Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Of Joseph Smith and Ergun Caner (Part 1)
07/03/2010 - James WhiteNorman Geisler has posted a lengthy defense of Ergun Caner on his website. It is a collection of all of the attempts to explain Caner's myths over the past few months, but it ignores major portions of the data that exists relating to Caner's claims. It is a sad spectacle to see the man best known for the defense of the resurrection engaging in this kind of argumentation. It is incumbent upon us to point out the facts in response to Geisler's article. I will keep this response brief, and allow others who have been involved in researching Caner's claims expand upon individual points.
Let's remember the facts: Ergun Caner has said many true things about Islam. However, no one, to my knowledge, has provided the first evidence of any debate, of any kind, with any leading Islamic scholar, Imam, or apologist. Every name he has ever mentioned in the recordings I have heard (Shabir Ally, Abdul Saleeb, Nadir Ahmed) is problematic for Caner's claims. Now, a basic rule of logic is that if you are going to make positive claims (as Caner did on his various web pages) you have to provide evidence. You cannot claim to have done sixty one debates with Muslims (as one 2006 newspaper claimed) and yet provide no evidence of having done even one, let alone sixty more. When Ergun Caner claimed, twice, to have debated Shabir Ally, he knew, without question, that he had never debated Shabir Ally. When I say I have debated Shabir Ally, it is easy for me to prove it:
For months now we have been asking Ergun Caner to substantiate his long-standing claims (now removed from his websites---why remove them if they are true?) to be a major player in the apologetic field of battle. Where is the evidence? What Geisler's article (and his other defenders) provide is not evidence, not data, but excuses. Keep your eye on the goal as we examine some of the major problems with Geisler's attempted defense of Caner's claims.
A talented, dedicated, and high effective servant of God and convert from Islam has come under a strong attack by extreme Muslims. Why? Basically, it is because he is a converted Muslim and is an effective living, moving, talking representative of Evangelical Christianity.
Surely some Muslims might attack Ergun Caner for simply being a Christian. However, Geisler has to allow for the fact that there may be many, Muslims and non, who are pointing out the contradictions in Caner's claims who are absolutely honest in their concerns. To broad-brush everyone in the fashion Caner's defenders have done is unfair and unwarranted.
What is their tactic? It was to destroy his credibility by making false and defaming allegations about him. Unfortunately some extremist Calvinists, who oppose Dr. Caner’s more moderate view, have piled on as well. The result? There has been a miserable and painful disruption of his life, his family, and his ministry.
Dr. Caner could have ended all of this long ago, had his claims been true. He chose to make up the story he posted on the Liberty website, claiming to come here in 1979 from Turkey when he had been in the US from 1969. No one, Muslim or Calvinist, forced him to make up that story after 9/11.
Note that Geisler's idiosyncratic terminology (he really does seem to believe he can single-handedly change the historical designations, as Chosen But Free proved) is a thinly disguised attempt to poison the well. Many of Caner's critics are not Reformed at all. He evidently is hoping to play into the massive prejudice that exists in his primary audience (Calvary Chapel folks, etc.) by conjoining "extremist Calvinist" with "Muslim." At this point may I say once again that the fact of the matter is I would have been much faster to the attack on this issue if Ergun Caner was Reformed. I would hold him to a higher standard. It is a bogus and dishonest approach to make this an issue of Reformed/Arminian, and it is sad to observe Norman Geisler promoting this. Of course, we need to remember, Geisler was stung badly by not just the publication of The Potter's Freedom, but especially by the endorsements it carried and by the recognition by most scholars that his book was very poorly written, argued, and thought-out. It was, and is, simply a bad book. So if there is, in fact, any "Reformed/Arminian" element here, may I suggest it is completely on the Arminian side of the fence? Remember, Ergun Caner's radical detestation of Reformed theology has been documented since 2005/2006 (here), and Norman Geisler has refused to engage me in dialogue over those same issues for a decade now. While I have proven my ability to distinguish between Arminians in their approach and behavior (note the sharp, yet brotherly, exchanges earlier this year with Michael Brown), I have seen no evidence of this on Caner's part (his brother, Emir, upon becoming president of Truett-McConnell college, made his anti-Calvinism known quickly through the use of the pink slip), and Geisler's anti-Calvinism is just as well known.
The "miserable and painful disruption" of his life could have been stopped by his being honest in 2001 and saying, "My earliest memories are right here in the United States, from Ohio; I have never lived in a Muslim country, and I grew up in the Midwest, attending elementary school with everyone else. But my father was a Muslim, my mother, after their divorce, was not overly religious. But I was influenced by Islam, and though I am no expert in it, I can tell you that I needed to hear about the true Jesus, and when I did, I believed." That would have been the truth, it would have been glorious, it would have glorified God, and all would be well today. Dr. Geisler wishes to play upon the emotions of his audience, but in doing so, he adopts an unbiblical stance that puts the blame upon the truthful person and excuses the dishonest one.
Having examined all these charges against Dr. Caner carefully and having looked at the related evidence, I can say without hesitation that all of the moral charges against Dr. Caner are unsubstantiated. Further, no one has demonstrated moral intent on any of the factual misstatements he made (which we all make).
I am sorry, but I have never made "factual misstatements" such as the following:
I was born in Germany (when I was born in Minnesota).
I moved to Pennsylvania when I was 15 (when I did so when I was 5).
I have debated Richard Dawkins (when I have not--I've never met him).
I have debated leading skeptics in German universities in German (when I have not, though I can muddle my way through German fairly well---surely not well enough to debate in the language).
Etc. and etc. What is more, to make the parallel complete, I would have to put it like this: To audiences while speaking, I came to the United States from Germany when I was 15; to a reporter from Germany, or the AP, I admit I was born in Minnesota and have never been to Germany. This would be more like the facts concerning Caner's stories, as documented over and over again.
Now, if Dr. Geisler can glibly explain the existence of the 2002 AP story (found here) together with the sermons preached by Caner within a year both directions as "misstatements" with no "moral intent" to them once again boggles the mind. Surely, telling one story to one audience, and another to a different audience, is the very definition of moral intent to lie, is it not? If it isn't, could Dr. Geisler provide us, as one who has written on Christian ethics and morality, a definition of "lying" that would not fit these very facts?
Caner’s misspeaks includes the following: 1) He said he was 18 instead of 16 which he repeatedly said he was. 2) He said Shabir Ally had died (who is alive) when he meant another Muslim (who is dead); 3) Ergun said they moved to America in 1969 and in another place he said it was 1978. More precisely, he got his citizenship in 1978. 4) Ergun once accidentally said Mulema instead of Ulema which is the Arabic word for scholar. 5) He mispronounces Sawm as “Swam.” 6) He is charged with lying because look away or crosses his legs or arms (which is symptomatic of lying)! 7) It is charged that Ergun has shoes on in a mosque picture which is forbidden (Wrong. It is not forbidden in the outer court).
1) True, to a point; he gave many ages. The fact, however, is that he was 2.5/3, not 16, or 18, 14, or anything else, when he came to the United States (if, in fact, this is what is being referred to). If this is speaking of the age of his conversion, we do not have any answer to the question about whether it was November 4, 1982, or 1981, etc., in this single sentence. One is left wondering at the level of Geisler's examination of the data at this point (and many others).
2) Correct---he confused Shabir Ally with Ahmed Deedat. An understandable mistake, except for one thing---Caner then went on to claim to have debated Shabir Ally. More on this below. Also, in one recorded instance, he joined Shabir Ally's name with Abdul Saleeb, and, as Geisler knows (and Caner knows), Abdul Saleeb is a Christian. Yet, Caner pretended he was a Muslim in that radio program. Why? No answer has been given to this question since it was personally presented to Ergun Caner in February of this year.
3) This is not an answer, it is a shallow, and silly, excuse. Ergun Caner said, repeatedly, not just once, twice, or three times, but literally dozens of times, that he came to the United States FROM TURKEY in either 1978 or 1979. That was his public persona, his preaching persona, the "trained as a jihadi" persona, the "always lived in majority Muslim countries" persona. But when talking to the AP, or a Turkish newspaper, he told the truth. Problem is, his entire "I'm a former Muslim and you should listen to my amazing story" persona and his "I'm a former Muslim but only my dad was a Muslim and I grew up in Ohio and can't speak Arabic and my parents divorced so I was pretty much a normal kid in school when I was converted" reality do not fit together. So, Caner hid the reality and promoted the myth, and now Norman Geisler, rather than seeing the facts right before his eyes, is helping to continue the myth. Nowhere---absolutely nowhere---did Ergun Caner ever say "I got my citizenship in 1978." His bio, as documented, said he came to the United States in 1979. His own bio on the Liberty website made the claim! Are we to seriously think that Caner had never seen his own bio on the Liberty website? I had heard this "Well, yes, he said he came here in 1978/79, but….what he meant was he got his citizenship then" excuse before, but I never dreamed Norman Geisler would put such a lame excuse in print. Remember, Caner would combine this claim with other statements, specifically about his being from Turkey, learning English, living in majority Muslim countries, thinking all Christians hated Muslims, etc. Note the tactic: disassociate the statements and contexts so you can try to offer plausible explanations for each statement. This is a common tactic used in defense of, say, Joseph Smith's First Vision, being used now by evangelicals in defense of Ergun Caner. Once again, amazing.
4) This is simply untrue, and once again makes us wonder what kind of information Norman Geisler is using. Both Ergun and Emir Caner have said their father was an "Ulema," which is the plural of "Alim," which means scholar. The proper term would be "he was among the ulema" or something along those lines (a claim for which I have yet to see any positive evidence provided). Notice that Geisler shows his own ignorance of the language by repeating the same error Caner did (is Geisler simply repeating Caner's excuses?). See the documentation here and here and here.
5) Yes, he does---but he has done so consistently and over a long period of time.
6) I have no earthly idea what this is about. I suppose some Muslims have noted something along these lines, but I have not paid attention to such argumentation as it is unworthy of notice.
7) I am uncertain how Norman Geisler could know where in a mosque a picture was taken, especially when, as we have noted, some of the pictures Caner has posted claim to have been taken in Turkey, and once again, there does not seem to be any evidence that Ergun Caner ever lived in Turkey (and if the above excuse about citizenship is true, then it follows that the claim, which was still on Caner's Facebook page the last time I checked, is a bold-faced lie that has yet to be expunged).
Notice the haphazard nature of this list, and the fact that while it contains some true problems (and provides laughably shallow excuses for them) it joins them with equally laughable arguments. I believe this is purposeful. Once again the parallel to the LDS defense of Joseph Smith appears. Not only do Smith's defenders disconnect statements from their contexts to offer plausible excuses, but they often focus upon the worst arguments against Smith's prophethood, rather than the strong arguments (one reason I have always focused upon the quality of evidence of Smith's errors, not the quantity thereof). I have seen this pattern in many cults and isms---and to see it being repeated in the defense of Ergun Caner should shock the thinking observer.
First or all, none of them are morally culpable since no one has proven intentional deception or embellishment.
I'm sorry, but this is pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. I'm sure Joseph Smith was not trying to deceive anyone by telling contradictory versions of the First Vision story either, right? And that stuff about the Book of Abraham---can anyone PROVE intentional deception? Once again, if Caner is telling audiences one story, and reporters another story, at the same time and about the same subjects, what further evidence could be offered of intentional deception? But, you will note, Geisler did not address those issues. His hodgepodge of "factual misstatements" does not even begin to address the substantive argument that it is the core of Caner's "born and raised in Turkey, son of a Muslim scholar so my conversion is really cool" story. Is this due to ignorance on Geisler's part? Is he just believing whatever Caner tells him? It is hard to say.
Furthermore, when Ergun becomes aware of any mistakes, he owns it, corrects it, and apologizes for it. In addition, most of these allegations range from the trivial to the ridiculous. . Finally, not one of them involves a moral or doctrinal deviation from the Faith.
Evidently Dr. Geisler has access to information the rest of us do not, since I am unaware of a specific statement of apology on Caner's part relating to at least some of these matters. Where, for example, has he addressed the issue of his father as an "ulema," which would actually be an "alim," and apologized for this? If he hasn't, then, how has he "owned" this error? How about claiming his father was surrounded by "caliphates"? Is Geisler even aware of these issues? We again cannot tell.
As this is already rather long, I shall post further portions of this response separately.