A Quick Look at Faith and Evidence

Dr. William Lane Craig, a philosopher, theologian and debater extraordinaire, frequently finds himself explaining to audiences and friendly adversaries that evidence and faith are not at odds with each other. However, when Dr. Craig brings up philosophical arguments about God, he has been met with the response, “That’s not evidence. That’s just speculation!”

The problem is this: evidence is thought of as ‘facts and figures’ within the paradigm of the scientific process (which essentially consists of testing falsifiable claims through repeatable experiments, such as if I drop this pencil, it will fall towards the ground). So, first thing’s first–what do we mean by evidence?

Evidence, broadly speaking, is information implemented to support or discredit a claim. However, this evidence need not be a statistic or even a physical object. The varieties of evidence can be broken down into three forms:

(1) Forensic (the classic, “exhibit A” type evidence), e.g. a fingerprint, a photograph

(2) Propositional (arguments backed with facts), e.g. a testimony from an expert witness that makes use of statistics

(3) Experiential (personal recollections of past events), e.g. a memory, an eye-witness account, a sensation

When Dr. Craig argues for the existence of God, he actually makes use of all three of these, citing forensic evidence about the fine-tuning of the universe, propositional evidence from philosophical arguments, and experiential evidence from those who claim personal encounters with the divine.

It’s not number-crunching, but it is evidence by the above definition.

Evidentialism, Fideism, and Reliablism

(note: the information regarding evidentialism, fideism, and reliablism presented in this post originates from lectures by Professor Luke D. Potter of the University of Notre Dame)

Here’s the deal. In the modern scientific paradigm, people want evidence for beliefs of all kinds–religious, ethical, political, and most of all scientific beliefs.  This view that beliefs must be justified by evidence is known as evidentialism.

But as far as religious beliefs go, and maybe even a number of other beliefs (that I like my dog, that the sun will rise tomorrow) some people are prone to respond, “That’s just what I believe.” This view that beliefs need not be justified by evidence is known as fideism.

EvidentialismFideism

The field of beliefs seems pretty split. Maybe you have some beliefs that you feel need to be justified by evidence (that $200 is the best price I can get for this  text book) and others that don’t (that I will wake up with a functional body after I go to sleep tonight).

But, could there be another way of forming and assessing beliefs?

To end this short post, let me introduce you to reliablism.

Reliablism

Reliablism: the third option to the belief-holding triangle

Reliablism recognizes that much of the time we don’t need to bring forth evidence to justify beliefs–that I won’t fall through the floor when I take my next step, that the world around me is real, that gravity will continue to work–and that only some beliefs need to be subjected to scrutiny. In list form, reliablism states that a belief is justified if

(a) it’s produced through reliable, properly functioning faculties, e.g. sight, touch, hearing, other senses

(b) there is or does not seem to be overriding evidence to think that the belief is false, e.g. alternative explanations.

This isn’t just a matter of picking and choosing what beliefs to subject to evidence and which ones not to. It stipulates that beliefs that ought to be compared with evidence are those for which plausible alternatives are apparent.

And what if two or more alternatives seem likely, and I just decide to choose one over the other, maybe even the one that seems it could use more evidence?

That’s faith.

And it doesn’t apply just to religious beliefs like Jesus’s divinity or the existence of God. If I know that there are two versions of the same course taught be professors with similar student ratings and teaching history, I can have faith that the one I choose will be the best option. Faith is about choosing something without absolute certainty. But the choice need not be blind. Reliablism offers a system by which evidence and faith can correlate.

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One thought on “A Quick Look at Faith and Evidence

  1. Pingback: Contagious Caritas | Contagious Caritas Reboot

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