Every year in America, thousands of crimes occur in which there are no witnesses and very little evidence. Sometimes, the perpetrator leaves behind a fingerprint impression – a latent print -somewhere at the crime scene. In the past, these prints possessed little value in identifying an unknown offender. To result in a comparison and identification of the person who left it behind, the police would have to already know who the suspect or suspects might be. There was no technology to allow millions of stored prints to be digitally examined.
Today, law enforcement officers have access to such technology, in the form of AFIS – the Automated Fingerprint Indentification System. Maintained by the FBI, it houses the data for millions of fingerprint impressions, allowing an unknown latent print to be compared to millions of known offenders. In a matter of minutes, the AFIS computer can spit out the top twenty possible matches to the unknown latent print. But this is only the beginning of the analysis, because with only one latent print at the scene, there is but one actual source for the print. A trained analyst must then spend the time examining in fine detail the patterns of each suspect – the whorls and arches and loops, the ridges and furrows – to determine whether an exact match can be made. The top twenty possible matches have much in common, but on further examination, differences will emerge in the ridge pattern and detail until the one actual source can be identified.
So, what does this have to do with the field of apologetics? Just this: living as we are in very pluralistic times, we often encounter people who believe that all religions are basically the same. Examining them superficially, they will see that religions share a number of features; for example, most teach the utility of treating others with respect, of being kind, of helping the poor. So, while acknowledging some differences in doctrines, people who hold this view believe they have arrived at a great truth: there is no one right religion, just people who mistakenly, and sometimes dangerously, think that they have the corner on truth.
But like fingerprints, religions can appear on the surface to be identical, or nearly so, when in fact they are not. And to determine where and how they differ requires a rigorous and close inspection. This of course is crucial in a fingerprint analysis because we know that for one print, there can only be one source. No analyst would stop when he or she narrowed the search to three possible sources because common sense and reason dictate that two of the three – or perhaps all three – must also be excludable on further inquiry. It is the nature of thing examined.
So too with the knowledge of God. The major world religions make mutually exclusive truth claims about the nature and attributes of God. Is God a personal being, interested in relationship with us,or simply an impersonal force? Are men destined to live once and then face judgment, or is reincarnation what really occurs? Are we distinct and separate from God, and therefore answerable to him, or are we all a part of God? Can we save ourselves through good works and adherence to law, or do we need a Savior? What is Jesus’ nature and what if any power does he possess?
For one religion to be true, other religions with inconsistent truth claims cannot be. It is, of course, logically possible that all religions are false, just as it is possible for the print in question to match none of the samples. However, it is not possible for contradictory positions to both be true. Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rose from the dead and thereby provides salvation to a fallen world, as Christians claim, or he is not. He cannot be both savior and mere wise man at the same time.
Critical and careful analysis of a latent fingerprint can lead to the discovery of the truth as to who left it behind. Critical and careful analysis can also lead to knowledge of the one God who left us behind.
Posted by Al Serrato