Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Way Forward (The Reason for God part 4)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

If skeptics and believers often demand too much in the way of "proof" for God's existence, then are we stuck with relativism?  Are stuck with no way to evaluate what we believe?  Keller proposes a way forward that he calls "critical rationality."  He notes that even scientists evaluate data with the belief that they cannot come to a conclusion that is irresistible.  If, for example, there is a better way to explain the data that seems to support evolution, then the theory of evolution will need to be seriously overhauled or abandoned.

"Critical rationality" means that "there are some arguments that many or even most rational people will find convincing, even though there is no argument that will be persuasive to everyone regardless of viewpoint.  It assumes that some systems of belief are more reasonable than others, but that all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end...this doesn't mean we can't evaluate beliefs, only that we should not expect conclusive proof, and to demand it is unfair.

If a theory explains the data and events better than any other theory, then it is excepted, even though in the "strong rationalist" sense, it is not proved.

With this in mind, philosopher Richard Swineburne argues that belief in God can be tested and justified (though not proven) in the same way.   "The view that there is a God, he says, leads us to expect the things we observe-that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate within it, that it contains human beings with consciousness and with an indelible moral sense.  The theory that there is no God, he argues, does not lead us to expect any of these things."  Belief in God fits better with what we see and observe.

Keller notes that even though we can't prove our view of God, that doesn't mean that we can't evaluate the grounds for different religious beliefs and notice that some views, or even one view seems more reasonable than others.

What do you think of this approach to evaluating beliefs...does this seem like a corrective to the demand for airtight rationality on one hand, and absolute relativism on the other?


J at said...

I'm going to disagree here...I don't think that a belief in God leads us to expect a universe to exist, scientific laws, or consciousness and morality. These things exist, whatever their cause, and there's no reason to think that God has anything whatsoever to do with it. If you're a believer, you can say that these things are due to God. But a non-believer can just as truthfully say that they are not due to God.

Brian said...


As I look at things like consciousnes and morality in particular, they seem like odd pieces of "furniture" in a universe made up entirely of physical matter and resulting entirely from unguided physical processes. They seem odd and out of place in a world without God.

So I would counter that it is reasonable to think that God actually had something to do with these things.

Granted, you could still posit that God has nothing to do with these elements, but they seem more conguent in a world created by God.

C.S. Lewis once said that he believed in God in the same way that he believed in the sun, not because he could see it, but that by it, he could see everything else.

The existence of God, I think, offers a more reasonable explanation for the things we see.