One popular take on religious belief is that it can only be arrived at through faith, rather than considerations of evidence or reasons. Even admitting there to be a paucity of evidence in favor of god's existence, we are to suppose that one may legitimately believe in him nonetheless. A theist who not only holds this view about, but claims to believe in god in precisely this way, would then seem to claim something like the following: "Although I recognize there to be insufficient evidence for the existence of god, I still believe in him." I want to ask whether we can really take this claim at face value. Set aside the question of whether religious belief is justified from an objective standpoint, and ask whether it is really coherent for someone to genuinely believe both (1) that X, and (2) that there is insufficient evidence for belief in X. To me this notion has a paradoxical flavor, and I wonder if what is really going on in here is something else entirely. That is, I wonder whether theists of the sort in question actually <i>do</i> take themselves to have sufficient evidence or reasons for belief in god. (In that case, what they are really claiming in their talk of faith is that anti-theistic arguments are generally insufficient to defeat said evidence or reasons.)

Great question! ... Several terms could use more careful specification/definition, esp. the notion of "sufficient" evidence, not to mention "evidence" itself for that matter ... One route might be to explore "comparative confidence" -- eg Descartes claimed via his ontological argument (Med. 5) that he could be as certain of God's existence as he is of mathematical truths -- pretty 'sufficient' evidence (or argument) there! ... More realistically we might explore whether our confidence in God's existence is comparable to our confidence in the dictates of science, or of common sense about the physical world, or even of belief in the existence of a physical world, or the general reliability of our senses -- the latter three in particular have often been challenged by philosophers, and it may well be an open question whether there is "sufficient evidence" to accept any of of those three, so we might compare the degree of evidence in God's belief with degree of evidence there .... (When confronted with skeptical claims about the existence of the physical world, for example, might one say "I do believe in it but I recognize the evidence is not sufficient"?) .... Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga have gone far to argue that belief in God could serve as a "basic belief", a kind of foundational structuring belief which does not require further evidence itself but which serves to ground other sorts of beliefs, and do so as justifiably as perceptual beliefs -- check him out on that! ... And finally (for now), perhaps more supportive of your intuition above: surely most believers count as a kind of "evidence" the "testimony" they have received either from scripture or other believers, members of their church, priests, rabbis, ministers -- maybe even very smart philosophers who are also believers (like Plantinga) -- after all, if many people you respect, whose intelligence you recognize as greater than your own in some cases, believe in God, could it be so unreasonable for your to believe in God too even if you don't have much "direct" or "empirical" evidence? So if such "testimony" counts as a kind of "evidence," you're probably right (I think) that many believers in fact think there is (suficient) evidence for their belief ....

best, ap

Read another response by Andrew Pessin
Read another response about Rationality, Religion