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Clifford’s Evidentialism vs. Wager & Kierkegaard’s Non-Evidentialism Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 18th, 2020


William Kingdon Clifford defined evidentialism as believing in something without sufficient evidence. This stand contravenes non-evidentialism, which requires one to gather enough evidence before believing in a certain issue or argument. Clifford spent most of his career life doing philosophical work and Mathematics at the Cambridge University. In his philosophical endeavors, Clifford examined evidence and its possessions as important elements in the ethics of belief. As a philosopher, Clifford deduced evidence as a demonstrative proof, which is independent of any sort of imagined or construed belief without any articulation on how it came to existence. In other words, people should not believe in baseless arguments that lack sufficient collaborating evidence. Clifford holds that it is baseless for anyone to construct, hold, or even influence others to believe in anything without sufficient collaborating evidence (Gomberg 57). In his work, The Ethics of Belief, Clifford gives the reader the impression that any belief that people construct to guide them should always have enough evidence to support it. Otherwise, the unsupported belief will be considered invalid.

On the contrary, non-evidentialist pioneers such as Blaise Pascal and Kierkegaard claim that their stance is highly permissive since it allows the formulation and holding of a belief even when the evidence is insufficient. Pascal was a Christian philosopher and he focused on making people believe that God existed and the need to act according to His will. Non-evidentialism gives the go ahead for more personal evidence even based on passion for affirming one’s beliefs. Pascaland Kierkegaard’s notion of non-evidentialism based its claims on religious faith and the belief in the existence of a supernatural being. Their argument underestimated the sole reliance of reason as well as evidence for one to justify a belief (Dole and Chigell 35). Clifford held a firm stance against faith by describing the idea as senseless. Therefore, this article seeks to retaliate Clifford’s position on the essence of rationality and facts, as opposed to non-evidentialists’ view based on the premise of faith and non-reason. In the contemporary society, Clifford’s views are more viable as compared to Pascal and Kierkegaard’s perceptions.

Clifford’s evidentialist position

In his essay, The Ethics of Belief, Clifford starts by sharing his principles based on evidence and he gives elaborate arguments on his position using examples to drive the point that people should take rationalized steps with adequate facts. For instance, in the quest to support his claims, a case of a sick child comes in handy. Pascal’s claim supports the idea that the parent of the child should believe in supernatural healing. Having faith in God’s healing is a good idea, but Clifford questions the sufficiency that this notion has to work. The non-evidentialists acknowledge the lack of tangible evidence of God’s existence. In order to affirm a belief, Clifford argues that not unless a belief causes the holder to act, in this case the parent to take the child for medical examination and treatment, then the parent has no sense of any belief whatsoever. One’s passion, spiritual beliefs, or heartfelt emotions, as reflected in Kierkegaard’s non-evidentialist claims on belief, should not be expressed out in actions that are in the real sense harmful (Reisner 19). In this case, the sick child is subject to death any given moment and even in case the child survives, Clifford suggests that non-evidentialists have no proof to claim that some sort of imaginations healed the child.

Clifford’s argument insinuates that one’s decisions should only be considered rational if there is enough evidence and one cannot stand by his/her belief by suppressing his/her fear and refuting empirical evidence. Evidentialism holds that actions founded on beliefs with no sufficient evidence will always lead to harm to the holder or spread harm to others since beliefs influence many individuals. Therefore, according to Clifford, his definition of sufficient evidence is that it should always be of the same magnitude and the same nature as the belief. He relates his strictness of evidence to science because it is based on practical procedures before acknowledging certain beliefs. Science can be sensibly evidenced empirically unlike fideism and the existence of God. In response, Pascal claims that evidentialism cannot be justified since it too lacks the evidence that God does not exist and this aspect puts off anybody who refutes the claim that God exists (Reisner 19).

Pascal’s and Kierkegaard’s Non Evidentialist position

Pascal and Kierkegaard’s arguments are premised on religious epistemology. They all take a religious perspective that God exists and even though the notion cannot be proved as true, the evidentialists have failed to prove it as false (Gomberg 60). Having lived in a time when theology was highly mocked and ignored, the two philosophers’ effort to prove that God existed did not hold any grounds during this era of extreme skepticism. Having this shared notion, they affirmed that not all truth can be evidenced and it is only through faith that people can support some of this truth. One’s inward faith does not necessarily require any evidence or rationality. Therefore, Pascal and Kierkegaard’s ideas were largely based on a religious belief. Pascal knew that the impact that he had expressed was not sufficient to make people realize the power in living in deep faith. However, the foothold of his message was to present to the people the two cases before them, either to choose living by God’s grace or assuming he does not exist. Pascal claims that for one to establish faith in God, s/he will have to gain his/her heart’s desires. By not believing in God’s existence, one will lose everything, which includes life. Kierkegaard argues that one cannot claim to have total belief in something without making preservation for error, and at times, it calls for humans to take risks presumed in having a belief without enough evidence. The two philosophers believed in what William James referred to as ‘momentous opinion’ in his article, The will to Believe. This assertion means that believing in God or being skeptical could make a significant difference (Dole and Chigell 26). Pascal urges evidentialists to stop being on the fence, share belief in God, and enjoy His goodness alongside with true believers. Kierkegaard perceived Clifford’s support of the rule of evidence as misguided if it holds someone to live agnostic life.

Summary of the ideas

Having explored Clifford’s evidentialist views and Pascal as well as Kierkegaard’s ideas on non evidentialism, it suffices to conclude that Clifford’s evidentialism is more viable as compared to Pascal and Kierkegaard’s non evidentialism. It might not be necessary to have hard evidence in a bid to create faith in something or a situation, but living in doubt can be very detrimental when the unexpected occurs. This aspect is equivalent to individuals’ held beliefs, which can cause harm to oneself as well as others. The belief in hard evidence is the best since there are procedures demonstrating the cause of action leading to new opportunities for growth and knowledge. People cannot rely on mystical experience or passion to formulate knowledge about something. Pascal’s argument that human beings have to follow and act on their faith in God in a bid to stay in truth is just a religious construct, which cannot be evidenced. In the contemporary world, deviating from evidentialism is tantamount to losing direction, making irrational decisions, and denying responsibility for one’s actions. For instance, when believers seek God for healing and they end up not recovering, the blame goes to nobody else but themselves. Just as Dole and Chigell (23) indicate, many will claim that it was God’s good will, and thus people should act responsible and seek clinical support as much as they pray for healing. Nonetheless, individuals can preserve religious knowledge to give answers to various beliefs, which cannot be practiced empirically.


This paper reaffirms the need to form a belief about everything with enough evidence. However, as noted earlier, it is highly liberal to consider or believe certain situations when people lack solid evidence about something. For instance, the claim about God’s existence, though evidentialism does not permit it, it is liberally permissible that people believe in such cases despite the lack of enough evidence. This assertion forms religious knowledge and ignoring such averments is no different from being skeptical given that there is no proof that God does not exist.

Works Cited

Dole, Andrew, and Andrew Chignell. God and the Ethics of Belief: New Essays in Philosophy of Religion, New York: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.

Gomberg, Paul. What Should I Believe: Philosophical Essays for Critical Thinking, Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2011. Print.

Reisner, Andrew. “Weighing pragmatic and evidential reasons for belief.” Philosophical Studies 138.1 (2008): 17–27. Print.

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