XFiles Friday: Tiptoe through the minefield…January 22, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to write interesting blog posts about Geisler and Turek’s book when they keep making the same blissfully oblivious and ironic arguments, week after week, all boiling down to them believing whatever certain men say, just because they say it, no matter how inconsistent it may be with reality and with itself.
Jesus is promising his apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them to author what we now know as the New Testament…
But did the apostles really get the message from the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised? They certainly claim as much.
Yep. How do we know the apostles were really inspired to write Scripture? Because they told us so themselves. Men said it, we believe it, and that settles it. Sigh.
Ok, that can’t be all there is to the argument, is it? I mean, that wouldn’t even be faith at this point. That would be mere gullibility. But aha, Geisler and Turek have some incontrovertible evidence that backs up the apostles’ claim. Or does it?
But the apostles didn’t just claim to be getting messages from God. Anyone can do that. They gave evidence that their words were inspired by performing miraculous signs.
And how do we know that they performed miracles? Because they say they performed miracles. Sigh again.
Interestingly, the book of Deuteronomy warns us that performing signs and wonders does not necessarily confirm that you are a genuine prophet of God.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.
It might be interesting to explore the question of whether or not the Israelites under Moses ever knew of any gods who were three distinct Persons united in one godhood, but that’s a side issue.
The point I want to make here is that Geisler and Turek, in their book I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, are telling us that we should believe that the New Testament record is authoritative and infallible because the men who wrote it claim it was authenticated by miracles. That’s not just gullible, it’s a theological minefield, and Geisler and Turek have to step very carefully when advancing this claim.
Or rather, they should tread very carefully, but in fact, they don’t seem to show much care at all. To be perfectly honest they rather clomp around.
Recall from chapter 8 that this is the way God authenticates his prophets—through miracles. The miracle confirms the message.
Right. So where are our miracles then? It’s all well and good to say the miracle confirms the message, but in this case the message is that the miracles allegedly happened. The New Testament story is a story about miracles happening—a story that’s not consistent with what we see in real life. The miracle would confirm the message, if only it were there. But it isn’t.
In fact, Geisler and Turek themselves tried to rationalize this absence of miracles by claiming, in chapter 8, that God cannot make His presence felt “in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree” without being guilty of trying to “ravish” our free will. There can’t be any miracles, there can only be a book (i.e. a message) that people can read and then choose to either believe or disbelieve. Such is the argument that opens chapter 8, anyway.
So on the one hand, the miracle confirms the message, but on the other, there can be no miracles, according to Geisler and Turek (and CS Lewis, whom they are quoting). The message, for us, must necessarily remain unconfirmed. Geisler and Turek are accepting the message without the miracles, simply on the say-so of the men who wrote miracles into the text of the message. They’re taking it “on faith” (i.e. gullibly), in the absence of the kind of miracles (e.g. Jesus still living in Jerusalem) that would have confirmed it for real.
They do make a rather half-hearted attempt to justify their uncritical trust in the New Testament writers.
The skeptic may say, “Oh, they were just making up the miracle stories.” Nonsense. We’ve already seen in chapters 10, 11, and 12 that they were incredibly accurate historians and had no motive to make up miracle stories. In fact, they had every motive not to make up such stories because they were tortured, beaten, and killed for affirming them.
G&T call them “incredibly accurate historians” because Luke was correct about such minor and uncontroversial details as the names of some famous government figures, major cities, and established trade routes. But the mere fact that a writer can be correct about trivial background details, incidental to his argument, is hardly sufficient to establish him as an unbiased and accurate source of information about the religion he is actively proselytizing for!
G&T would never apply this same low standard of “accuracy” to any other group. Just look at the history of the early Mormons, for example. The trail they took to Utah actually exists! Hallelujah! The Mormons must be “incredibly accurate historians” regarding their claim that God declared traditional Christianity irretrievably corrupt and that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were divinely appointed to restore the True Gospel. After all, by this standard they’re as reliable as Luke. But will Geisler and Turek see it that way?
Look at Geisler and Turek themselves. They’ve named quite a few people who actually have existed, yet they claim that Christians were tortured, beaten and killed for affirming that miracle stories were true. That’s not an accurate rendition of the historical facts. No Christian was ever put on trial and asked to carefully distinguish between, say, Jesus literally returning from the dead in his original physical body versus Jesus “rising” in some spiritual sense akin to the way he supposedly “lives in” the believer’s heart.
Christians were persecuted on account of their group membership, and their refusal to renounce that membership. Sometimes they were persecuted even after they renounced that membership. They were a minority, and people pick on minorities (as Christians themselves do with gays). Geisler and Turek, like Luke, are accurate when reporting incidental details, but highly biased when reporting the “facts” that support their religious claims.
And as for the motives of the early believers, religious believers in any religion are prone to take persecution or threatened retaliation as evidence that their beliefs are true, so martyrdom is hardly a motive for denying miracle stories. Quite the contrary! Believers may be as anxious as anyone to avoid suffering for their beliefs, but that doesn’t make them believe any less, nor does it stop them from “sharing” those beliefs with any sympathetic ear.
In fact, early Christians had the most powerful motive imaginable for making up miracle stories: such stories would vindicate their faith, and prove that they weren’t just being the gullible dupes of a holy con man. Believers know that their beliefs are inconsistent with the facts. Geisler and Turek know that there’s a contradiction between saying “miracles ravish free will” and “the miracle confirms the message.” But it’s a subconscious knowledge, the constant pricking of cognitive dissonance, a relentless itch too deep to reach or to ignore.
And miracle stories scratch that itch. Geisler and Turek believe that the New Testament was confirmed by miracles, even though they have no miracles to confirm the miraculous NT claims, because they desperately want that message to be confirmed. They’re smart enough, and well-educated enough, to understand how fallacious it is to use the New Testament stories as evidence proving the truth of the New Testament stories, but they’re willing to suspend that understanding on the flimsiest of excuses (“Luke knew the governor’s real name! Woot!”), because they have no other basis for their gullible faith.
So they tiptoe around the problem. They are uncomfortably aware of the fact that miracles are absent from real life. They can’t account for it. They can’t even admit that, without the real-life miracles to confirm the Gospel, their faith is necessarily reduced to being a gullible trust in the words of men. All they can do is suggest that for some inexplicable reason, miracles used to happen, and then mysteriously stopped.
[T]he apostles appear to have lost the ability to perform miracles sometime in the mid-60’s A. D. The writer of Hebrews, writing in the late 60s, referred to these special sign gifts of an apostle in the past tense (Heb. 2:3-4). And later in his ministry, Paul apparently could not heal some of his own trusted helpers (Phil. 2:26; 2 Tim. 4:20). If he still possessed the power to perform miracles, then why was he asking for prayer and recommending that his helpers take medicine (1 Tim. 5:23)?
…Miracles were done for a specific purpose, which was usually to confirm some new messenger or new revelation.
This is probably why there is no record of apostolic miracles in Paul’s letters after about A. D. 62—the latest date Acts could have been composed. By this time, Paul and the other apostles had been proven as true messengers of God, and there was no need for further confirmation.
Or at least, that’s how believers and apologists like Geisler and Turek rationalize the problem in their own minds. They believe the Gospel, and they speak and act as though they believed it to be true, but God does not speak and act as though He believed it to be true. God does not show up in real life to manifest the divine glory that would and should continue to confirm the Gospel. And the only excuse Geisler and Turek can offer is, “Well, He usta, and then He kinda, you know, quit all of a sudden.”
It’s pretty sad when the best argument you have to offer is to claim that nobody after AD62 needs to have the Gospel message confirmed. How do any of the rest of us know it’s not just a bunch of gullible and superstitious believers deceiving themselves into thinking they’ve experienced things that really just happened in their own minds? Why are Geisler and Turek writing books of apologetics if there’s no longer any need to confirm the Gospel?
I think we can know that, in fact, the Gospel was the product of gullible and superstitious believers, using the same self-deceptive techniques and rationalizations we commonly see today among evangelists and apologists like Geisler and Turek. Their persistent need to appeal to circular reasoning and credulous hearsay—all the while pretending to be offering genuine evidence that unbelievers somehow ignore—betrays the internal and external inconsistencies that make their beliefs incompatible with real-world truth. Apologetics, no matter how ill-conceived or poorly argued, sells well because believers are hungry for some way to rationalize the inescapable inconsistencies of Christianity. And that, mirabile dictu, confirms the message that the Gospel is untrue.