What Is the Existential Argument for Believing in God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the last post, I mentioned an interview with Christian philosopher Clifford Williams about his book Existential Reasons for Belief in God. One of the most interesting aspects of the interview is Williams’s description of some of the existential needs that are common to most people.

I gleaned 10 existential needs from the interview and from a sample of his book on Amazon (he lists 13 needs in chapter 2 of his book, but I couldn’t see all of chapter 2 without buying the book):

  1. the need for cosmic security
  2. the need for meaning
  3. the need to feel loved
  4. the need to love
  5. the need for awe
  6. the need to delight in goodness
  7. the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
  8. the need to be forgiven
  9. the need for justice and fairness
  10. the need to be present with our loved ones

What Williams does with these needs is build a simple argument for believing in God:

  1. We have existential needs (such as those listed above).
  2. Faith in God satisfies these needs.
  3. Therefore, we are justified in believing in God.

Williams add the following points to explain his argument:

This is not an argument purporting to explain why we have certain needs and desires. That would be an evidential argument. The existential argument for believing in God does not appeal to evidence; nor does it offer an explanation of why we have the existential needs. It gives a different kind of justification for believing in God than evidence-based justification—a need-based justification. The question the book deals with is, Is this different kind of justification legitimate?

I have not read Williams’s book, but I am quite intrigued by his approach.  He is dead on target with his recognition of common existential needs of human beings.  Just looking at the list of 10 needs above, I can say that I feel all of these needs, especially the need to be forgiven. And it is also true, for me, that God satisfies all of these needs for me, although some more than others at this point in my life.

What about you?  Do these needs resonate with you?  Do you find Williams’s argument compelling?

  • It sounds like we can invent God to meet these needs and that’s okay.

  • Some of those “needs” look an awful lot like “desires” to me. In particular, 7 really seems to be a rather fanciful use of the word.

  • Boz

    1.We have existential needs (such as those listed above).
    2.Faith in God satisfies these needs.
    3.Therefore, we are justified in believing in God.


    We could justify any belief in this fashion.


    1.We have existential needs (such as to feel superior).
    2.Racism satisfies these needs.
    3.Therefore, we are justified in holding racist beliefs.

  • Rick McGinniss

    Sounds like people didn’t actually read the interview … which addresses all of the objections listed by commenters.

  • Arash

    That’s exactly What the book is about !!
    Is this justification legitimate???