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Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense

of Desires and Emotions for Faith

Clifford Williams

IVP Academic, 2011
186 pages

"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 engaging manner." —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, Biola University


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.” —Fred Sanders, "Needy and Rational," The Scriptorium

“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.” —Michael McGownen, "The Heart Has Reasons," Christianity Today Magazine

“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.” —Brandon Rickabaugh, Inner Renovation Project

"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." —J. W. Wartick, Always Have a Reason

"One of the major struggles for feminist thought and action is the attempt over the last 40 years to understand what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a human. So much of the history of philosophy and theology is filled with a “male” construal of human essence, largely consisting of the disembodied and detached notion of the “rational” person. This book goes some distance toward a more whole account of the human, an account that in many ways is feminist. I applaud Williams for his efforts, and although not stated as the burden of the book, the fact that it presents a more whole picture of the human person and the Christian faith makes it a book of value for feminists, Christian and otherwise.
"I highly recommend
Existential Reasons for Belief in God as a clear, well-presented and insightful work that could provide a framework for further helpful work in living the Christian life and being a Christian and a feminist." —Mark S. McLeod-Harrison, Christian Feminism Today

Audio Interview at Apologetics 315

Interview at EPS Society

"Need as a Reason to Believe in God" — A talk given at Wheaton College

Existential Apologetics: A Survey

Buy this book from amazon

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