Q.1) In The Ethics of Belief (Clifford,

Q.1) Consider the following argument: 1.  Faith is belief not based on sufficient evidence. 2.  It is wrong to have a belief not based on sufficient evidence. 3.  Therefore, it is wrong to have faith. What is the strongest objection a proponent of religious faith could make against this argument? How might a defender of the argument respond to that objection? Is the argument ultimately convincing?   This argument against faith is known as the evidentialist argument, the most famous proponent of which is William K. Clifford who stated that, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”   (Clifford, 1877) I will briefly consider Clifford’sargument before discussing a two-pronged objection, contesting both the first and second premises. This objection will focus on the differences between belief and faith and the evidence requirement put forward in premise 2. I will then deal with a potential evidentialist response to this objection. I believe that despite strong arguments against this theory it remains both sound and convincing. In The Ethics of Belief (Clifford, 1877), Clifford uses the shipowner analogy to illustrate not only that beliefs not based on sufficient evidence may result in actions damaging to others, but also that even if those consequences never come to pass, the action is still wrong. Following on from this, Clifford points out that the real blame lies with the belief that was acted on in the first place. Some may argue that once we do not act on the belief then surely no harm can come of it but Clifford maintains that even if we do not act upon our belief directly it, “prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others.”                                                                                                                                (Clifford, 1877) According to Clifford, our beliefs are not personal but have a significant influence over humanity as a whole, “directing common action”. Therefore, he claims, we must protect ourselves from beliefs not based on sufficient evidence in the same way we would from a disease which may spread to other members of a community. Not only are we protecting other people by following this principle but also ourselves, in that holding such a belief weakens our own judgement and self-control goingforward. Clifford believes this principle extends to faith and asserts that those who argue that they have no time to investigate and find sufficient evidence to support their faith, “should have no time to believe.” (Clifford, 1877)   The strongest objection to be made against the titular argument, I believe, is necessarily twofold in its approach. The first aspect of this objection relates to the first premise (P.1), “faith is belief not based on sufficient evidence.” Here, faith is assumed to be synonymous or at least inextricably linked with belief, but this is not inherently the case. As Robert Audi (1991) alleges, it is necessary to distinguish between belief and faith as although it is possible to have faith where one has belief, that faith does not necessitate belief. Philosophers often overlook this, as is evident, for example, in the work of St. Thomas of Aquinas who refers to faith and belief as if the former brings about the latter. Herein lies the flaw of P.1.  It is worth noting that Audi specifies two types of faith; attitudinal and propositional, neither of which require belief of the proposition at hand. Propositional faith refers to ‘faith that’ statements which, despite appearing to imply belief through incompatibility with disbelief, are neither reducible to nor entail belief. Propositional belief is held to more rigorous standards of rationality than propositional faith. Religious faith may be rational even where religious beliefs with identical content may not. Non-doxastic faith is easily compatible with a sort of trust in God (Audi, 1991) and this fiduciary attitude may operate as an epistemic reason for faith in God. Trust in God may be seen as a ground of faith as, even though it is itself a non-epistemic state, it may provide epistemic reasons for faith. (Zagzebski, 2012) It is important however, that this trust is justified, as any other psychic attitude, by, “survival of conscientious self-reflection.” (Zagzebski, 2012) This also touches on the second aspect of my bipartite objection; the argument that evidence is not required to justify faith. As we see here, trust may play a primary role in faith justification.   I will now move on to this second, but by no means secondary, element of my objection. This element focuses on the flawed second premise (P.2), “It is wrong to have a belief not based on sufficient evidence.” This premise is contradicted by Buchak (2014) as she establishes that if one already possesses sufficiently conclusive evidence then it is not possible to have faith; “a person cannot have faith in propositions of which he is antecedently certain” (Buchak, 2014) Having faith necessitates going beyond the evidence and Buchak details this through her description of degrees of faith. For instance, I may think that X is likely to degree 1 but I could have faith in X to degree 2 or 3, etc. Kierkegaard was also of the opinion that religious faith must go beyond the evidence and, taking it a step further, may even go against the evidence. (Wainwright, 1999) He supported the idea that evidence would eliminate the risk involved in having faith, the so-called ‘leap to faith’ and, in doing so, destroy faith itself. Kierkegaard’s views here fall under the term, fideism. Fideists deny the role of evidence in faith, but they sometimes vary in their reasoning. Blaise Pascal, for example, takes a more pragmatic approach to fideism. (Wainwright, 1999) Pascal postulates that having faith in God is practically rational. In what has become known as ‘Pascal’s Wager’, he posits that choosing to have faith in God is “prudentially reasonable,” (Wainwright, 1999) as we have little to lose if we are wrong but we could gain infinitely (after this life) if we are correct.  Pascal acknowledges that religious faith should not ideally be an act of self-preservation but an expression of a heart that loves God. However, he dismisses this problematic aspect of his approach by saying that choosing to have faith in God (even if initially out of sheer self-interest) may open the heart to religious influences and encourage sincere religious faith. William James, an interlocutor of Clifford’s, also provided support for anti-evidentialism. James theorised that people are justified in ‘beliefs without sufficient evidence’ when the choice between ‘beliefs’ and their alternatives are living, momentous and forced. (James, 1896) It was clear to James that the choice between religious faith or lack thereof satisfied these conditions. Therefore, we could be justified in being lead to a decision by our will or passional nature rather than objective analysis of evidence. Despite not falling within the fideist category, James’ appeal to the passional nature draws comparisons with Kierkegaard’s appeal to the will and Pascal’s invocation of the sense of the heart. (Wainwright, 1999)   When faced with this exhaustive objection, a proponent of the evidentialist argument may argue that the phrasing of their premises does not contradict the assertion that faith and belief are separate. In fact, P.1 highlights one of the key differences between faith and belief by illustrating a trait of belief that faith explicitly does not possess. A more complex defence is required for the latter portion of the objection. One may make attacks on each individual theory; for instance; in claiming the choice of faith is forced, James fails to account for agnosticism. Another example of a specific refutation could be against Pascal’s Wager. Pascal fails to account for outcomes involving Gods that we have discarded in our having faith in a particular God; who is to say there is not a God who detests irrationality who will send to Hell those who have faith in the absence of rational evidence? (Hájek, 2017) This issue of various potential Gods leads me to my main point of refutation. There exists numerous rival religious systems, many of which are mutually exclusive. Often, the adherents of these various systems make claims of justification through passional nature and the heart and so on, and it is this similarity of appeals on which they are all based that indicates, “it isn’t clear that we can rationally retain our own beliefs unless we investigate the alternatives and discover good reasons for discounting them.” (Wainwright, 1999) Bertrand Russell put it plainly with his teapot analogy, “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot…nobody would be able to disprove my assertion.” (Russell, 1952) Russell goes on to theorise that if this belief was enshrined in an ancient text and taught to children and so on, parodying religion, it would be equally justified in its claims as any other ‘religious faith’ not relying on evidence. These particular leaps to faith seem harmless but there is equal potential for leaps to be made about what God thinks or dictates. This can be dangerous as without an evidence requirement in some form, faith can be used to oppress certain groups or even permit discriminatory laws, as seen historically with homosexuals and the Catholic Church in Ireland.   To conclude, we rely on evidence to help us mediate between different beliefs or faiths and determine what we value. When we discard evidence, all beliefs and faiths become philosophically equal. Falling back on faith alone, we are left with little to justify our religious arguments other than our own subjective preferences. When this is the case, nobody has the right to claim that someone else’s belief is unjustified or dangerous. Without that right we risk leaving ourselves subject to oppression, tyranny, and any number of immoral practices merely because they are ‘justified’ by someone’s faith.