A Guide to Examining the Way We Believe So That What We Believe Will be Secure
My sister Angie died in January of 2004. I believe this to be the case. In fact, I am so convicted of the truthfulness of her death I could say without hesitation that I am certain that she died. No, not in a mathematical sense. No, not in an infallible sense. For cases such as this are not like mathematics. And I am not infallible. Therefore, by definition, I could be wrong. But I am not. Angie is dead.
(Please forgive the rather morbid illustration that I use throughout this chapter. I only include it because of its relevance to the issue of conviction and belief).
I got a phone call from the medical examiner while on HWY 635. “Is this Michael Patton” he said. “Yes, it is,” I responded with curiosity to this heavily accented country voice. “Are you in your car?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” I said with some amount of curiosity and a growing degree of fear. “Is your family with you?” he asked. “Yes, they are,” I said this time with more fear than curiosity. “Could you pull over please,” he requested. By this point, I knew what was next.
I have to tell you, I have never in my life had some random unidentified person ask me these questions while driving down the road. Neither have I since received such a request. I hope I never have to again. Just think about it. The phone rings in my car and an unfamiliar voice that sounds like he was either Brooks, Dunn, or Haggard asks me to pull over. There was one fleeting thought that popped in my mind. I remember because I looked into the rear-view mirror to see if it was a cop. Why would a cop call me to pull me over? However, I knew better. I hoped for different (even a cop!), but I knew better.
“Why?” I responded to his request to pull over. “It’s my sister isn’t it?” My overwhelming fear did not give him time to answer. I asked the preemptive question. “She is dead, isn’t she?” After a long pause, the medical examiner responded “Yes, sir.”
Although I did not have any “hard” evidence, I knew what had happened. Angie, my sister, had committed suicide. I did not even stop by the medical examiner’s office to view the body. Though he told me where they found her (at a hotel in Denton, TX), I did not stop there to examine the scene. I immediately called my mother and told her what happened. I then began the three hour drive from Texas to Oklahoma to mourn with my family. All of this I did because I had implicit trust in some random voice on the other end of the line.
Two days later, I went back to Texas with my wife to pick up Angie’s car and her cremated remains. As we pulled up to the medical examiner’s office, my wife was gracious enough to go inside and do what needed to be done. When she came back, she told me they had pictures. She said that there were many, but she could not look at any of them but one. It was a picture of Angie’s hand on a gun. I said, “Are you sure it was her’s?” This was a question out of desperation. I knew it was. “Yes, it was hers,” my wife said with a look on her face as if she felt she was taking away my last bit of hope. I immediately called the medical examiner from the parking lot. “Can I come in and see the pictures?,” I asked. I am sure he was thinking very carefully about how to respond and that is why he paused for a bit before answering. “Yes, you can come see them. But I don’t think you want to.” My heart sank with those words, knowing what they implied. “Remember her as she was,” he continued. “Don’t do this to yourself.” I almost got out of the car, but then sank back into my seat and conceded. Kristie had brought out a white cardboard box which is supposed to have the ashes of Angie in them. Even today, they sit at my mom’s house on a shelf, twelve feet high in her living room. I have never looked at them.
I believe Angie is dead. I never saw her body. I never saw any pictures. I never saw the gun she used. I never saw any fingerprint evidence. I have never looked into that box. I never even saw the medical examiner. But based on one conversation with a guy I don’t know and the testimony of my wife who only saw her hand, my conviction level that Angie is dead is very strong. Every once in a while, I have this fleeting irrational hope that normally shows up in a dream that Angie is alive. She normally appears in some random place and we find out that it was all a big mistake. But those are dreams. I truly believe Angie died.
We are talking about the anatomy of belief. We are asking about the why? and how? of our beliefs. Most specifically, we are talking about the process of belief in relation to Christianity. Building upon the intellectual conviction aspect of belief, we now turn to what I call forensic conviction.
But as a bit of review, allow me put this in context once again: Forensic conviction makes up the second aspect of our “Real Life” conviction meter.
The real life conviction meter is one of three aspects that make up the relative strength of our overall intellectual conviction in belief. The overall conviction meter looks like this.
Finally, the conviction meter is one of three aspects that make up our overall belief.
Forensic conviction is that aspect of our conviction that provides evidence for what we believe. Normally, this word “forensic” limits the evidence to issues of forensic science (i.e. DNA evidence, fingerprints, tire tracks, and the like). But we are not limiting it to such things here. The word “forensic” is taken from the Latin forensis, meaning “before the forum.” It speaks to the evidence that one can bring to solidify a truth claim. Broadly, this can include any line of legitimate evidence that substantiates one’s claims. It goes beyond first-hand evidence in that it looks to material, historical, as well as traditional forensic evidence.
For Christians, we believe many truth claims. As has been said before, many people believe things without any evidence at all, believing that the introduction of evidence is the polar opposite of faith. However, our conviction, while based on many things, must take into account the evidences for the veracity of our truth claims. Faith is very weak if it is blind. If God exists and has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, while we may not have been there to have first-hand conviction about such things, we can and should look to the fingerprints left behind.
This is often referred to as “Evidential Apologetics.” “Apologetics” is taken from the Greek apologia of 1 Peter 3:15 where Peter tells his readers to “always be ready to give a reason (apologia) for hope that is within them to everyone who asks.” An apologist is one who spends his time constructing arguments based on the evidence to defend and strengthen what they believe. While this book is not an apologetics book per se, it is an attempt to legitimize and encourage the type of thinking and conviction that apologetics provides. Continue Reading →