Post Author: Bill Pratt
On this blog, we talk a lot about evidence for the Christian faith. We talk a lot about using reason to defend Christian beliefs. Philosopher Clifford Williams, however, points out that for many people the journey to faith is not purely intellectual.
Williams was recently interviewed about his 2011 book, Existential Reasons for Belief in God, where he presents arguments for belief in God that have more to do with human existential needs than classical evidential arguments. When asked about his investigations into people’s journeys of faith, Williams said:
They show several things—first, that different people acquire faith in God in different ways, some more through reason and some more through satisfaction of needs; second, that it is difficult to disentangle reason and satisfaction of needs in the acquisition of faith; and, third, even so, both reason and the satisfaction of needs probably play a part in the process by which all, or at least most, people acquire faith.
The accounts also show, I think, that we cannot be precise about how reason and the satisfaction of needs should operate in the acquisition of faith. We cannot say that reason should come first and then the satisfaction of needs, or the other way around. The two are often so inextricably combined that the most that we can say is that the best way to secure faith, to establish it in the recesses of our personalities, is simply to employ them both.
When I interviewed people, I did not tell them about the distinction between acquiring faith through reason or through the satisfaction of needs. I simply asked, “What got you started on your faith journey?” and then, “What happened next?” Their answers, though, employed the distinction in various ways. I might add that because I guaranteed anonymity I got accounts that the persons might not otherwise have given, and in some cases, accounts that they had not revealed to anyone else.
I think Williams’s research is a good reminder to those of us who are heavily involved in Christian apologetics. The road to faith involves the entire person, not just her emotions and needs, and not just her intellect. I am a person who is much more comfortable in the world of the intellect and the world of ideas. When it comes to emotions and needs, I often pretend that they don’t have anything to do with my faith in God. The truth is that they do.
Acknowledging emotions and needs which lead us to God in no way diminishes the evidential arguments for Gods existence. Those arguments are supplemented by arguments from existential needs. In future posts, we will look more at Williams’s interview and try to see what additional insights we can glean.