R. Douglas Geivett On, "Can And Would God Speak to Us?"

R. Douglas Geivett
As announced earlier I’m planning on reviewing select chapters in the new evangelical anthology, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder.[To read other entries in this series as I write them, just click on the "Defending the Bible" tag below this post].

This time up is R. Douglas Geivett's chapter, "Can and Would God Speak to us?" (pp. 13-46). It's set as a dialogue much like some of the books written by Plato, Berkeley, Galileo, and Hume.

In this dialogue Chad is the non-believing antagonist and Danielle is the theistic protagonist. While Chad is made out at times to be confused and ignorant, he has the best line: "This is getting silly." As I was reading I kept looking to see how many more pages I had to read because it was boring and the arguments simplistic. I guess Geivett didn't have me in mind when he wrote it, nor any other atheist. At the end of the chapter he thanked several readers who read it and offered advice, but none of them were atheists as far as I can tell. Next time if a Christian apologist wants real feedback, even if in the end it's rejected, then try me. Why not? Are you trying to reach non-believers or not?

In answer to the first question of whether God can speak to us, Danielle says they should proceed by assuming God exists, the monotheistically conceived one. This God is a bodiless person, self-substistent, eternal, perfectly free and loving, who is the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent creator of the universe. Danielle says they should assume from the start this conception of God "is coherent and that this God actually exists" (p. 18).

Full stop.

Where does Geivett come up with this conception of his? No, really, where? This God of his is not to be found in the Bible as a whole. Period. This is something I argued in the book, God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.And I think I did a pretty damn good job of it. Jaco Gericke also addressed this issue in his expertly written chapter for The End of Christianity, "Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" Now I would think from the very start, that if Geivett is arguing that such a God as he conceives can and would speak to us, then what we would find in the Protestant canonical Bible would reflect the same kind of God he thinks wrote it. But it doesn't. This should be the end of the story. One cannot assume such a God spoke in the Bible unless we can find him in the Bible. But we can't. Period. There is nothing left to say. That's why I had a very hard time continuing to read this chapter. It's an exercise in special pleading by assuming what needs to be shown. One shot and it falls to the ground.

What's more is that the God Geivett assumes in this dialogue, based on Anslem's perfect being theology, is not a coherent conception. On this issue I really liked Part 2 of James A. Lindsay's book, God Doesn't; We Do: Only Humans Can Solve Human Challenges.Another book to read on the coherence of theism is Michael Martin's The Impossibility of God.How can an incoherent conception of God that isn't to be found in the Bible speak to us in the Bible? It doesn't make any sense to argue that he can. This second shot is the head shot making sure it's dead.

As I was tempted to stop reading this chapter, I'm also tempted to stop writing a review of it. But as before, here we go.

Can such a God speak to us? Probably not. Probability is all that matters. Speaking demands a physical body with the use of a larynx. Danielle argues that it's possible God can speak to us. However, possibilities don't count. She argues that words can be spoken "when we write them down," so it's possible that God can use a surrogate human author to speak for him. When that text is read aloud then God is speaking. But HOW does such a God do this such that the words are inerrantly his exact words? I've addressed this in my comments on the Introduction to this book, but let me add something here. If God does not have a physical body then how does he interact with the human author's brain to create the necessary brain waves to produce the exact words he desires? Brains and waves are physical things. Geivett merely asserts that if God is omniscient and omnipotent then he can do what we think is improbable. Sorry. I am tired of apologists who punt to possibilities to save their faith from refutation. It may sound reasonable but it isn't, especially with the two fatal shots I fired above. I simply know of no mechanism that would allow a bodiless omnipresent being to interact with physical things, unless there is a point of contact between them. If God can interact with physical things then he needs to have some kind of physical body, or conversely, this universe is not strictly a physical thing.

When it comes to whether or not God would speak to us, Danielle argues we need a revelation from a caring God who "desires" to reveal what's wrong with us so he can save us from "destruction." Now I don't know about you, but how is it possible that a God who has the property of aseity can have any desires at all? Nonetheless, Danielle thinks a God like hers desires to speak to us given that he wants us to avoid so many confusing and damnable religious faiths that could send us to destruction.

Really, no really?

First off, I can conceive of a different world that, should God have created it, would not need any propositional revelation. I argue this for a chapter in the aforementioned book, The End of Christianity (pp. 97-98):
I can just as easily imagine a different kind of world than the present one, which wouldn’t require any divine propositional revelation if an omnipotent god created it. By using at least as much imagination as a child’s, this is easy to do. If the god that exists is less complicated to understand (as any of the non-triune deities mentioned above would be, or countless others I can imagine), and if he had created us with a greater level of intelligence to understand more of that which god understands, then we would have less trouble believing that he exists and less trouble understanding who he is. At the very minimum, we would be able to understand everything that is important to understand. He could even create us so that this information is automatically imprinted in our brains at birth. Even if not, all god had to do was provide us with sufficient evidence to think he exists in the created world. Then we would at least know he exists, since that’s so very important to him (but for what reason escapes me). I have previously suggested the kind of evidence that would convince me that god exists along with several different ways he could’ve created the world that would all but eliminate both human and animal suffering (sorry, no room to revisit this here—after all,this is the third book in a series). In the end, a miracle-working God could do perpetual miracles that could alleviate this suffering, if for some reason God didn’t create the world correctly in the first place. But if god had created the world in any of these ways, there would be no need of a propositional revelation since there would be little, or nothing, that needed an explanation.

Furthermore, if god created us with the propensity for being good and/or if there were some good consequences when we behaved well and some bad consequences if we behaved badly, then we wouldn’t need to be told by god what we should do. An ethics based in natural law would be sufficient for us. We wouldn’t need a Bible, just logic and the scientific method (yet neither of which are taught to us in the Bible). And if there was no eternal punishment, there would be no need for any divinely revealed warnings about a hell in the afterlife, either. For even if we did disobey this god, then such a deity could simply forgive us without any need for an incarnation or an atonement, which lack any rationally acceptable explanation anyway. With no incarnation or need for an atonement, there would be no need of a resurrection either. It’s precisely because of these additional and unnecessary extraordinary claims of divine redemptive acts that most nonbelievers don’t accept the supposed propositional revelation in the Bible anyway. If this is what God did to redeem us, then he simply did not sufficiently explain why these acts were needed or how they are even possible. Nor did he provide enough evidence to believe that they took place in the historical past.
The whole reason Geivett argues that God would speak to us is because of the state of affairs of this world, one which demands a propositional revelation from God in the first place. What Geivett needs to seriously consider is why this world is the way it is such that his God needed to speak to us. Of course, given his theology and the world then God should want to speak to us. But what would Geivett say if the world was different? He would say the opposite of course, so he can maintain his faith no matter the cost. Geivett is a typical Christian apologist. He fails to consider alternatives and what they might mean for his faith. He fails to have a sufficient imagination about what an omnipotent perfectly good being would actually do if he exists. He's special pleading. That's all that Christian apologists do. They utterly fail to address the real concerns of doubt because they cannot bring themselves to even understand them.

In any case, let's look at the track record of this so-called non-confusing revelation we find in the Bible. I've addressed this issue in a chapter titled, "What We’ve Got Here Is a Failure to Communicate" for The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.I call it the problem of divine miscommunication. Why is there so much confusion among Christian believers given this so-called perfect inerrant revelation? I address all of the Christian responses and find they all fail miserably.

In it I quote from Friedrich Nietzsche at the beginning of the chapter, who introduces this whole problem:
A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention—could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? . . . Did he perhaps lack intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? Must he not then . . . be able to help and counsel [his creatures], except in the manner of a deaf man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or dog?
Geivett fails to take seriously the confusing "revelation" we find in the Bible that has led to massive amounts of bloodshed, even between believers themselves during the Thirty Years War over things most Christians think are not worth killing today. Why couldn't an omniscient being produce a clearer and better book than he supposedly did? I see no reason to suppose he couldn't.