We’re in the home stretch of this book study! After this post I’m planning just two more posts, one for the final chapter and one for the epilogue. I may add one more to summarize my thoughts on the book if I don’t get that done in the epilogue post, but we’ll see.
Anyway, in this chapter, “Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?” Tim Keller summarizes what we’ve covered up to this point, then proceeds to give us “a thirty-thousand-foot-view” of the case for the existence of God. To index all my posts in this book study of Making Sense of God, click HERE.
- Keller begins with a rough summary of where we’ve been:
- Religion is not in decline.
- Neither religion nor secularism can be demonstrably proven. Instead ask which “views of reality makes the most sense emotionally, culturally, and rationally.” (215)
- Examination of secular and Christian narratives for meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, and justice, and what Christianity offers in each of these areas.
- With these foundations laid, Keller gives six ideas that argue a rational case for the existence of God. In every section, he reiterates that these are not conclusive proofs that God exists – they “are not so strong as to force belief, but they do make it completely rational to believe.” (227)
- Introductory comments: In Christianity and even other religions, God is not exactly part of the material world, so “believers in God have argued that God’s existence cannot be proven empirically, as if he were a physical object. Instead, many religious philosophers have argued that God’s existence can be inferred logically.” (217)
- Evidence 1 – Existence: How did any of this (the universe) come into existence? “If there is no God, then either original matter sprang from nothing, or original matter has always existed without a cause…[but] science knows nothing of beings or physical processes that spring out of nothing or that have no beginning…Whatever brought it about must have been something extranatural or supernatural.” (218)
- Evidence 2 – Perceived Design: It is exponentially improbable that all the factors needed to create life just randomly occurred at the perfect time and in the perfect settings. “The fine-tuning of physics makes much more sense in a universe in which there is a creator and designer. It is improbable that all the physical constants just happened to be perfectly tuned for life on their own. It would be more reasonable to conclude it was something intended and designed.” (219)
- Evidence 3 – Moral Realism: Keller covered this argument in chapter nine, so he just summarizes it here. Why is there a universal sense of moral obligation – that some things are “right” and that some things are “wrong” regardless of culture, time, or person? “If you cannot accept that objective, moral absolutes and obligation are illusions, then you…will have to concede that there must be something beyond this physical, material world that accounts for them, even if you cannot be sure what it is.” (222)
- Evidence 4 – Consciousness: We all have a subjective sense of self, we can generate thoughts and inferences that are unique even among a group that is physically sensing the same experience, we can philosophize about things we’ve never seen or experienced, etc. These aspects of idea making and self-consciousness cannot be fully explained by neurochemistry alone. And most people find it deeply counterintuitive to believe that our hopes, ideas, loves, and ambitions are merely chemical reactions. “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” (224)
- Evidence 5 – Reason: If “our brain’s ability to reason evolved not to provide true beliefs about reality but only to tell us what we needed to ‘feed, flee, fight, and reproduce,'” (225) then why should it be trusted to make any true and reasoned explanations for reality? “If we can’t trust the minds that gave us the theory of naturalism, then naturalism undermines itself.” (225)
- Evidence 6 – Beauty: Evolutionary naturalism tells us that beauty just helped our ancestors find food or attract mates to reproduce. But it cannot account for the sense of awe we get from experiencing something glorious and beautiful, and in fact, “when we find something intensely beautiful, it is seldom because of its utility.” (226) Christians believe that “the glory we see in the world reflects the beauty of its creator as the moon reflects the light of the sun.” (227)
- Note: I didn’t include too many of them above, but Keller does include several rebuttal arguments in each of his six evidences, then explains possible ways to refute those rebuttals. If you’re curious about any of those counterarguments, or have any yourself, leave a comment and I can try to address them. Also, there are obviously many other sources on this topic as it’s one of the greatest questions humanity has wrestled with, so this chapter and book are just a drop in the ocean if you want to read more.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Everyone’s journey is different as we all wrestle with this God question. Circumstances and experiences arise throughout our lives that make us question or believe more deeply, and it’s a process that, as Keller says, engages our intellect, emotion, and reason.
For me, growing up in a Christian home, I was introduced to the existence of God from a young age. And over the course of my life, I haven’t yet found the no-God argument to be compelling enough to abandon that first premise. In fact, as I’ve learned more about the good and the bad expressed in people, human history, and the scientific complexities of the universe we inhabit, those realities have reinforced my belief in a beautiful, infinitely creative, and just God.
So while everyone’s mind processes this God question differently, for me, the two arguments of the six that Keller made in this chapter that have always been the most personally compelling are the moral argument and a combination of the beauty and perceived design arguments.
Morality has just never appeared relative to me, either at the head or the heart level. I’m reading a book about WWII right now and I know I’m not alone in saying my heart just burns when I read about the thousands of people who were marched into forests and executed, or about entire villages that were razed because they contained a handful of enemy combatants. Or the same thing happens when I hear about today’s realities of children being sexually exploited and trafficked. These impress on me a deep sense that evil is real and there is an immovable standard that holds even if one can justify their deeds to themselves or others. The evil in this world also makes me long for and sense the other end of that universal standard, justice – a fair and ultimate judge who will not let evil go unpunished, who will right the miscarriages of justice, and who will provide healing and recompense for the oppressed.
But the dark side isn’t all there is, and on the other side I see the insane precision and beauty of the world we live in, and I am awed by the parts of humanity that reflect the transcendent glories of love, grace, and creativity. The human body alone is a thing of complete amazement and wonder, how all these incredibly complex systems of blood and cells and synapses work in perfect concert to sustain life. Or I scratch the surface of all the math and physics of the universe and learn that the best minds on these subjects have themselves only scratched the surface. Or I consider that simple yet transcendent thing, love, which can seem bigger than the vastness of the whole universe. None of these things seem accidental or meaningless.
Again, all these things and more don’t “prove” the existence of God, but as Keller says, they make much more sense in a universe with a loving, personal, just, and creative God than they do in a universe that says you live and you die and it’s all ultimately meaningless.
In closing, I’ll add that just because I haven’t ever been convinced away from the premise that God exists, it doesn’t mean I haven’t questioned or wrestled with the implications of that belief. I do that all the time. If God exists, then what about this? Why does this happen? What does He think about this? Who is He, anyway?
Those questions segue us into the next and final chapter of the book, “Is It Reasonable to Believe in Christianity?” So IF God exists, what then? How do we learn who this God is, what he wants, how he operates, and what his relationship with humanity is like?
- If you’ve read the chapter, were there any quotes or sections that were particularly thought-provoking to you? Any questions, comments, or rebuttal on what’s been covered in this post?
- Of the six reasons Keller covered, which are the most personally compelling to you?
- What are some arguments against the existence of God that you believe now or that you’ve believed in the past?