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Is belief in God unreasonable or, worse, delusional?

Posted November 16, 2023 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

Is belief in God unreasonable or, worse, delusional?

Posted November 16, 2023 by Mark Anderson Leave a comment

In 2011 The Veritas Forum hosted British journalist Martin Bashir interviewing New York pastor and author Tim Keller at Columbia University on the topic of Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Penguin Books; reprint edition, Aug. 4, 2009). The following is an excerpt from that interview, edited slightly for readability.[1]

Bashir:   “Isn’t The Reason for God, frankly, a contradiction? How can you possibly say that religious belief is about reason or empirical science when in fact most people understand it to be about faith? So how can you call it The Reason for God?

Keller:   “It takes as much faith or more to disbelieve in God than to believe. It takes both reason and faith to believe and disbelieve.”

Bashir and Keller

Bashir:   “Surely, it’s virtually impossible to test a hypothesis for the existence of God. Surely, what we’re talking about is what you can believe as opposed to what you can prove.”

Keller:    “No, it’s probably impossible to prove anything. For example, you can’t prove that your memory works because you must rely on your memory in order to even begin talking about it. You can’t prove that your cognitive faculties work…  Philosophers will tell you there are very few things you can prove. Does this throw us back into relativism? No, what it means is that you must in a chastened way move ahead and see these different positions that people have, and you must decide which one is better, knowing you can never absolutely prove one over the other, but knowing some make more sense than others. And that is a choice you must make. You have to decide which of these positions—whether belief or non-belief in God—make more sense. That’s a reasonable process.

Bashir:   “So, you’re taking atheism, agnosticism, Christianity, faith, and you’re saying that each one of those viewpoints requires an element of faith.”

Keller:   “Yes, but they also require an element of reason. When you decide that this makes more sense than that, you are looking for reasons that one makes more sense than another. Yet I’m actually saying that underneath all positions is faith. So instead of saying, ‘I’m rational. You have faith.’ The fact is that faith and reason are mixed in with every position you hold. I’m saying that Christianity and belief in God makes a great deal of sense. And I would say that it makes more sense than disbelief.”

Bashir:   “In your book, you draw on the regularity of nature, the clue of beauty, and you say that these things suggest that there is a creator. I want to suggest an alternative though: rather than these things pointing us to a creator, isn’t it true that the notion of God is simply a projection of our own cultural circumstances. For example, if you were brought up in Pakistan, you might well call yourself a Muslim, as my parents did. If you were brought up in India, you might well call yourself a Hindu or a Sikh. These are projections out of the natural culture in which people live. In your book, you’re saying that the creative order points to God. I’m suggesting that God is a projection of ourselves from our own circumstances. Isn’t that true?”

Keller:   “No, if someone says to me, ‘If you were born in Madagascar, you wouldn’t even be a Christian. So how can you say that Christianity has more validity than the other positions?’ I could turn to the person and say, ‘If you were born in Madagascar, you wouldn’t be a religious relativist.’ Does that make the view you are espousing right now wrong? No.”

Bashir:   “In his book Atheist Manifesto, Michael Onfray argues that ‘Atheism is not therapy, but restored mental health,’ meaning in fact that belief in the existence of God is a delusion, an imagined deity that suits the circumstances in which you were brought up. You’re saying that even that position is colored by the culture in which it’s expressed.”

Keller:   “Peter Berger would say that that man himself has to recognize the social support he’s getting for that view. Paul Vitz said, ‘The idea that people have a psychological need to believe in God always works another way. And that is that there surely are people who psychologically need not to believe in God.’ There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t want there to be a God. Thomas Nagel wrote a book called The Last Word in which he admitted that he didn’t want there to be a God: ’Though I try my best to be objective, I’ve got all kinds of personal reasons why I wouldn’t want that to be true. I want to be able to make my own decisions—I don’t want to have to submit.’ Paul Vitz’s whole point is that anyone who says ‘Those who believe in God need to believe psychologically’ have to be willing to turn the scalpel on themselves and say, ‘Surely, there could be reasons that I would have psychologically for not wanting it to be true.’”

[1] Martin Bashir and Tim Keller, “Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism,” The Veritas Forum, Columbia University, Aug. 30, 2011. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=martin+bashir+tim+keller+interview#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:b6cdfd56,vid:L9jHlrMRJAo,st:0  Accessed Nov. 15, 2023.

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