XFiles: False vs Fallible

(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.

They lie.

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.

 
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 3.67 out of 5)
Loading...Loading...
Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “XFiles: False vs Fallible”

  1. mikespeir Says:

    “Fallible people write books all the time that have no errors.”

    Do they give examples of such error-free human-produced books? I dare say there’s not one; not one without error the way Fundamentalists claim the Bible is. And if they were to find one, would they then regard it as ultimately authoritative as the Bible? If not, then what characteristic of the Bible makes it so indubitably authoritative? Seems to me that they’ve accomplished zilch with the silly claim that humans can produce error-free books, even if it could be proved true. It’s just a sidetrack that leads to nowhere.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The Little Engine That Could?

    Actually, I wouldn’t fault them for suggesting the possibility of a human writing a bit of prose, similar in length to some of the NT books, without making any errors. Given sufficient (and sufficiently reliable) quality control and fact checking, errors should be detectable and correctable prior to publication. No guarantees, but it doesn’t sound inconceivable that at least some percentage of published literature manages to get published without significant error.

    Where fundamentalists err is in (a) pronouncing the Bible not just inerrant but infallible (as in “we don’t even need to check”) and (b) trying to rationalize away the errors in the Bible instead of acknowledging them and downgrading its presumed reliability accordingly.

  3. mikespeir Says:

    I think I spot a small discrepancy between your “…them … suggesting the possibility of a human writing a bit of prose, similar in length to some of the NT books, without making any errors” and their “Fallible people write books all the time that have no errors.”

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Well, I guess it depends how picky we want to be. :)

  5. mikespeir Says:

    Are you sure you don’t mean ;) ?

  6. Brad Says:

    Hi Deacon Duncan,

    “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.”

    Wow, that’s a hefty assumption about a couple of guys who have spent years in the Christian apologetics realm. I’m amazed at how you unearthed such a statement from a couple of paragraphs.

    “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.”

    That’s a pretty dishonest accounting of the author’s point in their hightlights of the book of Luke in both his gopsel and the book of Acts. I get your cynicism, but even your hyperbole here pushes the limits of run-of-the-mill sarcasm.

    Cheers.

  7. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hi, Brad, welcome.

    Wow, that’s a hefty assumption about a couple of guys who have spent years in the Christian apologetics realm. I’m amazed at how you unearthed such a statement from a couple of paragraphs.

    It’s a suspicion, not an assumption, and it’s partly based on my own experience spending years evangelizing and defending Christianity. I know from personal experience how unconfessed doubts can serve as a motive for making an energetic defense of one’s faith.

    Plus, by their own admission, they have enough experience in apologetics to realize that at least some of the Bible’s weaknesses can only be explained and defended by declaring that the “infallible and inspired revelation of the Word of God” is really just “a human book with human characteristics.” If that doesn’t provoke doubts in their hearts, then they’ve got serious issues with either their intelligence or their integrity.

    That’s a pretty dishonest accounting of the author’s point in their hightlights of the book of Luke in both his gopsel and the book of Acts. I get your cynicism, but even your hyperbole here pushes the limits of run-of-the-mill sarcasm.

    Well, you may have a point. Geisler and Turek repeat the same errors with such monotonous regularity that it gets hard to address them without falling into the same monotony. Hence the attraction of a more “creative” response.

    But you’re right, I do need to bear in mind that some people may be reading this as their first post, and might not have the background of the earlier chapters. My facetious summary is a bit over the top, in substance at least. Though in my own defense, if you read back over the list of mundane and irrelevant details they cite as proof of Luke’s infallibility, my comment is not far off as regards the spirit of their argument. Would they become Mormons if I could show them cases where Joseph Smith referred to people and places that actually existed in the northeastern US in the 1820’s? Christian Scientists if Mary Baker Eddy knew how to get from Philadelphia to Washington DC? Scientologists if L. Ron Hubbard knew who was president in 1966?

    My point was that though they claim to base their conclusions on reliable factual evidence, their own book plainly shows that they have no consistent and reasonable standard of evidence that they apply impartially to all cases. When they reject Darwin’s evidence, they do so because it conflicts with what they assume the Bible teaches, and when they embrace Luke’s evidence, they do so because they assume his accounts are inspired Scripture. The flimsy excuses they present as “evidence” of Luke’s reliability are just that—excuses. Any other religion could offer the same “proof” of their own reliability, but Geisler and Turek won’t accept that and convert to those other religions. Because they’ve already assumed that only their Bible is the Truth.

  8. Tacroy Says:

    Would they become Mormons if I could show them cases where Joseph Smith referred to people and places that actually existed in the northeastern US in the 1820’s?

    It’s actually kind of funny you would say that, because we have historical documents indicating that a case was brought against Joseph Smith by the state of New York for defrauding people, and pretty strong indications that he ended up getting kicked out of the state because of it.

    Clearly, Geisler and Turek are only moments away from becoming Mormons; after all, by their own argument, they don’t have enough FAITH to be CHRISTIANS.