Timothy Keller. 2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical. New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, the created order can be used to draw inferences about God, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery.
In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty (217). These bear repeating.
For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis. Life somehow presumably spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until we were created—this is creation story according to many atheists. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual answer given is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory held by most scientists to be the accepted theory of creation, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:
“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”
Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.
From Fine Tuning
Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller writes:
“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” (219)
Given such a small probability that the laws of physics were randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that it is not an accident; it was intentionally planned this way. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach and assuming that it was randomly constructed—no reasonable person would assume that, but would rather assume that a clockmaker had to exist.
From Moral Realism
Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller writes:
“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” (221)
Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them in surviving. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained and equipped like lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.
Keller, citing Thomas Nagel (110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” (222) It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (3), that
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (224)
Keller summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” (224)
From Reason and Beauty
Keller reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection because it helped our ancestors to survive.
The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? (225). The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.
Keller, citing Luc Ferry, writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.” (226) In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.
Limits to the Proofs
Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.
Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe being removed from it having created it—God stands outside time and space, as we know it. He is also removed from us by virtue of being holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Uniqueness of Christ
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments (228). Keller makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western” (228)
Why is it that Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West? For me, the answer lies in God’s continuing and loving presence in each of our lives. What about you?
My brief overview of the third part of Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, does not do it justice. Keller’s book is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age.
Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.
Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.
Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3
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