Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clark and company on the epistemology of Mormon religious experience

Clark and his interlocutors have carried on some of the discussion of religious experience, and in particular Mormon religious experience, on this page. Very nice discussion that can, of course, be applied outside of a Mormon context.

Part of what is behind some of Clark's arguments are the ambiguities in understanding a text. I don't know if he would subscribe to Nietzsche's dictum, "There are no facts, only the interpretations of facts." To which I would have said, had I been able to answer Nietzsche, "Is that a fact?"

But I would like to ask under what circumstances religious experience might fail to establish a claim. Under what circumstances might I want to say "Yeah, my feelings tell me p, but I really need to accept not-p." I'd have to scroll through a bunch of stuff to find it, but I thought Clark said that someone couldn't use religious experience to confirm a conviction that YEC is true, given the weight of the evidence against it. Of course one can, if necessary, accept all the scientific evidence for evolution and be a creationist, by accepting a version of Gosse's Omphalos. (God created the world in six days with fake evidence for evolution built in). So where are the limits on appeal to experience. I didn't think I saw anyone come in from that angle, so maybe that's a place for me to start.


Clark Goble said...

Just like the verificational principle for the positivists wasn't self defeating the claim that there are only interpretations isn't either. Especially if one can provide more circumstantial evidence. That's not to say there might not be other attacks foundationalists can make on the anti-foundationalists. But I don't think the obvious ones work.

Of course I know you were being somewhat tongue in cheek. Just thought I'd note that for other readers.

Nietzsche certainly would agree his claim there are no facts just interpretations is itself an interpretation. And the approach to epistemology I've largely taken is Peircean. And Peirce puts forth his ideas as hypothesis to falsify in the long run. That is one can't taken them as self-refuting since they don't claim to be an objective a priori truth.

Jason said...

{{But I would like to ask under what circumstances religious experience might fail to establish a claim.}}

Did Clark answer that yet? (His comment doesn't seem to address it...)

Clark Goble said...

Sorry, I was going to answer it on my blog but just haven't had time yet. Hopefully today.

JD Walters said...

Anyone interested in the implications of religious experience for evaluating religious truth claims should definitely read Luke Timothy Johnson's "Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity". It's a sadly neglected classic, and the first two chapters are especially relevant to this thread of discussion.

Jason said...

Clark seems to offer a reply, or the preliminary to a reply, here.

My own (possibly preliminary {s}) reply, now posted in that thread, is as follows (with slight modifications).

Clark, in his post, wrote, among other things: {{Over at Dangerous Idea there was a request to deal with where religious experiences fail. [...] My sense is that some are looking for fixed rules _in advance_ for how to decipher a religious experience and judge it. However from my perspective the whole point is that there [are] no such rules. [...] Further for someone say who isn't a Mormon, how should they decide? After all the Mormon set of checks and balances is irrelevant for them. [...] But of course the question then becomes, for a Mormon, how does one judge spiritual experiences. I think that in practice as a practical matter Mormons embrace a kind of four point set of checks and balances. You have personal inspiration but as a check on that are the scriptures, the living prophets (LDS think there are still apostles and prophets), and then empirical evidence (science, history, and so forth). Typically if you find disagreements between them then at a minimum the personal inspiration is called into question. This doesn't necessarily mean it is fully rejected. But it certainly puts the bar of evidence higher.}}

Not that I don't appreciate Clark's reply to us (and not that I can't sympathize with it personally in various ways), but I also think it's important to keep in mind the original context of the request over here, in evaluating his reply.

The prior context was explicitly, and has continuously been, directed toward the question of spiritual experience _in becoming a Mormon at all_.

Clark's answer, as thoughtful as it is, simply disconnects from the original context of the question. Or, put another way, by the terms of his reply no Mormon should be or even could be responsibly expected to be a Mormon now.

In advance of becoming a Mormon, by what criteria is someone supposed to evaluate a 'religious experience' occuring while praying over the Book of Mormon (even leaving aside the question of trumping objections thereby)? Because such experiences _are_ being proffered as data for reasonably _becoming_ Mormons.

This is why Clark has a sense that some are looking for rules in advance for how to decipher a religious experience and judge it. It's because the topical context seems to require (or even tacitly presumes) such a thing.

The "whole point" of his reply to Victor (and others, including myself), then, on this topic, would seem to be: there are no such rules for evaluating the religious experience that is being recommended to seek as grounds for becoming a Mormon, and even what criteria might exist for such a thing only obtains once someone is _already_ a Mormon. The Mormon set of checks and balances is irrelevant to a non-Mormon who is being encouraged (and even expected) to seek a religious experience as help to being convinced of specifically Mormon truth claims.

But this would seem to be highly problematic to the legitimacy of spiritual experience as an evangelical appeal, especially when it is also recognized that a 'religious experience' per se doesn't necessarily entail a communication from God (or even one that has been properly understood in content).

(Or, perhaps Clark hasn't actually addressed an answer to Victor's question yet, the appearance of his introduction notwithstanding, but is only prepping for it, first by discussing this in distinction for sake of comparison and contrast? Victor, by context, is talking about becoming a Mormon in the first place, when he asks, "Under what circumstances might I want to say 'Yeah, my feelings tell me p, but I really need to accept not-p.'")

Jason Pratt