might be willing to resist the desert.

Melinda: I was also just thinking...Because you know, all of us have heart reasons for certain things and not wanting to accept or believe, you know. So I wonder...Jesus of course, He had a big advantage because He could read people’s hearts, but He sometimes didn’t go directly at the thing. He actually went to the person’s heart and desires and motives or fears or whatever. So sometimes maybe it’s helpful, even though we’re kind of going through the evidence, to approach them that way, to just maybe ask them or try to understand what could be driving them emotionally and then maybe help them to see then how that doesn’t necessarily negate the evidence.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. I think...

Melinda: So at least bring it up and try to explore that with them.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. Do you recognize how as thinkers, Christian thinkers...And we are some form of that, right, as apologists, as case makers...

Melinda: Yeah. We have brains, not hearts.

J. W. Wallace: That’s right. We have a tendency to kind of exclude one side for the other. We have a hard time with the both, and. We kind of think, “Hey, we’ve got to chemo this because everyone is doing it this way and we need to kind of bring them along to the side so we’re going to swing the pendulum as far as we can in this direction to help them find the center.” Meanwhile, we don’t often possess any center at all because we’re way over on this edge. So I think that’s a big struggle for me too. It’s not hard for me to remind myself to not be emotional about this. What’s hard for me is to remind myself not to be so dry and analytical about it. Right? So I do think you’re right that there are times when I can appeal to someone’s heart and maybe make more impact than I could. That’s why it’s good to have know, Susie is always going to take that approach. I will sit there and go up for 10 minutes...

Melinda: Jim’s wife.

J. W. Wallace: Yes. And she’ll say to me, “What, are you stupid? Couldn’t you see what they were really getting at? You missed it. They really needed this.” And because I’m always wired this way, I missed it altogether.

Melinda: And a lot of times people will present an intellectual question or objection but really what’s going...But this is really the smokescreen for...You know, this isn’t the only reason people don’t want to accept Christianity, but Greg’s made the point - and others have too - that in the end people know the consequences. It means giving up autonomy over their life.

J. W. Wallace: That’s right.

Melinda: It means living in obedience. So sometimes people will use an intellectual question and that’s not really the issue at all.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. Our friend, Frank Turek, will always say it this way: People will claim they’re on our truth quest, but they’re really on a happy quest. And that’s the thing...The tail is wagging the dog.

Melinda: Yeah. So sometimes those...

J. W. Wallace: But nobody wants to say that. Right?

Melinda: Right. But sometimes that’s really where you need to get behind the heart issues.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. So it’s important to be able to see it.

Melinda: Yeah. Okay. Last question. First, second, next, whatever...Comes from BaldMonkey94. If you had just a few minutes to try to get an atheist’s attention to hear your case for Christianity, how would you do it?

J. W. Wallace: Gosh. It so hard because we typically contextualize, right? We need to know something about the person we’re talking to.

Melinda: So let’s say typical atheists these days believe science is everything, ridicule Christianity because it’s just foolish. Okay? So that’s a little bit of the context of the person you’re talking to.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. I think that myself, I’m always...If I’ve only got a few seconds, I’m going to talk about well, look, does it matter? I don’t care that it’s useful. I don’t care that Christianity is useful or has any practical application, if it does or doesn’t. All I care about is it’s true. And there’s a way to assess whether it’s true. So I think one of the questions I’ve learned...Again, this is from Frank Turek...I think at first when I heard him say it I was like, “Okay, that’s a good question,” but I think in the end it is the question. Because it’s diagnostic. He doesn’t always talk about it that way but it really is diagnostic. And that is simply this. If Christianity were true, would you believe it?

He asks it a lot on college campuses, so I thought I’ll start asking this question too. Because I would ask it in different ways. But that’s a quick way. You know, Frank is a master of 140 character Christianity, right? Just quick on twitter. So he’s awesome that way. And as I ask that question now, I am continually shocked by the number of people who will say no.

Melinda: Yeah.

J. W. Wallace: And it makes me realize okay now at least it diagnoses for me the problem.

Melinda: It’s surprising how many people will be honest and just say no.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. There’s no doubt about it. And so that’s something that Frank has been doing for years and I’ve worked right alongside Frank and realized that that’s not just a little gimmick. That’s a very good question.

We have another friend, James Bucardo, who we’ve interviewed on this show before and he has talked about how his diagnostic question is, “Hey, what do you think happens when you die?” That’s his only question. He wants to get to the afterlife because he feels like it’s diagnostic. Some people will say, “Well, I don’t think there is an afterlife.” Some people will say, “Well, I think I’m...” Whatever their answer is, it diagnoses where they are in the spectrum of belief.

And I think what this question does is it diagnoses where you are on the scale of rebellion. If it’s true, would you believe it? And then you can kind of start from there. Because if they say, “Yeah, I think if it was true I could believe,” then I can talk about well, here’s two reasons why I think it’s true. But if they don’t give you that answer and say, “No, I wouldn’t believe it anyway,” then you know it’s a heart issue. And you can start to go in different directions based on the response. So I think that’s a good question because it is diagnostic and helps us to get there.

Melinda: Excellent. That’s really good.

J. W. Wallace: Cool.

Melinda: Thanks, Jim, for joining us.

J. W. Wallace: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Melinda: While I’m mentioning it, because of some of these answers, it would be helpful for them to read your newest book, Forensic Faith.

J. W. Wallace: Thank you. Yes, I hope they do.

Melinda: Again, it’s really how to get your audience to listen.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. It’s a how-to book more than a facts book. Those are the other two books, Cold Case and God’s Crime Scene.

Melinda: Because as a cold case detective who’s worked closely with the DA in trials and juries to get convictions for somebody you believe is guilty, or who is guilty, you’ve learned a lot of these persuasive things or how to kind of measure somebody up to see if they’re listening, if they’re a good audience for these things. So that’s really what Forensic Faith is kind of about. All the kind of stuff you’ve learned along the way.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah. Because I think...Look, the book that talks about tactics for communicating a Christian worldview has already been written and that’s Greg’s book.

Melinda: So everybody else has to find something else to write about.

J. W. Wallace: That’s right. So we’re trying to come alongside those kinds of approaches and kind of give you something else that will help continue the conversation, will add to the larger approach. And so I hope that this book does that in that...It can sit right next to that book and help you.

Melinda: It’s very helpful.

J. W. Wallace: Yeah.

Melinda: Thanks for joining us.

J. W. Wallace: Appreciate it. Thank you.

Melinda: I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, for Stand to Reason for #STRask.