by J Warner Wallace
As a detective, I’m a distrustful person. I learned to be skeptical the hard way; I was fooled several times in my early career by convincing liars (both suspects and alleged eyewitnesses). As a result, I’ve learned the importance of testing eyewitnesses, even when they offer testimony favorable to my case. I’d much rather discover a lie early, than discover it in front of a jury under cross-examination. I’ve learned to evaluate witnesses with the four part template I developed from the jury instructions offered in criminal trials. If a witness was truly present, can be corroborated by additional evidence, has been consistent and honest over time, and lacks prejudicial bias, he or she can be trusted.
I must confess my skepticism also colors the way I see claims of religious experience. Many believers offer the personal testimony of experience. When they do this, they present themselves as eyewitnesses, and I’ve learned to be skeptical of their testimony. I have six brothers and sisters who
were raised in Mormonism. Like other Latter Day Saints, when asked why they believe Mormonism is true, they offer personal testimony of religious experiences that served as confirmation of the Book of Mormon and the claims of Joseph Smith. This religious experience (whether it is described as a “burning in the bosom” or in more contemporary language) is seen as sufficient evidence Mormonism is true. But when Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are evaluated under the simple template I use to assess eyewitness reliability, they fail to withstand the scrutiny. In fact, Mormonism is demonstrably false.
Given my experience with Mormon believers, I’ve become skeptical of Christians who cite religious experience as the only evidence they can offer when defending the claims of Christianity. I’m not saying I don’t trust religious experience at all; I simply saying all religious experience must be tested…
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