Monday, January 28, 2013

Geisler Masters the Non Sequitur

I have a USDA conference this week, so I'm pleased to host Nick Peters' latest report on the latest Geisler shenanigans. The Ticker will return next week otherwise.


Norman Geisler has done it again. He still seems under the impression that since he is commenting on something and he is the evangelical pope, then his word is authoritative, without stopping to realize how that statement will look to people in the field who study it.

An example from the apologetics field we can often see can be found in objections to the Trinity. Jews, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have all asked me, “If Jesus is God, was He praying to Himself?” I could understand someone being taught the Trinity for the first time wondering about that, but if someone wants to argue against the idea, such a claim does not show real in-depth study of the topic, but complete ignorance of the topic.

In his latest rant against Mike Licona, who for all we know might have been snoring too loudly at night this time around, Geisler has sought the authority of the early church fathers (ECF). It is a wonder that more authority is needed besides all the (cough) scholars (cough) of the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy), but this is Geisler’s main game. A great man has spoken. All be silent!

In Geisler’s rant, one will never come across a discussion of Mike’s arguments. Geisler is banking on the fact that his readers will never bother interacting with them. I recall a discussion with a Geislerite one time where he told me I needed to read Geisler’s Systematic Theologies and Inerrancy that he edited and then get back to me. I told him I had already read them (which is true) and was ready to discuss. I never got a reply. I have no doubt this person never bothered to read Mike’s book and never will.

Geisler will keep going and pointing out all of his arguments without responding to his critics, all the while expecting his critics to respond to him or, if they do, like myself, JPH, Max Andrews, etc., then ignore them and hope that they go away, kind of like what happened with the Ergun Caner debacle. The authoritarian tactics are all we see.

For now, I am going to be dealing with just one part of Geisler’s rant. I can assure the reader that there will be soon (I am having someone fact-checking one) on my blog a fuller response. A link to my blog can be found below and my readers can know that this is a blog that JPH would recommend that you follow. For all interested, one can do a web search for Mike Licona (and in the interest of fairness, for all who don’t know, I will state what could be seen as bias upfront in saying that he is my father-in-law) and read the arguments I have up on my blog, arguments Geisler has never responded to.

What is it that Geisler has said that will be dealt with? The following:

Further, it is highly unlikely that a resurrection story would be influenced by a Greco-Roman genre source (which Licona embraces) since the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body (cf. Acts 17:32).  In fact, bodily resurrection was contrary to their dominant belief that deliverance from the body, not a resurrection in the body, was of the essence of salvation.  Homer said death is final and resurrection does not occur (Iliad 24.549-551).  Hans-Josef Klauck declared, “There is nowhere anything like the idea of Christian resurrection in the Greco-Roman world” (The Religious Context of Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 151)

It is hard to know where to begin with a statement like this. It would certainly be news to scholars like N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Richard Burridge, and others. Geisler must think he has discovered something that Licona does not know or any other NT scholars. Are they unaware that the Greeks did not believe in resurrection? (Interesting, since N.T. Wright says the Greeks were quite clear on that point in The Resurrection of the Son of God.)

In Volume 6, Number 1, of the Christian Apologetics Journal, Thomas Howe, who was one of Geisler’s students and is a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, wrote a piece called “Does Genre Determine Meaning?” His conclusion is that it does not. Instead, it enhances meaning. We agree with this. Normally, one would think Geisler would, yet this idea seems to go against it. It cannot be a Greco-Roman genre, because it has a resurrection in it.

Geisler is saying it could not be influenced by a Greco-Roman source. Why not? Are we to say the Christians lived in this culture entirely yet none of their writing or thinking was influenced by their surrounding culture? In a sense of course, we are not to think like the culture, but we do often speak the way the culture speaks and write the way the culture writes. If we want to express ourselves to a culture, we need to speak in a way the culture understands. It does no good to go to people who speak only Arabic and give the gospel in English.

Furthermore, Geisler should know that the terminology of the early church was influenced by Greek philosophical ideas. Who would doubt that Justin Martyr was influenced by Plato? Tertullian, the very one who said “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” was influenced by the Latin rhetorical style of his day. Augustine was heavily influenced by Neo-Platonism. Aquinas was heavily influenced by Aristotle. The Jesuits said that the Greek philosophers were gifts to the church and we should take what is true from their thought and use it to spread the gospel.

Yet none of these thinkers were determined by what influenced them. Plato held to a concept of reincarnation as a likely idea in Phaedo yet Augustine certainly did not hold to this. Aristotle said that there was no after-life, yet Aquinas certainly denied this. Instead, Augustine and Aquinas both took a style of thinking and methodology for uncovering truth and used them in the service of the gospel.

In the same way, the gospel writers used a style of writing that was known to their writers and adapted their writing to fit into that. It would be a way that the audience would understand and keep in mind, most likely the audience would not read what they wrote. Instead, most of them would hear what was written and the story would be told by someone skilled in the art who would add the necessary nuances and such to his delivery to make sure the point came across. This would be expected in a high-context society.

What Geisler is doing is saying, “If the genre style is Greco-Roman, all the beliefs must be Greco-Roman.” Genre styles do not have beliefs. Authors do. Authors express themselves through different styles and the genre is not a straitjacket. The style is just that.

It does not matter if the Greeks disbelieved in resurrection. If every Greek believed in a resurrection, that does not mean that the way they wrote or their genres would have changed. That could change the content, but it would not change the means of communication. One can find many places in the ancient world where there is wisdom literature, but that does not mean that Proverbs cannot be wisdom literature since it has a different basis. There are many creation accounts in the ancient world, but that does not mean Genesis is not one since it has different beliefs in it.

Comments like this indicate that Geisler is out of touch with the NT field. In fact, it is news to him that so many scholars believe this about the NT. Unfortunately, his ignorance of the field is also affecting those who follow him and will unfortunately get them in a retreat mode from the scholarship. For the sake of argument, it could be correct that the Gospels are not Greco-Roman biographies. Some people see Luke as different for instance. There could be further evidence to change our minds that comes out in the future. We should always be open to that.

The mistake of Geisler is using a simplistic objection much like the one against the Trinity. It is absurd to think that no NT scholar has realized that Greeks do not believe this and Geisler presents it as if it is a devastating critique. If Geisler wants to argue against the possibility he needs to look at the opposing arguments and not just his own. Does he think Burridge is wrong? Then read Burridge and come back and say why he is wrong. Present a scholarly argument where his positions are stated and his arguments stated and then dealt with. Then, accept JPH’s challenge on the genre of the Gospels. (Link below)

We can expect neither of these will be done. There is no need after all. A great man has spoken. Who cares about the evidence? Let all be silent in submission.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where's the Apology from Horn and Putnam?

We're now three weeks into 2013, and a month past the date when, so any number of strange people said, we'd see the beginning of the end of the world. Some months ago we documented how two of those strange people -- Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam -- made an especially loud (but especially weak) case for 2012 being the Year of Heading for the Hills. Horn in particular seemed intent upon the idea that it was the year that the old pagan deities like Quetzalcoatl would gallop in through the stargates and start using us humans as Purina God Chow.

So anyway, now I have a question: 

Where's their apology and retraction?

You won't find one on their websites. Putnam's blog so far this year has entries plugging the duo’s new tome of lunacy, which claims that the Vatican is preparing us to accept aliens as saviors, plus a couple of entries about other issues. But as for the 2012 blunder, it may as well be that we skipped from 2011 right to 2013.

Horn has a presence on more than one website, but the two most prominent -- a news website, and his "survivalist" supply website -- don't offer a clue that the basis upon which Horn sold surfers his wares has passed without so much as a whimper. One of them is also plugging the same nutty new book about aliens, as well as announcing a new prophecy conference for 2013. One wonders when they planned this one – if they did so before the end of the last year, what would that say about what they really believed?

Obviously I'm being facetious to make a point. It took Harold Camping decades to man up and make an apology for his blunders, though he had the advantage of multiple dates he could hang his hat on in order to kick the can; Horn and Putnam don't. Edgar Whisenant was able to extend his warnings a year, strain them even more -- but did he apologize, much less issue a refund to everyone who bought his 88 Reason tome? Perish the thought. John Hagee kept shifting the goalposts when his setups failed. So does Hal Lindsey. And yet the church keeps supporting them with book sales and television time.

What ranks as most pathetic here is that no doubt there were many who became Christians on the strength of alleged "end of it all" predictions. It certainly happened with Whisenant and Camping; perhaps it happened less so with Horn and Putnam -- for after all, they were more clearly loony than those past names. Even so, you don't need imagination to follow the potential paths: Disillusion, cognitive dissonance, perhaps even apostasy, and the perpetuating cycle that also involves.

Once again, if you ever wonder why I'm so hard on these sort of people...once again, you know.
Update  November 2020:

No apology as yet. In 2019, Horn issued a book titled, "The Wormwood Prophecy: NASA, Donald Trump, and a Cosmic Cover-up of End-Time Proportion."Putnam died in 2017.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Aquinas vs Bandoli

From the October 2009 E-Block.


Many years back I did a parody (now on the tektoonics site) of a website by a Scandanavian atheist styled "Bandoli". Frequent guest writer Nick Peters offers this consideration of Bandoli's poor treatment of Thomas Aquinas.
And so, another page attempts to prove that God didn't exist.[1] I was quite amused when they got to the five ways of Thomas Aquinas seeing as I attend a seminary whose philosophy is Thomism, so I know the five ways well and I can look at this and realize the people writing these arguments do not understand these arguments.

The first they give is the second argument, but it would be better to address the first argument first, which they put second. Let's look at what they say:
Nothing moves without being set in motion by something/somebody. Since the universe is in motion, there must be a first unmovable mover, and we call him God.[2]
The argument however is not the argument from motion as in physical motion but rather any process of change. A leaf changing color would be considered motion in that sense. We can see what Aquinas really said however:
The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.[3]
What Thomas is getting at is the idea of potentiality and actuality. Potentiality would refer to anything that can change. If the water goes from room temperature to boiling, that would count as motion. Whatever state the water is in is its actuality. Thus, in actuality, I am an adult writing this email right now, whereas several years ago when I was a small child, I was an actual child and a potential adult. For me, the status of being an adult has been actualized.

Thomas is wanting us to realize that nothing actualizes itself. Instead, in some way, all is actualized by another. Even your own decisions are actualized by another in that you seek the good and that which you seek is outside of yourself in what Aristotle would call a final cause, the reason why you do something.

There must be somewhere however a being who does not have potential or else we have an infinite regress. This being who is pure actuality is what we call God.
With that, we move on to the second argument, first as presented by Bandoli:
Nothing can come from nothing, every effect has a prior cause. But in the end there has to be a first cause. This we can call God.[4]
Thomas's second argument is far more complex:
The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.[5]
From a metaphysical perspective, Aquinas is here really arguing about the cause of a thing's existence. He is also likely depending on ideas from the first argument. This is not about the cause of motion but the cause of existing itself.

Briefly, there must be some being in existence whose being is his essence and does not receive being from anything else. God does not participate in being but rather is pure being. The author of this site does not know this since it is unlikely he has ever read anything on Aquinas or the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas.

Bandoli's listing of the third is as follows:
At some time there did not exist any physical things. Now, since physical things exist there must have been some non-physical entity to create it. We call this entity God.[6]
Again, Aquinas's actual argument is far more complex:
The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence - which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.[7]
Here, Aquinas is again continuing his metaphysics with the argument that if all we had were possible beings, then there would be no beings in existence as all that begins to exist is caused by a prior existence. Aquinas is taking the idea of efficient causes and applying it to necessary causes. The author at the Bandoli web site says in response:
If we, just for the hell of it, should accept these arguments as valid, there is nothing to imply that this creator God is intelligent, omnipotent or all knowing. Neither that this God would be interested in listening to prayers, hate humans working on Sundays or despise long hair on men, or find delight in punishing non-believers with eternal torture.[8]
Which anyone who actually read the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica would know that first off, this is not the point of these arguments. Thomas is not trying to show that the Christian God specifically is the one who exists at this point. He spends the next several questions in the book giving the details about the God who exists. This shows again that the writer is unfamiliar with the topic. Note also the argument from outrage on punishing non-believers with eternal torture.
As for the fourth argument, our author says:
Thomas fourth "proof" of God's existence (the Argument from degree) is that all things in the world differ; they vary to degrees of a maximum and a minimum. We judge these degrees by comparing with a maximum, ex. of goodness or perfection. And since humans can be both good and evil, the maximum goodness can not rest with us. It must be some other place, and the maximum good, we can call God.[9]
Thomas himself says:
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.[10]
Before explaining this, let us see what Dawkins says about this, as noted by Bandoli:
"You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God"[11]
Dawkins is a brilliant biologist, but he is no philosopher. To quote him on a philosophical matter then is highly invalid. What is forgotten is that Thomas would have been speaking about the transcendentals. That would be such categories as goodness, truth, and beauty. There must be a being of maximum goodness, truth, and beauty. Even if using the analogy of heat, Thomas would have spoken of "superheat" which is different by degree than regular heat. While we do disagree that there is such a thing today, his concept with the transcendentals still stands.

Finally we get to the fifth way:
The Church Fathers last "proof" is the Theological Argument or the Argument from Design. This "proof" is still quite often used among amateurs and goes as follows: The world and all living things seem so functional and well adapted to their environment that they seem to be a plan or design behind it all. Nothing that we know looks designed unless it is designed, therefore there has to exist a designer, and we call him God.[12]
What Thomas says however is:
The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.[13]
Thomas is not giving the design argument on a level of the make-up of the being, which is really the amateur mistake that is being made. He is saying nothing about the make-up of arrows or plants. While we do not hold to evolution, evolution would pose no threat to Thomas's argument as there are some theistic evolutionists who are Thomists. What Thomas is referring to is rather what is called the final cause, the reason for a thing's existence. This computer exists, among other things, so that I can type emails and email them to people like you. (Naturally it has numerous other functions.) Thomas is arguing that anything that acts according to a function is acting for an end beyond itself and that end he says is God. This doesn't go against the principle of Intelligent Design, but it is not the same argument as Intelligent Design is more about the make-up of a living organism without caring necessarily about its purpose.

Of course, our author goes with the Dawkins question of "Who made God?" The irony is that the very next question Thomas deals with in the Summa Theologica is on the topic of the Simplicity of God and how to demonstrate that God is a being that is not made up of parts. Evolution again would be no problem to Thomas's position, important to mention since the author points to that as if that removes any need for God. Thomas could even argue that evolution is a movement towards an ideal and that would imply a need for a final cause.
The same analysis could be taken to many of the articles on this site with the lack of relevant scholarship and sources mentioned. What we have by and large is argument from outrage without really grappling with the issues at hand.

  1. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  2. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  3. Summa Theologica: The Existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)) (Accessed October 13th, 2009).
  4. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  5. Summa Theologica: The Existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)) (Accessed October 13th, 2009).
  6. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  7. Summa Theologica: The Existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)) (Accessed October 13th, 2009).
  8. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  9. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  10. Summa Theologica: The Existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)) (Accessed October 13th, 2009).
  11. Proof of God -- (accessed October 13th, 2009).
  12. Ibid.,
  13. Summa Theologica: The Existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)) (Accessed October 13th, 2009).