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The following was first published in the Deseret News. To read the full article, click here.
Sometimes, we face unavoidable decisions without the hard data to prove one choice superior to another. In such cases, since we cannot decide on purely intellectual grounds, we must choose on another basis — if only on hunches, feelings and hope for the best. It’s not ideal, perhaps. But that’s life.
American philosopher Stephen Davis offers a striking illustration in his 1997 book “God, Reason and Theistic Proofs.”
Imagine, he writes, that, “while entering a steep downgrade, a truck driver suddenly discovers that her brakes have failed. The truck is starting to pick up speed and the driver sees that soon she will be in danger. The driver is faced with a choice: She can either immediately jump from the truck, risking bruises and broken bones while escaping the greater danger of a possible crash farther down the hill. Or she can remain in the truck, risking a crash but hoping eventually to guide it down the hill to a level spot. But the driver does not know how long the downgrade is; she cannot see where it ends and this stretch of road is new to her.”
The evidence is ambiguous, her life is at stake and no third option exists.
Of course, Davis isn’t really writing about truck drivers and failed brakes. His discussion draws upon the thinking of the great Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James (d. 1910), and both are actually discussing how to live our lives, a question that — since our lives must be lived — we cannot avoid. How should a religious skeptic answer it, pending personal revelation?
“Religion,” James writes in his classic 1896 essay “The Will to Believe,” “offers itself as a momentous option. We are supposed to gain, even now, by our belief, and to lose by our nonbelief, a certain vital good…”
To read the full article, click here.