Recognizing a Biased Witness or a Biased Jury, Part 2

Jun 01, 2020

Abdu will apply the principles discussed in Part 1 to matters of faith, particularly the credibility of the New Testament and the creation account in Genesis.

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Abdu Murray: All rise and welcome to The Defense Rests, I'm Abdu Murray. This is a podcast where we take a look at the claims for and objections against the Christian faith from a legal perspective. By the way, looking also at other faiths and the non-faiths, whether it's atheism, or agnosticism, or other faiths that challenge the Christian faith, and see if they withstand the kind of scrutiny you'd find in a courtroom. Looking at rules of evidence, trial procedure, how juries think, what judges decide, and the like. You can follow The Defense Rests by following me on my social media channels, Twitter that's Abdu Murray A-B-D-U, Murray, M-U-R-R-A-Y Abdu Murray or Instagram, @abdumurray12, please include the one, two, otherwise you'll follow somebody else. And Facebook, my public figure page is Abdu Murray. And what you can do is leave a comment about these episodes. If you have an objection you'd like to raise, or you would like answered or addressed, or even a claim in favor of the Christian faith from a legal perspective, I'll see what I can do.

But when you leave that comment, leave the #thedefenserests. So tag my social media and then leave a comment, #thedefenserests, and we'll see what we can do. And maybe you'll find your claim, objection, question, whatever it might be on a future episode of The Defense Rests. I would love to hear from you about how this podcast is helping, or even if it's not helping, and hear your comments as well. Now, last time, this is part two, actually, because last time in the episode, we discussed how to assess credibility of a witness, but whether we should actually give certain witnesses greater weight than maybe their expertise or even their experience deserves. The federal rule of evidence 704, which says that an opinion on the ultimate issue of a case when an expert witness or a lay witness gives you an opinion about how you should decide. That's not necessarily objectionable, but it can be objectionable in certain instances because you are the jury, ladies and gentlemen, you are the jury, you are the ultimate trier of fact.

You're the one who decides whether or not the evidence is in favor of God's existence, that the God of the Bible is actually the God that exists and whether or not the claims of Jesus Christ actually hold water. You're the one who decides that. Now we employ the witnesses, whether the lay witnesses will tell us about their experiences or their views or expert witnesses who have a long list of letters after their names, who make them sound impressive and oftentimes they are quite impressive. And we decide whether the experts' in favor of, or against the Christian faith or any other belief system are credible. And then we make our decisions based on that. But oftentimes what happens is an expert who is impressive, who does have a pedigree that's worthy of our consideration will go beyond their level of expertise or their area of expertise and give you an opinion that suggests that you should follow their views. Even though they're not experts in that because they happen to be experts in something else.

We also discuss the element of bias, that oftentimes there are witnesses, including experts who tend to testify for only one side. They tend to testify only for the defense or only for a prosecution or a plaintiff or whatever it might be. They tend to say that the defendant's always guilty in these kind of cases or the person who claims to be injured is always as injured as they claim or whatever. And we're entitled to ask them the question. How often do you testify for the other side? Are you objective? How much are you getting paid for your testimony? What kinds of evidence? And this is the important one. What kind of evidence did you look at it? And what did you not look at? What did you deem important and not important? And what I showed in the last episode is that sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, you have people who are experts in a specific field like science, for example, who will only allow for materialistic explanations.

Or only allow for materialistic kinds of evidence to come into play because they quote, Richard Lewontin, cannot allow a divine foot in the door. And the evidence I gave or the testimony I presented and I called to the stand Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is in fact, an expert in astrophysics. He was asked, “Do you believe in God?” He started off his answer, scientific sounding about observing the universe, but then delved into philosophy. And my argument was, he certainly is entitled to his opinion and we're entitled to listen to his opinion and give it certain weight, but it shouldn't be given any more weight as an expert because he's not an expert in philosophy and theology. He's an expert in science, but he's not an expert in philosophy and theology. And so we can give it weight, but we ought not to give it undue weight.

Now, the issue I want to cover today is the issue of bias because we left off with that in the last episode. And how do we apply this in understanding claims about the New Testament or even the way in which the Bible in Genesis describes the foundations of creation? That the beginning of the world, as it were. These are important because oftentimes the skeptical object that the New Testament records of the synoptic Gospels and John, the book of Acts or these kinds of things are written by biased witnesses. Yes, they may have been witnesses, maybe they were, maybe they weren't, but even if they were witnesses, they were biased. And we can see evidences of bias because they were Jesus's followers or followers of Jesus's followers, and therefore had a motivation in recording the testimony the way they did. And that's a fair objection. We have to address that.

But also from the scientific perspective, and I want to spend most of the time on this, is that materialistic or naturalistic atheists or those committed to philosophical naturalism, which is the belief that only the natural world exists and any explanations of how we got here or how things work. The only explanations that are admissible, and the only kinds of evidence that it's admissible is evidence that tends to lead towards naturalistic explanations, or just leads to naturalistic explanations and excludes anything beyond that. That seems to show bias and I want to address that specifically when it comes to how the Bible describes the creation of the world and humanity in specific. So let's dive into it and address the objection that the New Testament record Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the book of Acts, the synoptic or historical documents within the New Testament. The objection is that they are biased because they're based on the testimony of witnesses who followed Jesus and therefore would have a bias in describing Jesus in a certain way.

That he's the Messiah, et cetera, that miracles exist and that kind of thing, or they're written by people who follow the followers of Jesus and therefore still had a bias. Many scholars believe that Mark, Luke, John and Matthew contain eye witness accounts, if maybe the entire book is a collection of eyewitness accounts, or it has eye witness accounts coupled with theological reflections, like the book of John. So many experts will tell you that Mark, for example, was the collection of the eyewitness account of the Apostle Peter who was there. And it was written down by Mark, as Peter's scribe that Luke and Matthew collected eyewitness testimony, which is why they named certain people in certain ways, or even hide certain names because those witnesses might be in danger and revealing their names might subject them to persecution or something like that.

But most experts will tell you that at least to some degree, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and of course the book of Acts, which is Luke, basically part two, contained eye witness testimony and eye witness accounts. Now, the common objection is even if they are eye witness accounts, they were biased and wanted to embellish the story. Now, is that true? Now there's a couple of ways you can assess this, first, we should ask the question, is there collaborating evidence outside of the testimony to suggest that the witness, though may be biased, is actually telling the truth based on other people who might not have a counter perspective on these things? And without going into the detail, in other episodes we have gone into the detail on this. Yes, for the New Testament record, there is evidence outside of these particular testimonies of eyewitnesses within the New Testament record, there is collaborating evidence for it, but also we have to ask ourselves, does the account include details we would not expect to find in a blatant or biased embellishment? Like embarrassing details that tend to paint the witnesses in a bad light?

And again, I've discussed this in previous episodes, but yes, the New Testament record does include this, Peter in the Gospel of Mark doesn't paint himself in the best light all the time. And in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the book of Acts sometimes very heroic figures who otherwise would seem like the paragons of virtue or stalwart companions of Jesus are not painted in the best light possible. They are seen as sometimes cowardly or afraid or driven by selfish ambition or agendas. So we see indicia within the testimony that suggests that they're credible. So those were a couple of ways to look at it. And I said before, I've gone into this in some detail in previous episodes. So I won't belabor the point here, but there's also something else to ask when it comes to bias in witnesses. And the question is this, just because somebody was there or might have an agenda, doesn't mean that their testimony is automatically suspect or excludable.

I'll give you a couple of examples of what I mean. First, you look at survivors of 911, the September 11th attacks in 2001, there were those who saw what happened. They were in the building, they escaped one of the twin towers or they escaped the horrors at the Pentagon, and will tell you what they saw. Now, some of the testimony could be faulty because sometimes eye witness testimony in the heat of a moment can be a little misleading and you have to get corroborative evidence on that and we have some of that. But what we don't want to suggest is that no, planes didn't fly into those buildings. And no, there wasn't a terrorist attack just because the people who were reporting it have an agenda to say, yes, I was there and it happened. Just because they were there and maybe even have a political agenda, even if it's far a field of the testimony they're giving, it doesn't mean that we have to discount them. We should corroborate it, we should scrutinize it, but we shouldn't discount it.

Another example is those who survived the sinking of the Titanic. Should we doubt that a ship named the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic because it struck an iceberg and there were only half the number of lifeboats available, just because the survivors of the Titanic disaster were there, were laced with emotion and maybe angry at what happened? Well, no, we can still say that at a minimum what we know is that the Titanic existed, that it sank and that maybe the lifeboats weren't half what they should have been. We can be pretty certain about that despite the fact that all the witnesses who were testifying to it were there and may have had a particular scarring or emotional baggage that attaches to it. That happens of course. Holocaust survivors, these are people whose testimonies have riveted us and should revert us and we should make lessons and learn lessons from their testimonies. But just because they were there and just because they had a specific horrific experience with all of that, does not mean that somehow we should take their testimony and view it with the lens of undue bias.

Is there bias there? Maybe, maybe someone has a political agenda. Maybe somebody has an historical agenda. Maybe somebody has an emotional agenda, but that doesn't automatically mean that just because a person was affected by the experience they had, that somehow their testimony about that experience is invalid. That would be the case for the New Testament writers, that the compilers of the eyewitness testimony in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, parts of John, of course, or all of John really, but in one sense, parts of John in terms of the synoptic or the factual recording of Jesus' life and the book of Acts. They were there, they had emotional experiences, they had experiences that were politically colored, not in the sense that they had a political bias, but there was an occupation by Rome, they had a certain set of political ideas behind them. They even had religious ideas, who they expected Jesus to be as the Messiah, that He was going to be a conquering military leader, as opposed to a suffering servant as He was.

So there's all kinds of baggage's behind these testimonies, but just because they have certain baggage's, doesn't mean that the claim that Jesus claimed to be the son of God, that He died on a cross and that He rose from the dead. But somehow those eye witness accounts are false. Just like we wouldn't discount the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, or a 911 survivor, or a survivor of the Titanic or even a good event, a wonderful event that's laced with emotion. But doesn't mean we should discount them, we should scrutinize them and apply historical methods. And the methods that determined if a witness is credible or not, but we shouldn't discount them just because they happen to be the progenitors of a certain ideology or view. Unfortunately, we tend to fall into this habit quite easily. We look at political issues, if you're a Democrat, anybody who speaks from a Republican side or on the right of center is biased and should be suspect in whatever they say.

If you're a Republican or you're right of center, that anybody on the left of the center or a Democrat should be suspect and anything they say is laced with lies or half-truths or whatever. We do this all the time and we don't actually address the facts behind the reporting or behind what they're saying. It's a very easy thing for us to do, we have to guard ourselves as jurors from engaging in a bias hunt. We have to be wary of it, we have to be vigilant about it, but we can't assume that just because someone has a particular viewpoint, that what they're saying on a factual basis has bias. So I don't want to engage in a cynicism about all the testimony we get, but I do want to engage in skepticism. Maybe you've heard me say this before and it bears repeating. You see, a skeptic is somebody who won't believe a claim until there's enough evidence for it, and when there is evidence for it, they will believe it. But a cynic is someone who won't believe a claim, even when there is enough evidence.

So a skeptic won't believe something until there's enough evidence. A cynic won't believe something even when there is. And oftentimes our own biases come to the fore because we think everyone else is biased. And if we think everyone else is biased, then maybe we're revealing more about our own hearts than we are about the hearts of the witnesses we're assessing. But let's take it now over to the claims of the Bible about how the world was formed. Now, when you look at the Genesis account, Genesis 1-11, but specifically let's focus on Genesis 1, it describes that God created the universe and He created the earth and He created all living creatures on the earth. Now, there's lots of discussion and debate in house, within Christianity about what it all means, how it all happened, how long it took. And I'm not going to take a position either way or any specific way in this particular broadcast. There are those who believe in the literal seven days of creation that the Bible describes creation being done in six consecutive, 24 hour periods of time and that that's how long it took.

There are others who say that interpretation is faulty, that we can interpret the word day to be an unspecified age. The word Yom in Hebrew can mean an unspecified period of time and maybe the order of creation happened in that order, but it happened over a long period of time as well. There's a framework hypothesis, which says that it's not really about the sequence, it's more about a framework of creation. There's a functional hypothesis as well that says that none of these is right and there's also a hypothesis called mytho-history. That the Bible describes actual history in terms of the creation of the world, but it uses the language of myth properly understood by the way, not in terms of myth, like the King Arthur legend or Robin Hood, or Pan and the various mythologies of yore, but in the sense that it uses mythological language to convey actual truths. That's a very rudimentary summary of what's called the mytho-historical method to understanding the Bible.

Now, all of these methods would say that the Bible clearly says, God is the agent causation of all of existence, except for Himself. He never began, everything else did begin because of God's divine decree and His creative power. Now, what's interesting about that is this, is that the Bible describes sequences, it may describe them out of sequence, whatever it might be. People of different views have different ideas on this, but the Bible describes that God is the agent of creation. And it describes that God is the one who created humanity specifically the first two people, Adam and Eve. And there's, again, some interpretation on this. There are those who would say that they're Christians who believe in evolutionary creationism, Francis Collins is a good example of a brilliant mind, a committed Christian who believes in evolutionary creationism. That God used evolution to create the first people, Adam and Eve, and that kind of thing and that he believes the Bible wholeheartedly. So there are people who do that.

Now, my point in saying all of this, is that the Bible describes God as the agent of creation, but it doesn't specify with a scientific specificity, how God did all that. Perhaps you can read into the Old Testament in terms of Genesis account, a sequence of creation. Hugh Ross is well known for doing this in his book, Navigating Genesis, where he goes line by line, piece by piece and describing that the sequence in Genesis and the general language in Genesis is compatible with modern science. But he's not saying that the Bible specifically claims scientific knowledge in terms of giving us calculus or giving us quantum physics or anything like this, or even evolutionary theory, it's just a general description. So the bottom line is that everyone agrees that the Bible describes God as the agent of creation, but it doesn't necessarily describe with scientific accuracy that we're accustomed today, the mechanism by which He created all of these things.

Now, why is that important? Because a common objection to the biblical account is that evolution, the theory of evolution, Darwinian evolution, or Neo Darwinian evolution or whatever it might be. That is the evolution de jure as it were, explains the origin of life, and then puts God out of a job. Because evolution is a process where random or more likely unguided mutation in the genes and in the DNA code of living creatures, acts in conjunction with natural selection to create more and more advanced and more and more fit species, such that the fitter species, the best suited species tend to succeed in projecting their DNA to the next generation. Whereas the weaker versions of a specific kind of animal or whatever it might be, can't compete for resources and therefore die out and this is how life progresses. This is a common objection, evolution puts God out of a job, but does it? The question is, does it? Now, I am not going to opine about whether or not evolution is the method by which God created humanity, or He created them specially.

I do have an opinion on this, but that's not the important part of this particular podcast. What I want to talk about is the way in which our view on this, an experts view might say, evolution is the best game in town and it has to be naturalistic. And therefore, because the Bible stands against evolution, the Bible is therefore false because science has disproven it. I want to challenge that, again, I'm not taking a position one way or the other on whether God used evolution to create humanity. I actually tend to be, to show my hand here, I tend to be skeptical of the evolutionary explanation because I just find the evidence to be lacking or problematic and in some cases seriously problematic. But that's not my point, here's the question, does it have to be the case that evolution puts God out of a job? Here's why I think that kind of a claim that evolution puts God out of a job actually is evidence of the bias of the person making that claim, whether a scientist or not.

See someone might say, that evolution through mutations and natural selection is, "random" or "unguided" which means that there is no God involved in it. But that goes too far and reveals the bias one might have, or just their ignorance about what the terms actually mean. It would be in other words, to testify to the ultimate conclusion of the matter without warrant. And remember from our last episode, what I said was, is that experts may testify as to the ultimate conclusion of a matter saying, “Oh, the defendant did,” it or whatever it might be, if they have the proper foundation, but if they don't, they can't do that and they certainly can't tell you, the jury, how to decide a case. And in this case, if someone says, random or unguided mutations acting with natural selection must mean that God is not involved, that goes too far, because it is going beyond the evidence, it is taking something scientific and then extrapolating into metaphysics or philosophy or theology, and then telling you based on science, what to think philosophically.

Do you see the leap that's being made there? That is a leap and that is evidence of bias or agenda, and we should be suspicious of it. And here's one reason why, what happens is we often misuse or misunderstand certain terms, and we don't bother to find out what those terms mean, which is another evidence of bias by the way. And this is true of Christians and non-Christians alike. So when an evolutionary biologist says that evolution is the process where by random or unguided mutations acting in conjunction with natural selection, produces speciation or produces new species. They're not saying by random or unguided that there can't be a God behind it, the term random or unguided does not mean that. What it basically means is that a mutation within the genome that produces different phenotypic structures or physical structure so that the chemical mutation produces a physical difference that allows that species to compete better for resources than other species or other animals, that process is random or unguided.

And what that means is not that there's no intention behind it, but that the mutation occurs without a view toward the benefit or the detriment of the host. In other words, the mutation isn't there with the view towards the advancement of the host, it might be, but maybe not, we just don't know. So we call it random or unguided because we would say it is a physical, chemical reaction that happens for reasons that may or may not have anything to do with a view towards the advancement of that particular species or that particular organism. It could very well be that certain mutations could come about through circumstances that God puts in place, knowing that the mutation will ultimately result in human beings to come to exist. It could be that way, but maybe not. But the problem is when scientists go so far as to say that random, unguided mutations could not be brought about through circumstances that God puts in place, knowing that it results in human beings. When they say that, that is going beyond their expertise and it's going beyond their field and it is evidence of bias.

Because random and unguided does not mean that. In fact, I called to the stand Dr. Richard Dawkins, obviously a committed atheist. He is a biologist and an evolutionary biologist, an expert in his field, I think he sometimes goes away, far a field of his expertise in discussing philosophy and matters of theology and the Bible, which he misinterprets quite often. But here's a clip of Dr. Richard Dawkins, I think fairly describing what random actually means.

Dr. Richard Dawkins: Yes, of course I could, it's my life's work.

Abdu Murray: It's a hard thing to say, but keep it brief.

Dr. Richard Dawkins: There's random genetic variation and non-random survival and non-random reproduction, which is why as the generations go by animals get better at doing what they do, that is quintessentially non-random. It does not mean there's a purpose in the sense of a human purpose, in the sense of a guiding principle, which is thought up in advance. With hindsight, you can say something like a bird's wing looks as though it has a purpose, a human eye looks as though it has a purpose, but it has come about through the process of non-random natural selection. There is no purpose in the human sense, there's a kind of pseudo purpose, but it's not a purpose in the human sense of conscious guiding.

Abdu Murray: What Dr. Dawkins is basically saying, is that the process of selection, he wasn't talking about mutation in this particular instance, but the process of selection works in such a way that the fitter species, the more suitably adapted to survival members of the species procreate with more adaptable genes, just by virtue of the way the system is set up, the system is set up for that. So it's random in the sense that he thinks it's unguided and that there's no God behind it, but that the system is set up in such a way that these things will occur by operation of law, or they'll just occur by necessity of physical properties. That mutations will happen and some mutations are bad, some are good, nature selects those that are good, not in terms of having a mind of its own, but it's just the way it works, is that those who mutate in a good way will eventually out-compete those that didn't for resources and therefore be able to procreate.

What he's saying is that it's not random, there's actually a process you can observe and it is intelligible, not in the sense that an intelligence is behind it, that's not what Dawkins is saying. What he's saying is it's intelligible in the sense that it's predictable. You can take certain principles and you can take certain factors and predict what's going to happen, or you can observe something that happens and it makes sense to us. The problem is that what Dawkins and others have said, outside of this is that this couldn't be set up on purpose or by a purposeful mind, did you get it? It's important you get this. What he's saying is that, yes, this is the process, unguided mutation, which does not have in mind the benefit or the detriment of the organism, it just happens. Coupled with natural selection, which is just the way the world works. When you put all that together, you get species that survive better and procreate better and those that die out.

What he's saying, though, it goes beyond science, when he says that that process I just described and that he would describe, could not be instituted by God to produce us. That goes beyond his expertise and it is testifying to the ultimate conclusion and telling you the trier of fact, what you ought to decide apart from their expertise. In other words, what I'm saying is this, is that we ought not to give their testimony more weight than it actually deserves. And the fact that they're willing to go there shows evidence of bias. Now, this goes back to the idea of philosophical naturalism, which is the belief that only physical evidence and especially naturalistic explanations can be admitted in our pursuit of truth. Remember the testimony of Richard Lewontin, that I expressed in the last episode, where Lewontin said that, no matter how absurd, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how unsubstantiated our claims might be, we have to side with science. Actually, what he's saying is materialism, which is the belief that there is nothing outside the material world. We have to side with that because we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.

In other words, he has discounted the possibility of any other evidence supernaturally to exist to explain the way things are. If we can find a natural explanation of things or see a naturalistic mechanism, the explanation for the mechanism itself must be naturalistic, because we can't allow a divine foot in the door. But isn't it at least possible that even if we found an evolutionary mechanism by which human beings came about, and again, I remain very skeptical of this, but let's assume for the sake of argument that we could find a evidence to substantiate an evolutionary explanation for how we all came about. Why does it necessarily have to be the case that God couldn't have been behind it? And if you're not willing to go there and admit any evidence that suggests He was, then that is evidence of bias. And here's the beautiful thing, friends, this goes back to what I was saying about the way the Genesis account actually works. Genesis describes God as the agent who caused the natural world, He spoke and the universe leapt into existence, and it describes various details of that, but it doesn't go into scientific details.

It describes that He created the universe, that He created the laws of physics, that He created life on this world and humanity, but it doesn't describe with scientific specificity, how He did that. Here's the beautiful thing, that means that the Christian and I'm quoting Dr. Bill Craig on this, that means that the Christian is open to follow the evidence wherever it leads. If the evidence leads towards an evolutionary explanation of the way in which human beings came about, that would not necessarily be incompatible with certain interpretations of the Bible, which means that we're allowed to go there if the evidence warrants it. There are some issues we have to work out, of course, but if there's also evidence that evolution did not happen, that that's not the way God created us, then we're allowed to go there too. In other words, the Christian is open to the evidence wherever it may lead, because the Bible does not hem him in or hem her in, to a predetermined conclusion on this. We're allowed to go where the evidence leads.

But if you're a naturalist, you are hemmed in, you have excluded all other possible evidence. And if you exclude all other possible evidence, then you are running into a problem because that shows evidence of your bias and it shows a narrowness of understanding the evidence. I have shown that expert witnesses are not qualified to testify, and I have examined witnesses as well, because they're not willing to look at all the evidence, it shows evidence of an agenda. But let me close with this, all of us have to assess this. Yes, we can be open to the evidence and fear not where it leads because all truth is God's truth and we can embrace that and go there. But as jurors, you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, be careful of your own biases. Yes, we should scrutinize testimony from experts or otherwise and find out if there's bias or undue bias, find out if someone's got an agenda, but realizing that agendas and bias don't necessarily discount someone's testimony, we have to give it the weight it is due.

We don't give experts more weight than they are due, and sometimes they're due tons of weight and other times they're not. But if we are excluding evidence, based on our biases, well, that's an issue too. We have to examine our own hearts on this. There's a process called voir dire, V-O-I-R, then the next word is D-I-R-E, where lawyers, sometimes judges, will ask the potential jurors questions about their biases. Could you decide fairly in this particular matter? Have you been the victim of a crime before? What kinds of crimes have you been a victim of? Have you been a defendant in a case? Have you've been wronged by a company? All these things, we try to find out what motivation someone might have, but we always ask the question, can you put all that aside and decide fairly in this case? And sometimes the answer is no. And sometimes the answer is yes. You see, we're trying to find an unbiased jury. Is that always possible? No. In fact, I would even want to say to you that it's never possible, everyone comes to the table with their biases.

What we try to do through the trial process and try to encourage witnesses and jurors, especially jurors to do, is to recognize their bias, try their best, to put it aside and go where the truth leads. I think the Bible is a good paradigm for this, is that it describes the way God created the universe, but allows for the mechanisms to be explored. And so it is a science affirming book, but it's also an evidence affirming book. It allows us to go where the evidence might lead. So let's all be careful friends, lady justice is blindfolded, not so that she remains ignorant, but so that she remains unbiased. And that is what we ought to do, is weigh the scales and find out where the truth leads. I think it tips in favor of the Christian faith based on the expert testimony I've weighed. Maybe you'll find the same too. Until next time, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defense rests

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