Having just watched “Zero Dark Thirty” for the first time, I was struck by the parallels between how the CIA came to believe Osama bin Laden was hiding in a home in Abbottabad, Pakistan and how Christians come to believe in Jesus Christ.For those not familiar, the movie begins as Maya, the principal figure in capturing bin Laden, interacts with Ammar, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s nephew. During an interrogation, Ammar mentions a man named Abu Ahmed as part of the al Qaeda team. Ahmed is purported to be a messenger between Abu Faraj and Osama bin Laden. At this point in the narrative, Abu Ahmed has not been visually identified nor is there any evidence that he is even a real person.
As a matter of fact, very early on, the Islamabad Station Chief tells Maya, “Perhaps this Abu is actually a cover story and he’s really a… unicorn.” However, after interrogating the key financier for al Qaeda, Maya receives confirmation of Ahmed’s existence (due to the financier’s eyewitness testimony) and is therefore convinced that Ahmed is someone to be seriously pursued as a means to finding bin Laden.
At some point Maya discovers that Abu Ahmed is an alias for Ibrahim Sayeed. She attains visual identification of Sayeed in Pakistan and then follows him to a compound in Abbottabad. The area is fortified by a 16 foot wall with blacked out windows making it impossible to identify any of its residents; although the CIA initially confirms that, within the compound, there are two males, two females, and seven children. Due to satellite surveillance, the CIA soon discovers a third female and (based on Muslim custom) infer that there must be a third male – verified only by heat signature. From these evidences the government concludes that this third male is indeed bin Laden and sends a Seal team to invade the home. Let me repeat that for emphasis. From only these evidences, the government decides to send a Seal team in.
There was no visual identification that the heat signature was bin Laden. There were no voice identifications from phone calls made to or from the home. As a matter of fact, the National Security Advisor asks for any such evidences during one of the briefings at the White House. But none are available. And yet, at the end of the film, both the characters and the audience discover that bin Laden is the third male in the home and, therefore, the CIA was absolutely correct in its assessment.
The enterprise of evaluating evidences and drawing the conclusion that the government does in the film is known, in philosophy, as an inference to the best explanation. This is exactly the same process Christians undertake to put their trust in Jesus Christ. No serious New Testament scholar disputes the fact that Jesus actually lived and taught in the first century. He died by crucifixion on a cross and his disciples claimed to have seen Him alive three days later. The cumulative evidence for Christ’s resurrection arises from: 1) the empty tomb, i.e. the fact that, when the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus had resurrected, the enemies of Christ (the Jews and Romans) could not produce a body to dispute the claim; 2) the eyewitness testimony, i.e. the fact that, many of His followers (and a couple of His enemies) said they saw and interacted with the resurrected Jesus shortly after His death; 3) the authenticity of the eyewitness testimony, i.e. the record of nearly all of Jesus’ disciples being persecuted, beaten, and killed for claiming that they had seen Him alive.
No explanation that entails the disciples all sharing the same hallucination or going to their death for a story they knew was a lie takes the evidence seriously enough. Even those who claim that the resurrection is based on legend do not consider how soon word got out that Jesus was alive after His death (thereby seriously undercutting the theory). The best explanation based on the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead like He said He would. And, if Jesus rose from the dead, then everything He said about this life and the next is true since, by resurrecting, He verified that His message is authoritative.
This is the thought process that leads to becoming a Christian. And, like the government (who was either right or wrong about Osama bin Laden being in that compound), Christians who put their trust in Jesus based on the evidence are either right or wrong about their conclusion as well. The weight of a conclusion such as these is expressed in the film during a conversation between the National Security Advisor and one of the CIA chiefs:
NSA Advisor: “This is pure risk, based on deductive reasoning, inference, supposition, and the only human reporting you have is six years old from detainees who were questioned under duress.”
CIA Chief: “How do you evaluate the risk of not doing something? The risk of potentially letting bin Laden slip through your fingers. That is a fascinating question.”
In a sense, the CIA chief has opened the door to Pascal’s Wager. How do we evaluate the risk of not seriously assessing the fact of the empty tomb, the eyewitness testimony of a risen Christ from His followers and enemies, and the authenticity due to the disciples’ dying for their eyewitness testimony? A fascinating question, indeed, of utmost spiritual importance.