XFiles: The skeptical Geisler and Turek

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Today we’re in for a special treat. Up to now, Geisler and Turek have been hammering away at the thesis that skeptics are ignoring the facts and appealing to unsupported faith in order to contradict what God allegedly has done. But the tables are turned in this week’s installment, because one of the arguments against the resurrection comes from another group of theists: the Muslims.

The Qur’an claims of Jesus,

They killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not: Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise (Sura 4:157-158).

So according to the Qur’an, it only appeared that Jesus was crucified, and Allah took him directly to heaven.

Let’s see how Geisler and Turek approach this claim of supernatural intervention. Will they take the same skeptical stand that some of the rest of us take towards the Gospel stories, or will they end up declaring that they “Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be NON-MUSLIMS”?

Surprisingly, they seem to think that there are some problems with this story, starting with the date in which it was written down.

This assertion from the Qur’an comes more than 600 years after the lifetime of Jesus. How can this be considered a more authoritative source for the life of Jesus than the accounts of the eyewitnesses? For this theory contradicts all the eyewitness testimony, and the testimony of the non-Christian sources.

What Geisler and Turek neglect to mention is that the words of the Qur’an are supposedly the words dictated verbatim by God Himself, speaking in the third person. According to Islam, therefore, this is eyewitness testimony, from an Eyewitness Who theoretically ought to be an even more reliable Witness than the apostles. Is God’s memory so bad that He would be mistaken about what He saw and did a mere six centuries before? Do they have any evidence of God’s memory being unreliable, or are they just having faith that we can’t trust Him?

Notice, too, that when Geisler and Turek were critiquing the theory of evolution, it doesn’t seem to have bothered them that well more than 600 years passed between the alleged Creation and the writing of the book of Genesis. One would think that if six centuries were an obstacle to the writing of the Qur’an’s accounts, the Genesis accounts would be in even greater difficulty.

But I digress. Geisler and Turek’s doubts about God’s abilities are not limited to His memory.

Are we to believe that scores of people who witnessed some aspect of Jesus’ death—the disciples, the Roman guards, Pilate, the Jews, Jesus’ family and friends—were all mistaken about who was killed? How could so many people be wrong about a simple identification.

Just a few pages earlier, Geisler and Turek listed, as evidence of the Resurrection, the story from Luke 24 in which two of Jesus’ disciples walked all the way to Emmaus with him, “but they were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). When it’s Luke telling a story, they have no problem with the idea that God can supernaturally alter appearances to control what mere mortals are and are not able to recognize. When it’s Allah telling the story, though, suddenly they’re the Drs. Skeptical. Honestly, you don’t seriously expect us to believe that God could miraculously fool everybody, do you? I mean, it’s just absurd!

Just like me, Geisler and Turek challenge the Qur’an’s testimony on the basis of the principle that truth is consistent with itself, and therefore you can examine the truth of the claim by looking at the other consequences that would result if the claim were true.

There are many other questions raised by this theory. If Jesus wasn’t killed, then why was the tomb of the man who really was killed found empty? Are we to believe that the substitute rose from the dead? If so, how did he do it? Are we to believe that all the non-Christian historians are wrong about the death of Jesus? And what are we to make about the Jewish admission of Jesus’ death? Was the Talmud mistaken for saying that Jesus was hanged on a tree on the eve of the Passover? In short, are we to believe that everyone from the first century was wrong about everything?

Apparently, Geisler and Turek don’t have much practice at this whole skepticism thing, because they’re not really doing a very good job here. First of all, if you re-read the quote from the Qur’an above, you’ll notice that it doesn’t say anything about “the man who really was killed.” It says only that God made it appear as though Jesus was killed when he really wasn’t. No real death = no real corpse = empty tomb. So that objection falls flat. And yes, if God fooled everybody in the first century about Jesus’ death, then that does imply that the non-Christian historians were wrong when they repeated the Christians’ stories about what they thought they saw, and that the Jews were also mistaken. And so?

Geisler and Turek’s attempt at skepticism boils down to personal incredulity about the notion that God could actually get away with fooling a relatively small number of people. They’d do better to challenge the backwards-thinking rationalization apparent in the Muslim explanation, because it’s fairly obvious that this story exists primarily to try and reconcile the idea that Jesus was a true prophet with the idea that he was not God Incarnate. A true prophet needs disciples, and needs to be able to pick good ones who will faithfully reproduce his teachings, but you can’t have Mohammed be a greater prophet if the Christian disciples are right about Jesus being God.

The Qur’anic story makes sense as a retroactive “adjustment” to a story that doesn’t quite fit. But from a forward-thinking perspective, it makes little sense. Why go through a charade about fraudulent death, when a bold and public ascent into heaven would have better served God’s purposes? It’s just not very consistent with what a real God would have really done under the circumstances.

Geisler and Turek close with a quote that works out to be fairly ironic, especially if you take it in the context of creationism.

One has to question a theory that comes more than 600 years after the events and asks you to believe that all the first century evidence is wrong. In fact, this theory contradicts most of the twelve facts that virtually all scholars believe (see the beginning of this chapter).

They’re exaggerating just a bit when they say it means all of the first century evidence is wrong, don’t you think? Of their 12 facts, the Qur’an only contradicts #1 and #2 (Jesus died and was buried). The other 10 “facts” have to do with what the disciples thought they saw and experienced, and how they reacted to what they thought. None of them would in any way be hindered if God had faked Jesus’ death and taken him to heaven. If we’re going to suppose such a supernatural and woo-inspiring context, even the visions of Jesus could have been genuine manifestations.

Geisler and Turek’s skepticism falls flat, because they can’t afford to admit that any of the techniques of skeptical inquiry are actually legitimate. Otherwise, those same techniques can be turned on the Gospel as well. Lacking any substantial and beneficial skepticism, they’re forced to rely on a paper skepticism that is simple denial and incredulity, naysaying for the sake of naysaying. In their eyes, that’s what all skepticism is, otherwise it wouldn’t be used against God’s Truth(tm). In a sense, they achieve a certain sort of consistency, at the expense of understanding what true skepticism really is, and why it is so important and beneficial for those who sincerely desire to know the truth.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “XFiles: The skeptical Geisler and Turek”

  1. Arthur Says:

    It always kind of seemed to me that, at a layman’s glance, Christianity is uniquely poised between a rhetorical rock and a rhetorical hard place. Whatever they think of Jews, the Muslims think of them (stubborn adherents to an incomplete revelation, or something). Whatever they think of Muslims, the Jews think of them (radical revisionists making things up as they go along, or something).

    I recognize the drastic oversimplification here, but still–it must sometimes be frustrating to have to calibrate every rock you throw at the next guy, so you don’t hit your own self in the back of the head.

  2. Jim T. Says:

    >> Arthur: it must sometimes be frustrating to have to calibrate every rock you throw at the next guy, so you don’t hit your own self in the back of the head.

    Yes, it is very frustrating. Personally, I’ve grown tired of it and have myself become greatly disillusioned with Christian apologetics. What I once revered, I now increasingly deplore.

    You mentioned being caught between Judaism and Islam. There are many more places where Christian apologists get stuck, such as between doctrinal positions, splinter groups (e.g. Mormons, etc.), science, etc.

    To be fair, I’m sure all religions that engage in apologetics have the same sort of issues. For any given religion, there’s no end of groups and ideas to criticize. Not surprisingly, patterns of criticism and common arguments emerge. The trick for any apologist is just hope that none of the listeners think about applying any argument in an unapproved manner.

    - Jim T.

  3. Bacopa Says:

    The coolest thing about the role of Jesus in Islam is not just that Muslims had to include a revised story of his birth, life, and death, but that they included Christian eschatology within their own eschatology.

    Yep, Islam teaches that Jesus is coming back. And he’s gonna he the ass-kickin’ burning-coal-eyed Jesus from The Revelation of St John the Divine. I think ths disproves the claim I’ve been hearing lately that the whole Rapture, Tribulation, and Glorious Appearing fascination is a recent phenomenon in Christianity. If early Muslims saw fit to include Jesus as an apocalyptic figure in their own religion, End Times talk must have been commonplace in Arab Christian communities.

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Well, there’s parts that are recent additions and parts that go all the way back. The idea of the Great Tribulation goes all the way back to the gospels, but the idea that Jesus will make a secret, extra “First-and-a-half Coming” just to yank out all the True Believers™ so they don’t have to suffer—that appears to have originated in the “prophecies” of one Margaret McDonald in the early 1800′s.

  5. Loren Petrich Says:

    Selective rationality has been demonstrated with brain scans:

    Both Democratic and Republican campaign workers had their brains scanned as they assessed contradictions in various politicians’ campaign statements, and possible reconciliations of them.

    They could easily discover the contradictions in positions of candidates of other parties, but not their parties, and the reasoning areas of their brains were active when they did so. In fact,

    “We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.”

    Thus being emotional instead of rational.

    So it would be interesting to do brain scans of Geisler, Turek, and other religious apologists as they assess claims of various religions, including theirs.