Evidentialism Explained

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    Evidentialism is one of two general and more or less systematic ways that Christian apologists have used to defend their faith in the academic market place of ideas.   The basic idea of evidentialism is that it is alleged that everyone has a duty to form their beliefs rationally, therefore you should 1) have evidence to provide support for one’s beliefs where the evidence is properly related to the conclusion of the argument and there is sufficient evidence to properly form that belief rationally; 2) and sometimes, evidentialism includes the added (Humean) corollary that one should always proportion one belief’s according to the amount and quality of evidence for that belief.  Christian “evidientialists”, therefore, defend the reasonability of their faith by appealing to what they consider to be a sufficient amount of relevant evidence.

    So the basic flavor of this sort of apologetic stance is that the apologist should fulfill their duty (deontology) and present the evidence for certain basic theistic and Christian beliefs they hold and show how and why that evidence is properly related to the support of those beliefs.  Finally, those apologists would wish to show that the support is adequate in amount and quality to properly sustain them as rational beliefs.

    There are several kinds of tactics or strategies within evidentialism which should be briefly explained. 

    First it should be said that some evidentialists use primarily rationalistic arguments while others primarily use empirical arguments, while other’s still use combinations of both in doing it this way.

    Perhaps the most powerful way to provide evidence for theistic belief is to argue in terms of ‘inference to the best explanation.‘  Though some apologists use other terms for this (for instance Gordon Lewis calls it “systematic coherence”),  when the term as he uses it is unpacked, it is very similar to this basic idea of inference to the best explanation.  That is, to say the proffered hypothesis best explains the deductive, inductive and abductive evidence citied. 

    Typically evidentialists have relied heavily on natural theology (propositional arguments) to buttress their belief in God’s existence, though there exists a diversity of opinion as to how the arguments themselves are to be properly formulated.  For instance, there are versions of the cosmological argument, versions of moral arguments and so forth which are alleged to avoid certain classical criticisms of them.

    An important subtlety regarding evidentialism is just how strong the alleged evidence provided is characterized.  For instance, some evidentialist explicitly, while others implicitly try to characterize their arguments as sound for all rational persons.  Others argue their evidence is more plausible than the denials of the propositions they proffer.  This latter group suggests, then, that their arguments and evidence might be person relative.

    Finally, as a practical matter some apologists try to play both sides of the aisle on this divide and in some very narrowly specified cases such a course might be acceptable.  For instance, in some cases a certain kind of presuppositional apologist might hold that belief that God exists is properly basic--that is, is a rational belief without any supporting PROPOSITIONAL argument, but also use evidential propositional arguments because they hold that for some, the arguments are person relative  and evidentially sound for them.