Geisler’s Five Ways – Part 18: The God of the Bible Exists?

After laying out his case for the existence of God in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA), Dr. Norman Geisler attempts to link the God that he thinks he has proven to exist with “the God of the Bible”:

Is this the God of the Bible? At the burning bush, God told Moses his name and said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  This signifies that the central characteristic of the God of the Bible is existence.  His very nature is existence.  …The Bible also calls God eternal (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2), unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18), infinite (1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1), all-good (Ps. 86:5; Luke 18:19), and all-powerful (Heb. 1:3; Matt. 19:26). Since these beings are the same in all these respects, and there can’t be two infinite beings, then this God that the arguments point us to, is the God of the Bible. (WSA, p.29)

After presenting one of the most unbelievably crappy cases for the existence of God, you would think Geisler could not manage to go any lower into the depths of unclarity, confusion, and illogic, but this final argument truly takes the cake.  There is so much wrong in this one little paragraph, that I hardly know where to begin.

PROOF TEXTING & ANACHRONISM

First, Geisler is using the biblical passages as proof texts, and the assumed interpretation of those biblical passages is clearly anachronistic.  Geisler is showing no respect for the intended meaning of these biblical passages, and is simply grasping for any biblical passage to provide support for his preconceived conclusions.

Geisler is projecting medieval Thomist concepts back into ancient Hebrew writings (the Old Testament), writings that existed prior to Greek philosophers (certainly prior to Plato and Aristotle), and writings that existed about two thousand years before Thomas Aquinas came along, and he is projecting Thomist concepts back into ancient Greek writings (the New Testament), writings that existed after ancient Greek philosophy, but more than a thousand years prior to Aquinas.

When Geisler says that God is “eternal”, he means that God is outside of time.  There is no hint of this very strange medieval idea in either Colossians 1:17 or Hebrews 1:2.

There is also no hint of the strange Aristotelian and Thomist idea of an “unchanging being” (a being that absolutely cannot ever change in any way whatsoever) in Malachi 3:6 or Hebrews 6:18.  The passage in Hebrews specifically refers to “the unchageableness of His [God’s] purpose” (Heb. 6:17) concerning God’s intention to bless Abraham, so Geisler is grossly distorting the meaning of that passage by interpreting “unchangeableness” to mean a being that “absolutely cannot ever change in any way whatsoever”.

The claim that God is an “infinite being” is a very unclear claim, so unless and until this concept is defined, there is no way to determine whether any biblical passage asserts that “the God of the Bible” has this characteristic.

Thus, at least two of the biblical claims made by Geisler are FALSE, and  are based on very sloppy and irresponsible interpretations of the biblical passages that he cites (but does not quote), and one of his biblical claims is too UNCLEAR (as it stands) to be supported by any interpretation of any biblical passages.

Furthermore, if we accept the claim that “The god of the Bible is an unchanging being”, then we have an excellent reason for concluding that there is no such being as “the god of the Bible” because the idea of a being–who performs actions and tasks in order to accomplish specific purposes–having the attribute such that this being cannot ever change in any way whatsoever is an incoherent idea, an idea that contains a logical contradiction.

The same is true if we accept the claim that “The god of the Bible is an eternal being”, if we understand “eternal” being in the odd sense that Geisler has in mind: a being that exists outside of time, a being for whom there is no such thing as “before” or “after”.  So, if we accept those two assumptions that Geisler makes in this argument, then we are compelled by logic to conclude that there is no such being as “The god of the Bible”.

THE “CHARACTERISTIC” OF EXISTENCE

Second, Geisler’s assertion that “the central characteristic of the God of the Bible is existence.” is one of the most idiotic claims he makes on this subject.  Existence is also a characteristic of atoms and oranges, butterflies and cheeseburgers, rocks, clouds, elephants, etc., etc.  Existence is, literally, a characteristic of EVERYTHING that exists!  So there is nothing special or unique about the “characteristic” of existence.  This characteristic does not distinguish God or Jehovah (the god of the Bible) from anything else.

Geisler might object that he had in mind the fact that God’s “very nature is existence”.  That, indeed, might be something unique, but there are three problems with that point.  First, it is doubtful that this phrase expresses a coherent idea.  This appears to be a string of words that has no specific meaning.  Unless and until Geisler can provide a clear definition or analysis of this strange concept, it remains questionable whether this makes any sense at all.

Second, it is anachronistic to project this strange Thomist idea back onto an ancient Hebrew story (Exodus) that was written before Aristotle was born and perhaps two thousand years before Aquinas was born.  Geisler is again showing no respect for the intended meaning of the biblical passage, and is guilty of proof texting here.

Third (and this problem applies to every attribute mentioned by Geisler in the above quoted paragraph), even if the Bible did assert that Jehovah (the god of the Bible) was such that his “very nature is existence”, this would NOT in any way establish that Jehovah (the god of the Bible) IN FACT had such a nature, nor that Jehovah exists at all!  Yes, it is true that the Bible claims that “Jehovah exists”.  The Bible also claims that “angels exist” and that “demons exist” and that “heaven exists” and that “hell exists”, etc.  But it does NOT follow that these claims are true.

Geisler believes that these claims are all true, because Geisler believes that whatever the Bible teaches or asserts must be true.  He believes that the Bible is 100% reliable in what it teaches and asserts, because he believes that the Bible was inspired by Jehovah, and because he believes that Jehovah is God, and that God is all-good and all-knowing.  So God, and thus Jehovah, would never communicate false beliefs to humans.  But now we are reasoning in a circle.

Geisler believes  what the Bible teaches is true, because he believes that Jehovah is God, and that Jehovah inspired the Bible.  But why does Geisler believe that Jehovah is God?  He believes this because the Bible asserts that Jehovah has various attributes that are the same as attributes possessed by God:

Jehovah is God–>Whatever the Bible Teaches is True–>Jehovah has the Same Attributes as God–>Jehovah is God 

This is lunacy.  This is the sort of awful reasoning one expects from an overly enthusiastic teenage Christian believer who has never taken a course in philosophy or logic or critical thinking.  This is NOT the kind of reasoning one expects from a grown man, particularly from a grown man who has spent decades of his life studying, teaching, and writing about philosophy of religion.

ALL-POWERFUL & ALL-KNOWING & ALL-GOOD

I’m not going to object to Geisler’s biblical claims concerning the God of the Bible possessing the attributes of being “all-powerful”, and “all-good”.  Let’s grant his assumptions on those points, for the sake of argument.  The problem remains that the fact that the Bible teaches or asserts that Jehovah is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good does NOT show that Jehovah was IN FACT all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.  The fact that the Bible teaches these things does NOT show even that Jehovah exists at all.  The fact that the Bible makes these various claims is compatible with it being the case that Jehovah does not exist and never did exist.  Jehovah may be just as much a fantasy as Zeus, just as much a fiction as unicorns.

Once again, Geisler appears to be assuming that whatever the Bible teaches or asserts must be true.  But his belief in the reliability of the Bible is based on his belief that Jehovah is God, and that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.  But in this case Geisler is once again reasoning in a circle:

Jehovah is God–>Whatever the Bible Teaches is True–>Jehovah has the Same Attributes as God–>Jehovah is God 

So, in addition to laying out an unbelievably crappy case for the existence of God, Geisler then puts the icing on the cake by leading his readers to reason in this tight little circle of insanity.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches other things about Jehovah that imply that Jehovah is a cruel, unjust, bloodthirsty, egotistical sexist.  So, if we believe that whatever the Bible teaches about Jehovah is true, then we ought to believe that Jehovah is a cruel, unjust, bloodthirsty, and egotistical sexist.  But in that case Jehovah is NOT an all-good being.  So, the Bible contradicts itself concerning the claim that Jehovah is all-good.

Thus, we have very good reason to doubt the truth and reliability of what the Bible teaches about Jehovah.  First, the Bible teaches contradictory things about Jehovah.  Second, if the Bible was inspired by Jehovah but Jehovah is NOT all-good (or NOT all-knowing), then this would cast significant doubt on the truth and reliability of the teachings of the Bible.

THE “JEHOVAH IS GOD” ARGUMENT 

Geisler’s argument on this issue is indicated in the final sentence of the paragraph:

Since these beings are the same in all these respects, and there can’t be two infinite beings, then this God that the arguments point us to, is the God of the Bible. (WSA, p.29)

Here is a clearer outline of this argument:

110. The Bible teaches that Jehovah (the god of the Bible) is eternal, unchanging, infinite, all-good, and all-powerful.

111.  Whatever the Bible teaches is true. [an unstated assumption that Geisler is making]

THEREFORE:

112. Jehovah (the god of the Bible) is eternal, unchanging, infinite, all-good, and all-powerful.

113. God is eternal, unchanging, infinite, all-good, and all-powerful.

THEREFORE:

114. Both Jehovah (the god of the Bible) and God are eternal, unchanging, infinite, all-good, and all-powerful.

115.  There cannot be more than one infinite being.

THEREFORE:

116. Jehovah (the god of the Bible) and God are the same being.

117. God exists.  [based on Geisler’s pathetic case for this claim]

THEREFORE:

118. Jehovah (the god of the Bible) exists. [the unstated conclusion that Geisler wants his readers to draw]

 

A key assumption was left unstated by Geisler:

 111.  Whatever the Bible teaches is true.

Geisler’s argument for the conclusions that “Jehovah is God” and that “Jehovah exists” requires that he make this assumption, or something very similar to it.  If we reject (111), then Geisler’s argument fails.

Geisler believes (111) is true because he believes that the Bible was inspired by Jehovah, and because he believes that Jehovah is God.  So, Geisler believes that the Bible was inspired by an all-knowing and all-good being (i.e. by God).  Based on these assumptions about the source of the contents of the Bible, Geisler infers that premise (111) is true:

120.  The Bible was inspired by Jehovah (the god of the Bible) alone.

121.  Jehovah (the god of the Bible) is God.

122.  God is all-knowing and all-good.

THEREFORE:

123. The Bible was inspired by an all-knowing and all-good being alone.

124. IF the Bible was inspired by an all-knowing and all-good being alone, THEN whatever the Bible teaches is true.

THEREFORE:

 111.  Whatever the Bible teaches is true.

So, if we take into account the reasoning that supports premise (111), then this final argument from Geisler about God and Jehovah is an awful bit of circular reasoning:

Jehovah is God–>Whatever the Bible Teaches is True–>Jehovah has the Same Attributes as God–>Jehovah is God

Because this argument involves the fallacy of circular reasoning, this argument, like every other argument in Geisler’s case for God FAILS, and it fails miserably and for a number of different reasons.  This argument provides a very pathetic (and yet very appropriate) finale to Geisler’s unbelievably crappy case for the existence of God, and for the existence of Jehovah (the god of the Bible).

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