It Doesn’t Prove God… That's Why We Call Them Clues

I’ve been listening to Tim Keller’s The Reason for God audiobook on my Sony Walkman MP3 Player, and have enjoyed it very much. This guy makes me feel like a moron but in such a nice way: I never have trouble understanding what he’s talking about and never feel like he’s talking down to me. There are lots of good things to quote from this book, but in particular I was intrigued by the following excerpt.

Despite fierce debates within the field, evolutionary theorists all agree that our capacity to believe in God is hard-wired into our physiology. Because it was directly or indirectly associated with traits that helped our ancestors adapt to their environment. That’s why arguments for God appeal to so many of us. That’s all there is to it. The clues are clues to nothing. I think that ultimately the supposed clue-killer ends up showing us one more clue for God to put beside the others.

The first clue is the very existence of the world—the Big Bang. The secular person rightly responds, “But that doesn’t prove God exists. Maybe the Big Bang just caused itself?”

The second clue is the fine-tuning of the Universe. The one-in-a-trillion-trillion chance that our universe supports organic and human life. Again the secular person can very fairly respond, “But that doesn’t prove God—it could be through sheer, random circumstance that this universe is the one that was formed.”

Another clue is the regularity of Nature. All scientific, inductive reasoning is based on the assumption of this though we haven’t the slightest rational justification for assuming it will continue. When believers have responded that this is a clue to God’s existence, non-believers retort, rightly, “We don’t know why Nature is regular. It just is. That doesn’t prove God.”

Another clue is the clue of beauty and meaning. “If we are the product of the meaningless, accidental forces of nature,” believers ask, “how do you account for the sense we have that beauty matters? That love and life are significant?” The secular person responds, “This doesn’t prove God. We can explain all such senses and convictions through evolutionary biology. Our religious esthetic and moral intuitions are there only because they helped our ancestors survive.” However, as many thinkers point out, if this argument proves anything at all, it proves too much. If we can’t trust our belief-forming faculties in one area, we should not trust them in any area. If there is no God, we should not trust our cognitive faculties at all. Oh but we do! And that’s the final clue.

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. If we believe in God then the Big Bang is not mysterious. Nor the fine-tuning of the Universe. Nor the regularities of Nature. All the things that we see make perfect sense. Also, if God exists, our intuitions about the meaningfulness of beauty and love are to be expected. If you don’t believe in God, not only are all these things profoundly inexplicable, but your view—that there is no God—would lead you not to expect them. Though you have little reason to believe your rational faculties work, you go on using them. You have no basis for believing that Nature will go on regularly but you continue to use inductive reasoning and language. You have no good reason to trust your senses, that love and beauty matter, but you keep on doing it.

Of course none of the clues that we have been looking for actually proves God. Every one of them is rationally avoidable. However, their cumulative effect is, I think, provocative and potent. Though the secular view of the world is rationally possible, it doesn’t make as much sense of these things as the view that God exists. That’s why we call them “clues”. The theory that there is a God who made the world, accounts for the evidence we see better than the theory that there is no God. Those who argue against the existence of God go right on using induction language and their cognitive faculties—all of which make far more sense in a Universe in which a God has created and supports them all by his power.

I can imagine someone saying at this point, “So it’s all inconclusive. All you are saying is that, on the whole, God probably exists. But nobody can make an air-tight case. That means no one can know if there is a God or not.” I don’t agree. In the next chapter, I want to do something very personal. I don’t want to argue why God may exist. I want to demonstrate that you already know that God does exist. I’d like to convince the reader that whatever you may profess intellectually, belief in God is an unavoidable, basic belief, that we cannot prove but can’t not know. We know God is there. That is why even when we believe with all our minds that life is meaningless, we simply can’t live that way. We know better.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, 2008.  Audiobook. Part 3 of 5. Elapsed time 67:15 to 71:32.

In this chapter, Keller makes the point that, for the above reasons, belief in God is more reasonable than belief that there is no God. A rational mind seeks to understand. So the worldview that gives the most understanding—that makes the most sense of the Universe in which we live—is the most rational worldview. While I appreciate Keller’s winsome approach through his book (Christian fundamentalists would probably be pretty frustrated by Keller throughout!), I wondered if he gave away a bit too much regarding the “intramural debate” between Christians over the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 and the question of how Evolution fits with God’s special Creation. While there certainly are lots of good examples of Christian fundamentalists who appear to despise all things intellectual, and who similarly pit themselves in a hostile posture against Science in general, there are some good examples of Christians using the scientific method in a way that is consistent with a high view of Scripture.  For example, the many FAQ articles found at provide tonnes of answers to tough questions about how to fit the Bible together with a modern, scientific understanding of the Universe. Given that there is no evidence for “Evolution” (in the sense that species are gradually growing more complex, gaining in genetic information), that rather species appear to be growing less complex, losing genetic information by mutation etc., and thus “adapting” to environmental conditions, that there is no such thing as an intact fossil-record showing a nice and orderly picture of past history, that radio isotope dating methods in geology cannot actually tell how old a rock is, but only describe what has happened to that sample—assuming an improvable uniformity between conditions in the past and present—that it has been common practice to guess the age of a rock by the “known” age of near-by fossils and vice-versa, and that a great deal of physical evidence exists which suggest the Earth is much, much younger than is the accepted consensus in secular, scientific circles, it seems to me that in addition to Keller’s careful reasoning and skillful apologetic, Christians should also arm themselves with at least a lay-understanding of some of the scientific “clues” which support a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Keller’s book is good. Really good in fact. But more
geared toward a secular, skeptical unbeliever than to a Christian audience. After all, he’s a pastor in Manhattan, New York, so I guess that’s to be expected.