bookmark_borderGeisler’s Five Ways – Part 3: Just ONE Argument

Although, as I have previously argued, Geisler characterizes his case for God as consisting of multiple arguments for the existence of God,  this is a mischaracterization of his case for God.
 
Geisler’s case for God rests upon five claims, and he gives an argument for each  of those five claims, but each of those five claims plays a critical role in Geisler’s case.  If one of the five claims is false, then Geisler’s case for the existence of God FAILS.  Thus, Geisler’s case for God consists of just ONE argument, and the five claims function as premises in that ONE argument.
 
There are two main options for representing the logical relationship between the five claims (for which Geisler presents his five arguments) and the ultimate conclusion that “God exists”.  Based on Geisler’s characterization of his own case for God, one might well be tempted to think that his case consists of five arguments or five independent reasons for believing that God exists:

Five Arguments for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The last step of the argument is from premise (6) to the ultimate conlcusion (7):
 
(6) There currently exists a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, and this being is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.26 and p.28)
 
THEREFORE:
 
(7) God exists.
 
It is very tempting for Christian believers and Christian apologists to view a case for God this way, because on this view the believer has five chances to win.
 
On this view, if just ONE of the five arguments is a sound argument, then the case for God works.  On this view, even if each one of the five arguments is somewhat questionable (containing a premise of uncertain truth or an inference of uncertain validity), so long as each argument has some significant probability of being a sound argument, then there would be a good chance that at least ONE argument is sound, and thus there would be a good chance that the overall case for God works, and that God actually exists.
 
Unfortunately for Geisler and his Christian readers, this is NOT how the logic of Geisler’s case actually functions.  In reality, his case for God consists of just ONE argument that requires each of his five arguments to be sound in order for his case for the existence of God to be successful.  It is actually the skeptic who has five chances to win, because if just ONE of the five arguments is an unsound argument, then Geisler’s case for the existence of God FAILS.
 
Here is a diagram showing the actual logical structure (at a high level) of Geisler’s case for God:

One Argument for God
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The logic of Geisler’s ONE argument for the existence of God is a bit more complicated than what appears in the above diagram.  So, I am going to start laying out the details of the logic of his argument, so that we can evaluate an argument that is a clear and accurate representation of Geisler’s reasoning about the existence of God.

The first order of business is to specify and clarify the conclusions of Geisler’s five arguments.  Here are the conclusions in Geisler’s own words:

  1. Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, and this cause was God. (WSA, p.16)
  2. Therefore, there must be a first uncaused cause of every finite, changing thing that exists. (WSA, p.19)
  3. Therefore, there must be a Great Designer of the universe. (WSA, p. 20)
  4. Therefore, there must be a supreme moral Lawgiver.  (WSA, p.22)
  5. Therefore, if God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist. (WSA, p.25)

These conclusions need to be cleaned up and clarified, so that we have an accurate understanding of what they mean:

1a. The universe was caused to begin to exist (in the past) by at least one thing or being other than the universe (or some part or aspect of the universe) that existed prior to when the universe began to exist.
2a. There currently exists at least one uncaused cause for each finite, changing thing that currently exists.
3a. There existed (in the past) at least one Great Designer who designed some aspect of the universe
4a. There existed (in the past) at least one supreme Lawgiver of laws of morality.

Claim (5) is a bit tricky, because it appears to be ambiguous.  The ambiguous term in (5) is the word “God”, and I believe that Geisler commits the fallacy of equivocation in how he makes use of (5).  Here are the two different ways of interpreting (5):
5a. If there is or ever was a being that was God (i.e. “the most perfect Being possible”), then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.
5b. If there is or ever was a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.
If we interpret (5) as meaning the same as (5a), then this claim is irrelevant to Geisler’s case for God, because the antecedent of the conditional implies that “God exists now or God existed in the past” and none of Geisler’s other arguments show this to be the case.  So, (5a) cannot be used to infer any other claims, and it is thus useless in his case for the existence of God.
On the other hand, if we interpret (5) as meaning the same as (5b), then Geisler can use the conclusion (1a) from his first argument and combine it with (5b) to infer that the cause (or causes) of the beginning of the universe “must always exist and cannot not exist”, which might be helpful to his case for the existence of God.
The problem with (5b) is that it appears to be FALSE. We can conceive of a being that caused the universe to begin to exist but then, perhaps due to the exertion required for that great feat, ceased to exist. If this is a logical possibility, then (5b) is FALSE.  
In any case, Geisler has given us no good reason to believe that (5b) is true.  The argument for (5) goes like this (WSA, p.25):

If God exists, we conceive of Him as a necessary Being.

By definition, a necessary Being must exist and cannot not exist.
 
THEREFORE:
 
If God exists, then He must exist and cannot not exist.
As it stands, this argument is of no use to Geisler’s case for the existence of God, because he must FIRST prove that “God exists” in order to make use of the conclusion of this argument.  But if Geisler can prove that “God exists” with some other argument, then there is no need for this argument.  So, this argument is only of use to Geisler if the word “God” here is interpreted in the weak sense of something that caused the universe to begin to exist.  
 
Geisler believes that his first argument shows that “the universe was caused by something else”.  We need to rephrase the above argument to make the intended meanings of the premises and conclusion clear:
 
8. If there is or ever was a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, then we must conceive of that being as a necessary Being.
 
9.  By definition, a necessary Being must always exist and cannot not exist.
 
THEREFORE:
 
5b. If there is or ever was a being that caused the universe to begin to exist, then that being must always exist and cannot not exist.
 
The key premise (8) is FALSE.  We can conceive of something causing the universe to begin to exist which is NOT a necessary Being.  For example, we can conceive of a powerful angel causing the universe to begin to exist even though that angel was NOT a necessary Being.
 
So,  if the conclusion of the fifth argument is (5a), then the argument is irrelevant to Geisler’s case for God, but if the conclusion of the fifth argument is (5b), then it is relevant to his case for God, but the fifth argument would then be unsound, because it is based on a premise that is FALSE.  So, we have no good reason to believe that (5b) is true.
 
To be continued… 

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exist? Ehrman’s Complete Failure – Part 2

Existence vs. Basic Aspects/Attributes
“Did Jesus exist?” – What does this question mean?
Clarity is a gateway standard of critical thinking.  If you are UNCLEAR about the meaning of a question, then your thinking about that question will also be unclear, and your thinking will probably not be very useful or productive or logical so long as you remain UNCLEAR about the question at issue.
On the one hand, it is certain that there was no Jewish man who lived in Palestine in the first century  named “Jesus”.  That is because “Jesus” is a name in the English language, and the English language did not exist in the first century.  Question settled!  That was easy.
On the other hand, if the question is asking whether there was a Jewish man who lived in Palestine in the first century named “Yeshua” (in Aramaic), that question can also be answered with certainty.  Yes, there was such a man.  In fact, there were thousands of Jewish men who lived in Palestine in the first century named “Yeshua” (in Aramaic).  Aramaic was the language of Palestinian Jews in the first century, and “Yeshua” was a very common name at that time.  Question settled.  No need for further discussion.
Obviously, I have not really settled the question “Did Jesus exist?” here.  Clearly, the question is NOT merely asking whether there was a Jewish man by the name of “Yeshua” who lived in Palestine in the first century.  But if that is not what the question is asking, then what IS the question asking?  It turns out that it is not so easy to say what this question is asking.  So philosophy (or at least logic and critical thinking) has an important role to play, as it usually does, right from the start.  We need to clarify the meaning of the question “Did Jesus exist?”
One important failure of Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? (hereafter: DJE) is that Ehrman never asks this basic question of clarification:
What does the question “Did Jesus exist?” mean?
The clarity and quality of Ehrman’s thinking about the question “Did Jesus exist?” suffers because of this fundamental mistake.   Furthermore, because of his basic unclarity about the question at issue, Ehrman appears to make the same sort of blunder that was made by Thomas Aquinas when Aquinas discussed the question “Does God exist?”.
In Summa Theologica Aquinas attempts to first prove the existence of “God” and then he goes on to try to prove that God has various divine attributes.  Ehrman similarly thinks that the question of the existence of Jesus can be settled prior to showing that various basic aspects of the life of Jesus (as portrayed in the canonical gospels) are factual.   Here are some comments by Ehrman where he seems to treat these as two separate issues:
The reality is that whatever else you may think about Jesus, he certainly did exist. (DJE, p.4, emphasis added)
…a dispassionate consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist.  He may not have been the Jesus that your mother believes in or the Jesus of the stained-glass window or the Jesus of your least favorite televangelist or the Jesus proclaimed by the Vatican, the Southern Baptist Convention, the local megachurch, or the California Gnostic.  But he did exist, and we can say a few things, with relative certainty, about him.  (DJE, p.6, emphasis added)
[My goal is] to show that there really was a historical Jesus and that we can say certain things about him.  (DJE, p.37, emphasis added)
These [surviving Gospels] all attest to the existence of Jesus.  Moreover, these independent witnesses corroborate many of the same basic sets of data–for example, that Jesus not only lived but that he was a Jewish teacher who was crucified by the Romans at the instigation of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.  (DJE, p.92, emphasis added)
Would someone count as BEING “Jesus” if that person was not Jewish?  I don’t think so.  Would someone count as BEING “Jesus” if that person was not crucified by the Romans?  Probably not.  These “basic aspects” or attributes of Jesus seem to be more than just trivial claims about Jesus.  They seem to be a part of the meaning of the word “Jesus”, part of how we determine whether or not a particular person was in fact “Jesus”.
Aquinas and Ehrman both failed to recognize the need to DEFINE the thing that you want to talk about BEFORE attempting to prove that it exists.  This is a basic mistake in logic.
Knut Tranoy raises a serious objection against the way Aquinas approaches the question “Does God exist?”:
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” in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, p.110)
Tranoy sums up the logical principle this way:
Before we can try to prove anything at all we must, of course, have some idea of the nature or properties of the being whose existence we want to prove. 
(“Thomas Aquinas” in A Critical History of Western Philosophy, p.110)
In order to prove the existence of God, one must START with a definition of God, and this is commonly done by means of a list of key (or basic) divine attributes.  For example, here is a list of basic divine attributes that I use to clarify the meaning of the word “God”:

  • an eternally bodiless person
  • an eternally omnipotent person
  • an eternally omniscient person
  • an eternally perfectly morally good person
  • a person who is the creator of the universe

Ehrman never explains what he means by a “basic aspect” of the life of Jesus, but I suspect that the word “basic” here is leaning in the direction of “essential”.  In other words, some aspects of the life of Jesus are very important and central from the point of view of Christian faith, and other aspects of the life of Jesus are less important and less central from the point of view of Christian faith.  That Jesus was crucified by the Romans is a very important and cenral aspect of the life of Jesus from the point of view of the Christian faith.  That means that the “basic aspect” of Jesus being crucified by the Romans is a good candidate for being an essential attribute of Jesus.  In other words, this is an aspect or attribute that we could reasonably include in a DEFINITION of the meaning of the word “Jesus” for the purpose of clarifying the question “Did Jesus exist?”
But lots of Jewish men were crucified by the Romans in first century Palestine, so these basic attributes would not be sufficient by themselves to define the word “Jesus”, since the point is not to locate a whole GROUP of Jewish men, but to identify exaclty ONE particular Jewish man.  So, what we need, and what Ehrman failed to provide, is a clear definition of the word “Jesus” for the purpose of clarifying the question “Did Jesus exist?”, and that definition, in order to be plausible and useful, will need to specify several basic aspects or attributes, just like my definition of “God” specifies several basic attributes of  God, in order to clarify the question “Does God exist?”.
Because Ehrman never stops to clarify and define the word “Jesus”, he is UNCLEAR about the meaning of the qeustion “Did Jesus exist?”, and because he is UNCLEAR about the meaning of this question, he is in no position to think clearly about this question, and he is in no position to prove or to establish that it is the case that “Jesus” did exist.
I have some other serious objections to raise against Ehrman’s ABSIG argument (Agreements Between Seven Independent Gospels) for the existence of Jesus, but they will have to wait for another day.