Monday, September 12, 2011

Turek and Geisler Review

Here's a slightly-modified version of my amazon review of I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

There's some good things about the book and some bad things about it. The good: It is well-written; it manages to be an easy read even though it is over 400 pages. At times there is light hearted humor. The authors are crystal-clear in the articulation of their positions. And what they say is what you will hear from evangelicals in general, so their book is a good read if you want to understand the evangelical position.

On the other hand, the book contains a large number of factual and logical errors that the average reader won't catch. I won't be able to catalogue all of them in this review, but what I hope to do is to list a large sampling and show you some other material that corrects the rest of what they say.

On page 25 of the book, Turek and Geisler write that it is completely possible that their conclusions are wrong, they would only claim around 95% confidence in their position. But on page 42 of the book, Geisler recounts a conversation he had with an atheist. He asked the atheist if he was *absolutely* sure there was no God, to which the atheist replied that he was not. Geisler then "informs" the man that he is really an agnostic. Well, if that man was agnostic because he was not *absolutely* certain of his position, then Geisler and Turek are both agnostics, too. Obviously this is nonsense; it's nothing but a sneeky move to push the man into admitting uncertainty so that Geisler may weaken his conviction. Absolute certainty cannot be attained most of the time (even in day to day life, as the authors admit on page 25) but that doesn't mean that we are agnostic about most things. Rather, when you judge the probability of some statement to be very high and as long as it is correct we can say that you know that statement is true. That's my own position on atheism. It's not totally certain that no sort of deity exists, it is only very unlikely that one does.

Pages 263-268 offer a list of historical details that the gospel of John supposedly got right. Some of these aren't very impressive, but it's supposed to be a cumulative case for reliability, so that's not a big deal. What is a big deal is the number of "details" on the list that are factually false or which ought not to be judged as accurate based on the authors' reasoning. Here are some examples:

Item #7 says that the pool of Bethesda did not exist in 70 AD. No reference is cited, but that is false. The pool of Bethesda has continually existed from the first century to today and even the church father Origen, writing in the early third century, knew about it. See pages 29-32 of The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford Archaeological Guides)(If you go to google books you can view the portion I have cited).

Item #10 says that "sudden and severe squalls are common on the sea of Galilee." Wrong. As Dennis MacDonald pointed out in his book The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark(pages 57-58) the Sea of Galilee is a myth. The largest body of water in Galilee is Lake Chinnereth (probably what Mark was referring to when he wrote of "The Sea of Galilee"), which is a measly 4 miles wide and 7 miles long. MacDonald details how the ancient pagan critic Porphyry lambasted Mark as a terrible exaggerator, such a small lake could not be prone to terrible storms or squalls. MacDonald also points out that Luke, the gospel writer known for his attention to detail, never refers to "The Sea of Galilee" but only to a "lake."

Item #11 says that "Christ's command to eat his flesh and drink his blood would not be made up." On the contrary, it must have been made up. As New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann put it, "Can one seriously imagine a pious Jewish teacher of righteousness inviting his followers to partake, even symbolically, of his flesh and blood?" (see page 203, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth). Judaism had prohibitions on consuming blood, see Leviticus 17:10.

Items 16 and 22 are in conflict. Item 16 says that it is unlikely that John would have "invented" the story of Jewish believers wanting to stone Jesus (John 8:31-59); while Item 22 says that the positive depiction of the Jews comforting Martha and Mary is unlikely to be an invention (John 11:19). So when the Jews are portrayed in a good light, Turek and Geisler think that's unlikely to be an invention. When the Jews are portrayed in a bad light, Turek and Geisler think it's unlikely to be an invention. Heads I win, Tails you lose.

Item 45 says that the Jews exclaiming "We have no king but Caesar" is unlikely to be invented because the Jews hated Romans. What?!? The fact that we know there was animosity between the Jews and Romans means that it is highly implausible that such an exclamation was ever made. Telling implausible stories is not evidence that John was telling the truth; it's evidence that he was playing fast and loose with the facts, probably using his own prejudices and imagination more than reliable historical sources of information.

Item 47 says that John 19:17 is accurate because it was indeed customary for crucifixion victims to carry their own crosses, just as John says. Cool. The same reasoning chips away at the accuracy of Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:21, and Luke 23:26 which all say that Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus' cross for him.

On page 281, Geisler and Turek tell us that we can trust the New Testament because:

"If you were making up 'the Christian story' and trying to pass it off as the truth, wouldn't you simply make up more quotes from Jesus to convince stubborn people to see things your way? Think how convenient it would have been for them to end all debate on controversial issues such as circumcision, obeying the law of Moses, speaking in tongues, women in the church, and so forth by merely making up quotes from Jesus!"

But they did make up such quotes. Speaking in tongues is clearly advocated by Jesus in Mark 16:17, and scholars are in agreement that this verse is a forgery (Mark 16:9-20 is a later addition to gospel, as most bibles will tell you if you read the footnotes to that chapter, and as many scholars like Bart Ehrman have documented in numerous books such as Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus). A sampling of other examples of Jesus' words being made up to serve an agenda are revealed by Robert Price in The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Failspp.287-288.

I think I've said enough on this issue. Turek and Geisler are simply not reliable, and therefore anything they tell you has to be researched and confirmed by more reliable sources before you can believe what they say. I will now list some resources that will allow you to see to get the "other side of the story":

There was a debate that took place between one of the book's authors (Frank Turek) and atheist Richard Carrier. Carrier corrects Turek on many points and effectively refutes him.

The debate between Bart Ehrman and William Lane Craig (available on youtube and as a transcript) will help sort you out on the resurrection of Jesus, as will Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?

I have written a booked which addresses many of the arguments that Geisler and Turek give for God: Atheism and Naturalism

Talk Origins is a website which contains a vast amount of material that builds the case for evolution, addresses Turek and Geisler's arguments for creationism, and exposes out of context quotations (they misquote Stephen Jay Gould in their chapter on evolution).

The case against Christianity is effectively made in The End of Christianity(it also contains a couple of chapters on the resurrection, one on the argument from design, and much more, in addition to several strong arguments against the Christian faith).

1 comment:

John Myste said...

Excellent review. I look forward to the book.

If you submit this review to Mad Mike's America, I am pretty certain they will publish it, which would then be a huge amount of publicity for your upcoming book.

You could submit your request here:

I write for the site on occasion and I remember Mike recently saying he was looking for good book reviews.

Many writers on that site, including Mike himself, are atheists, so I think he would be especially appreciative of this specific review.