3 Stars Out Of 5
If One Apologetics Resource Among Others, Why Not?
May 25, 2012
Steven B Sherman
Virginia Beach, VA
Author Norman Geisler introduces his readers to the most frequently asked difficult question he has been asked in more than 50 years of study: "If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?" Responding to this question in a "short, simple, readable, and comprehensive book" is Geisler's stated objected and primary focus in the book's 10 chapters and three appendices. Seven chapters cover topics related to the following aspects of evil: nature, origin, persistence, purpose, avoidability, physical, and eternality. Other chapters include discussions on three views of evil, miracles and evil, and the unevangelized. The appendices include subject areas of animal death before Adam, evidence for God's existence, and (rather unexpectedly) a critique of the book, The Shack. A five-page bibliography is included; unfortunately, the book is not indexed.
Overall, If God, Why Evil? offers readers a fairly straightforward evangelical evidentialist and rationalist approach to the problem of evil. Geisler's preferred method incorporates regular use of logical syllogisms, which appear in virtually every chapter. Alongside acknowledging the general quality of the author's syllogistic work, several of his assumptions or "control beliefs" (pace N. Wolterstorff) show underlying precommitments that some (if not most) other evangelical scholars disavow (e.g., Geisler disallows legitimacy to a theistic evolutionary view of creation, apparently viewing those holding such a position simply as unbelievers--in effect, illegitimatizing the views and work of a sizeable percentage of Christian scholars and scientists). His presuppositions on various issues appear more constricted than many of his evangelical (non-fundamentalist) counterparts, resulting in limiting or effectively eliminating potentially legitimate views held by not a few Christian thinkers (e.g., inclusivism or post-mortem evangelism). Furthermore, rather than arguing that his perspective is superior, Geisler sometimes immediately dismisses or simply disregards alternatively maintained positions (for instance, non-natural law views).
Geisler's exegetical and hermeneutical approach to Scripture often prefers a literalist reading, even over against certain text's clearly literary rather than literal purpose (e.g., "weeping and gnashing of teeth" in hell based on Matt. 8:12, or the appearance of "God the Father" ["Papa"] as a `large beaming African-American woman" in the fictional book The Shack). The author's use of a Bible reference to "discipline" and equating it with "evil" appears to fail (50), as well as his implying that in all cases (of evil events) God purposes something good as in Joseph's (rather particular and unusual narrative) case. This seems a stretch, especially pertaining to horrible evils like abortion, pornography, human trafficking, and many other apparently gratuitous evils that demonstrate God's will (moral, at least) not being fully accomplished on earth presently (while God does continually does work to bring good despite evil).
Notwithstanding its aforementioned shortcomings, Geisler's book succeeds overall in providing some good rationale and evidentialist arguments on various topics related to the problem of evil and theodicy. Many of the syllogisms he employs offer readers helpful outlines and/or guidance on difficult issues. My cautious is against "placing all of one's apologetical eggs in this basket"--the basket simply is not strong enough to hold all of the weight it wants to support. However, as a primer, taken in conjunction with some still "weightier baskets" (e.g., Alvin Plantinga's "Free Will Defense" and several other important arguments and relevant publications), Geisler's manual can serve as part of a "cumulative case" approach to this perennially pertinent subject. Like all authors and scholars, his work is a product of particular historical and social contexts, which powerfully influence one's thought and articulation. Thus, Geisler's work ought to be read with the previously noted limitations in mind, including its strengths (logical reasoning) and weaknesses (hermeneutical/contextual confines). Clearly, he continues to be a force for Christian apologetics (particularly in the evidentialist and rationalist streams), providing important arguments in defense of Christianity. While several other legitimate Christian apologetical, theological, and philosophical approaches to the problem of evil exist and ought to be incorporated into a holistic, cumulative case method (e.g., relational, social, and creedally-informed aspects), we also may applaud Norman L. Geisler's sustained efforts to follow I Peter 3:15-16 devotedly.