Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

A Response to a Review of The Reason for God

This long response was originally an email. I was unexpectedly solicited by a former acquaintance to read and comment on his lengthy review of Tim Keller's book The Reason for God. I have quoted large sections of his review, which can be found online in its entirety here. Except for the first paragraph, which just included some friendly personal remarks, I've included my response below.

I should mention that although I am a huge fan of Reason for God and of Tim Keller, my goal is not primarily to defend his book or to convince anyone that it is particularly good. Christians are mainly interested in convincing people that Jesus is good! Although I think RFG is a great book, I'm sure there are errors in it and I'm glad for the opportunity to examine Keller's arguments in more detail. Indeed, I think I actually skimmed your review a few months ago while searching the internet for agnostic/atheist responses to RFG. I find that skeptical essays/reviews/commentaries are particularly helpful for assessing the validity of various Christian apologetic arguments and forcing me to consider differing viewpoints.

Also, I have been much more pointed in this response than I normally would be, but you solicited my comments and you seem to genuinely want feedback on areas in which I think your arguments are faulty (you even capitalized the DIS in disagree!). So I hope I don't come across as unnecessarily rude or confrontational. I genuinely enjoyed writing this response and spent far more time on it than was good for me. But it definitely helped me sharpen many of my arguments (indeed, my articulation of a response to Hume's argument against miracles was probably the best that I've come up with so far). I would love to continue this conversation after you read and digest my response.

I'll go through your review one piece at a time and try to address your concerns. I was fairly thorough and tried to answer every major objection you raised, but I skipped over passages which I felt were either mainly summaries, passages in which I didn't see a clear counterargument, or passages which I thought dealt with minor points. However, if there's any issue you'd like to to address in more detail, feel free to point it out.

[The first several paragraphs consisted of general statements and a summary of the book]... You can get a good sense of Keller's one-track Christian mindset by reading just the Introduction (15 pages), which assumes that the most important choice one must make is between either atheistic materialism or his version of Christianity. This dichotomy is a common theme throughout the book. Keller recommends that both "believers" and "skeptics" should "look at doubt in a radically new way": "All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B. ... 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." (p.xvii) What a trivialization of the concept of "leap of faith"; by this reasoning, our doubt of Russell's Teapot is based on a "leap of faith".

Hmmm... if we take "faith" to mean "a presupposition that cannot be rigorously justified by an appeal to evidence" (as Keller does in the Introduction and the Intermission) then I think most philosophers would agree that disbelief in Russell's Teapot is a based on "faith". In particular, disbelief in Russell's teapot is based on presuppositions about what is an "ordinary claim" versus an "extraordinary claim" and presuppositions about what type of evidence provides warrant (justification) for a belief. Because the existence of Russell's Teapot is an "extraordinary claim", Russell avers that it requires "extraordinary evidence" to justify it. The huge question left unanswered is what constitutes an "extraordinary claim". Russell was quite careful in selecting a Celestial Teapot as his example because people with all different worldviews share the belief that his Teapot is "extraordinary". But the danger is that we would take the general agreement surrounding this particular example to mean that there is always a set of shared assumptions about what is an "extraordinary claim." That is simply not true.

For instance, many theists would consider the claims that the universe had no first cause or that the fundamental physical constants accidentally conspired to permit the existence of organic life to be extraordinary claims which demanded extraordinary evidence. A naturalist might not consider these claims to be extraordinary. Whose definition of "extraordinary" prevails? A skeptic might object "Oh come on. Everyone knows what an extraordinary claim is." But that is just an appeal to majority opinion. Does the fact that some particular definition of "extraordinary" is held by the majority mean that it is correct? There are many issues on which our definition of "extraordinary" depends entirely on our other presuppositions, which themselves are not rigorously justified by an appeal to evidence. Are the laws of physics deterministic? Do humans have free will? Are the laws of nature universal over all time and space? Is our mind a distinct entity from our brain? Are miracles theoretically possible? Our presuppositions determine not only our default answers to these questions but the level of evidence we require to validate or invalidate our beliefs. I think the real danger of a "skeptical position" is that it is very unreflective about its own dependence on its presuppositions ("this set of claims is extraordinary", "empirical evidence is the best or only valid means to truth", etc...). In fact, I agree with Keller that -in general- "skepticism" actually masks a worldview with a very particular and strongly-held set of presuppositions.

I think Russell's underlying premise that only empirical evidence provides warrant for a belief is also questionable. For instance, philosopher Greg Gannsle asks the following question: if I spend the night at home reading and the next morning am arrested by police who accuse me of robbing a bank, what should I believe? What if they show me a videotape of the robbery with my face clearly visible? What if they produce fingerprints? What if they produce witnesses? At some point should I decide that I probably did rob the bank because the objective, empirical evidence of my guilt is so convincing? At the very least, we need to recognize that an absolutely enormous amount of objective, empirical evidence would be required to offset my purely subjective and unsubstantiated experiential evidence of my innocence. This clearly doesn't seem to fit into an empiricist model well. Even more pertinent is the question of where Russell's criteria is derived from. Keller rightly asks in the Intermission section how we know empirical evidence is the only valid mean to objective truth. Is this assertion made on the basis of empirical evidence? Or do we believe it for some other reason (i.e. because it is part of our worldview, because it has great explanatory power, etc...)?

Chapter 1 deals with "There can't be just one true religion". Keller makes a side comment here: "Everyone wants to think that they are in the mainstream, that they are not extremists." (p.6) Curious, because elsewhere, he praises Christians for NOT being in the mainstream.

These two statements are not contradictory. Keller says:

  1. Everyone wants to think that they are in the mainstream
  2. It is good that Christians are not in the mainstream (I couldn't actually find this quote, but it sounds roughly like something Keller would say.)
It would only be contradictory if Keller said something like:
  1. It is good to be in the mainstream.
  2. It is good that Christians are not in the mainstream.

Anyway, to people who say all religions are equally true, Keller rightly points out there are real differences between major religions. To those who say all religions only see part of the truth, like the blind men and the elephant, Keller says this analogy makes sense only if "you claim to be able to see the whole elephant" (p.9). No. If you're a blind person who hears the descriptions given by the other blind men, you'll most likely infer that there is some bigger truth about the elephant, and that no single man has the full picture.

My question would be how you know that all the other men are blind? Perhaps one of the other men can actually see! How do you know that they are all blind and are therefore only grasping a part of the truth? When I taught this illustration in Sunday school, I altered Keller's response a bit:

Five blind men were holding a pillar, rope, a branch, a fan, and a wall. But a wise man told them that they were all holding an elephant.

Therefore, it seems Keller's objection is valid. How do you whether you are in the original parable or in my version of the parable? Why do you consider it more likely that you are in the first situation (all religions know truth partially) rather than in the second situation? I may be reasonably sure about to my own blindness, but it is quite a leap to conclude that everyone else must therefore be blind. You might argue that it's uncharitable to assume that one person can see and that all others are blind. But I would reply that it seems equally uncharitable to assume that everyone is blind! In fact, to make use of your objection, we actually have to assume that we are "sighted" in a way in which all the other men are blind: they claim to possess exclusive religious truth (i.e. to not be blind), while you know that they are wrong (they really are blind, in spite of their protests to the contrary).

Chapter 2 is about "How could a good God allow suffering?" This must be the strongest objection to theism through the ages. Keller's response is that "Just because you can't see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn't mean there can't be one." (p.23) So far, so good, but he overreaches when he cites C.S. Lewis's "argument" that suffering itself is actually a sign OF God's existence, because without a God, there is no basis for a judgment that the world is evil and unjust. Come on: we all agree suffering exists, but the point is that this experience is harder to explain if there is an all-good, all-powerful God than if there isn't.

I'm assuming that you're referring to Lewis' argument in Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 1? If so, then his argument isn't primarily about suffering, but about transcendent evil and injustice (a transcendent property is one that has an objective, non-human referent). I don't think that anyone concludes that God doesn't exist based on suffering per se. I've never heard anyone claim that their headache proves God's non-existence. Rather, it is our belief that suffering is Bad or Evil that leads us to believe that a good, omnipotent God must not exist.

But then we must ask what we mean by "Bad" or "Evil", which is where Lewis' argument kicks in. For instance, the traditional Eastern understanding is that good and evil (or pleasure and pain, to put it in more Eastern terms) are two sides of the same coin or two ways of looking at reality, both of which are ultimately transcended as we unite with the Divine and lose all desire and sense of self. A naturalistic understanding would identify "suffering" with a certain biochemical response (say, a downregulation of seratonin) in human animals. In neither case does suffering seem to have any relevance at all to the existence of God. In neither case is suffering or pain transcendentally Bad. In the traditional Eastern view, we might as well doubt God's existence due to the existence of pleasure. In the naturalistic view, we might as well doubt God's existence due to my preference for vanilla over chocolate (which is also reducible to some particular biochemical reaction). Why one biochemical reaction (the experience of suffering) should be evidence against God while another (the experience of chocolate) should not is a mystery to me. In other words, the problem of evil can only be used by a naturalist to show that Christianity is inconsistent (Christians believe in a good, sovereign God and also believe in the existence of transcendent Evil. This is inconsistent.) But they can't use the problem of evil to show that God doesn't exist because their worldview denies the existence of transcendent Evil. If they do assert that suffering is tracenently Evil, Bad, and Unjust, then I'd have to ask how this fits into their naturalistic worldview. It seems inconsistent to me (and to most traditional atheists). Does this make sense?

Keller writes about how people learn from suffering, but he eventually admits that "for every one story in which evil turns out for good there are one hundred in which there is no conceivable silver lining. ... In response, the philosopher Peter Kreeft points out that the Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself _on_ the hook of human suffering. ... Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering." (p.27) Keller continues: "if we embrace the Christian teaching that Jesus is God and that he went to the Cross, then we have deep consolation and strength to face the brutal realities of life on earth. We can know that God is truly Immanuel -- God with us." (p.32) But if an idea is consoling, that doesn't mean that it's likely to be true, and it certainly doesn't mean "we can know" it's true.

I think you're misunderstanding Keller here. He is not saying that the cross is how we know that God exists, but how we know that God is "with us". Indeed, his talk about "embrace", "consolation", "strength" and "God with us" doesn't make any sense if he is talking about factual knowledge. He reserves his arguments about factual knowledge of God primarily for the second half of the book.

Demonstrating that an idea is consoling can at best help explain why people adopt that idea. Finally, it's strange that this chapter on suffering never mentions Buddhism (which says there is NO omnipotent personal God), even though Buddhism's first Noble Truth is "life means suffering", and Buddhism is mentioned in other chapters.

Again, I would draw a distinction between suffering and evil. Doesn't Buddhism (or eastern monism in general) tend to view good and evil as illusory manifestations of a single, divine essence? Certainly, suffering is bad because it ties people to the material world. But pleasure is also bad because it also ties people to the material world. Perhaps suffering is "worse" because it leads to stronger attachments than pleasure, but both are ultimately transcended by the divine. Right? Obviously, I'm not a Buddhist, so I'd be happy to know more on this subject.

Chapter 3, "Christianity is a straitjacket", argues that Christianity, like any community, "can't be completely inclusive". (p.38) Keller points out that if a board member of a gay-lesbian center announces that he/she now thinks homosexuality is a sin, or if a board member of an anti-same-sex marriage alliance comes around to support same-sex marriage, they'd rightly be asked to leave. "Any community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all." (p.40) The problem with this statement is that there are different types of communities, from single-issue lobbies to large social groups into which people are born and wouldn't know where to go should they think of leaving. Also, how many communities do you belong to that you feel hold YOU "accountable for specific beliefs" (as opposed to practices)? Not many, I hope. Strangely, Keller contradicts himself later: "Christians see little value in putting social pressure on people to convert or to maintain their Christian profession." (footnote, p.257)

This is not a contradiction. Keller says:

  1. Christianity holds you "accountable for specific beliefs and practices" (p. 40) by basing their community on "common beliefs that act as boundaries" (also p. 40)
  2. "Christians see little value in putting social pressure on people to convert or to maintain their Christian profession." (p. 257)
These two statements would only be contradictory if Keller thought that excluding someone from the Christian community was equivalent to "putting social pressure" on them. Given his comparison of Christianity to Islam on p. 257, I think it's clear that he does not. Christians churches rightly recognize (as Keller does) that the New Testament teaches that exclusion from the church is the only discipline the church can exercise over its members (see 1+2 Cor. for a clear examples). Perhaps in a small enough town, someone might feel compelled to "fit in" by belonging to a church, but this is their personal choice rather than the stated goal of Christianity. Speaking personally, I would actually encourage people who do not believe in Jesus to not make a Christian profession (nor would Keller, based on his sermons)! God cares about our actual belief, not about our professed belief, so I would much rather have people be honest about their real beliefs than pretend to believe if they really don't.

Keller writes about the spread of Christianity, asking "Why has Christianity, more than any other major religion of the world, been able to infiltrate so many radically different cultures?" (p.44) He answers that it's because the Christian message is very adaptable. He doesn't even mention that it was spread by people from the dominant world empires, which have been Christian.

This is a highly questionable assertion. Christianity originated among the Jews in 1st century Palestine, who were a poor and subjugated people. It spread next to Greek-speaking Gentiles, who were also under the boot of Rome, which was the dominant world empire at the time and was openly hostile to Christianity. Not until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in 312 AD would it be possible to claim that Christianity was backed by a "dominant world empire". For at least its first two and a half centuries (50AD - 300AD) it was spread predominantly by minorities and the powerless and suffered brutal repression and persecution. Because Rome fell in the mid-5th century, it is again unclear whether Christianity had the backing of the "dominant world empire" for the next thousand years (450AD - 1600AD) since the dominant world empires during this period were arguably the Islamic, Chinese, Mayan, Aztec, and Incan empires. Certainly, the earliest Christian churches in Africa (Egypt), East Asia (India), and Western Europe (Spain) owe almost nothing to the influence of the Roman empire. It seems that only with the rise of colonialism in the 17th century was Christianity spread through major world powers. Even today, the U.S. is being rapidly eclipsed by South Korea, China, and many nations in Africa as the largest missionary-sending country in the world. Although the role that Christianity has played in colonialism and its spread through conquest has been horrifying and tragic, I think it would be very hard to assert that its growth has always or even primarily come through its association with powerful empires. In fact, I would argue that where Christianity spreads most rapidly, most thoroughly, and most vitally (like it it now doing in China, Africa, and Latin America) is where it exists predominantly as a highly persecuted religion of the powerless.

At the end of the chapter, he returns to his theme that whereas other religions say "I must adjust to God", Christianity says God has adjusted to us (p.49). This claim would help explain > the appeal of Christianity, but not whether its tenets are true.

I agree! But recall that Keller is addressing the assertion "Christianity is a Straitjacket" in this chapter. Therefore, his goal is not to show that Christianity is true but to counter the emotional objection that it is restrictive and confining.

In Chapter 4, "The church is responsible for so much injustice", Keller admits that "If ... the preponderance of your experience is with nominal Christians (who bear the name but don't practice it) or with self-righteous fanatics, then the arguments for Christianity will have to be extremely strong for you to concede that they have any cogency at all." (p.52) But Keller is using the "No true Scotsman" fallacy: those Christians that you can't stand, they're not real Christians.

Keller does not make the "true Scotsman argument" here. He says: "If the only Christians you know are unappealing to you, then the arguments for the truth of Christianity will have to be very strong to persuade you." In other words, he says that our threshold for evidence will be very high if our past experience has primarily been with very unappealing Christians. He simply does not claim that nominal Christians or self-righteous fanatics are not Christians. In fact, he later says exactly the opposite: "we have to address the behavior of Christians - individual and corporate - that has undermined the plausibility of Christianity for so many people" (p. 53). Here he is affirming that real Christians will engage in sinful, wrong, and unappealing behavior. Indeed the entire chapter would be unnecessary if he made the true Scotsman argument because he wouldn't have to address the question of why Christians are responsible for injustice. His answer could simply be that such people are not Christian! I've actually heard Keller point out the danger of the logic behind the "true Scotsman" argument, because it would suggest that Christians are Christians because they are good and kind. Instead, the Bible teaches that Christians are Christians because they are radically bad people who have been forgiven.

He quotes the saying, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." (p.54) The question he doesn't ask is whether this "hospital" is making its patients healthier or sicker. Judging from my own observations, I think the church's emphasis on maintaining prescribed correct belief has made many Christians choose to stunt their intellectual growth, but he ignores that issue.

I agree that one relevant question is whether this "hospital" is making its patients healthier or sicker. But the issue we're addressing is that of "justice" versus "injustice". Do Christians begin to act more justly, more lovingly, more peacefully, more patiently, more gently, etc... (as the Bible claims that they will) or do they begin acting more unjustly, harshly, cruelly, violently, etc...? You instead claim that Christianity leads Christians to "stunt their intellectual growth". That is a very different question! Even if we believe that Christians "stunt their intellectual growth", it is not surprising that Keller doesn't address this issue here. The relevant question is not "does Christianity stunt people's intellectual growth?" but "does Christianity make people kinder". Do you think that intellectual growth always leads to growth in love and kindness? If so, how do you explain people who are very well-educated and very cruel or very uneducated and very kind?

Personally speaking, I have found that becoming a Christian has made me far more concerned about my intellectual development because I don't feel free to waste my natural abilities on purely selfish pursuits (I played a lot of video games in college). I now spend far more time reading (especially atheist authors) and thinking so that I can more effectively understand non-Christian worldviews (especially scientific naturalism). C.S. Lewis observed the same thing and pointed out that some of the greatest Christian writers have started as fairly uneducated men (he gives John Bunyan as an example).

There is a section on "Religion and Violence" that concludes that "there is some violent impulse so deeply rooted in the human heart that it expresses itself regardless of what the beliefs of a particular society might be". (p.56) Fair enough, but unfortunately he omits violence explicitly ordered by God in the Bible, such as the genocide of the Amalekites. He says that in response to "the very fair and devastating criticisms of the record of the Christian church ... The answer is _not_ to abandon the Christian faith, because that would leave us with neither the standards nor the resources to make correction." (p.62) Really? Those who don't believe in Christian claims such as the resurrection of Jesus have no other standards, no other resources to improve the world?

I agree with you that it is unfair to conclude that there are no other "standards [nor] resources to make the correction." Two points in Keller's defense: I think that it is clear from the context that he's speaking to Christians who are considering leaving Christianity because of the injustice perpetrated by the church (he talks about "abandoning the Christian faith"). Second, I think he may also be talking about making corrections "to the Christian church" (see his example with MLK), in which case it is plausible to claim that the best resources available for reform of the Christian church exist within the church (which he argued for the entire chapter). But he should have been more clear about this.

It may be easier to gather support to achieve reforms if you claim the all-powerful God of the universe on your side, but that doesn't mean it's true or even that such a God exists.

Again, I agree! But Keller is addressing the assertion "The church is responsible for so much injustice" in this chapter. Therefore, his goal is not to show that Christianity is true but to counter the emotional objection that it must not be true (or desirable) if it leads to violence.

Chapter 5 is about Hell, which many see as a place that a loving God would not send people. Keller points out, reasonably, that if Christianity really is "the transcultural truth of God" then "we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point." (p.72) He says that for many people, the offensive feature may be "the Christian doctrine of divine judgment". Hell is "the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on forever." (p.77) He quotes C.S. Lewis: "There are only two kinds of people -- those who say 'Thy will be done' to God or those to whom God in the end says, '_Thy_ will be done.' All that are in Hell choose it." (p.79) Another example of Keller's favorite dichotomy, it also doesn't explain HOW anyone should or does determine God's will.

This quote is immediately preceded by a very clear explanation: "All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want, including freedom from himself"! He is not speaking about some secret, abstruse facet of God's will like "paint your house with red and white stripes and wear pajamas all day" or even one of God's commands like "Do not murder". Rather, he is speaking about God's desire that all men would come to Jesus for salvation. God's will is that we would be saved through Jesus. Our will is that we would be free of God's control. It is about these two competing desires for our lives that C.S. Lewis says: "There are only two kinds of people -- those who say 'Thy will be done' to God [forgive my sins and give me new life, for Jesus' sake] or those to whom God in the end says, '_Thy_ will be done' [You can have your freedom from me].'"

Keller has nothing to say to people who want to do God's will but don't see it expressed in the Bible. But this is the last of the theological/philosophical chapters, before getting into what I find more interesting: objections to factual claims of Christianity.

Ah, this is one of the major issues. I almost ended my last paragraph with the following statement: "So there is no question of HOW to determine God's will on this matter. The Bible makes it very clear: "God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" "Repent and believe on Jesus Christ and you will be saved." " But if we don't believe that the Bible is God's message to us, I agree that there is no clear way to know God's will. I'm not arguing for the inerrancy or infallibility or even the complete authority of Scripture here; I'm just arguing for a very rudimentary belief that God has spoken in some general way through the Bible (or even through the gospels alone or the epistles alone or almost anything at all you find in the Bible!) and that His message points us to salvation in Jesus. In this case, then the "will of God" in question is quite simply to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord.

I'm assuming of course that you are rejecting all purported written Scriptures along with the Bible. Obviously, if we believe that God has spoken through the Qu'ran or the Book of Mormon, then we could potentially know his will, provided that one of these documents was actually His authoritative revelation. But if we reject all written Scriptures, then I agree that it's very difficult to know anything about God for sure, including His will for us. Subjective human experience doesn't seem to lead to any consistent set of beliefs about God.

The title of Chapter 6, "Science has disproved Christianity", is problematic, in that the main objection from science is not "disproof" of Christian doctrines, but that some Christian explanations of the world and what happens in it are unsupported by the preponderance of scientific evidence. After mentioning the recent books by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, Keller goes into a discussion of miracles. To the objection that science says miracles can't happen, he gives the standard response that "If there is a Creator God, there is nothing illogical at all about the possibility of miracles." (p.86) True enough, but it avoids the real question of deciding whether an individual miracle account is believable. Hume suggested that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish. What does Keller think of that?

I'm not sure what Keller thinks, but I would make two points. My first observation about Hume's argument is that it deals only with warrant (the justification for our beliefs) and not at all with the truth of our beliefs. For instance, let's imagine that at 3am on March 1, 2010 a man actually walked across the Potomac River. Let's say this really, truly, actually happened. Now who would have witnessed this event? At 3am, we'd be lucky if there were even a single witness with any kind of credibility. Now Hume comes to us and says "You must not believe in miracles unless its occurrence is less improbable than a fabrication of the testimony." Well, in that case, I would certainly disbelieve in the miracle. Unfortunately, in this case, I would be dead wrong. That's no big deal if the miracle doesn't affect much in my life. But if the truth or falsehood of the miracle is of extreme importance, I would be very nervous to dismiss it because Hume told me it was unwarranted. I'm reminded of Bertrand Russell's reply when asked what he would do if he died and discovered that God did exist. He said he would tell God: "Not enough evidence." This strikes me as not only incredibly foolish, but as betraying an incredible lack of appreciation for the seriousness of the matter. If a doctor told me that there was a 1% chance that I had cancer, I would not shrug my shoulders and say "Well, it's improbable. My lack of warrant justifies my lack of concern." Not at all! My lack of concern shows that I really am not thinking seriously enough about the consequences if I am mistaken. In matters of extreme importance I care (or ought to care) much more about truth than about warrant. We might decide that warranted belief is the belief most likely to be true. But we should not confuse belief with warrant, since history has shown many times that warranted beliefs can be false and that unwarranted beliefs can be true.

Second, Hume's argument only works if we assume that God does not intervene in nature. It is not very hard to show that this is true. Hume's argument depends on our ability to compare the probability of a miracle to the probability of fabricated testimony. We can estimate the probability of the fabrication of the testimony based on the character of the witnesses, the agreement of their testimony, etc... But how do I estimate the probability of the miracle itself? Presumably, Hume would urge us to consider the intrinsic likelihood of a miracle. Let's take the Resurrection of Jesus as a concrete example. Miracles like the Resurrection are intrinsically unlikely -Hume would argue- because the events they describe are intrinsically unlikely; not a single other dead body in all of history has ever come back to life. Therefore -says Hume- I can conclude that the probability of Jesus coming back to life is intrinsically very small. The problem is that using some set of events to predict the probability of another event is only valid when all of the causal factors are the same. For instance, imagine that a friend takes me to the roof of his house and drops a ball. One second later, it hits the ground. He takes me up to his roof a hundred times (a million times) and every time, the ball hits the ground one second after he drops it. I then tell him that the next time he drops it, it will take ten seconds to hit the ground. He takes me aside, explains the law of gravity to me, explains the rules of probability to me, and tells me that there is no chance that what I say will happen. After saying this, he drops the ball. I catch it. Then I let it go 9 seconds later. Was he wrong about gravity or the rules of probability? Of course not. But his conclusions were based on all of the causal factors being the same for the 101st drop as they were for the first hundred drops. They were not.

The claim of the naturalist is that the laws of nature are never violated. The claim of the theist is that the laws of nature are never violated except when they are supervened by God. For the naturalist to show that the theist is wrong by showing him a million instances where the laws of physics were not violated is a silly as my friend dropping a ball off his roof a million times to show me that it will always land on the ground one second later. If I (or God) choose to intervene in the situation, then we cannot determine the outcome based on past experiences where I (or God) did not intervene. The evidence of millions or billions of other natural deaths only has bearing on the Resurrection if assume that God's intervention was not a causal factor in the Resurrection. In other words, we have to assume what we are hoping to prove.

He moves on to whether science and Christianity are in conflict. Francis Collins is cited as an example of "what Dawkins says can't exist, someone with a firm belief in evolution as biological mechanism, but who completely rejects philosophical naturalism." (p.88) Actually, far from saying they don't exist, Dawkins has acknowledged that "a very large number of evolutionary scientists are also religious." -- just google that phrase.

This is a mistake of Keller's. I think it's clear from the interview you quoted and from other things that Dawkins says that Dawkins believes that people can believe in evolution and also hold strong religious beliefs, contrary to Keller's assertion that Dawkins believes that such people do not exist. But a separate question is whether Dawkins thinks such people are being logically inconsistent (like someone who believes in modern chemistry and alchemy). Despite his statements in the interview you cite, Dawkins' reasoning in The God Delusion strongly suggests that he does think evolution leads logically to atheism. In fact, that's the whole point of Chapter 4 of TGD. I'm not sure how to reconcile these arguments with Dawkins' interview. Is Dawkins being inconsistent here? Does he believe that his argument in Chapter 4 of TGD is valid and that religious believers who also believe in evolution are being illogical? Or not?

Keller quotes the finding (cited by Dawkins) that only 7% of members of > the U.S. National Academy of Sciences answered "yes" to the question of whether they believe in "a God who actively communicates with humanity". Keller goes through some contortions to play down the noteworthiness of the discrepancy between the 7% of NAS members (2100 scientists chosen by their peers for eminence in their fields) and the ~80% of the general American population who believe in a personal God. After this, Keller gets into the thorny issue of "Doesn't evolution disprove the Bible?" He writes: "Since Christian believers occupy different positions on both the meaning of Genesis 1 and on the nature of evolution, those who are considering Christianity as a whole should not be distracted by this intramural debate." (p.94) I beg to differ. If the breadth of Christian believers include a substantial number (in the U.S., about half) holding certain scientific positions BECAUSE they choose to go with their reading of the Bible rather than with the evidence of nature, then that says something bad about the intellectual judgments of Christians.

Keller: Christians disagree over the interpretation of Genesis 1 with regards to evolution. Therefore, someone considering Christianity should not base their assessment of its truth on a particular belief about how Genesis 1 should be interpreted.

Peter: I beg to differ. Half of Christians believe that the Bible contradicts evolution. Therefore Christians make bad intellectual judgments.

This strikes me as a bit of a non-sequiter. If Christians in the U.S. make bad intellectual judgments, does this show that Christianity is false? What bearing does the intellectual capacities of 21st century Christians in the U.S. have on the question of whether Jesus is Lord and Savior?

Keller ends the chapter with Christian exhortations, saying, "Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be." (p.95) Citing Matthew 28:17, he writes, "Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn't believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands. There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it really happened." Really?

I think you need to provide more explanation here. Why do you think Matthew reports the doubt of some of the apostles? Do you have an alternative explanation for the inclusion of this detail? Did the author of the gospel of Matthew have a reason to discredit the apostles? If so, what was it and what is your evidence that he had such a reason? Is shock and disbelief reported in the other Resurrection accounts? If so, why? Doesn't the multiple attestation of shock and disbelief on the part of the disciples enhance the credibility of Matthew's report?

Chapter 7 deals with the important objection that "You can't take the Bible literally". There is a huge deficiency in this chapter, in that it is about the New Testament only, and says nothing at all about anything in the Old Testament, except in a footnote: "If eventually we put our faith in Jesus, then his view of the Bible will become ours. ... I accept it because I believe in Jesus and that was his view of the Bible." (p.263) Keller begins by recounting that in college in the 1960s he took some classes in the Bible as literature, where the view was presented that the gospels began as oral traditions with legendary additions, eventually put into writing. "If this view of the New Testament's origins and development is true ... It would mean that no one could really know what Jesus said and did, and that the Bible could not be the authoritative norm over our life and beliefs." (p.98) Bold statement. His response is threefold: 1. "The timing is far too early for the gospels to be legends." Keller would have us believe that 40 to 60 years is too short a time for any legends to have crept into the gospels.

My guess is that Keller makes this statement because the first critical scholars in the 19th century argued for a date of 200-300AD for the gospels precisely to allow for legendary accretion. Why did they date the gospels so late if legendary accretion could take place so much faster? What is your evidence that legendary accretion in traditional oral cultures can happen in 40-60 years?

Example: "The gospel writers named their eyewitness sources within the text to assure readers of their accounts' authenticity" (p.101) Ah yes, so when I receive a chain letter that names some experts and affiliations to back up an urban legend, I should believe it? "Paul refers to a body of five hundred eyewitnesses who saw the risen Christ at once. You can't write that in a document designed for public reading unless there were surviving witnesses whose testimony agreed and who could confirm what the author said." I wonder who he's trying to convince here. Should we believe what American politicians say about life in Iraq now, reminding ourselves that if any of it were untrue, then Iraqi witnesses would tell us? And those are mainstream politicians: remember that the earliest Christians were a fringe cult, and fringe cults make all sorts of bizarre claims that nobody bothers to refute. "If there had not been appearances after [Jesus's] death, if there had not been an empty tomb, if he had not made these claims, and these public documents claimed they happened, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground. The hearers would have simply laughed at the accounts." (p.102)

I think there are a number of questionable analogies here. For instance, I would start by asking about the differences between our modern, written culture and a traditional, oral culture. Would it be fair to compare a modern chain letter to an ancient circular letter? Is it fair to compare someone making claims about an event that occurred in a city a few hundred miles away to events that occurred in country several thousand miles away? Again, I'm not saying that these are unfair comparisons. But I think I'd be more cautious about saying these analogies are valid, given the huge distance that separates us from first century Greco-Roman culture. I think one other major difference has to do with the reliability of the testimony. If I receive a chain letter from a person I don't know who claims to be the eyewitness of spectacular events, I might be very incredulous. But if I receive the same letter making the same claims from my wife, I would be far, far more likely to believe her because of my first-hand experience of her character and trustworthiness. So an important question to ask is whether the apostles were reliable witnesses and whether their trustworthiness was obvious and well-known to their hearers.

> Well, yes, the vast majority of hearers did! How is this different from the start of any other religion, like Mormonism?

This is actually an excellent question and one that I'd like to know more about. I did some brief online "research" on Mormonism and found some very aggressive websites listing the many historical fallacies of the Mormon church. I also would be interested to know more about the origins of the "cargo cults" that Dawkins and Hitchens both mention in their books. In both cases, we have religions that were begun in recent history and whose origins and growth are matters of public record. So we should be able to test claims about the accuracy of oral transmission, the reliability of eyewitnesses, etc.. (assuming enough cultural similarity). At least with regard to Mormonism, the differences at first glance appear pretty stark. But I'd be very interested to know more about both Mormonism and the cargo cults, since their origins would provide a basis of comparison to the origins of Christianity. Can you recommend any good books?

2. "The content is far too counterproductive for the gospels to be legends." Keller makes a reasonable point here that if the gospels were written by leaders of the early church, they'd likely have had Jesus taking sides in contemporary debates, for example about circumcision, but they don't. Then Keller writes about the gospel accounts of women first witnessing the resurrection: "It would have made far more sense (if you were inventing the tale) to have male pillars of the community present as witnesses when Jesus came out of the tomb." (p.105) But we can refute that argument by the reasoning four pages earlier: if you're going to invent a tale that something miraculous happened, it's much easier to get away with saying that it was witnessed by some low-status person than by a "pillar of the community" whose reputation would then be on the line.

Wait a minute. Keller makes a bunch of arguments in this section, but you don't treat them in much detail. I'd like to hear more about how you would counter each of these arguments.

For instance, the circumcision issue really nails critical scholarship in my opinion. Circumcision was the major issue that threatened to tear the church apart and it is mentioned in almost all of Paul's letters, but Jesus doesn't make a single statement about whether Gentiles need to be circumcised. This completely contradicts the assertions of critical scholarship that the church invented Jesus' teaching to fit in with their agenda. If there was one single issue that desperately needed an authoritative word from Jesus, this was it. And yet the gospels are silent. Interestingly, we see precisely this explicit statements about circumcision made by Jesus in later writings like the Gospel of Thomas.

The same holds true of a lot of Jesus' teachings. There are tons of incidents recorded in the gospels that would have been confusing or offensive to 1st century readers (Jesus is God, but doesn't know who touched him or when he will return; Jesus seems to rebuff the advances of a Gentile woman seeking healing for her daughter; Jesus is terrified in Gethsemane and pleads with God to spare him). The point is that if the church had really rewritten these stories to fit with early church doctrine (which we know from the letters of Paul and early church fathers), these stories would have been rewritten or removed.

Regarding the discovery of the tomb by women, I am not sure what argument you are referring to "four pages earlier", but this strikes me as a "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" argument. If the Resurrection is reported by leaders of the church, then these men were selected because of their prestige, not because they actually saw anything. If it is reported by disreputable figures, then it is to spare the reputation of the pillars of the community. I've never heard an atheist assert that the discovery of the empty tomb by women could be explained by some incentive that the apostles had to spare their reputations. If that's true, then why are the apostles included in the Resurrection stories at all?

Lastly, the "criteria of embarrassment" is not something that Keller invented. In fact, it's used by the highly skeptical Jesus seminar to assess the historicity of various sayings and events. If the Jesus seminar, who clearly are not motivated by any desire to support evangelical claims, accepts the "criteria of embarrassment" then we can safely conclude that it's a reasonable standard of historicity.

3. "The literary form of the gospels is too detailed to be legend." Here Keller argues that the gospel accounts are intended as real accounts, not as fiction. OK, but then he mentions some details cited in the gospels and says "The only explanation for why an ancient writer would mention the cushion, the 153 fish, and the doodling in the dust is because the details had been retained in the eyewitnesses' memory." (p.107) No, not if the writer is relating an account some steps removed from eyewitnesses.

But this goes back to the dating of the gospels. The majority of non-Christian scholars will now put the composition of all four gospels within the lifetime of the apostles (70 AD - 90AD). So if you want to claim that this is a tradition that has been passed down through several 'steps', you'd need to make a significant case. What evidence do you have for legendary accretion or the non-first-hand character of the gospel narratives?

The "literary form" argument is one of the few points that I'm not sure about. I found an atheist blogger who gives examples of many ancient Greek myths with just as many details as the gospel narratives. Yet I recently reread the C.S. Lewis essay that Keller quotes in which Lewis very clearly states that the gospels are utterly unlike the mythology that he'd read. C.S. Lewis was an expert on ancient languages and read Greek mythology all his life, yet he still concluded that the gospels were clearly different (despite not being an inerrantist and viewing many parts of the Bible as potentially legendary or mythological). I'm curious to know more about this particular issue and will have to look at the quotations provided by the atheist in context. My initial guess is that these details are included in narratives which were transparently and explicitly understood to be mythology rather than history by their readers (which is indeed what one of the more knowledgeable blog commentors said), unlike the gospels which transparently and explicitly claim to be history (see Luke 1:1-4) and which were received as such by the early church. But like I said, I'll need to do more independent reading.

> "Factor in the fact that disciples in the > ancient world were expected to memorize masters' teachings, and that many of Jesus's statements are presented in a form that was actually designed for memorization, and you > have every reason to trust the accounts." How does he know the form in which Jesus presented his statements? He's assuming what he's trying to demonstrate.

Actually, there are traces of the original form of Jesus' teaching (Jesus probably spoke Aramaic) still present in the Greek manuscripts (meter, parallelism, etc...). These traces obviously don't come through in many modern Enlgish translations, but they're there if you know the original languages (at least according to scholars; I don't speak Greek!). I think this issue might be mentioned in Richard Baukham's book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. One related issue is the presence of Aramaic phrases in many of the gospels. Because the gospels were written in Koine Greek for a Greek-speaking audience, there would seem to be no reason to include Aramaic phrases. Indeed, the gospel writers had to translate the Aramaic for their readers, who otherwise wouldn't have understood them! The Jesus seminar lists "Aramaicisms" as another criteria of authenticity, due to the difficulty of explaining them based on any hypothesis other than eyewitness recollection.

Keller moves on to objections to values taught in the Bible, and ends the chapter by saying that "In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you. ..? So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it." This is what he means by a personal relationship with God? Can one have a similar "personal relationship" with the author of a self-help book? Does this review demonstrate that I have a personal relationship with Tim Keller? Or would I, if I decided his book is authoritative?

This is an interesting question. When I say that people become Christian through an "encounter with the Jesus of Scripture", I am often asked what I mean. I think people assume that I am referring to some kind of mystical experience or a vision of Jesus. And while I do think that such experiences are possible (though probably not very frequent), that's not primarily what I mean. What I mean is that we can read the gospels like any other ancient historical biography. However, as we read the gospels, we find that the character of Jesus begins to "become real to us" in a way that other historical characters do not. For instance, we find ourselves asking what Jesus would think of us, of our actions, of our beliefs. We find ourselves being offended and terrified and attracted to his teaching all at the same time. And when we become Christians, we find that Jesus speaks to us even more clearly through Scripture. Not in some kind of audible voice apart from the Bible, but through his teaching in the Bible.

I want to guard against two opposite errors: a personal relationship with Jesus is not less than reading and understanding and conforming our lives to Jesus' teaching, but it is far, far more. It is sort of like reading letters from my wife. If I don't think my wife exists or don't care much about her or don't think these letters are for me, then I could read her letters or even study her letters in detail and not develop any kind of personal relationship with my her. But once I realize that my wife exists, that she loves me, and that she has written these letters to me in order for me to learn about her, that immediately changes how I read the letters. This analogy is a bit (a bit) like what we mean when we say we can have a personal relationship with God through the Bible. We can read the Bible just like any other book and get nothing more out of it that we would from reading RFG or War and Peace. But the experience of Christians across history and across cultures is that the Bible does speak to Christians in a way that is qualitatively different than any other book.

I wonder what the alternative is? I think most people would agree that any "personal relationship" must involve two-way communication. As you said, reading RFG does not give you a personal relationship with Tim Keller. But Christians have traditionally understood that their personal communication with God comes primarily through prayer (talking to God) and through Scripture (letting God talk to you). Now if we decide that Scripture is not authoritative and that is not God speaking to us, then where are we left? Some groups (like Mormonism) believe that God's voice can be perceived directly and experientially and that we need only open ourselves up to hearing it. The problem is that all of these groups have wildly diverging beliefs and often end up falling into obvious lunacy (and most of them die out fairly rapidly). Now it's possible that one of these subjective groups happens to be right and the rest are all wrong. But personally, I think our capacity as human beings for self-deception seems too great to trust our subjective experiences as authoritative. But if we reject Scripture (whether the Bible, or the Qu'ran or the Book of Mormon) and we also reject subjective personal experience, then what else do we have? I'd be curious to know what other alternatives there are if we truly want authoritative communication from God.

An "Intermission" between chapters 7 and 8 defines what Keller means by Christianity: "the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds" (p.116), namely the Apostle's, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian. Then he writes about rationality, saying that such disbelievers in Christianity as Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are evaluating Christian arguments by what he calls "strong rationalism", which assumes that "no one should believe a proposition unless it can be proved rationally by logic or empirically by sense of experience. ... Proof, in this view, is an argument so strong that no person whose logical faculties are operating properly would have any reason for disbelieving it." (p.118) But this is a straw man. No scientist evaluates hypotheses that way, as Keller himself admits, and neither do Dawkins et al. in their books.

I'm not sure about this. See my response to Sam Harris' "The End of Faith" in which he seems to utterly disavow any appeal within his worldview to "faith" which he defines as "belief independent of evidence." All the Neoatheists seem to be very naive about their own philosophical precommitments. For instance, how does Harris know that empirical evidence is a valid means to objective truth? This knowledge can't come from evidence since the validity of evidence is what we're trying to establish. I don't know if the Neoatheists are explicitly espousing "strong rationalism", but it seems that they are very naive about the role that presuppositions play in their arguments (see my essay on the God Delusion for some clear examples of how Dawkins' fails to see the role of his naturalistic assumptions in his argument).

Chapter 8, "The Clues of God", lays out some arguments for theism: 1. The universe had a beginning with the Big Bang. "Something had to make the Big Bang happen -- but what? What could that be but something outside of nature, a supernatural, noncontingent being that exists from itself." (p.129) Keller concedes that this line of reasoning doesn't suggest a personal God, but "it is very provocative for many people." 2. The fine-tuning argument: "For organic life to exist, the fundamental regularities and constants of physics -- the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces -- must all have values that together fall into an extremely narrow range. The probability of this perfect calibration happening by chance is so tiny as to be statistically negligible." (pp. 129-130) This is also a standard argument, but Keller avoids mentioning that it's all that remains of the old "argument from design" outlined by William Paley and others -- shouldn't the steady erosion of that argument (by advances in science) count for something? The section ends with: "Although organic life could have just happened without a Creator, does it make sense to live as if that infinitely remote chance is true?" First, he's misusing the word "infinitely", and second, he's assuming that believing that life had a Creator makes a person choose to live a certain way. 3. Regularity of nature: "All scientific, inductive reasoning is based on the assumption of the regularity (the 'laws') of nature." (p.132) The response is similar to #1 above. 4. Beauty: "We may ... believe truth and justice, good and evil, are complete illusions. But in the presence of art or even great natural beauty, our hearts tell us another story." (p.134) Keller invokes the "argument from desire" of Augustine and C.S. Lewis: hunger is satisfied by food, tiredness is satisfied by sleep, etc., so the existence of an "unfulfillable longing evoked by beauty" is "a major clue that God is there." We can see that Keller puts tremendous weight on this argument, because there's a common theme throughout the book of "don't you want it to be true?"

Throughout this essay so far, you've pointed out that Keller argues that Christianity is "appealing" rather arguing that it is true. And I've responded several times that the first 7 chapters of RFG are primarily aimed at arguments which attack the appeal -not the truth- of Christianity. In fact, it is this chapter on which you should really focus your objections as to the validity of Keller's theistic arguments. But the odd thing is that you don't provide a clear rebuttal or alternative explanation for any of these 4 arguments. Do you agree with them (especially 1 and 3)? And if so, do you agree that their validity makes a personal God a far more plausible explanation than the alternatives (coincidence, deism, etc...)?

In response to your particular comments:

Point 1 - Cosmological argument. You don't comment here, except to point out that -as Keller concedes- the cosmological argument doesn't justify a personal God, only an extremely powerful and extremely intelligent First Cause (given the kind of universe He or It created). The question I would ask you is what there is other than a Person (a Being with a will), that could possess properties like power and intelligence?

Point 2 - Argument from Fine Tuning. You comment that this is a "standard argument" but don't address whether it is valid. Arguments can be standard and still valid! You also state that "[the argument from Fine Tuning] is all that remains of the old 'argument from design' outlined by William Paley" (although the Teleological argument precedes Paley by thousands of years). You say that "the steady erosion of that argument (by advances in science) [must] count for something". I think this is a common misconception. First, I need to ask whether we are viewing the data or extrapolating the data. Are we claiming that the evidence as it currently exists points to atheism? Or are we arguing that we should take into account some kind of extrapolated projection of where the evidence is going to go in the future? If the former, then we have to examine Fine Tuning on its own merits right now and are not allowed to appeal to "the sure progress of modern science" . But if we are allowed to extrapolate into the distant future, I would have to ask you how you can justify this extrapolation? How do you know what progress science will or will not make in the future? If you are assuming that the future will be like the past, how do you know this to be true?

Second, a group of my labmates asserted that as science has progressed, it has progressively reduced the holes in our knowledge which we needed God to fill. One day, it will replace them all. This is the extrapolation argument. In response, I pointed out that two huge apologetic arguments for God didn't even exist until the 1920s: the Big Bang and the argument from Fine Tuning. Prior to the Big Bang, the most popular cosmological model for the universe was static: it had no beginning and hence needed no Creator God to begin it. The Big Bang and the science surrounding it completely overturned this argument. Furthermore, the fundamental constants didn't even exist until the 20th century and hence no argument from fine tuning existed. Only in the last 50-100 years has science discovered the incredible sensitivity of the universe to the fundamental constants. So I would highly question whether science has been uniformly "eroding" the questions that God answers. In at least two cases, we have strong arguments for God's existence that did not exist prior to the 20th century. The bottom line is that the argument from fine Tuning goes even further than the cosmological argument because it now seems that the First Cause set up a universe in which sentient intelligent beings like humans could exist.

Point 3 - The Regularity of Nature. You refer to your comment on point #1, but there is a slight difference. The Cosmological argument argues for a First Cause. But the regularity of nature argues for the existence of a Sustaining Cause. In other words, a deistic conception of God is compatible with the Cosmological Argument, but less compatible with the argument from Regularity.

Point 4 - The Argument from Beauty - I agree that "don't you want this to be true?" is one theme of the book, which I'll comment on later. But right now, let's note that Keller is claiming that transcendent Beauty (beauty that has an objective referent independent of my preferences) is an argument for God's objective existence not only his desirability. In other words, if God does not exist, then there is no transcendent standard for anything (good, evil, beauty, justice, etc...) because all of these did not exist prior to the evolution of humans and are arbitrary constructs of the human mind. If a sociopath's brain finds death "beautiful" and I do not, then there is no objective standard which tells us who is right. Most traditional atheists (Sartre, Camus, Russell) would agree that transcendent beauty, value, love, and good are only possible if the personal God of theism exists. Consequently, they would affirm that beauty and love, while appearing significant to us, are merely illusions with no objective referent. Do you agree? If not, then how do you think this belief is compatible with atheism? If this argument is true, then the First Cause is powerful, intelligent, purposeful and provides a basis for calling things Beautiful, True, and Good. I don't think these argument are logically avoidable, but wouldn't you agree that the personal God of theism provides a far more consistent explanation of these pieces of evidence than the alternatives?

5. "The Clue-Killer": this section covers evolutionary biologists' explanations of religion arising from natural selection. To his credit, Keller gives a fair overview of some of the explanations they've suggested. But then he thinks he's really onto something: "If we can't trust our belief-forming faculties to tell us the truth about God, why should we trust them to tell us the truth about anything, including evolutionary science? If our cognitive faculties only tell us what we need to survive, not what is true, why trust them about anything at all? ... This is a huge Achilles' heel in the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology and theory." (p.138) I think this is the most astonishing argument in the book. The answer to his rhetorical question is that we (should) trust our cognitive faculties only to the extent that they've shown themselves to be reliable when they are tested in the world.

I agree that Keller's argument contains a flaw, but I don't think it's as big as you suggest. You are right than an atheist can always answer that our cognitive faculties are trustworthy to the extent that they are reliable when tested in the real world. They might also answer that evolutionary theory predicts that animals living in a dream world will be less fit than animals whose cognitive faculties allow them to apprehend objective truth. But all Keller needs to ask is why we believe that the real objective world exists in the first place. Let's say that I believe we are all living inside a gigantic computer simulation (like the Matrix). Then I obviously cannot trust my cognitive faculties to tell me anything reliable about the "real world" (the world of the machines), but only about the Matrix (the illusory world that has been pulled over my eyes to blind me from the truth - as Morpheus puts it). An evolutionary biologist would say: "That's ridiculous. Natural selection would never favor beings who were lost in a dream world." But I would simply point out that their belief in evolution -at root- comes from the results of empirical observations and experiments which all took place inside the Matrix. This is precisely the problem. A naturalist can only argue that evolution selects for valid cognition if he first assumes that cognition is valid, allowing us to perceive the truth of evolution. This is a huge leap. And incidentally, a belief in the illusory existence of the "real world" is not a hypothetical conjecture. It is a central feature of Eastern religions and even has its proponents among some Western materialists who believe we are actually living inside a gigantic computer simulation.

> I didn't know anybody thought otherwise. But his argument just illustrates how far one can go when one limits oneself to armchair speculation. "If we believe God exists, then our view of the universe gives us a basis for believing that cognitive faculties work, since God could make us able to form true beliefs and knowledge." (p.140) This line of thought explains the unwarranted intellectual arrogance I have observed in many Christians: they think some of their beliefs and knowledge are true even though they haven't tested them in the world.

I'm not sure what you mean about "intellectual arrogance" and "testing [ideas] in the real world." Again, why do you believe that the real world exists, that reasoning is valid, and that our cognitive faculties provide an accurate picture of reality? I think that the naturalist simply has to assume that these facts are true because without them, he can't think or know anything at all. But assuming ideas because they are useful or necessary does not make them true. If God exists, then he provides a clear basis for believing that the real world exists, that human reasoning is valid, and that our cognitive faculties give us an accurate picture of reality. If He doesn't, then is there any basis for these assumptions? Are they adopted based on anything other than necessity?

Chapter 9, "The knowledge of God", argues that being aware of a sense of moral obligation, of right and wrong, means actually knowing that God exists. Keller has a section where he responds to "the evolutionary theory of moral obligation", but this is a bait-and-switch: the entire section is only about altruism to strangers, something that he says evolution can't explain. Even if that's true, it's irrelevant to explaining the existence of a moral sense, because altruism to outsiders is NOT seen as a moral good in all cultures.

You say that Keller's argument is a bait-and-switch because he only focuses on stranger altruism. Your objection would be true only if evolution were not claiming to be a comprehensive theory of the origins of our moral feelings. But evolution is purporting to be precisely this kind of comprehensive account. For instance, imagine if evolutionary psychologists were certain that evolution could explain every moral feeling except our aversion to murder, which had no satisfactory evolutionary explanation. The immediate question would then be: "so where does our aversion to murder come from?" In the same way, Keller's argument is that stranger-altruism shows that evolution alone cannot provide a comprehensive account of our moral feelings. The fact that stranger-altruism is NOT viewed as a moral good in all cultures still does not weaken his argument. As a comprehensive account, evolution must provide an explanation for all moral feelings. Imagine biologists discovered a single species whose proteins were composed of entirely of L-amino acids (which are not found in nature). That would be a tremendous blow for evolutionary theory because this species clearly could not have evolved from other species. It would have had to have come from another planet or have been manufactured in a lab. We could not argue "Well, it's only one species, so it really doesn't tell us anything about whether evolution accounts for it." Far from being unusual or rare, stranger-altruism crops up all over the planet in many different cultures even if there are some cultures in which it is absent or less important. Therefore, stranger-altruism does potentially challenge evolution as a comprehensive explanation of our moral feelings.

Now we can still try to show that evolutionary theory can indeed account for stranger-altruism (although as Keller points out, it is difficult; Dawkins believes that extreme altruism is a misfiring -albeit a good misfiring- of Darwinian selfishness). But I think your claim that Keller's argument is a bait-and-switch is wrong.

In another section on "the grand 'sez who?'", he writes, "If there is no God, then there is no way to say one action is 'moral' and another 'immoral' but only 'I like this.'"

This is actually are far more pertinent objection. I could potentially envision evolutionary psychologists coming up with a comprehensive evolutionary explanation for the origin of all our moral feelings. But even if they did, this second argument of Keller's is just as formidable and loses none of its import. In fact, given how central this argument is (it is the basis for a large part of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity), I am surprised that you say so little about it.

Keller sums it up very well. Whether or not moral feelings can be explained entirely by evolutionary processes, the question of whether these moral feelings are "Right" or "Wrong" is still entirely unanswered. I might feel that murder is wrong. I might feel that stealing is wrong. I might feel that wearing pants with zippers is wrong. But my feelings don't tell me whether these actions actually are Wrong. Indeed, if there is no transcendent basis for Right and Wrong, then it seems that morality is whatever I want it to be. I might feel that murder is wrong. My neighbor might feel that murder is right. But there is no external standard of Right and Wrong to which I can compare my own personal standards. This conclusion seems so obvious to me (and to many of my atheist friends and to almost all traditional atheists) that it still amazes me that the Neoatheists seem to resist it so staunchly. What do you think? Is murder Wrong in any transcendent sense (i.e. is there a non-human objective basis for morality)? If I decide (or my culture decides or the whole world decides) that killing some particular ethic group is right, then is there any basis for saying that it is still Wrong?

"If that is the case, who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law?" (p.153) I suppose the cynical answer is: whoever claims there is an all-powerful God who is on their side.

Your cynical objection should be "whoever can convince other people that there is an all-powerful God is on their side." But this is not really an answer. Let's imagine that we live in a uniformly atheistic, secular society. Everyone agrees that there is no God. Now let's ask Keller's question: who gets to put their feelings into law?" How would you respond? You might say that "whoever promises to use their power to benefit our whole society gets to put their feelings into law." But what if I said "No. Whoever promises to use their power to benefit me and my family at the expense of all the others gets to put their feelings into law"? That would be a "selfish" choice of a lawgiver. But so what? Sez who? You asked me who I wanted in charge and I told you. Why is your "altruistic" answer "good" and my "selfish" answer "bad"? And that's Keller's point. We can leave aside the whole question of law entirely, as it serves merely as an illustration. The question is: is there a real standard for Good and Bad that exists independent how human beings choose to define these ideas?

This is an argument that a person can gain advantage by claiming there is such a God, not an argument that there actually is one.

That is precisely not what it is. I think you could easily argue that an individual could benefit by claiming that God is on their side. I think you might even be able to argue that society would be more peaceful or successful or courageous or powerful if they believed that God is on their side. But Keller never makes these arguments! Rather, his whole point is that if a transcendent standard of Good and Bad or Moral and Immoral or Just and Unjust does actually exist, then this makes the idea that the good, moral, just God of theism exists (we could also believe in some kind of Platonic realm of Ideals which included Value, but that doesn't seem to be plausible for most people). In fact, this is precisely where we do bring in the other attributes of God which -as you rightly noted- were not present in the other arguments Keller mentioned in Chapter 8. Now we have a First Cause who is incredibly intelligent and powerful who sustains the universe and who provides a basis for Beauty, Love, Goodness, and Justice.

Keller even goes further. He points out that the fact that even the most hardened atheist still tends to act as if certain things are transcendentally wrong suggest that they know internally what they deny intellectually: that transcendent Right and Wrong do actually exist. I had an interesting conversation with some atheist friends in which I pointed out that moral relativists do not live lives consistent with their moral relativism. My friends all believed that atheism leads logically to moral relativism: there is no transcendent standard of Right and Wrong, and therefore right and wrong are whatever you choose them to be. My point was that, if that is true, then atheists should work constantly to kill all of the moral and ethical baggage left in their consciences by their culturally Judeo-Christian upbringing. In other words, almost everyone would feel a twinge of conscience that would prevent them from killing their neighbors and stealing their property. An intellectually consistent atheist should aspire to destroy this twinge of conscience so that he can always act to maximize his own happiness. He still might choose to refrain from murder and robbery, lest he be arrested. But he should aspire to rid himself of conscience in order to be able to act purely rationally to achieve his personal goals. The fact that no one (except for extreme psychopaths) actually adopt this fully consistent attitude should give us pause. It is almost as if even the most certain and assured atheist has some deep, internal sense that certain things are simply Wrong, whether or not they will make him happy or help him achieve his goals. Christianity explains where this sense comes from and it also explains why it's almost impossible for us to destroy it completely.

Chapter 10 is a theological chapter on sin. Keller says that what Christians mean by the term "sin" is "the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him." (p.162) Sin as "breaking divine rules" is only part of it, he writes. This chapter focuses on how everyone needs to get one's identity from something, and "Only if your identity is built on God and his love, says Kierkegaard, can you have a self that can venture anything, face anything." (p.165) Keller lists some "god-substitutes": spouse, family, career, possessions, comfort, approval, and even "noble causes" and "religion and morality". All of these, he says, can damage you, and only by living for God can you find true fulfillment. Of course, mentioning "noble causes" and "religion and morality" in his list only makes the reader wonder what it means to live for God, in the sense of how you can tell whether you yourself are doing it or not.

This is an interesting question. Obviously Keller would not deny (and the Bible certainly affirms) that those who "live for God" also devote their lives to noble causes, justice, moral living, kindness, etc... But Keller's question is that of our primary affection. In other words, do I devote my life to noble causes, moral living, justice and kindness because I love God primarily. Or do I primarily love some noble cause or moral lifestyle or justice or kindness and see God as secondary. Again, the Bible affirms that if you do love God, you will love others and serve them and be kind to them. But if we reorder our affections and put God in second place, then everything falls apart and -irony of ironies - we end up destroying the things that we put in His place. Keller gives many examples. History is littered with people who may have initially been trying to do good and who ended up doing horrendous evil because their chief end was some goal (my spouse's happiness, my family's happiness, my country's happiness) but not God.

But I think I can answer your question far more directly. You are not. You are not living for God. Not with all your heart, soul, mind and strength as Jesus said that God commanded us to. But then, none of us are. Does that mean that it's ok? Of course not! It means that we're all desperately evil and that we all need a Savior.

In Chapter 11 on "Religion and the gospel", Keller writes that "there is a profound and fundamental difference between the way that other religions tell us to seek salvation and the way described in the gospel of Jesus. All other major faiths have founders who are teachers that show the way to salvation. Only Jesus claimed to actually _be_ the way of salvation himself." (p.174) Expanding: "The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ." I'd suggest that all this shows is that the Christian religion has a winning marketing message.

More on this later.

Chapter 12, "The (true) story of the cross", is another heavy theological one that describes how the death of Jesus is thought of as relating to suffering, forgiveness, and love. Keller describes some moving stories from fiction and says "The gospel, however, is not just a moving fictional story about someone else. It is a true story about _us_. ... How much more can we be empowered by the discovery that Jesus has given himself for us, has changed places with us?" This chapter is certainly of interest to anyone who wants to understand Christian theology (this author's take on it, anyway), but not how these ideas were conceived and justified: that comes in the next chapter.

Chapter 13 on "The reality of the resurrection" is an important one that covers some of the same ground as chapter 6. Keller says he tells people: "If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn't rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead." (p.202) He fails to point out that we _don't know_ all Jesus said, and who knows what important things Jesus said that his followers didn't hand down to us?

I think it's clear from context that Keller is not basing his response on his knowledge of every word that Jesus uttered. The context is that people approach him saying: "I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching. I like this part of Christian teaching, but I don't think I can accept that part." To which Keller responds with his quote about the Resurrection. Obviously, people aren't coming to Keller saying "While Jesus was on earth, he gave this secret teaching to his disciples and I witnessed it in a dream or a vision or a past life and I don't think I can accept it." They are coming to him either with some doctrine that is not in the Bible (which Keller - I can assure you based on his sermons- would tell them to ignore) or with some doctrine that is in the Bible that they "can't accept". Keller counsels them that if they are wrestling with Biblical doctrine, the first question to ask is whether Jesus rose from the dead. If so, then he is Lord and God and we have to choose to follow Him or reject Him. [By the way, here's how the doctrine of Scripture comes in. If we follow Jesus, then we ought to follow his extreme reverence for the Old Testament and his belief that it was the word of God. We also ought to take seriously his statements about commissioning his apostles to preach the gospel and to teach new Christians according to the things they had been taught, as they are recorded in the New Testament. At least, that's the brief outline of how I would get from following Jesus to trusting in the Bible.]

Obviously, if Jesus was 30-some years old when he was crucified, he must have said and done reams of things that are not recorded in the Bible (the author of John even says this explicitly!) I suppose the question of whether there are some secret, vital teachings that have been lost in the sands of time is a valid one. But I think I would settle that question after I decided what I thought about the things Jesus said that are in the Bible! Are you arguing that Jesus did not actually say the things that are recorded in the canonical gospels? Then I would point back to Chapter 7 and could recommend other apologetic works. I think it pretty clear that the gospels present a generally reliable portrait of the words and deeds of the historical Jesus.

Can we get some clue to additional things Jesus said from other early documents that aren't in the New Testament?

What early documents are you referring to? The only gospel that I know which people think might possibly be as early as the canonical gospels is the gospel of Thomas, although a substantial number of scholars would date that gospel to the mid-second century, between thirty to sixty years after the gospel of John (which is probably the latest of the canonical gospels). It also doesn't show up in any of the early church's list of gospels. And it shows fairly clear signs of being influenced by gnosticism, a philosophy which would have been quite foreign to the historical Jesus' Palestinian setting but would have been very popular among the Greeks. Do you really think that Thomas could give us any more insight into Jesus' actual words. I'm not denying that some of the saying in Thomas are accurate (after all, there are many saying in Thomas that are also in the canonical gospels). But if I had to choose, I think the canonical gospels actually provide the earliest and most accurate biographies of Jesus that we possess.

> He doesn't address that issue, despite arguing for the all-importance of accepting everything Jesus said!

You're right. Keller doesn't address the gnostic gospels and maybe he should have. But I think you're misreading Keller's point. Yes, Keller is a Biblical inerrantist (as I am), but I never point people towards Biblical inerrancy. I point them towards Jesus. In other words, I think that historical evidence can show you that the gospels give you a reasonably accurate picture of Jesus even if you don't accept them as inerrant. But they give you an accurate enough picture of Jesus to make the Lord, Liar, Lunatic of C.S. Lewis relevant. Then you need to decide: do I reject Jesus or do I accept Him? That's the decision I would try to bring people to. As for accepting everything that Jesus said, yes I think that is very important. But it is much less important than whether we decide to follow Jesus at all. It is sort of like asking whether my son ought to always obey everything I say. We could argue back and forth and debate the issue, but there would be no question of whether he should obey me if he were standing on the train tracks and I were begging him to step off! In the same way, Jesus says "Repent and believe in me. I am God and I am offering you forgiveness." The central issue is always Jesus, not inerrancy.

Keller says that nonbelievers in the resurrection need to give "a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church." (p.202) He then outlines a standard kind of alternate explanation that when Jesus died, his followers were despondent and began to sense that he was still with them, had visions of him speaking to them, and over decades, came up with stories of a physical resurrection that developed into the gospel accounts. In response, Keller quotes 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, written by Paul 15-20 years after Jesus's death; he doesn't seem to think that is a long time.

I'd highly recommend you read my essay "Resurrection and Worldview" and also the essay "The historicity of Jesus' Resurrection" by atheist and founder of Jeff Lowder, which I quote extensively. I think both of these essays might help answer some of your questions. In general, let me observe that you put forth most of your arguments as speculative conjectures. But if you really want to counter the evidence for the Resurrection, then you must do more than simply suggest that some of these ideas might possibly be true. You have to show that your suggestions are more plausible (individually or collectively) than the Christian alternative.

Keller repeats the arguments from chapter 6 (see above) about the testimony of women and about Paul's mention of eyewitnesses: "Paul could not be telling people in a public document that there were scores of eyewitnesses alive if there were not." (p.205) And even: "No one in Jerusalem would have believed the preaching for a minute if the tomb was not empty. Skeptics could have easily produced Jesus's rotted corpse." (p.205) Well, who knows? Maybe they did, or maybe (and this would amount to the same thing) they produced a _different_ rotting corpse and claimed it was Jesus's. But who goes to such lengths to disprove the claims of some fringe cult? Even if Jesus's actual body were produced, just recall the trouble the Americans had convincing many Iraqis that Saddam Hussein's sons were dead.

"Who knows? Maybe they did [produce a rotting corpse]" But do you have any evidence of this? The ending of Matthew strongly suggests that the Jewish leaders claimed the disciples had stolen the body. Why would the leaders claim grave robbery if the a body could be produced? And why would Matthew mention this fact if they had not actually made this claim? Indeed, most of the preaching in Acts would be insane and nonsensical if the tomb were not empty. But even more compelling to me is the fact that the vast majority of skeptics come up with explanations that involve an actual empty tomb. I've never heard anyone simply say that the body (or some body) was actually produced or was shown to the disciples.

Keller follows N.T. Wright in claiming that the idea of resurrection was unknown among non-Jews in the Mediterranean world, and even among Jews, it was conceived of only as happening at the end of the world. He asks, "Why would the disciples of Jesus have come to the conclusion that that [sic] his crucifixion had not been a defeat but a triumph -- unless they had seen him risen from the dead?" (p.208) I think it's just human psychology to try to find something good in a disastrous failure.

Regarding your comment that "it's just human psychology to try to find something good in a disastrous failure", let me raise two points. First, why did their delusion take this form? This is N.T. Wright's point. If my wife died, you might expect me (as a Christian) to claim that I had seen her angel. But you would not expect me to claim that she had returned to life as a cyborg! If Wright is correct that the idea of a personal Resurrection was unknown to the Jews and to the Greeks, then the fact that this particular belief suddenly appeared after the death of Jesus is quite surprising. Second, there were lots of Messianic movements in Roman-occupied Palestine. Many of these leaders were killed. Some were crucified. Yet in no case did the followers claim they had witnessed a Resurrection. If human psychology motivated the disciples to find something good, then why did none of these other groups of followers do the same?

"Even if you propose the highly unlikely idea that one or two of Jesus's disciples did get the idea that he was raised from the dead on their own, they would never have gotten a movement of other Jews to believe it unless there were multiple, inexplicable, plausible, repeated encounters with Jesus." (p.209) But Keller forgets that the vast majority of members of this movement _did not_ have any encounters with Jesus, but only heard about them.

That is certainly true today, but it was certainly not true on Easter morning. In fact, on the Monday after the Resurrection, 100% of the members of the Jesus movement were those that had seen the Resurrected Jesus. As one of my pastors once observed, until Pentecost (about a month and a half after the Resurrection) there were zero second-hand believers in the Resurrection. Even Thomas doubted the Resurrection and the testimony of the other disciples until he actually saw Jesus. Without question, many later believed based on the apostles' testimony. But the question for Keller is, where did that testimony come from?

His discussion of the origins of Christianity would be more credible if he were able to make convincing contrasts with the origins of other religions.

I agree this contrast would be interesting which is why I'd like to know more about the origins of other religions, specifically modern ones. I will say, though, that as an apologist, I'm very hesitant to draw contrasts with specific other religions because that might easily be received as being arrogant, judgmental, insensitive, etc... Unfortunately, even if your actions are genuinely motivated by a desire to warn people of false beliefs, those actions will be labeled as intolerant by people who hold to religious relativism (as Keller talked about in Chapter 1).

He concludes the chapter by saying "Each year at Easter ... I always say to my skeptical, secular friends that, even if they can't believe in the resurrection, they should want it to be true." (p.211) But that's exactly the problem: when a lot of people want something to be true, there's a tendency to mis-hear or play up the flimsiest confirmatory evidence, and unfortunately, Keller never warns his readers against succumbing to this tendency. Overall, in the discussion of the resurrection doctrine, this chapter just reinforces the view that that whole doctrine developed only _after_ Jesus died, and that his actual life was not noticeably different from that of other contemporary would-be prophets. If the God of the universe did decide to be incarnated as a human being and die for our sins, and wanted everyone to know about it, why would his method of revealing this fact (as Keller suggests) amount to just two things: (1) leaving an empty tomb; (2) appearing after his death to a few of his followers? But Keller forgets that the vast majority of members of this movement _did not_ have any encounters with Jesus, but only heard about them But whatever these other events are, they don't contain supernatural elements.

He asserts boldly that "the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact much more fully attested to than most other events of ancient history we take for granted." (p.210) But whatever these other events are, they don't contain supernatural elements.

Definitely see my essay Resurrection and Worldview. According to Jeff Lowder, the role of the supernatural rather than the absence of evidence is what actually causes most people to reject the Resurrection

And I wonder what Keller would say about UFO abductions, which are also well attested.

This argument could merely imply that Christians ought to take UFO abductions more seriously, not that they should take the Resurrection less seriously. But is there well-attested evidence of UFO abductions? I haven't heard of any, but I don't spend much time looking into (or looking for) UFOs!

But that's exactly the problem: when a lot of people want something to be true, there's a tendency to mis-hear or play up the flimsiest confirmatory evidence, and unfortunately, Keller never warns his readers against succumbing to this tendency.

More on this later.

If the God of the universe did decide to be incarnated as a human being and die for our sins, and wanted everyone to know about it, why would his method of revealing this fact (as Keller suggests) amount to just two things: (1) leaving an empty tomb; (2) appearing after his death to a few of his followers?

First, this is a theological argument about God's character. How do you know that God would (or would not) leave more evidence? This is usually not used as a general argument but as a personal argument. We say that God did not provide enough evidence to meet my personal standards for belief which are derived from a variety of sources: my worldview, my presuppositions about the likelihood of God's existence, my past experience with Christians, and my personal tragedies and disappointments. Let's imagine for a moment that you are correct, that God did not provide enough evidence to meet your personal standards of belief. Why did you expect He would? I'm sure Greek philosophers said that they would not believe in the Resurrection unless God provided a convincing explanation of why the immortal soul would recontaminate itself with matter. But is this a reason that we would reject the Resurrection today? Of course not. We now think Neoplatonic philosophy is idiotic. So we can't use the fact that the evidence for the Resurrection doesn't meet our personal standards as an argument against the Resurrection unless we are sure our personal standards are reasonable and correct. How can we be sure of this?

Second, according to the New Testament, the Resurrection seems to serve several functions: 1. it assures Christians of their justification; it assures them that Jesus completely paid for their sins on the cross 2. it validates Jesus' claims to be righteous before God 3. it is the first case and assurance of the future Resurrection which Christians look forward to 4. it is evidence that Jesus was indeed Messiah, Lord and Savior. Note that the first three functions are independent of whether the Resurrection furnishes useful apologetic argument for convincing others of the Christian message (point 4). How do we know that God cares primarily about the apologetic function of the Resurrection rather than the first three?

Third, the most problematic part of this claim is how successful the Resurrection (and Christianity) has actually been historically. We're essentially arguing that God did not provide enough evidence to accomplish his purposes in the Resurrection, assuming that these purposes were primarily apologetic and evangelistic in nature (which is a big assumption; see my last paragraph). But then we have to grapple with the rapid spread and acceptance of the Christian message through the ancient and modern worlds. There are currently something like 2 billion professing Christians in the world and Christianity is the largest world religion. If one of God's purposes was to provide enough evidence for the Resurrection that people would believe, then the belief of billions testifies to God accomplishing this purpose. Could God have provided even more evidence? Sure. Did he provide enough evidence to accomplish his evangelistic and apologetic purposes? Apparently.

Tangentially, if God is the personal God of theism, then the Incarnation is actually the most plausible way for God to reveal his character in a complete and comprehensive way - by actually become a real, physical human being in the middle of history.

Chapter 14, "The dance of God", is a theological and hortatory one that speaks rapturously about the Trinity and how God "is essentially, eternally, interpersonal love." (p.216) Keller writes: "God did not create us to get the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification, but to share it. We were made to join in the dance." He promises that "If the beauty of what Jesus did moves you, that is the first step toward getting out of your own self-centeredness and fear into a trust relationship with him. ... If you respond to him, all your relationships will begin to heal." (p.221) And what does it mean to respond to him? His section on "the Christian life" says we do this by (1) giving him glory, (2) honoring and serving the dignity of other human beings, and (3) cherishing his glory in nature. But I think you can do (2) and (3) without having heard about Jesus at all.

You ask "what does it mean to respond to him? His section on 'the Christian life' says we do this by..." I think we need to draw a clear distinction between how we "live the Christian life" and how we "enter the Christian life." Imagine that I asked someone where the door to a building was. They answered by telling me all the wonderful things that happen inside the building. I would stop them and say "That all sounds wonderful, but what I really would like to know is not what happens inside but how I get inside in the first place!"

I just want to make it absolutely clear that if a non-Christian were to ask Keller: "How do I respond to Jesus?" he would absolutely not say: "by living for God's glory, by loving your neighbor, and by loving God in nature." Rather, he would say that we respond through repentance and faith (as he does in the Epilogue). We turn from ourselves, from our trust in our goodness and holiness and decency to save us, from our seeking after pleasure and fame and honor and praise, and we turn to Jesus as our Lord, Savior, King, Friend, and Substitute. We then live out our acceptance by God and our new life by loving Him with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength and by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I entirely agree that it is possible to (2) honor and serve the dignity of human beings and (3) cherish God's glory in nature without having ever heard of Jesus at all. But is it possible to do these things as a "response" to God? A response by definition requires the initiative to be taken by someone else. I can respond to a question or to an offer or to an action. But the other person has to do something to which I can then respond. Keller makes it very clear that the Christian life is lived out because you have responded to the gospel: the good news of what God has done in the death and resurrection of Jesus to purchase our forgiveness. So yes, points (2) and (3) can be done without having heard of Jesus, but I question whether they can be done as a response without having heard of Jesus! Additionally, the Bible would never suggest that we are forgiven because we live out points (1), (2), and (3). We respond to God's offer of forgiveness in the gospel by repenting and believing (see the Epilogue). This was the message of John the Baptist, and Jesus, and all the apostles. We then live out the Christian life in points (1), (2), and (3) because we have been forgiven.

The book ends with an "Epilogue: Where do we go from here?" Keller writes that "Christianity may be more plausible to you now that you've read this book. You may have been personally moved by some of the descriptions of our world's need, your own condition, and Christ's mission in the world." (p.227) I don't think that being "personally moved" by a story should make it more plausible, as he suggests. He quotes the rock star Bono, for 2/3 of a page, saying that "either Christ was who He said He was -- the Messiah -- or a complete nutcase." (p.229) Keller adds that "if Jesus was not a lunatic, then our only alternative is to accept his claims and center our entire lives around him." (p.230) But they fail to remind us that everything we know about Jesus comes from a few accounts of followers, written down decades later, in a remote part of the Roman empire. Should we really center our lives around our trust in THEM? (Why doesn't Keller ask that question?)

Keller doesn't ask this question because Keller is assuming that the gospels preserve Jesus' actual teaching (as he discussed in Chapter 7). What evidence do you have that this is not the case? Speaking personally, I would have absolutely no problem if someone who honestly wants to know whether to follow Jesus picked up a copy of the canonical gospels, and the gospel of Thomas, and the Apocrypha, and the Epistle of Barnabbas, and the gnostic gospels, and read them all. I truly think that the canonical gospels present the most consistent, plausible, and historical portrait of Jesus that we have. And what's far more important, I believe that because the canonical gospels are the word of God, they will speak to you in a way that the other documents will not. But what I fear happens far more often is that people with no real interest at all in Jesus use the existence of the gnostic gospels or the DaVinci Code as a convenient excuse to avoid Jesus. If you'd like to read through any particular gospel together (canonical or noncanonical), I'd be happy to read it with you and try to answer your questions.

> In a section on "making the move", he writes that the first thing one must do is repent, to recognize that "your main sin, the sin under the rest of your sin, is your self-salvation project." > (p.233) And then "The second thing you have to do is believe in Christ. ... We must believe who he said he was ..." To those who balk at this, he makes an analogy of losing one's > footing on a cliff and seeing a branch sticking out. "If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don't actually reach out and grab it, you are > lost. If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved ... Strong faith in a weak branch is > fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch." (p.234) This analogy makes sense only to someone who knows that the branch IS a strong one, which is what you're uncertain about to > begin with. Does Keller encourage his congregants to follow this way of thinking when making decisions in other aspects of their lives?

Keller's illustration is not aimed at showing you which branch you should grab. Rather it is trying to show you that your intellectual certainty or lack thereof does not determine whether the branch can support you. To someone who is worrying about which branch to grab, I would add one suggestion to those Keller lists in the section "Taking Inventory." I would add Phillip's advice to Nathaniel in the gospel of John when asked if he had really found the Messiah: "Come and see." Unlike the branch illustration, we are not in immediate danger (presuming we are in good health). I am not saying that the message of the gospel is not urgent, but that we are not necessarily presented with an immediate, exclusive choice. I don't think that anything prevents people from exploring Christianity or "coming and seeing" as Phillip suggested. Why not simply try reading a bit of the gospels very day, attending a Christian church or Bible study, and trying to listen and obey Jesus' teachings? Now there will come a point where we do actually encounter Jesus and there will be a choice to make. But isn't that what we claim to be hoping for? Don't we want to know which branch is the right one? In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with honestly and earnestly knocking at Jesus' door to see if anyone will open it.

Overall, I recommend this book especially to Christians so that they can see how even a book that's called "The Reason for God", and is heralded for its rational approach to defending Christian doctrines, can employ philosophical arguments that are divorced from ordinary experience of the world and of human beings,

This last sentence in which you deride "empty philosophical arguments that are divorced from ordinary experience of the world and of human beings" is really quite confusing. Do you deride Keller's arguments because they are false? Of because they are philosophical? The former is a fine reason, but the latter is not a good reason at all. Either Keller's arguments are true and valid and rational. Or they are false and invalid and irrational. But after a long, long review in which you appear to actually engage philosophical argument as if reason and philosophy were valid approaches to truth, you can't turn around at the very end and say that none of it matters because it is "divorced from the ordinary experience of the world and of human beings"! If all that matters is that our worldview is consistent with "the ordinary experience of human beings" (by which you presumably mean your own experience filtered through your own worldview), then why bother making rational arguments at all? Why not just eat, drink, and be merry and not worry about living an examined life?

and especially, how such a book can still be filled with so much off-putting appeal to wishful thinking.

More on this later. I know I keep saying that, but I promise I'll mention it.

Ok, let me try to sum up. Let me make a few general observations.

First, I think you did a very good job of actually writing a review of the book, which is often neglected by many Amazon reviewers including myself. I thought your summaries of the chapters were generally fair and informative. However, I think that many of your comments on the first half of the book were misguided because they failed to take into account Keller's explicit purpose in writing these chapters. You repeatedly stated that the fact that God is appealing is not evidence that God exists. But as I repeatedly commented, Keller's explicit purpose in these chapters was to answer questions that attacked the appeal - not the objective truth- of Christianity. If Keller entitles a chapter "Christianity is a straitjacket" and then attempts to show that Christianity is not a straitjacket, it is not really fair to observe that this fact does not substantiate the objective truth of Christianity. Your observation is true, and may even be worth reminding people of. But it does not really undermine Keller's overall goal or his stated goal in each of these particular chapters.

Having said that, I was quite surprised at how little comment or criticism you gave to Chapters 8 and 9. If you were impatient for Keller to present reasons for the objective truth of Christianity in Chapter 1-6, then I would have expected the bulk of your review to show that his arguments in Chapters 8, 9, 13 and to some extent 7 were false. But in fact, many of Keller's arguments in these chapters were not even challenged much less refuted. In particular, I've pointed out that you don't make any rebuttal of the four "classic" arguments for God's existence that he presents in Chapter 8. Do you agree with these arguments? If not, what are your alternative explanations? If you agree, then why do they not convince you that the God exists? Similarly, I would view Chapter 9 as the centerpiece of his argument for God's existence (indeed, that is why Keller doesn't include this argument in Chapter 8). Yet you don't actually address his argument that transcendent Good and Evil or Right and Wrong are evidence that God exists. Instead, you focus on the less important issue of stranger altruism and the legal implications of morality without ever engaging with the central issue: is there a transcendent standard of Right and Wrong? And if so, does it point to the existence of a good and just God? And if so, does this explain why we act as if our actions are good or evil? Is it valid to conclude (as Keller and St. Paul do) that we intuitively know that God exists but are suppressing that knowledge to avoid having to admit our moral guilt? These are the questions that I would pose to you and which I think must be answered to really address Keller's arguments in this chapter. You spent some time trying to show that Keller's arguments in Chapter 7 and 13 were unconvincing, but again your arguments here were mostly conjectures about what might have happened. To really refute Keller's arguments, you would have to show that your explanations (which roughly followed the skeptical explanation that Keller himself gives on p. 211) are actually more historically plausible than the traditional Christian alternative. I raised some problems with your explanations that might be helpful in evaluating your arguments. The bottom line is that I think your response needs to spend much more time on Keller's factual arguments in Chapter 7,8,9, and 13. I agree with you that these are the arguments which are most relevant to the factual truth of Christianity. But then they should occupy the bulk of your review.

Finally, as promised, I'd like to say a little bit about Keller's approach and why he does -as you correctly observe- spend so much time arguing that Christianity is appealing given that he clearly recognizes and explicitly states that its appeal is not nearly as important as its truth. To address this issue, I'd like you to try a thought experiment. Imagine that Jesus appeared to you one night in an undeniable way and told you that everything in the Bible was absolutely true. Imagine that there was absolutely no doubt in your mind as to the truth of your experience. My question is: would you rejoice? Would this knowledge make you happy? Would you immediately go out the next day and tell all of your friends and neighbors the good news of Jesus' salvation? Would you delight in surrendering your whole life to him as Lord and following him with every ounce of your strength? Would the thought of going to all of your skeptical friends, admitting your error, and begging them to turn to Jesus bring you happiness? I can tell you the result of this thought experiment for me: if I am honest, it terrifies me. There is something deep inside me that does not really want God to exist and does not want to center my life around Him. It's too comprehensive. I'd lose control. And that's the point. That is the essence of sin: deep down inside, we want to be our own Lord and Masters. Deep down inside, we believe that life would be better if we (not God) were in control.

Obviously, I'm not denying that intellectual objections exist. But in my experience, it is not the intellectual objections that are really behind our unbelief and doubt, if we look deep enough. At the root of all our objections lies this deep animosity and mistrust of God. It doesn't hurt to remove intellectual obstacles: I'm all for it! That's why I bother to do apologetics at all. But I can't be naive about the real problem, which is sin. And that's why Keller focuses so much on the appeal of Christianity as well as on the truth of Christianity. Arguments may beat our minds into submission, but they cannot touch our hearts. When he talks about forgiveness, or humility, or justice, or wrath he always points these truths back to Jesus and tries to show how they illuminate the cross. In every chapter, Keller is pointing to the cross of Jesus Christ because he (and I) know that only the cross will convince us that God really is trustworthy and good and deserves to be the King of our lives. Once we truly trust in Jesus and accept his forgiveness, its amazing how many of these intellectual objections vanish. I think this may help to explain why Keller structures the book and each chapter as he does. It's also the pattern that I've tried to follow in my essays because I -like Paul- am convinced that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

Anyway, this is an incredibly long response and I congratulate you for getting through it. Before you write back to me, I'd highly suggest four of my essays that you might want to read which may help clarify some of my thoughts and may avoid a more lengthy back-and-forth as I clarify some issues. In order, they are:

Again, these essays touch on some of the issues I've mentioned here, and I think you'll be interested in them. As I said, I greatly enjoyed writing this email and hope we can continue this conversation.


Related essays:
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller and would be happy to send you a copy for free if you email me your mailing address.

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