The Geisler-Till Debate The Geisler-Till Debate Farrell Till On March 29th, I +quot;debate
The Geisler-Till Debate
The Geisler-Till Debate
On March 29th, I "debated" Dr. Norman Geisler at Columbus College
Columbus, Georgia. The issue was the resurrection of Jesus. Most
readers will recognize that Norman Geisler is one of the premier
spokesmen for the Bible inerrancy doctrine. In fundamentalist circles,
his book, _When_Skeptics_Ask_, has joined the ranks of Gleason
Archer's _Encyclopedia_of_Bible_Difficulties_ and John Haley's
_Alleged_Discrepancies_of_the_Bible_ as a handy reference volume for
Christians who wish to have a ready-made, how-it-could-have-been
explanations of Bible difficulties to use in their discussions with
Because of his reputation, I was expecting Dr. Geisler to be a
formidable opponent who would probably confront me with challenging
arguments, but instead I found him to be incredibly shallow. For one
thing, he did nothing but read manuscripts of speeches he had written
prior to the debate. This was true even after my rebuttal of his
opening speech. He simply returned to the lectern and read another
previously prepared speech in which, believe it or not, he referred to my
failures to respond to certain points which he had made in his opening
speech (which I had in fact addressed), as if he could have known prior
to the debate what I would and would not respond to in my rebuttal. Even
his final two-minute, wrap-up speech was read from a previously written
At the beginning of my second speech I said to the audience that
I had several debates but that this one was the strangest I had ever
participated in, because my opponent had responded to my rebuttal speech
by reading a manuscript that he had written prior to the debate.
"How could he know before the debate what I would say and not
say?" I asked. At this point, in a rare moment of spontaneity,
Geisler spoke up from his seat and said, "I read your book."
To which I said, "That's strange, because I haven't written a
book." He said nothing in response to this.
Geisler's opening speech consisted of an effort to establish the
"reliability" of the New Testament manuscripts. He referred to
over 5,366 copies of "existing" New Testament manuscripts,
which scholars have studied and compared and found to be
"ninety-nine percent free of significant variances." From
this, Geisler somehow reached the conclusion of the
"reliability" with which the manuscripts had been copied by
ancient scribes proved that everything the manuscripts said had happened
exactly as recorded. In my first rebuttal, I asked the audience to
assume that those 5,000 manuscripts were 100% free of variation. Even if
that were true, that would in no way prove that the events recorded in
the manuscripts had actually happened; it would only prove that the
manuscripts agreed in what they said.
I presented three reasons why rational people cannot believe the
New Testament resurrection accounts: (1) resurrected savior-gods were
common-place in the pagan religions that flourished before, during, and
after the time Jesus of Nazareth allegedly lived, (2) the claim that a
dead man was restored to life is an extraordinary claim that required
extraordinary proof, and (3) the only proof that Geisler can offer in
support of his resurrection claim is hearsay in nature. Since Geisler
spoke entirely from previously prepared manuscripts, he made no attempts
to respond to these points, except when they came up during the 30-minute
period of responses to questions from the audience.
In developing point one, I referred to the widespread pagan belief in
resurrected savior-gods like Osiris, Dionysus, Tammuz, and Krishna, all
of whom had had thousands of religious adherents long before the time of
Jesus. The only attempt that Geisler made to rebut this argument was
made during the question-answer session when he incorrectly said that
bodily resurrections had not been claimed for any of the pagan saviors,
so they were not "parallel" to the resurrection of Jesus.
In his first speech, Geisler had referred to the apostle Paul's claim
that Jesus had appeared to "500 brethren at once" after his
resurrection ([ref001]1 Cor. 15:6),
so in making my second point, I asked Geisler what was extraordinary
about someone _saying_, particularly at that time when belief in
resurrections was commonplace, that others (even 500 others) had seen a
resurrected man. I asked him if he would believe a modern-day
resurrection claim even if 500 people should say that they had witnessed
it. He ignored the question.
In making my third point, I emphasized that the weakness of the
testimonial evidence for the resurrection lies in the fact that all of
the testimony was either hearsay in nature or, as in the case of the
apostle Paul, visionary. We pay no serious attention to people today who
claim to have visions, so why should we believe someone who allegedly had
a vision 2,000 years ago? As for the testimony of the other
"reliable" witnesses, it was all hearsay. Scholars know that
the apostle didn't write the Gospel of Matthew and that the apostle John
didn't write the Gospel of John, so these writers were not the
"eyewitnesses" that Christian apologists claim that they were.
So all that we have is a case of unknown writers _saying_ that
certain women _said_ that they had found an empty tomb and had then
seen the resurrected Jesus. "But what did Mary Magdalene ever write
herself?" I asked Geisler. "What did Salome ever write?"
"Who was she anyway?" "What did Joanna write?"
"And who was she?" These were questions that Geisler ignored
as well as my demand that he tell us just who those "five hundred
brethren" were that the apostle Paul cited as witnesses of the
resurrection. Where did they live? When did they see Jesus? I
challenged Geisler to tell us the name of just one of those five
hundred. He didn't do it, of course.
I usually leave a debate thinking, "This was the weakest opponent I
have had yet," but given Geisler's background and reputation, I have
decided that the weakness is not in my opponents. It just had to be that
there is no credible evidence at all to support the views of those whom I
debate. If there were, then surely one of them would have cited some
convincing reason to believe in biblical inerrancy, the resurrection of
Jesus, the credibility of prophecy fulfillment, etc. The evidence just
isn't there to support any of those claims, and that is why the
opposition appears so weak.
For $1, a written [ref002]transcript of the
debate can be obtained from Apologetics Press, 230 Landmark Drive,
Montgomery, AL 36117. Video tapes are available on two-week rentals from
_The_Skeptical_Review_ for $1 to cover the cost of mailing.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank