Former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has a new book, in which he argues that agnosticism is the only sensible position to hold. But the book never gets to the heart of the Christian message. Instead, Bugliosi trots out the usual challenges to faith, mocking believers along the way with taunts about how his questions have never been, and can’t be, answered. Here’s a sampling of his “can’t be answered” questions:
At the very beginning of the book, Bugliosi claims that theists have not a single fact to support their position. “By fact I mean a truth known by actual experience or observation. And something that cannot be logically explained in any other way.” (p. 4). Later, he says that the only way to be able to accept evil in the world is if God appeared in the sky and told us that although what has happened doesn’t make sense, its part of a grand scheme for life. (p. 8). Verification about God, he says, is not possible, and most of what is written on the subject is nothing more than "sophisticated ignorance." He says that what he doesn’t know is "just more of the nonsense I already do know."(p. 13)
He’s off to a pretty bad start. For someone who no doubt understands proof beyond a reasonable doubt, consider what he has done here: his standard is proof beyond any possible doubt, and his available evidence is those things that can be known by “actual experience or observation.” Actually, it's even higher - he's asking for a direct and personal revelation in a way that cannot be denied, such as God appearing to him in the sky. What he's done in his first chapter is to reveal the depth of his bias, and the impossibility of anyone overcoming it through reason or evidence. There is simply nothing that will satisfy him.
Given his approach, all of history is off the table. He can have no knowledge of Washington crossing the Delaware, because he wasn’t there to experience or observe it. And of course just about everything can be “explained away,” especially if done in a piecemeal fashion. The real question is whether the alternative explanation is a “reasonable” one. After all, in the OJ case, explaining the evidence away as the product of a frame-up could be made to follow the rules of logic; the problem is that doing so, given the totality of the evidence, was not “reasonable.”
Another of his questions is: How God would put people on earth that he already knew were going to end up in hell. "No one in Christianity, to my knowledge, can answer that question," he says. (p.5). But Christians have answered that question. God has perfect knowledge, because for Him there is no time; there is no before, during or after. For Him, all things exist in His eternal present. But God has given us free will, such that though He can foreknow how things end up, He does not cause us to act the way we do. When I watch the movie Titanic, I know the ship will sink even though I had nothing to do with that result. What the existence of Hell says about the nature of God is a fair question. Wondering why God would set it up this way is too. But concluding that God must not exist - that is simply not a logical conclusion to draw.
Another “deal breaker” for Bugliosi is the Christian concept of prayer. Why would we have to beg God to be what he supposedly already is? If God is good, He will already be willing to give us the good that we are praying for. The question is not the profound contradiction he thinks it to be; it simply betrays his misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not simply a way of asking God for stuff, like some magical list for Santa. While we can bring our requests to God, prayer is much more. At minimum, it includes giving thanks and giving praise. Doing these things allows us to incline ourselves toward God; to orient ourselves properly with respect to a perfect being, who created us for a purpose. He is, consequently, worthy of our love, praise and respect. Prayer – whether answered immediately, eventually or never – is something that benefits us in our relationship to God. Anyone who thinks it is a way of making wishes come true doesn't understand much about the Christian view of prayer.
Having made clear that no evidence other than a personal visitation would satisfy him, Bulgiosi moves on in Chapter 2 to explain that Christian writings would be inadmissible “in court” because they all constitute hearsay and are not properly authenticated. Since a jury would not be allowed to consider such documents, these historic texts must also be denied admission in the courtroom of the mind of the seeker. Readers should see this trick for what it is: an attempt to compare apples and oranges. The rules of evidence that apply in court are an excellent way of ensuring a fair trial of an accused. When a crime occurs, presenting evidence that is reliable and properly tested so that the accused is not falsely convicted is reflective of a civilized and fair society; indeed, our system of justice recognizes that many guilty people will go free so that the chances of an innocent person being convicted is minimized.
But this approach to arriving at sound conclusions is not the exclusive way to acquiring valid and reliable knowledge. Nor is it a particularly effective method when the question is not guilt as to a recent crime, but understanding of historical events which occurred long ago. Bugliosi paints with too broad a brush; by his standard, we would be unable to conclude anything about the past, as all surviving documents would be hearsay and subject to some dispute. That is why historians take great pains to collect all the available documents and other evidence and test them for reliability, by comparing and contrasting with other information from the period in question. By so doing, by studying the contest and seeing how each piece of evidence fits into the scheme, they reach a consensus as to what occurred and why. None of this would be "admissible" in the way Bugliosi is contemplating. But then, no one expects it to be when they spend a lifetime studying or learning from history.
On the question of “intelligent design,” one of the principle arguments for God’s existence, Bugliosi answers that “physical laws of nature may be responsible for it.” ( p. 23) But this is no answer. The physical laws that are doing this must themselves have a source. This is especially true if those laws didn’t begin to operate until the Big Bang occurred, since scientists acknowledge that these laws came into being at that moment. Bugliosi concludes that we have no framework of reference that tells us that God is responsible for the predictability and harmony of the universe. (p.23) But this is not accurate. Our framework is our common human experience. When we see a thing proceed in a harmonious and ordered way, we recognize that a mind is behind the process. Watches don’t assemble themselves and start ticking. So too with the universe; if there is fine-tuning and order, we should also conclude – absent some more reasonable alternative – that a mind is responsible for what we see.
Bugliosi's reputation rests on his experience in the courtroom. But if he wants to portray himself as a reasonable presenter of the facts - what every prosecutor must do if he or she is to win the jury - he should take greater pains in proceeding with a fair and open mind. He tips his hand at the beginning of the book. He isn't going for fair and balanced here - he ends up with the conclusion he started off with, and spends the rest of the book trying to support it.