Behind all the questions one may ask about the
meaning of life or any other major issue, this one
reigns supreme: Why should anyone believe anything at
all? In short, what makes any belief worthy to be
believed? Let's put the question in a different form.
What characteristic should every belief have? Here
are two possible answers.
Why Should Anyone Believe
Anything At All?
James W. Sire
1. CERTAINTY: All things considered, we'd like our
beliefs to feel certain.
To be sure, we do feel certain about a lot of our
beliefs. We are, for example, certain that we live in
a physical world external to our mind. We are certain
that we have or have had parents. We are certain that
we will die someday. It would be hard seriously to
doubt any one of these beliefs. (Descartes managed to
do so for a short time, of course. But that's another
Other beliefs seem certain until we think about them.
For example, that we have enough money in our bank to
pay this month's bills, that Prague is in
Czechoslovakia, that salt is sodium chloride. But
each one might be wrong. In fact one of them is
(there is no longer any Czechoslovakia). And we know
how to find out if these particular beliefs are
Finally, some of our beliefs are more easily doubted
and less easily checked for accuracy. Take, for
example, that God exists (or does not exist), or that
human beings were created by God (or were merely the
chance product of the universe doing its thing), or
that all human beings will exist after death, either
with God and his people, or without God and with
others who have rejected him.
Still, many of us are indeed certain about our
beliefs and are willing to die clinging to them. But
notice something about certainty. It does not
If it's the feeling of certainty we are after in our
beliefs, we may not have much of a problem
maintaining it. We can just believe, never question
our beliefs, play our Walkman or watch television
when we begin to wonder about our beliefs, and
generally avoid asking if our beliefs are really the
The problem is that some of our beliefs may be false.
What if there were a God who required us to
acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, that if we did
not we would spend eternity in a rather unpleasant
place? Certainty is not the primary quality we should
seek in our beliefs. Our beliefs should not just be
certain, but true.
2. TRUTH: If our beliefs are true, then they
accurately reflect the way things really are. We no
longer live in a world of fantasy or wishfulness, but
in the world that is really there. True beliefs allow
us to act responsibly. If, for example, it is true
that there is a God who requires something of us,
then we can act accordingly. The issue, then, is not
am I certain that there is a God but is there a God?
And if so, what does he require of me in
This difference between "certainty" and "truth" is
not a quibble. On it hangs the difference between
eternal joy and eternal suffering. The fact is, we
may be certain that there is no life after death but
discover after death that we do indeed continue to
exist and, because we have not even believed in God,
let alone in Jesus, that life after death is agony.
Still, though we have distinguished "certainty" from
"truth," we have not yet considered how we can make a
good judgment about what specifically is true. "Why
should we believe anything at all?" That question we
answer by saying, "Because it's true." But, then, how
can we tell whether something is true or not? This
must be a question for another time.
If you'd like to study this issue further, take a
look at one or more of the following books. They each
help answer the question of how we can know whether
or not something is true.
James W. Sire, Why Should Anyone Believe Anything
at All? (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press,
Basil Mitchell, The Justification of Religious
Belief (New York: Oxford University Press,
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:
J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987).
James W. Sire, who contributed this
article, was for many years a senior editor at
InterVarsity Press and a campus lecturer for
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Hosted by
InterVarsity Press ©2002 James W. Sire and
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Permission
kindly granted to Faith and Reason Forum by