Norman Geisler's Review of My Book.

As I have said, Norman L. Geisler, known to many as "the dean of Christian apologetics," is recommending my book. Not that he agrees with it. He actually thinks it will confirm the faith of his seminary students (isn't that strange?). Anyway, if anyone would like to read his review you can order the Spring 2007 issue of the Christian Apologetics Journal, or check it out in a library. He titled it, "From Apologist to Atheist: A Critical Review" (pp. 93-110). At least he thinks it deserved a separate article rather than one in the usual "Book Reviews" section of the journal.

Dr. Geisler began his review by saying some very positive things about my book:

"First it is an honest and open account of how a Christian became an atheist. Seldom are unbelievers so candid and open. Second, every Christian--let alone Christian apologists--can learn some valuable lessons from it on how to treat wayward believers. Third, it is a thoughtful and intellectually challenging work, presenting arguments that every honest theist and Christian should face. Indeed, some of his criticisms are valid. In particular I would single out his critique of the subjective argument from the alleged self-authenticating 'witness of the Holy Spirit' by Loftus' former teacher William Lane Craig." (pp. 93-94)

Thanks Dr. Geisler. I appreciate you saying these things, even if you disagree with my over-all case.

But I have some concerns with Geisler's review. While I was indeed candid in telling of the experiences that provoked my thinking, I also gave the reasons for why I rejected Christianity. He seems to latch unto the experiential reasons for why I became an atheist. In a few places he says things like this: "one thing is certain: It was not evidence and rational arguments that led him (me) to atheism." (p. 101). However, this is a one sided presentation of my book. To the contrary, for me it wasn't an either/or proposition, but a both/and one (both experiences AND arguments). It's not unlike how Christians describe their own conversions to Christianity. Geisler admitted this about Christian conversions when he wrote: "There is more than reason, arguments, and evidence involved in people coming to faith as well as in people leaving the faith." (p.97). Yes there are, but to claim my rejection of Christianity is almost all experiential does not do my arguments justice, nor is it doing justice to what I said about the weight of my experiences in the book itself. He would object in a like manner if I claimed his faith was adopted almost purely because of experiential reasons, although, in a way I did, since I argued that he adopted the faith he was raised in. ;-)

In several places Geisler used an argument I had already dealt with in my book, just as if I hadn't dealt with it at all! Take for instance the argument I made about the problem of evil. Geisler claims such an argument is "circular," "for how can one know God is ultimately...just for allowing evil unless he knows what is ultimately just? And how can he know there is an ultimate standard of justice, unless there is an absolute Moral Law Giver?" (p. 101) But in that same chapter on evil I had answered such an objection in these words:

Some theists like C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, will argue from the start that there can be no evil with out absolute goodness (God) to measure it against. "How do you know a line is crooked without having some knowledge of what a straight line is?” In other words, I need some sort of objective moral in order to say something is evil. But the word “evil” here is used both as a term describing suffering and at the same time it’s used to describe whether or not such suffering is bad, and that’s an equivocation in the word’s usage. The fact that there is suffering is undeniable. Whether it’s bad is the subject for debate. I'm talking about pain...the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? I’m arguing that it’s bad to have this amount of suffering from a theistic perspective, and I may be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still ask about the internal consistency of what a theist believes. The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with his own beliefs (not mine) that all suffering is for a greater good. It’s an internal problem for the theist. (pp. 245-246)

My question is whether he just didn't see what I wrote, ignored it, or thought it was too trivial to respond to? I'll let our readers decide for themselves on this.

Geisler did the exact same thing with regard to my Outsider Test for Faith, where I make some statements defending the fact that a believer ought to test his or her faith from an outsider's perspective. Geisler claims: "Loftus does not seem to be aware of their self-defeating nature." "The truth," he writes, "is that the outsider test is self-defeating since by it every agnostic should be agnostic about his agnosticism and every skeptic would be skeptical of his own skepticism." (p. 105) But I had already acknowledged and dealt with this type of argument in that same chapter, when I wrote:

Four) One final objection asks whether this is all circular. Have I merely chosen a different metaphysical belief system based upon different cultural factors? Maybe it is in some sense, but it’s definitely not viciously circular. For I have very good initial grounds for starting out with skepticism.(p. 46)

I further argued...

“Do my cultural conditions overwhelmingly ‘determine’ my presumption of skepticism? If so, then others don’t have much of a reason to adopt the skeptical stance. If not, then why do I think I can transcend culture, but a Christian theist can’t transcend her culture?” In answer I say that if it’s the case that “the accidents of birth” overwhelmingly determine our religious beliefs, especially in those areas where there is no mutually agreed upon empirical tests to decide between them, then that’s a sociological fact everyone must wrestle with when thinking about such matters. Let’s say this is the case, i.e., that whatever we believe about the origin of this universe is overwhelmingly determined by when and where we are born. I am much more willing to accept the consequences of this than a great majority of people who have religious faith and are so dogmatic about their faith. If this is the case, then we agree that what we believe is based upon when and where we're born.

If true, this does not undercut what I'm saying at all--it supports it. I'm arguing that cultural conditions have an extremely strong influence on us to believe in a given communally shared religious faith in a primary sense. And although cultural influences also apply in a secondary sense with regard to non-communal metaphysical beliefs, if I am a skeptic because of these cultural conditions, then I'm right that cultural conditions lead us to believe these things after all. And while I might be wrong about what I believe, such an admission doesn't undercut the main reason for the Outsider Test and the skeptical presumption that goes with it. If cultural factors overwhelmingly cause us to believe what we believe, then we should all be skeptical of what we believe.

The best that could result from this admission is agnosticism. But this doesn’t grant the believer any ground. For to be agnostic would again be admitting the basis for testing between beliefs that cannot be decided upon empirical grounds, and that is to be skeptical all over again, which once again is something I’m asking of believers. So I don't object to being skeptical of my own skepticism. But it's redundant from my perspective, and so it merely reinforces itself. (pp. 45-46)

How Dr. Geisler can say that I'm not aware of this objection astounds me, even if in the end he disagrees with me.

Of my book he says "there is nothing really new here that has not already been answered elsewhere." (p. 100). And then he proceeds to ask questions of my arguments that I think I have already addressed in the book itself! While I appreciate him as a friend and wish him the very best, I'd have to say of his review, as he said of my book, that there is nothing really new here that has not already been answered...in my book! ;-)

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To read FormerFundy's Review of Geisler's review see here.

19 comments:

Keith Sader said...

Congrats on the review!

angelsdepart said...

You have been tagged! See you soon!!!

Kevin H said...

I'm sure that last comment made you feel good, John! I have spent some time with Norm Geisler - been in his home, etc. Remind me to tell you about me being in the same room with Ken Ham (Young Earth) and the Normster (Old Earth)one time.

Norm is a very gracious man - firm but kind. I'm glad he reviewed your book.

Kevin H

John W. Loftus said...

As far as I know they just started mailing this issue of their journal out yesterday. I should get my copy in a few days.

Josh said...

I read Geisler's 'I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.' It was so full of straw men, scientific inaccuracies, and other crap that I have a hard time taking anything he says seriously. And that was when I was still a christian.

Anonymous said...

Geisler didn't say the outsider test was circular. He said it was self-defeating. Which it so clearly is.

Jennifer said...

Hi John,

This is Onewave under my own name.

It's interesting that both Norm and yourself think there is nothing new as I was thinking the same thing on both sides.

Do you think you really have a new perspective?

I do see a continuum through history of basic repeated human behavior, but the more I read peoples' ideas the more I agree with Solomon (?) that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Blair said...

Josh, you say Geisler's book is full of straw men?

Hahahaha.

And the Loftus book?

Pot. Kettle. Black.

John W. Loftus said...

Jennifer, I say things in new ways. My story is new. The way I outline my argument is new. And that's enough newness for any book.

Matthew said...

Blair says: "Josh, you say Geisler's book is full of straw men?

Hahahaha.

And the Loftus book?

Pot. Kettle. Black."

Hmmmm...just what I expect from many Christians like Blair. Arrogant mockery.

Matthew

Matthew said...

John,

Congats on having Geisler review your book. It's funny how fellows like Geisler, as well-meaning and intelligent as they are, have trouble comprehending the possibility that arguments can lead a person to reject Christianity. I guess apologists like him believe that Christianity is so hopelessly logical that you cannot be an honestly informed skeptic.

As for Geisler not answering your arguments, I believe that he saw what he wanted to see. He didn't want to see you as an intelligent and hard-studied man who left the faith and had good reasons for doing so. He saw you as a man who felt cheated in life and was looking for a way out of the only reasonable solution-Jesus Christ.

It is not surprising that he didn't answer your arguments. It isn't surprising that he raised questions and didn't want to take your answers into consideration. I believe that he selectively sees what he wants to and mentally edits out the rest. Pure and simple.

Matthew

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Matthew. I understand what you're saying about him.

BTW, I suspect Blair was one of the many names Walton used, but I left this one anyway.

Former_Fundy said...

DJ,

What did you expect Geisler to say? Yep, that John Loftus has some really good arguments and I can certainly understand why he left the faith. Apologists like Geisler (and even the amateurs like they have on TWEB) are so committed to their belief system that they cannot allow the possiblity that there might be cracks in the foundation.

One other matter about Geisler. When I taught Apologetics I required one of his books, Christian Apologetics, as required reading. It seems that one of Geisler's favorite criticisms of every viewpoint is that it is self-defeating.

Geisler with a degree from Loyola seems to follow (at least in principle although I am sure he would deny it), Aquinas' position that man's reason is not fallen. This allows him to use reason as a test of truth. His dilemma though is that his Evangelical theology teaches that man is completely fallen including his reason. If man's reason is affected by sin, then how can he trust it? That sounds like his position is self-defeating.

John W. Loftus said...

Actually, in an email to me Geisler did say, "I have just read your book and my heart goes out to you. I think many people would have become atheists, had they gone through what you have."

Rethinker said...

In response to Former_Fundy's suggestion that Geisler is standing on self defeating ground. . .

Geisler, by siding with Aquinas on man's reason not being destroyed by the fall separates him not from evangelical theology in general (which has no unified or codified doctrine of the fall) but from the specific Dutch Calvinism stream which pours into the evangelical lake. Geisler has argued that Dutch Calvinism was influenced by Kant/Kierkegaard and became fideistic--distrusting reason and just accepting articles of faith with the blind leap or irrational/nonrational act of the will. Geisler doesn't share that inertia. The Presuppositionalist school of Apologetics was created by the Dutch Calvinism (Abraham Kuyper > Herman Dooyeweerd > Cornelius VanTill > Francis Schaeffer) influx to the USA. T

Tisk, tisk. I would have thought a former professor of apologetics courses would have known that.

Breckmin said...

I find it interesting that John has made this "2010 Challenge" to Christians to read the top 10 atheist/agnostic books. Nowadays, that is what apologists are having to spend their time reading.

Who has time to read a book by a Christian apologist except those who are doubting.

There are answers to all of these questions in these books...but often these questions raise other questions (not because of infinite regression, but because of complication and imperfection itself).

d-techno said...

John, I can't find your book in my country, and I'm not used to online shopping. But I'm kinda interested to know what are the main arguments you have in your book. Please don't tell me to search through your blog for an answer, it'll take me ages to do it.

P.S: I might be 1 of the Christian wannabe apologists you mentioned in Debunking Christianity. =o

John W. Loftus said...

d-techno, here is a summary of my case.

Cheers.

d-techno said...

Hmm, it'd be extremely difficult to reason your reasons with mine, but I'll try. I'll start with 2 items first.
You said "there is a strong probability that every event is a natural one to be explained by natural forces alone." It's just a theory with strong probabilities, right?

"# The scientific method is the most reliable (and probably the only) guide we have for determining the truth about the world." By saying that, may I ask you what are the percentages of the reliability of scientific method?