Stepping Toward God With a Wallet and a Dollar
by J Warner Wallace
I’ve been talking to my dad about the existence of God for several years. He describes himself as an agnostic who leans toward atheism, but it’s clear from our discussions he’s as far from theism as anyone could be. He’s also an evidentialist who worked as a police officer and detective for nearly 30 years. We tend to think a lot alike (I was also an atheist detective until the age of 35), and I can relate to his skepticism. Many years ago, while waiting for my kids to finish a ride at a local water park, we had perhaps our best and most extended conversation on the reasonable nature of Christian theism. Our conversation began as we were talking about the beauty of the universe. Sitting by the edge of a large swimming pool, I began to look for a way to illustrate some of the foundational problems philosophical naturalism has in attempting to describe the nature and origin of life the cosmos. If we had been sitting on the beach, I would have drawn some ideas in the sand, but in the moment, as we were waiting in a crowded amusement park, I tried to think of a quick alternative. I decided to use my wallet to make a case for what I believe as a theist.
I pulled my wallet from my pocket and opened the money section. I showed him the single dollar bill in the billfold (I seldom carry cash when an ATM card will suffice), and simply asked him to help me understand how the money got there. Clearly, the dollar bill is an amazing object. It contains so much detail; specific numbers and drawings and words are inked on the paper. It is clearly the result of a design process. “So, Dad, how did the dollar bill get in the wallet?” He gave me the most obvious and reasonable explanation: he said I put the bill in the wallet. Actually, anyone could have placed the bill in the wallet, but since he saw me take the wallet from my pocket, he reasonably inferred I was the person who placed the dollar there. His answer made sense in light of the physical evidence.
I asked him, however, to limit his answer to wallet’s interior. I encouraged him to explain how the bill got in the wallet, but to provide an answer from inside the billfold exclusively. I can’t be the answer, given this new limitation, as I exist outside the wallet. At first he resisted. The limitation seemed unreasonable. How could the dollar get in the wallet if it wasn’t placed in there by someone or something outside the wallet? I asked him to play along with my thought experiment, however, and when he was unable to think of how the dollar got there, I offered him two creative explanations…
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