According to Richard Carrier, “Apart from just ‘feeling’ that it’s true, or being told so in a dream, or seeing ghosts or hearing voices, and other equally dubious grounds for belief today (you wouldn’t believe such things from any other religion)…” TCD (297).
I’m already commented on this once before, but I want to make some further comments.
i) To begin with, there’s nothing inherently wrong with “just feeling” that something is true. It depends, in part, on what he means by “feeling.” But to take one example, a champion poker player may “just feel” that his opponent is bluffing. And his feelings in that department are pretty reliable. After all, that’s how he got to be a champion poker player: he’s good at reading his opponent.
It would be very hard to explain how he can tell, but he’s clearly doing something right.
Likewise, a great scientist has what they call “physical intuition.” He “just feels” that he’s onto the right explanation, long before he can prove it. Same thing with a great mathematician.
ii) Why does Carrier say we wouldn’t believe someone heard voices “from any other religion”? There’s nothing in Christianity that precludes adherents of other faiths from hearing voices. For instance, Christians quite open to the possibility that the adherent of another religion might be possessed.
iii) What about ghosts? Why is that dubious? Where’s the argument?
iv) Is a dream a “dubious ground for belief today?” Would we disbelieve such a thing “from any other religion”? Why?
I already gave an example from Ruskin. Now I’ll give another example:
Which reminds me of something really strange that happened in 1953. I had come from Nîmes to sing Faust in Rouen and stayed in Paris overnight to get my costume. I had a strange dream. I was walking along a street and a man walking toward me on the opposite side crossed over and tore off the front of my dress. Half undressed and very embarrassed, I tried to cover myself. The next night I had the same dream.
I sang Faust the following evening, and in the last act, when Marguerite, now mad, is in prison for killing her baby, I wore a sort of thin nightdress that floated around me, and as I moved toward Faust, a voice from the hall exclaimed,
“What a beautiful bosom.”
It caused a murmur of laughter and embarrassed me into trying to cover the area in question with the long hair from my wig. After the performance, the dresser opened the door of my dressing room to a gentleman blushing with embarrassment, who asked my pardon for the remark that had escaped him. And it was exactly the man from my dream. In shock, I asked if he knew me, if he had ever seen me before. No.
Regine Crespin, On Stage, Off Stage: a Memoir (Northeastern University Press 1997), 260-61.
i) Is this a “dubious grounds for belief”? To begin with, the question is ambiguous. Dubious for whom? The dreamer? Or a second party who heard about the dream? Surely these are separate issues.
Suppose Crespin had the experience she relates. Should she doubt her experience? What, exactly, is there to doubt? That she had the dream? That what happened corresponded to the dream?
If a dreamer has what clearly seems to be a predictive dream, wouldn’t that be reason to regard certain dreams as a potentially reliable source of information about the future? True, you don’t know in advance whether or not a dream is truly predictive, but that’s the case for predictions generally. We only know after the fact if the prediction was true or false. A necessarily retrospective confirmation of the prospective experience or claim.
If, with the benefit of hindsight, a dream clearly seems to be predictive, then isn’t that a credible basis for believing that some dreams can furnish genuine information about the future which is unobtainable by conventional means?
ii) Or is it a question of whether the reader should doubt the dreamer’s self-witness to the dream? If so, that’s a fair question, but it’s not a question that answers itself.
iii) Apropos (ii), even on Carrier’s own terms, the reported dream is not a Christian dream. To begin with, Crespin was not a Christian. To the extent that she was even religious, she was probably a pluralist or syncretist. She dabbled in the occult.
Secondly, there’s nothing Christian or even religious about the content of the dream. The dream doesn’t purport to attest any religious or sectarian claim.
iv) In addition, it’s not obvious to me why Crespin would fabricate this incident.
a) What did she have to gain? At the time she wrote her autobiography, she was an established artist, as well as a national celebrity. This anecdote is hardly a way of making a name for herself. By then her career was pretty much behind her.
b) She wasn’t a professional psychic, like Jeane Dixon or Edgar Cayce, who made a living by claiming to have ESP.
c) I don’t think it’s the sort of thing she’d just say to sell books. For one thing, unless she was already a celebrity, no one would buy her book anyway–or even publish her book. And opera buffs would buy her book with or without this anecdote.
If anything helped to sell her book, it was the racy vignettes about her checkered love life, rather than something outré like this.
d) This is the only incident of its kind which she relates in her autobiography. I assume it’s the only example she gives because it’s the only example she had. Put another way, if she were fabricating stuff like this, why stop with one example?
v) Furthermore, her premonition has a rather allegorical character. The “fulfillment” isn’t a carbon copy of the dream. Rather, her dream was a semi-allegorical dream. Not a photograph of the future, but an allegory of the future. Partly literal and partly symbolic.
The parallels are unmistakable, but if she was making this up, why would she invent a predictive dream that is semi-allegorical rather than consistently literal?
For the aforesaid reasons, I, for one, find this a credible report. Of course, I’m open to the possibility that for whatever reason she made it up, but that’s not the most plausible explanation.
While we’re on the subject of premonitions, there’s a YouTube interview of Alec Guinness in which he says he had a premonition about James Dean’s premature demise in an automobile accident. Once again, there’s nothing religious about his claim. One might or might not discount it for other reasons, but not because it has a religious pedigree.