XFiles: False vs FallibleMarch 13, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
We’ve reached the part of the chapter where Geisler and Turek pretend to answer the objections of critics, or at least something resembling critics.
Critics may say, “Humans err, so the Bible must err.” But again it’s the critic who is in error. True, humans err, but humans don’t always err. Fallible people write books all the time that have no errors. So fallible people who are guided by the Holy Spirit can write a book without errors.
Geisler and Turek don’t know it, but this brief paragraph—almost a throwaway—brings up a very significant point that will tell against them in their subsequent argument. Maybe it was just an uneasy, guilty feeling: we just got done looking at all 17 “errors” that Dr. Geisler accuses Bible critics of making, but that list came from a different book. In this book, they only looked at four of those “errors,” and the previous section ended with Geisler and Turek accusing critics (yes, critics) of forgetting that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics.
That’s perilously close to admitting that the Bible isn’t really the divinely amazing authority that they think it should be. It’s understandable, then, that they would immediately follow that near-confession with a hurried protest that “of course that doesn’t mean a human book can’t be perfect.” They can’t quite deny that their Scripture has an unmistakably human quality, with all the weaknesses that implies, but they want to assert, regardless, that it is still infallible. So to reassure themselves, they imagine a straw “critic” making the silly argument that the Bible must be wrong because people can be wrong. Easily refuted, but it brings up that one tiny critical point…
Genuine critics, of course, wouldn’t bother arguing that the Bible must be wrong just because people are fallible. They don’t need to: there’s plenty of instances of contradictions and factual errors in the Bible, and those are so much more fun to point out anyway. Geisler and Turek are merely confronting their own uneasy suspicion that the Bible does indeed look like the product of human effort rather than the divine revelation they want it to be. So to buttress their faith, they argue that, even though people can be wrong some times, they can also be right.
That’s a misstep, because what that means is that it’s possible for people to be right about some things and wrong about others at the same time. Humans are fallible: they’re capable of making mistakes even though they don’t always make mistakes. And that means that we can’t assume that a person must be wrong about everything in order to be wrong about anything.
Yet that’s precisely the assumption Geisler and Turek made repeatedly in their discussion of the New Testament manuscripts. Zeroing in on Luke the Evangelist, they pointed out 80-some instances where Luke’s record is consistent with what we know about inconsequential background details like contemporary trade routes, major political figures, and other trivial cultural details. If Luke were going to be wrong about the supernatural stuff, we’re supposed to assume that he would necessarily be wrong about the trivial details as well. We’re supposed to forget that humans can be wrong about some things even when they’re right about others.
Remember, the only truly infallible standard is reality itself, which is why Geisler and Turek appeal to that standard when trying to argue that no detail of Luke’s account can possibly be false or mistaken. Yet even though they use it to judge the reliability of Luke’s mundane account, they mysteriously fail to judge his supernatural claims by the same standard. Even though we know that men are fallible and that all their claims need to be compared to a standard of verifiable objective reality, they treat Luke’s account as though men must either be right about everything, or be wrong about everything. They assume that if Luke got mundane trivialities right, he must have been absolutely infallible about everything he wrote.
They then compound their error by trying to deny that they are reasoning in a circle when it comes to Scriptural infallibility.
“But arent you just arguing in a circle,” the critic might ask, “by using the Bible to prove the Bible?” No, we’re not arguing in a circle, because we’re not starting with the assumption that the Bible is an inspired book.
(Just a quick aside: it’s nice to see Geisler and Turek suddenly remembering, for a change, what their book is supposed to be about. Obviously, they started writing I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST under the assumption that “God’s inspired Word” needed some human help, but still, after so many chapters of heedlessly dogmatic apologetic, it’s nice that they occasionally remember the pretense they’re supposed to be putting on.)
We’re starting with several separate documents that have proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be historically reliable. Since those documents reveal that Jesus is God, then we know his teaching on the Old Testament must be true…
And so on and so on, yada yada yada. Charles Darwin’s observations have been repeatedly verified and validated by thousands of scientists working in fields as diverse as biology, zoology, paleontology, genetics, organic chemistry and even (indirectly) by astronomy, cosmology and nuclear physics, yet that wasn’t enough to establish evolution beyond a reasonable doubt back in Chapter 6. Meanwhile, Luke reports that Paul crossed the Mediterranean Sea by getting into something called a “boat,” and that’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the claims of the New Testament writers are historically reliable.
And Geisler and Turek want us to believe this, even though they know that the Bible is a human book with human characteristics, written by fallible people who can be wrong about some things even when they’re right about others. And even though the claimed deity of Jesus is based on the things that can’t be shown to be consistent with verifiable reality, details they simply assume are infallible, they deny that they’re assuming the infallibility of the Bible in order to prove the infallibility of the Bible.
But maybe that’s not intentional. Maybe, being fallible men themselves, they’re merely mistaken about their own assumptions, and about the fundamental honesty and integrity that ought to be the basis for their book—and isn’t. Maybe they’re simply unaware that their thinking and perceptions are being warped into a fallible and outright deceptive system called a Christian worldview. Maybe they just haven’t realized that if you have to play games with the facts in order to justify your beliefs, it’s a sign that your beliefs aren’t true.
I’m not going to try and second-guess their motives here. The fact remains, though, that by marketing this book they are marketing a seriously malfunctioning and mind-crippling system of thought, as demonstrated by their own inability to recognize and acknowledge the fallacies at the core of their apologetic. Whether or not Geisler and Turek ought to be accused of intentional deception, their product remains a lie, and is worthy of exposure and opposition. And I’m only too happy to oblige.