Geisler’s First Argument

Geisler’s First Argument October 16, 2016

Norman Geisler’s case for God appears to consist of five arguments for the existence of God.

Here is my critique of the opening paragraph of Geisler’s case, and my critique of his first argument for the existence of God:

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NOTE: I forgot that my plan was to put my posts on cases for God here at The Secular Oupost, and put my posts that are more specifically about Jesus and Christianity over on my own blog site.  So, I have moved my post about Geisler’s first argument for the existence of God from my blog site to here.

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Before we examine Geisler’s first argument for God, we need to carefully consider the opening paragraph of his case for God in When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA).  He makes some very important points in this first paragraph:

The existence of a personal moral God is fundamental to all that Christians believe. If there is no moral God, there is no moral being against whom we have sinned; therefore, salvation is not needed. Furthermore, if there is no God, there could be no acts of God (miracles), and the stories of Jesus can only be understood as fiction or myth. So the first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?” The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”  (WSA, p. 15)

COMMENTARY

The existence of a personal moral God is fundamental to all that Christians believe.
This seems right to me.  If there is no God, then most of the basic beliefs or doctrines of Christianity are false or are probably false.

If there is no moral God, there is no moral being against whom we have sinned; 
This conditional claim appears to be false.  We can “sin” against (or wrong) other human beings even if God does not exist, and human beings are moral beings.  So, we can sin against moral beings even if God does not exist.

Now, if one defines “sin” as meaning “an act of disobedience towards God”, then obviously the non-existence of God would, on that definition, logically imply the non-existence of “sin”.

But if we understand “sin” more generally to mean “an act that is bad, morally wrong, or evil”, then it seems that we could “sin” even if there were no God.  

Geisler will argue against this possibility later, but he has not argued that point yet, so he is not yet entitled to simply assume that no action could be morally wrong if there was no God (i.e. to assume that morality exists only if God exists). To make that assumption at this point in the game would amount to the fallacy of begging the question.

Also, I’m not sure that the qualifier “moral” is essential here.  One could “sin” against a non-moral creature.  If a person raised a dog from a puppy and treated the dog in kind and loving way as it grew up, and then one day took the dog into a basement, chained the dog to a table, and then brutally tortured the dog for hours until the dog died from the pain, shock, and loss of blood, then one would have “sinned” against a non-moral creature.  So, the adjective “moral” seems unnecessary here.  Human beings can do morally wrong actions against non-moral creatures (such as dogs).

therefore, salvation is not needed.
Clearly, if one has never “sinned” or done something that is bad or evil, then one has no need of “salvation” from one’s sins.  That is obviously true.

However, it is NOT in any way obvious that “salvation” MUST be conceived of as “salvation from one’s sins”.  Different religions and worldviews have different conceptions about what the fundamental issue or issues are for human beings.  Different religions diagnose the “disease” or basic problem(s) of human beings differently.  Christianity asserts that the basic human problem or “disease” is sin, but other religions and other worldviews do not accept this view of human nature or of the human situation.  Thus, Geisler appears to be begging the question, begging a very basic worldview question here in favor of the Christian religion or worldview.

Furthermore, if there is no God, there could be no acts of God (miracles)…
It is certainly true that if there is no God, then there are no “acts of God” either.  But Geisler then sneaks the word “miracles” into this claim in parentheses, making the claim significantly more problematic and dubious.  

If we simply define the term “miracle” to MEAN “an event brought about by an act of God”, then clearly the above claim would be correct.  However, the term “miracle” can be used in a broader sense, to mean “an event brought about by any sort of supernatural being or force.” On such a broader defintion, it would be possible for “miracles” to occur even if there were no God.  

God is NOT the only possible supernatural being nor the only possible being who has supernatural powers.  Many Christians believe that there are angels and demons, and they believe that these are supernatural beings who have supernatural powers.  So, even within the Christian worldview, there is the belief that there are supernatural beings and supernatural powers other than God and other than the powers that God directly exerts.

Furthermore, if there is no God, … the stories of Jesus can only be understood as fiction or myth.
This statement is clearly false.  

Geisler is assuming that the alleged supernatural events and supernatural powers asserted in the Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus could be true ONLY IF God exists.  But as I just argued, supernatural beings and supernatural powers can exist even if there were no God.  

According to traditional Christian belief and theology, angels and demons exist, and these are supernatural beings who have supernatural powers, and thus they can bring about supernatural events.  We can conceive of a world in which there are angels or demons but no God, and in such a world there would be supernatural beings and supernatural powers, but no God.  

The non-existence of God, therefore, does NOT logically imply that the Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus are “fiction or myth”.  The “miracles” in the Gospel accounts could have been brought about by a supernatural being other than God, or by some animal or human who possessed supernatural powers.

We see in the first few sentences of the opening paragraph of Geisler’s case for God, that his thinking is infected with some false beliefs and some illogical reasoning related to God.  This does not inspire confidence that his case for God will be based on true premises and logical reasoning. But the final sentences of the opening paragraph indicate that there is a very serious problem with Geisler’s case for God.

So the first question that must be addressed in pre-evangelism is, “Does God exist?”
While this statement has some initial plausibility, I believe Geisler is completely wrong on this point, and that this statement represents a very fundamental error in Geisler’s thinking, an error that destroys or severely damages his case for the existence of God.  

The first question that must be addressed in any evaluation of Christianity is, rather, this:

  • What does the assertion “God exists” mean?

By failing to address this very basic question, Geisler dooms his case for “God” to failure. We can see that he is making this great mistake here by considering his next point.

The second question is very closely related to the first: “If God exists, what kind of God is He?”
Here Geisler clearly reveals that he is following in the footsteps of Thomas Aquinas.  

In the standard view of Aquinas, Aquinas provides Five Ways of proving the existence of God, and then proceeds to prove that God has various divine attributes.  This is exactly the way that Geisler builds his case for the existence of God.  

But this is ASS BACKWARDS. One must first clarify the MEANING of the word “God” and THEN proceed to prove the existence of God. 

The meaning of the word “God” is ordinarily (and properly) defined in terms of various divine attributes, such as “eternal”, “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, and “perfectly morally good”, and “creator of the universe”.  Such a definition reflects the ordinary meaning and use of the word “God” in relation to Christian belief and theology.  

Apart from clarifying or defining the word “God” we literally do not know what Geisler is talking about, and thus we have no rational way to evaluate the strengths or weaknesses of his arguments for the existence of “God”.

Suppose that I want to persuade you that GORPU exists, and I present you with the following argument:

1.  If grass is green, then GORPU exists.

2.  Grass is green.

Therefore:

3. GORPU exists.

This is a perfecly logical argument.  The inference from the two premises to the conclusion is a valid deductive inference.  But would you accept this argument?  Of course not.  You don’t know what “GORPU” means, so you have no way to determine whether premise (1) is true or not.  

Before you can evaluate this argument, you must first understand what the assertion “GORPU exists” means, and since I am the one who is presenting the argument, it is up to me to clarify or define the meaning of this expression, so that you will be able to understand what it means and thus be in a position to rationally evaluate premise (1).

Geisler is violating one of the most basic principles of critical thinking: BE CLEAR, and clarify the meanings of the key concepts that you use in your arguments (especially when those concepts are abstract ideas and/or controversial ideas and/or vague ideas):

Clarity is the gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying. (“Universal Intellectual Standards” by Richard Paul and Linda Elder)

Before Geisler, or anyone else, can prove that “God exists”, it is necessary to clarify or define the meaning of this assertion:

To prove or to produce evidence that a certain being, x, exists, is, one might say, to prove that a certain set of compossible properties is actualized.  That is, we cannot prove or know that x exists without at the same time knowing something about the nature or essence of x

To prove the existence of God is, then, to show that the properties ascribed to the Christian God in the Bible are actualized in one and only one being.  (“Thomas Aquinas” by Knut Tranoy, in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, p.110)

Because Geisler fails to clarify or define the meaning of the assertion “God exists”, his case for God appears to be doomed to failure even before he presents the very first premise of his first argument for the existence of God.

Argument #G1: The universe was caused at the beginning 

1. The universe had a beginning.

2. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.

3. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God.   

(WSA, p.16)

The first thing to note about argument #G1 is that it is clearly logically invalid.  It is clear that the conclusion (3) does NOT follow logically from the premises. 

The following argument form is logically valid:

1.  x is a B.

2.  Everything that is a B is also a C.

Therefore:

3. x is a C.

But the form of #G1 has an additional claim in the conclusion:

1.  x is a B.

2.  Everything that is a B is also a C.

Therefore:

3. x is a C  AND y is G.

But the premises of #G1 do not mention anything about G,  so the added claim “y is G” does not follow logically from the premises.

Suppose that there is no God, but that there was an angel who existed before the universe came into being.  Suppose that angel caused the universe to come into being.  In that case the universe “was caused by something else” but was NOT caused by God.  

This scenario is completely compatible with the truth of the premises of #G1.  It is compatible with the claim that the “universe had a  beginning” and it is compatible with the claim that “anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.” 

Thus, it is possible for premise (1) and premise (2) to both be true, and yet for the added conclusion “this cause [of the universe] was God” to be false.  Since we can conceive of circumstances in which the premises of #G1 are true and the conclusion of #G1 is false, this argument is logically invalid.

But we can fix Geisler’s embarrassing logical GOOF quite easily, by removing the added claim that Geisler had mistakenly inserted into the conclusion:

Argument #G1revA

1. The universe had a beginning.

2. Anything that has a beginning must have been caused by something else.

Therefore:

3a. The universe was caused by something else.  

This argument, unlike #G1, is perfeclty valid.  However, it will not do, because it is missing a very important phrase:

God exists.

In order to repair Geisler’s first argument for the existence of God, we must remove the reference to “God” from the conclusion of the agument. But if we do this, then it is no longer an argument for the existence of God!

In order to prove that God exists, one must provide an argument which has as its conclusion, the claim that “God exists” or that “There is a God”.  An argument that concludes with the claim “the universe was caused by something else” is NOT an argument for the existence of God.

So, either we leave argument #G1 alone and reject it because it is logically invalid, or else we correct the logic of this argument and then reject it because it is no longer an argument for the existence of God.  Either way, the argument fails to prove that God exists.

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