Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The varieties of religious experience

***QUOTE***

INTERLOCUTOR SAID:

Steve,

I was hoping you would allow me to finish my original comment before responding (I noted that I ran out of time in the middle of it).

I wasn't asking how a religious experience can be an argument. Instead, I was making the point that you state in your # 15 and #16 above (viz. that it is possible to mistake the nature of the experience).

***END-QUOTE***

i) This isn’t just a private conversation between you and me. This is a public forum. I write for the benefit of others, as well as you.

Even if some of my answers aren’t answers to your questions, they may be answers to questions which others may have.

I reserve the right to comment on whatever I want, whenever I want.

ii) I’d add that some of my distinctions, beyond #15-16, are relevant to your own questions.

***QUOTE***

In your first post, you pasted a definition of religious experience. It read:

“Let’s define an ‘experience’ as simply an event or occurrence that one consciously lives through (whether as a direct participant or as an observer) and about which one has feelings, opinions, and memories. Let’s define the term ‘religious experience’ quite broadly, that is, as any experience which one *takes to be religious*,” S.

This definition would obviously include Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, etc. As long as there is some kind of experience (i.e. an event or occurrence that one consciously lives through . . . and about which one has feelings, opinions, and memories) and a person "takes [that experience] to be religious," then a religious experience has occurred.

***END-QUOTE***

1,Yes, this initial definition is broad enough to cover both veridical and non-veridical religious experience, or Christian and non-Christian religious experience.

2.Remember, I don’t deny that a non-Christian can have a veridical religious experience.

What I deny is that a non-Christian can have a redemptive religious experience—unless the effect of that experience is to convert him to the Christian faith.

***QUOTE***

[This definition is, of course, different from the one you adopted above when defining a "veridical experience." Here you say, "For purposes of this discussion, I’m defining religious experience as an experience of God—a way of experiencing the existence and/or nature of God." I'm still working with your first definition.]

***END-QUOTE***

Yes, because you’re primarily interested in the question of veridicality, so to address that question, we need to move to a narrower definition.

This doesn’t obviate the broader definition. But the level of the definition is pegged to the level of the question.

Your protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, my initial response was responsive to the point you’re driving at. You are, in fact, going beyond the preliminary definition to pose a more discriminating question.

***QUOTE***

Now, my question was not about how to turn an experience into an argument for anyone else, but rather, how the religious believer takes that religious experience him/herself.

In a previous post, you wrote, "To put it another way, I’d distinguish between the reasons I have for what I believe, and the reasons I’d give an outsider." In the context the reasons you have for what you believe are religious experiences--you wrote, "For much of what we believe is a result of experience. We form our beliefs at a largely subliminal level."

So, much of what you believe is the result of your religious experience. My question is not how you can turn that into an argument, but rather, how you can contend that yours are indeed "religious" experiences and not psychological experiences when you discover that other people have religious experiences that you believe to be "false."

***END-QUOTE***

1.Except that you do want to promote the experience to the level of an argument. Only, in this case, you want the believer to have an argument for his own sake. How can he explain to himself that his religious experience is veridical?

Your demand still amounts to an argument, even though the argument is not intended to persuade anyone else.

2.But you’re also failing to consider the distinction I drew in #11. You are implicitly operating with an internalist constraint on knowledge, according to which the subject can only know God by experience if he can explain how his religious experience is veridical.

I deny your internalist constraint on knowledge.

***QUOTE***

In other words, imagine that you go to church this Sunday and therefore "place yourself in a religious environment." During that service, the pastor reads a text of Scripture and asks the congregation to engage in prayer about this text before he begins his (I'm assuming your church pastor has to be a "him" and not a "her") sermon. During that prayer, you have a "religious experience" (I don't know your particular understanding of the nature of religious experiences, but assume that whatever it is, it is an experience that is in accord with your theology of religious experience). This religious experience had the result of further convincing you that your Christian faith was valid.

***END-QUOTE***

1.As a matter of fact, I don’t delimit the possibility of a religious experience to a formally religious setting.

My immediate point, in context, is that you have unbelievers who justify their unbelief by appeal to their religious inexperience. Yet they go out of their way to avoid a religious environment. So their appeal is circular.

It’s not that you can only have a religious experience in church. But if you make a concerted effort to avoid the Bible, or the company of Christians, &c, and then complain about your lack of religious experience, there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at work: Your absence of religious experience is not unrelated to absenting yourself from a religious environment.

There isn’t a one-to-one correlation. But there is a correlation.

2.I think it’s quite possible to have a religious experience outside of a formally religious setting.

For example, I think the argument from design is a form of the argument from religious experience. It’s possible for a Buddhist or Taoist or Communist or Hindu or Mormon or Mohammedan or Nazi or Baal-worshiper to experience God in nature. But that’s not a redemptive experience.

Likewise, it’s possible for an atheist to experience God in nature. But he refuses to identify his experience as a religious experience. He reinterprets and misinterprets his experience in naturalistic terms.

***QUOTE***

So, you have had this religious experience. In talking with a Muslim, however, you find that he went to his mosque, read a text of Scripture, prayed over it, and also had a "religious experience"--remember that I am using your original definition so that any event or occurrence about which one has thoughts and takes to be religious is a religious experience. Like your experience, this experience convinces the Muslim of the validity of the Islamic faith.

***END-QUOTE***

Yes, I agree with you that according to the original definition (a la Davis), both incidents could be classified as examples of religious experience. I haven’t retracted the original definition.

Yet you want to go beyond that to press the question of veridicality. And I’m happy to address that question as well.

But that’s a narrower question. The original definition was deliberately undiscriminating. It was framed in such a way as to be neutral on the question of veridicality.

So, to answer your question, we do need to shift to a narrower definition.

My problem is when religious experience is defined in narrowly mystical terms.

***QUOTE***

My question is not how the two of you will argue about whose experience was "genuine" and whose was not, but rather, how YOU will justify to yourself that YOUR experience was genuine and the Muslim's was false.

***END-QUOTE***

Actually, you’ve folded two questions into one.

1.The first question goes back to the issue of internalism. Is it possible for the subject to have a veridical religious experience unless he can demonstrate the veridicality of his experience?

Once again, I deny your internalist constraint. We have many veridical experiences, religious or otherwise, which we may be in no position to prove.

Knowing x, and knowing how I know x, are two different things as far as I’ve concerned.

2.As to how I’d show that a Muslim’s religious experience is non-veridical, that depends, in part, on the specificity of the experience.

i) Not every religious experience is a sectarian religious experience. It may be a more generic religious experience, like the apprehension of God’s existence from our encounter with the natural world.

ii) Regarding your particular example, it’s quite possible to show that his experience of the Koran does not and cannot validate the Koran, for the object of his experience can be (and has been) falsified on other grounds.

***QUOTE***
As I mentioned in my previous post, you have many options. You can simply deny that the Muslim had the experience. You could say their experience was the result of a demon. [I don't think that you would say the experience really was of God in this case, though, since it validated the Islamic faith.]

***END-QUOTE***

In principle, these are all viable options, and in some cases they may be applicable. But I don’t need to exercise any of these options to sustain my position.

***QUOTE***

Another option, however, would be to say, "It seems that people can have experiences that they take to be religious that are really only psychological experiences. So, you read the Bible, and the Holy Spirit convinces you of the truth of it via a religious experience. A Muslim reads the Quran and is convinced of the truth of it via another religious experience. You could say that the Muslim's religious experience is psychological and yours is religious, but could you not also conclude that there are psychological experiences that people take to be religious and that you cannot be certain on the basis of the religious experience alone that yours is not one of those psychological experiences.

***END-QUOTE***

i) You’re now confounding knowledge with certainty. Knowing something, and being certain about what I know, are two different things.

I may know something because I read about it in a reliable source. I remember what I know, but I no longer remember the source.

And so I may begin to doubt whether I know what I believe because I can’t recall how I came to learn about it.

ii) For me to be certain, I may have to go outside my experience. But an external check is not a prerequisite for the veridicality of my experience.

***QUOTE***

In short, if "much of what [you] believe is a result of experience," how do you know that the experiences that you "take to be religious" are not merely psychological experiences instead of true, religious experiences?

***END-QUOTE***

As before, we need to distinguish between the “can I know/do I know?” question and the “how can I know?” question.

To answer the question of *how* I know my experience is (or is not) veridical, I will need to go beyond the bare experience.

***QUOTE***

Perhaps, you have a particular "religious" experience with the Bible because of how that book is viewed by society and your community (e.g. it is sworn on in courts because it is thought to have some binding power over people, people revere it, it is the center of religious ceremonies, etc). How do you rule this out as a possible explanation of your experience and take that experience, instead, to ground "much of what [you] believe"?

***END-QUOTE***

See above.

***QUOTE***

It seems to me, that to answer this question, you must go beyond experience to arguments. If your experience is justified with arguments, however, then the true ground of your beliefs are not the experiences per se, but the arguments underlying those experiences.

***END-QUOTE***

This piggybacks on your persistent, methodological error. You fail to distinguish between the grounding of knowledge and the grounding of certitude.

Yes, to answer your question, as you’ve chosen to frame it, we must go from experience to a supporting argument. But that’s a second-order question. A belief *about* what I know (or don’t know) as a result of experience.

***QUOTE***

If this is the case, then you, like exapologist, could be said to base your beliefs on arguments. If these arguments become no longer convincing to you, then it seems your beliefs (i.e. your faith) would falter.

***END-QUOTE***

Excepting that it isn’t the case for all the reasons I’ve been giving in this post and the last.

***QUOTE***

You, on the other hand, say that "much of what [you] believe is a result of experience." It appears, however, that these experiences must have an argument that grounds them. So, how is your story different than Exapologist's?

***END-QUOTE***

See above.

17 comments:

  1. i) This isn’t just a private conversation between you and me. This is a public forum. I write for the benefit of others, as well as you.

    Even if some of my answers aren’t answers to your questions, they may be answers to questions which others may have.

    I reserve the right to comment on whatever I want, whenever I want.


    I will consider myself rebuked. :-) Sorry to presume.

    ***

    I'm failing to see the subtle distinctions that you are making in this discussion. I'll chalk my lack of understanding up to my own inability and not trouble you further for a more detailed explanation.

    This is how I thought everything was unfolding:

    1) You took Exapologist to say that one of the main reasons that he stopped believing in Christianity was that he saw a failure in the arguments for Christianity.

    2) You said that this could not be the case for you because you have many reasons to believe in the God of Christianity. You divided these reasons into (at least) two types: (a) arguments (b) religious experiences.

    3) I took you to mean that you base your faith on both of these and that these do not overlap.

    4) I wondered how religious experience could offer a basis of belief if it was not also, itself, in an argument (thereby, making all of your faith grounded on argument). I questioned this because:

    (i) Other people have experiences they take to be religious, but that you may (or may not) consider to be "truly" religious (i.e. you don't consider them to be experiences in which they encounter the only, true, living God).

    (ii) The fact that others have religious experiences (in the broad sense you describe) seems to demand that you reflect on your own experiences and question whether or not they were "true" religious experiences (i.e. they are encounters with the only, true, living God) or whether they are false like the experiences of others.

    5) In order to verify those experiences, however, you would need to base that on other things (presumably arguments). In this sense, I thought that your faith was also based entirely on arguments like the view you attribute to Exapologist.

    I'm sure you thoroughly answered this objection in your post. Again, I blame my lack of understanding on my own inabilities. I just fail to see the distinctions.

    Imagine a world in which I was raised in Saudi Arabia and, quite naturally, became a Muslim. During my lifetime, I had many experiences that I took to be religious. There were moments at mosque, when I considered the teachings of Muhammed, when I spoke with an imam, etc.

    One day, a Christian missionary happened along and asked me about my faith. I said that it was based on arguments and my own religious experiences. The Christian missionary carefully reviewed my arguments and demonstrated them to be false. I tell the missionary, though, "That's fine, but my faith is also based on my many religious experiences. Those experiences are not based on arguments."

    How would the missionary respond? I know you said this was context dependent (e.g. faith in the Koran brought about by religious experience that can be challenged on other grounds), but this seems to take us right back to my question.

    For example, you have a religious experience upon which you (partly) ground your faith in the Christian Bible. Someone challenges your experience of the Bible in the way that you challenge the Muslim's experience of the Koran. Someone points out that prophecies were not fulfilled. What good are the religious experiences at this point?

    Anyway, as I mentioned, you've probably answered it all in this post and I am just not able to understand what you mean. You are right to point out that this isn't a "private conversation between you and me" so I do not look for a further response if you feel that you have already answered all of this and I have simply misunderstood.

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  2. My religious experiences are daily occurances, and a testament to my faith.

    On a daily basis the Spirit talks to me, and I respond.

    On a daily basis, I speak in spiritual tongues, and can heal illnesses of my loved ones with words of Power.

    You can't refute the power of prayer!

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  3. Steve,

    I get the distinct impression now after reading a lot of your posts that you use technical/philosophical language to obscure your arguments. I don't know whether that's a conscious choice or not, but this post is a good example of needlessly ornate forms getting in the way of an idea.

    If my Mormon neighbor comes to me and tells me about his visitation by the Angel Moroni, testifying *explicitly* to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the status of Joseph Smith Jr. as a prophet of God, what would you tell him was actually happening?

    In your post, you said:
    2.As to how I’d show that a Muslim’s religious experience is non-veridical, that depends, in part, on the specificity of the experience.

    i) Not every religious experience is a sectarian religious experience. It may be a more generic religious experience, like the apprehension of God’s existence from our encounter with the natural world.

    ii) Regarding your particular example, it’s quite possible to show that his experience of the Koran does not and cannot validate the Koran, for the object of his experience can be (and has been) falsified on other grounds.


    Now, with respect to my Mormon friend, you suggested that his experience may be shown to be (i) non-specific or (ii) otherwise disproven.

    As far as specificity, go ask your friendly Mormon neighbor, and you'll learn that they specifically have the truth of the Book of Mormon validated by what they claim to be a veridical experience.

    Relating that back to your argument that if you have positive knowledge of snow, no ignorance of snow can deny this positive knowledge. So here, the Mormon is saying "I have truth" -- "I have direct knowledge of snow". Since that's the case, it seems you've given the Mormon a powerful defense, as it's own you claim for yourself.

    As for being falsified elsewhere, on what grounds would the Bible, Qur'an or the Book of Mormon be falsified? I thought the whole point of this was that the external arguements *weren't* conclusive? If the external arguments aren't conclusive, then you've got yourself chasing your tail; if "other grounds" exist, and they are experiential, then those experiential evidences have the same doubt cast on them as the experience we began with -- the Muslim's veridical experience viz. Allah and the Qur'an, and the Mormon's veridical experience viz. the Book of Mormon.

    As near as I can tell, then, the argument winds up simply with naked assertions of "other grounds", grounds not specified. Rejection on grounds of specificity wouldn't make sense for the Mormon who received a "testimony" of the truth of the Book of Mormon, unless you're prepared to allow that such a "tetimony" might be true.

    But I wonder how you would reject the Mormon's experience as different than your own then. What are these other grounds?

    It seems your whole argument would depend on that.

    -Touchstone

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  4. Touchstone said above:

    "Steve,

    I get the distinct impression now after reading a lot of your posts that you use technical/philosophical language to obscure your arguments."

    DING DING DING DING!!!!

    We have a winner for the "Most obvious observation of the Day" Award.

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  5. "Relating that back to your argument that if you have positive knowledge of snow, no ignorance of snow can deny this positive knowledge. So here, the Mormon is saying "I have truth" -- "I have direct knowledge of snow". Since that's the case, it seems you've given the Mormon a powerful defense, as it's own you claim for yourself.

    As for being falsified elsewhere, on what grounds would the Bible, Qur'an or the Book of Mormon be falsified? I thought the whole point of this was that the external arguements *weren't* conclusive? If the external arguments aren't conclusive, then you've got yourself chasing your tail; if "other grounds" exist, and they are experiential, then those experiential evidences have the same doubt cast on them as the experience we began with -"


    They undermine themselves.

    They claim to be in the line of succession from *our* revelation.

    Based upon this concession, all one needs do is point out how revelation A contradicts revelation B. But B says that if future revelation contradicts previous revelation, then A is false.

    You'll notice that this is an *internal* critique since the Mormon says they hold to *both* A and B. That's what *they* say. That's *their* claim. Hence the critique would be internal.

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  6. Paul,

    You said:

    You'll notice that this is an *internal* critique since the Mormon says they hold to *both* A and B. That's what *they* say. That's *their* claim. Hence the critique would be internal.


    It's manifestly *not* internal if you are the one judging if A and B are in conflict. I'm not sure which particular revelations you are talking about, but if you *are* providing an internal critique -- taking what *they* assert -- then I'd be very surprised if they told you they identified a conflict between A and B.

    What I see happening here is you are "helping yourself" to the internals of their argument. I think you'd complain if Exapologist told you your internal argument for Christianity was false because Jesus didn't come back in 70ad. You would explain, I'm sure, that that's not how you read it, just as the Mormon would explain that they see no contradictions internally.

    So is it really an internal critique after all?

    -Touchstone

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  7. At some point here, we're going to simply have to "concede" what Scripture already affirms, namely, that w/o regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.

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  8. I have the distinct impression that Steve Hays is a very frustrated human being.

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  9. Touchstone,

    You asked how the internal critique would be done. I told you.

    Anyway, since only *people* give arguments, then it is always *us* who are doing the judging.

    But this doesn't mean that we can't give valid arguments.

    Anyway, I was just giving the program. How the internal critique is done. I pointed out hoiw it is internal. And it is. Why? Because *they* hold to A and B, and so I (attempt) to take what 8they* hold and then show that what *they* hold leads to a tension between the two.

    Now, of course they won't *admit* that there's a problem. but so what. That's a subjective point you're making. I bet you think you pointed out some things to Steve in the YEC debate. but he doesn't *admit* you showed anything damning to his position. But you think you did. Anyway, see the difference. I think you purposefully try to be obtuse in your posts. You are purposefully ignorant, even though you have no excuse to be so.

    Anyway, I never said that I didn't have to *argue* my case. I do. But that wasn't my post. My post was to tell you *how* the internal critique is done.

    So, exapologist can't just *assert* that there's a problem. But, if he were right, then there'd be an *internal* problem with Christianity. Too bad for him, though, I easily dismantled his argument, showing my position to be internally consistent.

    Likewise, I don't just *assert* an internal problem to the Mormon or the Muslim. I recognize that I must argue for it. But, that does not change the fact that since they both claim to be in the line of descent from the OT (and/or NT), then if I *can show* that something in the OT (and/orNT) contradicts something in their text then I've shown an internal problem.

    I'm really surprised you couldn't grasp this point.

    I'm even more surprised that you seem to imply that something si only an internal critique if the other person *accepts* it as such. So subjective of you.

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  10. Paul,

    That's quite a bit of irony, filling me in on how subjective this stuff is. I got that, a long time ago. You'll notice that I don't claim to have *proved* anything, or have "easily dismantled" anything, an indulgent conclusion you treat yourself to just in this last comment.

    Look, I don't suppose *any* argument is going to put a dent in Steve. I think if that were true, Steve wouldn't say the things he does, in the way that he does. You and Steve have both shown that you are adept in the "Oh yeah, right back atcha", maneuver, so I'm quite ready to hear that Touchstone won't be moved by any arguments either, etc.

    The point is, claiming victory and pronouncing one's argument as superior is just a clear signal to anybody who's thinking about this that you are playing little league ball here. I don't get to declare a *victor*, for I don't see that one might say there *is* such a thing. Some people read it and agree with Steve. Others agree with someone disagreeing with Steve. Others come here and think we are foolish (and they might be the wisest of all!).

    But it's all subjective in this kind of exchange. The only successes we can count are giving a good account of our own faith and views, and reaching understandings with those we discuss with, and who read the exchange.

    I know you see yourself as an some kind of Elijah whose arguments set the water on fire, at which point you feel entitled to mockery and self-congratulation. But it looks silly to someone who's not convinced you are Elijah. The don't see the water burning, or smell any smoke. They just see you acting like it was, so much wishful thinking.

    That's your right. It's all subjective. But I assure you I understand that nothing is proven hereby, and I don't get to be the judge of who "won" what. I just want to give a good, honest clear account of my faith as I'm able.

    The rest will take care of itself. No need to *ever* claim victory. If I've done well, I won't need to mention it.

    -Touchstone

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  11. ripple_effect11/30/2006 7:19 AM

    I point the finger of TRUTH at you, PAUL MANATA!!!!

    You are a deceiver!!!!

    And such will not inherit the kingdom.

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  12. Touchstone,

    Exactly. I know you are a Christian, but we agree about what arguments can do, and how that the way Manata uses an "internal critique" isn't what he thinks it is.

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  13. Touchstone said:
    ---
    But it's all subjective in this kind of exchange.
    ---

    Objectively so?

    Subjectivists are so much fun. In order to be consistent, they can't argue; as soon as they argue, they prove they don't believe in subjectivism.

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  14. Calvindude,

    I don't quite understand your point. It sounds more like a word game.

    Could you please explain how we know what is objective, and what is subjective, in these sorts of discussions?

    thank you.

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  15. Gentle:

    The simplest way to explain it is this.

    Objective truth is truth an the object level. Subjective truth is truth on the subject level.

    Subjects perceive objects. So there's a link between the subject-knower and the object-known. Truth restricted to the subject does not alter the object. Truth for the object, however, is true for all subjects too (even if they do not believe this to truth).

    Put it this way. An apartment building is on fire. A subject inside the building believes that the building (the object in the illustration) is not on fire. The subject's truth (subjectivism) is that the building is safe; the objective truth is that the building is on fire. The subject's belief does not match the actual state of the object, therefore when the object is consumned, the subject will burn up too.

    So simply speaking: subjective truth is only true for a specific individual; objective truth is true for everyone.

    Therefore, when Touchstone says that these questions actually are subjective, he is saying that they are objectively so. That is, he is saying it is true for everyone that this is subjective truth.

    As such, he is making an objective claim.

    The objective claim, however, is that it is not an objective claim. This is a clear contradiction. He is saying "A is non-A at the same time and in the same relationship."

    That was what my response pointed out.

    I hope this helps :-)

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  16. Clarification:
    ---
    So simply speaking: subjective truth is only "true" for a specific individual; objective truth is true for everyone.
    ---

    I forgot the quotes on the "true" there ;-) After all, a person's belief in something (his subjective truth) does not make it actually true, even though he believes it is true.

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  17. thanks calvindude, that helped. I'm new to this sort of stuff. A friend pointed me at this blog a few days ago. I've never seen so many angry believers and unbelievers before.

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