It is widely believed that the more objective we can be, the more likely we will arrive at the truth. Facts are good, and feelings are bad. Therefore, it is argued, we should not let our wants, needs, or desires affect what we believe.
As we’ll see below, some emotions do undermine reasoning, but in chapter 4 of Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith, Clifford Williams maintains that in certain circumstances, having certain emotions are needed to determine what to believe, specifically in those situations where truth or facts are closely connected to need or human emotion.
He provides a number of examples to demonstrate how sometimes having emotions and desires is required to decide what to believe. For example, the desire and ability to be sensitive to other people’s discomfort and to feel their pain is necessary to understand many situations. We all know people who have highly developed reasoning abilities who yet can miss out on what is true in a situation and what response they should have because they cannot feel sympathy with others’ painful situations. But having or sensing a need moves us to a more accurate assessment of the evidence.
The objectivist in that situation does not come to better conclusions because they keep emotion out of it. Indeed, it’s quite the reverse, certain emotions are needed to rightly assess and reason about a situation. Similarly, as believing in God involves satisfying need, we must have certain feelings and desires, before we can come to believe in God. Thus, having needs moves us to a more accurate assessment of the evidence.
Three Emotions That Undermine Reasoning
Williams goes further and identifies three emotions that undermine reasoning and assessment of evidence, feelings that must be replaced with their opposite emotion:
1. A exclusive focus on the sensual world needs to be replaced with an interest in the eternal and the spiritual world.
2. Selfish pride that resents any challenge to personal autonomy needs to be replaced with a humble sense of need.
3. A rejection of the moral values that God perfectly possesses (e.g. forgiveness) must be replaced with an embrace and high valuation of these moral values.
Emotion + Knowledge
Williams basic point is that sometimes knowledge produces emotion, sometimes emotion produces knowledge, and often they are inseparably intertwined. And when it comes to believing in God and other spiritual truths, it cannot be done without certain emotions being felt. As we are creatures of both reason and need, “neither logical rationality nor need rationality alone is sufficient for faith in God. The two must coalesce.”