The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Nine: The Knowledge Of God)

reason for God

Chapter Nine: The Knowledge Of God

Once again Pastor Keller doesn’t begin with a skeptic’s complaint against god. He starts off with two dialogues. One is a back-and-forth publish by the Metropolitan asserting obviously god exists since our thoughts don’t seem to be wasted. We have a sense something is listening to our internal monologue. I personally don’t feel my thoughts are being listened to and if I did it wouldn’t be a comfort. Partially since that is the height of loss of privacy, but als0 my thoughts aren’t interesting. The second dialogue is the summary of a conversation Keller had with a couple who “didn’t believe in much of anything”. The dialogue basically goes the couple knows there are somethings empirically moral to defend like the rights of women. Keller asks them how they know these things to which the couple banally replies, “everyone knows this.” He accurately points out this isn’t an argument, it’s an assertion. He says we hold ourselves to a higher standard than animals since we don’t hold them accountable for trampling the rights of other animals. The couple in his dialogue flounder and keep falling back on the rights are just self evident. Plainly this couple is not representative of genuine skeptics since even though they did not have any specific beliefs they approached a pastor for guidance. Moreover they aren’t able to see the obvious holes in Keller’s points.
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We treat animals differently for clear reasons. The biggest being most animals live symbiotically with their environment. Humans are a rare animal which consumes more than is needed, whose waste often doesn’t benefit the ecosystem, and left unchecked will destroy the ecosystem in the name of comfort and convenience. When an animal deviates from this symbiosis, as with rabies or chronic wasting disease, we do “hold them accountable”. Also an animal cannot reason, justify, or explain why it does what it does. We assume in general an animal acts in a way instinct developed to ensure their species. Humans can make the decisions to flout instinct and act in ways it clearly bad for the individual and the species. Once more we can “justify” these foolish actions. There are many obvious reasons humans regard themselves as separate from the animal kingdom, god or no god.

Keller says there is a “free-floating morality” and God provides the ground work for it. Ironically he uses the issues of women’s rights and the Nazi treatment of the Jews as examples of things we generally understand to be morally reprehensible. If God is the basis for this morality, why are the women of monotheism so often kept as second class citizens on the directive of God? If God is the reason we understand the Holocaust is morally wrong, why did he command so much destruction in the taking of the promise land? Not only did God command genocide, he assisted the Hebrews by holding the sun in the sky so a routed army could be more expediently dispatched, opening up the earth to swallow entire armies, and drowned the Egyptian army under orders from a Pharaoh whose heart had been hardened by God. These people’s only crime was they occupied the land God promised the Hebrews or were following commands of a ruler. Not only does it make no sense why an all powerful being has to use these methods to acquire some land he wants to gift to a group of humans he likes more than the rest of us, but Keller cites two moral truths God regularly violates as proof our morality comes from God.

The Evolutionary Theory Of Moral Obligation

Here Keller essentially says evolution has attempted to explain morality through survival of the fittest and how alturalism benefits us as a species and failed. He again threatens to paint himself in the corner with yet another god-of-gaps argument. While many scientists would disagree evolution doesn’t explain general morality, even if it were so, a failure in science one step closer to the right answer. Keller argues hostility outside ones group is good evidence evolution doesn’t give us our moral code. Again he has chosen one of the easiest moral upsets in the practice of religion. If anything seperates us from each other assuring there cannot be middle ground,  it is religion. As Sam Harris puts it. “We have Christians against Muslims against Jews, and no matter how liberal your theology, merely identifying yourself as a Christian or a Jew lends tacit validity to this status quo. People have morally identified with a subset of humanity rather than with humanity as a whole.”

The Difficulty of Human Rights
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Keller says there is a question of where human rights come from and that if they come from the mass as guidelines for general betterment they must be discovered not created. He agrees with Dworkin there must be something beyond utility to individual rights. He once again makes the leap to God as the reason. I think a simpler step would be higher and lower degrees of happiness and quality of life as indicators beyond the utility of individual rights.

The Grand “Sez Who?”
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Basically Keller is saying someone has to lay down the law otherwise we are morally lost at sea. The fact all societies come with the same general rules like don’t murder or steal indicates we don’t need a god to show us the way through a text. It wasn’t as if the Hebrews were killing each other willy-nilly until Moses came back with the ten commandments. They did however start killing each other en masse after Moses commanded it for worshiping the Golden Calf on which he smashed the tablets. Even if humans do get their morals from a central higher source, the God of the Bible is likely not it. He is a jealous, genocidal, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, misogynist. He may have been redeemed by Jesus somewhat, but he clearly is not the apex of morality and there is no reason to jump from having a sense there needs to be a standard to that standard is the Trinity.

The Argument For God from the Violence of Nature

Keller begins by agreeing with Ann Dillard, a writer, when she said “all of nature is based on violence”. (P. 154) He expounds on this saying if we know a loving peaceful god made the earth then we know where morals come from. He says “There is no basis for moral obligation unless we argue that nature is in some part unnatural.” (P. 155) He uses this idea to insert the need for a “supernatural” to judge right from wrong. He attempts to say the world is broken and in need of a redeemer and this is evidence God dictates morality.

The entire premise of his argument is nature is based on violence, which is clearly not the case. I admit there are many violent acts in nature, but there are many non-violent actions like a butterfly pollinating flowers, photosynthesis, or the formation of a stalagmite. Furthermore the violence of a lion eating a zebra or a fire clearing a forest is not a moral violence in need of redemption. Life springs from the violence of nature. It is its function and rarely deviates from it. If redemption is needed for this kind of violence one could easily argue we see it in the lion cub born on the flesh of prey or the new growth made possible by the reduction of the canopy. Keller seeks to vilify all of nature to indicate God gives morals.

The Endless, Pointless Litigation of Existence
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Keller says he has not tried to prove the existence of God, rather that we already know he exists. He attempts to reinforce this by pointing out eventually the human species will likely end and without God to commit actions to memory, to judge there hasn’t been a point to any of this and “Whether we are cruel in the end would make no difference at all. ” (P. 157) Even if there is no ultimate point to our existence to be good for the time we do exist, to make the most of our society, to become the best species the universe ever had, does it matter there isn’t anything to pat us on the back or scold us for short comings? I say no. The value of a good action is in the action, not the reward. Keller tries to say it is dishonest to say that humans have inherent dignity and deny God’s existence. The God of the Bible does not value all human’s dignity clearly and Keller’s attempt to prove morals can’t exist without a super-being’s over-site are flimsy at best.

Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.

-Danger

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