Ergun Caner Supporters Need To Stop Digging

When you’re in a hole, stop digging.  When it comes to the case of Ergun Caner and Liberty University, it seems some within the blogosphere have either not heard of or simply do not understand this modern proverb, first attributed to British politician Denis Healey.  Quite simply, when your own arguments put you so deep in a hole in terms of persuasiveness or credibility, then it’s best to stop talking.  However, from my own experience, I can say without a doubt that attorneys, pastors, and other leaders find it almost impossible to practice the discipline of silence, even if doing so would ultimately help their case.

On Tuesday, July 6, 2010, popular Christian apologist Norman Geisler published a statement on his blog entitled In Further Defense of Ergun Caner:  A Response to His Critics.  Before interacting with thrust of his argument, one must understand that Dr. Geisler approaches this issue as someone who has a personal relationship with Dr. Caner.

My experience with Ergun, as that of those who know him well, is that he is a devout zealous believer who lives a life in obedience to Christ and who works diligently to extend his kingdom.  It is a crying shame that other believers have jumped on a band-wagon which is discrediting this sincere, earnest, and faithful follower of Christ.

As I explained in Credible Witnesses, how we view another person’s credibility will inevitably be influenced by our own background, education, experience, training, and, to a great extent, by our own personal relationship, if any, with that person.  The most intimate of relationships between a husband and wife usually results in the highest level of credibility and trust between the two spouses (as it should be) and likewise results in a most vigorous defense when an outsider attacks either spouse’s credibility.  If you doubt that scenario, try attacking the credibility of a man’s wife and see how that turns out for you. 

Therefore, it should not be surprising when some of Dr. Caner’s good friends and colleagues launch spirited defenses on his behalf.  Some have taken issue with the various arguments advanced by Dr. Caner’s supporters, with particular disapproval directed at Norman Geisler (here and here).  When viewed through the most charitable, grace-filled lens that Christians should possess, we can disagree with Dr. Geisler’s (and others) arguments and reasoning in support of Dr. Caner, but still do so in a way that does not diminish one’s own credibility.  The best way to accomplish that objective – no matter what the issue and no matter what tactics your opponents use – is to argue your case on the facts and avoid attacking personalities.

Time and space will not permit me to comment extensively on each and every argument used by Dr. Geisler in his further defense of Dr. Caner (other articles have offered extensive analysis).  Because I have listened to only a few of the primary sources which were used to support the charges against Dr. Caner, I will stipulate, for argument’s sake, that Dr. Geisler’s seven responses to the listed accusations are, for the most part, factually correct.  I know that others may challenge my stipulation to the facts, but let me interact with Dr. Geisler’s concluding “Note About Ergun’s Critic” which I find much more problematic.

Dr. Geisler’s second, third, and fourth concluding points are all cut from the same cloth and each, in their own way, substitutes American legal standards for moral, Biblical standards.  Dr. Caner has not been charged with a crime in a court of law and therefore has no legal right to publically face his accusers like a criminal defendant does.  There are always extenuating circumstances which dictate that use of a pseudonym is not only appropriate, but wise.  This may or may not be one of those circumstances, but neither law nor morality would automatically demand that the anonymous critic reveal his true identity.  A lawsuit alleging slander and/or libel against a public figure like Dr. Caner would be difficult to make.  If a case were to be made, then this anonymous critic can eventually be found and served with legal papers.

Dr. Geisler further believes that critics of Dr. Caner have instituted a new standard in this case, one of “guilty until proven innocent.”  Dr. Geisler argues that “the burden of proof for these allegations (against Dr. Caner) is on the accuser, not on the accused.  While he does not explicitly say so, I assume that Dr. Geisler believes that the standard in this case should be “innocent until proven guilty.”  As a former attorney, I certainly embrace that standard – enshrined in the Bill of Rights – for those accused of a crime.  Unless one wants to make the argument that Dr. Caner has been charged with a crime (of which I am unaware), then this standard is simply inapplicable.  In any event, I always thought that the Biblical standard for pastors, deacons, and those holding themselves out as spiritual leaders was one of being “above reproach.”  That does not imply perfection, for none of us are perfect.  But, it does set the bar just a little higher than our legal system and rightly so.

That Dr. Caner has not been found guilty of “any serious doctrinal or moral issues” again misses the point of what it means to be a credible witness.  Are there minor doctrinal and/or moral issues that have been alleged against Dr. Caner in which he has been found to have been in the wrong?  I don’t know what Liberty University meant when it concluded that “Dr. Caner has made factual statements that are self-contradictory . . .,” but that very statement goes to the very heart of Dr. Caner’s credibility.  Perhaps we will know more later if LU decides to release the facts and evidence which led them to their conclusion, but I will not hold my breath while waiting for them to release anything in regards to this matter.

The various self-contradictory statements, misstatements, and discrepancies – all found by the Liberty University Committee, not by Dr. Caner’s critics – may all turn out to be much ado about nothing.  Perhaps, in the end, none of these allegations will affect Dr. Caner’s long-term credibility or witness.  Whether they realize it or not, his supporters, including Norman Geisler, are neither helping Dr. Caner rehabilitate his credibility nor enlarging theirs.  They need to be reminded of the first law of holes – when you’re in one, stop digging!   




About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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3 Responses to Ergun Caner Supporters Need To Stop Digging

  1. Bennett Willis says:

    A nice review. Too bad that no one who “supports” EC is willing to consider the evidence in an open-minded manner. I really regard the “attackers” as having presented the evidence for any and all to see and read. There has been no documentation of any interpretation of the data other than the obvious one. The failure of the “supporters” to be embarrassed by this is funny in a sad sort of way. And their denial of the documentation and the weak efforts to work around it would cost them the debate in any judged event.

    When Dr. Geisler supports EC with awkward statements, it is… Well, words fail me.,

    However, what we see here is very common in any disagreement these days. I only knew one person (a very liberal Democrat) who had any problems with Mr. Clinton’s lies (under oath). She suffered. And when I point out that he was under oath, you instantly know that I DID have serious issues with his having said what he did. I have seen no obvious change in the conclusions of any who have written on the EC event. The same people fail to address the information that is available–or if they do, they decide that what EC did is not important. As you look at the various threads that follow some of the more controversial postings, you can understand how people were burned at the stake. I’m glad that we live far from some I have read.

    Personally, I became an “attacker” based on the information that was available. My opinions have become more set as more information became available. It just gets worse and worse. Maybe the Calvinists are “right” and we can’t really make “moral decisions” other than as we are “bent.” 🙂 Maybe it is a “gang” issue.

    The difference in the approach of the two “sides” in this issue could not be clearer. And both my head and my heart say that I am on the more honest of the two.

    • Howell Scott says:


      I would not look for too many people, if any, to change their minds on this issue. To a certain extent, each of us have our own biases. We can’t divorce ourselves from our background, beliefs, experiences, relationships, etc. No amount of argument, no matter how clear, will convince some of the opponents or defenders in the Caner case to change their minds. As nice as it sounds, there really is no such thing as an “open mind.” People have made up their minds — sometimes using facts and sometimes not — based upon their own perception of reality. I think in the end that each of us has to determine the credibility of those we put our trust in, whether it be Seminary professors, revival preachers, or Sunday school teachers. If someone loses credibility, we are to continue to love them (as Christ commands), whether or not their credibility is ever rehabilitated. That does not mean that we have are commanded to blindly follow or trust those who we view to have lost credibility. Of course, this is subjective and we cannot force someone not to believe a particular person is credible or trustworthy. We may question why they would so believe, but that ultimately is their choice.

  2. Bennett Willis says:

    If this were a book, the sub-title would be, “Testimonials by those who also profited by EC’s embellishments or who would suffer economic loss and embarrassment if EC repented.” This is clearly a majority position of the testifiers. Patterson’s quote is particularly vague. There is no information in the posting that relates to EC’s problem.

    Emir, the un-indicted co-conspirator, makes an appearance.

    This “posting” makes no effort to address any of the problems. The paragraphs are just “book cover” quotes in support of the Caners. Several of the authors have a clear economic or ego interests in this subject—some a huge amount. At least most don’t try to defend EC’s actions, just the personality.

    They did have one joke. They described SBC Today as an SBC news organ. They did not say which organ though.

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