Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires
and Emotions for Faith
IVP Academic, 2011
"Clifford Williams's work is a powerful defense of the role that needs and emotions play in the formation and
preservation of religious faith. Williams gives a powerful account of the way reason and emotion work together
to produce a faith that is both rational and personal. Although the book is philosophically first-rate, it is written
so clearly and powerfully that any thoughtful person can follow the argument. The inclusion of many personal
stories gives the book added punch; Williams not only thinks about emotions but appeals to our emotions in an
—C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University
"Williams breathes new life into the provocative view that human emotions play a central role in legitimate
belief in God. Drawing from Kierkegaard and Unamuno, he dares to portray belief in God as something much
more personally robust and engaging than a mere solution to an intellectual puzzle. The book will benefit all
serious inquirers regarding belief in God."
—Paul K. Moser, Professor of Philosophy, Loyola University Chicago
"Clifford Williams has composed an engaging, profoundly personal account of the reasons for belief in the
God of Christianity. This is decidedly not a detached or merely academic work but a book that speaks directly
to the needs, emotions and best thinking of its readers."
—Charles Taliaferro, Professor of Philosophy, St. Olaf College
"We humans—most of us, anyway, most of the time—are rational, truth-seeking agents. But equally we are
emotional creatures with existential needs, and we seek to meet those needs. Traditional Christian apologetics
focuses on the former characteristic, offering evidence to believe that the Christian faith is true. Clifford
Williams calls our attention to a second approach, one aimed at the second characteristic. Echoing thinkers
such as Pascal and Kierkegaard, Williams's 'existential argument' shows that Christian faith can be justified—
we may properly believe—just because faith satisfies certain existential needs. Williams develops his argument
in a philosophically rich way, augmented with examples showing how for many people faith is engendered and
sustained by existential arguments. Deep insights abound as Williams considers and rejects common objections
to existential arguments. In the end, Williams doesn't reject evidential arguments, but urges us to pay closer
attention to our emotional needs and their role in faith formation. I highly recommend this significant addition
to the apologetic literature."
—Garrett J. DeWeese, Professor of Philosophy and Philosophical Theology, Talbot School of Theology,
1 Introduction: Need and Reason
2 Existential Needs
3 The Existential Argument for Believing in God
4 Objection One: The Existential Argument Does Not Guarantee Truth
5 Objection Two: The Existential Argument Justifies Belief in Any Kind of God
6 Objection Three: Not Everyone Feels Existential Needs
7 Objection Four: Existential Needs Can Be Satisfied Without Faith
8 Faith and Emotion
9 Pursuing Faith
Quotes from the book
"The ideal way to acquire faith in God is through both need and reason. . . . Need without reason is blind, but reason without need is sterile" (12).
"Apologetics in Protestant and Catholic Christianity has been too evidential. It should be supplemented with existential apologetics, the demonstration that Christian faith is justified because it satisfies certain emotional and spiritual needs" (13).
"We humans find ourselves with certain deep and abiding needs. We don't know why we have them. Yet they are present in us, calling for a response. We need to love, so we love. We need meaning, so we do meaningful things. We need to kneel, so we kneel" (183).
“When I got a review copy of Clifford Williams’ new IVP Academic book, with its clean white cover sporting a few splashes of color and a crisp sans-serif typeface, my first instinct was to think I’d been sent a pretty package of mushy softness. . . . It turns out that Existential Reasons for Belief in God has a great argument. Not only did it manage to get past my anti-subjectivist screening, but it convinced me that the mesh of my screen has been a bit too tight.”
“The genius of this book is that it doesn't swing the pendulum too far. Or perhaps more appropriately, Williams shows that reason and emotion are not opposing poles on a single continuum at all; each has its place in the cultivation, strengthening, and defense of Christian belief. For those of us who need a faith at once meaningful and reasonable, that is good news.”
“Williams offers an integrated notion of how reason and emotion work in concord, rather than conflict, to produce a faith that is both intellectually and emotionally rich. . . . Existential Reasons for Belief in God meets a particular deficit in contemporary apologetics.”
"Those coming from a very evidentialist view of apologetics and philosophy will have difficulties with this book, as this reader can attest to. It’s hard to admit that needs and emotions have their place in a rational world, but Williams does an excellent job focusing the reader on this fact. Too often, the focus is only upon a posteriori arguments based upon the world as opposed to those based upon the human condition. Williams adequately defends existential reasons for belief, and–perhaps most importantly–presented them in a way which evidentialists can relate to and understand. He acknowledged difficulties in the argument and responded to many key objections. Hopefully, Williams has reopened an avenue for philosophers of religion to explore. Too long have they ignored the usefulness of existential reasoning."