Friday, January 02, 2009

Should the Principle of Credulity Apply to Religious Experiences?

The principle of credulity states that if it seems to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present. Generally, says Swinburne, it is reasonable to believe that the world is probably as we experience it to be. Unless we have some specific reason to question a religious experience, therefore, then we ought to accept that it is at least prima facie evidence for the existence of God.

Swinburne thinks this argument supports religious belief, but Michael Martin disagrees.

8 comments:

philip m said...

I think Pascal has a quote that goes something like, "If you find something at one point, this means it always is."

For many Christians experience the absence of God as well, like Screwtape points out in his seventh or eighth letter. But quite clearly to say you have never met someone is not to offer evidence that they don't exist; it could be either the case that they do not exist or simply that you have not met yet. That question is settled only for people who then meet the person in question.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Your argument convinces me that Athena is real.

philip m said...

No counter-arguments? Really?

Ilíon said...

Of course not.

'Atheists' generally seem unable to conceive of God as other than one more version of Zeus; they nearly always imagine that "the universe" or "nature" can occupy God's place.

So ... perhaps it's not really that they cannot understand the proper conception of God, but that they *will not* understand it.

Ilíon said...

Amuzingly enough, atheism cannot offer a rational denial that Zeus (or Athena) is real.

Kyle said...

What do we do in the case where one person has an experience of Jehovah, another of Allah, and another of Vishnu? These are mutually exclusive claims, so experience can't support all of them. Maybe, at most, religious experience can confirm the existence of some sort of transcendent reality?

Logical Faith Productions said...

Now the critics seem to suggest a Sceptical Rule (SR):


SR When experiences or claims conflict with one another, we should reject all of them.



Should we adopt the SR instead? I don't think so. Consider the conflict of witnesses in the courts. It would be indeed stupid to reject all their accounts just because they conflict! It seems to be a rational strategy to try to reconcile their reports as much as possible. For example, a common core can be identified. Another example: suppose a phenomenon occurred very briefly which led to conflicting reports: A reported seeing an aeroplane, B a spaceship, and C an air-balloon. It is absurd to suggest that we should reject all their statements and think that nothing has ever happened! At the very least we should accept the common content of their experiences: there is an unidentified flying object. Moreover, historical documents are also liable to massive contradictions. However we don't deduce from this phenomenon that historical enquiry is entirely pointless. The job of the historian is to utilize all these materials to reconstruct the past by harmonizing them without producing too much strain in the overall interpretation. Many historical accounts of a momentous historical event, e.g. China's Cultural Revolution, are contradictory. It is difficult to determine the exact course or nature of this event but it would be preposterous to deny that the Cultural Revolution has happened. All the above examples count against the sceptical policy and show that conflict of presumptive data is not irremediable.



All the religious experiences point to the fact that there is another realm up there or beyond the naturalistic world. So even if religious experiences have internal conflicts, arguably they can still lend support to argument from religious experience insofar as they tilt the balance away from naturalism. However, it is a kind of general support for the religious worldview instead of a specific support for theism at this level.

Logical Faith Productions said...

Now the critics seem to suggest a Sceptical Rule (SR):


SR When experiences or claims conflict with one another, we should reject all of them.



Should we adopt the SR instead? I don't think so. Consider the conflict of witnesses in the courts. It would be indeed stupid to reject all their accounts just because they conflict! It seems to be a rational strategy to try to reconcile their reports as much as possible. For example, a common core can be identified. Another example: suppose a phenomenon occurred very briefly which led to conflicting reports: A reported seeing an aeroplane, B a spaceship, and C an air-balloon. It is absurd to suggest that we should reject all their statements and think that nothing has ever happened! At the very least we should accept the common content of their experiences: there is an unidentified flying object. Moreover, historical documents are also liable to massive contradictions. However we don't deduce from this phenomenon that historical enquiry is entirely pointless. The job of the historian is to utilize all these materials to reconstruct the past by harmonizing them without producing too much strain in the overall interpretation. Many historical accounts of a momentous historical event, e.g. China's Cultural Revolution, are contradictory. It is difficult to determine the exact course or nature of this event but it would be preposterous to deny that the Cultural Revolution has happened. All the above examples count against the sceptical policy and show that conflict of presumptive data is not irremediable.



All the religious experiences point to the fact that there is another realm up there or beyond the naturalistic world. So even if religious experiences have internal conflicts, arguably they can still lend support to argument from religious experience insofar as they tilt the balance away from naturalism. However, it is a kind of general support for the religious worldview instead of a specific support for theism at this level.