Geisler’s evangelistic questions for atheists.

A shorter version of Geisler’s “evangelism.”

Apparently there is this book called Conversational Evangelism, written to help Christians fool non-Christians into believing in God (which is pretty much all that evangelism is). Norman Geisler, author of the book, explains what evangelism is:

Evangelism is every day and in every way helping your nonbelieving friends to take one step closer to Jesus Christ…

[W]e should do all we can to make our manner of communicating the Gospel as inoffensive as possible even if the message of our Gospel may be offensive to some.

The role of the evangelist is fundamentally one of manipulation. Evangelists will lie openly if they can get away with it, and covertly if they cannot. In all cases, their objective remains to enforce agreement with the inter-subjective beliefs of their particular brand of Christianity.

One particular device that Geisler promotes in his book is to use questions against unbelievers, and he provides lists of questions for different categories such as atheists, agnostics, Islamists, Hindus, Buddhists, and so on.

Questions are a fairly common device in evangelism, because they are a more subtle form of manipulation. Asking someone a question seems open-minded and seems to give the freedom to the answerer. But evangelists, like any other marketing peddler, use leading questions in order to entrap the answerer (“wouldn’t you want the best possible product for your home?”).

In doing so, however, they must assume that the answerer is ignorant. This is why their questions look so imbecilic to atheists who actually understand the premises of the questions. I will examine Geisler’s proposed questions for atheists one by one and expose the manipulation underlying them.

1. Are you absolutely sure there is no God? If not, then is it not possible that there is a God? And if it is possible that God exists, then can you think of any reason that would keep you from wanting to look at the evidence?

Most atheists want to show themselves as being “open-minded” to the possibility of God existing and don’t want to appear dogmatic. Geisler knows this and tries to appeal to this feeling in order to get them on a slippery slope.

Once the atheist admits that it is possible that God exists, he then tries to put Christianity’s foot in the door by exploiting the atheist’s imagination. Of course one can imagine reasons that would keep one from looking at evidence, but that doesn’t mean those reasons are actually true. This is a very insidious technique that will inevitably lower the atheist’s confidence. Once you’ve poisoned the well, so to speak, you can move on to the next questions…

2. Would you agree that intelligently designed things call for an intelligent designer of them? If so, then would you agree that evidence for intelligent design in the universe would be evidence for a designer of the universe?

Again with the hypothetical questions (this one can basically be reduced to “but what if you were wrong? wouldn’t you be wrong then?”). He is preying on people’s imagination. Sure, if there was evidence for intelligent design, then it would be evidence for an intelligent designer. But no such evidence exists. You will note that presenting evidence is not Geisler’s game here: he’s doing evangelism, not apologetics; as such, his concern is in attacking the confidence of the atheist and, ultimately, the efficacy of the human mind (observe the latter especially in questions 4, 5 and 10).

3. Would you agree that nothing cannot produce something? If so, then if the universe did not exist but then came to exist, wouldn’t this be evidence of a cause beyond the universe?

Again with the hypotheticals. I think Geisler is trying to bank on some atheists’ ignorance, hoping that some believe that the universe came to exist or that there is evidence for intelligent design. Apart from that, I think my answer on question 2 pretty much addresses this one too, since it’s the exact same tactic. Nothing is actually being argued or proposed: it’s pure manipulation.

4. Would you agree with me that just because we cannot see something with our eyes—such as our mind, gravity, magnetism, the wind—that does not mean it doesn’t exist?

This is Geisler’s first use of what could be called anti-epistemic tactics, not telling us how to know but telling us that our means of knowing are flawed. How else can we know that something exists unless we can perceive evidence of it in some fashion with our senses? To deny the senses is to “cut one’s own head.”

Geisler is using the time-honored tactic of attacking the senses (your senses are flawed) in order to validate nihilism (you really can’t know anything!) and then have God spring out of his box and “rescue” us from this benighted state (truth comes from God). The trouble is that his basic premise is wrong. We perceive our own minds. We perceive the effects of gravity and magnetism. We can feel the wind. These are all sensory methods.

But with this attack, he is setting up the next question. We can observe now that these questions are not meant to be used in isolation but are actually a progression: first Geisler uses hypothetical questions to sow some doubt, then he launches into an attack on the senses. Later he will use these as a springboard into more specific questions.

5. Would you also agree that just because we cannot see God with our eyes does not necessarily mean He doesn’t exist?

This is merely a rehashing of question 4. Note how again Geisler is manipulating people’s desire to be “reasonable” and “open-minded” by forcing them to agree. No one likes to contradict other people and not go along, not in a normal conversation; remember these questions are to be used in informal settings, which makes it a lot easier to manipulate people because our guards are down and we’re thinking about being polite more than anything else. Geisler aims first and foremost to get the atheist to admit that God could exist through the imagination, and then, starting with the next question, he’s gonna start skirting apologetics to drive the point home.

6. In the light of the big bang evidence for the origin of the universe, is it more reasonable to believe that no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing?

You see here that Geisler is “inspired” by the Kalam argument. But his reformulation is confusing, probably on purpose. It makes no logical sense to say that “no one created something,” and the strange formulation will lead the naive answerer to pick the second option, thereby making it seem as if the Christian has a point. The aim here is clearly to deceive (what “big bang evidence”? how can “no one” create something?) and to trap the atheist in a false dilemma (how can anything come out of nothing, whether it was made by “someone” or not?).

7. Would you agree that something presently exists? If something presently exists, and something cannot come from nothing, then would you also agree that something must have always existed?

There is nothing wrong per se with this question, but it follows the progression, because it primes the atheist to think about God, and so does the word “somebody” in the previous question. The only criticism I would have of his tactic here is that this question should come earlier: the next question will resume the pseudo-apologetics approach.

8. If it takes an intelligent being to produce an encyclopedia, then would it not also take an intelligent being to produce the equivalent of 1000 sets of an encyclopedia full of information in the first one-celled animal? (Even atheists such as Richard Dawkins acknowledges that “amoebas have as much information in their DNA as 1000 Encyclopaedia Britannicas.” Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: WW. Norton and Co., 1996), 116.)

First of all, I don’t believe it should take an intelligent being to produce an encyclopedia; an AI should be able to do the job just as well, given all the information already available on the Internet.

But besides that, the deception is in the second half of the question. Geisler is now “inspired” by Creationists, who claim that evolution says that the cell was the first organism. But this is a straightforward lie. No evolutionist says that cells, which are ridiculously complicated and themselves the result of an integration of numerous organisms over a long period of time, were the first organisms.

I think here that Geisler is counting on the fact that evolution is hardly taught in the United States and expects atheists to be ignorant that he is telling them a lie. This shows you, if you were not convinced yet, that Geisler’s method is fundamentally dishonest.

9. If an effect cannot be greater than its cause (since you can’t give what you do not have to give), then does it not make more sense that mind produced matter than that matter produced mind, as atheists say?

An interesting point to raise on this question is that this strange expression “an effect cannot be greater than its cause” only comes up in apologetics. It sounds scientific, but it’s not. How are we supposed to measure “greater”? “Greater” how? In size? In force? In complexity? How is any of this to be measured?

That being said, I’m not sure why Geisler thinks using this question is a good tactic. Again he is priming the atheist to think about God, but “mind produced matter” is a nonsensical way to get there. A mind can only produce things of the mind, therefore it cannot be “greater” than matter, which produces both things of matter and things of mind.

Perhaps he is trying to invoke the fact that our minds can grasp vast concepts like eternity and infinite space, and that they thus appear to be “greater” than matter, which is limited by the laws of nature. But this “greatness” is just an intellectual illusion. No matter what high concepts we can imagine, our mind is still servant to matter. If the brain is damaged, the mind is damaged. If the brain dies, the mind dies. More complex brains produce more capable minds.

10. Is there anything wrong anywhere? If so, how can we know unless there is a moral law?

11. If every law needs a lawgiver, does it not make sense to say a moral law needs a Moral Lawgiver?

There is no point in treating these two questions separately because they make no sense without each other. All Geisler did here was take the moral argument and make two questions out of it. Pretty lazy.

The crux of the deception here is in the equivocation between a law as legal construct and a law as moral principle. These are two completely different animals, but Geisler treats them as if they both worked the same way (as authoritarian processes imposed on people, therefore needing an authority to create them). Equivocations are the intellectual con man’s version of the shell game.

12. Would you agree that if it took intelligence to make a model universe in a science lab, then it took super-intelligence to make the real universe?

Okay, I really have no idea what Geisler is on about now. Is this one of those weird urban legends that circulate in Christian circles, like how they believe that NASA has mapped out the “missing day” from Joshua 10. Maybe these morons really do believe there is a miniature universe in a laboratory somewhere. I wouldn’t put it past them.

13. Would you agree that it takes a cause to make a small glass ball found in the woods? And would you agree that making the ball larger does not eliminate the need for a cause? If so, then doesn’t the biggest ball of all (the whole universe) need a cause?

There are a few… minor… factual errors in this question. First of all, the universe is not a ball, and neither is it made of glass. Most of the matter in the universe is hydrogen, which can only be naturally made into a solid ball under unimaginable pressure (such as the core of a planet). Secondly, it wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibilities to find a natural glass ball in the woods, since such things do actually occur (although mostly in the form of obsidian) and are not “made.”

At any rate, it’s obvious that Geisler is continuing his “greatest hits” strategy of pseudo-apologetics and is now using the Watchmaker argument. This will therefore only convince those atheists who have somehow never heard of the Watchmaker argument. Everyone else already knows that it’s a form of circular reasoning.

14. If there is a cause beyond the whole finite (limited) universe, would not this cause have to be beyond the finite, namely, non-finite or infinite?

Another hypothetical meant to prime atheists for thinking about God. Yes, obviously anything that is “beyond the universe” would also have a nature different from things within the universe, but so what? If I was a bat, I could fly, but I am not a bat.

15. In the light of the anthropic principle (that the universe was fine-tuned for the emergence of life from its very inception), wouldn’t it make sense to say there was an intelligent being who preplanned human life?

The anthropic principle (or at least, one version of it) states that the properties of the universe must be compatible with the emergence of life, otherwise we wouldn’t be here in the first place. This is simple logic.

Saying that the universe was fine-tuned implies that someone or something actively modified the universe so it could support life. This has nothing to do with the anthropic principle; rather, we’re back in the realm of the urban legends. When was it ever shown that “the universe was fine-tuned for the emergence of life from its very inception”?

So at this point I assume the atheist (in the ideal scenario where all questions have been answered in the “correct” way) is supposed to collapse and scream “my life is a lie!!!” Without this whole process, the question doesn’t really make any sense. Why should we assume that an intelligent being did it? Why, because only God could create all this information, of course. How do we know the universe was fine-tuned? Why, because it’s exactly like a gigantic bead of glass. All of this makes sense now!

After reviewing all these questions in one swoop, we see that the main instrument of conversion here is not argumentation or outright lying, but a lot of attacks on one’s reasoning abilities, a lot of priming, and loaded wording as well. None of them are really about convincing you of anything directly, but mostly about stimulating your imagination and exploiting any area of ignorance or uncertainty you may have. That is the nature of the manipulation that Christians are taught to use on unbelievers in order to “bring them to Christ.” Sick stuff.

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2 thoughts on “Geisler’s evangelistic questions for atheists.

  1. Peripatetikos March 7 2014 at 8:11 Reply

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been the victim of similar sorts of tactics in the past on a chatroom I used to frequent; I thought I was engaging in some sort of open-ended discussion with an evangelical Christian, but over the course of a couple of months found myself in a strange position where I was doubting my position. I took a break in order to reevaluate my thoughts, found them to be in order as they originally were, and moved on, but what really surprised me was that this guy had never actually convinced me of any of his arguments, and I always found his arguments unconvincing. It wasn’t for some time afterward that I realised that he had been playing very subtle manipulative tactics in order to sow doubt, like the ones you’ve described here.

    With regards to question 8, I’m not convinced it’s meaningful to compare the amount of genetic information in an amoebal cell to the amount of information in a series of books. The former is a haphazard collection of strings of code, which (maybe, I have no idea how much information is in an amoeba) amounts to 1000 book’s worth. However, we know from evolutionary principles how various evolutionary processes determine the structure of this information without any input from a creator. With the latter, it’s a conscious organising of information collected, collated, and authored by a group of humans. They’re entirely different categories of information, and it’s completely stupid to compare them.

  2. sbt42 March 7 2014 at 8:58 Reply

    Oh man, this fellow and Ray Comfort appear to be cut from the same cloth.

    Just recently I backed out of a possible conversion attempt through e-mails I’d received from someone I met recently in person. Fortunately you can usually observe these attempts coming, and a common symptom is that the evangelist will continue asking questions while not responding to questions you propose.

    When I felt I had begun toeing that “slippery slope,” I replied that I wasn’t interested in this kind of discussion with someone I don’t know very well (though I hadn’t mentioned they were terrible at carrying on a conversation as well), and left it at that.

    There was an attempt at roping me back in with the follow-up comment, “most people like talking about religion,” but I left it unanswered. I just wasn’t interested in participating in that kind of “discussion.”

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