Monday, October 04, 2010


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.


  1. The subject of spiritual knowledge and the reasonable grounds for it is something that atheists and the religious often do not have a good grasp of.

  2. By "premonitions" God speaks to some to lead them to Christ!

    Besides this digression I will tell you of my own experience, one of many I have experienced when bringing the Gospel to others after a premonition.

    First the digression about ESP.

    When, after receiving applause, both my wife holding our first born son and I rose from our seats to introduce him to our Church family on his very first visit to our larger Church family one Lord's Day, I was asked to say something publicly about this new adventure my wife and I were embarking on with him. I said this. Well, my son has been gifted with ESP. He does nothing more than eat, sleep and poopoo these days!

    With that I will tell you about something I experienced years ago in the Philippines. I was invited to go preach at a Church. The travel from where be began to where we would end up took over twelve hours journey by bus, taxi, ferry, walking, taxi and bus to the destination. We began on one island and ended up on another island.

    During the walking period, during the heat of the day, it was very hot that day, our guide suggested we take some time off and rest at his mother's house which wasn't far away and just down by a river area where there was plenty of cool air and breezes in the shape of these massive trees. Off we went down this footpath. Oh, this man's mother wasn't a Christian. She was a devout Catholic.

    Well, after a bit of a hike we came out into a clearing and in the middle of this clearing was a house. We entered the house and I was taken to a room to rest. I was left alone in that room for about 10 minutes, waiting and wondering why I was left in the room alone. After about 10 minutes a woman walks in and greets me holding out her hand to shake mine. I stand up and shake her hand. Then the guide comes in and begins to introduce his mother to me who has just behind him. As he steps aside and my eyes meet this elderly woman's eyes, she screams, turns and dashing out of the room instantly upon seeing me!

    The guide and his sister, the first woman who came into the room dash out following their mother!

    Now I am there alone again. Now another 10 to 20 minutes goes by and the guide comes back in and says, please, I am sorry for that. My mother would like to come back in now and greet you properly and offer you some cold drinks and other refreshments. But, she also wants to tell you that you have been sent here to speak to her.

    He tenderly calls out and his mother comes back in. I stand as we greet each other shaking hands. She has the strangest appearance about her as she has a servant girl bring some cold drinks and fruits on a plate into the room and sets them down on a table for me to enjoy. This woman then sits down next to me and speaks to me about a dream she had just had that very morning, early, around 4 a.m.. In the dream she was awakened by a man, a foreigner, "me", who was standing at the foot of her bed wearing the exact clothes I was wearing. She was startled awake in the dream. As she laid there she pondered what was it that was happening to her. She said she had been given a sense that she would meet someone "soon", a foreigner, who would give her a message from God.

    Well, needless to say, I did indeed give her a message from God that afternoon. I told her all about Jesus Christ, how He was sent from Heaven to earth to die on the Cross for our sins and be raised up alive again the third day after suffering death and when we turn to Him He will forgive us of all our sins!

    As I recall, she did not convert that day to Biblical Christianity, but, over a period of time, I was told, she did turn and accept Christ fully Who He is, discarding her Roman Catholic beliefs and practices.

  3. Regarding predictive dreams, my mother had one around the time she was leaving Romania as a younger woman. She had a dream that she was working out in a field and some boy, a relative of hers, came to her and told her that his mom wanted to speak with her. Then she goes out in the field that day and the thing happens.