The Reason for God

And to get this back on topic (sorry Nomad :oops:) the book is available in a Kindle version.

I'll download the sample and give it a read to participate in the discussion. I can't guarantee I can keep to the schedule though, my reading stack's fairly backed up as it is.

EDITED: meh...not constructive to the discussion.

I wondered, FSeven -- that post did not have your usual level head. It looked like something I might've written.

Great insights so far. It really is interesting and valuable for me to discuss this book in an environment where the default setting is not automatic acceptance.

Good. I was worried you'd feel attacked again; that's not my intent, anyway. (And yeah, I agree, most YE types I know have dinosaurs co-existing with humans, bizarrely).

To clarify, I have several issues with books in this general category, like CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity". The major one is that they simply don't adhere to the rules of logical argumentation. Now, this is only a problem if they are trying to use logic (or scientific evidence) to convince someone, but so many of them do that (remember that book where the author put Christianity "in the dock" in a trial situation?) Too often, the authors instead guide the conversation, rather than letting the reader decide what's right for them.

Now, I have to say that the goal of getting people to coexist is great. I fully applaud that. But (to the author) don't tell me you are writing a book about religion and skepticism, and then tell your friends that it's a tool for conversion.

All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.

This is a great example. First, always be suspicious of statements of the form "all X are Y". Imagine a mirror book written by skeptics that asked us to assume "All beliefs, no matter how beneficial and firm they seem, are really a set of ways to avoid the real world". Would you buy that in any way? No, and I'd not expect you to, because there are many other reasons to believe. Don't accept sweeping statements without question just because you like the source. Analyze.

Doubts are a lack of certainty that often lead to irresolution. That is, when one doubts, it means one is unwilling to accept a given conclusion based on the arguments or evidence offered for it.

Beliefs are mental acceptance of something held to be true. Beliefs don't actually have to *be* true, or verifiable; they just denote acceptance of an idea independent of it's actual truth.

Let's rephrase his statement:

"All irresolution due to lack of certainty is really due to an unverifiable acceptance of some other certainty." That is, I can only doubt if I have some other *unverifiable* certainty in mind. I can't doubt for any other reason.

Now, apply this formula to test this sentence:

"Because I have never seen scientific evidence for water turning into wine, I am skeptical of the accounts of this in the Bible."

Does this *really* mean that I have in mind some other explanation that posits a corresponding unverifiable belief? One is not stated, is it? Nor is it needed. The only argument I see that could maintain that is that our senses can't be trusted and so we can't actually *know* anything. Otherwise, the fact of thousands of years of experience before and after Jesus where water never turned to wine, and the knowledge of chemistry we have today all argue against it. And because he's arguing towards a universal truth, I don't think "we can't know anything" will fly. This statement invalidates his supposition that I hold an equally unverifiable belief which creates my doubt.

There are thus a class of skeptical objections to religion that don't fit into his system. Therefore, his system is incomplete, by design or mistake or ignorance. None of those choices is really inspiring.

Make sense?

(There's an interesting psychological aspect to this statement of his, and that is that it works if the other person is *assumed* to have their own unverifiable belief in something which conflicts with the author's beliefs. It's as if the statement was designed to convert someone who believes in some other form of religion and would object based on that. Note that you *can* hold beliefs that are unsupportable, but if they are not the source of your doubt, they don't matter for the discussion. I'm an atheist, but I would not oppose miracles by saying "I don't believe in God", I'd oppose them by saying "we have no scientific, repeatable evidence that miracles occur". The one is driven by a belief, the other is not.)

Note that conclusions based on evidence can change with the evidence.

Higgledy wrote:

short note by the author explaining his reasons for doing the book. He has clearly tried to create a book that will be a tool for conversion.

I don't want to cast undue aspersions at Nomad, but seriously, I don't think that he'd consider starting a discussion of a book on Christianity with us here in P&C that in the end WOULD NOT drive home the conversion message. Would you?*

Nomad, please don't take it as an ad-hominem swipe. To the contrary. I know you're a man of a steadfast commitment to your faith, hence the observation.

*P.S. granted, Nomad approach is much more soft-handed and adroit rather than, say, Taidaan's.

Robear wrote:
Great insights so far. It really is interesting and valuable for me to discuss this book in an environment where the default setting is not automatic acceptance.

Good. I was worried you'd feel attacked again; that's not my intent, anyway. (And yeah, I agree, most YE types I know have dinosaurs co-existing with humans, bizarrely).

I guess it's more accurate to say that young earthers don't accept that there was a time before humans and modern animals when dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures existed on their own. They see the history of life as modern man and modern species stretching back through time to the day of their creation and that the dinosaurs were around but then all died out... possibly in the flood.

I say "bizarrely" because in order to do so, they have to contradict all the evidence which leads us to conclude that dinosaurs died out millions of years before humans evolved.

Robear wrote:

I say "bizarrely" because in order to do so, they have to contradict all the evidence which leads us to conclude that dinosaurs died out millions of years before humans evolved.

And they have to ignore the fact that there is plenty of fossil evidence for ancestral species in that time but no fossil evidence for the existence of modern humans or modern species, as there would be, if they had always existed... but... we digress...

Robear wrote:

Now, I have to say that the goal of getting people to coexist is great. I fully applaud that. But (to the author) don't tell me you are writing a book about religion and skepticism, and then tell your friends that it's a tool for conversion.

To that I would answer, everyone is coming from somewhere. It is impossible to communicate apart from filters, whether they be cultural or world view based. I would suppose that for Keller to try and come at this from any other angle would be confusing at best, and deceitful and subversive at worst. I don't think he is trying to portray himself as an atheist or agnostic, though he may have been in the past. Even the book's title The Reason for God, makes it very clear that this book is not just a general look at religion and skepticism, although he does talk about both issues in depth. He believes that the truth is out there and can be found, and that he just may have found it, and this book is about that very process.

Robear wrote:

Does this *really* mean that I have in mind some other explanation that posits a corresponding unverifiable belief? One is not stated, is it? Nor is it needed. The only argument I see that could maintain that is that our senses can't be trusted and so we can't actually *know* anything. Otherwise, the fact of thousands of years of experience before and after Jesus where water never turned to wine, and the knowledge of chemistry we have today all argue against it. And because he's arguing towards a universal truth, I don't think "we can't know anything" will fly. This statement invalidates his supposition that I hold an equally unverifiable belief which creates my doubt.

I think its only fair to look at this small quote in context. This sweeping generalization is not so sweeping when you include the sentences around it:
But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.9 You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because “There can’t be just one true religion,” you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, “There can’t be just one true religion,” nearly everyone would say, “Why not?” The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.

It would seem to be that his equation of doubt is dealing very specifically with doubt and skepticism about religion in this case, not specifically whether certain physical events occurred. (at this point at least) This is why he follows up with a direct illustration about the idea of "one true religion". At least that's how it came across to me...

However, he's not qualifying the statement as you do for him. He says that *every* doubt is an act of faith. That's pretty sweeping.

Do you see the problem with that? That's what stands out for me. And looking at his admiration for CS Lewis, I can see the geneaology of that idea. However, that does not mean that it's any less flawed when he makes it than when Lewis did.

It all makes me uncomfortable, because people like him are well regarded, and yet the argument he uses above is something that would get you an F in a freshman logic class. I feel like either he's misleading people in the name of a greater cause, or (more likely) he's just not thinking through his propositions. Either one is disappointing.

Robear wrote:

However, he's not qualifying the statement as you do for him. He says that *every* doubt is an act of faith. That's pretty sweeping.

Do you see the problem with that? That's what stands out for me. And looking at his admiration for CS Lewis, I can see the geneaology of that idea. However, that does not mean that it's any less flawed when he makes it than when Lewis did.

It all makes me uncomfortable, because people like him are well regarded, and yet the argument he uses above is something that would get you an F in a freshman logic class. I feel like either he's misleading people in the name of a greater cause, or (more likely) he's just not thinking through his propositions. Either one is disappointing.

Doesn't the point that his statement is couched in this context qualify it? It would seem unfair to be read out of context. Even CS Lewis in his treatise is writing along those same lines, however, if one should lift that statement out of the context in which it was constructed, I could see where the trouble arises.

Context is king.

Nomad, his summary sentence at the end of the paragraph is his *conclusion*. "Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith." Context and all, that's his point. I don't see how that can be misconstrued, or how it misrepresents what went before. Consider the use of the word "therefore", which is used to indicate "in light of the preceding", which refers to both context and content. Likewise, his introductory statement explains that his point is that every skeptic must look for a type of faith hidden in their reasoning.

And finally, if he meant to discuss non-faith-based exceptions, why didn't he? Why would he leave those arguments on the floor? No, he means what he says - EVERY doubt is based on a leap of faith. His following arguments depend on it, too. They all involve the "leap of faith", and his overall point is that you can't criticize religion for being based on faith because *everything* must be taken on faith. Therefore, he says, the ONLY way to "fairly" dispute Christianity is to dispute it by comparison to your *own* faith-based beliefs. And not just faith, but "blind faith", even for skeptics.

He's walling off an entire category of doubt in order to channel the reader into a certain path. It's a rigged argument, unfortunately. Unless he's willing to argue that "we can't really know anything for sure", there are non-faith-based approaches to judging religions which he just ignores. And that's a misrepresentation of an entire class of inquiry into the world. (If we can't know anything for sure, his argument goes over the same cliff of futile speculation about the world.)

It's unfortunate.

You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.

Regardless of whether this is a universal theory or something very specific that applies only in the context of religious faith, either way it is wrong...

gewy wrote:
You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.

Regardless of whether this is a universal theory or something very specific that applies only to the context of religious faith, either way it is wrong...

Absolutely. Moreover, the nonchalance with which the author tries to sneak in such an obvious falsehood doesn't give me a great deal of hope for his intentions or commitment to intellectual honesty.

I am not sure why, but the idea that I need to acknowledge something as true as a basis for questioning the validity of something else offends me. I am not saying we can or do approach all things completely agnostic, but the concept that all analysis stems from prejudice just rubs me wrong.

Edit: I know why. Might be my "blind faith" in the classics. But the Trifecta of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would not be pleased with this supposition. And that position is where bad arguments, circular reasoning, come from.

Paleocon wrote:
Ulairi wrote:
Bear wrote:
Malor wrote:

They're not at all incompatible. Science is only incompatible with Biblical literalism, not faith.

So how do you classify people of "faith" that say dinosaurs never existed and the earth is 10,000 years old?

Does anyone believe the dinosaurs never existed and the earth is only 10,000 years old?

A couple of my friends from college actually do. They aren't stupid people, but seem to expend a tremendous amount of energy fooling themselves.

Really? I've never met anyone who believes that. Is it a generational issue? I hear people say this about Christians, and I see polling, but I've never actually met anyone who said something like this. Do they say why they ignore the facts and the teachings of the Church?

As far as I can tell from my limited exposure to philosophy, all philosophic systems have at least a few givens, things you must take on faith.

Science has a number:

  • There is an objective reality independent of the observer.
  • Our ability to perceive and understand that reality is limited.
  • Things have always been as they are now, unless we find evidence to the contrary.
  • Earth is not special; the rules here are the same as the rules everywhere else, barring additional evidence.

    Science will cheerfully accept things having been very different in the past, in other words, or things being very different in other parts of the universe, but that's not the default position.

  • We can determine what the rules are through acquiring evidence.

There's probably a couple more I'm not thinking of right now.

Overall, that's a short list, but SOME givens are required. You can't independently verify them without some other givens to work from. So, fundamentally, we DO have faith that there is an objective reality, and that we can determine what the rules are that constitute that reality. All thought systems have to start somewhere.

This is why "I think, therefore I am" remains so famous; it's the ur-observation, the one given that proves itself.

Really? I've never met anyone who believes that. Is it a generational issue? I hear people say this about Christians, and I see polling, but I've never actually met anyone who said something like this. Do they say why they ignore the facts and the teachings of the Church?

One of my friends (sort of) in high school was a young earth/no dinosaurs creationist, so I guess he'd be about 33 now. And as far as I know, that's exactly what was taught to him in the youth Bible retreats of his Baptist church.

Ooh, Malor, ooh, can we start talking existentialism now? Because now I can recommend movies rather than books.

KingGorilla wrote:

Ooh, Malor, ooh, can we start talking existentialism now? Because now I can recommend movies rather than books.

I know you can be overwhelmed and I know you can be underwhelmed but can you ever just be whelmed?

As far as I can tell from my limited exposure to philosophy, all philosophic systems have at least a few givens, things you must take on faith.

Science has a number:

* There is an objective reality independent of the observer.
* Our ability to perceive and understand that reality is limited.
* Things have always been as they are now, unless we find evidence to the contrary.
* Earth is not special; the rules here are the same as the rules everywhere else, barring additional evidence.

Science will cheerfully accept things having been very different in the past, in other words, or things being very different in other parts of the universe, but that's not the default position.

* We can determine what the rules are through acquiring evidence.

I'd like to clarify here, not start a huge argument.

None of these things are taken on faith, ie, without supporting evidence, except perhaps number one, but solipsism has so many problems that pragmatically it can be ignored. (If you accept solipsism, then religion becomes completely unimportant, for example, as does any social interaction. Also, you have to explain (or at least wonder) why you are not living the best possible life. And why you die, since your body is part of that outside world. Solipsism is not a practical position designed to explain the world, it's a theoretical position used to test the limits of hypotheses.) The other points are framed and supported by evidence, and could be contradicted by evidence.

Faith in an objective world is qualitatively different from faith in religion. If you rephrase the proposition with that as your "leap of faith", it doesn't really stand up. "(Non-solipsistic) Skeptics argue against religion only because they have faith that there is an objective world outside their body" doesn't really cut it for an apologetics argument. I'm not going to be convinced that a religion is likely to exist just because there is an objective reality.

The other elements are all evidence based (any idea that can be changed by evidence is not faith-based.) And I'd argue pragmatically that any system that allows you to interact reliably with perceived reality is actually reflective of truth; that actually bypasses the issue of solipsism entirely by focussing on an individual's *perception* of reality. (It also has explanatory value, allowing us to understand why supposedly rationalist or empiricist scientists can at times reject evidence to hold beliefs that contradict that evidence.) So there are systems that avoid solipsistic issues by looking at the utility of an hypothesis rather than it's absolute truth value in the empirical sense. But that's starting to stray.

Ulairi wrote:
Paleocon wrote:
Ulairi wrote:
Bear wrote:
Malor wrote:

They're not at all incompatible. Science is only incompatible with Biblical literalism, not faith.

So how do you classify people of "faith" that say dinosaurs never existed and the earth is 10,000 years old?

Does anyone believe the dinosaurs never existed and the earth is only 10,000 years old?

A couple of my friends from college actually do. They aren't stupid people, but seem to expend a tremendous amount of energy fooling themselves.

Really? I've never met anyone who believes that. Is it a generational issue? I hear people say this about Christians, and I see polling, but I've never actually met anyone who said something like this. Do they say why they ignore the facts and the teachings of the Church?

They are not nearly as uncommon as you might think. Like I said, a number of friends of mine from college fit into that category and it appears to be a phenomenon that is gaining momentum from what I can tell.

There is a tremendous amount of "supporting" literature from "creation scientists" that they use to justify their beliefs, but the long and short of it is that they fear a world which can not be completely accurately described by a literalist reading of the bible. Like I said, they aren't stupid and the amount of effort they expend in creating intellectual shims to expand the bible into the physical world is astounding.

KingGorilla wrote:

I am not sure why, but the idea that I need to acknowledge something as true as a basis for questioning the validity of something else offends me. I am not saying we can or do approach all things completely agnostic, but the concept that all analysis stems from prejudice just rubs me wrong.

I'm in the same boat KG.

I respect what religion may do for a person - fulfill some need for emotional support, alleviate fears of death, etc. That's fine. I would never attempt to beguile another man out of his faith. But attempt to understand it? To give legitimacy to it as a valid alternate explanation for life, the Earth, the universe? I just can't do it. The minute I start contemplating miracles and splitting of vast bodies of water, of talking snakes and a woman made from a rib bone, of elephant headed deities, my bullsh*t meter goes off.

I honestly wish I could be the person Keller wants me to be but there isn't a fiber in my body that can even remotely consider the possibility that Gods, Jesus, Xenu, virgin births, arks with a pair of every living creature coexisting peacefully for 40 days, angels, devils, boogeymen, ghouls, goblins, 10 armed blue deities, Gods with bodies of men and heads of animals, ones who throw lightning bolts or ride chariots in the sky, or turn water into wine, etc. are actual things that have happened.

If someone who is in the same boat as me manages to employ Keller's philosophy, please enlighten me as to what you've had to adjust in your way of thinking to do it.

I'm no big HL Mencken fan but I've always found myself in agreement with him in regards to religion.

HL Mencken wrote:

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

Mencken wrote:

True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has a right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has a right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge. Did Darrow, in the course of his dreadful bombardment of Bryan, drop a few shells, incidentally, into measurably cleaner camps? Then let the garrisons of those camps look to their defenses. They are free to shoot back. But they can't disarm their enemy.

Keller seems to want both believers and skeptics to accept the plausibility of the others belief. But as the reservoir of human knowledge grows, as biblical tales are repeatedly struck down through science or simple logic - most recently the Shroud of Turin, modern day religion is beginning to be revealed as no different than the major religions of bygone eras which we now consider legend and myth. The dismissal of religion now as fantasy is no different than the way Christianity dismissed so-called "pagan" religions such as Hellenistic religion, Zoroastrianism, Wicca, Rastafarianism, Egyptian, Native American, Norse, etc. The fact that Christianity and this Judeo-Christian nation regards those other religions as mythology - yet which ultimately remain as plausible and provable as Christianity itself - while considering itself the "truth" is essentially a contradiction in and of itself. To be so sure that those other religions were false yet insist our own is truth, even though all religions are based on blind faith and acceptance of the unknown, is hypocritical in the extreme.

I understand what Keller is doing by writing this book. While on the surface it may appear to be about joining hands and singing cumbaya it's really about the preservation of Christianity, and by extension religion, in an age where human intelligence is increasing at an exponential rate, where science is unlocking the secrets of the universe on an almost daily basis, where free thought and non-theism are gaining momentum, and where the spiritual and metaphysical are being relegated to the realm of fiction and mythology much in the same way those religions of old were.

The liberation of the human mind has never been furthered by dunderheads; it has been furthered by gay fellows who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe -- that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud. One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

I say practice tolerance. I understand that some may view this post as intolerant but I believe the nature of an Internet forum lends itself to more opinionated views. Would I say these things to a Christian in person? No. There's no reason to. I think it's important to let people believe what they want to believe, as long as their beliefs do not encroach on others. And I say this not as a skeptic...

I think it's important for everyone to consider Kellers terminology. Keller only makes two distinctions - believers and skeptics. He never says "non-believers" or atheists. A skeptic is essentially an agnostic. Indifferent. I'm not on that boat. It's either a cunning ploy by Keller in hoping that atheists, in an age where atheism is looked down upon, lump themselves in with the skeptics that Keller refers to thereby opening themselves up to the possibility of belief by "looking for a type of faith within their reason", or Keller really only meant this book for believers and skeptics/agnostics.

So rather than immediately jump to a discussion of Keller's proposed methods, I'm still contemplating the reason for the book itself and Keller's true motives in writing this book as a founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

My problem with the whole postmodern argument from religion that all "beliefs" are somehow equally valid is that their claims are fundamentally scientific ones and require scientific evidence.

For example. The claim that the soul is eternal and that consciousness is continuous after death (ie: that there is an afterlife) is fundamentally a scientific claim. If there is any truth in it at all, it is one that should be studied to validate or falsify -- not blindly accept because some Bronze Age primatives said so.

The idea that the universe is designed, that there is an all powerful intelligence that predates its existence, and that that intelligence is both capable and willing to intercede in the physical universe despite being unbound by the rules of it -- is a scientific claim. Moreover, it is an extraordinary scientific claim that demands outstanding scientific evidence. The hand waving notion that it is just a "spiritual" claim that is exempted from the rules of evidence is just an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.

If the religious are willing to admit that these claims are NOT true, then I might be willing to accept that their religion is harmless -- and meaningless. If they insist that they are true despite a complete lack of supporting evidence, I'll continue to call them out.

I really think you have had a great idea with the "Book Club" Nomad. Its the sort of interesting thing I would like to see in P&C.

Unfortunately the book you choose has such glaring problems in the very beginning. It reminds me, (though hopefully I am wrong), of "A Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel. He performed the same sort of intellectually dishonest tricks that just left me feeling rage.

Kier wrote:

I really think you have had a great idea with the "Book Club" Nomad. Its the sort of interesting thing I would like to see in P&C.

Unfortunately the book you choose has such glaring problems in the very beginning. It reminds me, (though hopefully I am wrong), of "A Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel. He performed the same sort of intellectually dishonest tricks that just left me feeling rage.

I'm not a fan of Lee Strobel at all. We should start with Chesterton.

Don't worry, Keller is no Strobel. Lets just keep reading and see what happens. Robear already suggested our next book when we finish this one.

Well, the book I suggested is a textbook, and might not be interesting to most. Not to knock it's usefulness. I don't want to be the guy who kills the book club.

If other people are going to get it and read it I will as well.

Any more comments on the introduction? Are we clear to move on to chapter 1?