Cold Case Christianity For Kids Review, with actual kid. Introduction.

For a long time now, I’ve been meaning to do a chapter-by-chapter book review and discussion, following in the footsteps of such illustrious bloggers as Libby Ann, Ana Mardoll, Jenny Trout, and many others. I had a couple of possible books in mind, and indeed still have them in mind, but then… I saw that J. Warner Wallace’s Cold Case Christianity For Kids was available pretty cheaply on Kindle, and had a sudden brainwave. Since I happen to have a non-Christian child with an interest in the whole idea of doing reviews of stuff, why not go through it and write a review together with her?

I wasn’t sure how Katie would feel about the idea, but in fact she jumped at it and decided we should do this as her bedtime story each night. (Which may commit me to a rather faster schedule of typing up posts than I actually have a hope of managing. Oh, well. Bridge, cross, when, etc.) “It’ll probably make me change my mind about some things,” she told me, “but probably not about the main thing.”

I decided that I’d make my notes on a file on my laptop word processor as we went through. This has the advantage of speed (my typing’s a lot faster than my writing) but the drawback that Katie leans in and types whatever random things take her fancy, so my notes on her thoughts are somewhat interspersed with random interjections such as ‘Mooo! Sorry, unexpected cow interruption’ or ‘Wednesdays are explosive’. (My daughter has a somewhat surrealist turn of mind.)

“This review,” I told her, “is going to end up sounding like that time we were at your Auntie Ruth’s wedding and the rabbi was starting to say “So, here is the explanation of why it’s a Jewish custom for the groom to smash a glass with his heel…” and you randomly shouted out “Rory the racing car!”

She giggled at that one. “What was wrong with me?”

“Well, you were two and a half at the time. So fair enough. But maybe we could aim for something a bit more serious here…”

So, I’m planning to filter out those interjections before writing up the blog posts, but, you never know, if the primary subject matter gets boring…

Anyway, since not much happens in the book’s introduction, I’ll start out by using this post to fill in some background.

 

Dramatis Personae (OK, that is actually meant to refer to a book’s characters so I’m totally misusing it here. Dramatis Personae for this blog series, I mean.)

J. Warner Wallace

J. Warner Wallace, the author of this book, is a detective who became famous for applying investigative principles to Christianity, deciding it was all true and he should convert, and writing several books about it why he thinks this. These are called the ‘Cold Case Christianity’ series, since he aimed to crack the what-happened-to-Jesus mystery in the same way he cracks cold cases at work. He also has a blog, in case you want to read more.

Katie

My daughter is nearly ten, an intense, imaginative live wire of a child who loves art, computer games, maths, and science, and has recently adopted a bunch of teasels and stuck eyes on them to turn them into pets.

I’ve never tried to dictate the religious beliefs of either of my children, believing that it’s something they need to decide for themselves; I tell them my beliefs when the subject comes up, but also tell them that other people have different beliefs. Katie in fact told me shortly before she turned six that she didn’t believe in God. In more recent years, she moved on to a rather interesting and complex belief system that involved God being an evil god from an alternate universe who had taken this universe over; all this praying people did, she believed, was only encouraging him and really ought to be stopped. It was an intriguing and quite well worked-out belief system, but, when I asked for an update prior to starting this review, I found out she’d moved back to atheism again.

“Just stuff,” she told me, when I inquired as to what had changed her mind. “Sometimes I might want an Oreo for pudding and then change my mind and want something else. Sometimes I just change my mind about stuff.”

I asked her again the following day, and got a more substantive response: “Science explains things better,” she told me (though without being able to specify any examples). “And God doesn’t seem very nice. For one thing, he’s anti-gay. If Christians are wrong about him being so amazing, there’s more chance they’re wrong about the rest of that malarkey. I don’t know what malarkey means, actually – what does it mean? Meh. Whatever.”

Me

Longstanding atheist/general skeptic. I do actually have one thing in common with J. Warner Wallace in that I also spent a lot of time investigating Christianity’s claims; from the fact that I’m here on this site, you can probably deduce that I came to a different conclusion from him. And, yes, I totally want to write a series of posts on that investigation at some point. Someday I will have time. Someday…

At some point I’m sure I’ll get round to figuring out how to put up my sidebar bio, but since I haven’t done that yet I’ll add here that I’m also a British GP, mother of two, and bookworm.

 

OK, that’s us. On to the book’s introduction, which is in two parts: ‘A Quick Hello’, and ‘Wanted: A Few Good Detectives’. All that’s happening at this point is the setting up of the story, so nothing too unmissably thrilling. If Katie did make comments on these bits, I didn’t write them down and can’t remember them, so for this bit it’s just the summary and my thoughts.

A Quick Hello

J. Warner Wallace introduces himself as a police detective specialising in ‘cold cases’, which he defines for the reader. We also learn the following pieces of information about his background:

  • As a boy, wanting to become a policeman like his dad, he learned a lot from attending the Police Explorer Academy (which he doesn’t describe, but it seems fair to assume it’s some sort of programme for children interested in learning more about police work).
  • As a newly-qualified police officer, he was mentored by a senior officer called Alan Jeffries, whom he came to admire and respect greatly.
  • Later on, he used his detective skills to investigate the story of Jesus, and concluded that ‘the evidence was overwhelming’ and that the Biblical accounts were true.

His aim here, apparently, is to combine all three of the above for this book; the readers will ‘enter the Detective Cadet Academy’, be trained by Alan Jeffries, and, as well as learning how to be good detectives, will learn ‘how to investigate the case for Jesus’. Also, the reader’s family can get involved and do this with them (so Katie and I are obviously on the right track here). Also, there’s a webpage.

Wanted – A Few Good Detectives

This is the introductory part of the story proper, which is told in second person present tense, like those ‘choose your own adventure’ books (though without all the ‘if you choose to fight the dragon, go to page 75’ bits).

We’re told that the local police department is starting a new detective training academy for student cadets (i.e. schoolchildren) which ‘you’ and ‘your friends, Daniel and Hannah’ jump at the chance of attending. At the first session, you get introduced to Alan Jeffries, who is going to be running the sessions, which apparently consist of these three and ‘some students from other schools in the area’. Jeffries gets impatient when you want to look at the exciting stuff actually going on in the police station, because apparently you’re all meant to spend the time sitting in the briefing room hearing about police work rather than getting to see any, or something. Which… I have to say doesn’t sound like a wildly successful and well-planned police academy cadet course to me, but what do I know.

So, Jeffries shows you through to the briefing room and asks what part of investigation interests the cadets most, and Daniel eagerly replies that he’s interested in gadgets/high-tech stuff he’s seen in movies, and asks if Jeffries can show them some of that stuff. Jeffries smirks at Daniel… wait, what the hell? Smirks? That is just such an unpleasant way to treat someone. Is this a ‘I do not think that word means what you think it means’ moment on Wallace’s part, or did he seriously mean to portray Jeffries as acting like a git?

Anyway, Jeffries tells Daniel that actually they solve most cases by ‘learning how to think’, because ‘[t]he brain is more reliable’ than gadgets/computers. Wait, what? Brains are actually not that reliable. Of course, they do have the huge advantage of being able to put facts together into patterns in a way that computers and gadgets can’t, but surely the data that the police get from the high-tech stuff is of crucial importance in giving their brains as many facts as possible to work on? I get that this is all a set-up for the whole ‘you’re going to use your brain to investigate Christianity’, but is it actually accurate as a description of what works for solving crimes?

Anyway, it seems the answer to Daniel’s excited request to be allowed to see high-tech police stuff is, in effect, a ‘no’. Poor Daniel. I’m not too impressed with this police cadet course so far, but nonetheless we are assured that ‘[y]ou can hardly wait for the next session!’ Maybe because almost nothing seems to have happened in this one and you feel it can only get better?

The one other thing to mention about this section is that we get an insert titled ‘CSI Assignment’, apparently the first of several such repeated through the book, in which the reader has to fill in blanks in Bible verses. Unfortunately Wallace doesn’t, as far as I can see, tell us anywhere which translation he’s using, which can be kind of a problem when you’re filling in blanks. Anyway, this assignment says:

God also wants you to use your brain to investigate the truth. Read Matthew 22:37-38. God tells us to love Him with all our heart, our soul, and our _______.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. God tells us to examine everything _________.

So, as long as you assure children that they’re supposed to investigate the truth, it’s fine to declare the things you’re supposed to be proving as though they’re proved facts. Something tells me that Wallace didn’t spot the irony in that one.

Anyway, determined to do the thing properly, I found the BibleGateway site and looked up those verses for Katie to do the fill-in-the-blank thing (for those verses, the default translations are close enough to the one Wallace was using that it was easily doable). And that’s it for the introduction. I’ll link further chapter reviews back here as I do them.

 

Chapter reviews – links

Chapter One: Don’t Be a “Know-It-All”: Start Every Investigation Like a Detective!

In which we start investigating the Case of the Mysterious Skateboard, the Case of Jesus, and the Case of The Illicit Evangelising.

Chapter Two: Learn How To Infer: Learn How Detectives Find The Truth! Part 1

In which there is a bit more skateboard-related stuff.

Chapter Two: Part 2

In which there is a bit of resurrection-related stuff, loosely based on Habermas’ Minimal Facts argument.

Chapter Two: Part 3

In which there is more resurrection-related discussion, I spot a suspected evangelical plant among the cadets, and my daughter spots a major apologetics flaw.

Chapter Two: Part 4

In which my daughter and I continue to be unimpressed with Wallace’s attempts to prove the resurrection story to children.

Chapter Three: Think Circumstantially: Examine an Important Kind of Evidence! Part 1

In which the insert character considers believing in God, and I raise the tricky question of what kind of God.

Chapter Three: Part 2

In which Jeffries does quite a bit of drawing and my daughter invents potato-worship.

Chapter Three: Part 3

First Cause and fine-tuning and morals, oh my!

Chapter Four: Test Your Witnesses: Don’t Get Fooled by Your Witnesses!

In which we find possible witnesses of the skateboard’s owner, and Jeffries inappropriately extrapolates dubious witness trustworthiness guidelines.

Chapter Four: Part 2

In which Jeffries ignores significant problems with Gospel reliability.

Chapter Four: Part 3

In which I spot some significant disingenuousness on Wallace’s part.

Chapter Four: Part 4

In which Wallace’s standards for verifying evidence are low, and the cadets have disturbingly creepy smiles.

Chapter Five: Respect the Chain of Custody: Make Sure No One Has Tampered with the Evidence!

In which Jeffries does a poor job of explaining chain of custody.

Chapter Four: Reprise

In which I revisit the end of Chapter Four to explain just how deep the problems with Jeffries’ assurances about gospel reliability go.

Chapter Five: Part 2

In which we get a seriously flawed argument about chain of custody for gospel stories.

Chapter Five: Part 3

In which oversimplification on Wallace’s part leads to more flawed arguments.

Chapter Six: Hang On Every Word: Spot the Truth When You Hear It!

In which Jeffries gets a witness and ignores her to do more evangelising.

Chapter Six: Part 2

Some background information; what do we really know about the authorship of the gospel according to ‘Mark’?

Chapter Six: Part 3

Several reasons why analysing the gospels as though they were forensic statements might not be as accurate a method as Wallace would like to think.

Chapter Six: Part 4

Wallace’s forensic statement analysis of Mark’s gospel; interesting, but unconvincing.

Chapter Seven: Separate Artifacts from Evidence: Clean Up Your Crime Scene!

Jeffries spends another week ignoring the witness statement on every word of which we were meant to be hanging, and I make some predictions. In between, there is some textual reliability stuff.

Chapter 8: Resist Conspiracy Theories: Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!

Conspiracy theory strawman. I knew it.

Chapter 8: Part 2

Why teach your cadets to detect, when you can just hand ’em the answers?

Chapter 8: Part 3

Why bother with plot continuity, when you can focus on apologetics instead?

Postscript

You came for the apologetics, now stay for the theology! No? Well, maybe the zombies, then…

Final sections and final thoughts

And, well, that’s about it, really. Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch, by Ronda Armitage, is a favourite of my eight-year-old daughter’s. This is partly because it’s a fun story, and partly because we enjoy going through pointing out all the problems with it.

My daughter is a huge fan of the CinemaSins YouTube channel. (Yes, this is probably a terrible idea and bad mothering on my part, but she’s only interested in the reviews of children’s films, so hopefully she isn’t going to end up watching extracts from some weird slasher film while my back’s turned.) Last night, while she was reading this book for the umpteenth time, she declared ‘We really need to make a list of all the things wrong with this book like the Sin Counter does!’

And so here I am. (And, Ronda Armitage, if you’re reading this – my daughter absolutely loves your book. Plot bizarreness and all.)

Basic plot (with spoilers)

Simple enough. Mr Grinling works in a lighthouse. Every day, his wife makes a detailed and delicious packed lunch for him, and sends it to him down a cable transport system (they live in a cottage on the nearby cliff). Some seagulls get wise to this and start eating the lunch on the way down, leaving poor Mr Grimling lunchless. Mr and Mrs Grinling try a couple of different things to discourage the seagulls, eventually winning the battle when Mrs Grinling comes up with the idea of putting mustard sandwiches in his lunch. The seagulls don’t like the mustard sandwiches, and after a couple of days of this head off to seek their lunch elsewhere. Success! Well, except for the unfortunate fisherman who’s having his lunch eaten by seagulls at the end. But success for Mr Grinling, who gets his lunch.

Problems with the plot

(As opposed to problems with the gender role portrayal, which are pretty obvious.)

  1. Why on earth does Mrs Grinling send the lunch down a cable every day? Surely it would be far simpler to make it the day before so that Mr Grinling can take it over in his boat each day when he commutes? What would happen if the cable jammed and left his lunch dangling fifty feet in the air over the sea? What if the basket tipped off in a storm? (It definitely doesn’t look too secure in the pictures.)
  2. How do the seagulls have time to finish the lunch in the time it takes to slide down a cable? Sure, they could probably peck at it somewhat, but apparently they’re supposed to have completely finished it in the time it takes to get down the line (and this is not a small lunch).
  3. Mrs Grinling’s first attempt at foiling the seagulls is to tie the napkin to the basket – cue picture of Mrs Grinling standing triumphantly next to a ribbon-bound basket. In which she appears to have added one ribbon totally for decoration, as it runs horizontally round the basket, under the other ribbons, contributing nothing whatsoever to the ribbon-induced security of the basket. What was the point of that?
  4. But what’s far worse is her next plan – with Mr Grinling’s full co-operation, she decides to send their cat down the cable as well in order to scare away the seagulls. Yup. We have a picture of a terrified cat being placed in a basket despite his struggles, and then one of him cowering in the basket in terrified misery as he travels down this insecure cable arrangement, at risk of toppling fifty feet into the sea below and getting dashed against the cliffs. The Grinlings are totally OK with doing this. Someone report this couple to the RSPCA.
  5. Mrs Grinling finally comes up with the mustard sandwich plan, and we have a full-page picture of the seagulls spitting the sandwiches out with cries of revulsion. And – kudos to my daughter for picking up this particular point – the falling sandwiches show human-shaped bite marks, rather than beak-shaped bite marks. How exactly did this happen? Did the seagulls’ beaks somehow magically metamorphosize into human mouths for just long enough to take those fateful bites, then change back again?

 

So… what’s the moral? Maybe it’s that you should prepare for work the night before, a la Flylady; maybe it’s that being cruel to animals brings you no benefit, but, hell, you’ll also apparently suffer no consequences from it so why not give it a try. (Nope. Let’s not go with that one.) On the whole, I think it’s that it’s probably not a good idea to overanalyse children’s books.