Cliffords Evidentialist Argument in Contrast to Blaise Pascals Non Evidentialist Position | Homework Help
Cliffords Evidentialist Argument in Contrast to Blaise Pascals Non Evidentialist Position
William Kingdon Clifford was a philosopher as well as a mathematician at Cambridge University, although he drifted more towards philosophical works, doing little in terms of mathematics. He published a journal titled Contemporary review, in which he highlighted various ethics of belief. He questioned the existence of some sort of criteria that describe how a belief can be held and defended. According to Clifford, it was senseless to choose what to believe in without any form of formulation or guide, leading to the belief. He concludes that it is morally wrong to hold, defend, and believe in anything without sufficient evidence, thus coining the notion of evidentialism (Clifford 13). In summary, what Clifford seeks to drive home is the idea that there cannot be any belief without sufficient evidence. We can say that his principles are closely related to skepticism.
Blaise Pascal, on the other hand, describes that some truth cannot just be explained by reason or evidence and, therefore, one has to rely on faith. He defends religious knowledge and beliefs such as the existence of God, which, he acknowledges, cannot be demonstrated. His notion can be defined as fideism or atheism, which is reliance on faith and not reason or evidence in order to hold and defend a belief. Evidentialism, as described above, refutes fideism principles and encourages people to gather or seek sufficient evidence before holding a belief. The paper below seeks to highlight the importance of reason and evidence, as opposed to holding a belief based on faith without reason i.e. Cliffords principles are better suited compared to Pascals ones.
Clifford held a belief that it was wrong and immoral for one to believe in anything without sufficient evidence. To him and other critics of atheism, it made no sense at all. In explaining the principles, Clifford uses an example of a man who had a ship which was faulty. The man chose to completely ignore the fact that the ship was faulty and was not safe for passengers on board and, instead, led himself to believe that it would be fine for one trip, and then he would fix it later. His idea was to avoid wasting time on fixing the faults at that time since it would delay departure and also cost him. The ship did not make it to the destination. The owner of the ship acted on unethical belief instead of relying on evidence. He should have checked for sufficient evidence on whether the ship was safe as he assumed it would be. Clifford goes further to insist that an action is either right or wrong, irrespective of the consequent outcome. Through this journal, Clifford intends to raise the bar on ethics and morals. According to him, the ship owner was wrong to act upon faith and no evidence even if the ship would have made it safely to its destination. Blaises argument on no need for evidence in most cases lacks a sense of intellect and may seem irrational (Dole and Andrew 71).
Clifford also explains that for evidence to be considered sufficient, it must be proportional and of the same nature as the belief. This kind of strictness is better suited to the formation of a belief, compared to possession of moderate evidence, which holds ground, subject to various situations and scenarios. Evidence that is moderate or one that has some exceptions on when and how it counts is relatively similar to no evidence at all. Clifford describes strict evidence as one that holds anywhere, for anyone, and at all time. This nature of strictness is mostly admired for liberating people from various dogmatic beliefs and to erase credulity. Evidentialism encourages people to seek for a reason and evidence before believing or conforming to certain traditions. Various traditions may encourage certain wrongly justified beliefs, which can be defined as degrading and dogmatic. These kinds of beliefs or institutions should be approached with skepticism as well as a thirst to secure sufficient evidence and reason to abide (Clifford 23).
Science can be said to be Evidentialist because it insists on a pragmatic approach to various beliefs. These beliefs can be practically demonstrated and evidenced, hence making them difficult to refute as opposed to religious knowledge. Pascal, in his quest to make people believe in God, insists that reason and evidence are not needed in proving that God exists, but the very fact that there is no evidence to prove that He does not exist is sufficient enough to warrant his belief of Gods existence.
Pascals Non Evidentialism
Pascal objects to the need for sufficient evidence and insists that some beliefs do not have to be accompanied by evidence. He argues that they can be justified through religion and faith i.e. religious epistemology. Pascals principles seek to establish that statements such as God exists cannot be evidenced as a truth but cannot as well be evidenced as a false statement. With this in mind, he concluded that some truth cannot be demonstrated and, therefore, justified through faith only. Faith does not need to be accompanied by any reasonable explanation and, consequently, the Evidentialist dismissed the non Evidentialist as irresponsible and irrational. Pascalian ideas were mostly concerned with religious belief formation and a general belief in God (Kreeft and Blaise 15).
Pascals objective to Cliffords evidentialism lays in the distinction of insufficient evidence to hold a belief and non evidentialism. Sufficient evidence has to proportional to the degree of belief. Moderate evidentialism allows some situations where the evidence does not hold. Such evidence is subject to various exemptions and, thus, is not so strict in ensuring a certain belief is reasonable or true. In a case where the number of situations when the evidence does not count is high, it can be said that the belief is similar to a non Evidentialist one. This makes it difficult to draw a line that distinguishes moderate evidence and non-evidence, thereby making it difficult to defend strict evidentialism.
Another argument, drawn up by Pascal, highlights and explains human condition. Pascal sought to encourage people to believe in God because, according to his analysis of human nature, man is both noble and wretched. Man is noble because he was created in the image of God, but he is also wretched because he has strayed from the ways of God and does not acknowledge His existence. Pascal insists that it is important for man to understand where he comes from and acknowledge the redeemer who is capable of freeing him from his wretchedness (Kreeft and Blaise 34). This condition helps man realize and acknowledge the existence of God and act as a starting point towards religious epistemology.
With the above analysis of both Cliffords and Pascals ideas on evidentialism and non evidentialism respectively, we can say that Cliffords evidentialism is better suited, especially with civilization in mind. Many critics have argued that adopting non evidentialism is similar to non-sense. Intellectual knowledge can prove that choosing faith over reason, especially in such a civilized world, is irrational and irresponsible. A rational persons belief is directly proportional to the evidence presented (Madigan 123). Atheism does not need a reason for belief, but instead, it insists that the very lack of evidence of the contrary makes it true and sense full. This invites errors in any belief, and it is reasonable to form a belief in important issues with sufficient evidence.
Atheism can be misleading in the current world, for instance, when a pastor refuses to take his sick daughter to a hospital and believes that faith will heal her. Such kinds of beliefs are perfect examples why both reason and rational should be involved in formation of a belief. The above belief makes no sense and has no evidence as well and, consequently, should be discouraged. However, religious knowledge can be retained to explain the why of various beliefs which cannot be evidenced or demonstrated.
In conclusion, as stated above in the thesis, it can be said that evidentialism is more reasonable to adapt to, especially in the modern world. It is, however, not rational to totally rule the reliance of faith at times to explain various beliefs that cannot be demonstrated. Religious statements such as God exists are an example of knowledge of the heart, and refuting such statements is similar to being a skeptic.
Clifford, William. The Scientific Basis of Morals and Other Essays, Viz.: Right and Wrong, the Ethics of Belief, the Ethics of Religion. New York: Fitzgerald, 1884, pp. 12-45. Print.
Dole, Andrew and Andrew Chignell. God and the Ethics of Belief: New Essays in Philosophy of Religion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp. 67-89. Print.
Kreeft, Peter and Blaise Pascal. Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascals Pense?es Edited, Outlined, and Explained. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993, pp. 13-36. Print.
Madigan, Tim. W.K Clifford and the Ethics of Belief. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2008, pp. 117-143. Print.