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January 1976 · Vol. 5 No. 1 · pp. 31–32 

Book Review

Philosophy of Religion

Norman L. Geisler. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974. 416 pages.

Reviewed by Ben C. Ollenburger

Norman L. Geisler, Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has written this book to argue for the truth of the proposition, “God exists.” In this proposition “God” refers to “the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Geisler finds that the best “proof” for God’s existence is the cosmological argument as formulated by St. Thomas Aquinas. This argument begins with the basic datum of experience—that something exists, and not from an a priori ontological idea (a la Anselm). This argument avoids the dilemma which attends the ontological argument, since it is based upon the principle of “existential causality,” not the principle of sufficient reason. That is, it is related to the real world, not merely the (logical) world of ideas.

Since the basis of this argument is derived a posteriori, from experience, Geisler begins his book with a discussion of religious experience. The fundamental datum in religious experience is said to be the Transcendent. But the experience is the experience of contingency—contingency seeking the Transcendent. If there are contingent beings (and there must be at least one—me), it can be proven that there is a non-contingent, uncaused ground for these beings (and the cosmological argument follows). Geisler writes this book because “men of good will who are seeking the truth will be persuaded by good reasoning. And it is up to the theist to come up with these reasons” (p. 95).

The major section of the book is given to a consideration of all of the proofs which have been posited for the existence of God. Geisler examines all of them, and arguments against them, before positing his own in ch. 9. Here he follows St. Thomas in his exposition of the cosomological argument. The conclusion to the argument is that “God exists,” and this God is “the first cause of the present existence of . . . beings,” and it is “infinite, necessary, simple, unchangeable and one.” Further, “this uncaused Cause is identical with the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition” (p. 190).

The book closes with an interesting discussion of religious language (it must be analogical), and the problem of evil (it’s not really a problem). {32}

The argument of this book raises a whole host of philosophical problems which are dealt with in other philosophies of religion (e.g., those by Ferre and Hick). My criticism is twofold: Geisler has not proven what he thought he had, and he has not answered the question of evil. (e.g., how can an all-powerful and all-good God be compatible with the existence of evil?).

This entire book is spent arguing for the existence of God. In one short paragraph (p. 207) Geisler ties this argument to the God of the Bible. He refers to a number of (unquoted) Biblical passages which are supposed to speak of an infinite, necessary, simple and unchangeable uncaused Cause. No consideration whatever is given to the matrices (either historical or literary) of these passages, much less to their thrust. Geisler demonstrates a disturbing exegetical naiveté which allows him to put something into the Bible and then surprise us all by finding it there. Thus, in rejecting the God of process philosophy, he simply refers to his argument for God’s existence and says that theirs does not match up. By assuming that the author (s) of the Bible were good Aristotelians, Geisler is able to “prove” the existence of a Thomistic God. I don’t think that Yahweh quite measures up.

In discussing the problem of evil Geisler says (1) evil is real, not illusory; (2) it is not really real, because evil is simply the lack of good, i.e., evil = not-good, and “not” has no ontological value; (3) God permits evil because evil leads to virtues such as courage which must be a part of the “most-perfect-world” which he is creating; (4) God is opposed to evil and wants us to work against it.

It seems to me that propositions 1-2 and 3-4 cancel themselves out. If Geisler believes that evil is necessary to produce certain virtues, and that these virtues must be present in order for the world (of the future) to be perfect, then God is not perfect, since he is not affected by evil. In this discussion of evil it becomes very clear that Geisler is not in fact talking about the Christian God. He is not talking about a God who suffers with those who suffer evil, who gives the life of his son to redeem them from it, who promises finally to destroy evil entirely. It is also evident that Geisler has not experienced the evil about which he so glibly writes.

This book, written to the scholar, but also useful for the student (with some background in philosophy), is illustrative of the current tendency among evangelicals to search for “certainty.” Geisler finds that St. Thomas is the best model for such a quest. It is interesting that the book does not contain a discussion of faith.

Geisler has written a book that is of value in comparing all of the arguments for God’s existence. The discussion is detailed and sometimes very tedious. There are very helpful indices included in the book, plus a fairly extensive bibliography.

Ben C. Ollenburger
Instructor in Religious Studies and Philosophy
Tabor College, Kansas

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