Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Reason for God by Timothy J. Keller

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of SkepticismThe Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think one of the stronger points about the book is that the author speaks with a lot of respect for people that aren't Christian, and asks Christians themselves to think deeply about questions, challenges, and objections to the faith. Another strong point is that the author seems to understand that science is a real thing and seems to indirectly acknowledge the study of geology, evolution, and physics. The author also acknowledges that some parts of the Bible are metaphorical, though he believes that other parts are the literal truth.

But there are some big logical gaps in his reasoning that I can't grasp. Here's the biggest one for me. Keller repeats the point made by C.S. Lewis (I also read Mere Christianity), that humans drive for justice must be animated by some supernatural and not natural spirit because nature is simply a free-for-all of survival of the fittest. While nature can be very gruesome, I think this fundamentally misunderstands both the natural world and natural selection. Animals and plants through series of mutations and protective diversity survive best in their own environments. As the environments change through time so do the animals and plants that survive best in those environments. It is not the "weakest" that struggle, but those that are least suited to the current environment at that time. (This is one of the reasons that sudden changes in the environment or invasive species can be catastrophic.) The advancement of such animals has often depended on cooperation in herds or groups. Bats feed other bats, rather than letting the least able simply starve. Those bats in turn, remember and help other bats next time they are able to obtain food. Even lowly ants cooperate in a way that could be perceived through the human lens of social justice. Mind you, I don't think the fact that animals engage in cooperation and even "justice" is a counter-argument to God, and actually, quite possibly the opposite. But that is one of the great failings of a lot of more-literalist Christians that speak about science is that they don't seek to actually understand the working of the natural world as it really is.

So on the one hand Keller says that we have this sense of goodness and God within us, which contrast to the world as it currently exists. On the other he claims that this particular sense of justice comes only from acceptance and faith in Christianity specifically, because other faiths don't have this sense inside them. We only feel right and wrong because we've heard of the tenants of Christianity. We need Christianity as a proof or backup for our conception of right and wrong. Otherwise we're just picking and choosing as we like. This is not rigorous logic.

Another point on which I don't think Keller succeeds is his explanation for the need for hell. He says that without forgiveness freeing ourselves of the need for retaliation in cases of great injustice we can't be free. He says that belief in a God of judgment allows us to leave accountability for the injustices to God. But this does not fit with his belief that people are sent to hell not for moral shortcomings or immoral acts, say of being murderers or rapists, but for not ultimately believing in this very specific set of tenants: the deity of Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ's atoning death. I'm not sure why that would make me feel better if someone murdered one of my loved ones. On the contrary, I think it would make me feel quite a bit worse if my gentle murdered loved one was not a Christian, and the murderer later converted. Again, this doesn't disprove that hell is as he says it is, but his argument for the *why* of eternal hellfire falls very short of being persuasive.

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