XFiles Friday: The Divine SealJune 6, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 8 )
The word “irony” appears frequently in critical discussions of Christian apologetics, and this is no coincidence. The stories men make up, no matter how clever or how elaborate, can never have the perfect self-consistency of real-world truth. Sooner or later, men are going to end up arguing against their own arguments. So it’s not surprising that Geisler and Turek contradict themselves in attempting to defend the Gospel. If anything is remarkable, it’s that they do it so often, and with so little concern.
Today’s passage is a case in point. At the end of the previous section, G&T had concluded that God ought to write a book. Clearly, He does not show up to spend any face time with us, so therefore there must be some compelling reason why He could or should not. (G&T suggest that it would “rape” man’s free will if God were to show up in any tangible way.) So God should write a book.
But whose book? Has God communicated through the book of the Jews, the book of the Christians, or the book of the Muslims? How are we supposed to tell whose book, if any, is really a message from God?
Geisler and Turek are ready with the answer (and were probably ready before they even posed the question): God can use miracles as a kind of “king’s seal” to mark one particular book as genuine.
Miracles are unusual and unique, easily recognizable, and only God can do them. Even skeptics, by demanding a sign from God, are implicitly admitting that miracles would prove his existence.
The problem is not that there is any difficulty in getting skeptics to admit that miracles would be evidence of God. The problem is that once everyone agrees that miracles would work, we’re left with the undeniable fact that miracles do not happen. Claims of miracles happen, but when we apply the principle that truth is consistent with itself, we find, without exception, that the claims fail to be consistent with what we can actually verify in real life.
In this particular case, G&T are not just contradicting the observable world, they are contradicting themselves. They just finished arguing, in the previous section, that it would rape human volition for God to manifest Himself in any but “the faintest and most mitigated degree.” This was how they arrived at the conclusion that God’s only option was to write a book. A book, however, will not work. Not only is it easily ignored and misinterpreted, it’s also easily counterfeited.
G&T have painted themselves into a corner, because at this point God is out of options. A book is the only means He’s allowed to use to contact us, and a book won’t work. From here, G&T must either contradict themselves, or admit that the Gospel is untenable.
On the other hand, Christians believe that God loves them enough to die for them, even though they can plainly see that He must be somehow unwilling or unable to show up and spend any time associating with them in any tangible, objectively real sense. Once you swallow the idea of a “loving” God who does not even care enough to show up and say “Hi” now and then, the lesser contradictions are easy. Having asserted that God cannot intervene directly in our lives, and must limit Himself to a written document, G&T now cheerfully assert that it is necessary for God to intervene directly in real-world events so that His miraculous signs can confirm that the Bible is indeed THE Book.
And yet, even this abrupt about-face does not solve the apologetics problem caused by the “free will” argument. Look again at the claim: “Miracles are unusual and unique, easily recognizable, and only God can do them.” Three attributes that are supposed to make miracles suitable as a Seal of Approval, and not one of them that doesn’t cause more problems than it solves.
Miracles are “unusual and unique?” That’s being generous: colloquially, a “miracle” is something that virtually never happens at all, because that’s how often we see them. Oh, there are people who are so easily astonished that they will cry “miracle” every time something happens that they didn’t expect, but an actual, honest-to-God supernatural miracle? Doesn’t happen, people’s superstitious attributions notwithstanding. And that’s a problem, because the only way the “King’s Seal” can authenticate anything is if we know the King’s Seal well enough to recognize it. If we receive a Proclamation with some kind of seal on it, and have no idea what the King’s Seal looks like, we still have no way of knowing whether or not the document is really authentic, seal or no seal.
Miracles are easily recognizable? They might be if we ever saw any, but look at what people call “miracles” today: a pro sports team comes from behind to win, a serious accident occurs and a few people survive, a deadbeat dad actually shows up to pay his child support, etc. How can we tell the “real” miracles from people superstitiously giving God the credit just because they can’t figure out the actual, real-world chain of events? We can’t. Miracles, in practice, are indistinguishable from superstition. Miracles are “easy to recognize” because you can call anything a miracle, and who can say you’re wrong?
Only God can do them? That’s not what Jesus said. “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.” Christians have always taught that Satan and his followers were capable of manifesting supernatural powers (hence the witch burnings). Even today, Christians in the Central African Republic are wrestling with what they see as the miraculous and malignant powers of witches and sorcerers, and many charismatic churches offer exorcisms as a weekly ritual, to curtail the magical apparitions they attribute to demons.
But even if miracles could serve as a valid means of authenticating whose Scriptures were truly God’s Word, what then? If the choices are Jew, Christian or Muslim, G&T have a problem, because the Jews claim the miracles of Moses, the Christians claim the miracles of Moses and Jesus, and the Muslims claim the miracles of Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed. And what about the Book of Mormon, and the miracles of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young? Everybody wants to claim that miracles validate their Scriptures, and in many cases they’re claiming the same miracles for different canons. How shall we resolve this dilemma?
Well, I’m sure we’ll get to that eventually, and Geisler and Turek will once again demonstrate for us how they handle apologetic inconsistencies. And please, don’t get me wrong: I have great respect for Geisler and Turek. I don’t think they’re stupid. They’re simply doing the best they can with the goals and materials they’ve got. It’s not their fault that apologetics cannot maintain consistency with itself and with the real world. It’s just that perfect self-consistency is limited to genuine real-world truth. Perfect self-consistency is the real Divine Seal of Authentication. And the Gospel doesn’t have it, no matter how hard men may try to say otherwise.