XFiles Friday: The truth is (or is not) out there

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 2)

Now that Geisler and Turek have, with the help of a Saturday morning cartoon, established themselves as mentally superior to the philosophers Hume and Kant, they’re ready to tackle the deeper issues of epistemology.

The process of discovering truth begins with the self-evident laws of logic called first principles. They are called first principles because there is nothing behind them. They are not proved by other principles; they are simply inherent in the nature of reality and are thus self-evident.

So far so good. Geisler and Turek are perilously close to recognizing and acknowledging that reality itself is the ultimate, infallible source and standard for what “truth” is. Our knowledge of “first principles,” upon which all other knowledge must rest, is a knowledge we acquire by our experience of the real world, and our perception of the patterns which exist within reality, and which reveal the existence of fundamental laws such as the law of non-contradiction. Consistently applied, this approach allows us to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Gospel is not true. But let’s see what Geisler and Turek do with it.

Two of these principles are the Law of Noncontradiction and the Law of the Excluded Middle. We’ve already seen the reality and value of the Law of Noncontradiction. The Law of the Excluded Middle tells us that something either is or is not. For example, either God exists or he does not. Either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not. There are no third alternatives.

Right away, Geisler and Turek are in trouble as regards “first principles.” The Law of Noncontradiction is ok, but the Law of the Excluded Middle is more problematic, and in practice often turns out to be the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle (aka the Fallacy of the False Dilemma) instead. Geisler and Turek’s two examples demonstrate this quite well. If God exists only as a character in some people’s shared fantasy, does that mean “God exists” is true or is it false? If Jesus “rose” from the dead only in the same non-literal, spiritual sense in which he allegedly “comes into the sinner’s heart,” does that mean that Jesus rose or that Jesus did not rise? The Law of the Excluded Middle is a valuable technical tool for resolving propositions in mathematics and symbolic logic, where all the terms have strictly-defined meanings, but real-life either/or’s, which rely on ambiguous and possibly biased definitions, are more likely to be the Fallacy.

Geisler and Turek then go on to present a fairly accurate discussion about induction vs. deduction, and how the two together allow us to reach conclusions that can be reasonably trusted to be true. That is, for example, we can observe that every human being dies eventually, so we can know (inductively) that all men die and (deductively) that if you are a man, you will eventually die. Reasonably trusted means that we can’t be 100% sure, since there are many people who have not died yet, and (hopefully) a very large number that haven’t even been born yet. It’s conceivable, though not likely, that one or more people living today could become virtually immortal. But our knowledge base is so large, and so consistent, that we can be 99.999999…% confident that each and every human being will eventually die. This is what we call “knowledge.”

Geisler and Turek then move on to a discussion of how induction and deduction can tell us the truth about God (or as they put it, “discovering the existence of God”).

You say, “Wait a minute! How can we use observation to investigate an unobservable being called God? After all, if God is invisible and immaterial as most Christians, Jews, and Muslims claim, then how can our senses help us gather information about him?”

The answer: we can use induction to investigate God the same way we use it to investigate other things we can’t see–by observing their effects. For example, we can’t observe gravity directly; we can only observe its effects.

Now, that is indeed a good answer, and it’s perfectly reasonable. But back up to that question a minute. God is unobservable? The Bible is most certainly not about an “unobservable” God. It’s about a God who, from the very beginning, was visible and audible and tangible, who could appear in a variety of forms, from man-like to burning bushes and columns of smoke and fire, but Who appeared and was seen (visibly) and heard (audibly), and whose tangible presence was unmistakable and undeniable.

This is one of those inevitable inconsistencies you fall into whenever you try to reconcile the Bible stories with the real world. The stories in the Bible are about a perfectly observable deity, but in real life we find that God does not actually show up. Geisler and Turek are forced to argue that we must look for indirect evidence of God’s existence because the universally true fact is that God does not show up anywhere, for anyone, no matter what the Bible says He is willing and able to do.

Now, here’s the big question: Just as a book requires preexisting human intelligence, are there any observable effects that seem to require some kind of preexisting intelligence? In other words, are there effects that we can observe that point to God?

One of the major issues that needs to be addressed in any discussion of “how we know the truth” is the fact that not all inductive conclusions are true. It is possible for people to reach false conclusions based on their observations, conclusions that owe more to superstition, subjectivity, personal preferences, peer pressure, and other factors, than they do to the actual real-world truth. Geisler and Turek breeze past this issue without so much as a single mention, and their “big question” shows us why: they want the reader to jump to a superstitious and subjective conclusion based on uninformed assessments about the way things “seem” (key word).

Notice the biased leap of logic? According to Geisler and Turek, “are there effects which seem to require intelligence” automatically equates to “are there effects that point to God”. None of this namby-pamby “we don’t know who or what the Designer would be” pretense you so often hear from ID proponents. Geisler and Turek boldly assert that either there is no evidence which seems to require a preexisting intelligence, or God exists. The Fallacy of the Excluded Middle, masquerading as the Law with the similar name.

Geisler and Turek are thinking backwards. Instead of starting with the premise (“God of the Bible exists”) and determining what consequences would result if He had the abilities and desires ascribed to Him in Scripture, Geisler and Turek try to find some observable effect that they can attribute to God, on the flimsy ground that they “seem” to require preexisting intelligence.

If the God of the Bible really did exist, the consequences would be unmistakable and universal, because He would be as involved in our daily lives, in visible and tangible ways, as the Bible portrays Him as wanting and being able to do. But these predicted consequences are inconsistent with what we find in the real world, where God is universally absent. Geisler and Turek are taking the superstitious, backwards-thinking approach because the objective, evidence-based approach does not lead to the conclusion they want to reach.

They close with a section on why the truth matters, especially in the area of religion. And I agree: it matters whether or not we have the truth about religion.  That’s why I’m documenting all the inconsistencies and contradictions in Geisler and Turek’s book. Truth is consistent with itself, and that’s important. It will become even more important as we get deeper into Geisler and Turek’s biased, unreliable, and inconsistent apologetic claims.

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