Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Defending Inerrancy: Chapter 5 Cave-In

Before beginning on Ch. 5 of DI, it is worth noting that Geisler has lined up a spokesman that is as oblivious as he is as to what Mike Licona was up to. Paige Patterson – whose Neanderthalish views on women could by themselves warrant a few blog entries or cartoon videos (and someday might) – shows the same striking inability to get the point that Geisler has shown, in a comment now quoted on Geisler’s front page:

Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture.

There’s more than one obvious problem here. One of them is that Licona is not a “philosopher” but a historian and NT scholar. The second of course is that Patterson is stuck in the same oblivious “true or false” mode that Geisler is, and obviously has no idea what Licona actually argued about Matthew 27. We may suspect that Geisler fed Patterson his version of events, and there can be little doubt that Patterson never read Licona’s book or even the relevant pages (and I have serious doubts, given his reckless scholarship on the role of women, that he would even understand any of it, either).

In light of that, it is rather amusing to see that Geisler, after praising Patterson for his “courage, conviction, and character” (but thankfully, not his intelligence, awareness, and good sense) says that he hopes that “there is a place reserved in Nashville for a bronze statue of him.” To which I can only say that given Patterson’s uncritical evaluation of the situation, if they do erect a bronze statue of him…it appears that they won’t have to cast his head. (See a more detailed analysis by Nick Peters in a link below.)

That done, I will now focus on Chapter 5 of Defending Inerrancy (DI) where Bart Ehrman is addressed, because Ehrman must be regarded as a premier threat to faith today, and thus, if DI's treatment of Ehrman is inadequate, it will reflect poorly on its ability to prepare Christians for what Ehrman has to offer.

In the end, I am compelled to give this chapter a D plus -- and much of what is positive in that comes of places where DI is quoting or using someone else (e.g., Kostenberger and Kruger, who are extensively used in responding to Ehrman's variation on the Bauer hypothesis). In contrast, when they are "on their own," Geisler and Roach are mostly reduced to pullstring canards; e.g., "Ehrman is an antisupernaturalist who doesn't believe in miracles," which are designed to raise red flags among Christian readers who have already made up their mind and believe that Ehrman is little more than a minor distraction on the roadside of their journey to presuppositional, fideistic faith.

Beyond this, the chapter has a patent slapdash, "oh that's good enough" quality, which makes it clear that little or no serious or original research was done. Badly dated and (these days) seriously questioned pull quotes by authors like Albright, Glueck and Kenyon, made popular by Josh McDowell's Evidence collection, are mixed in with the less common appeals to a few -- very few -- up to date sources like Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. From the way the latter is used, it is doubtful that it was sought out specifically for research; rather, its usage suggests that at some time in the past, one of the authors -- more likely Roach -- happened to read it for other purposes, and came back to it for some pull quotes upon remembering their potential relevance.

The use of sources like Albright and Kenyon, however, is reflective of why authoritarians like Geisler should not be doing apologetics. As with Patterson above, the authoritarian cares little how accurate, up to date, or relevant an authority is. All that matters is that a Great Man Has Spoken. Who dares controvert them? Geisler and Roach grant what is practically Biblical authority to these sources – timelessly inerrant and infallible. It would never occur to them that something like Albright’s quoted conclusion about the dates of the NT has been frequently challenged, and that there are things that need to be answered before it can be supported.

It is also hard to see why a chapter on Ehrman even belongs in a book on the doctrine of inerrancy. To be sure, Ehrman denies inerrancy, but he does so as part of a much broader program of denying Biblical reliability -- and this chapter thus ends up being more about that, than about inerrancy. Since Biblical reliability is a far broader topic, the devotion of a single chapter to Ehrman badly shortchanges and ill-informs the reader, who will need a whole book, not a single chapter, responding to Ehrman.

As it is, the chapter diverts far afield from inerrancy and spends an inordinate amount of time on such matters as Ehrman's deconstructionism. Here the reader gets the impression that one of the authors (here, more likely Geisler) had some pre-fabricated material on deconstruction to use, which they simply edited for use in this chapter. I am not against such usages of one's own material -- I do it myself -- but it is far less appropriate when it is done having stretched the subject matter simply in order to use it.
The level of argumentation seldom passes the level of McDowell, either. Here, for example, is a typical "argument":

"...we have no other contemporary writings from the first century even claiming to come from an apostle or his associate. And the ones we have from close to the end of the first century (like Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement of Rome) do not contradict the apostolic writings but support them."

And that is all. While, arguably, a much longer examination would reach the same general conclusion, against a foe like Ehrman, this is kindergarten stuff -- Ehrman himself has much more to say in dispute of these conclusions, and so again, the Christian reader is left vastly unprepared.
It would be nice to see developed arguments concerning NT authorship, including epistemic tests for authorship of ancient documents, and a look at the NT books individually. However, DI deems it "sufficient" (!) to provide only two points, one of which is rather useless in context:

1) That many NT books are widely accepted as being by the authors named. This is true, but Ehrman himself would hardly dispute this, and the certainty of Romans being by Paul does nothing to add confidence to the authorship of Ephesians.

Apart from Bauckham, only one other source -- Carson and Moo's New Testament intro -- is recommended; it is pointed out that a handful of people agree to early dates for the NT books (with little to nothing offered in terms of WHY they believe this), and it is declared, "there is sufficient evidence" -- the end. Throughout the chapter, the method is clear: make an authoritarian pronouncement or summary judgment, and provide only token nods to serious scholarship. And why not? Great Men Have Spoken. Shut up, heathen.

It never gets better than this throughout the chapter. The material on textual criticism, for example, looks like someone making a brutally chopped summary of much more detailed findings in Chick tract format. The motto for this review of Ehrman should be: Why bother?

So it is for Chapter 5, and we would also now look at DI's treatment of Robert Gundry, and compare to our previous analyses on the Ticker to see if anything new is provided. It turns out there is little or nothing new. Geisler and Roach offer the usual scare tactics, making light of having asked Gundry whether anyone who signed the ETS statement should be admitted to the ETS -- including, in theory, persons like Origen, Karl Barth, and Mary Baker Eddy. It is said that Gundry gave a "shocking yes" to this query. However, it was not quite that simple. In his "surrejoinder" to Geisler, Gundry's answer was not merely "yes" but all of this:

As can be seen, Geisler and Roach have grossly (and characteristically) vastly oversimplified the answer by reducing it to a mere binary equation. I strongly recommend readers take a good look at Gundry’s full reply, to get an idea just how little honesty Geisler had engaged in confronting him in the 1980s (and now also, as with the example of Patterson above, Licona) – see link below.

Other than this, there is nothing new to observe. DI merely continues to haul out their use of ICBI against what they (mis)understand Gundry to be saying.

And so now we might close out evaluation of DI -- for now -- with a look at some closing words of condescension from Geisler offered as advice to scholars. The absurdity of Geisler presuming to offer such advice is manifest. Geisler is not qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship; neither his training nor his experience gives him any place to address those with better and greater knowledge in these areas. If anything, as we have seen in our look at DI Ch 11, practically everything he touches turns into something embarrassing.

In the epilogue, Geisler advises scholars on how to avoid what he calls "pitfalls" -- wanting to become famous; wanting to be unique; dancing on the edges; seeking respectability; seeking fraternity or unity. Such is Geisler's condescension that he does not even consider it possible that any scholar might hold to some view because that is where the evidence leads them. The advice is also ironic coming from someone who frequently emphasizes (by word and deed) the number of books they have published and how much authority they have; who has sown division so often that it has become their trademark; and who is so concerned with their own "respectability" that they have gone ballistic over being turned into a cartoon character.

DI no doubt hits the mark when criticizing certain people, but these are people who offer a mark the size of Bolivia to a person standing in the middle of that nation with a baseball bat. It is to no credit to Geisler and Roach to get an A on a test of their ability to breathe, blink and sleep. It is in places like Ch. 5 and 11 -- where we have taken a closer look at the contents -- that their inabilities become manifest.

DI will not prepare us for a robust defense of the Christian faith as challenges grow from a range as wide as scholars like Ehrman on one hand and YouTube atheists like NonStampCollector on the other. Rather, DI will only benefit those whose way of faith and life is to withdraw into a turtle shell with their thumbs firmly planted between their lips, repeating to themselves mantras of vain self-assurance.

Nick Peters on Patterson

Gundry's reply to Geisler


  1. You may not get many comments, but trust me I am reading all this and eating it up as mind food my friend. Great series of posts here.

    1. Heh, well -- few comments can be a good means sometimes the blogger has said all that needs saying. :D

  2. As always, good analysis. I commented on Nick's blog that the fallacy alluded to by you and Nick is called "generalization of expertise."

  3. @Scott Yes, I saw that on DW too -- thank you!

    I'll have a few comments on part of one more chapter on Wed...along with something else special to announce...