Monday, July 25, 2011

Author Interview: Clifford Williams

Today's interview is with Clifford Williams, teacher of philosophy at Trinity College in Deerfield, IL. He is an author of Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires & Emotions for Faith. He talks about his background and how he got into philosophy, the role of philosophy in theology and apologetics, the meaning of "existential" and the existential argument for belief in God, needs and desires and their role in the existential argument, various objections to the argument, the role of the argument in a cumulative case for God, practical application for apologetics, further resources, and more.

Full Interview MP3 Audio here. (50 min)

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Kyle Essary said...

I think intellectual reasons are simply another need in the list of needs. For those of us that are interested in apologetics it is often primary, and we can't understand those who place other felt needs above the intellect, but ultimately we have an emotional need to be intellectually satisfied with our worldview.

Unbelievers, who have almost always never read Pascal, will often dismiss his "wager," but I think the existential argument could be used within such a framework. If Christianity, unlike other religions, has the ability to meet these needs, then even if their is a potentially successful theistic argument for the Christian God (and I think there are many that are successful...but for the argument, even if they are only potentially successful it works), then it makes more sense that one should live as thought Christianity is true opposed to the converse.

Brian said...

That's a great point, Kyle.

MaryLou said...

I had never heard of existential apologetics and found the interview with Williams most enlightening. Thanks for adding yet another weapon to my armamentarium.

Neil Shenvi said...

Hmm... mixed feelings about Williams' ideas. The main problem I see is that the 'evidentialist' approach that Williams is critical of confuses faith (fiducia) with intellectual assent (assenzia). Yet the vast, vast majority of historical apologists and theologians would clearly distinguish between these two phenomena. Obviously, no one becomes a Christian based on intellectual arguments alone and no one has ever argued that they do. It seems like the existential reasons Williams mentions are part and parcel of any good evangelistic presentation.

Although I haven't read the book, I had two thoughts on how to make his arguments stronger. The first is to bring in C.S. Lewis' observation that deep human needs always seem to correspond to some element of reality. We hunger; food exists. We thirst; water exists. But if we feel a deep existential need for God, isn't it reasonable to think that perhaps God exists?

Second, an even more powerful argument is to show that -on atheism- a purely existential belief in God is no more or less warranted than any other belief. For instance, when an atheist objects "Needing God to exist doesn't mean that God truly exists," one might respond "But if God does not exist, then do I have any obligation to seek or believe what is true?" In other words, a hypothetical atheist is assuming that we "ought" to believe the truth. But if there is no God to ground this deontic "ought", then what grounds it? On atheism, it seems to me that we are perfectly warranted to believe whatever makes us happy - whether it is Christianity or atheism. The atheist is, therefore, hardly in the position to criticize even the fideist.

Anyway, interesting interview, as usual!

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