March 11 2010

Washington Post article
July 3, 1993

For Christian Apologist, God Speaks in the Voice of Reason

by Carey Kinsolving

Norman Geisler never met an atheist he didn’t like. For 40 years he has read them, talked to them and debated them. Academic atheists remain the favorite on his intellectual menu because he’s never known one who didn’t condemn the Holocaust as a moral abomination. And therein lies their fatal intellectual flaw, according to Geisler.

“How would you know that the Holocaust is ultimately wrong unless you knew what was ultimately right?” Geisler asked. “If you don’t have an absolute standard for right, you can’t say that (the Holocaust) is absolutely wrong. That’s just your opinion, and somebody else’s opinion could be, the Holocaust was the best thing in the history of mankind.”

To those who say that everything is relative, and there are no moral absolutes, Geisler said, “You can’t make everything relative unless you’re standing on the pinnacle of your own absolute.”

Such are the logical and moral conundrums with which Geisler, dean of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., stands ready to engage all skeptics. At the recent weekend seminar held at McLean Bible Church under the auspices of the Log College, Geisler cited the scripture that he said gives Christians a mandate to use intellectual vigor in dealing with skeptics.

“Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (I Peter 3:15) The word “defense” comes from the Greek “apologia,” meaning “a speech for the defense.”

Geisler said he became a Christian on a Sunday during his senior year in high school. The next day he was knocking on doors with a more experienced Christian telling people about Jesus. A street meeting, a jail service and a visit to the local rescue mission filled in the rest of the week.

“Everybody had me twisted up in knots,” Geisler recalled. He remembered one incident where a drunk staggered up to him, took the Bible out of his hand and said he shouldn’t tell anyone about his new-found faith because Jesus said, “Go and tell no man.” (Luke 5:14)

“I didn’t know what to say,” Geisler said. But eventually, he found answers. So much so that he is considered the foremost Christian apologist by many of his academic colleagues. He has served on the faculty of two seminaries and holds a doctorate in philosophy from Loyola University in Chicago and a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School in Wheaton, Ill.

Although Geisler has sterling academic credentials and 35 books to his credit, he is best known for his debating skills, which began to be honed as an undergraduate at Wayne State University in Detroit. He related a time when one of his professors said there are no absolute moral principles and advocated replacing the Ten Commandments with two commandments: “Be tolerant and be intelligent.”

The professor then said that the reason Christians are not intelligent is because they are not commanded to be. Geisler couldn’t resist. He raised his hand and asked, “Are your commandments relative or absolute?”

After a long pause, the professor said, “I suppose you should be tolerant to everyone except to those who are intolerant.” Geisler said he didn’t have the heart to ask the professor if you should be intelligent to everyone except the unintelligent.

Geisler said the professor stole his two commandments from the Bible. The First Commandment says to love God with all your heart, “mind,” and soul. Geisler noted the Bible doesn’t command tolerance because it is too weak. The Bible advocates reaching out to people with love and compassion, which go beyond toleration.

In one of his more recent books, “When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences,” Geisler noted that skeptics have heard only the questions and believe that there are no answers. But Christianity has some great answers to their questions and that means “reality will always be on our side,” Geisler wrote.

Geisler’s arguments and illustrations for the existence of God are user-friendly. One of them begins on the kitchen table. He argues that if it is unreasonable to expect a six-word sentence to be formed by knocking over a box of alphabet cereal, then it is infinitely more unreasonable to expect a complex human brain to evolve by natural law.

Another illustration: Suppose one is walking along the seashore and notices smooth rocks tumbling in the surf. It’s reasonable to conclude that the smooth surfaces were produced by the sea’s ebb and flow. However, if one finds an arrowhead in the sand, the reasonable person would conclude that nature did not produce the arrowhead’s sharp, pointed surfaces. Such is the rationale for “specified complexity” that some atheistic scientists constantly violate, Geisler said.

“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” Geisler said in summing up his argument on causality and regularity.

Science is built, he said, on the belief of the principle of regularity, and nature’s custom is toward dissipation rather than increased complexity. He surmised that even if a scientist produces life in a test tube one day, it will prove one thing: “It takes a highly intelligent being to create ‘specified complexity.’”

“Atheism,” Geisler concluded, “is not an intellectual problem, but a moral problem.” He cited Romans 1:18, where the apostle Paul wrote that people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Larry Butler said he attended Geisler’s seminar because “we live in a post-Christian era,” where people believe in different concepts of God. “My job as a Christian, as one who goes out and talks to people, is to give that God a face, a name and to help them to see there’s only one true God.”

Barry Leventhal studied under Geisler as a doctoral student at Dallas Theological Seminary. He started the Log College nine years ago because he saw a need for lay people to receive seminary-level training. The school, which meets on evenings and weekends at McLean Bible Church, draws its name from a school that met in a log cabin to train ministers. That school eventually became Princeton University.

For would-be defenders of the faith, the Socratic dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” represents a noble and worthy idea. But if Geisler had his way, every Christian would live by a slightly altered version: “The unexamined faith is not worth believing.”