|Art by Bruno Auriema|
In part two of Geisler’s apologetic “masterpiece” I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist he tackles the theory of non-contradiction.
What I have a problem with is that Geisler offers up some false dichotomies. Although his examples are mainly contradictions, such as the Bible saying that Jesus rose from the dead while the Koran claims Jesus did not and stayed dead, Geisler neglects to consider the possibility that these contradictions don’t matter because they aren’t really contradictions.
The possibility he ignores is that the Jesus Christ figure in the NT and Koran may in fact be fictional. If true, then the stories are dealing with two different characters. For those familiar with modern comic books and graphic novels, it would be like the D.C. Universe and their multiple incarnations of famous characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Green Lantern. Each of them have numerous origin stories–many of which are in conflict. Indeed, many of the stories appear to “contradict” each other. This requires a lot of retconing in the D.C. Universe (i.e., retcon means retroactive continuity).
It may be that Muslims are simply writing a different story using the same character. The problem arises for the Christian apologist because instead of retconing the character back into the Christian mythos–they adamantly deny that it is the same character. Meanwhile, the Christian maintains that the NT Jesus is 100% historically accurate, then proceeds to dismiss any other interpretation that doesn’t fit their orthodox views. Unlike the D.C. Universe, which fixes problematic continuity by retconing it, the Christian one selects canons of orthodox continuity which will be deemed the standard to base all other interpretations off of.
Whether or not the NT is a work of fiction or not, does not matter so much here. My point is that Geisler seems to think that anything which contradicts itself becomes invalid. This seems to only be true if absolutes are involved. Even then, there are situations where two divergent truths may be equally viable.
In my notes section I have this written:
I like the color blue but I also like the color orange. Because I can simultaneously like more than one color it is not a contradiction to say my favorite color is orange but also blue. Even as the statement that I like blue directly contradicts the statement that I like orange. Both can be colors I like and it is not a contradiction, even though it violates the theory of non-contradiction.
This is where Geisler makes his biggest mistake. He literally believes any contradiction invalidates a claim. But as with the prior example of holding various beliefs, which seemingly contradict one another, the theory of non-contradiction doesn’t necessarily always falsify contradictory claims. It only falsifies contradictions in which the basic beliefs are in conflict.
For example, saying I like blue but I also like orange may sound like a contradiction if said independently, this is a different thing than saying orange is blue or that the color blue is the flavor of soy sauce.
These are incontrovertible contradictions. Unless Geisler can prove certain claims are incontrovertibly in conflict, then his application of the theory of non-contradiction seems to be incorrectly applied.
(Note: Geisler, et al. later state that “contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible.” In my notes I have written that: our apologist(s) have confused basic beliefs with absolute truths. This is problematic since, according to their own logic, it would be impossible to prove an absolute truth unless you could know everything. But our author(s) believe absolute truths exist–which means they probably have in mind basic beliefs. On the other hand–they may be of the opinion that the person of faith has truth revealed to them via the Holy Spirit and/or God, but since this metaphysical claim isn’t falsifiable, it seems to fit their definition of a self-defeating statement–which, according to them, is a statement that fails to meets its own standard.)
In a gross misconstruing of what nonbelievers believe, Geisler states:
“Agnostics and skeptics make the truth claim that truth claims cannot be made. They say that truth can’t be known but then claim that their view is true. You can’t have it both ways.”
I don’t really know where to begin, except to say this is entirely inaccurate. First off, the claim that truth claims cannot be known is not an absolute claim. Most intelligent, and educated, agnostics and skeptics would realize that there is a small chance they could be mistaken. If we should ever claim that a truth claim cannot be made, it is not the same as the statement that we absolutely know that a truth claim can never be made. Second of all, I think most agnostics and skeptics (let’s not forget atheists) do know that general truth claims can be made. Up is up and down is down, after all.
Geisler here is purposely misrepresenting the agnostic, skeptic, and atheistic positions by putting words into our mouths. Basic truth claims, such as “I like the color blue but I also like orange,” is different than absolute truth claims, such as “the earth revolves around the sun.” Indeed, nonbelievers aren’t trying to have it both ways, since we are not dealing in absolutes (unlike the theist), therefore the claim that not all truth claims can be known doesn’t simply become irrelevant because Geisler says so. In fact, it stems to reason that if a truth claim could be falsified, then it wasn’t really a truth claim. This is the possibility all skeptics account for, and this is why Geisler is, once again, grossly mistaken.
But all this talk of non-contradiction and truth claims is merely designed as a way for Christians to confound skeptics by pointing out their contradictions–as a short-hand way to veto any opinion that doesn’t agree with the religious person’s opinion.
But chapter two gets even worse than this shoddy sophistry when Geisler et al. attempts to disprove two philosophical giants.
Geisler’s arrogance one again shines through when he takes a mere four pages to disprove the Scottish philosopher David Hume and no more than five pages to disprove the perennial philosopher Immanuel Kant, by applying the theory of non-contradiction.
It’s rather a mess to read through–since his paraphrase of both philosophers positions is crude and lacks in erudition. But this crudeness is deliberate–because Geisler doesn’t actually want his (mostly Christian) readers to consider what Hume and Kant are really saying–he merely wants the flock to be reassured that the true “intelligentsia” is represented by learned Christians like himself, so they need not bother doing much thinking of their own.
This is nowhere more clear than in Geisler’s statement, “Kant’s philosophy is bad philosophy…”
All of Kant’s philosophy? Just the examples cited? My notes are littered with questions like these. I won’t go into detail here except to say that Geisler pats himself on the back (more than once) for being more brilliant than Kant. Not only this, he includes an anecdotal tale in which he outsmarts his college professor and disproves the “principle of empirical verifiability” as originally outlined by Hume and later expanded upon by the philosopher A.J. Ayer.
Yes, not only is Geisler wayyyy smarter than his college professor, but he is also smarter than Kant, Hume, and Ager combined. Once again, the arrogance is unbelievable. And once again we find the same attempt of reassuring his flock that the true “intelligentsia” is represented by learned Christians like himself.
Geisler’s (apparent) victory compels him to state of Hume, “If he’s correct, then any book talking about God is meaningless. You might as well use all religious writings for kindling!”
Now, the above statement that if Hume is correct then all religious works are meaningless and ought to be tossed into the fireplace seems a bit sensationalist. Even if Hume is correct, and metaphysics is bogus, it doesn’t mean the stories and the lessons contained in religious myth are entirely without value. It seems a defeatist position to think everything is meaningless if one small pet theory is disproved. Only the person who does not know how to re-evaluate the evidence would be stuck in the pit of despair when their worldview crumbles around them. But for those who are adequately equipped to rethink things, well, there is no such worry.
Such statements, like the above, really have me question the integrity of Geisler. Can he really be so arrogant as to think he is better than these great minds? Is he really so closed minded as to think the world would be meaningless if his magic fairy book ceased to ring true to him? In both instances the answer is yes.
Even as I consistently found Geisler’s tone to be overly conceited, annoying, and sophist–even as his thinking proved extremely muddled–the thing that really bothered me what his follow up to this conclusion a few pages later, where he states:
“So instead of committing all books about God “to the flames” as Hume suggests, you may want to consider using Hume’s books to get your fire going.”
I can forgive Hume for wanting to burn the pernicious and vile teachings of religion, but I cannot forgive someone who without justification demands I burn books–let alone books of the kind which help to elucidate the problematic elements of our thought processes and which teach us to think more critically. The very fact that Geisler would call for anyone to burn the works of David Hume suggests to me a greater underlying fear that if anyone took the time to really familiarize themselves with Hume they might start to turn the acquired skills of critical thinking on their own beliefs.
This is why Geisler wants you to burn Hume’s books. This is why Geisler wants you to take him as the authority above any philosopher (or person for that matter) which would disagree with Christianity. He doesn’t want his herd of unquestioning sheep to suddenly learn to think for themselves.
By the end of chapter two I found myself despising Norman L. Geisler. Anyone who would make an unwarranted call to burn books written by men of reason earns my contempt. Anyone who would think so highly of themselves to actually entertain the delusion of grandeur that they were superior in intellect to some of the best philosophical minds who have ever lived earns my disgust. Geisler has earned both.
In fact, so far the only things I have learned about atheism is that Geisler is right–according to himself–and that he wants everyone to burn books. In other words, in two full chapters and a lengthy introduction there is still nothing to suggest why atheism might be remotely wrong or even the slightest way misguided. We have learned nothing.
Although reading Geisler’s book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist is a total waste of time, and I feel overly compelled to toss it into the fire for being the piece of crap it is, my curiosity drives me to discover why atheists are wrong. However, it will take a lot more than Geisler’s ego to convince me that it takes more “faith” to be an atheist than a believer. Indeed, the very idea that atheists require faith at all is an ignorant one, since people don’t require faith for things they don’t believe in.
Please, take my word of advice, if you are thinking of picking of a Christian apologetics book in order to consider the other side–don’t. You’ll only be sorely disappointed–and in many cases–you may be outright offended. I, however, am too stubborn to quit. Especially since, like all men of reason, I am awaiting that deafening face-palm which will silence all ignorance and stupidity as it echoes thunderously throughout all eternity. I have a feeling that such a face-palm worthy moment may very well exist somewhere in this book.