Christian Apologetics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman.  Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

When I sat down to write this review, I debated on how I would classify it among apologetics textbooks.  It is certainly more useful than Sproul’s Classical Apologetics, but it is not as good as his more popular Defending Your Faith. Parts of it are quite technical, and there is much repetition from his earlier works.  On some sections, though, Geisler reigns supreme.

Part 1: Methodology

Skepticism:  Hume said all meaningful propositions are reducible to two kinds: definitional (think mathematical) or empirical.  Moreover, for Hume causality is based on custom, which comes from sense experience. From here God-talk moved to Kant’s practical agnosticism to logical positivism and to the literal dead end of Wittgenstein’s silence.

A new update to this volume is the section on Postmodernism.  

Evaluation of agnosticism.  It is self-defeating.  It says one can know enough about God (or reality) to know that we can’t know God (or reality).  Geisler points out that if someone grants the premise that we can know reality, but not an infinite God, the conversation moves to a different field.  It’s no longer complete agnosticism.  Now the question focuses around whether God is finite or infinite, personal or impersonal.

Pace Hume, if everything were separate and disconnected as his atomism said, then he couldn’t make that statement for the affirmation of that statement since it implies some unity of meaning.  Furthermore, his attack on analogy doesn’t work.  The Law of Analogy will always hold.  To reiterate what Geisler said: an effect is similar to its cause (B → b). “The cause cannot give what it doesn’t have.”  If someone were to deny this, he would have to deny all similarity.  This cannot work because “unless there were some knowledge of the cause, there would be no basis for denying any similarity.”

Pace Kant, his statement comes down to we can’t know ultimate reality except that one facet of ultimate reality.  He must already have knowledge of ultimate reality to say we can’t know it.

Pace Wittgenstein, it is self-defeating to express that the inexpressible can’t be expressed.

Criticisms of Religious Fideism

1) Confuses belief *in* God with belief *that* God exists. There is a difference between belief in God and supports for that belief in God.


Polytheism can be anything from Hinduism to Mormonism to Wicca. Of interest is the Mormon claim that each God was begotten by another God.  If this is in fact what they teach, then it is open to the same attacks made on finite godism.

Plotinus, himself probably not a monotheist, has an argument that works well against the idea of many gods.  All plurality presupposes a prior unity. “Thus many gods are not self-explanatory. What is the basis of their unity?”  Pace Mormonism, there cannot be an endless series of many gods begetting other gods.  We can’t say we were always here, for that violates the law of causality.  If the universe isn’t eternal, then these lesser gods aren’t eternal. If they came into existence, they are just creatures.



The only interesting criticism atheism has is whether the ontological argument backfires.  Are existence statements necessary?  Atheists say no.  We can turn it around: is the statement “no existence statements are necessary” a necessary truth or not?

Another problem that comes up here and also with pantheism (and also to some criticisms of divine simplicity) is whether God’s being a necessary being makes creation necessary.  Geisler responds: the only thing a necessary being must will is the necessity of his own nature.


Geisler has an extended, almost overwhelming, point-by-point case for theism.  There is no way I can cover it here.  Here are some links.

It is worth noting some Christian conclusions from his case on being. If God is a necessary being, then:

  1. He is changeless. What has potentiality can change.
  2. He is non-temporal.  Space and time measure positions of change.
  3. There is only one necessary existence. If there were two Pure Acts, then they would have to have some real potentiality for change, otherwise they would be identical.  If they were identical, then they would be the same thing.  Yet, a necessary being cannot have potential; therefore, there is only one.
  4. Such an existence is simple.  Something that has parts would have to have a greater something to put those parts together.
  5. Similar arguments can be used to prove the infinite and uncaused nature.

We are not at Christian theism yet.  We are getting close.  Such a God above is ultimate. Failure to worship this God at the very least is idolatry, since you are not giving ultimate commitment to the ultimate.

The final section of the book is a series of test cases on Christian theism.  Of most importance is the defense of miracles.  Pace Hume, past regularity does not rule out a future singularity.

Moreover, miracles do not attack science.  Not all science is empirical science.  Forensic science, for example, involves proleptic leaps to the unknown. Forensic science cannot test things in a lab.

Miracles occur in the natural world, but they are not of the natural world.  The phrase “all events that are natural occur in the natural world” cannot be converted into “all events that occur in the natural world are natural.”


This is not the first apologetics book I would recommend.  It is not even the first book by Geisler I would recommend.  The careful student is urged to study his Introduction to Philosophy before diving into this work.


On the Nature of Things (Lucretius)

Lucretius. On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura). trans. Anthony Esolen. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 

Modern atheism has fallen on hard times.  No atheist today can probably play on the level of Lucretius, either in intellect or literary skill (tips fedora).  Lucretius’s power of communication and imagination is sheer genius.  His science is laughably bad, though to be fair he couldn’t have known any better.

Esolen’s translation is a delight.  He is aware of the pacing and rhythm and keeps the English close to the original.  He also provides outlines of each book. 

Book 1.

Nature is matter + the void.  

He holds to the eternality of matter or at least of time: “For infinite time has gone and the lapse of days must have eaten up all things which are of mortal body.”  His point is that nature dissolves everything.  His reasoning for it is atrocious.  If infinite time has indeed gone by, then there must have been an infinite number of days before today, in which case we would never get to today.

He links his doctrine of motion with an ever-present void in all things.  Nature, therefore, is a combination of bodies and void. While he believes matter is dissolved, he doesn’t believe it is annihilated.  It returns to a “first-beginning” of solid singleness.

Side note:  matter comes from materia, which comes from mater, mother.  Of course, etymological arguments are usually worse than useless, but this is fascinating. It sees matter as the unformed potential of all things.  Matter in his ontology functions like a mother, who gives birth.

Book 2

Lucretius summarizes his previous metaphysical musings. His problem is in finding a way that matter can produce movement without some supervening cause (lines 62ff). As atoms travel through the void, they bump into each other and these bumps move into the opposition direction.  That appears to be true, but it doesn’t explain why they started to move.

He defines velocity as the particles’ slowing down in the void as a result of “getting entangled” with air waves.  Again, Lucretius comes very close to anticipating modern science, but he almost always gets it wrong.  Imagine, he almost discovered quantum entanglement!

While Lucretius doesn’t explicitly attack the concept of aether, the idea is there.  He says the sun (or light) is slowed down as it moves by the “atoms.”  The important point is that it doesn’t move in a vacuum (lines 151ff).

In a famous passage Lucretius says there is an infinite number of atoms which exist in a number of finite shapes or molds (525-529).  

Book 3

Book 3 deals with the soul.  The soul is mortal. It is conjoined with physical particles and when the particles die, the soul dies.  Lucretius is not a strict materialist on this point, though, as he emphatically asserts the existence of the mind.  He is what later writers would call a “property dualist.” Mind isn’t the same thing as matter, yet it supervenes and depends on matter.

Unfortunately, Lucretius’s target is Plato’s doctrine of reincarnation.  He ridicules it and rightly so, but as he seemed to be unaware of biblical revelation, he doesn’t deal with stronger arguments for the immateriality of the soul.  That’s a shame, too, because he seemed to anticipate the same criticisms made of Descartes. The “tight conjoining” of body and soul is very close to Hebraic thought.  

By the time we get to books five and six, Lucretius’s argument had come upon hard times.  Whenever a perplexing issue arises, he responds with “the atoms did it.”  That’s the danger in reductionist philosophies. After you have reduced everything, you don’t have much left to talk about.


It’s easy to make fun of Lucretius’s argument.  From a scientific point of view it is complete nonsense.  We have to give him some credit, though.  Unlike some Greek thinkers, Lucretius took nature seriously.  He investigated the particulars of nature rather than forcing science into some deductive grid.

And while Lucretius was an atheist, his atheism was preferable to Mediterranean polytheism. Pagan mythologies often came close to magic sex religions.  Lucretius was wise to choose reason instead.  For example, “Their ignorance of causes makes them yield/All power and rule to those divinities./These rational causes they cannot discern/So they suppose it’s all the will of the gods” (VI: 55ff).

Bertrand Russell: History of Western Philosophy

This book is vintage Russell: exceptionally written yet cheerfully oblivious to his own blind spots. As far as one volume summaries of philosophy go, this is probably the best–not because he faithfully explicates opposing viewpoints from an objective position; he does no such thing. Rather, he *tells* a story and tells it well. Most reviewers will urge a reader to buy (or not buy) a book based on its merits (or not buy based on its flaws). I take the opposite position–buy the book because of the parts with which you will disagree.

Russell’s book is a snapshot in some ways of the waning debate between the Anglo-Analytic school of philosophy and the Continental European school. Russell’s rejection of most Continental philosophers can be seen in his (admittedly charitable) rejection of Spinoza, “The whole of this metaphysic is impossible to accept; it is contradicted by modern logic and with scientific method. Facts have to be discovered by observation, not with reason” (578). The problem is that final sentence itself, which Russell takes to be axiomatic (note the irony!!!), is itself unverifiable by the scientific method.

I think Russell is sort of aware of this critique when he interacts with E. A. Burk’s critique of scientism. Russell tries to respond, “It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but the how and why he he believes. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence” (527). We should note two things by way of response: 1) Russell misunderstands the charge. We are not critiquing Copernicus’s scientific methods simply because he had open mathematical errors in his formulations. That’s not the issue at stake; rather, 2) the claim that Russell advances–scientists are not dogmatic but simply follow the “evidence” is itself a claim that is not verifiable by observation and evidence. It is accepted a priori.

Anyway, the book ends with a stunning conclusion that the history of philosophy has climaxed, not with Hegel, but with…you guessed it…Russell! Okay, that might be a bit much. Russell is in fact arguing that modern logical analysis is superior to all other systems because of various reasons which the getting into would make this review way too long. In this chapter Russell finally seems aware that most of his ability to think and write is based off of presuppositions which are beyond the realm of sense experience (thus negate about 600 pages of this book). He then proposes that modern logical analysis seeks to dethrone mathematics from its pedestal of Platonic ideals and place it more in the realm of sense experience, except he admits this can’t be done. In order to salvage his project, he says that mathematical knowledge is “verbal knowledge” (832). That’s interesting because it places the argument into the “communal ethics” school ala Alasdair MacIntyre.

There is a good section on George Cantor and actual/possible infinites.


It’s a fine book and used copies can be found literally for a few dollars. In order to really appreciate this book, though, one needs to read a few short bios on Russell. The best one is by Paul Johnson, who admittedly has an axe to grind. For example, Russell was a pacifist yet after WWII he urged the Allied leaders to nuke Moscow, thus preventing a nuclear arms race! That makes sense…I guess. If you don’t think about it. Anyway, a fun rea

Hobbes: Leviathan


In the beginning of his treatise Hobbes stays very close to the “Received Tradition.” He does make some troubling moves, though, and quite subtlely. He rejects the idea of a “Summum Bonum.” His definition of natural law leaves out any reference to the eternal law or the mind of God. He views liberty as a zero-sum game.

Key themes:

Anthropology: Hobbes begins with anthropology, and his politics are logical inferences from it. Hobbes defines a “Body” as that which occupies space. Substance is matter, synonymous with body. The soul is simply the body living. He specifically rejects the idea that the soul is distinct from the body (639). Hobbes has defined man in purely material terms.

Not surprisingly, Hobbes rejects free agency. Liberty and necessity are the same thing: what a man does he freely does. Yet every act of man has a desire, and so a cause. And from that another cause, all the way back to the First Cause. This appears to be Jonathan Edwards’ view as well.

Social Contract: before the institution of the commonwealth, every man had a right to everything and by any means to preserve his own (354). This means that the State can never make an unjust law.
P1: Justice is when two agree to an exchange (if you didn’t agree, you wouldn’t do the exchange).
P2: You agreed to invest the state with authority (social contract).
Therefore, any law the state makes automatically has your agreement.

Zero-Sum ethics: Hobbes holds that what is mine cannot be yours; if the state has liberty, then the subject to that degree cannot. Since there is no summum bonum, there can be no sharing in the ultimate good. This, plain and simple, is the economics of Hell. Hobbes is not a pure capitalist, though. He argues elsewhere against private charity and for state welfare (387).

Religious Persecution

Hobbes argues that religious persecution is impossible, since 1) the state can’t do wrong, and 2) only martyrs can be persecuted. Further (2a) a person can only be a martyr if they have seen the risen Jesus, which rules out everyone after the Apostle John. Therefore, no one today can be a martyr. Keep in mind that thousands of Scottish Covenanters were being butchered on the basis of Hobbes’ argument. This reminds me of a time at RTS when a local Reformed pastor came in the book store and told me that he held to Hobbes’s view of the state. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to end up in a FEMA camp.


My critique will follow Dabney’s (The Sensualistic Philosophy, pp. 15-20). Hobbes has to pay a high price for his materialism. If everything reduces to sensation, then whence come numbers, mind, any correspondence between my mind and the external world, all a priori judgments, logic, and abstract entities?

If everything is sensation, then what unites the sensations? (Hume’s famous line “a bundle of sensations”) Hobbes would have to answer yet another sensation. But what unites that sensation to the previous sensations? Ad infinitum. If Hobbes bites the bullet and rejects the need for a unity, then he needs to give up concepts like identity (and probably the concept of “concept” itself). This is the fatal consequence in rejecting philosophical realism. Hobbes is split between the One and the Many. His power-state collapses everything into the One, yet his nominalism reduces everything to an aggregate of an unconnected Many.


I give the book 1 star for its demonic content and 5 stars for its influence. Indeed, rebutting Hobbes is like casting down demonic strongholds (2 Corinthians 10). It’s fairly easy to read and there is no mistaking its influence (the “Father of Political Science”)