Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Norman Geisler (1932 – 2019)


I am sorry to report that philosopher and theologian Norman Geisler has died.  Geisler stood out as a Protestant who took a broadly Thomist approach to philosophy and theology, and as an evangelical who vigorously defended the classical theist conception of God against the currently fashionable anthropomorphism he aptly labeled “neo-theism” (and which Brian Davies calls “theistic personalism”).  Those of us who sympathize with these commitments are in his debt.

The first philosophical or theological event I ever attended was a debate between Geisler and the process theologian John Cobb in Claremont, California in the late 80s.  I vividly recall his emphasis on upholding the tradition of “Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas” against theological innovators like Cobb.  It was only years later that I really understood what was at stake in this dispute, but I was impressed by the depth of the philosophical issues that arose in the course of the debate – issues that usually don’t occur to the average believer, but have implications for him all the same.

Geisler’s many important books include his introduction to Aquinas and his critiques of neo-theism Creating God in the Image of Man? and the co-authored The Battle for God.  RIP.

44 comments:

  1. Rest in peace, Norman. You have contributed much and will be missed.

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  2. Would Geisler have been critical of Alvin Plantinga?
    Reading Feser's article gets me intrigued to see those two (Geisler and Plantinga) go at it in a debate.
    I think most do consider Plantinga and Craig to be theistic personalists.

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    1. Geisler is critical of Plantinga -- briefly and respectfully, but for just the reasons you'd expect from a classical theist -- in The Battle for God.

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  3. How did other Evangelicals approach the work of Geisler?
    Take when Feser was debating with the ID guys... there was such a big disconnect in their understanding of the points he was trying to make. I remember reading Dembski's replies thinking he doesn't get what Ed is saying.

    Wonder if there was something similar to Geisler from evangelical circles.

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    1. Most other evangelicals either embrace him or differ on issues like his eschatology or non-calvinism. So, the usual Evangelical in house debates. But he didn't any view that was on the fringes of our evangelical landscape. He was unique in that he was one of the few evangelicals who had a robust appreciation for classical philosophy. Most of us aren't as philosophically literate as we should be.

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    2. He was the scholar I most closely aligned with. Dispensational evangelical and thomistic. He introduce me to Thomism and through him I managed to find Feser.

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    3. @David

      Same here. Geisler introduced me to Aquinas. That got the ball rolling, and the ball rolled by Feser.

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  4. I've looked into it a bit more and it seems that Geisler has been critical of Plantinga.
    But his criticism of Plantinga received criticism from other evangelical philosophers (notably William Lane Craig).
    But all of it hinges on whether Plantinga's idea of belief in God being a 'properly basic belief' moves Plantinga's approach into a kind of fideism. Geisler argues that if you consider belief in God to be properly basic you undermine natural theology as well as reason being used to argue for God's existence.

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    1. As I mentioned to Unknown above, Geisler is critical of Plantinga in The Battle for God, and there the criticism concerns Plantinga's departures from classical theism, which Geisler attributes to a deficient metaphysics. (Quite rightly, I would say -- see my own criticism of Plantinga in Five Proofs.)

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    2. @Edward Feser,


      Is Plantinga's idea of belief in God being a properly basic belief compatible with classical theism and Thomism?

      That is, can a classical theist freely make use of his arguments (provided they are correct of course) without it being in conflict with his metaphysics?

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    3. Yes, I think they are independent issues.

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  5. I am sorry for my contribution to the culled thread, which was probably inappropriate.

    I had heard of Geisler primarily for his works against the atheists, and not so much for defending classical theism in particular against the theistic personalists. It seems that theology itself has suffered a loss today. I will make a note to check out the mentioned works.

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    1. I'm also sorry for starting up drama. But this isn't a post on philosophy. This is a post about a person.

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  6. RIP.

    Thank you for the nice post, Ed. Without minimizing the real and very important disagreements between us, it's good to see brotherly-kindness across the Catholic-Protestant divide.

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  7. Geisler is one of those names I've seen frequently in Thomistic circles, but I never got the chance to read any of his work--I think I will start now. Does anyone know if he has any work that critiques scientific materialism?

    It's also good to see a prominent philosopher go after theistic personalism. I'm becoming increasingly annoyed at its prevalence within Christianity, even among Catholics.

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  8. Funny story about Norm: W. L. Craig (or maybe someone else?) was in his office and saw the complete works of Thomas Aquinas on the bookshelf. Craig asked, "Dr. Geisler, did you read all of that?" And Geisler replied, "Unfortunately, yes, I read all of that...."

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    1. That was Kevin Harris, the podcast interviewer for Reasonable Faith, and it wasn't Aquinas' works per session, but some works on Aquinas.

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  9. Geisler retained his atheist edge many years after his conversion. Check out the audio of his debate on miracles with Saville sometime to get a good idea of what I'm talking about. The most amazing moments in Geisler's entire debate career in my opinion.

    As with Montgomery and Hackett, Geisler's fame came from rank and file Christians, not from his mostly incompetent peers until his intellectual superiority could no longer be ignored. Evangelical academics is full of timid insecure pseudo-intellectual betas.

    Also, check out his long 4- or 5-round journal debate with John Dahms about logic. That's his atheist edge coming out again, and with a vengeance. The philosophical version of his debate with Saville. Both exchanges show striking similarities in attitude to Ed.

    But when it comes to historical-theological apologetics proper, like the original mid-1960s Shelby Cobra, Geisler is still the baddest of the bad-ass apologetics sports cars. The more austere version would be John Warwick Montgomery.

    Just for the record, Geisler told me in the late 80s that he believed Hackett was the world's greatest living Christian philosopher, although I think it was because of the vast number of refutations of atheistic views contained in his Resurrection of Theism book rather than the merits of Hackett's traditional Cosmological and Teleological arguments.

    In 2014 I had a fairly long phone conversation with Geisler, but it was obvious that something was very off. He seemed unable to engage in analysis any more at that point.

    *Plantinga's entire basicality philosophy is fraudulent. Ask him a logical justification question, and you'll get a bogus ontological answer. Tell-tale resistance to exactitude in logical justification. Typical Calvinist convolutedness and intellectual dishonesty. Clark's treatment of Aquinas in his Reason, Religion, and Revelation is another good example. Too bad, because the Calvinists were pioneers in pointing out self-reference errors in positivist and other secular philosophies in the mid-20th Century. But then they choked in a pool of their own intellectual vomit in that literally loopy presuppositionalism. Which is why their dork followers could only use the term as if it was a verbal magic wand, and true to form, never got any farther. At least the atheists' refutations of presuppositionism revealed that they were almost equally blunted about the issue of prior assumptions. A major blink most apologists still haven't picked up on. No surprise there.

    Geisler systematized the evangelical neo-Thomist philosophy and general historical-theological apologetics like no one else, but like Hackett his chief importance is in being a wide-ranging refuter of scores of false views and aggressive debater, rather than as a system developer vis-a-vis contemporary objections and perspectives.

    For anyone who is interested, here's a spreadsheet of Geisler's entire philosophy and apologetics in a Dewey Decimal type of outline form, which he gave me in a spiral-bound full-page format decades ago:

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/175sQZ09Ez8nLVajXAgbNgvfeaWy0pX_MAp1UGDRxedQ/edit#gid=0


    *I'll debate the points about Planginga and presuppositionalism, but not here. Protonmail . . . same username.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. machibephilosophy, why did you write all this good stuff about Norman Geisler and how he destroys atheism and yet on your personal blog post, you seem to support atheism. Do you have borderline personality disorder or something?

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    4. Machinephilosophy used to be an atheist. I think he was a fairly militant one too. I think I remember years ago when he was hinting at the fact that what he had been reading from ed and from other catholic philosophers was changing his mind slowly.

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    5. 1) I'd need to know which post seems to support atheism.

      2) Geisler did not destroy atheism. But he understood fatal self-reference errors in positivism's verifiability doctrine and many other self-exempting universal claims, including higher criticism BS against the historicity of the biblical record.

      3) I reject all traditional arguments for and against God, because the prior standards of general reason already assume and imply the Logos as a necessary God of Mind, and therefore logically preempt all other possible arguments for and against. See Nielsen's Ethics Without God (either edition) for the origin of this view. Key question in that book prompting these two new deductive prior standards arguments for God is: Is there any moral obligation to bother with moral theorizing at all? Yes or no, this question is fatal to any traditional moral argument for God, yet ends up being a deductive moral argument for a prior ultimate moral being.

      4) The problem of evil is eliminated as collateral damage by the same prior standard fallacy of Nielsen's argument.

      5) Tap, that's not me, but someone else---maybe several---on here, I just don't remember who.
      I converted back to theism in 2006 after 26 years, having been converted to atheism solely because of the infinite series problem in Kalam. George Smith's 1st Law of Thermodynamics objection---matter cannot be created or destroyed---is another major objection, which I didn't notice until recently.

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    6. Yes, he DID destroy atheism, as do all classical theists. Anyone who can't see that there must be a simple being that actualizes all composition is a faggot who hates God for emotional reasons. May you see the light before you go to eternal damnation.

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    7. Can we assume the "contribution" by Anonymous above is an attempt at satirical parody of Thomists? If so, I think it somwhat fails as parody due to suffering the minor disadvantage of not being funny or insightful.

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    8. Where did he destroy atheism? And with reason? So a system of thinking that does not require belief in God can have the authority to decide the issue of whether or not God exists?

      If you give reasons for believing that God exists, you've thereby invoked a standard that has a necessarily greater authority than the God those reasons allegedly infer, in order to hand down a decision about whether or not God exists. You're thereby using reason itself as The God Of your thinking. Those activities cannot be questioned without reiterating them in that same questioning process itself.

      As Kai Nielsen said in his book, Ethics Without God, if believers say that they know that God is good because the record of the Bible, the state of the world, or the behavior of Jesus---or whatever is appealed to---indicates God's goodness, then those believers themselves clearly display—by that response itself—that they have some prior criterion for moral belief that is not based on the fact that there is a God.

      Furthermore, are we morally obligated to pay any attention to moral theorizing? If we're not, then all moral claims can be dismissed with moral impugnity.

      If we are so obligated, that's the admission that there3's already a universal morality of thought without any need for God or belief in God.

      The same thing holds for God's existence. If reasons are needed to decide whether or not God exists, reason is already the God of Mind without any theistic God or belief in God needed at all.

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  10. Middle Age philosophy is a better than anything that came later because it is logically rigourous. Later on "philosophers" are usually guilty of circular reasoning. So in fact going with the Aquinas et al group makes a lot of sense to me. [There are however some recent people that I respect like Kant, Hegel, Leonard Nelson. But not much else]

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  11. Rest in peace, i hope he has received divine mercy.

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  12. Oh no.....

    He was my favor Protestant writer & how could he not be?

    He deserves the monker "Protestant Thomist".

    Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him O'Lord and Perpetual Light Shine upon him. May he rest in peace in the Name of Jesus by the prayers of His All Pure Mother Mary.

    Amen!

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  13. I think it was Geisler who originated a snarky reply I often us to pimp slap New Atheist types.

    If confronted by an Atheist who takes a hyper literal view of scripture he would say something like "So because the Psalms speak of God enfolding us in his wings that means He is literaly a giant chicken?".

    I love that line.

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  14. My limited exposure to Geisler was largely through "Not By Scripture Alone", wherein he is presented as defending sola scriptura by citing Aquinas, in order to contrast that with other statements by Aquinas citing the authority of the Church (1 Tim 3:15).

    I have a more complete view of the man after reading this post. May he share in the life of the Trinity eternally.

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  15. Norm will be missed. Dr. Feser, I think you have many evangelical readers because of him.

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  16. I just read his "Thomas Aquinas: An Evangelical approach"
    He will be sorely missed.
    RIP

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  17. Evangelical Thomist is a very strange combination, but apparently he did it.

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  18. At one point, I did not consider myself a Thomist (I did not even know what Thomism was), let alone any sort of Catholic.

    It was reading Geisler that started me on the long, long journey.

    Come to think about it, I'm not sure what Geisler would say about that.

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  19. I think he would be good with it.

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  20. Now he knows that theistic personalism/neo-theism is true.

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    1. @George

      What a stupid comment to make in a thread in honor of his memory. Do you not have a shred of decency in that sack of bones you call your body?

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  21. Thirty plus years ago I took an MA in Philosophy of Religion under Geisler at TEDS. I have my criticisms of Geisler and the evangelical tradition (I am now Catholic), but I learned one thing (among many things) from Geisler that has served me well and that is not to be ashamed or defensive about being a classical theist. I came out of my undergraduate education confused about the relationship of faith and reason (an unfortunate consequence of reading too much Kant), and Geisler helped me through that confusion to a clearer position. For that I am grateful.

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  22. Did a priest come to his deathbed to give him the last rites, I hope?

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