Believing ‘that’ vs. ‘believing in’. Swinburne first considers what it means to believe something. He notes that traditionally a distinction is made between ‘believing that’ and ‘believing in’. The former can be characterized as asserting a proposition, the latter as ‘making the assumption that’ or ‘trusting that’. Swinburne notes that ‘believing that’ does not necessarily require a particularly strong belief ‘that’. For example, if I judged it 55% likely that Candidate A will win the election and 45% likely that Candidate B will win the election, surely I believe that Candidate A will win. Nonetheless, I also acknowledge a significant probability that Candidate A will not win—that Candidate B, rather, will win. The strength of my belief that such-and-such is true can become weaker still if there are more options. For example, say there are Candidates A, B, C, and D vying for some political post. I may believe that Candidate A will win (that is, Candidate A has a better chance than the remaining three) and yet there be a greater than 50% chance that one of Candidates B, C, or D will win. (Say I believe that Candidate A has a 40 percent chance of winning and Candidates B, C, and D each have a 20% chance of winning). Swinburne judges that this has implications for Christian (or any) religious belief: one can believe that Christianity is true (relative to other religious options) but still acknowledge a strong probability that one is wrong in holding that belief. Swinburne’s discussion of ‘believing in’ is even more illuminating. One can ‘believe in’ or ‘trust in’ or ‘make the assumption that’ even if the ‘belief that’ is fairly weak, and be perfectly rational in doing so. Swinburne provides an example involving an Englishman lost in Turkey. The Englishman may stop a passing Turk and ask for directions (in English) of where such-and-such a place is. The Englishman may judge it very unlikely that the passing Turk speaks English, but is willing to ‘make the assumption’ that the Turk speaks English so that he can achieve his goal of getting to such-and-such a place. Once again we see the possibility of ‘making the assumption that’ being rational even if the ‘belief that’ is fairly weak. So-what makes adopting a religious way (e.g., Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam) a rational decision?
“I suggest that only that sort of life would be worth having forever. Only a task which made continued progress for its own sake but which would take infinite time to finish would be worth doing forever; only a situation which was ever more worth having would be worth living forever. The growing friendship of a friendship with a God who, if he is of the sort pictured by Christian theology, has ever new aspects of Himself to reveal…..would provide a life worth living forever…” pp. 181
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Latter Day Inkling is a U.S.-based research psychologist for the military. He is especially interested in epistemology and natural theology.