XFiles Friday: The Philosophical Dating GameAugust 24, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
Having casually dismissed all educated scholarship on the grounds of an anecdote about one university professor being a post-modernist, and having strangely and utterly ignored the scientific approach to making sense of the world around us, and having made a truly Olympic-caliber leap to the conclusion that religion is the only possible source we can turn to for a “box top” overview of the jigsaw puzzle of life, Geisler and Turek turn to the question of which religion has the “best” picture of how the puzzle pieces fit together.
The picture usually–and for good reason–begins with some sort of claim about God. What someone believes about God affects everything else that he or she believes… Indeed, the five most consequential questions in life are these:
- Origin: Where did we come from?
- Identity: Who are we?
- Meaning: Why are we here?
- Morality: How should we live?
- Destiny: Where are we going?
Notice, first of all, the two questions which do not appear on this list: What is Truth, and How can we distinguish Truth from Falsehood? You’d think if you were writing a book about God being real and if God really were real, that you’d want to start off by focusing on reality and the real-world evidence that God actually shows up outside the stories, superstitions, and subjective feelings of men. But that’s not where Geisler and Turek turn for support.
Instead, they launch their apologetic by changing the subject to a series of philosophical questions about which people have a variety of subjective and fondly-held opinions. It might seem strange to begin one’s defense of God by turning from reality to the realm of subjective philosophical preferences, but that’s what Geisler and Turek do. I suppose they know best where the raw material for their argument lies.
Their approach is like the old TV game show, The Dating Game, where an eligible young single must choose between three unseen contenders by asking them a series of carefully-crafted questions and deciding whose answers he or she likes best. Geisler and Turek offer the reader the same proposition, except that in this case, they’ve taken the liberty of choosing the questions for us. It doesn’t take an inspired prophet to perceive that they’ve chosen the five questions that they expect Christianity will do best at, or to predict that the answers they give will indulge the (Christian) reader in a pleasant, flattering view of believers. After all, as any con-man knows, people are far less critical about what you say if you’re saying good things about them and their biases.
There are two points I want to highlight about these questions. First of all, they’re aimed primarily at putting down unbelievers in the eyes of believers. Geisler and Turek want to use these questions, not so much to show that their religion is superior to all other religions, but to re-assure their Christian readers that there are at least some questions for which Christianity has good answers, and unbelief (allegedly) doesn’t. The choice of questions would be rather different, I expect, if the authors were trying to show Christianity to be superior to Mormonism (which employs a very similar list in their own evangelistic presentations). So don’t expect the authors to give more than a cursory discussion of how other religions address these five questions.
Secondly, these questions are designed to appeal very strongly to the (Christian) reader’s sense of the way things ought to be, or in other words, whatever seems right in their own eyes. When Geisler and Turek ask, “Where did we come from?”, they’re not trying to draw our attention to ordinary reproduction, nor are they likely to want to teach us too much about biological processes of evolution. They’re going to claim that we ought to believe Christianity because Christianity claims that the most important Being in the whole universe made it His personal goal to create us as the pinnacle of His creation, and thus the most important creatures in existence. And isn’t that flattering? Of course the Christian reader is going to like that answer better.
So we open our first serious apologetic salvo by turning away from the real world and posing a contrived set of 5 questions designed to appeal to the reader’s subjective sense of self-importance and to the way that “seems right in his (or her) own eyes.” A psychologically astute and historically effective approach, but not one that necessarily commends itself to ideals like intellectual integrity.