By Paul Copan:
If humans are multi-dimensional, faith and apologetics must be too.
This final point gets important reinforcement in philosopher Clifford Williams’ excellent and accessible book Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith. I highly recommend it. Williams argues that we are right to emphasize existential human longings and needs, not simply “reason” or “evidence,” as traditionally understood. Indeed, it is easy for Christian apologists to overstress “reason” and underemphasize “need.” Yet both are important and are part of a holistic gospel message; both are factors in unbelievers coming to faith. According to Williams, need is a “triggering condition.” So no wonder the Jesus’ words reach the very depths of our being when he calls himself the bread of life (Jn. 6:35); when he promises to give “water of life” so that we will never thirst again (Jn. 4:10; 7:38); when he tells those who are weary and burdened that, if they come to him, he will give them rest for their souls (Mt. 11:28-30); when he claims he has come to give the fullest life possible (Jn. 10:10).
Furthermore, as C.S. Lewis argued, it would seem strange that we would have hunger or thirst if no food or water were around to satisfy it. Likewise, it would seem legitimate to consider our deepest inner needs as well. What if our deepest needs actually point to an ultimate source of satisfaction beyond the this-worldly? In the spirit of the philosopher Blaise Pascal (famed proponent of the “wager argument” for belief in God), Clifford Williams lays out the argument this way:
- Humans have an indefinite and intense craving for true happiness.
- Only faith in God satisfies this craving.
- If only faith in God satisfies this craving, then we are justified in having it.
- Therefore, we are justified in having faith in God.
While not arguing that the Christian faith is true, this “existential” argument asserts that faith in God is justified or legitimate to have since “it brings about the satisfaction of the indefinite and intense craving mentioned in the first premise.” We have been created with certain crucial needs, and it makes sense God alone would be capable of fulfilling them.