The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Eight: Clues of God)Posted: October 28, 2013
Chapter Eight: Clues of God
Pastor Keller deviates from quoting skeptics at the beginning of the chapter and instead quotes Somerset Maugham and Jean-Paul Sartre. In summary Maugham says if we don’t believe in after-life and the existence of God there is no meaning in life and Sartre, in summary, says we have no right to exist and there is no reason for existing.
Maugham first. The idea we have no purpose without belief in a specific higher power and afterlife is dismal and unappreciative of the wonder of life. For the person who believes this life is it and accountability for its use is reflected by the mark they leave on individuals in their life are just as apt if not more so to conduct themselves in a purposeful and ethical way. If you live your life looking forward to a exceptionally better one post-mortem bequeathed to you by grace, what drives you to make the most out of this life and leave an indelibly compassionate mark, other than ethical and moral codes all people regardless of faith or creed subscribe to? To quote Madalyn Murray O’Hair, “An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that deed must be done instead of prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.” While believing in assured eternal life and a super-being caring about humans above everything in the cosmos is comforting, it does not dictate a more purpose driven or fulfilled life.
Now Sartre: Even in Nausea (from which Keller’s quote is pulled) Sartre’s character calls this view point pessimistic. First of all we do exist, therefore we have a right to exist. We call these inalienable rights for a reason, but even if we don’t have a right to exist the fact we exist is profound and to be valued. To see the wonder of consciousness/life and see it as purposeless is counter intuitive. One can argue it, possibly successfully, but we intuitively sense they are wrong.
Keller begins this chapter by admitting “there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God” and then goes on “people have found strong clues for his reality – divine finger prints – in many places.” (P. 127) Citing Alvin Plantinga Keller says there are two or three dozen good arguments for God admitting some will not find these arguments compelling. These are the ones he chose.
“The Mysterious Bang”
In this section Keller says god is a good answer to why is there something rather than nothing, and while he admits, by quoting Sam Harris, this is not evidence for the God of the Bible even if it did prove to be true. Obviously the inception of everything deserves an explanation, jumping to “a deity did it” doesn’t actually answer anything, gives excuse to stop searching for the actual answer, and then causes the next question – where did that deity come from? This is a classic god-of-the-gaps argument and if apologists care to take this strategy they are painting themselves into an intellectual corner. Information gathering has been growing exponentially and the cosmos is increasingly making sense taking away from Thor’s thunder, Poseidon’s briny wrath, and God’s punishment of the Black Plague. Keller’s points could become as laughable as the earth moving on a turtle’s back if we should ever gain the ability to look past the Big Bang. In any-case simply stating there must be a cause to the Big Bang and since we don’t know what it is means it was a super-being is not a good argument and attempts to close further discussion.
Here Keller applies the “fine tuning argument” and while even Hawking admits the chances of the universe emerging as it did from the big bang is staggering, it is the only way the question could have been asked. If the universe didn’t form the way it did, no life-no question, so the one dictates the other. It doesn’t mean the universe was intentionally made so the question could be asked. Keller says the universe was made for humans which to me is the height of arrogance. We haven’t observed the universe nearly enough to assert there is no other sentient life in it. It completely ignores panspermia and Physics of Type I, II, and III Civilizations. Without going into too much detail Panspermia theorizes life didn’t originate on earth but rather arrived here as simple organisms riding on an meteor which broke off from a different planet. We know bacteria can survive in space and we also have meteors which have interstellar organisms in our possession. The Physics of Extraterrestrial Civilizations is an attempt to explain why we don’t see other complex civilizations in our universe and while without tangible evidence, in theory it holds up to scrutiny. Once again Keller risks painting himself into a god-of-the-gaps corner.
“The Regularity of Nature”
Basically Keller is saying the laws of nature are an indicator of god. Fine, but this again isn’t terribly useful in narrowing down which deity or even defining if we are in contact with one of presupposed deities or one yet unnamed. Moreover if nature’s laws were irregular, what’s to stop Keller from saying its evidence there is a god at work in the day to day.
Frankly I agree with Keller on the point beauty and the emotions evoked by it are evidence there is something special going on there. There are many materialists who have gone to great lengths to prove beauty is a neurological hardwired response, and while I don’t contest their findings it does seem to oversimplify Beethoven or a Stavesacre. Again, you can attribute this sense of “more” to any/all the mystical, legendary, and super-being ideas.
Keller recaps all of this chapter’s arguments say the secular person can rightly disagree with any and all of them as proof for god. The last counter argument that our senses and convictions can be explained via evolutionary biology according to Keller, “proves to much.” (P. 140) He says,”If we can’t trust our belief-forming faculties in one area, we should not trust them in any area. If there is no God, we should not trust our cognitive faculties at all.” (P. 140) Keller goes on saying if you don’t believe in god you will find the Big Bang, nature, the cosmos inexplicable and theists don’t view them as enigmas. First of all scientists, theistic or not, claim these questions as some of the greatest mysteries to be solved, so Keller is wrong about the Big Bang making sense just because you believe in god. It doesn’t make sense to the uneducated theist. They simply have decided without testable evidence they have the answer. People have simply decided the truth about things throughout history and rarely did it move us forward as a species if it wasn’t questioned, tested, and found true and beneficial. I can “know” when I die I will be reincarnated. It doesn’t actually mean I know what happens after I die. I simply have decided to think something which answers a difficult question and gives me comfort. Keller fully admits these are all inconclusive proofs of god, however he says although we cannot make an air tight case for god, “We know God is there.” (P. 142)
To be honest I agree with Pastor Keller the mysteries of the universe does seem to say there is something more than just atoms and chemicals. Why is love amazing? Why does live music move people? Why do almost all cultures create mythical super-beings? I don’t know and neither does Keller. Now admitting there is something as yet enigmatic about emotion and art doesn’t make the skeptic’s position weak. Socrates said (allegedly), “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” We cannot move forward in true understanding if we claim to know the unknown without evidence. Suspended judgement is a completely acceptable position to take. Even Richard Dawkins admits he is a six on his scale of one to seven of absolute certainty about god’s existence. Until all questions are utterly answered, there is room for discussion and new information, but to look at an iron age text and decide it has answered the questions unanswered by Leonardo do Vinci, Einstein, and Hawking is a disservice to one’s self and the world around them. Plainly, I am surprised he dedicated an entire chapter to admitting none of arguments actually hold up to scrutiny. He basically set up the next chapter for fifteen pages.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.