the reason for God: chapter eight

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This is the eighth post in a 15-week study. More information and resources can be found here.

A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:

– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. This is good stuff!

– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.

– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.

It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way. If you have any questions about the study, or about God in general, feel free to email me from the link in the right sidebar.

The Reason for God – Chapter Eight: The Clues of God

“How can we believe in Christianity if we don’t even know whether God exists?” asks author Timothy Keller at the beginning of chapter eight. And he proceeds to lay out a series of clues – “divine fingerprints” – that point to the existence of God. Although Keller admits that there is no absolute proof of the existence of God, these clues provide the world with compelling evidence that God does, indeed, exist.

The Mysterious Bang

Curious minds have, for centuries, pondered the existence of the universe. And in the wake of the Big Bang theory, these questions have only intensified. In his book, The Language of God, scientist Francis Collins says, “I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.” (p.133)

The universe is a gigantic mass of contingent entities – entities having a cause outside of themselves. So something had to be the catalyst for the Big Bang. But what? “What could that be but something outside of nature, a supernatural, non-contingent being that exists from itself,” says Keller (p.133) And this non-contingent being is admittedly not necessarily the God of the Bible… but it is a clue to the existence of something beyond the natural world.

The Cosmic Welcome Mat

The probability of organic life to exist – with all the fundamental regularities and constants of physics that are necessary to maintain life – is infinitesimally small. And yet, here we are. “When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants – the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear force, etc – that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one patron a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it,” explains Francis Collins (p.134).

Of course, this argument is rationally avoidable if one believes in one of the many rebuttals. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins speculates that there may be trillions of universes. And while there is no proof that these many universes exist, there is also no proof that they do not.

Keller poses the question, “Although organic life could have just happened without a Creator, does it make sense to live as if that infinitely remote chance is true?” (p.136)

The Regularity of Nature

“All scientific, inductive reasoning is based on the assumption of the regularity (the “laws”) of nature, that water will boil tomorrow under the identical conditions of today… Without inductive reasoning we couldn’t learn from experience, we couldn’t use language, we couldn’t rely on our memories,” begins Keller. And most people do not find this truth to be troubling. But philosophers do because the continued regularity of nature is not something that can be proven, it must be taken on faith.

The Clue of Beauty

If God does not exist, and the world in which we live happened by pure accident, then what we refer to as “beauty” is only a hardwired response to data, nothing more. We can take this further and apply it to what we refer to as “love”, rendering it a simple bio-chemical response, passed down from our ancestors who capitalized on it to survive.

But. “We may, therefore, be secular materialists who 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,” says Keller (p.138) Quite another story. Keller goes on to describe the “blessed longing” evoked in these experiences: “…we not only feel the reality but also the absence of what we long for.” (p.139)

St. Augustine described these unfulfilled longings in his Confessions as clues to the reality of God. “We have a longing for joy, love, and beauty that no amount or quality of food, sex, friendship or success can satisfy. We want something that nothing in this world can fulfill. Isn’t that at least a clue that this ‘something’ that we want exists? This unfulfillable longing, then, qualifies as a deep, innate human desire, an that makes it a major clue that God is there.” (p.139)

The Clue Killer

The school of evolutionary biology theorizes that everything about us is merely a function of natural selection. And if we do possess inclinations toward religious feelings, it is only as a result of a genetic code that helped people survive and pass on that DNA. “However, there are many who believe not only that the clue-killer argument has a fatal contradiction in it, but that it actually points to another clue for God.” (p.141)

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, admits that the influence of natural selection, “…we can’t completely trust our own senses. After all, evolution is interested only in preserving adaptive behavior, not true belief.” (p.141). The full implications of this insight are staggering, and actually counter the original clue killer assertion. “If our cognitive faculties only tell us what we need to survive, not what is true, why trust them about anything at all?” (p.142)

The Clue-Killer is Really a Clue

If our belief-forming faculties mislead us in one area – e.g. our religious inclinations are unreliable and only present because they somehow helped our ancestors survive – then we should not trust those faculties in any area. If God does not exist, we would be unwise to trust our cognitive faculties at all. But we do, and Keller calls this 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 is the fine-tuning of the universe, nor the regularities of nature. All the things that we see make perfect sense.” (p.145)

Keller acknowledges that none of the clues laid out in this chapter are absolute proof of God, and that each one is rationally avoidable. But collectively, they are certainly weighty. And belief in God makes sense of them all, the secular viewpoint does not. “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.” (p.146)

Question: Do any of these “clues” resonate with you? Do you have another clue that has led you to a deeper faith in God?

My response: Hmmm. Clues, in this sense, have not really been a part of my story. Because I don’t think I ever believed that God did not exist. Now there have been many times, I am grieved to say, that I have ignored Him, discounted Him or disobeyed Him. But I always knew He was there — possibly far off, but most definitely there.

In terms of the clues that Keller describes, the one that I can relate to most is the “Clue of Beauty”. There have been many times over the years that something has simply taken my breath away. A sunset. A horse running in a field. An ocean view. A glimpse into the soul of my child. So much beauty it positively overwhelms.

And each time He allows this supernatural beauty to pierce an otherwise ordinary day, I am reminded that it is but a minuscule reflection of the beauty that is God.

………………………………………

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Comments

  1. Several years ago, when I finally admitted that I was in the middle of a major crisis of faith and came clean to my husband that I wasn’t even sure I believed in God any longer, I knew I needed answers. NEEDED answers. I had been floundering for well over a year, and I was scared. I had never had a time, even during periods of outright rebellion (thank you, college), where I doubted the presence of God. The forgiveness of God? Sure. The power of God? You bet. But, I had never had to work to believe.

    And, I do think, looking back, there were a variety of clues that God used to remind my heart that He was very much real, very much powerful and very much ready to forgive.

    I began by praying wild prayers–the kinds of prayers that someone who has gone to church for three decades does not pray (but maybe should). Prayers like, “I don’t think you’re there. I’m starting to think life is pretty pointless. You better show up… or I am out.” And, He’d show up…. in unmistakable ways–in some of the ways Keller points out but others too–in a small voice; a friend’s generosity; a passage of scripture too perfect and too timely to pass up; peace during tragedy. The book of Isaiah became a rock of study for me that year: a wayward people, a prophet pleading for their repentance, and a God who loved His people and longed for their return.

    Thank the good Lord that He is relentless, creative and tireless in His pursuit.

  2. I’m with you, Stefanie. There’s definitely been times that I’ve ignored Him, but I’ve never had problems believing He existed. Sometimes believing traits of His existed: will He really forgive me for that, does He really love me, why does He love me, but not that He hasn’t existed (at least not that I can remember).

    The two biggest clues for me are my prayer journals and my Bible. I can look back over my journals and see how God came forward and helped me in times of need. I’ve looked back over entries where I am overwhelmed and completely freaked out at the beginning of the entry and have calm at the end. There were times that God gave me peace. I wanted answers and for Him to make the struggles go away. Instead He gave me His peace and Himself…revealing that He was there to help me through it. I felt so much better and learned how to rely on Him during those times. It’s times like those that really “proved” His existence to me. Similarly, I write all over my Bible: thoughts and feelings about passages, sermon notes, saying and prayers from friends that speak to my heart. Looking back over those notes as I read passages again I realize how much God has changed me, how much He has been working on my heart. Somethings still stand out to me that I need to work on and other things we’ve already worked though together. It shows me how God showed up for me, just like He showed up for the people in the Bible.

    • Rachel,
      I write in my Bible, too. And sometimes I just have to chuckle over how naive I was and how far God has brought me! :)

      • me too. I like those moments. They remind me that I am growing closer to Him when it’s not always visible day to day.

    • psalm 51 is covered with notes in my bible as i write my sins there. i loved this: I wanted answers and for Him to make the struggles go away. Instead He gave me His peace and Himself…revealing that He was there to help me through it. -

      • I like that idea of writing sins next to Psalm 51. I just went back to read it and I love that Psalm. How he goes through confession to praise. Definitely a good model on how to pray for forgiveness…love it!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Can so relate, Rachel. I wish I’d journaled since I became a Christian… but the journals I do have are all proof to me of not only His existence, but His love, mercy and goodness. Great insight!

      • I’m definitely a stop and go journal-er. I wish I was more consistent with it, but I still see Him in the ones I have. I end up treating the margins of my Bible as a journal and covering them when I don’t get out an actual journal.

    • I also like to write notes, etc. and looking back I see clearly the journey I am on and how far I have come and how far I have to go.

  3. I have never doubted the existence of God. Or even his sovereign rule over my life. Even during those times when I turned my back on Him. Thankfully, he always drew me back to Him.

    I think another “clue” that has led me to a deeper level of faith is my experience with adoption. I don’t think I ever truly grasped what Christ’s sacrifice on the cross did for me–me, personally–until I adopted 1 child, and then another, and now a third. It all of a sudden hit me–I’m adopted into God’s family. Because of the sacrifice Christ went through, I have God’s family name as my own. I was without hope; without family; without help–until I was adopted. Much like our kiddos who come to us as orphans, with no one to stand up for them or give them hope.

    So. Although I’ve never doubted God’s existence, I have come to see the “clue” of adoption as a way for my faith to deepen in my Lord and Savior.
    Amy

    • great stuff!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      What a great ‘clue’ Amy. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen God so active and evident as I have in my life as I have in our adoption processes. He truly is Father to the fatherless.

      P.S. So excited for y’all and your newest little blessing!

      • I completely agree with the adoption clue Amy! I know that I came to a better understanding of how much God loves us as his children when I gave birth to my 3 oldest children. But when we adopted the next 2 and began to come to an understanding of how deeply and completely these were “our” children as much as any of our bio kids, and that the love (hard earned love!) ran just as deep and fierce it became an eye opening moment. That God didn’t stop when Christ saved us – that he adopted us and that we became his own dear children and joint heirs with Christ

  4. Like so many of you, I never doubted the existence of God…I doubted His character. And I doubted His ways. I thought He loved other people but not me…why else would I have pain in my life? When during a dark time I cried out at Him in anger, He responded with so much tenderness, orchestrated my move to southern CA, and showed me so much of HIs beauty reflected in nature. While I didn’t know this verse existed at the time, now when I think back on that season of life, Sgs 6:3 comes to mind, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;”

    While I cannot articulate it as well as Keller, the idea of there not being a Creator has never made sense to me, even when I was not a Christian.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      His love is so perfectly patient! And I love the scripture reference… beautiful.

    • I’ve SO been there too, doubting God’s forgiveness and His love. Although it’s not scripture, I turn to “You are Special” by Max Lucado. It’s a children’s book about Gods love and it always makes me feel more loved by God when the doubt creeps in.

    • Suzette says:

      You just captured exactly how I would have answered this question as well. I have always believed that there is a God. I’ve just not been convinced that His character is something I could fall in love with. Through the difficult times in my life, though, I truly believe that my old ideas about who God is have changed into a more Biblical view of Him. And that has made a huge difference for me.

  5. I echo many of your sentiments in regards to never not believing in God…but definitely, I have turned my back in my life. My clues are not that of science, either. My clues are of the heart.

    I do buy into the clues of beauty, because I have always looked at our world with “God-painted” lenses. I am amazed at things like a peacock, and the ever-growing discovery of ocean life, or the multitude of natural stone patterns and slabs that God made. WOW.

    But again…my personal “clues” have come in the way of my own trials and tribulations in my journey. I know that it is God who saved my life many times, and that it is God who forgave me, never gave up on me, and changed my heart.

    To me, my own sense of salvation is much more than a clue…it is proof.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Can so relate to seeing our world with “God-painted” lenses – and really, how could we not? We are His creation!
      Great insight, Lisa :)

    • me, my own sense of salvation is much more than a clue…it is proof. -YES!

  6. Hard to add to what is being said here. Maybe because I was never really interested in science, God’s existence was never really a question. I’ve lived in very different places, Iceland to Hawaii. Like Lisa, I can’t look at nature without seeing God. Maybe I’m simple minded but I think for me, the testimonies I’m reading above are much more compelling to me than the clues in Keller’s book.

  7. China Mom says:

    Like most of you, I have always believed in God. I always knew He existed. But I have doubted His love for me and His power. Not just once but, several times, many times. It is in these times I should run to Him, His word, His thrown but, I find myself just distancing myself from Him. Not sure why. But when things get tough, a crisis occurs, or I NEED Him, you bet I am there. Sounds very ironic, backwards at times. In real life, if you feel a distance with family or a friend, you call them, you talk to them, you ask what is going on? I guess, you are there when you need them too but don’t you feel funny asking a friend for something (help) when you haven’t spoken to them in a while.

    But to answer your question, I see His fingerprints a lot, especially in nature. We just moved recently and deer where right in our back yard as we sat down for breakfast. I have NEVER been that close to a deer, breathtaking. Or all three of us sitting in our hammock watching the most amazing sunset. Thinking about how God orchestrated the move for us and the sweet family that bought our house.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      I have experienced this too – it takes practice (and discipline) to RUN to God when we’ve messed up or when we have questions or doubts. And allow Him to answer in His timing and in His way. He really is THE perfect Father :)

  8. Sorry, I was too late to link up.
    The Clue of Beauty! I see God’s fingerprints all around me. This week as I was driving I saw the most beautiful rays of sunlight shining through the clouds. It was as if God was sharing just a glimpse of His splendor with the world. I simply can’t ignore the existence of God and His creation, especially when I walk outdoors. As I gaze at the stars I am amazed by His articulate placement of them. Have you ever considered the art of conception?!? Years ago when we struggled with infertility (yes, really!), we learned how complex the reproductive system is and how meticulously everything must work together for life to begin. That is not by coincidence or the result of a big bang or transformation over time; that is the meticulous design of a loving, all-knowing Creator, Heavenly Father.

    Another ‘clue’ is the beauty in the way God changes hearts. this month I celebrate my 12th birthday as a believer. I was once a self-absorbed, destructive, insensitive, purposeless sinner. But God pursued me, patiently and lovingly. I am still a sinner, but I am forgiven. He has shown me how to live purposefully and intentionally. Although I fail daily, my heart is slowly being transformed by His character, His principles, His love and His truth. As I trust Him, I find that He never fails.

    I’m sure that every generation since the first church has struggled with the blend of culture and truth, each one ebbing closer to culture than truth. So another ‘clue’ I see are those warriors battling for truth, despite the cultural tidal wave. I am grateful for the warriors who lovingly stand by and teach the truth, even in the midst of criticism.

    I find that clues of God are everywhere, and I pray that He will show me how to truthfully and lovingly point them out to others.

  9. I also have always believed God existed. I have not always been close to God. I have not always obeyed and sometimes questioned, but I always believed in Him. I

    I find clues of God everywhere. To me there is no other way possible. As Keller talks about, how could the world have just come together randomly and been so perfect that if anything was changed such an extremely small amount that it wouldn’t work. We wouldn’t be here if the world was just a little different. Rob Bell has an entertaining DVD called “Everything is Spiritual”. In it he talks about this very thing.

    I also see God in all the beauty around me. Everything just works out perfectly, even though we don’t always understand it. It just seems to fit together. How can that be random?

    God is everywhere in everything. I admit I have not always noticed, but the more I learn about God and draw closer to Him, the clearer and clearer it becomes.

    I also pray that I can show this to others in a loving and understandable way so that they too will see and come to know God.

  10. I am so behind on blogging and this study! Summer is just THAT time of year!

    I second Stefanie’s thoughts that the most powerful clue is “The Clue of Beauty”. I am not a huge fan of the way Keller has titled this clue, however. To me, it resounds most loudly as the “Clue of Longing”. I feel and suspect that you may also share this feeling that deep within my soul is a longing to live a life of purpose and meaning. We humans get so discontented when our lives are lacking purpose leading to many of the problems with modern society. Our physical hunger hints that there is a thing called food which can satisfy that hunger.

    I for one cannot escape the feeling that there is more to life than the “American Dream” we’ve been taught to chase since birth. You and I long for something higher, something greater. We cannot fulfill that longing with nicer cars, a perfect husband, or a larger pinterest worthy house.

    The only answer is that God does exist and we long for purpose and fulfillment because we were designed for precisely these things.

    http://ellenorsmama.blogspot.com/2013/07/reason-for-god-ch-8.html

    • “The only answer is that God does exist and we long for purpose and fulfillment because we were designed for precisely these things.” How breathtakingly (I mean that literally) simple and amazingly powerful at the same time.

      I’ve never doubted the existence of God, but I am guilty of ignoring the sometimes hard work of searching for purpose and fulfillment in HIm. I’m working on that.

  11. The clue of beauty definitely strikes a chord with me. I was reading this chapter on a plane and looked out the window to see the most spectacular view with the sun shining down on the tops of fluffy white clouds. I don’t understand how anyone can see something so magnificent and doubt that it was lovingly created by an all-powerful God who wants to share His glory with us!

    As others have said, the testimonies of believers can also be a powerful clue. I love hearing how God has worked in the lives of His children!

  12. I too have always just believed, though I too am guilty of not always living as one who believes. To this day I fall short in honoring Him in everything I do and say. I have also had times of questioning His existence. Not that I doubt His existence, but I have struggled with circumstances and many unanswered questions that make no sense to me in light of who God says He is and who we are in Christ. It is in those moments I find that I have to go back to the simplicity of my faith (those obvious clues, at least for me) in order to find peace in all of the uncertainty… a child like faith, conviction, nature, the miracle of each one of my children, the peace in knowing He is with me and will never forsake me, the remembrance of His faithfulness in my life as He has surely shown Himself faithful through all my trials and struggles. Beauty in nature and the innocence of children is probably the one area I see God best. The closer I am to nature the closer He feels. Holding my babies when they were little would always bring me comfort and joy that left me in awe and with an overwhelming thankfulness of God’s goodness. Truly, babies are the closest thing to heaven on earth. Even in my (ahem) older age I still find myself longing for another baby to love on. Adoption has brought me closer to God in ways I never could have imagined. But to the skeptic I feel my reasons to believe do not necessarily give others reason to believe. It’s such a personal thing. I’m just not knowledgeable enough to be able to refute the skeptics views as Keller does. I have a cousin who was once very active in her church and supposedly loved the Lord, but somewhere along the way she decided it wasn’t real, that God is not real. I once asked her what made her change her mind about God and she went into all her reasons that left me speechless. She is a highly educated woman and I had no defense except my personal convictions and the ways God has shown Himself to me, but it wasn’t enough to make her rethink her beliefs. All I know to do for her is pray that God open her eyes to who He really is. I suspect that in her religious acts she never really knew a personal God, because how could anyone know God and turn from Him!? I guess it’s possible, but I just could not imagine a life without God, which is probably why it is hard to relate to the skeptics views. God is my only hope. I think of the man who sold everything to buy a plot of land that held a great treasure and I realize that the enemy has truly blinded the eyes of so many. If people only knew the treasure they could have in Christ I believe that even if they didn’t believe they would at least do everything they could to find the truth lest they lose the only truth worth living for.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      “If people only knew the treasure they could have in Christ I believe that even if they didn’t believe they would at least do everything they could to find the truth lest they lose the only truth worth living for.” — so true (and so well said) Londa!

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