04/29/2013 12:19 EDT | Updated 06/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Faith, Skepticism and GSI

Skepticism is good, but we usually trust someone's account of something, even though we did not see it ourselves.

Carl Sagan was famous for saying extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But really, I would have loved to have asked Mr. Sagan or ask Richard Dawkins today, how many accounts from "good" people are you not going to trust, before you at least move from atheism to agnosticism?

GSI is a shameless takeoff on the name of the television series CSI and stands for God Scene Investigation. The point is to capture the spirit of rational, scientific investigation when someone makes a claim that God intervened.

There are so many books out now, on "to heaven and back" and "near death experiences" by reputable authors and publishers, that really, there is enough material for each book to be an episode in a new GSI TV series. Here is a quick quote from the PR of three of these books and a link.

"To Heaven and Back." "In 1999, orthopedic surgeon, devoted wife, and loving mother Dr. Mary Neal drowned in a kayak accident. A doctor's extraordinary account of to heaven and back."

"Heaven is For Real." "Do you remember the hospital, Colton?" Sonja said. "Yes, mommy, I remember," he said. "That's where the angels sang to me." "When Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy, his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren't expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the months that followed-a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy's trip to heaven and back."

"Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife." "Dr. Eben Alexander's story is not a fantasy. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. Today Alexander is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition."

Conservative Christians are not going to teach from these books about heaven in church, trusting rather on the authority of the Bible itself. But listening to someone's testimony, as perhaps a special gift from God, with great respect and interest, and relating it to Biblical insights, is always the Christian thing to do.

As Christians, we often consider GSI when we hear accounts from missionaries, or even just ordinary people, of a remarkable intervention from God.

For example, in 1836, the Christian pastor, George Mueller, saw a great need to build an orphanage in Bristol, England. Mostly due to an epidemic, many children had been left homeless. He prayed to God about if he should start an orphanage. He resolved not to ask anyone for money for the project. He sincerely believed that if God wanted the project to go ahead, God would provide the resources. And any biography of George Mueller is an account of how God always did provide the resources the orphanage needed. One story stands out in particular. The morning the cook told George there was no food left in the kitchen for the kids. George and the staff pray and a knock comes at the door. A milk wagon full of perishable supplies had just broken down outside the orphanage and the driver wants to know if they could use the food.

Sure, it could have just been a coincidence, that the milk wagon broke down in front of the orphanage. But there are many God Scene Investigation accounts like this, and together they form a body of evidence that is rather hard to ignore.

And the Bible is a GSI textbook with lots of archeological evidence we can still visit today, such as Hezekiah's Tunnel.

One more example, along the lines that the science of CSI is great but GSI has to also include love, mercy and justice. Along the lines that the equations of quantum electrodynamics are great, but one thing they will not output for us, is justice.

The Canadian singer / songwriter Steve Bell tells the account of how he sat down to his piano one evening at home and began to cry uncontrollably, and play this music. He did not "write" this music, he just played it. The first time I heard this music was a few years ago on Steve's CD, and I thought it was about divorce, and I cried. And after I finally got around to reading the actual title of the song, (Moon Over Birkenau), now I just cry. Steve is a great fellow and I trust his account. But now, even more today, I trust this music.