Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Norman the Neanderthal

Norman Geisler has still not acknowledged our challenges -- directly -- but he has taken the time to scour Mike Licona's book on the Resurrection rooting around for manufactured problems, after the manner of a pig rooting around for truffles. No doubt stung by a highly positive review of Licona's book in the Christian Research Journal -- one that saw none of the problems Geisler imagined existed there -- Geisler now hits the panic button with a chorus of sledgehammers, proclaiming that Licona is "worse than we originally thought" on inerrancy.

Initially Geisler presents a personal story -- one I cannot confirm or deny myself, but which I am told by closer sources is heavy on spin -- in which Licona allegedly failed to convince a "key Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader that his view was orthodox." I'll leave specific defense of that to those more personally involved, but even if Geisler's account happened to be true, we may color ourselves unimpressed without further information.

First of all, who was this "key leader"? Those that immediately come to mind as candidates in the SBC aren't exactly what I'd call scholarly powerhouses qualified to assess the matter. I'm thinking here leaders like Charles Stanley, or Al Mohler (whom Geisler refers to beyond this) who frankly wouldn't know a Greco-Roman biography from an antelope's rump, and would think that the Agricola of Tacitus was some kind of Roman-era soft drink. In that light I find neither the judgment of this unnamed "key leader," nor the words of Mohler from the prior entry (from which Geisler once again quotes extensively, and with emphasis on the panic button parts) of much relevance or strength. I also note that while Geisler is eager to quote Mohler, he is hesitant to note that credible and serious scholars like Dan Wallace, Edwin Yamuchi, and J. P. Moreland have stood behind Licona by specifically naming them (other than Gary Habermas).

Next, Geisler makes note of how Licona was dismissed from SES and ISCA after all of this was uncovered. I am also able to neither confirm nor deny specifics on this, but allow me to say again that authoritarian bullying does not constitute an argument. If this is the position ISCA has taken -- and it appears from their website that they have -- then I daresay I am well served to have not renewed my membership there. I will therefore not miss at all not having been able to attend the next conference on Kansas City; all I will have missed is a ceremonial passing out of wooden clubs and sabre-toothed tiger skins, and the ISCA deserves to be ignored by all credible apologists and utterly abandoned as a credible and useful organization.

After this, Geisler mourns the fact that the Evangelical Philosophical Society (and by extension, its parent organization, ETS) is giving Licona place to discuss his views. Given that EPS and ETS are havens for those who take scholarship seriously, I'll take Geisler's dyspepsia over the matter as a reason to celebrate their having moved on from his backwards views to something more contextually informed.

So what else has caused Geisler dyspepsia from the book which he missed before? He has now found suggestions from Licona -- not affirmations -- that the angels at the tomb could be legendary elements, as could be the incident in John's Gospel in which the soldiers fall to the ground. As before, while I don't think these suggestions are valid conclusions, I also do not see that they cause any problem for a serious and contextualized doctrine of inerrancy. Geisler still does not "get" the key point that you can't dehistorcize a text that wasn't meant to be taken as historical in the first place. It is doubtful that he ever will.

I said that Geisler has not acknowledged our challenges. Indeed he has not, but it is clear that he is aware of them and that they sting badly. One of our challenges was to explain, as noted:

Challenge: Are the Gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman biographies (bioi)? If not, why not? If so, then why is this not a case of “by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means”?

Neither option bodes well for Geisler. Identifying the Gospels as bioi has been of some assistance in determining their nature, meaning, and purpose. It has not been particularly relevant to the exegesis of the Gospels, but it remains that identifying them as such was the same process of Licona used in trying to identify Matt. 27 as a poetic device – it was done by comparison to “some external pagan (!) idea” which was then (as Geisler puts it) “superimposed on the text.”

On the other hand, if he chooses to deny that the Gospels are bioi, he will be hard-pressed to explain why the credible scholarship of Burridge, Talbert, and others ought to be rejected.

Geisler addresses this point, but does so by having dug out places where Licona affirms the nature of the Gospels as bioi. It takes Geisler a few lines of name-calling ("bad methodology") before he finally gets to an actual answer, which reaches stratospheric heights of obscurantism unimagined even by the most fundamental of Bob Jones disciples:

In brief, two main errors in Licona’s methodology stand out. First, his genre decisions are made “up-front” based on extra-biblical data. On the contrary, one should approach every text with the historical-grammatical method to determine within the text, its context, and by other Scriptures what it means. Then, and then alone, is he in a position to know its genre.


How can one know the "genre" of a text apart from multiple examples of that genre? Why does not the historical-grammatical method include defining extra-Biblical data? (It certainly does so when interpreting the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible!) What within the text itself tells us what genre the Gospels are? (The answer of course, is that nothing does.) And are we simply to ignore the vast parallels established by credible study and scholars (like Burridge and Talbert) to works like Tacitus' Agricola and say with Geisler, "yes, it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it has feathers like a duck, but it's really a mongoose"? Geisler's answer is simply intellectual gibberish and the worst sort of obscurantism.

His second point is no better:

Second, even then, categories of genre made up from extra-biblical sources (like Greco-Roman history) are not the way to determine the genre of a unique piece of literature like the Gospels. For it may be—as indeed we believe it is—that the Gospels are a unique genre of their own, namely, Gospel genre where redemptive history is still real history.

This is nothing more than patent circular reasoning. The Gospels are simply assumed to be unique in their genre in order to argue that they are unique in their genre. Such an obscurantist, neanderthalish assertion will do nothing to erase, answer, or obscure the comprehensive and detailed parallels enumerated by scholars like Burridge, and Geisler's attempt to put the Gospels into "unique genre" is nothing more than ignorant special pleading of the sort that has enabled hyenas like Bart Ehrman to cull the ranks of the church for those who recognize this sort of contrived anti-intellectualism for what it really is.

Geisler goes on:

What is certain is that whatever aid extra-biblical material may have in our understanding of the text, no extra-biblical data is hermeneutically determinative in interpreting any text of Scripture. It may help in understanding the meaning of words and customs, but it cannot be used to determine whether a text is historical or not historical.

However, with that last statement, Geisler has offered his own self-refutation. Logically, he cannot draw a line around "words and customs" and say, "no, it stops here and we can't use such externals to determine historicity of a text." That is simply an arbitrariness and a convenience designed to suit his own predetermined purposes -- and it is again exactly that kind of dictatorial arbitrariness that enables Skeptics to thin Christian ranks.

Geisler thereafter once again appeals to ICBI, but as we have noted before, not even ICBI is saying that it is wrong to "dehistoricize" a text that wasn't meant to be taken as historical in the first place; Geisler's confusion on this matter continues unabated, and is not likely to be cured any time soon.


  1. As much as I enjoy you bashing Norman Geisler, I think after several months of this a good dose of some true Christian mercy and Grace is in order. Can't you see he's already dug himself in an intellectual hole deeper than the Grand Canyon?

  2. "...ignorant special pleading of the sort that has enabled hyenas like Bart Ehrman to cull the ranks of the church for those who recognize this sort of contrived anti-intellectualism for what it really is."

    Well put!

  3. @rolo: Ordinarily I'd say yes, but I owe Mike a lot, and his son in law is my ministry partner, so I'm pledged to keep on top of this thing.

  4. Regardless of one's views on this issue your approach as an "apologist" has been completely distasteful and frankly ungodly. I see this as a pattern with not only this issue, but many of the issues you attempt to address. I honestly think you need to evaluate the 'way' you go about talking about other individuals.

    Regardless of how you may think Geisler or anyone else for that matter is talking about others. You are not responsible for them but for yourself. And in the area of common charity, I think you are failing miserably.

  5. Sounds like sour grapes to me. I think you need to put on some big boy pants, grow up, and cease being an authoritarian bully like Geisler. In the areas of common sense, justice, and intelligence, you are failing miserably.

  6. Thanks again for proving my earlier point.

  7. My problem here is a personal one this time around, and not just disagreeing with Geisler on whining about "method" and false alarms and false accusations.

    Geisler either hasn't read the book, or is being outright deceitful.

    Unlike the Matthew thing, Licona never once stated he believed these things with the angels or the Jewish leaders falling backwards were legend, but rather granting for the sake of argument that they could be, given the context of the overall book about checking horizons for the purposes of historical investigation, Licona's point was that does not at all entail that because something contains legendary elements that the historian must therefore discard them in total as unreliable in containing factual, historical data.

    That Geisler didn't point this whole thing out given the nature of the book is tantamount to spreading lies that Licona is denying something he doesn't.

    Watch here:

    "First, Licona suggested that the appearance of angels at Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection IS also legendary. He wrote: 'It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary AND COULD POSSIBLY be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes.'" (emphasis added)

    And Geisler NEVER mentioned the context of what Licona was discussing at this point in the book.

    This is unacceptable.

  8. Yea, I'm with JP on this. There's nothing wrong with his approach.

    It's not really Norman's different view that justifies calling him "pig-headed" (and other delightful names)... but his unwillingness to submit his view to scrutiny. Geisler's opinion on this matter is simply indefensible and quite frankly he's a bit of an embarrassment to apologetics.

  9. @Bryan That you're an uncritical stoolie who cares nothing about the truth? No problem! :D

  10. @Jonathan: Either that, or Geisler is unable to look at such proposals in any way other than a black and white one -- eg, you're either saying it is true or not; there's no such thing as a "possibly" even when you use that very word.

    Given his mentality, that wouldn't be surprising. Alternatively, like many authoritarian bullies, he may just be reading carelessly and only paying attention closely to what personally interests him or serves his purposes.

  11. @Dan Yes, exactly -- and that plays right into the hands of critics like Ehrman when they have students to themselves in their classes.

  12. @ James White is certainly no hero of mine, but I do remember him saying something about Geisler putting assistants on the job and compiling data for him, or at least that was his assertion about Geisler regarding a new addition to his book which added new responses to White's book.

    In any case, neither would surprise me, but it shows incredible dishonesty nonetheless.

    What I find most disheartening is Licona's friends not publicly rebuking Geisler on both methodology and behavior. It is cowardly.

    I guess Michael Bird shows us that the only place where there is guts in conservative evangelical scholarship is outside the U.S.

  13. I'm not agreeing with Geisler here, but I've often heard that if we say the rising of the Saints is allegorical (or fictitious) that we then have an example of a Christian fabricating an event, and we can't know the resurrection was not a fabrication of an event to make a point. Do you/Licona have a response to this? I'm not convinced by it, just curious.

  14. @Gio: I can't speak for Mike, but in general my reply would be 1) it wouldn't be a fabrication (since it wasn't meant to be taken as history); 2) there'd be strict guidelines for deciding when an event reported is, as he puts it, "special effects."

  15. Just wanted to comment and say that Craig Blomberg and professional scholars have been saying there are legendary accounts in the gospels for years now! Where is Norman Geisler on those examples as well?

    For example in; The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg, which I am sure you are familiar with JP. On page 20 dealing with Form Criticism it states;
    "A few are termed ‘legends’, and are often, though not always, regarded as unhistorical accounts of Jesus or the disciples, designed to illustrate some virtue or vice (e.g. Lk. 2:41-49 or Mt. 273-S)."

    Now, seeing as though Liconas actual part in the book doesn't say the resurrection is unhistorical it says that a particular portion of a resurrection narrative may be poetic. Here we have Blomberg saying that some verses written in Luke 2 may not be historical but may be a way to show character traits of Jesus, namely an unhistorical rhetorical device. One could call it a poetic device just as Licona called Matthew 27 portion a poetic device.

    Just was reading and thinking, and thought I would drop by. Also I am the guy behind CreationWiki on YouTube!

    Keep up the fight JP.

  16. You’ve shifted from a debate on inerrancy to a personal attack on Geisler. To be honest, it disgusts me.

  17. @Paul C Isn't that just too bad. Geisler deserves it; it's based on things he does and says as a PERSON.

  18. Debate the issues, don’t malign the person. If not for the sake logic, do it for the sake of Christ.

  19. @Paul Spare me the self-righteous drivel. Telling the truth about someone isn't maligning them....too bad that Christ didn't have your advice when he was taking care of his own brood of vipers.

  20. PS: It's too bad you're not more disgusted by Geisler's authoritarian bullying than by him being properly designated as neanderthalish.

    Tony Campolo was right -- you're more concerned about about the fact that I say things like "neanderthalish" than that 30000 college students a year go apostate because of the kind of crap Geisler is pulling.

  21. Honestly, JP? Comparing him to a pig? You didn't learn that in logic class.

  22. @humb No, but I did learn it from porcine biology. And the trotter fits.

  23. JP, that's a terrible thing to say.

    Comparing Norman to a Neanderthal? We have no evidence that Neanderthals were that pig-headed and ignorant.

    I'm tempted to start a Neanderthal appreciation society to protest such maligning of our erstwhile brothers. :-)

    You can compare him to a pig though, they're not kosher.

  24. @Duke I think GEICO is already busy with that campaign, aren't they?