The Basis For Belief

Subjectivity and Religious Belief, by C. Stephen Evans (Eerdmans, 225 pp., $5.95 pb), is reviewed by Robert C. Roberts, associate professor of philosophy and religion, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky.

This is a clear and convincing examination of a certain kind of argument in favor of religious beliefs. Purely “theoretical” or “objective” arguments for religious faith build their case solely upon considerations like the logical character of such concepts as “cause” and “God,” the design which seems to be evident in the natural order, the difference between the physical and the mental, and the reliability of certain historical testimonies. “Subjective” justifications, by way of contrast, take into consideration human needs such as are generated when a person takes it upon himself to live a moral life, or to become human in a fully satisfying way.

Evans expounds in careful detail Kant’s, Kierkegaard’s, and William James’s subjective arguments for a religious understanding of the universe. He then compares and evaluates these arguments. While recognizing some significant differences between these thinkers, Evans discerns a structure common to their defenses of religious belief.

The first step is to establish, by an examination of theoretical arguments such as the traditional proofs of God’s existence, that though we cannot hereby have knowledge that God exists, the assertion that he exists is plausible. Kant shows that the traditional proofs will not work, yet he acknowledges that they reflect natural ways of thinking, and even ones that are inevitable for rational beings like ourselves. A little-recognized fact about Kierkegaard is that although he thinks the traditional proofs commit ...

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