Are Norm Geisler and Frank Turek Dishonest?

Those of you have been following my writing for years know that I am very cautious about questioning another person’s integrity. (If you’re not familiar with, do a search on Jeff Lowder, William Lane Craig, and dishonesty or lying.) But this time I have stumbled across something so egregious I am having a very hard time coming up with a charitable explanation. In their book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek write the following about the late philosopher (and atheist) James Rachels.

Speaking of retarded people, Rachels writes:

What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?[22]

As horrific as that would be–using retarded people as lab rats or food–Darwinists can give no moral reason why we ought not use any human being in that fashion.

—–

[22] James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 186.

Suffice it to say that G&T nowhere say or even hint at the fact that Rachels opposed the very view which G&T attempt to saddle Darwinism with.

As someone who has read Rachels’ important book several times, I am baffled how G&T could possibly justify this outrageous, slanderous interpretation of Rachels. First, notice the bracketed word [Darwinism]. Rachels was NOT considering the doctrine of ‘Darwinism’ at this point in his book. Rather, he was talking about the doctrine of “qualified speciesism.” Here is how Rachels defines it.

But there is a more sophisticated view of the relation between morality and species, and it is this view that defenders of traditional morality have most often adopted. On this view, species alone is not regarded as morally significant. However, species-membership is correlated with other differences that are significant. The interests of humans are said to be more important, not simply because they are human, but because humans have morally relevant characteristics that other animals lack. (p. 184)

With that definition in mind, let’s review what Rachels actually wrote about qualified speciesism.

There is still another problem for this form of qualified speciesism. Some unfortunate humans–perhaps because they have suffered brain damage–are not rational agents. What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering, would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?

So not only was Rachels talking about qualified speciesism, not Darwinism, but Rachels was describing a problem with qualified speciesism. There is simply no justification for G&T trying to saddle Rachels with a view he explicitly calls a “problem” and, in fact, rejects.

A few pages later, Rachels goes on to make a distinction between “having a moral obligation” and “being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.” In his words:
… we must distinguish the conditions necessary for having a moral obligation from the conditions necessary for being the beneficiary of a moral obligation.
For example: normal adult humans have the obligation not to torture one another. What characteristics make it possible for a person to have this obligation? For one thing, he must be able to understand what torture is, and he must be capable of recognizing that it is wrong. (Linguistic capacity might be relevant here; without language one may not be able to formulate the belief that torture is wrong.) When someone–a severely retarded person, perhaps–lacks such capacities, we do not think he has such obligations and we do not hold him responsible for what he does. On the other hand, it is a very different question what characteristics qualify someone to be the beneficiary of the obligation. It is wrong [to] torture someone–someone is the beneficiary of our obligation not to torture–not because of his capacity for understanding what torture is, or for recognizing that it is morally wrong, but simply because of his capacity for experiencing pain. Thus a person may lack the characteristics necessary for having a certain obligation, and yet may still possess the characteristics necessary to qualify him as the beneficiary of that obligation. If there is any doubt, consider the position of severely retarded persons. A severely retarded person may not be able to understand what torture is, or see it as wrong, and yet still be able to suffer pain. So we who are not retarded have an obligation not to torture him, even though he cannot have a similar obligation not to torture us. (pp. 191-192)

The above passage proves that Rachels was opposed to “using retarded people as lab rats or food,” the exact opposite of the picture painted by G&T’s selective, misleading quotation of Rachels.

At this point, I can only come up with two explanations for why G&T would do this: either they’re ignorant (they didn’t read or understand the book) or they’re dishonest (they knew full well that Rachels was talking about limited speciesism, not Darwinism,” and Rachels opposed using the mentally disabled as lab rats or food). Neither of these explanations reflect well upon G&T.

Interested readers who want to read for themselves what Rachels wrote may find the entire copy of his book online for free, at a website maintained by his son.

 

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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