1. ‘Feed my sheep’
Firstly, Christians should argue that God exists as a means of providing pastoral support. Happily, Ed appears to agree with me here, at least to some extent, though I don’t think he wants to go all the way with me just yet. Thomas is worried. He’s heard people like Richard Dawkins say the religion is a delusion and that Christian’s faith is irrational. He’s learned that a large majority of professional philosophers are atheists. So he thinks to himself: am I deluded? Is this religion stuff all an irrational and pathetic waste of my time? Thomas, in short, doubts. He is anxious, finds it difficult to pray in private, and feels distant in public worship. What would help Christian?
Maybe many of strategies would help Thomas. But one obvious strategy is to provide him directly with reasons for thinking that he is not, in fact, deluded. This should alleviate anxiety and bring him greater confidence in prayer. I do not say that it definitely will do that; but as long as there’s a fair probability that it will, then it’s worthwhile to develop philosophical arguments for that purpose.
Ed worries that if arguments are used to bolster Thomas’s faith, then Christian will come to think that his faith stands or falls by those arguments, and, since theistic arguments, like so many philosophical arguments, are open to all kinds of objections, this will leave Christian’s faith permanently vulnerable.
Surely the answer to this worry, however, is simply to put the arguments in a appropriate perspective. ‘Look Thomas’, Sophia might say, ‘here are some reasons to think that you aren’t deluded after all. The reason won’t move everyone, but I’m afraid that’s how it is in the world of ideas. They’re sensible reasons, though, which many smart people are moved by. Your faith is not silly. But nor is it ultimately about these philosophical speculations, but rather about knowing God by worshiping Him. Return with confidence before the altar, therefore, and find that your faith has healed you’.
2. ‘Make disciples of all nations’.
What I want to say here is very much in line with what I have said above. Philosophical arguments often play some role in bringing people to faith. Now I don’t think they are ever sufficient, or always necessarily: just that they are often helpful. Dennis thinks ‘I am attracted by the figure of Jesus, I’m moved by the beauty of the liturgy. But I’ve heard from Richard Dawkins that…’ Enter Sophia, making an appropriately amended version of her speech above. Unless some compelling case can be made that Sophia’s speech is rarely of any use in either scenario, then we have good reasons for Christians to develop arguments for the existence of God. I’ve never seen any such compelling case.
3. ‘Let your light shine’
My first two points rest on basically empirical points of pastoral psychology. Are philosophical arguments useful for alleviating doubt and encouraging conversion? I think they probably are, but that’s open to question, and it’s a distinctively psychological question. This final point is more philosophical.
Coherence is a theoretical virtue. The more coherent one’s total theory is – the more inferential connections there are between your beliefs, and the stronger those connections are – the better. But theoretical virtue is a species of virtue, and Christians are called to attain by grace the perfection of all virtues (‘Because Christians have a moral obligation to love the truth, it follows that they cannot finally distinguish between intellectual virtues and religious or moral virtues’ – Bill). One appropriate response to this call is to demonstrate the coherence of a total theory which includes the central claims of the Christian faith, including by offering philosophical arguments for theism.