This is an open letter in response to the comments made by Congressman Grothman regarding the SCOTUS gay marriage ruling. http://www.rawstory.com/2015/07/wisconsin-republican-says-marriage-decision-insults-christians-who-died-in-the-religious-civil-war/
I am a Wisconsinite and I recently heard your reaction to the gay marriage decision. I respect your candor and honesty, but you severely misrepresented Pres. Lincoln, the Civil War, and our nation.
Pres. Lincoln was almost certainly not a Christian.”The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession.” — Abraham Lincoln, quoted by Joseph Lewis in “Lincoln the Freethinker”.
Clearly he held a public persona of faith, but as a politician I’m sure you can understand publicly holding a position you don’t personally believe.
The Civil War was not religious war. How dare you simplify the worst conflict in our history. Moreover if it was a religious war, what was the opposing religion? This was not Sunni vs. Shia or Catholics vs. Protestants or The Crusades. It was about states rights, taxation, independence, and slavery. Which brings up the fact Ministers were for slavery and used the Bible to justify limited rights of black people just as you seem to use the Bible against the LGBTQ community. Pastor Ebenezer Warren, in 1861, delivered a sermon entitled, “THE SCRIPTURAL VINDICATION OF SLAVERY”. It was published in The Macon Telegraph. In this sermon, this Christian Pastor speaking to, as you said, “a much more religious country”, said, “Both Christianity and Slavery are from Heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time; and therefore both have been protected and defended by God’s omnipotent arm from the assaults, oppositions and persecutions through which they have passed.” This seems very similar to the persecution rhetoric Christians have been bandying about since the SCOTUS decision.
Lastly, you speculate the 620,000 Americans who died in that war would be appalled at the SCOTUS application of the 14th amendment. What reason do you have to assume those brave people would agree with you? There were certainly Liberals, Progressives, and homosexuals who died in that war. We are a nation of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Spiritualists, Buddhists, non-believers, and so on. Who are you to speak for those who died for what they believed? You called the judges “arrogant” and yet you claim to know the minds of dead heroes when you don’t even seem to understand the most basic reasons they fought in that great war. Pride goes before the fall Congressman. You are on the wrong side of history and some day someone will be quoting you to show how backwards and regressive our secular nation once was.
Someone who believes Wisconsin deserves better
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Fourteen: The Dance of God and Epilogue) Final PostPosted: November 18, 2013
Chapter Fourteen: The Dance of God and Epilogue
Pastor Keller, believing he has convinced the reader of his position, spends the last chapter reiterating and poeticizing the gospel through the idea of “dances”. He follows this with the “Epilogue”, a section intended to show the reader how to become a Christian. These chapters are largely reiterating the previous chapters, speaking in mystical terms or simply recruiting the reader in prayer and faith. Keller feels he has made his argument clear by now so I must follow suit.
This is my summary case for skepticism and reason.
The burden of proof is on the believer. You cannot ask to have a negative proven. It is like asking why don’t you believe you can fly or to assert there are pixies on the surface of Mars. No one questions why we don’t believe in things which there is no evidence. Belief in god, even according to Tim Keller, requires faith and by definition that belief does not rely on material evidence or logical proof.
Secondly those who choose to believe in a god do it arbitrarily, usually contingent on parent’s belief or geography. Since the Sumerians started writing history down six thousand years ago humans have cataloged about thirty-six hundred gods/super-beings. Why choose Jesus over Zeus, Allah, or Ganesh? The answer again is faith. It does not make sense nor serve you well to arbitrarily assign a super-being characteristics you must live your life.
Why do skeptics care if others believe?
Religion by its very nature is divisive. We see evidence through the annals of history. It causes strife and division from the family to the global level. Humanity’s growth and self awareness is held back by pointless and unanswerable arguments of “who is the true god”. Since there can be no empirical evidence one way or the other at this point, we are forever trapped in this argument. Skeptics, unencumbered by this debate, see more important and answerable issues fall to the wayside.
Secondly, religion muddies the moral and scientific waters. Sensible, good, and intelligent people are often lead to assert moral claims society intuitively knows is wrong. Religion has negatively effected female and minority roles, and the balance of power in society. It holds education in our schools back. It catches us up in debates which belong in philosophy and metaphysics but somehow find their way to our governments and social sphere.
What is the skeptic’s moral compass?
We all understand murder, theft, rape, and the like are wrong. There is no need for a god to know these truths. To be a good person is a struggle for the believer and skeptic alike, however the reasons are much clearer to the skeptic. It is not about the next life or pleasing a deity, but rather good and proper use of the gift of life and to serve their fellow humans. It could be summed up as: Serve and love each other. If you are not able to serve and love, at the very least, do no harm. While there are nuances to this ideal, it will serve any and all quite well in everyday life.
Secondly, there is nothing keeping the skeptic to see the moral value of wise teachers who came before them. Unlike a believer there is nothing to keep the skeptic from finding value in the teachings of Gandhi, Jesus, or Confucius. The believer must regard the teachings of other doctrines warily inspite of the truth wrapped within. The skeptic is not mired in these irrational misgivings and celebrate all self-evident truths.
To my fellow skeptics:
I want to instill this truth in all of you: No one learns from someone they hate. While your passions may run deep, I encourage you to listen before speaking, ask before telling, and discuss rather than debate. Leave the harmless alone: Do not take faith from children. You wouldn’t tell a six year old there is no Santa, in same way leave Jesus/Allah/Astrology alone. If a young adult asks about these issues, guide, don’t force. Leave the elderly to their beliefs unless they engage the discussion. Live your life beyond the reproach of believers as to undo the myth we cannot be moral and faithless. Admit logic/science currently has limits and you are never finished learning. Make your voice heard through voting, public service, and personal example. If we are as confident of our position as we claim, let our speech and demeanor reflect it. Let us exemplify the logic and sensibility we so often evoke. Finally, realize the service and love of your contemporaries far outweighs the importance of undoing faith.
Drive fast. Take Chances. Thanks for reading.
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Twelve: The (True) Story of the Cross)Posted: November 13, 2013
For those of you who have been following along thus far I apologize for the repetitiveness of this post, but as Pastor Keller reiterates his arguments so must I with counter arguments.
Chapter Twelve: The (True) Story of the Cross
This chapter starts with a quote from Ganhdi accepting the teachings, sacrifice, and example of Jesus but not accepting there was “a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it”. (P. 186) The next quote is from Malcolm Muggeridge bemoaning his turning away from the cross even though he “should have worn it.” (P.186)
Pastor Keller demonstrated his ignorance of his faith in the first sentence saying, “The primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross.” (P. 186) Christians used signs of life like the fish or lamb for the three or so centuries of its youth. Not until Constantine do we see the faith represented by a torture device. Interestingly this is not long after the introduction of original sin. Keller says people often struggle with forgiveness more than the existence of God. They wonder why God had to use “divine child abuse” (P.187).
The First Reason: Real Forgiveness Is Costly Suffering
Keller apologizes an event where you lend a neighbor your car and he backs into your gate. He lists three options: One, He pays the damage. Two, you pay the damage. Three, you share the cost. The point he is making is ” damage must be borne by someone. ” (P.187) He’s forgetting there is a fourth option. Let it go. Splitting hairs maybe, but at least round out your analogy.
Keller argues forgiveness is agony since you are alleviating the need for justice but internalizing that debt. I would say the opposite is true of forgiveness. It is not internalizing debt, but rather let the loss and the hurt go. As T. D. Jakes says, “I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.” Not to say that is easy by any measure, but the lack of forgiveness rots us with anger and resentment. People are rarely bettered by refusing to move on from wrongdoing. Keller is trying to paint forgiveness as pain so Jesus’ blood sacrifice holds merit. He says, “Everyone who forgives great evil goes through death into resurrection, ” (P. 192) The moment you forgive a weight is lifted from you. Anyone who has truly forgiven even the smallest grievance knows this. There is no sense of death in act of forgiveness. You may attribute something akin to death in the wrong doing, but that is completely separate from forgiveness.
The Forgiveness of God
Keller attributes a very human issue to God in this section saying, “no one “just” forgives , if the evil is serious. ” (P. 192) He also points out Christians believe Jesus is God so God was inflicting “the pain violence, and evil of the world into himself. ” (P. 192) Even for the believers the one in three monotheism concept is difficult to wrap their heads around and most decide it is a matter of faith, but if you break it down in simplest terms: God made sin. Must punish us for that creation. Wants to forgive so he tortures and kills himself in physical form while simultaneously forsaking himself to pay the debt owed to himself incurred by the system he has utter control over from before the beginning.
The Second Reason: Real Love Is a Personal Exchange
Keller accurately points out to love someone who is need or in danger it costs something to the lover. If you are to love your children you must “decrease that they may increase”. (P. 194) I heartily agree. The problem comes when Keller attributes this to human limitation to God. He closes this section by saying, “how can God be a God of love if does not become personally involved in suffering, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain we experience? The answer to that question is twofold. First, God can’t. Second, only one major world religion claims that God does.” (p. 195) The first one “can’t” is unbelievable. Pastor Keller has argued over and over God’s ultimate power. His creation and control of everything. His infallibility. Suddenly when it matters most God “can’t”? If forgiveness without blood sacrifice is God’s kryptonite, how are we to believe all the other powers attributed to him have any merit? I would much rather a God who was divine in this area and human in every other. The fact he killed himself for the debt owed to himself is greatly diminished by this limitation humans overcome.
The Great Reversal
Christians often cite their deity as unique and special since Jesus experienced everything we do, which is simply not true. He didn’t experience old age, the loss of his mother, the temptation of cheating on his wife, mistreating his children, war and the evil and horrors only soldiers know, and most importantly mortality and the insecurity of what happens after death to name a few. Inspite of this Keller seeks to make a case based on God fully experiencing the human condition. Keller also tries to paint Christians as superior through “a reversal of values regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth.” (P. 196) He says Christians give away money, look at power to be used only as service, and doing away with racial and class superiority. Again, this is simply not true. Any Christian charity seeks to serve and further their message. History is clear on where Christians stand with classism and racism. To give an over simplified example: “Sell the Vatican. Feed the world.” –Sarah Silverman Christianity has many good tenants of service and forgiveness, but those are hardly unique to the faith and at day’s end they are just as concerned with the status and longevity of their religion as any other organization. Some would say more so.
The Story Of The Cross
Keller is painting the story of Jesus as something that is part of our story. Jesus having to die for our sins is humbling since he was glad to do it. In the previous section Keller points out Jesus asking God to do it some other way in the garden and while on the cross crying out “why”. This does not sound like someone glad to be in the situation. Commendable Jesus did it inspite of his qualms, but there’s no potency in it since he is in utter control of the situation. It makes no sense why an all powerful, all knowing being would ask himself to change the rules and then deny himself. He knows everything and can do anything. Why the theatrics and self limitation? It smacks of humans dipping from their own experience rather than the identity of an all powerful being.
Keller spends the chapter limiting God while simultaneously exalting him as utterly superior to humans. Moreover if a sixteen hour torture session resulting in temporary death is the payment required for the sin in all of time, how is eternal hell a justifiable punishment for an individual’s sin? Even if Jesus was perfect and willingly sacrificed, hell still seems rather steep payment for even the worst of us.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel)Posted: November 12, 2013
Chapter Eleven: Religion and the Gospel
Keller begins this chapter with a quote from Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde saying it is a good example of “describing his evil self using classic Christian categories:” (P. 175) He explains the struggle of Jekyll is base nature and ego is a example of sin nature. Keller says there are two forms of evil and self-centeredness. One: breaking all the rules. Two: Keeping all the rules and becoming self righteous. Keller says the latter is the more damaging, like the pharisees.
Damage of Pharisaism
Keller paints the Pharisees as a group trying to buy their way into heaven, to stack a resume’ for God’s approval, but deep down they know they are not living up to what Keller calls standards. I assume he means the Levitical laws.
Again, the Pharisees did not have a concept of Hell and the Levitical laws were not written to keep Hebrews out of it. They are a social and moral code written to help the Hebrews commune with God and live good lives. Keller says the pharisees are like the legalistic Christians who cause other Christians to reject faith and never return to the Church. With 613 mitzvot (commandments) Hebrews are to adhere to, it seems Keller has a point, but lets keep in mind Jesus said to keep the law of Moses and the prophets. The difference with Jesus is the introduction of Hell and human sacrifice. If you gathered sticks on the Sabbath you may have been stoned to death (Numbers 15:32-35), but your soul wouldn’t have gone to hell for eternity. Its not until scapegoating in the form human sacrifice does the afterlife become perilous. While I am not in defense of Judaism, Keller is misrepresenting a culture and religion to make his more attractive.
The Difference of Grace
“There is, then, a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. ” (P. 179) He is absolutely right, but not for the reasons he thinks. Keller supposes one is done for fear of hell and the other is done is gratitude for the life we have been granted through the sacrifice of Jesus. Religion vs. Gospel. He seems to think the nature of God is consistent and we are the ones who change perception on how to be saved from hell. In reality it is the change of how we perceive God which changes, thus changing God. Which is more important, mitzvot or acknowledging human sacrifice and eternal torture? If I believe in YWHW Jesus was a prophet and hell is a Zoroastrian concept. If I believe in Jesus I am still supposed to follow the Talmud, however I am saved by grace so if I fail I am not damned. Keller repetitively tries to paint the Hebrew religion as doing good works to avoid hell and Christianity as superior since they acknowledge there is no way to be good enough, but Jesus forgave us of that too. I’ll say it one more time. HEBREWS AREN’T TRYING TO GET OUT OF HELL. THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN IT.
Keller is addressing the concept of grace allowing believer’s to act as they please because God will forgive them. He says if you feel this way you haven’t really entered into “radical” belief. If you truly believe in Jesus you will feel obligated to live your life in service of his sacrifice and this is a joyous way to be. I agree you think you are born evil, hell is real, and vicarious punishment through human sacrifice is a just solution, then sure you will be grateful. If you don’t think you are born evil, hell is like Hades (a myth), and human sacrifice for the purpose of vicarious redemption is always wrong, martyr or otherwise. This hardly seems like a healthy world view. It has been said you cannot love others until you can love yourself. How can someone who believes they were born deserving the worst possible of punishments ever truly love themselves? Secondly, if you were on trial for a crime, lets say graffiti, and the judge finds you guilty however he says you are forgiven because he is going to kill his child in your place. All you have to do is be grateful to him and his child for their sacrifice and you will have joy. Compulsory gratitude. This clearly is not a moral thing to do and it was cause utter guilt in the “forgiven”, not joy. You would be morally obligated to tell the judge not to kill his child and offer to take a punishment appropriate for the crime. There is no reason for an all powerful god to operate this way. Creating us without sin nature, not creating hell, not requiring innocent blood as the solution, so on and so forth are superior solutions. The central Christian tenants of scapegoating and compulsory love are far from moral and certainly not joyous.
Keller seems to feel he has convinced the reader at this point of the mystical ideas and intends to drive home Christianity’s superiority to other faiths. Grace on its face is an appealing idea, however grace by murdering the innocent for predestined crime put in place by the judge takes the joy and reprieve right out of it.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.
Chapter Ten: The Problem Of Sin
Seeming to abandon quoting skeptics Keller quotes H. G. Wells instead. The first quote sings the praises to the accomplishments of humankind. The second, miserable in the horrid actions of humankind. After making the case the world’s perfection must indicate a creator Keller does a one-eighty and starts this chapter by saying, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world.” (P. 159) He says Christianity points to sin as the culprit admitting the concept is ludicrous and offensive to many because they don’t understand what Christians mean by the term.
Sin and Human Hope
Keller says the impression the doctrine of sin as a bleak and pessimistic view of human nature is incorrect because we are not at its mercy the way the body is at the mercy of cancer. We can be redeemed and this is a cause for hope not pessimism. First, the idea humans at birth are literally doomed because of original sin (which wasn’t even formalized until the second century) is dismal. The idea our souls are created with something so repugnant God would send unbaptized babies (I realize this is not the universal stance) to eternal hell fire is nearly the worst possible concept of human nature, redemption available or not. Keller says until we can admit we are very flawed, sinners, we cannot be liberated and improve. I agree we can’t hold ourselves in too high of esteem. We need to identify and address our short comings and strive to improve the lives of others, some more than others, but the idea we enter this world with a blight on our very nature so evil God considers eternal hell a just punishment is sepulchral.
The Meaning of Sin
Keller cites Soren Kierkgaard saying humans are made to believe in God and love him supremely centering their lives on him above everything else. “Anything other than this is sin. ” (P. 162) This argument there is no fulfillment outside of God is an old and tired argument. If this is the case was everyone pre-Abraham miserable and listless? Are all who never heard about Jesus floating through life never finding meaning? All the joy, love, art, music, created and enjoyed apart from Christianity would beg to differ. This is an incredibly limited and myopic world view which asserts the vast majority of people who have ever existed were not only empty and without identity, but in the Christian view in eternal punishment. Keller says finding your identity apart from God “only sets the stage for continual disappointment.” (P. 163) He says we all want redemption and only God can impart it to us. Humanity may want purpose and affirmation their individual lives have meaning, but unless we are told there is something fundamentally wrong with us, redemption doesn’ t enter the picture. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Any of the Dalai Lamas likely found identity and meaning outside of God, but according to Keller this is impossible and they lived their lives from disappointment to disappointment.
The Personal Consequences of Sin
So under the definition identity is found in God and no where else Keller seeks to prove “there is no way to avoid this insecurity outside of God” (P. 165) saying if your identity is being a parent you can loose you children, if you are an athlete you can loose you physical prowess so on and so forth. Keller says God is the only constant. Clearly this is not the case since there are so many variations of Christianity and while when pressed Christians identify with whatever denomination they subscribe to e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Evangelical, so on. The interpretation of who God is, what he wants, how is to be worshiped, and how salvation is truly acquired varies wildly. They may see eye to eye on God’s name but more than once they have come to blows over the details. So if you make your identity as a Catholic you are at the same mercy of insecurity since you may end up in an area dominated by Protestants and they seem to be making sense. Yes, you still believe in the same God, but who he is and your relationship with him (your identity) is in utter peril. What if you subscribe to a specific preacher like Tedd Haggard and he fails so completely the way he did. Doesn’t that make you second guess the teachings you have built your identity? The point is the Christian God‘s personality and desires are up for debate and the identity you have you still chose and it can be lost or taken. A better assured identity is one of compassion and service. If you sculpt who you are around the service and love of self and others because it is empirically right, nothing can take it from you.
The Social Consequences of Sin
Keller propones the only way to social unity is through loving God and all other social identities are fodder for separation and tension. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the latter, the former is patently false. Not only is there constant disagreement within the Church, but history has shown religion to be one of the most polarizing organizations no matter who or where. Keller is essentially calling for a world wide Christian Theocracy. The horror that would be. The Fore Fathers were largely driven to escape theocracy because they saw the inherent evil it causes. “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.” -Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782. They saw the only way for a society to be at peace is to leave God out of it.
The Cosmic Consequences of Sin
Keller once again shows his hubris on our role in the universe. He talks about the creation in Genesis and how it was “all good” until sin was introduced; then, “the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled.” (P. 170) First off Keller doesn’t seem to take Genesis literally until now. Its as if he actually thinks “disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death…” (P. 170) are the result of original sin. We don’t have dominion over the planet; microbes like viruses and bacteria do. Most of the planet is uninhabitable by humans. Keller referring to the pitfalls of this planet as a cosmic event is ludicrously out of touch with size and state of the cosmos. The first definition of “cosmic” is: Of or relating to the regions of the universe distinct from the Earth, and yet Keller references only the earth when talking about the “cosmic consequences”. He cites an event which there is literally no proof, acts as though we are the reason for the planet earth, and has zero concept of microcosm this galaxy is in comparison with the cosmos. It is painfully stupid to read.
We Can Put It All Right?
Pastor Keller does his best to put the fear of God in the reader pointing out if you chase career, money, ambition, you will be left wanting. He reminds us family and career can’t die for your sins. If one does not believe in sin, the wages of, or redemption through human sacrifice the second tactic holds no water. I submit again the idea we are born damaged goods redeemed through human sacrifice is immoral and baseless. Keller argues something must become the “Lord of your life. ” (P. 173) and that lord should be Jesus because you will be fulfilled and forgiven of your sin. I agree a person who pursues tangible selfish goals will be less fulfilled, but God is not the necessary answer either. Compassion, love, service of others will bring fulfillment. If you choose to believe in original sin, that is your prerogative, but until its introduction two hundred years after Christ’s alleged existence all of humanity got on just fine without believing they were born bad and deserving of the worst of all possible punishments. Maybe if we spend more time focused on love and less on the hypothetical peril of our souls we can put it closer to right.
Drive fast. Take chances. Thanks for reading.
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – A critique (Chapter Nine: The Knowledge Of God)Posted: November 5, 2013
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.
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
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?”
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.
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
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.
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.