The Reason for God: Keller on Thinking and Philosophy

After reading Timothy Keller's new book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, I became poignantly aware of two things.  We don't know as much as we think we do about the world we live in, and we know more than we think we do about God.  I will attempt to expound on both of these conclusions throughout the rest of this blog post, but first let's begin with some introductory facts about the book.

Dr. Timothy Keller has written a 250 page book that essentially contains two parts: an examination of seven major objections to Christianity, and an exegesis about why God does exist and what we should do with that information.  But this is no regular apologetic book about Scripture verses and probabilities.  Keller admits from the outset that he cannot necessarily prove God beyond a shadow of a doubt to everyone.  In fact, he draws a distinction between two methods of logical thought.  The first is strong rationalism, which is the fraudulent belief that someone can actually hold the "view from nowhere", or in other words - a position of pure objectivity.  Since everyone under the sun brings some type of bias into his or her premises and conclusions about the evidence, he rejects this type of logic as a realistic possibility.  Human beings can be rational of course, just not omniscient (in possession of all knowledge on any one subject).  The second method of logic Keller mentions is critical rationality.  It says basically that to any rational argument out there, someone can always find a loop-hole or an escape hatch by employing the right kind of philosophical tactic.  But in spite of this, there are some arguments that many, or even most rational people will find convincing.  And this is the method that Dr. Keller uses in order to collect proofs for God in his book. 

He employs critical rationality to assert things like "you can't evaluate a religion except on the basis of some other ethical criteria that in the end, amounts to your own personal religion."  In other words, you cannot say a belief system is bad, unless you claim to have a better (or more omniscient) knowledge about that subject matter which gives you the right to call it bad in the first place.  This may not be plausible enough for everyone, but it serves to appeal to many as a successful logical assertion.  After reading several chapters on this, I began to wonder if anyone can ever really prove anything!  But then Keller says that because any kind of truth claim denotes a bias or pre-supposition of its own, this simply acts to level the playing field on both sides of the God debate, and reminds us that we are to be humble in our search for answers.  Not aggressive, ruthless, or cruel.    

After leveling the playing field so to speak (by essentially refusing to sink into the realm of the "uber-philosophy nerd" who becomes so caught up in the beauty of their own premises that they miss the forest for the trees), Keller claims that we can know God through a process of clue accumulation.   These clues that point toward a creator - like the finely tuned Earth argument or the universal moral law - can be woven together to provide enough evidence to fulfill critical rationality.  And this, Keller says, will allow us to see that the system of thought which allows for a God, seems to make more sense of the big questions that all of us carry around with us.  Questions like "why am I here" or "what is the purpose to all of this."  Questions that professed atheist Richard Dawkins calls silly and meaningless.  In short, viewing our world through the lens of Christianity makes more sense of things than viewing the world through any other lens. 

Now this is an interesting theory to me.  On the one hand it seems to tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously with regard to how smart or educated we are, and to realize that strictly speaking, no one can know everything about anything.  Next, however, we need to understand that this is no excuse for intellectual laziness, and we must press on with our attempt to understand the world in which we live.  Finally, this world contains a plethora of evidence that points directly to a creator God.  All of this strikes me as a wake-up call to stop toying around with philosophy, and begin thinking.  Stop loving the beauty of a logical construct, and begin to actually employ one.  If we do this, Keller says we will eventually arrive at God.  I would tend to agree.

Granted, I am probably reading my own bias into his statements.  Fair enough.  But this invoked in me the idea that we need to stop fighting with each other.  Proponents on both sides of the God debate need to 1.) realize that they don't have all the answers, and 2.) be humble in their assessments of the evidence around us.  Once this occurs, we may begin to discuss honestly the possibility of a universe that includes the supernatural component - no matter what side of the equation we come down on.  We don't know as much as we think we do about the world we live in, and we know more than we think we do about God.  Because if He is real, He would have endowed us with the ability to find Him.  But this doesn't mean we will always sufficiently understand Him.  After all, what kind of a God would He be if you and I could build our own logical 'stairway' that was high enough to reach Him completely, thus bringing us together as equals?  This will never happen, it wasn't meant to.  We must be satisfied then, with accumulating the clues that He has left for us, and weaving them together into a tapestry which may not reflect God perfectly - but still be perfect enough to inspire awe.  In this type of framework, there will always be the opportunity to disbelieve.  I think the prospect of finding God, however, is worth that risk.  We have always been free to make up our own minds either way.

This explains why I have always enjoyed a well-structured and thorough talk given by an atheist just as much as a convincing witness given by a true believer.  Because both of them remind me that the human brain can be a beautiful thing.  But we must stop considering ourselves so learned and educated that we can explain away God.  I don't believe an honest account of the clues He has left for us allows for this.  The Bible tells us that He wants us to pursue Him, but it does not recommend testing Him.  Both ventures entail man looking for God, all the while using the intellectual capacity which He has given us in the first place.  But testing Him by way of hiding behind philosophical escape hatches or smoke screens is unwise.  And I think this is the point that Keller was trying to make. 

We know more than we think we do about God because He loves us, and wants us to arrive at Him as our destination.  Better for me to admit He exists, than to play hide-and-seek with intricately developed philosophies and arguments that are fun to discuss, but may fall flat when actually employed.  I will be better off in the long run I think, if I just admit what I see. 




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