Tim Keller’s The Reason for God & His Biased View of NonbelieversPosted: March 16, 2013
I come into this post from a fairly unique place. When I first read The Reason for God, I was an evangelical Christian yearning to find more solid arguments for defending my faith, and I wasn’t disappointed. After losing my faith, though, I returned to this book, wondering what holes I had missed. I assumed at this point that I had read the book the first time with my confirmation biases firmly in place, which wouldn’t allow me to recognize where the arguments actually fail.
To start, I think that Tim Keller has a much more honest perspective on faith and doubt than most evangelical Christians. He is under no illusion that he can simply sit and convince someone that God is real, so he leaves faith within the realm of what God can instill in a person rather than what he must accomplish through preaching and writing books. In The Reason for God, he proposes that we look at doubt in a “radically new way.” That is, believers should see it as a necessary part of coming to a true belief that wasn’t merely inherited. Overall, Tim Keller offers sound advice to those who already claim to be believers. As a pastor, I think his challenges to them show his desire for Christians to work toward an honest faith and not take anything for granted. This is a really refreshing message to hear from a pastor in a sea of “doubting=no faith” megachurch/cult ministries across our nation.
But just like every pastor I’ve ever heard, he also seems to have a pretty warped view of skeptics, believing them to have their own “unexamined blind faith.” Because those within the evangelical sphere believe that they have to be able to explain their objective purpose, they project this onto unbelievers as well. This makes them throw out this accusation that nonbelievers are clinging to their own faith (in humanism/science/themselves), when we don’t seem to be talking about the same thing when we talk about faith.
Christians who have faith that the Bible is the word of God have no actual means for testing this claim. They can build up strings of conjecture about how it is possible that God inspired Scripture, and they can make dubious scientific claims in an effort to prove events from the Bible true (because of course there was an Ark–it’s not like this follows the same archetype of other mythologies…). All of these claims would not be so alarming if they were proposed agnostically, but that is not the nature of evangelical Christianity. Christians know that these things are true, and when they are faced with a counterargument, they have their confirmation bias in place to reject that argument.
That is not at all how skeptics operate. We try to ground our beliefs in the things that can be shown, since that is the closest we can get to verifying what we’d call “Truth.” Skeptics don’t have hard-and-fast absolute beliefs pertaining to how we came into existence and why we’re here. A true skeptic leaves threads of doubts whenever necessary. We don’t “put faith in” things. We tentatively trust things. We default on the agnostic approach. More often than not, skeptics aren’t sure exactly what they believe. It’s all so fluid given our nature of limited certainty toward ideas within the branch of metaphysics, and it’s hard to purport certainty in anything without betraying your intellectual honesty.
Tim Keller has to view skeptics the way he does in order to keep his house of cards intact. To concede that skeptics actually take the intellectually honest approach with respect to every proposed idea would put him in a mighty conflicted place, as his confirmation biases have led him to believe that he is being intellectually honest as an evangelical Christian who believes that Adam and Eve were actual people. Christians believe that their healthy fear of God is what helps them maintain a humble faith, but from how I see it now on the outside, it appears that Christians really just have the same fear as anyone else. They fear uncertainty. They fear losing their anchor. It’s not really about God at all. It’s about not slipping off into the deep end.
The Reason for God is an interesting exercise in contemplating conjecture, but it is ultimately built upon the presupposition that we have to be able to explain the concepts that he’s built arguments around. Those who presuppose the same are apt to follow his lead. The rest of us can respect his integrity but are otherwise left unconvinced.