XFiles: How to disprove a GospelMarch 21, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
WARNING: Before reading the following statement by Geisler and Turek, you should turn off your irony meter, remove the battery, unplug the recharger, and store all components in separate rooms of your house.
Critics may also charge, “But your position on inerrancy is not falsifiable. You will not accept an error in the Bible because you’ve decided in advance that there can’t be any!” Actually, our position is falsifiable, but the critics’ position is not. Let us explain.
First, because Jesus’ authority is well established by the evidence, we reasonably give benefit of the doubt to the Bible when we come across a difficulty or question in the text. In other words, when we run across something inexplicable, we assume that we, not the infinite God, are making an error.
Yes, when disproving the claim that you’re merely assuming Biblical inerrancy, what better way to start than by boldly and proudly declaring that you do assume any error is not the Bible’s?
Geisler and Turek, of course, are just trying to follow the standard rhetorical practice of beginning your argument by conceding that there is a legitimate question or problem that your position needs to address. It’s a common enough practice (and the source of a great many creationist quote mines, when followed by scientists). First you declare the problem, and then you proceed to explain how your position addresses that problem.
What Geisler and Turek don’t seem to realize, though, is that by admitting that they simply assume the Bible cannot be wrong, they’re conceding a lot more here than is good for their position.
They try to make their position look legitimate because they say they are only making this assumption in the context of Jesus’ authority, which is “well established by the evidence.” The “evidence” that allegedly establishes Jesus’ authority, however, is the Bible itself, when read under the assumption that it contains no errors. In essence, they’re admitting that the critics are right: they do reach their position on inerrancy by deciding in advance that the Bible cannot contain any errors, and is thus able to establish Jesus’ authority so that his authority can be used to justify the assumption that the Bible contains no errors.
Nor does their argument improve when they try to make it sound like their position is nevertheless falsifiable. The term “falsifiable,” when used correctly, refers to a statement that has been phrased in such a way that we can determine what consequences would result from the statement being true, as opposed to the consequences that would result from it being untrue, so that when we look at the real world, we can determine which set of consequences have actually occurred.
Geisler and Turek aren’t using “falsifiable” in that sense. Instead, they merely hand-wave, setting up an impossible standard of falsification, and then saying, “There, if you can just do that, then you will have disproven our position.” They don’t want to really know if their position is false or not, they just want to set up a pretext for claiming that critics have failed to falsify it. But here, let’s let Geisler and Turek explain it themselves.
[T]hat doesn’t mean that we believe there’s absolutely no possibility for Bible errors. After all, there’s always a chance that our conclusions about inerrancy are wrong—for we are certainly not inerrant. In fact, our conclusion on inerrancy would be falsified if someone could trace a real error back to an original scroll.
You see the catch-22 here. To falsify their position on inerrancy, you must first provide a real error that can be traced back to an original manuscript. Their assumption, however, is that the Bible cannot have any real errors, because God cannot make mistakes. Any error found by any critic is thus, by definition, not a real error, or at least not an error in the manuscript itself.
In other words, all we need to do to meet Geisler and Turek’s standard of falsification is to provide them with something that, by definition, cannot exist. That’s “falsification,” apologetics-style. And even Geisler and Turek seem to have some suspicion that Biblical inerrancy isn’t really a viable position, because their next argument is to try and claim that Christianity don’t need no steenkin inerrancy anyway.
[E]ven if inerrancy is falsified someday, that wouldn’t falsify the central truths of Christianity. As we have seen, the historical evidence that Jesus taught profound truths, performed miracles, and died and rose from the dead for sinful humanity is very strong indeed. Even if the Scriptures are found to contain a false detail or two, the historical truth of Christianity will not be diminished.
The problem, of course, is that the “historical truth” of Christianity is rather dependent on the assumption that the Bible cannot be wrong about anything. If there’s the possibility that some parts of the Bible might not be quite accurate, then it behooves us to subject all of the Bible’s claims to some real-world verification, to discover which parts are true, and which are embellishments, misinterpretations, or even outright deceptions.
Traditional Christian beliefs tend to do rather poorly when subjected to that kind of critical examination, though, and Geisler and Turek hasten to reassure their readers that they do not, in fact, believe that the Bible will ever be falsified. But just in case it ever is, you know, you can still go on believing what the Bible teaches anyway. Just keep on trusting what men say about God even after you discover that they don’t always tell the truth. That’s what they call faith (and what I call gullibility).
We’ll close today’s post with a look at one last pose of fake open-mindedness and falsifiability.
Is there any discovery that would cause us to disbelieve Christianity? Yes. If someone could find the body of Jesus, Christianity would be proven false and we’d give up.
Of course, since they assume Jesus did rise from the dead, they’ll naturally assume that any remains you show them must have belonged to someone else. It’s not like we have Jesus’ DNA in storage somewhere for reference. Anyone who can claim, with a straight face, that all the errors in the Bible are due to mistakes on the part of the reader, is going to have no problem at all denying that some ancient corpse ever belonged to Jesus. It’s a no-brainer (in more ways than one).
Notice what Geisler and Turek did not say: they did not say that they would disbelieve Christianity if you could examine the consequences that would result from the Gospel being true, and the consequences that would result from the Gospel being a myth, and could observe that real-world conditions are far more consistent with the myth hypothesis than with the Gospel hypothesis.
That would be a reasonable, rational way to approach the question, but it wouldn’t be guaranteed to lead to the desired conclusion. So instead they set up a goal that will be impossible for any critic to meet, a standard of falsification that could be thwarted by simply denying that the evidence is “convincing” (in the highly unlikely event of the evidence being discovered at all).
Geisler and Turek know that there is some value in being open to the evidence, and they want to make a show of being open to having their ideas falsified. But in the end it’s just empty posing. They’re not interested in reasonable and rational standards of evidence, and it shows in the arbitrary and unrealistic demands they make of those who would seek to convince them.