In Chapter 2 of When Skeptics Ask (hereafter: WSA), Norman Geisler appears to present five different arguments for the existence of God. However, there are some significant problems with this characterization of Geisler’s case for God.
NONE of the five arguments end with the conclusion that “God exists”. In fact, only his first argument even mentions the word “God”, and it is precisely the reference to “God” in the conclusion of his first argument that makes that argument logically invalid! So, if we correct the logic of the first argument, and remove the reference to “God” in it’s conclusion, then there is no mention of “God” anywhere in any of Geisler’s five arguments. There is no mention of “God” in the premises of any of the five arguments presented by Geisler, and there is no mention of “God” in the conclusions of his arguments, with the exception of the first argument.
How can Geisler present five arguments for the existence of God, and yet NONE of the arguments ends with the conclusion that “God exists”? This is bizzarre. This is absurd. This is ridiculous. What the hell is going on here?
Geisler is a professional philosopher who has specialized in the philosophy of religion and in Christian apologetics, and he has been writing books defending basic Christian beliefs for decades. I remember reading his book Christian Apologetics in the early 1980’s, and that book was originally published in 1976. He earned his PhD in Philosophy in 1970. Here is a blurb on Geisler from his website:
Dr. Norman Geisler, PhD, is a prolific author, veteran professor, speaker, lecturer, traveler, philosopher, apologist, evangelist, and theologian. To those who ask, “Who is Norm Geisler?” some have suggested, “Imagine a cross between Thomas Aquinas and Billy Graham and you’re not too far off.”
Norm has authored or co-authored over 100 books and hundreds of articles. He has taught theology, philosophy, and apologetics on the college or graduate level for over 50 years. He has served as a professor at some of the finest Seminaries in the United States, including Trinity Evangelical Seminary, and Dallas Theological Seminary. He now lends his talents to Veritas Evangelical Seminary and to Southern Evangelical Seminary.
Geisler is well-educated, well-informed, has a PhD in philosophy, and has been writing and lecturing on philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics since at least the 1970’s. So, how can it be that he thinks he is presenting five arguments for the existence of God, and yet ZERO of the arguments that he gives end with the conclusion that “God exists”?
One might doubt the claim that Geisler thinks he is presenting five arguments for the existence of God, but there is good reason to believe this is in fact, how he views his own case for God:
- The first section of of Chapter 2 is labelled “Does God Exist?” (WSA, p.15). The five arguments are presented in this section, indicating that these arguments settle the question about the existence of God, in Geisler’s view.
- The first sub-section in that first section is labelled “Arguments for the Existence of God” (WSA, p.15) Note that Geisler uses the plural “Arguments” not the singular term “Argument”. The five arguments are presented in this sub-section, indicating that each one of the five arguments is believed to be an argument “for the existence of God”.
- The opening sentence of this sub-section states that there have “traditionally been four basic arguments used to prove God’s existence.” (WSA, p.15). Geisler then goes on to present his five arguments in terms of these four basic types of argument; he gives two “forms” of cosmological argument (or what he calls “the Argument from Creation”) and one argument for each of the remaining three types of argument.
- In describing the history of “the Argument from Creation” (his term for cosmological arguments), Geisler states that this argument is “the most widely noted argument for God’s existence” (WSA, p.16). This is a clear indication that each one of the “Arguments from Creation” presented by Geisler is thought to be an argument “for God’s existence”.
- In describing the history of “the Moral Argument” Geisler mentions that Kant “rejected all of the traditional arguments for God’s existence.” (WSA, p.22). Note the use of the plural “traditional arguments” and that these were arguments “for God’s existence”. This parallels nicely with the idea that Geisler is presenting a number of “arguments” which are arguments “for God’s existence”. This is an echo of Geisler’s intial statement that there have “traditionally been four basic arguments used to prove God’s existence.” (WSA, p.15).
- In describing the history of “the Moral Argument” Geisler mentions that this argument has been refined “to show that there is a rational basis for God’s existence to be found in morality.” (WSA, p.22). This is an indication that Geisler believes that “the Moral Argument” can be used as a stand-alone argument to show that God exists.
Finally, Geisler is a Thomist. He was clearly influenced by the philosophy of religion of Thomas Aquinas, and Aquinas is generally believed to have presented five different arguments for the existence of God. Geisler does not stick with the five arguments used by Aquinas, but he does use at least a couple of Aquinas’s Five Ways, and he also sticks with presenting five brief arguments, just like in Aquinas’s (alleged) case for God.
Thus, there are several good reasons to conclude that Geisler believed he was presenting five different arguments for the existence of God, and yet we have the very odd fact that NONE of these arguments ends with the conclusion that “God exists”. How can this be?
One big clue comes when Geisler discusses the second argument, which is Geisler’s version of a cosmological argument by Aquinas:
This argument shows why there must be a present, conserving cause of the world, but it doesn’t tell us very much about what kind of God exists. How do we know that this is really the God of the Bible? (WSA, p.19, emphasis added)
This is a fairly clear indication that Geisler is working with at least two different senses of the word “God”. Geisler thinks that his second cosmological argument proves the existence of “God” (in one sense) but does NOT prove the existence of “the God of the Bible”. He believes that the second cosmological argument proves the existence of some sort of “God” but not the existence of some other sort of “God”.
But this is very confusing. What kind of “God” does Geisler think his second argument proves? and how is that kind of “God” different from the “God” of the Bible? Furthermore, what sort of “God” does Geisler think his first argument proves to exist? Does the first argument prove the existence of the “God” of the Bible or some other kind of “God”? If it only proves the existence of some other kind of “God” is that other kind the same as the other kind of God proven by the second argument or is the other sort of “God” proven by the first argument different from both the “God” proven by the second argument and different from the “God” of the Bible as well? Is there a third sense of the word “God” that is in play in the claim that the first argument proves the existence of “God”? Are we now dealing with three different senses of the word “God”?
The same questions apply to each of the other arguments as well. There is clearly an ambiguity in the way that Geisler uses the word “God”, but since he failed to provide any definition of the word “God”, we are at a loss to know what the hell he is talking about.
In spite of the great potential for confusion from using the word “God” in two or three different senses, Geisler never bothers to provide a definition of any sense of the word “God”. However, based on some additional reasoning and arguments that Geisler presents, it becomes fairly clear what he means when he speaks of the “God” of the Bible. We will return to this point in a moment.
Geisler admits that there is a problem with considering his five arguments individually, as separate and independent arguments, and he suggests that we must somehow combine the five arguments together in order to arrive at the conclusion that “the God of the Bible” exists:
But what if we can combine all of these arguments into a cohesive whole that proves what kind of being God is as well as His existence? That is what we will do in the following pages.
If we want to show that God exists and that He is the God of the Bible, then we need to show that all of the things in the arguments we mentioned are true. Each one contributes something to our knowledge of God and, taken together, they form a picture that can only fit the one true God. (WSA, p.26, emphasis added)
Why bother to “combine all of the arguments”? If Geisler has previously proven the existence of God four or five times, isn’t that enough? In mathematics and in logic, you only need to give ONE proof and you are done. Geisler gives five arguments, and then he continues on with some new hybrid argument that attempts to combine the previous five arguments “into a cohesive whole”. Why not just quit after proving the existence of God four or five times?
Clearly, Geisler believes that his five arguments are NOT enough to prove that the “God” of the Bible exists. That is because the five arguments prove the existence of “God” in some other sense (or senses) of the word, a sense (or senses) of the word that Geisler fails to explain or define.
But it is clear what Geisler does think that he ends up proving with his combination of the five arguments “into a cohesive whole”, and so this gives us a fairly clear indication of what it is that he means by the “God” of the Bible:
We have said that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, infinite, uncreated, unchanging, eternal, and omnipresent. (WSA, p.28)
We can construct a definition of the word “God” in accordance with the sort of “God” that Geisler thinks he has shown to exist:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:
- X is all-powerful, and
- X is all-knowing, and
- X is all-good, and
- X is infinite, and
- X is uncreated, and
- X is unchanging, and
- X is eternal, and
- X is omnipresent.
Geisler admits that his first argument does NOT prove the existence of such a “God”, and that his second argument does NOT prove the existence of such a “God”, and that his third argument does NOT prove the existence of such a “God”, and that his fourth argument does NOT prove the existence of such a “God”, and that his fifth argument doe NOT prove the existence of such a “God”.
Geisler admits that NONE of his five arguments is sufficient by itself to establish the existence of “God” in this sense of the word, which is (more or less) the ordinary sense of the word as used in the context of the Christian faith, Christian theology, and Christian-dominated cultures.
But then, what sort of “God” do his five arguments prove exists? Geisler does not bother to spell this out, so we have to try to guess at what he means by the word “God” in this context. In Geisler’s “combined” argument, he begins by using the cosmological arguments, his first two arguments, to prove that there is a being that caused the universe to begin to exist and to show that this being is very powerful (WSA, p.26).
Geisler then uses his argument from design to show that:
…whatever caused the universe not only had great power, but also great intelligence. (WSA, p.26)
What connects these two arguments together is the idea of “whatever caused the universe” to begin to exist. So, it would appear that the “God” that is proven to exist by the first argument is simply “whatever caused the universe” to begin to exist:
X is God IF AND ONLY IF:
X caused the universe to begin to exist.
But if this is what is meant by “God” in relation to what the five arguments can prove by themselves, individually, then it is still the case that most of the five arguments (with the possible exception of the first argument) FAIL to prove that “God” exists, even in this weak sense of the word.
The second cosmological argument allegedly shows the existence of a current sustaining cause of the universe, but this does not imply that the universe began to exist. It is conceivable that the universe has always existed and that the sustaining cause has always caused the universe to continue to exist. (Avoiding the issue of whether the universe began to exist was precisely the reason that Aquinas favored this second cosmological argument and rejected the cosmological argument that Geisler gives as his first argument for “God”). If the universe has always existed, then there is no X that caused the universe to begin to exist, so the truth of the conclusion of the second cosmological argument is compatible with there being no “God”, in the sense of something that “caused the universe to begin to exist”.
Geisler’s third argument allegedly proves the existence of a designer of the universe. A designer of the universe is not necessarily the cause of the existence of the universe. The universe could have always existed, and at some point an intelligent being organized the matter of the universe into something like its present form. In that case, there would be a designer, but no creator and no cause of the universe coming into existence.
A moral lawgiver need not be the cause of the existence of the universe. So, proving the existence of a supreme moral lawgiver FAILS to prove that “God” exists, in the sense of proving the existence of something that caused the universe to come into being.
Geisler admits that the fifth argument, an ontological argument, “fails to show that God actually exists.” (p.25) It is clear that by “God” here he means the weak sense of the word “God” (not the “God” of the Bible). So, argument number five is also a failure.
All of these failures of the five arguments to prove that “God exists” would have been evident from the start if Geisler had simply bothered to define the word “God” before presenting his five arguments, and if he had actually constructed clear arguments that ended with the conclusion that “God exists”.