Skeptic » eSkeptic » April 14, 2010

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Race and Reality

The concept of race continues to affect our world in undeniable ways. Sociologists tell us that people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education, with vast and persistent differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Even among scientists, who understand the current evidence, there is controversy about the definition of “race” — and about the usefulness of thinking in terms of race at all.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Guy P. Harrison, a part-time science and history lecturer and journalist about his latest book Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity. Harrison discusses scientific evidence that the human species has no races, and explores how that evidence could unite humankind.

Also featured is Atlanta Skeptic Taylor Proctor, on making this year’s Atlanta Skepticamp a celebration of “Critical Thinking for Everyone”.

In this week’s eSkeptic, Kenneth Grubbs reviews The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. Kenneth Grubbs is a long-time skeptic and freelance writer living with his family in Southeast Michigan.

The Good News … Again?

a book review by Kenneth Grubbs

DR. TIMOTHY KELLER is a highly regarded Presbyterian minister in New York City. Not surprisingly then, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, draws considerably more from Christian doctrine than from philosophical pondering.

From the outset the Reverend makes a concerted effort to paint skepticism with the same brush he uses to justify his Christian beliefs — simply by defining them both as resting on the same premise of faith. He writes in his Introduction that, “All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs.” He asks the reader to accept the notion that belief in God is as equally valid as belief in skepticism since both positions rely equally on belief. The author also argues that turning to evolutionary psychology for explanations on the nature and origins of belief presupposes a belief in evolutionary psychology.

The book itself is divided into two parts. Part 1, The Leap of Doubt, addresses some of the most common “doubts” and “objections” that Keller has faced during the course of his career. Included are such questions as; “How could a good God allow suffering?”, and, “How could a loving God send people to Hell?” The other doubts to be considered and refuted include the literal inerrancy of the Bible, past historical injustices of the church, and science’s role in casting doubt on religion.

To understand how an omniscient and omnipotent God could or would permit needless pain and suffering in the world, the author suggests that, “Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be one.” We should simply accept on faith that it is our limited capacity that prevents us from understanding God’s “reasons.”

item of interest…
The Evolution of God DVD cover
The Evolution of God
by Robert Wright

Through the prisms of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology, Wright’s findings overturn basic assumptions about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and are sure to cause controversy. He explains why spirituality has a role today, and why science, contrary to conventional wisdom, affirms the validity of the religious quest…

ORDER the lecture on DVD

ORDER the book that this lecture is based on from

When considering the Bible’s clear acceptance of slavery, the author asks us to concede that the apparent conflict is also nothing more than our limited understanding, this time of “historical context.” He writes with authority that, “When the New Testament was written, there was not a great deal of difference between slaves and the average free person.” But condoning the acceptance of slavery by saying that everyone was oppressed hardly supports the notion that the opinions of biblical authors were divinely inspired higher morality.

On the literal inerrancy of the Bible, Keller espouses his conviction to the concept, and then qualifies his conviction. He reflects, “I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation.” In this well crafted model, the Bible remains inerrant insomuch as our definition is stretched to include its poetical value.

In a brief “Intermission” before moving on to Part 2 titled The Reasons for Faith, we are again cautioned about the vulnerable and shaky nature of skepticism. Keller restates that, “Underlying all doubts about Christianity are alternative beliefs, unprovable assumptions about the nature of things.” He continues that we should “not expect conclusive proof”, and that “reason alone won’t be enough.” With the bar now lowered to exclude evidence and reason, and with skepticism dismissed as an alternate belief, the author sets the tone for the second half of the book.

Part 2 is presented as a series of “clues”, and the reader is informed that these clues will “cumulatively” point to God.

The first of these clues is the “fine-tuning” of the universe, Paley’s watch, the Anthropic Principle, the inexplicably perfect nature of such things as the electromagnetic force, gravity, and the temperature that water freezes. That these precise features occur, and are required to support the existence of the universe is, most assuredly in the author’s mind, a profound reason for God.

item of interest…
Misquoting Jesus cover
Misquoting Jesus

The story behind who changed the bible and why … An excellent introduction to modern bible scholarship by one of the world’s leading experts. Dr. Bart Ehrman explains how the New Testament texts have changed over the centuries and describes the methods scholars use to determine what has changed. Changes have occurred both through scribal errors and through deliberate alterations made for cultural and political purposes. While some of these changes are inconsequential, others have profoundly affected religious doctrine…
ORDER the hardcover book

Beauty itself points to God. Keller writes that, “in the presence of great art and beauty we inescapably feel that there is real meaning in life.” The double whammy here is that the door is now open for feelings to qualify as “clues”, and that “real meaning in life” implies the existence of God.

In addition, Keller states with clarity and conviction that the existence of moral imperatives also implies that God exists. He flatly states that “If there is no God, then there is no way to say any one action is ‘moral’ and another ‘immoral’.”

These “clues” eventually also include the “infinite sacrifice” of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, and the “miracle of the resurrection.” Both of these events, according to the author, are clearly evidenced by eyewitnesses at the empty tomb, and further corroborated by other irrefutable eye witness accounts prior to Jesus’ ascension.

Reverend Keller also claims that the Christian God of Jesus Christ maintains a theological status superior to the other monotheistic Gods of our day, and goes on to explain the distinction. He writes that the other monotheistic faiths have founders who claimed to show the way to salvation, however “only Jesus claimed to be the way.” (Italics added). To Keller these semantics endow Christianity with superior sanction over Judaism and Islam; a bold assertion.

The remaining chapters, among other things, advocate for the redeeming value of a fierce and terrifying eternal hell, and the need for us to “submit” to our Lord. Keller writes, “He is our Creator, and for that fact alone we owe him everything.”

Timothy Keller’s, The Reason for God, though falling short of any expectations one might harbor based on the title, does serve us with distinction as an important offering of contemporary conservative Christian thought. The reader hoping for philosophically satisfying discourse on an Uncaused First Cause may find himself frustrated and sadly disappointed by the more narrow scope of Reverend Keller’s dogmatic perspective. Nevertheless, for anyone wishing to maintain an understanding of modern fundamentalist Christian doctrine, this work is a must read.

Skeptical perspectives on religion at Shop Skeptic
book cover The Bible Against Itself
(hardback $10.98) by Randel Helms

If you open up the Bible and read it straight through, you will notice two things that should not be true if it had been written as a coherent whole and with a single purpose. First, the Bible is quite repetitious; second, the Bible frequently seems to contradict itself. Apologists have long tried to reconcile these contradictions. Helms chooses to understand the contradictions by looking at the cultural and historical factors that produced them.

lecture cover Forbidden Tales in the Bible
(DVD $23.95, CD $15.95) by Jonathan Kirsch

In this brilliant and witty lecture, bestselling author Jonathan Kirsch recounts tales of violence, sex, and scandal in the Bible that have been historically suppressed by religious authorities, and discusses the meaning these tales may have had for the people who wrote them. A different view of the Bible than most people get.

book cover Secret Origins of the Bible
(hardback $29.95) by Tim Callahan

Callahan uses ancient history, linguistics, archaeology, mythology, numismatics to reveal that all major stories in the Bible have historical antecedents that can be traced to very non-divinely produced works by other cultures. A must-read for anyone wishing to understand the Bible.

The Wooliness of Memory

In this week’s Skepticblog post, Daniel Loxton reminisces about his days as a shepherd to illustrate the the fallibility of memory.

READ the post


OUR NEXT LECTURER: economist Dr. Roger Farmer

How the Economy Works (cover)

How the Economy Works:
Confidence, Crashes &
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm

“OF ALL THE ECONOMIC BUBBLES that have been pricked,” the editors of The Economist recently observed, “few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself.” Indeed, the financial crisis that crested in 2008 destroyed the credibility of the economic thinking that had guided policymakers for a generation. But what will take its place?
READ more about this lecture…



  1. J. Gravelle says:

    I’m bemused that the same non-belief-equals-a-belief syllogism (read: silly-gism) is the best club in Keller’s bag. Flat-Earth theorists are then as credible as us “roundists” because they are, after all, both just ideas. Nonsense.

    More interesting to me was the pondering that “When the New Testament was written, there was not a great deal of difference between slaves and the average free person.”

    As somebody who, tomorrow, will have half my earnings for the past year taken from me by force and given to others, I’d propose that there’s not a great deal of difference THESE days, either…


    • Bad Boy says:

      J. Gravelle feels enslaved because half of his earnings will be taken ‘by force’.

      Cheer up, slaves are far more restricted than are tax payers – you can move to a state or country which doesn’t have as many taxes. Plus, you can choose what to do with the other half of your earnings. You can even choose with whom to procreate! See, you have far more choices than a slave. [Unless your company has rules against dating co-workers and using certain substances…]

      Instead of letting taxes get your down, just pretend that you only earn half as much BUT America provides roads, schools, libraries, police and the world’s largest military for FREE!

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Thank you for your remarks. I loved the timely tax references.

  2. Don says:

    I have read the book at the request of a religious friend. Part 1 was fairly interesting but Part 2 was very disappointing because it was not an argument so much as an explanation of Christian theology and the modern Christian concept of God. The book title is misleading. While some of his arguments are generic to any concept of god, many are an unapologetic plea for Christianity, and expressly dismiss the validity of Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist concepts of God. If I was seeking some type of God already, then he has shown that the Christian God is the one I should want to choose, but in the end he assuredly did not convince me of God per se.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      Although I don’t share your enthusiasm for Reverend Keller’s Christian argument, I do appreciate your comments.

    • Dr. Sidethink says:

      I need to leave to go downtown to the
      Denver Tattered Cover Bookstore,

      I believe the bus leaves at 10:10

      I have FAITH I won’t buy the book and HOPE
      they don’t have it displayed but would LOVE to have some raspberry hamamtashem!!
      (Three Pauline virtues at once)

      Lewis Carroll says you can Believe six impossible things before breakfast.

      RJ P

      • Kenneth Grubbs says:

        And for some, six is a conservative number. Thank you for your refreshing remarks.

  3. Phil Connor says:

    Concerning the “The Good News … Again?” review.
    There is so little ‘beauty’ around in this universe that is not earth bound.
    ….(Apart from the aweing photo shots of the universe.)
    Just imagine that the star Betlegeuse was at the center of the our solar system and it would extend out to the orbit of Jupiter.
    The point I am trying to get to is the microscopic place that the earth has in the universe.
    Just be happy we are conscious and can appreciate the cosmos, without gods making things complicated

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      Thank you for commenting. I think you make a wonderful point, that “awe” can be appreciated, even labeled “spiritual”, without manufacturing entities.

  4. Gerard Trigo says:

    This book was not written for skeptics, but for other true believers. I doubt that many skeptics would bother to buy this book.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      You are probably right; which is exactly why I bought and read it. It is a perfect sample of mainstream Christian dogma.

  5. Paul says:

    Kenneth Grubbs writes: “From the outset the Reverend makes a concerted effort to ..”
    Ken, “concerted” means to do something in concert with others; a united, joint, or cooperative effort.

    • Kenneth Grubbs says:


      Thank you for clearing that up for me. I’m wondering though if you had other thoughts about the review from a wider perspective.

  6. Russel Moffat says:

    Hi Kenneth, great review. I have not read the book but it seems to have the type of argumentation we would expect from someone in the “Conservative” Christian camp.

    Your last comment about maintaining an understanding of contemporary fundamentalist doctrine is an apt one. Contrary to some of the new atheist ridicule of religious belief, many so called “fundamentalists” are rational well educated people who will give reasons for what they believe. That doesn’t make what they belive true and may bewilder and astonish others not of that ilk. But it works for them and we have to be mindful of that in engaging them.

    Over the years my religious, political and ethical positions have changed considerably through life experience, knowledge and reflection. Yet, at every stage of that journey I held passionately to what I considered to be right. Some of the crucial turning points in that journey were conversations with people I radically disagreed with but who actually listened to me, gave the impression they understood where i was coming from, but then were able to leave me with a challenging thought, angle or doubt on the perspectives in question. These often acted like seeds which later germinated and bore fruit.

    Counteracting religious fundamentalism is bloody hard work and it needs patience and skill. Head on assault is counter productive.

    The tenor of your review and the wise comments you make are, for me, a constructive contribution to this whole issue


    • Kenneth Grubbs says:

      Your comments are always very appreciated; this time more than you know. More times than not, my frustration manifests itself on paper, and I have to reign myself in, (or someone else will). So your appreciation of my “tenor” justifies the effort. Thank you.

  7. Paulo says:

    There’s something that always confuses me with these guys.

    In the beginning (pun intended!), the author makes an effort to exclude evidence and reason from the mind of the reader, in preparation for the second part of the book, where he uses “clues” instead of evidence to point to god’s existence.
    This is teasing with words: since when is a clue a more powerful and more trustworthy way in leading to conclusions than evidence? Just look at what these words mean (“evidence” and “clue”) and you’ll get my point.
    And next, how are we supposed to use these ‘clues’ to point to god’s existence? Well, through reasoning, of course… But did we not get rid of ‘reasoning’ in the first part of the book?

    Of course this book is intended to those who already believe in god – this book is intended to keep the flock from going away to infidels land: the land of reasoning with EVIDENCE.
    And god knows how they need it…


    DO you realize sceptics have a “code” that you use in discussing religion. Hence there is never any real discussion, simply sniping.
    Hence the frequent error skeptics make in equating ridicule with fact. Some one comes up with a clever way of over simplifying a religionist argument and the other skeptics cry amen. No wonder Keller equates skepticism with religion.
    It is apparent Mr. Grubbs approached Kellers book with the attitude, “This is false — and so I don’t really need understand it, just refute it.”
    As some one who was a skeptic for years before becoming a Christian I understand the temptation — It feels so good to be the one who is right. The minority that sees the fallacy of the gullible majority!!
    How ever you end up simply preaching code to the choir.

  9. Alisha says:

    You used “concerted” correctly – it can also mean ‘strenuously carried out; done with great effort.’ I would say his effort was a concerted failure. =D

    I reviewed this book too.

    You were more generous than I was. I found five fatal flaws in his logic (including butchering Raimond Gaita’s quote to make it something it wasn’t and taking Stephen Hawking’s quote out of context), and 17 logical fallacies.

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