Confused about God? Let Tim Keller Help

pleiades_andreoGoogle sponsored the video that appears below.  To my mind, Dr. Tim Keller’s explanations are exceptionally clear and persuasive.  The video is over an hour in length, so let me recap some of the strong points here.

Belief in God can be seen as requiring faith, but belief in ‘No God’ does too.  In fact, Keller says belief is like a ladder with three rungs.  Rung one is belief that it’s a draw – it takes as much faith to believe in God is to not believe.  Rung two is belief that it takes more faith to disbelieve than to believe.  And rung three is that you come to realize that you can reason to a point of probability, but it takes personal commitment to get to certainty.

All of the arguments that purport to prove that God does not exist fail.  For example, the argument from evil and suffering.  There can’t be an all-powerful and loving God.  Either He is not loving and therefore chooses not to stop it, or he is loving, but not powerful enough to do so.  This is an old argument, but the effort to prove that evil disproves God is now acknowledged on almost all sides in philosophy to be completely bankrupt.  How do we know it’s senseless?  How do we know there isn’t a good reason for it?  The only answer is we can’t think of any good reason.  If there is a God big and powerful enough to be mad at for allowing all the evil and suffering, then He has to be big and powerful enough to allow it to continue for reasons we can’t think of.  So it’s a tie.  It can neither be proved or disproved.

What about this one:  If there really was a God, why have believers in Him perpetrated so much violence?  The answer is that there must be something in the human heart that is so prone to violence and oppression that it can twist any worldview or philosophy into violence.  Out of the soil of Buddhism and Shinto grew the Japanese militarism of WW2.  Out of Islam comes global terrorism.  So that’s a tie too.  [I would add that out of the soil of secular humanism comes the belief that a baby in the womb is not really a person, with the result that since Roe v Wade, over 50,000,000 babies have been denied the right to life in the USA alone.]

Maybe we invented human rights in order to give ourselves something the rest of the animals don’t have.  Or maybe we were made in the image of God, who attaches great value to each and every human life.  There’s no way to prove that either way, so that one’s a tie too.

There are those who say that Christians make universal truth claims, and that nobody can know what’s true.  Fair enough.  How do you know THAT’s true?  Isn’t that statement a universal truth claim itself?  So that’s a tie too.

You can’t prove there’s a God (or that there’s no God).  In fact, you can’t prove anything.  I can’t prove I’m not a butterfly dreaming I’m a man.  There are no non-circular arguments for the proposition that your memories work.  Your memory could have come into existence 5 minutes ago and you think its farther back than that.  How can you prove otherwise?  And that includes your moral convictions.  You can’t prove any of your moral convictions.  Humans are valuable?  People have rights?  You can’t prove that.  So how can you say to God, prove you’re there, or I have no responsibility to you?

We’re still on the first rung.   If you can’t prove that there is no God, then you’re living your life as if there is not, and that’s an act of faith.

For rung two, he uses two examples:  The fine tuning of the universe, and human rights.

The universe is so finely tuned that life would not be possible in it if any one of over 200 variables were off by the tiniest of margins.  Here are just 10 of them:

  1. Strong nuclear force constant
  2. Weak nuclear force constant
  3. Gravitational force constant
  4. Electromagnetic force constant
  5. Ratio of electromagnetic force constant to gravitational force constant
  6. Ratio of proton to electron mass
  7. Ratio of number of protons to number of electrons
  8. Ratio of proton to electron charge
  9. Expansion rate of the universe
  10. Mass density of the universe

Another 83 can be seen on the Reasons to Believe website.  So the point is that even though that is not proof that “God is”, it seems pretty persuasive to say that it would be more reasonable to believe that the universe was designed by a powerful being than to say that, in spite of the astronomical odds against all of those factors coming together by chance, that it’s just the result of time and chance.

Then he turns to the human rights argument.  There is something fundamentally goofy about the notion that human beings have any value.  That is, if you’re a materialist-naturalist.  All we see in nature is the strong eating the weak.  Nature loves death far more than life.  And it is destructive, not creative.  The very grand idea Darwin had was that life evolved from simple to complex – and that in so doing, only the strong and fit had any ‘right’ to live.

So how do we derive the notion that humans have value?  Where did we get the idea that humans have rights?

Annie Dillard, in the classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, after watching as a waterbug stung a frog and sucked its brains out before her very eyes, said this:

Cock Robin may die the most gruesome of slow deaths, and nature is no less pleased.  The sun comes up, the creek rolls on, the survivors still sing.  I cannot feel that way about your death, nor you about mine, nor either of us about the robin’s… We value the individual supremely, and nature values him not a whit.  It looks for the moment as though I might have to reject this creek life unless I want to be utterly brutalized.  Is human culture with its values my only real home after all?  Either this world – nature – is a monster , or I am a freak, because I believe that the strong should not eat the weak, but everything in nature says it should.

All right then. It is our emotions which are amiss. We are freaks, the world is fine, and let us all go have lobotomies to restore us to a natural state.  We can leave the library then, go back to the creek lobotomized, and live on its banks as untroubled as any muskrat or reed.

You first.

He then adds this:  A man who slipped and finds himself falling off a cliff spies a small branch growing out of the cliff face.  He does not know whether it will prove to be strong enough to hold his weight, but he grabs it anyway.  We would all agree that he made the right choice.  After all, not grabbing it will result in certain death.  He may die anyway if he grabs and it does not hold, but what is there to lose?  The point is that a weak faith in a strong object is better than strong faith with a weak object.

Finally, he points out that Hamlet can only know Shakespeare if Shakespeare were to write himself into the story.  God knew that, so He did just that.  By giving us Jesus, he wrote himself into the story.

So I would add this:  Belief in the God of the Christian bible is the only reasonable way to live.  Try it.  You’ll discover way more than you ever thought was there.

We’re all praying for you!

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10 thoughts on “Confused about God? Let Tim Keller Help

  1. mgarelick

    What did Darwin say about any “right to live?” I’ve read almost no Darwin, so I really don’t know, but my guess is that Darwin probably said nothing about it. In my view, Darwin was trying to describe what was, not prescribe what should be.

    1. I’m at a loss to understand where your question is coming from. Darwin’s theory of evolution certainly did not suggest that any being had a right to live. As a matter of fact, it strongly suggested that the only “right” was for the strong to eat the weak.

  2. mgarelick

    The concept of a “right” is not included within Darwin’s TOE; it is neither affirmed not denied.

    Do you understand the distinction I made between “describe” and “prescribe?”

  3. Yes I do. That’s why I put the word in quotes.

    I still don’t know what you’re arguing with. I agree that Darwin was silent on the concept of the right to live. Central to his theory was that no being had any motivation of any kind except that which would allow it to survive. The “mechanism” he invoked to explain how organisms could produce other species was natural selection. By using the word natural, he sought to explain how humans could have evolved without the intervention of any outside being or intelligence.

  4. mgarelick

    OK, I guess we’re in agreement that TOE has nothing to do with rights. But I think that leaves you with this position: (1) materialism/naturalism, exemplified by Darwin’s TOE, is not the source of the concept of human rights; therefore (2) God exists. This, of course, would only be valid if these were the only possible sources of the concept of human rights. There are, in fact, many nontheistic philosophical arguments to support the concept. Further, it appears that there are conceptions of human rights that arose in the complete absence of Christian doctrine. So, even if we can’t explain the source or justification of the concept, I see no reason to abandon it or to ascribe it to an explanation (Christian or (Christian-related) theism) that I find distinctly unconvincing.

    I suppose it is OK for you to pray for me, if it keeps you out of other mischief, but I really think it would be more worthwhile to read a book or play some music.

  5. Yes, there are many. But therein lies the problem. If two kids are playing a game, and one gets the upper hand, the other cries “No fair!” All that happens when we grow up to that paradigm is that the stakes are much, much higher, the consequences of playing unfairly much more dire, and the number of participants who have an opinion on what is fair has grown exponentially to unmanageable proportions.

    If you think it’s OK to train animals to fight and I think it’s cruel and inhumane, who decides? The answer, without a “higher power” is that whoever is in control in the government at the time decides. One of us feels it unfair.

    Thus, even though 51% of Americans now consider abortion on demand to be immoral, the government says it’s OK, and we’re stuck with it, like it or not. And even though most Germans were decent law abiding citizens, the Nazis wreaked havoc on the world in unprecedented proportions.

    So, I’m not going to try and convince you that God exists, but I would like you to see that without the acquiescence of large numbers of people to a particular moral ideal, no society can long endure.

    You allow yourself to be ruled by laws drawn up by men and women who are no more capable of knowing good and evil than you. How comfortable are you with that?

    I prefer to be ruled by the Word of God, which I consider to be superior. I must obey the law of the land or face consequences. But in my worldview the consequences of disobedience to man’s law are far less onerous than disobedience to God’s law. If I must disobey one in order to obey the other, I choose to obey God.

  6. Havok

    The answer, without a “higher power” is that whoever is in control in the government at the time decides. One of us feels it unfair.

    Which is why “rational” government, and a “rational” populace is what we should be aiming for. Claiming you’re right because you have an invisible friend who says so simply isn’t good enough John.

    Thus, even though 51% of Americans now consider abortion on demand to be immoral, the government says it’s OK, and we’re stuck with it, like it or not.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure there have been many challenges to abortion laws in your country and mine. That abortion is still legal is perhaps some reason to think the arguments in support of abortion are stronger than those against, no?

    And even though most Germans were decent law abiding citizens, the Nazis wreaked havoc on the world in unprecedented proportions.

    You didn’t just Godwin this thread did you?
    Don’t forget, the Nazi’s were simply doing what they thought your “higher power” wanted.

    So, I’m not going to try and convince you that God exists, but I would like you to see that without the acquiescence of large numbers of people to a particular moral ideal, no society can long endure.

    Welcome to society John, where we have to compromise and get along with people. It seems that most people accept this state of affairs. Some don’t, of course, but we have ways of protecting ourselves from them (jail, mental asylums etc).

    You allow yourself to be ruled by laws drawn up by men and women who are no more capable of knowing good and evil than you. How comfortable are you with that?

    I’m ok with it. I’d prefer it if people in general, but especially those who draw up and ratify laws were more rational about it, but you work with what you’ve got 🙂

    I prefer to be ruled by the Word of God, which I consider to be superior.

    Which looks exactly like it was drawn up by “men and women who are no more capable of knowing good and evil than you”, except these people petty ignorant of reality – they thought lightning was caused by some deity! 🙂

    If I must disobey one in order to obey the other, I choose to obey God.

    Aren’t you commanded to obey the law of the land, as the authorities are of your God (Romans 13:1-7)?

  7. mgarelick

    “Thus, even though 51% of Americans now consider abortion on demand to be immoral, the government says it’s OK, and we’re stuck with it, like it or not.”

    Do you think that everything that is immoral should be illegal? (Do those 51%?)

    1. The government determines what is legal. What is right and moral is a matter for every human heart. A country’s laws must not be counter to the moral views of its citizens. Otherwise there will be upheaval. 51% is technically a majority, but by the thinnest of margins. Until the number is much more decisive (say 65%) there is not enough opposition to even get the issue on the table.

      So, I guess my answer is yes, but as long as we live in a world populated by human beings, with all of their greed, lust and self focus, it will be an unattainable Utopian ideal.

      What do you think?

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