The Reason for No God (The Reality of the Resurrection)

This post is about Keller’s 13th chapter. In this one he argues that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Really super duper for realsies. This isn’t exactly on point, but it’s closer than a lot of the recent stuff, so that’s good.

Keller’s big trick in this chapter is to try to shift the burden of proof. At least he is overt about it. He claims that the skeptic has a lot to answer for. Specifically, we have to explain how Christianity came to be if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Let me just say, nice try, but technically I don’t have to play. I will a little, just for the benefit of readers, but don’t let him trick you. He says that the resurrection is a “historical fact”, but it’s not. He’s got the oft translated word of a guy who says he heard it from some people 53 years after the event (Keller says 15, but that’s not what most scholars think). That’s his evidence that a miracle, something we know to be impossible, happened. Incredible, literally.

Before I get to playing Keller’s game, I want to point out something that tickles me. In discussing the letters of Paul, which are the first mention of the resurrection, he points to Paul’s claim that there are hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection. He says of Paul’s claims, “Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist.” He feels this way because it would have been easy for someone to check. Yet, on the previous page he just says, “… in the letters of Paul, which every historian agrees were written just fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus.” So he made up a claim and put it in a book even though its much easier for someone to check with a Google search now than it would have been to travel around the Mediterranean interviewing peasants then. He provides proof his own argument is false not one page before making it.

In general, how naive a point. That’s like saying that Lucky Charms must be part of balanced breakfast, or else they couldn’t say it on the box. Plus, even if someone did check, and wrote a scathing exposé, it’s not like it would make it into the modern bible, just like how all these blog posts probably won’t appear in the next edition of his book.

Keller’s next argument for the resurrection of Jesus being an actual thing that happened is that the records show that women were the first to see him risen, and that there’s no reason the church would have made it up that way, because of the low status of women then. First of all, it doesn’t really matter if the women are first, from that perspective, so long as there are some men to back it up as well. Second, there are all kinds of plausible reasons why it would be written that way. Perhaps the first people to make up the claim were women, and it spread from there. Or perhaps the women were chosen as patsies, in case someone found where they hid the body, none of the men wanted to take the blame.

The next bit cracks me up. Keller argues that the account must be accurate, because the empty tomb and the sightings of risen Jesus must be taken together. He says this is true because in the case of either one without the other nobody would believe it. Which is true. The body of Jesus could easily have been taken. And people are always saying they have seen the recently deceased, especially people they think is the Messiah. Keller points this out. So, what he’s essentially saying is that because two commonly explainable, and on top of that, related events occurred, it must be a miracle. That’s crazy. Here’s my own version.

I go look for a cookie in the cookie jar. I know there was one there recently, but when I look, it’s empty. I ask my young daughter and she says the cookie flew into the sky with a chorus of angels. Even though there are crumbs on her lips, I believe her story, because, I mean, how could her story and the empty cookie jar line up so perfectly?

I don’t get it. He’s explained every part of the “miracle” without having to resort to an act of god. He didn’t even have to get implausible. He has written in his own book a more reasonable interpretation of events than the one he espouses in his book. Two unlikely events happening in conjunction doesn’t a miracle make.

Ok, now to playing his game some. I’m not a biblical scholar or a historian, so I’m not the best person for this rebuttal, but I’ll do a little bit.

One thing that irks me is Keller says that skeptics have to explain how Christianity sprung up overnight. Which it didn’t. I mean, it wasn’t like a major religion with millions of followers. It was a small sect for centuries. The new testament wasn’t even written until 150 AD. It wasn’t recognized as separate from Judaism for 3 centuries. So Keller’s idea of a fully formed Christian religion suddenly showing up on day 4 AD is a false target.

Once you get that out of the way there’s nothing really for the skeptic to explain. Religions form with some frequency. How do they do it? Does it require a miracle? Keller doesn’t think Mohammad or Joseph Smith had the help of true miracles, yet somehow their religions are doing alright. And then there’s all those other religions that don’t have the advantage of piggy backing on Judaism, like Scientology and Sikhism.

Keller gives it all away at the end of the chapter. He quotes N. T. Wright,

 Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps.

I can’t say I understand what’s so important about the resurrection in all those cases, but if Keller believes it he has to come up with a reason to believe in the resurrection story. Powerful motivation like that and yet he gives these weak arguments and cheap tricks. If there were good evidence to believe in the resurrection, Keller and his type would have found it. As I’ve said before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. He doesn’t have it.

In contrast, his flipped script that skeptics have to explain the rise of Christianity isn’t the same. Religions coming to power gradually over centuries isn’t extraordinary. It’s somewhat common, and we have somewhat common evidence for how Christianity did what it did.

Edit: I didn’t know it at the time I wrote this post, bit it is the last in this series. Chapter 13 and the Epilogue of the book were all that remained, and they made no new arguments of substance. They focus on asserting the virtues of Christianity as opposed to other religions, starting from the premise of the existence of god.

So it’s done. No reason for god. 🙂

The Reason for No God (The (True) Story of the Cross)

In this post I will be discussing the Keller’s 12th chapter. This is another chapter devoid of any claims or arguments for god’s existence. It is instead wholly devoted to arguing that Jesus had to die.

I have a hard time knowing how to handle these sorts of chapters. First, they are built on acceptance of all of Keller’s previous points, which I don’t, so they don’t really make any sense to me. Second, they aren’t about the topic I thought we were discussing.

I’m going to blow past a lot of objections to this chapter. Again, I’m not trying to be complete in my rebuttal to this book. Frankly, I think mentioning this chapter at all is more than technically required. So let’s just agree that everything in this chapter is premised on assumptions I’ve previously argued are ill-founded and move on.

In this chapter, Keller says a few things I think I agree with. Like, vengeance is bad and forgiveness is good. These are pretty poorly defined, even for Keller, but I can’t say I’m wholly opposed to the notion. Where Keller loses me is his reason for his belief.

Keller starts out by pointing out all the real benefits of forgiveness and deficits of revenge. Like, that you might expect reprisals from revenge, and that often time forgiveness will result in a better outcome on a societal level. For me, that’s where it ends. We’ve thought through the options and recognized that forgiveness is a good solution, at least some of time.

But Keller goes on. He talks about various modern stories with a sacrificial theme, and how emotionally stirring they are. Then he says even they don’t affect real change. He can only bring himself to actually forgive more when he considers the gospels, and how Jesus’s death is the true pinnacle of sacrifice.

This is a real problem for me. What if we found archaeological evidence that Jesus didn’t exist, or didn’t die on the cross? What if Keller reads my blog and loses faith in god? Does that mean revenge will become the better option suddenly? No. The reasoning is unchanged. The right things are still the right things. God, and Jesus in this case, are unnecessary. Just like always.

Don’t insert anything between you and your reason. It adds instability.

That’s the real lesson of this chapter, at least for me. Keller has to write a whole chapter in a book defending an ancient story just to recognize that vengeance is a bad idea. The story of Jesus dying on the cross doesn’t even have to be true for the message of forgiveness to be true. Why, then, does Keller spend 16 pages of his book on this tangential topic? These are the contortions of man with a Jesus shaped instability.

The Reason for No God (Religion and The Gospel)

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of these. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I finally got to the good stuff in Keller’s book and was forced to address my deepest held convictions and accept his position. No, it was largely because the book is degenerating so far that it’s not even fun to write these anymore. When I started I felt like I was, at least arguably, contributing something by countering his claims. He doesn’t even bother with those anymore. Anyway, on we forge.

This post will address the entirety of Chapter 11. I have read the whole thing 3 times and there are definitely no claims or arguments or assertions of any kind pertaining to the existence of a god. So, if that’s all you’re interested in, like my previous post, you can skip this one. Further, Keller’s entire “case” in this chapter is predicated upon acceptance of his assertions from Chapter 10. So, if you read my post on that chapter and found my arguments against Keller compelling, then you can skip this post, as well. For anyone who is left, I feel obligated to do a perfunctory look at what is presented. However, it is completely off topic in my opinion, so I can’t say I care much.

Keller’s goal in this chapter is to distinguish Christianity from all other possible forms of letting god be the center of your life. He distinguishes Christianity from other religions by saying that Jesus is the key to salvation, whereas all other religions merely teach the way to salvation. Since much of Christianity falls into this category as well Keller distinguishes between the bad stuff by calling it religion, and the good stuff, by calling it gospel. I’ll do the same in this post.

The difference between the two are great, for Keller. A religion prescribes various rules to follow to live a good life. Keller’s problems with this are many. He says that it is equivalent to selfish irreligiosity, in the end, since one will either succeed in following the rules, and therefor feel superior and entitled, or fail, and feel like a failure with nothing to lose. Apparently the fact that the religious person tried and theoretically accomplished some good in the world matters not.

This is because Keller knows that we are all sinners (We are? I thought we just put god in the center of our lives and we were set? Whatever. I’ll go with it) and cannot redeem ourselves by our own efforts. This is why Jesus died. Since we are saved by Jesus regardless of what we do in life, one feels compelled by love of Jesus to do whatever he commands. This knowledge is called the gospel. Keller describes how it makes it impossible to feel superior to others, since you know we are all sinners, and yet we cannot feel low, since we are loved by God who saved us. Keller says that following the gospel is actually very difficult, despite not having to follow any teachings, because one is in perpetual debt to, and love with, god, there is no end to what he can ask.

Okay. So, Keller’s completely abandoned the word “Reason” from the title of his book now. Everything in this chapter is just asserted with no rationalization or evidence or whatever. But why nitpick about such things when he’s clearly shown me the path to salvation? Well, primarily cause he hasn’t. Keller’s gospel is useless. He says we are “called to do” what God wants us to do. Well, how exactly does that work? I mean, how can I distinguish what god wants me to do from what I want me to do? Maybe god is calling me to write this rebuttal to your ridiculous book, and I’ve just mistakenly thought is was my own idea the whole time. Keller’s gospel doesn’t have any basis in reason and it’s wholly unnecessary. There’s nothing gained from the gospel that can’t be had with a complete lack of belief in a god.

The reasonable course for Keller would be to abandon the notion of a god. Since he can’t seem to do that, he’s (and apologists throughout the ages) concocted a way of pretending there is a god and he is following his will, while still ignoring anything he disagrees with or finds inconvenient. This, largely, is laudable. Replacing 1st century morality with 21st century variety is a good idea. However, doing so because a god “called you” to, is not. Just get rid of god altogether and do it because you figured out it was the right thing. That way there’s no way you could possibly interpret your own selfish interests as the “call” of god. Thinking for yourself is a good idea. Knowing you’re thinking for yourself is also a good idea.

The Reason for No God (The Problem of Sin)

For those of you following along you will know we are to to a new chapter on sin. I read the whole chapter in search of an argument for the existence of god, or against the non-existence, and there is none. So, if you’re only interested in the question of the existence of a deity, you can skip this post, and chapter 10. This post will be a tangent to address some of the tangents in Keller’s redundant filler.

Keller does a few things in this chapter. He starts by defining sin not simply as breaking rules, but as putting anything but god in the center of your life. From there he implicitly asserts that one can not live without a center to ones life, or with many, and that putting anything there but god will lead to personal unhappiness and various other maladies.

Keller can define sin however he likes, but that is about the only thing in this chapter that I agree with, other than his points against straw men. Keller spends a lot of time pointing out that things can go badly if you build your entire life around your career, or children. I agree, but I don’t agree with Keller’s assertion that they, and similarly deleterious life centers, are the only alternative to god.

One alternative is the Buddhist method, of living a center-less life, and attempting to lose ones ego. Perhaps this sounds more difficult than centering your life around god, but I don’t think so. I think it’s just harder to trick yourself into thinking you’re doing it right.

Somewhat of a corollary to this is to make everything the center of your life. Keller says that if you make your family the center, you will care less for other people’s families, and if you make your nation or race your center, you will become nationalist or racist. This is not a problem if you make everything the center, all life. This has the same end result as the previous method, I think, since in both cases you try to become “one with the universe”.

One could also center your life on a process, like science. If one built a life on a way of acquiring knowledge, which is what science is, and not on the knowledge itself, one is not subject to having their identity questioned when new evidence comes to light. There is virtually no chance of empiricism itself being invalidated, although all conclusions drawn from it must be held as potentially incorrect. This solution is not utopian, since one would still be subject to feeling superior to those who interpret the data differently, although at least two empiricists can have an argument and potentially do experiments to come to a conclusion, unlike those who are not empirical at all, who could not be argued with.

I also don’t see why one couldn’t take a middle of the road approach. Instead of no center, or an everything center, have a lot of things center. I think in practice this is a pretty common route. Most people don’t pin their entire identity on one aspect of themselves, but on many. This approach would not be as secure as the first three I mentioned, but it is not as unstable as Keller’s straw men. Especially if one were conscious about it and could replace or increase the number of things in one’s center.

I’m sure there are many other fine alternatives that I haven’t thought of.

So, I don’t think Keller’s right about the way people build their lives, and have to, but even if he is, does building one’s life around god fix anything? Well, it certainly would fix some things. Keller is right that building a life around god is better than building a life around a lot of other singular things (other than those mentioned above), I think, because god is designed to be a center. God is all forgiving and loving and such, which is just what one would need. And, in a practical sense, if everyone centered their life on god and not on their nation or race, there would probably be less nationalism and racism. However, I do not think utopia would arise. I see no reason why, just as centering your life on your family makes you care about other families less, centering your life on god wouldn’t make you care about other gods less, and through them the people that hold those gods. This is a problem that will never be escaped either, since god is so nebulous and personal, people will always be splintering into groups that disagree with the other groups about what god is. If you believe you have the true god, and know what he is like, then you cannot help but feel superior to those that disagree. And people who build their whole lives around a single concept, as Keller points out, are vulnerable when that concept is threatened, and will react forcefully. Since there is no way to settle differences between groups, I don’t see what makes what Keller argues for different from zealotry, and I don’t see how zealotry leads to anything but violence.

So, Keller’s assertions are wrong, there are many good alternatives to building your life around god. Also, building your life around god is fraught with the danger of zealotry. Also, since god is such a nebulous concept, it seems to me it would be easy for one to think they were building a life around god, but actually be deceiving themselves. Finally, even if building a life around god were a good idea, this is not evidence that any god exists, let alone any particular one.

The Reason for No God (The Endless, Pointless Litigation of Existence)

In this section Keller argues that we all must know God exists because we act as if life has meaning, and it can’t without a god. Without God, once human civilization is dead and gone, nobody will remember us, and nobody will remember whether we were peaceful or warlike, or good or cruel.

This is the final argument one of my friends rested on when I discussed god with him as a teenager, and it’s nonsense. The notion that there must be a cosmic scorekeeper for life to have meaning is childish and simplistic. Keller’s implied suggestion is that the only reason to do moral things is because you’re being watched and you’ll get in trouble if you don’t, the most superficial of reasons. The fact that humanity will come to an end and be forgotten is meaningless to the question, “What is right?” You don’t need god to be moral, as I’ve explained in the past few posts.

Do you need god for meaning? No. People don’t even behave this way. We imbue great meaning into all kinds of temporary things, youth, innocence, beauty, athletic ability, emotions, temporary art like sand castles and performances and food. These things are more precious and powerful because we know they are fleeting. On a grand scale the same is true for all of humanity, and on a not so grand scale for each of us individually. If we only care about the ultimate end of things, then youth, beauty and emotions fade, innocence is corrupted, sand castles crumble, and food turns to shit.

Is there meaning? Keller says we live our lives as if they have meaning, so god must exist to give us that meaning. This is another way of saying, “people wish there was a meaning to life, therefor there is, therefor god.” Just because we feel a need to have meaning, doesn’t mean there is. We, people, are perfectly capable of deluding ourselves when it’s productive, and it would certainly be productive in this case.

I know I seem to be contradicting myself, but I don’t think I really am. When discussing god there are often two levels of things. There is meaning, and then Meaning, as in the ultimate meaning. There is no Meaning, there never has been, and we don’t need it. There is regular meaning, though, and that’s nice.

Say you live like Keller, and derive meaning in your life from the knowledge that God is remembering, and will forever. But if he is wrong, he will never know. He will feel just as much meaning throughout his life using this strategy whether god exists or not. So how can the fact that people use this strategy be evidence of god?

If you find this disturbing and you think some meaning from your past may have been misplaced, don’t worry. There is no ultimate meaning, no cosmic plan, no end game but oblivion. I know this, you, hopefully, know this. Should we kill ourselves, or curl up in a ball and wait to die? Why would we? It has always been thus. All the meaning we found in life we gave ourselves, and we can keep doing so.


The Reason for No God (The Argument for God from the Violence of Nature)

Keller is still going on about this whole morality thing. In this section he says that nature is a purely violent place, where might makes right, and that the fact that we think differently argues for a supernatural explanation.

This is just wrong. There is a gradient of intelligence in the natural world and a gradient of “moral” behavior. Many higher complexity mammals display similar behavior to ours, protecting and adopting infants, for example, even if they aren’t of their species. What about all the dogs that wait for their masters and the dolphins that save swimmers? And of course there is all the cooperation we see in nature. The violence of nature is rarely wanton, it is always to survive. We do the same thing. Keller would say it’s wrong to kill people, but it’s right to kill people to keep from being killed, or to stop a killer. That’s what animals do, kill to keep from starving, or keep from being killed.

The difference from us and animals is the extent to which we can self analyze. We use this ability to augment our instincts so we can sometimes do better than nature can by itself. We can take our instinctual notions of what is good and bad and improve them. Modify them to include more people, more species, and in more situations. I don’t think this requires any deity.

Keller says it is wrong to napalm babies, but what he really means is that he can think of no situation in which the act of napalming babies would reduce the suffering of those babies, who we value highly. If there was such a situation, say, the babies were infected with an un-treatable disease that made them invulnerable to anything but napalm, but also caused constant agonizing pain before killing them in a few weeks… wouldn’t napalming the babies be exactly the moral thing to do?

I get that that situation will never happen, which is why it seems fine to make blanket statements about morality, but there are cases of ambiguity that occur all the time and making assumptions, as Keller says we must, is not the reasonable way to find the best outcome. Maybe the expedient, which is probably why the tendency is still in the gene pool.

Here’s a challenge for you to that might help convince you. Think of an example of a moral act that a religious person can perform that a secular person cannot. Now try to think of an immoral thing that a religious person can do that a secular person cannot. I suspect that second one will be easier.

The Reason for No God (The Grand “Who Sez?”)

In this section the unspoken premise from the previous post just becomes spoken, so there’s not too much more to say. The thrust of this section is that everyone knows that human rights exist, but that without god there is no external justification for any moral statement. Keller says without god there can be no “good” only things that you like or don’t like.

As I said previously I don’t agree with Keller’s premise that human rights exist externally to humanity somehow, that we discovered rather than created them. I also don’t agree that without god there is no justification for determining right or wrong. It is true in a philosophical sense that there would be no “true” right or wrong, it would just be what we’ve decided is right and wrong. I think this is how we operate already, some people just don’t know it.

Keller acts as if the alternative to god handing down morality is majority rule. He says this is a problem for anyone who thinks it is wrong for the majority to exterminate a minority, since apparently the majority think that it’s okay. This is extremely over simplified and ignores many alternative scenarios.

On a basic level, all people like the same things. Life is better than death, happiness is better than sadness, wealth is better than scarcity, health is better than sickness, etc. etc. People that disagree with these are in such a minority that they are considered ill and are treated or locked up. Now, clearly people disagree on how best to achieve happiness and health and such, but they are empirical things. They can be measured on a population scale, and therefor can be experimented with. For example, you could, as people have, go around the world and measure how well various populations are doing on these measures (happiness, health, etc.) and score them on variables of interest (women’s rights, wealth gap, etc.) and determine if there are any correlations. This would give a basis for what is right and wrong. If there is a known correlation between women’s rights and happiness, that would empirically suggest women should have rights. Further evidence could be gathered by active study of populations who switch between status of women’s right, one way or the other.

I admit that such a system would be far from perfect, but it seems to me to be a fairly viable third option that Keller ignores, and if there’s a third option, there are likely more.

If you think, as Keller believes everyone does, that human rights were discovered and not created, then how do you know? And how sure can you be? I realize a zealot can convince themselves of anything to 100% certainty, but most people don’t do that. If you’re 90% sure that something 100% evil, then isn’t that same as being 100% sure that the same thing has a 90% chance of being evil? Keller’s implied promise of perfect morality is betrayed because he offers no way of knowing what that perfect morality is. I mean, god, obviously, but as has been discussed previously in his book people disagree greatly on what god is, says, wants, etc.

The conclusion that human rights are universal and external comes from the belief in god, and therefor cannot be used as evidence for a god. Keller’s universe and my universe look the same. There’s no reason to choose his way of thinking unless one already believes in god. If you start with the null hypothesis that there is no god and look about the universe, there is nothing to suggest universal human rights. Keller is taking a mistake brought on by belief in god as evidence for god. Nothing more.

The Reason For No God (The Difficult Issue of Human Rights)

If you’re following along you’ll see that I’ve skipped a section. The section, The Problem of Moral Obligation, is just another anecdote that means nothing and only serves to set the stage for Keller’s arguments. There is nothing directly claimed and therefor nothing to refute or argue about.

This section begins Keller’s long, confusing journey into the issue of human rights. In this section he basically makes two points. First, that there is a basis for human rights if there is a god. Second, that there isn’t if there isn’t.

I have a bit of trouble with this, and some upcoming sections in Keller’s writing. The unspoken premise is that there needs to be some basis for human rights, that they can’t just be a good idea we came up with. I don’t know why this is. It seems clear that that’s what they are. I think the whole argument Keller is making here is pointless. There is no basis for human rights, and the fact that there isn’t is not at all troubling and does not indicate the existence of a god. A lot of Keller arguments seem to be of the form, without god X about the universe sucks, therefor god. This is, literally, the definition of wishful thinking and does not constitute reason.

This need for a god to be the base cause for why being a good person is a good idea is silly to me. It is another version of the extra unnecessary layer problem. Can you spot the unnecessary steps?

Simple View Religious View
Q: How did the universe begin?
A: I don’t know.
Q: How did the universe begin?
A: God did it.
Q: How did God begin?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Why is it good to be good?
A: Just because.
Q: Why is it good to be good?
A: God says so.
Q: Why does God say so?
A: Just because.

If it makes you uncomfortable to think that something like human rights is on shaky ground, I can offer some comfort. First, we are social creatures. We have evolved to try and understand one another and work together, so to a certain extent, empathy and honoring human rights is in our nature. Second, historical evidence suggests that countries with the best human rights policies are the most productive, stable, and happy, so there is no reason to get rid of them unless one is pursuing directly contrary goals, like, say, the Nazi’s. Perhaps not as comforting as a god, but at least mine are logically consistent and verifiable.

Without God, Keller and Nietzsche say, there is no meaning to life, no intrinsic value to humanity. This is correct. The universe does not care that we exist and it will not care when we are dead. We care, because we are humans. We give meaning to our lives. That meaning is not universal and it is not ultimate, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist or matter. We can improve, which is exciting, and we can decline, which is scary. We decide what is improvement and what is declination, which is also scary. Keller’s proposal to put your trust in a deity doesn’t ultimately help, though. It might feel nice, but in the end we would still have to figure out what was good, and people would still disagree and we’d still have to work it out. Change, in both directions, is just a lot easier without 2000 year old books and zealotry holding us back.

I figured out why I feel weird about these sections. I am conceding his point. He is correct. Without god, x, y z. I agree. It’s just that the absence of x, y, and/or z is not evidence for god.

The Reason for No God (The Evolutionary Theory of Moral Obligation)

In this section Keller dismisses evolutionary explanations for moral behavior. He claims that there is consensus that natural selection does not work on entire populations, and that there is no mechanism for modern morality to evolve in individuals. He brings up specifically our feeling that it is moral to help those outside our groups and to do so even when nobody will know.

Keller is making a few major mistakes in this section. One is to radically over simplify how natural selection and evolution work. The second is to assume that if he can’t think of a way for natural selection to work, that it cannot work. He makes this second one because he believes is has a better alternative, I assume “god did it”, but as I’ve pointed out over and over, that is not a useful or plausible explanation.

Keller admits that it makes sense for natural selection to favor altruistic behavior amongst those in our community, since if I save my sister’s life and she reproduces that’s half my gene’s being replicated. He then extrapolates that harming those not in the group would also be moral, implying that this is a problem. Except for basically all of human history this was the case. It still is unless you’re being asked a question by a priest. We love killing the bad guy. That’s how you get honor and that’s why the crusades weren’t condemned. If we relied exclusively on our evolved traits I think there’d rarely be a compunction against killing someone not from our tribe.

Modern morality is a largely learned behavior propagated by society. Keller is correct that natural selection does not work on populations, but societal norms, memes, can evolve over populations. Communities that encourage group to group altruism can form alliances to defeat common enemies, and eventually most societies, including our own, teach a morality that defaults to altruism, even to help strangers.

Keller asks why we’d be compelled to do moral things even when nobody is watching. What does that have to do with evolution. Instincts do not normally depend on an audience to kick in. Not that Keller is even right about this. Many studies have shown how people are way more likely to act morally if they are being watched. I would attribute this to the societal origin of much of morality. If god made us moral he certainly wouldn’t have built in caring about whether you’re being watched.

Perhaps my societal model of morality is wrong. The subject is very difficult to study and science is far from having definitive answers on such things. I think it is a more plausible explanation than Keller’s, and I present it as an alternative, since Keller acts as if there are none.

Here’s another. Perhaps humans evolved altruism in order to protect those around us, who, at the time it evolved, were almost certainly a family member, and so had evolutionary benefit. But in the past few thousand years we’ve structured our lives so we are surrounded by more strangers than family members. Our gene’s don’t know this, though, so when we see someone in trouble we spring in to action to help, our genes assuming they’re a cousin at least.

Here’s another. Perhaps we evolved an in-group out-group altruism dichotomy. We form an idea of who’s in the in-group as we develop and help whoever is in it. Early in our history that would be people of the tribe or village we lived in, people we saw every day. However, the mechanism for forming this internal in-group is flexible. As time passes more and more people have expanded the notion of who is in-group to include people of the same language, or race, or nation, or religion, or people with similar philosophical values, or same sports team affiliation, or now the whole world.

I don’t know where human morality comes from. I suspect it is a very complicated thing with many influences. I will continue to think on the subject and support people who want to do experiments to answer the question. Keller doesn’t know where human morality comes from, either, but since he thinks there is a god, he never will. One thing is certain, Keller’s contention that morality could not be a natural phenomenon is wrong. Just because you don’t know how it works, or science doesn’t know how it works, doesn’t mean god must be involved. If everyone thought like that, we’d never have learned anything.

…Also, I’ve come up with three plausible explanations in 15 minutes.

The Reason for No God (The Concept of Moral Obligation)

If you’re following along you’ll know we are on a new chapter, and that I have skipped a section, Free-Floating Morality. I skipped that section because Keller makes no actual claims in it, but instead relates an anecdote about people who don’t know why they believe what they believe. This, like all anecdotes, provides nothing in the way of evidence, the section exists only as a precursor to Keller’s larger point.

In this section Keller asserts that all people feel a set of absolute moral values and moral obligations. He says everyone believes that there are some things that are wrong regardless of what the people doing them think. That’s pretty much all he claims in this section.

Amazingly enough I’m going to disagree even with this assertion. I don’t think this is true of everyone, or anyone. I don’t hold the false dichotomy alternative position Keller offers, that of absolute relativism either, however. I certainly believe that people are doing “wrong” things, even if they think they’re doing “right”, but I don’t think the things are just wrong because they’re wrong. There is an underlying reason. Say, murder is wrong, but it’s wrong because it increases suffering and destroys something that cannot be replaced.

Now, you could say the underlying values are the morals, like that happiness is good and sadness is bad. I would argue that they’re just logical conclusions based on experience, though, which is not what is typically understood by the term “morals”.

I suspect that people that hold classical “moral” beliefs are doing the same calculations I am doing, just unconsciously. Morals is a sort of short hand, a stereotype for actions. Instead of evaluating each circumstance to base values people tend to lump them into categories for faster results.

If you disagree, and you believe, as I suspect Keller is leading to, that god has anointed us with a sense of morality, then I would wonder why morality is so different across the globe. There are no universally held morals, which is odd if god gave them to all his children. But I’m getting ahead of myself.