The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Evidence Demands a Story

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With the popularity of CBS’s CSI (Crime Scene Investigators), all of the other networks have created a copycat show of some sort. ABC’s newest offering, The Evidence, takes a familiar format and puts a new twist on it. Sort of a cross between NYPD Blue and CSI, The Evidence gives all of the “evidence” for a crime up front. Wednesday night’s episode included a blood-stained miniature baseball bat, a crossword puzzle, a plastic bowl of pasta, and a pair of damp boxing gloves. The idea is that you, the viewer, have all of the evidence, now can you solve the crime before the cops on the show? Well, can you?

Of course, the answer is no, you can’t. The reason being is that all evidence is interpreted. There can be no such thing as “brute facts.”

Brute facts are opposed to institutional facts, in that they do not require the context of an institution to occur…For instance, the fact that a certain piece of paper is money cannot be ascertained outside the institution of money in a given society. And that piece of paper will only be money as long as the members of that society believe that it is so. Being money is an institutional fact. On the contrary, being a piece of paper is a brute fact.[1]

Of course, this definition completely misses the point. It assumes that you and I agree on the convention of calling flat, white, flimsy pieces of wood pulp “paper.” But “paperness” is not to be found anywhere in a vault which contains the brute facts of the world. The reason being that there are none. Paper is as much an institutional convention as “money.”

The Evidence brings this point home powerfully. Laying out all the pieces of physical evidence related to a crime leaves the viewer with nothing more than an interesting piece of abstract art. Only as the show progresses do the artifacts begin to make sense in the grand scheme of the story. Lawyers the world over must do this on a daily basis. Using their forensic skills, they must tell a convincing story that incorporates the facts. They must draw the line for the jury for the mural-sized dot-to-dot drawing that is the case. Think of the evidence in a case as the dots, and the lawyer’s interpretation as the line. If the jury sees the “big picture” more clearly with the prosecutor’s line than with the defendant’s, they will convict. If evidence alone was enough to solve a crime, the producers of The Evidence would have an abundance of advertiser time to sell.

This lesson has clear application when skeptics and liberals want to deny facts like the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the parting of the Red Sea, etc, etc. As Christians, just like the lawyerly line-drawer, we must always point out to unbelievers that we all believe in order to understand. As Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century put it: Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam." ("Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.")[2]

The Christian and the non-Christian alike filter the evidence in terms of their own preconceived beliefs. The “facts” of nature—trees, streams or mountains—tell us nothing about their origin. But when the Christian takes the interpretation of Creation to the facts, he finds that they fit the story. Likewise, when the non-Christian takes his interpretation of uniformitarianism, catastrophism, materialism, or whatever to the facts, his confidence in his own story is bolstered as well. But as more and more facts get fed through the filter, which one makes better sense of reality and what we observe in the world? Which interpretation has more facts on the top side and which one has the biggest pile of rubble underneath it? Only the Christian interpretation coincides with what we observe in the world, i.e. the metaphysical and the physical find a happy marriage only in the Christian worldview. And this is why each episode of The Evidence must end as it begins, showing the physical evidence once again, only this time in its proper context. You need to have the story in order to turn “facts” into “evidence.”

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