The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

the reason for God

 

The title of Keller’s book The Reason of God is misleading. Two views Christian apologetics are Evidential and Presuppositional. The Evidential apologetic says “let’s look at the natural world around us and humanity and through these proofs let’s reason our way up to God.” It posits that it’s reasonable to believe in God. The Presuppositional apologetic says there is no reason without God. You must first presuppose God’s revelation of himself and then you are able to see the Truth of not only God but all the world. Christianity makes everything intelligible. C.S. Lewis put it eloquently, as he so often does, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Keller’s title The Reason for God implies that there is a reason to believe in God. This would be problematic because, like the Evidential apologetic, it puts reason above God. It says human understanding is sufficient to come to God opposed to his own divine revelation opening our minds and hearts to himself. The Evidential apologetic puts God on trial with human reason and empirical evidence as the judge and jury. The issue is not that people are unaware of God but that they are rebelling against him in their foolish denial of his existence. I’ll explain more on this later.

I was delighted to see that Keller’s title is merely a hook that speaks the language of the world to draw readers in. He is speaking to the fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:5) Once inside, a faithful Presuppositional apologetic is presented—mostly.

Keller wastes no time in his attack of post-modern relativism. “Absolute relativism can only exist if the relativists exempt themselves from their own razor. If you infer from the social conditionedness of all belief that ‘no belief can be held as universally true for everyone,’ that itself is a comprehensive claim about everyone that is the product of social conditions—so it cannot be true, on its own terms. Relativism relativizes itself.”It’s a self-defeating statement to say, all truth is relative. This is something that is often overlooked by proponents of evidential apologetics. It’s just one way they concede far too much to the non-believer. I’m glad to see Keller shed light on this common absurdity on the outset.

In chapter 6, Science Has Disproved Christianity, Keller argues against philosopher John Macquarrie’s idea that supernatural elements do not exist because we cannot examine them by empirical means. “Macquarrie’s argument is ultimately circular. He says that science, by its nature, can’t discern or test for supernatural causes and therefore those causes can’t exist.”2 This is circular reasoning. It says that because we do not have the tools to work a machine then the machine must not exist. But I would argue that on the existence of God and the supernatural, we do have the tools. We have God’s supernatural revelation to us in our natural world. Also, if miracles were common enough to examine and form a scientific framework around them then they would no longer be miracles.

The only section of the book where Keller gets murky is in his examination of evolution. He says it’s fine for a Christian to believe in evolution as a “biological mechanism” that explains how less complex life forms evolved into more complex life forms through natural selection. But, he also correctly says, we should not believe in evolution as it pertains to a “philosophical naturalism.” Keller writes. “When evolution is turned into an All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as a product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy.”I agree with this but I would also say that this ought to be how Christians view things, only in reverse. Instead of evolution being the All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we should believe that this source of absolute explanation is Christ and his Word. From this chapter it doesn’t seem like Keller feels the same. Lost people start with an outright denial of God and the supernatural and then proceed to discover “truths” of our world, filtering all evidence through their Godless worldview. If they are Godless in their philosophy, why should they not be Godless in their science? Likewise, if we are Godly in our philosophy, why then should we not be Godly in our view science and all the natural world? Satan has nothing to offer in the realm of human understanding.

Now, as far as Keller permitting evolution as a “biological mechanism,” I don’t see how that’s possible from a biblical perspective. I don’t claim to be an expert regarding a proper, final Christian view of origins, but as of right now, I have many questions for Pastor Keller. He writes, “For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.”I’m glad he rejects evolution as an All-encompassing theory but I don’t think it’s appropriate to say God “guided” any sort of “natural process.” Psalm 139:13 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Matthew 10:29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” There is no reason not to take these verses as literally true. God has complete sovereignty (not mere guidance) over everything, from the the gestation of a human being to the death of every sparrow.

Keller makes it sound like “natural selection” is some sort of agent outside of God which he simply manipulates to his own ends. And what are those ends especially in regards to man? The worldviews we can take seem to be, we are either created in the image of God out of dust or we are evolved from African apes. Which does Keller believe? How can it be both? Everything is linked. If we concede that birds evolved from dinosaurs then why can man not have evolved from apes? To what extent does Keller believe in evolution as a “biological mechanism” and where is the cutoff from that belief diverting into “philosophical naturalism.” It’s not clear and it needs to be.

The only attempt at clarification actually muddies the water more. Keller writes, “I personally take the view that Genesis 1 and 2 relate to each other the way Judges 4 and 5 and Exodus 14 and 15 do. In each couplet one chapter describes a historical event and the other is a song or poem about the theological meaning of the event…I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a ’song’ about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened.”Exodus 14 is about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and Exodus 15 is in fact a song about that event. Judges 4 is about Deborah and Barak and the brutal tent-peg-to-the-temple death of Sisera. Judges 5 is a song that includes that event. However, there is a stark difference between Exodus 15, Judges 5 and Genesis 1. First of all, Exodus 15 and Judges 5 are called out as songs with an introduction saying as much and they’re written in verse. Genesis 1 has neither of these distinctions. Secondly, in Exodus and Judges the songs come after the event as the next chapter, unlike Genesis 1 which would put the “song” before the event. Genesis 2 is obviously a continuation of Genesis 1 as it concludes the weeklong creation with day seven. I don’t know what “earmark of poetry” Keller is referring to but I don’t see it in the English text.

When discussing reason and understanding, especially as it pertains to the existence of God, we must address the Christian epistemology. How do we know what we know, and how do we know that we know it? The Evidential apologist, like the lost person, would say that we know things by our reason. We look at the evidence and logically conclude that there is or is not a God. I was glad to see that Keller rightly proposes a revelatory epistemology concerning God. In a section titled God the Playwright (which this English major loves) Keller writes, “If the God of the Bible really does exist, ‘critical rationality’ would be exactly the way we ought to approach the question of his being and existence.”He likens the universe to a play and God, it’s playwright. The characters in the play would only know as much about the author as he would impart into the play. “C.S. Lewis responded that this was like Hamlet going into the attic of his castle looking for Shakespeare.”We are rational beings created in God’s image with capacities for reason and creativity. It is reasonable to believe in God by evidence we find in the physical world. By empirical evidence we can logically conclude that God is real. But we must first start with a Godly presupposition. I believe this is obtained through faith by the grace of God opening our eyes to see the Truth. (Eph.2:8).

Thankfully, God the playwright did write himself into the play in the person of Jesus Christ. This is God’s ultimate revelation of himself to humanity. John 1:1-2, 14 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

You will never meet an atheist who believes the future will not be like the past. And you will never meet an atheist who can explain why he believes that. The lost person might say the future will be like the past because it always has been. But like prominent atheists David Hume and Bertrand Russell would say, that’s just begging the question. To say that the future of anything (gravity, photosynthesis, genetics) will be like the past because it always has been is assuming the very thing in question. The truth is, the unbeliever has no way of knowing that the natural world of tomorrow will be like that of today. Keller rightly points that out in his book. “science cannot prove the continued regularity of nature, it can only take it on faith”8

The laws of physics are assumed by atheists every day without question. This is what actual blind faith looks like. They disregard the assurance we find in scripture that God is the creator of the universe and that he “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).

The next great point Keller makes is the question I never hear Evidential apologetics ask the lost person. “So what?” This question can be applied to any point the atheist makes regarding the “good” or “bad” qualities of the world and humanity. The atheist has no answer for why anything ought to be one way over the other. They’ll become morally indignant against the “deceit” of something like religion and how it “controls” or “oppresses” people. But the question they cannot answer according to their own worldview is, “so what?” Why should these evolved molecules not oppress and control other evolved molecules? From their worldview, what makes slavery something that is evil instead of something that just is? And this goes for the “good” things in life as well. The naturalist worldview reduces everything to a random outcome that could’ve very well turned out otherwise. Keller addresses this point. “If we are the result of blind natural forces, then what we call ‘love’ is simply a bio-chemical response, inherited from ancestors who survived because this trait helped them survive.”And so what? It’s arbitrarily assumed (from their worldview) that survival of the human species is a good thing. Why? Other species that have become extinct by human hands, I’m sure, would think otherwise.

Thankfully, no one, no one, lives according to the atheist or godless worldview. This is because everyone knows that there is a God. Romans 1:19-23 says,

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

The fact that everyone knows that there is a God is evident not only by the truth of scripture but by the example we see from everyone. As Keller notes, “We live as if it is better to seek peace instead of war, to tell the truth instead of lying, to care and nurture rather than to destroy. We believe that these choices are not pointless, that it matters which way we choose to live. Yet if the Cosmic Bench is truly empty, then ‘who sez’ that one choice is better than the others?”10 The rebellious God-denier knows by common grace that it’s wrong to kill but they cannot explain why they know this by natural means alone. The study of nature can only ever show what is and never what ought to be.

Now, this common knowledge of God does not mean saving knowledge of God. They know God exists but in their unrighteousness, they exchange this truth for a lie. They suppress the truth that they know and choose to rebel against God. Pastor and writer, Doug Wilson says “Atheists are absolutely certain of two things: God does not exist and they hate him.” The truth of God is unavoidable. He cannot be refuted, only denied.

The last point I’d like to touch on from the book is the historical reliability of the bible. The disciples that told the story of what they saw Jesus do are to be trusted. Keller writes, “As Pascal put it, ‘I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.’ Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax.”11 It is possible for someone to die for a falsehood that they believe to be true. It’s extraordinarily less likely for someone to die a brutal death for something they know is a lie.

I like this book and recommend it to anyone. It’s a quick read and well worth the time anyway. Timothy Keller is a great writer. He joins C.S. Lewis in that rare ability to convey highly complex concepts in a way that is enjoyable to read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited.

1.) p.10

2.) p.89

3.) p.91

4.) p.98

5.) p.97

6.) p.126

7.) p.126

8.) p.136

9.) p.138

10.) p.163

11.) p.218

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