In his book “Divinity of Doubt,” celebrated prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi makes the case for agnosticism as the “only intelligent, strong position one can take on the question of God’s existence.” He’s an agnostic, he says, “because my mental faculties tell me the existence of God is beyond human comprehension, not just beyond human cognition, which of course it is and which is too simplistic.” Doubt is divine, he concludes, “in that it impels a search for the truth. It opens the door to knowledge. Faith puts a lock on that door. Indeed, while one is under its spell, faith anesthetizes the desire to seek knowledge and truth. And as knowledge increases, faith recedes.” (p. 258)
A search for the truth. To a prosecutor, this is the essence of a criminal trial. This theme – of searching for and finding the truth – is woven into every successful closing argument. Sadly, it seems that Bugliosi, for all his career success, has gotten things precisely backward as he approaches the most important question any mortal – anyone who knows for a certainty that this life will end – must confront. Dispensing with what he once did as a prosecutor, Bugliosi today stands before a “jury” of readers urging them to not reach a verdict – despite the abundance of evidence – but to be content endlessly criticizing the source of the evidence, and the proponents of faith. In the process, he sets up countless strawmen, only to use ridicule and hyperbole to knock them down. Because perfect knowledge can never be had – because some questions will always remain – Bugliosi urges us to throw up our hands, give up and be smug about knowing that by never reaching a conclusion, we can always appear above it all. His book is a celebration of ignorance and indecision, of never being able to discern truth.
Ironically, this book is not at all the approach that a prosecutor would take. First, a prosecutor would know that some questions will always remain unanswered, despite the strength of the evidence presented. The key inquiry is whether the questions relate to what is really at issue, or whether they are “red herrings.” Second, a prosecutor would have an open mind as they went about preparing the case. Bugliosi, by contrast, has concluded from the beginning that matters of “faith” – by which he means religious truth claims –are simply not knowable. Ignoring the mountains of literature that establish the necessary existence of God, he claims that neither the theist nor the atheist has a single fact to support its position. (p. 4). The book proceeds downhill from there. Using endless rhetorical questions and mocking accusations to belittle anyone who claims to have formed some conclusions about faith, Bugliosi ends up where he began – believing that no one can know what Bugliosi chooses not to accept. But his questions are not new, nor are they that difficult to answer. But they must be approached with an open mind, which he plainly does not have. Perhaps he never did.
Doubt can only be a starting point for the acquisition of knowledge. As he certainly once admonished his juries, doubt gives way to the force of the evidence presented, leaving an “abiding conviction of the truth of the charge.” Opening the “door to knowledge” makes sense only if one intends to enter and explore. To stand on the outside, as Bugliosi does, and insist that nothing is knowable of the other side, is not a triumph of intelligence, but an admission of failure, or of apathy. Contrary to his assertion, faith does not recede with knowledge – it becomes greater. One’s faith in the ability of an airplane to fly increases as one’s knowledge of the physics grows; it does not decrease.
As a prosecutor, Bugliosi would have railed against such facile rhetoric. He would have rightly been disappointed in jurors who returned a verdict of “no one can really know the truth about what you’ve presented,” and seen it as an abdication of their duties, especially if he had presented evidence as substantial as that which supports a conclusion that God is.
And what is that evidence? After all, the question Bugliosi tackles is not proof that Christianity is true, but the simpler question of whether it is “rational” to believe in a creator-God. While he correctly notes the limitations of our ability to “comprehend” God, knowing that a creator must be there is the only rational conclusion that is consistent with the evidence. For countless centuries, these arguments from reason have persuaded not only the vast majority of people who have ever lived, but the greatest scientific and philosophic minds among us. (Books like Alvin Schmidt’s “Under the Influence” chronicle the contribution such believers made to Western culture.) These arguments build on and reinforce each other, enhancing the cumulative effect of the proof. These arguments – from causality; the existence of the universe; the fine tuning in the universe; the existence of intelligent life; the fine tuning of life as seen in DNA; the existence of morality, of music and math and the exquisite order which abounds in nature – provide rational support for the conclusion that an intelligent Creator is at work. Bugliosi never takes on the core of the case. Instead, we are treated to conclusions like: the vastness of the universe is a waste, since human beings can never access it all, so an intelligent Creator is not possible. Does he not recognize the illogic in assuming that he knows God’s purposes, or that physical size means anything to a Being of limitless power?
Unfortunately, this book has the potential to do much harm, as Bugliosi’s rhetorical skill is clearly on display. But unlike a prosecutor on a search for truth, Bugliosi has become a defender of ambiguity and indecision, as he seeks to persuade his jury that, in spite of the evidence, the only smart choice is to remain hopelessly deadlocked.
Posted by Al Serrato