Timothy Keller: Dishonest Reasons for God (Chapter 2)

I began my critique of Keller’s The Reason for God with an exposé of everything up through Chapter 1. Here I continue with Chapter 2. Next I’ll cover Chapters 3 through 5. I’ll continue to other chapters in future installments. Here the same themes are revealed: Keller’s tactic is to lie; lie by omitting all the evidence against him, or by just outright saying false things. But at this point he introduces something worse: he defends God by defending evil.

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The Argument from Evil

Of course the most destructive argument against God is the Argument from Evil. No real God would allow even a tenth of the horrors and injustices that happen on this planet. No real God would have even designed a world capable of most of them. It’s the most perfect demonstration of an observation so extraordinarily improbable on any God hypothesis anyone cared to heed, that the Bayesian likelihood ratio against it easily comes out to trillions to one. Keller definitely has to lie his way out of this one.

Example: Fabricating Quotes

A very common mode of lying employed by the most dishonest of Christian apologists is “quote mining,” taking a quote out of context, and making some authority appear to say the exact opposite of what they actually said. They do this because Christians love the fallacy of Argument from Authority. They are very impressed by advanced degrees. One needs one even to be taken seriously. Although if one has one and they don’t like what you have to say, then they’ll come up with excuses to not be impressed by your credentials anymore. But when one has a fancy college degree and can be made to say whatever they want, that’s gold. Because if even experts on the other side agree with Christians, the Christians must surely be right!

Keller uses this tactic. The most disgusting kind of dishonesty in the Christian arsenal. Because Keller needs to trick his readers into thinking the Argument from Evil isn’t a problem; so he needs to deceive them into thinking the argument has been dismissed even by secular experts in philosophy. And so he outright says, “the effort to demonstrate that evil disproves the existence of God ‘is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt’” (p. 23).

Keller puts the key statement in quotes (that the argument from evil “is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt”), and appends a footnote, which directs the reader to a peer reviewed philosophy paper by a renowned philosopher of religion, probably one of the few any of Keller’s readers will likely have heard of: William Alston. Keller is clearly telling his readers that William Alston said in a peer reviewed philosophy journal that the argument from evil was not only dead, but agreed to be dead by nearly everyone in philosophy, atheists included (“all sides”). Notably, Keller doesn’t tell the reader what page of that obscure article he is quoting from. Possibly to make it harder to find out Keller is lying.

But here’s the thing.

Alston never said that. Not in that article. Not anywhere.

Keller just finished describing an inductive, not a logical, argument from evil. Even though that’s a distinction the Alston paper he cites carefully lays out and explains. When you check the context, you’ll find the words Keller lifts from that article, very clearly refer only to the logical argument from evil, not the inductive argument (sometimes called the evidential argument). Worse, to carry off this deception, Keller even fakes the wording of the quote! Keller claims Alston’s words were that the argument from evil “is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt.” The actual sentence in the Alston article (on page 29) reads, “It is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt, but the inductive argument is still very much alive and kicking.” Keller changed Alston’s “is bankrupt” to “to be completely bankrupt,” removed Alston’s unambiguous reference to this being true only of “the logical argument,” and then left off the rest of the sentence, where Alston then says exactly the opposite of what Keller claims.

There is absolutely no way Keller could do all of that and not know he was outright lying. Again, as Christian apologists are wont to do, Keller hides the evidence (that Alston said “the inductive argument is still very much alive and kicking”) and then outright lies about what his source said (that Alston said all arguments from evil were “completely” bankrupt). This is despicable. And is enough to demonstrate that you can’t trust a damn word this dirty snake says.

It’s only worse that Alston’s actual claim, that the logical argument was dead, is also twenty-five years out of date and no longer true. Keller conspicuously dug back nearly thirty years to find something he could doctor; rather than checking the latest peer reviewed literature on the subject, as an honest scholar would do. This is another common method of Christian lying: if the latest peer reviewed literature doesn’t say what they want, they look thirty, fifty, a hundred years back to find some since-refuted paper that says what they want. And then neglect to tell their readers that that paper has since been refuted or superseded.

Example: Perverting Justice

One reason religions like Christianity are really bad for the world is that to defend them, requires embracing horrific values that undermine all decency and justice. The most common example in debates over evil is how Christians readily defend horrific genocide, even the mass murder of babies, because in order to believe they are immortal and never have to cope with death, they need God, and they need the Bible to be true to have God, and the Bible says God repeatedly commanded genocide, including the mass murder of babies. So now Christians come up with excuses for why that’s supremely good; excuses that would justify any actual genocide or murder. Christian apologetics thus accidentally stumbles into defending and propagating evil. Over and over. (See Hector Avalos, “Yahweh Is a Moral Monster,” in The Christian Delusion; likewise my Will of God.)

Keller does this, too.

Photo of a Southern slave sitting with his back to the camera to display the horrific tangle of scars from his scourging at the hands of his masters. Atop the photo is the single word followed by a question mark, Really?The things that happen in the world are horrific and beyond defense. Not just human evils, whom no innocent person deserves to suffer from, but natural evils as well. There is literally no defense for this. Any deity who sat idly by while all that went on, can only be an absolute monster, worthy of universal abhorrence. Christians cannot accept this, because it decisively proves their God doesn’t exist. So they have to argue all that horror is not only not bad, it’s supremely good, the very best that God could ever permit, that there is literally no better world, nor any better sequence of events, that God could produce.

Christians, in other words, are forced to defend evil.

Indeed, I suspect, the only way to escape the Christian delusion, is to have that moment where you realize you are defending the indefensible. Keller has not had that moment. Or he wants to prevent anyone else having it. Because he offers the absurd defense, 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). Keller never seems to notice (or never admits), that he just said every evil is supremely good. That it was totally justified. That if we knew the whole truth, we’d have smashed the brains of all those babies, too; we’d have burned alive the entire populace of Pompeii in molten ash, and praised Jesus as it killed everyone.

Keller’s defense of evil is itself evil.

Photo of some of the casts of the bodies smothered by volcanic ash at Pompeii, still frozen in their last suffocating position and in the very place they last lay, including children.Indeed, Keller’s reasoning would get every criminal off of every crime. Everyone could say, in every court of law, “Well, just because you can’t think of a reason I was totally justified in doing that, does not allow you to conclude I’m guilty.” And when the jury asked, why they won’t then tell them what their defense is, everyone could say “Hey, it’s way too complicated for you to understand, so I can’t tell you what it is.” This no more works for God than it would work for any criminal whatever. If someone can’t explain any good reason why they committed or permitted a crime, the only rational conclusion is that they are probably guilty of the crime. As for criminals, so for God. Worse for God, really. After all, what are the odds a being that knows everything, doesn’t know how to explain anything?

Indeed, an all-powerful god has far less legitimate recourse to this excuse than actual criminals do. God has vastly fewer excuses than any human ever could. Because a god has vastly fewer limitations and faces virtually no risks in intervening, or in confessing why they can’t. So that a God would ever have such an excuse, much less always have such an excuse (conveniently thousands and thousands and millions and billions of times), is less probable than that any criminal would. And since we obviously know it’s extremely unlikely any random criminal ever has such an excuse, it therefore follows it’s even less likely that God ever has one. And even if by some bizarre improbability he had an excuse, unlike a limited human, a god could always explain himself. It would be immoral not to, and then still expect us to “trust” a murderer had “reasons.” This is again just as true of God, as it would be of any other murderer.

And remember, this isn’t just because God must be permitting countless egregious evils he could easily prevent, and prevent with far less negative effect than the evils themselves (as we prove daily by inventing new ways to do this ourselves, with no help from any gods). Evils he certainly foresees and knows will happen. That’s bad enough. But God is also directly guilty of most of it, in his very planning of the universe. Volcanoes do not need to exist. But God made them, or a universe he knew would make them. Knowing they’d burn millions alive. Explosives, and thus all guns and bombs, do not need to exist. Diseases do not need to exist. Cancer does not need to exist. Fragile bodies, easily killed or mutilated or disabled, do not need to exist. By making a world in which drowning and burning and disease and rape and murder are even possible, fully knowing this would produce countless innocent victims of drowning and burning and disease and rape and murder, God is guilty of drowning and burning and disease and rape and murder.

On top of all that, is this: the observed distribution of natural and human evils is random and capricious. It does not follow any kind of “justice” or deliberate choice of who gets what. The innocent are harmed as readily as the guilty; the guilty escape harm as readily as the innocent. That’s exactly what we expect if there is no god; but highly unlikely if there is. Because it then requires an extremely bizarre system of excuses, so bizarre we can’t even think of what it is, which makes it extremely improbable such a system of excuses even exists—and we have exactly zero evidence any does, plummeting its probability even further. Until there is evidence for those excuses, we can never be warranted in believing they exist. Just as with any murderer on trial who attempted the same excuse. To further explore why the Christian God cannot be defended against this argument, see my entire, brief book, Why I Am Not a Christian.

So not only is Keller’s defense of evil actually evil, it also doesn’t even work as an explanation of any evil. God is a crap hypothesis. The absence of God, meanwhile, fits the evidence exactly. That is not a coincidence.

Example: Defending an Evil Bible

Keller then tries to show how evil is really good by citing a story from the Bible.

“If God had not allowed Joseph’s years of suffering,” Keller argues, “he never would have been such a powerful agent for social justice and spiritual healing” (p. 24). Never mind that that statement isn’t even true. Plenty of people become “powerful agents for social justice” without suffering what Joseph did; there really isn’t any evidence even in the Bible’s own mythology that Joseph became an agent for social justice and healing. I can only assume Keller doesn’t know what those words mean…maybe when we find a lost manuscript that waxes on about how Joseph argued for the abolition of slavery, racism, poverty, and sexism, and taught a method of psychotherapy that effectively treats some mental distress or disorder? I wouldn’t hold my breath for that. But the key point here is that it is abhorrent to claim the only way to make people good, is to torture them with miseries and injustices. Keller is again defending evil: a God who literally tortures people into being good, and is so horrid or insane, he can’t think of any better way.

If you can’t think of a desirable world to live in without torture and misery, you are fucked up as a person.

That Christianity turns people into monsters like Keller—defenders of torture and evil—is the number one reason it needs to die out.

Since plenty of people come to that same end, of being good people, fighters for justice, without all that suffering, to claim anyone needs it, is simply a non sequitur. Again, this argument wouldn’t work for criminals (“I had to beat and rob those people so they’d become better persons later”?). So why is a god allowed to use it? Answer: He isn’t.

But what’s worse here is that this story comes from Genesis. Genesis. You know. The book that narrates that most appalling evil of the flood, where God literally murders millions of people and animals, by the horrible means of drowning them alive, babies and all. “I had to torture you to make you a better person” is already a fucking evil argument, but “I had to drown alive millions of kittens, babies, children, and adults to make humanity a better race” is evil times a million. And if that’s the god you believe in and worship, you are an evil fuck yourself, a reprehensible person we should recoil from in horror. If that is the sort of person your religion requires you to be, your religion is plain evil, and so is your god. As only an evil god would require you to believe such an evil thing—or even think to allow such a fable into His book.

You can only escape this condemnation with a plea of lazy ignorance. “Oh, I never thought about how horrifically evil the God I was admiring was; I kind of skipped all those parts of His book.” Sure. But once you’ve had the villainy pointed out to you, what then? Shall you then choose to admire, serve, and defend the most horrific villain in the history of human religions? Or will you finally renounce him? Or at least these evil myths of him? (And thereby, renounce the Bible, as a fucked up book.)

Example: Lying about What Words Mean

Keller deploys old canards like “you can’t call the world evil, without God to define evil for you,” which is just simply false. We can define evil any way we want. It’s our language. We decide what its words mean. We don’t need God to tell us. And in fact, he conspicuously doesn’t. There is no Cosmic Dictionary authored by God anywhere. And “evil” is simply the word we coined to refer to shit we don’t like, that only awful people would do. That God does those things, makes him awful. Unless he doesn’t exist. Then we can readily explain why those things happen: because the world was not compassionately designed, nor governed, and the only justice and compassion that ever exists, is what comes from us. There are no gods coming to save us. That’s a much better theory of the evidence.

Nevertheless, Keller is a conman, so he wants to conceal all this from his readers, and instead try to trick them into thinking stupid things like that only gods can define what evil is. He thus illogically asks, “What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” (p. 26). Obvious answer? The way you would want the universe to be. Your standards come from your own desires, including your own empathy for other persons and animals—which comes from your natural evolution as a social animal. Keller tries to recruit C.S. Lewis to help him here, but honestly, Lewis was one of the worst philosophers in human history. His arguments are atrociously bad, hopelessly illogical, and almost always factually inaccurate. He’s of no help to Keller here.

To illustrate the problem, consider Keller’s falsehood that “If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgment” (p. 26). No you aren’t. You are observing that it is against you and everyone you love, that it does not care. And that’s exactly how a godless universe would behave. It is not at all how we would expect a lovingly designed and justly governed universe to behave.

It’s not about what “ought” to be. It’s about what world any person we would have any reason to admire and respect would create and manage, versus a world whose designer and governor we would have reason only to despise—or a world without any designer or governor at all. Which of those three options does the evidence comport with? That’s the only relevant question. At no point do we ever have to appeal to anything extra-natural or supernatural. All we have to appeal to are the natural facts of what sucks—and all that means is what sucks for us, and what doesn’t; what kinds of people are a threat to us, and what aren’t. Gods or the supernatural never enter into it. (See my discussion of Divine Command Theory.)

Example: Making Shit Up about Jesus

Of course, Keller is selling a mythology. So he cites his myths as if they were arguments. In this case, he argues the myths told in ancient times about Jesus prove God even tortured Jesus to effect Great Things, so clearly all human horrors, torments, and miseries are totes fine. Citing a myth to defend that myth, kind of falls off the rails of logical reasoning. But whatever. What’s weirder here, is that Keller’s such a liar, he can’t even tell the truth about his own myth!

“The gospel narratives all show,” Keller insists, “that Jesus did not face his approaching death with anything like the aplomb and fearlessness that was widely expected in a spiritual hero” (p. 28). He evidently forgot to read the Gospel of John. Where Jesus approaches his death with total aplomb and fearlessness. Keller can’t even tell the truth about the content of his own Gospels. But he’s also lying in more subtle ways. There actually wasn’t any standard of the time for “spiritual heroes” to “approach death with aplomb and fearlessness.” He just made that up. To the contrary, suffering deities were commonplace in antiquity. Prometheus, most famously. But more importantly, the suffering, forsaken hero was so common in Jewish mythology it became a well-known trope of the time. And Jesus’s myths totally conform to the trope. In fact, many scholars note, this is why we know it’s made up (see Proving History, pp. 131-33, and On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 209 and 430-31).

But despite failing to get the facts right twice with that single sentence, Keller proceeds to interpret his myth:

We cannot fathom, however, what it would be like to lose not just spousal love or parental love that has lasted several years, but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. Jesus’s sufferings would have been eternally unbearable. (p. 29)

This isn’t actually in his myth. He’s making stuff up again. Of course, first of all, this is all fiction. But let’s assume we can take the same lessons Keller intends, from a fictional story. Which is possible. Literary analysis and appreciation accomplishes that all the time. But whether as fiction or fact, Keller is not correctly describing what happens. Jesus isn’t abandoned by God. Jesus knows full well God will abandon him only briefly and then return him to life and glory. Because in that very same myth—in every Gospel—Jesus repeatedly says so, and even curses Peter for not recognizing that fact. So it isn’t true that Jesus is depicted in the Gospels as feeling genuinely abandoned. His suffering is quite brief, and frankly, rather mild compared to much worse fates many real mortals have had to endure. And Jesus well knows that. Because he is repeatedly depicted as very clearly knowing that. His sufferings cannot have been “eternally unbearable.” Because they weren’t even eternal, nor did Jesus think they would be; indeed, he full well knew they’d last at most a mere three days (and really, the actual bad stuff, only a mere few hours).

So Keller is even making shit up about what his own myths can plausibly signify.

Which means when he concludes that “Jesus bore, as the substitute in our place, the endless exclusion from God that the human race has merited,” he is lying. Full on lying. The myth never says that Jesus bore anything endlessly. He didn’t even mistakenly think he would. So claiming that the mythical Jesus shared that with us, or even the fear of it, is just false. As false as insisting Darth Vader is Yoda’s father. It’s also full on false that the human race has merited any such thing as an “endless exclusion” from any God worth more than a turd. But that gets to the even more absurd and primitive myths Keller is buying from the Old Testament, based on haughty angry storm god logic, which make even less sense, and even more pervert justice, than the human-sacrifice blood-magic sold by the Gospels. Even apart from it being stupid, there is exactly zero evidence any of that OT nonsense is true, either.

The idea that God is such a snobbish weirdo that he can’t even “deign” to be around mere stinky fallible humans because they might poop in a toilet or eat shrimp or say mean things occasionally, and therefore he must “endlessly exclude” us from his presence, unless we mystically join our souls to the aura of a blood magic spell powered by human sacrifice—of a magical godman no less, because God’s such a fucking snob a mere human sacrifice would not move his heart even an inch—is the dumbest theology ever. It fully describes God as batshit insane. Nor can you excuse this weirdo scenario by saying God is really a totes nice guy and would, like, totally hang out with us, but his nature is just so pure and brilliant, see, that he’d accidentally incinerate us if we even came near him with all our mortal stank on us. Because that would mean he’s not omnipotent. Worse, it would mean I am more powerful than God. Because I can do something he can’t do with any power he possesses: hang out with people.

(At least, without mystically splashing them with magic godblood from an ancient ritual human sacrifice.)

Keller concludes his second chapter with a bunch more superstitious mythical unproven bullshit about redemption theory, and hope and consolation as a reason to believe, that requires no reply. But lest you forget, this is supposed to be a chapter explaining why the evidence of the complete lack of cosmic compassion and justice doesn’t settle the question against there being any. This distraction about primitive storm god blood magic doesn’t really accomplish that. It just reminds us that Christianity was invented by primitive weirdos who actually believed all that crazy sorcery shit. No, we don’t get to ignore all the evidence against there being any super-powered all-knowing Nice Guy, by just “hoping” this primitive myth about celestial blood sorcery is true. If all Christianity has left to justify itself is a wish and a nickel, we’re done with that.

But the primitive myth doesn’t even work as an explanation, either. Because if it were true, God would be even more evil than the facts already entail! He’d then not only be a do-nothing no-show, but a guy who endorses human sacrifice, even arranges it to be carried out, because he disdains the entire human race literally with a fiery passion.

Summary

Here we have the clearest proof that Keller is a liar. Because his fabrication of the Alston quote can have no credible excuse. He full well lies to his readers with that, knowingly and intentionally. But he also lies about what his own myths say, and about how and why we define words like “evil.” And then he monstrously defends every evil there is, by arguing it’s really the bestest good, and God totally has excuses for all of it, even though no one can think of any, and this all-powerful know-it-all can’t even explain a single one of them. The logic of evidence is nowhere to be found here. Keller presents exactly zero evidence God has any excuse for any of the evils he leaves unstopped and unpoliced. So the probability of God existing does not rise even a micro fraction from the near zero that all that evidence left it at.

The lies of omission here are also telling. The God of the Old Testament—a random collection of myths Keller cites as facts—describes and depicts God as even more evil and monstrous than he’d have to be already from the evidence of our senses and the whole of human history. And Keller hides all of that. Oh good Lord! He can’t remind his readers of all that! The mass murders, the impalements, the gangrapes, the genocides, the divine endorsement of sex slavery. All this. Eeesh. That would do his religion in for sure. Oh wait. Right. The number one reason people cite as why they left Christianity, is reading the fucking Bible. In fact, the OT God is described almost exactly like known Ancient Near Eastern despots, demonstrable sociopaths. I’m not kidding. Psychological analysis of the character of Yahweh perfectly matches the criteria of sociopathy and the mores and psychology of brutal ANE tyrants: just see Valerie Tarico, “God’s Emotions,” and Jaco Gericke’s “Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn’t,” in The Christian Delusion.

And that’s what you Christians worship?? Can you maybe get a clue why we are done with your barbaric religion?

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Next I’ll discuss Keller’s Chapters 3 to 5 (that link will go live later this month), in which he tries to defend the Church against its many crimes, and likewise God against the very concept of Hell.

One comment

  1. Alejandro Duarte June 5, 2017, 3:04 pm

    Fantastic. Thanks again.

    One of the things that helped me leave Christianity is the realization that god gave me the ability to reason, that is how we are set apart from mere animals and why we have dominion over them. So…

    Given my god given ability to reason, I reasoned to his non-existence… The thing is, I don’t know how to express this to Christians.

    Your argument gets to the heart of this.

    Reply

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