Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Doug Jesseph replies to Craig on directly experiencing God

And, now finally, to the question of whether God can be known. Is it possible, peering into one's own mind to find the still small voice that testifies to the existence of God? Here, I think, there is really a problem. A problem for the theist who will hold that he has a reliable, right, route to the truth, a reliable way of determining when God is talking and when not. David Koresh, for example, was firmly persuaded that he was in contact with God. I suspect that most of you would not be...would not welcome, right, the truth of that hypothesis; that he must of been the victim of some deception. But, if the only thing that matters is one's own subjective sense of certainty, that "Yes, this is God talking", it would appear that there is no objective means for determining when someone's religious experiences are correct, when they are veridical, so to speak, when they match up with the way the world is and when they are not.


Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I am convinced that basing one's faith purely on subjective experience with no objective basis is very dangerous. It can ultimately lead one anywhere. I am convinced there are good objective reasons for believing Christianity is true and it is only in the context of that objective truth we can judge whether are subjective experiences are genuinely from God.

Anonymous said...

How do we know David Koresh "was firmly persuaded that he was in contact with God" as opposed to something else (Acting as if he was in contact with God, but not thinking so in the appropriate sense otherwise)? Even if we grant for the sake of argument that Koresh did believe he was "in contact with God", how do we know he believed God was telling him to do or believe, etc, what he did or believed?

It seems like a strange move to appeal to doubts about our own subjective sense of certainty on the basis of an implied sense of certainty about other's subjective beliefs. Not to mention, Jesseph seems to switch from merely 'knowing God' (His mere existence) to 'knowing God... and exactly what He wants from us individually and from everyone generally'. It's not clear that those two things are equal.

unkleE said...

Like Mad Erich, I too think our faith should be based on something objective - as the Bible teaches (e.g. Paul's statements that if Jesus didn't truly rise from the dead, our faith is in vain).

But even if it is true that "that there is no objective means for determining when someone's religious experiences are correct", it may also be true that God can give us as much certainty as humans can have - to deny that would be to deny God's sovereignty.

So human experience is very doubled edged - the sceptic may be right that a particular experience is false, but may be very wrong to think that God cannot communicate in ways he/she as an unbeliever cannot know.

Ken Pulliam said...


I am curious as to your view on this matter. I am sure you have stated previously but I have not seen it.

I personally find this "inner witness" of the Spirit by which Craig claims to know Christianity to be true to be extremely weak.

People know all kinds of things but that doesn't mean the things they think they know are correct.

In Craig's response to Jesseph, he says: ) Finally, can God be known and experienced? Here, Dr. Jesseph asks, "Is this a reliable route to the truth? What about David Koresh?" In the case of David Koresh, we have good reasons to doubt the veridicality of his experiences -- for example, his fanciful hermeneutics and biblical exegesis, which are demonstrably false. So we would have good reasons to doubt that experience. But, in the absence of good arguments for atheism, I don't have any reason to doubt my experience of God, anymore than I have reasons to doubt my experience of the external world. Why should I give up my belief in the reality of the external world, in the absence of good reasons? And why should I give up my belief in God, who is a living and present reality to me, in the absence of good arguments for atheism? I can't see any good reason to.

I am sorry but the belief in an external world and a belief in God, especially the God of the Bible, are not even remotely the same. Craig is comparing apples and oranges.

He knows Koresh is wrong becuase of his "fanciful exegesis." By this Craig is first presupposing that the Bible is the Word of God (how does he know that. Second, he is presupposing that his way of reading the "inspired" text is the correct way and Koresh's is the wrong way (how does he know that?) Perhaps we should take a less extreme example than Koresh. How about Michael Servetus or Ellery Channing? If they claimed to experience God, would that be okay to assume the legitimacy of their claim? What about Joseph Smith and current day Mormons? In reality, I see very little difference in Craig's "inner witness" and the Mormon " burning in the bosom".

Shackleman said...

Ken Says: "[I] know all kinds of things but that doesn't mean the things [I] think [I] know are correct."

There, fixed that for you. :-)

I'll take "Argument from Reason" for $600, Alex. {wink}

Victor Reppert said...

Craig's strategy with the inner witness makes me nervous.

Steven Carr said...

Craig's experience of god amounted to his feeling a lot better after a good cry and then going outside at night time and seeing a lot of stars.

This experience of god that changed his whole life is documented in its banality in his personal testimony.

Anonymous said...

And yet, that inaccurate summary still contains a more intellectually compelling offering than the entire sum of Carr's commentary on these subjects.

Dustin said...

I am sorry but the belief in an external world and a belief in God, especially the God of the Bible, are not even remotely the same. Craig is comparing apples and oranges.


Gregory said...

I think Dr. Craig is pointing out a crucial component to the Old and New Testament witness...namely, the phenomenon of "experiencing" God. From Genesis through Revelation we are presented with case after case of individuals who believed they were experiencing God (i.e. Gen. 15; Exodus 34:29-35; Isa. 6; Matt. 17:1-9; 2 Cor. 12:1-6). And beyond the testimony of Scripture, Church history is littered with individuals who also claimed to "experience" God (i.e. all of the Patristic writers--both Greek and Latin--of the first millenium, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, St. Gregory Palamas, Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, John and Charles Wesley, A.W. Tozer, George MacDonald, St. Seraphim of Sarov, C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Underhill, James Stewart, Rudolph Otto, Vladimir Lossky, Henry Blackaby, J.P. Moreland and Dallas Willard). So, from the standpoint of Christian witness, Dr. Craig is in good company.

However, that still doesn't answer the question of what a "religious" experience is (i.e. as a mode of insights that's distinct from "ordinary" experience)....nor does it answer the epistemic issues involved in the identification of such experiences, if such are possible. I don't have the space here to treat this subject adequately, but I will say that the experience of "doubt" and "uncertainty" comprise a distinct form of religious experience among certain Christian mystics.

See F.C. Happold's "Mysticism: A Study And An Anthology" for more on this.

Gregory said...

I do have a response to Jesseph's paper. He says this:

"The atheist, however, does not have and does not need a particular causative view about where the world came from.....In circumstances where our best available scientific theories are still very much "under construction," it is prudent, I think, to avoid error and not to claim that we know where the world came from." what is wrong with a religious person making a similar claim about God and his/her religious experience? Why can't the proponent of religious experience be allowed to say that their experience of God is brute, needing no explanatory hypothesis supporting the notion that God is "real"? If the atheist is allowed to have a "brute" universe, why can't the Christian have a "brute" God or a "brute" experience?

Secondly, atheists and theists take for granted that there are other minds that "experience" things. Yet, few have found it necessary, or desirable, to call into question the veracity of the belief that there are other "experiencers".

Thirdly, all arguments from "experience", religious or not, are subjective. Here is where the specter of Kant continues to haunt philosophy. A person is simply unable to get outside their own experience (i.e. appearance) and contemplate the world as it really is (i.e. reality). At best, philosophers have had to resort to positing their own subjectivity as, ipso facto, constitutive of reality. Which is why I believe that Analytic Philosophy abandoned traditional philosophical approaches and, instead, devoted it's energies to linguistic inquiries and propositional semantics.

Lastly, I find it very peculiar that Mr. Jesseph would find fault with Dr. Craig's claim (i.e. that, ontologically speaking, ethics depends on God), on the one hand, while acknowledging a prominent atheist who agrees with Dr. Craig's point, on the other!! Which is not to say that Dr. Craig and Dr. Mackie are correct on that point. But it does show that Christian assumptions are not necessary in order to make a rational connection between God and morality. Kant also drew a similar connection in his Ethical treatises.

Too often atheist's misrepresent Dr. Craig's "ground-consequent" argument for God based on morality, by falsely claiming that Dr. Craig is making a negative assessment of the behavior of atheists. This is beyond absurd.

I can even hear Plato, beyond the grave, say:

"The Sophists you will always have with you..."

Gregory said...

I meant to say:

"Yet, few have found it necessary, or desirable, to call into question the veracity of the belief that there are other "experiencers", despite the acknowledged epistemological failures involved in producing a "proof" for the existence of other minds.

Steven Carr said...

Craig describes his religious experience in great detail.

He felt a lot better after crying a lot, and then went outside and saw a lot of stars.

Craig's testimony

'I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”

That moment changed my whole life.'

So that is the banality of Craig's experience.

He saw a lot of stars in the sky, and that moment changed his life.

All he had to do after that was dress up this banal experience in a lot of grandiose talk about experiencing the Holy Spirit.

Steven Carr said...

Suppose some Christians really do hear voices in their head telling them that God says they are right.

Why should that be accepted as evidence that there is a God?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Everyone is right, it is an awful strategy, it was what turned me nonChristian when I was an undergrad, as when I searched inside I found skepticism not belief, in my core, and immediately stopped believing (in Christ's resurrection) in a kind of strange epiphany. It was a couple of years more before I became full-blown atheist.

Thanks to the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship folks who came by our dorm and guided us to our hearts to help us "discover what we truly believed."

I think I lack the religion genes. :) For people like me, the subjective argument will fail, objective arguments are the way to go.

Shackleman said...

BDK, wouldn't you fall victim to the Argument from Reason?. What exactly *is* an "objective" argument given the AfR? How would you prove that an argument is objective and not subjective?

It seems to me that in the end, you, the subject, decide if the argument is "objective", thereby paradoxically making the argument subjective.

I don't think I'm saying any of this really well. Let me try this way instead (same point I'm driving at)....I'm feeling pulled into the realm of the idealists lately. If your "objects" which count for you as "evidence", ultimately rely on your senses in order to be perceived, then perhaps your senses deceive you and the objects of your evidence don't really exist at all? Besides kicking a rock, (which is still only perceived by your senses), how would you prove otherwise?

Aren't those who claim to have perceived a direct experience from God, not relying on the same "sense"-data that you do? In some way, this direct experience left a perception upon the subject's brain, in much the same way that a burst of sound wave would. An external stimuli has produced an awareness of a thing which exists outside the subject's internal existence. I can't see any differences here.

(I'm still not sure I'm expressing myself well, but for now that's the best I can do).

Knurd said...

I am not a philosopher, but reading through these comments about objectivity versus subjectivity I am compelled to ask the question:

"Isn't everything subjective?"

normajean said...


Beliefs are subjective in the sense that subjects have them, but the content of beliefs are objectively true or false, so I say... else we'd embrace something a lot like nihilism.

Steven Carr said...

Aren't those who claim to have perceived a direct experience from God, not relying on the same "sense"-data that you do?


Christians who hear voices in their head telling them that they are right are not relying on the same sense data that I do.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Shackleman, I don't quite get it, but let me try to clarify. By 'subjective' I don't mean to include all beliefs, even though all beliefs are mental states. Some beliefs can be justified objectively, some subjectively (and even this is a matter of degree). E.g., verifying what this stone weighs versus verifying that this ice cream is yummy. Or, an argument using logic and plausible premises (more objective), versus an argument that expects you to introspect, search into your mind, and find some belief sitting there not in need of justification, but not supported by logical inference or any empirical evidence (more subjective).

It's not very well defined, but hopefully that should make it more clear what I mean.

Anonymous said...

BDK, you're saying the argument is a failure but it sounds like you used the very same argument to vindicate your atheism! When you looked inside yourself, you found skepticism instead of belief... you had an ephiphany "in your core" that Jesus' resurrection was phoney baloney... after appealing to this subjective emotional experience you then say that you have no need for arguments by introspection!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon: my point was that this failed as God-proof in my case, not that it didn't have any effects.

Knurd said...

Thank you for your comment. Nihilism is scary and unacceptable to me yet I am concerned that all we have is perception and the objective determination of things independent of mind is not even possible. At best, this depends on consensus, or for lack of better words what I view as "group subjectivity." Unless I still don't have a solid grasp on the definition of "objectivity."

I believe in an all-powerful loving God, yet I think it is pointless and irrelevant to prove or disprove His existence because the case for God will always be subject to an appeal to ignorance, something of which there is an unlimited supply of. I think Christians take a step backwards whenever attempting to establish a logical case for God. Does not Christianity demand a mystical starting point? Is it not a belief in the physical form of a deity that had irrationally absolved all humanity from sin by way of Crucifixion so that upon physical death metaphysical souls will go to dwell with God in a metaphysical realm? It isn't even remotely possible to make a logical case for this. So it is pointless to start there is it not?

Yet I don't think a life of skeptical logic and reason is in the cards for me. I've investigated this position for about three years now and the results have been a tumult of misery and apathy at best. I'm wasting time sitting in this murky pool of analysis paralysis.

Underneath your skepticism isn't there something more fundamental that drives you? Underneath my skepticism I've found a desire to see people embrace each other, quite simply put. Christianity boasts a suitable model for realizing such a dream, but demands a lofty commitment as well.

Steven Carr said...

If Christians directly experienced their god, they would never have any doubts, would they?

Victor Reppert said...

I have doubts about lots of things I directly experience.

Gregory said...

A person who has a genuine "religious experience" is, prima facie, justified in believing in God. Take Acts 9:1-9 as a case in point. St. Luke's testimony about Saul/Paul is that he (Paul) had a genuine experience of the risen Christ (God). St. Paul's own testimony confirms the fact that he, at the very least, believed that he had seen the risen Christ (Gal. 1:11-16).

We can entertain doubts about whether St. Paul had any sort of extra-mental religious experiences at all. That's our prerogative. Well and good. But why should St. Paul doubt his own experience? Or to put it another way: why must our experiences, as 21rst Century "doubters", be normative for St. Paul?

Secondly, doubt isn't a position as much as it is a disposition. But whatever "doubt" is, no skeptic seems compelled to provide a rational foundation for it (doubt). In fact, many skeptics take doubt to be synonymous for "reason" itself; "doubt", as an unconsciously adopted triumph of tautology by which a prejudiced mind pre-selects a few subjects to be filtered through his/her own concepts and experiences....except "doubt" itself, of course. Perhaps I could summarize this by a dubious maxim:

(1) A person is rationally justified in adopting "skepticism" as a properly basic noetic disposition so long as he/she has no reason to doubt doing so.

So, what sort of "defeater" could there be, in principle, for skepticism/doubt? None.

Back to my main contention: a person who believes that a religious experience provides a rational foundation for belief in God is not epistemically inferior to the skeptic who is inclined towards doubting that belief. On the contrary, such a person is acting more rationally than the skeptic because they are taking their "religious" experience as evidence for something, even if they happen to be mistaken about their conclusions. Skepticism, on the other hand, isn't something that can be "proven", even in principle.

Finally, I don't accept the notion that "religious" experiences are something outside the category of "ordinary" experience. "Religious" experience is merely "ordinary" experience properly seen and understood (Psalm 19:1-6; Rom. 1:20). "Ordinary" experience is simply "religious" experience after spiritual amnesia sets in. That is the basic premise of the film "Pan's Labyrinth", for anyone interested.

For a much better explanation of this, I recommend Alexander Schmemann's "For the Life of the World".

Martin said...

Mike Liccione accidently touches on this subject in a penetrating post

Steven Carr said...

'A person who has a genuine "religious experience" is, prima facie, justified in believing in God'

You mean if I hear voices in my head telling me I am right, then I am justified in believing in a god?

Even if, like Victor, you doubt your own direct experiences?

Gregory said...

Steven Carr said:

"You mean if I hear voices in my head telling me I am right, then I am justified in believing in a god?

Even if, like Victor, you doubt your own direct experiences?"

A person only doubts their "own direct experiences" when such experiences conflict with something he/she believes to be "true" about the world. I might be privy to having an "experience" that tells me that, contrary to my own "male" biological makeup and "male" behaviors, that I'm really a woman instead of man. Some people do come to that conclusion....sometimes after 10 or 20 years of marriage to a partner of the opposite sex. And, of course, advocates of androgyny find gender differences to be nothing more than mere social constructions; which they believe are egregious impediments to an individuals growth in true "self-realization".

And if "naturalism" were true, then I would find a logical impasse in rebutting such claims. Why? Because a person's
awareness of their "true" gender identity would have arisen, de facto, from their neurobiological hardware!!

But this is all beside the point. My point was that all experience is really a "religious experience" and that mysticism, as a particular set of practices (i.e. prayer, fasting, charity, contemplation, church attendance, etc.,), is the compass that enables a person to find their true north. Mysticism is the transfiguration of "ordinary" experience into "religious" experience (Matt. 17:1-13). It is the removal of the blinders that are covering the eyes of the mind and the eyes of the heart (as St. Paul describes in 2 Cor. 3:14-16).

To quote from my mentor, a brilliant Protestant apologist and the most "rational" person I've ever known:

"Because we live in a 'developed' Western country, we're materialistically oriented. We do away with things that are metaphysical or mystical. I personally like having things scientifically verifiable, but God came to me in a powerful, real and metaphysical way, and saved me. Every one of us has to have that metaphysical experience of Jesus or we're not saved."

(in Ch. 6 "You Could Be Next", page 127; taken from "Witch Hunt" by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.)

Bob was also quick to point out, among those whom he conversed with, that his experience did not constitute a reason for any of us to believe in God; but it was the "reason" why Bob abandoned atheism for Christianity. In fact, 2 of Bob's close friends had that same experience that same night, at the same time. One was sitting next to him in Bob's car as they were discussing Ayn Rand and the other one was 30 miles away. They all became Christians that night. Gretchen Passantino and Bob's associates can confirm what I'm saying here.

What was the "rational" thing to do, in their case? Should they have shrugged it off with:

"oh well...I guess we were just having one of those 'mass hallucinations' together? Neat!!"

The only type of objection that can be raised here is the subjective objection; namely, since my experience does not confirm the truth of their experience, therefore, their experience is false. And that's all that the "naturalistic" objection amounts to.

What's more...if the best objection to my previous argument is a hypothetical anecdote, then I think my case is pretty strong here. And I think Dr. Craig's point, as a bit of pastoral advice and encouragement, is not only appropriate, but also has the support of some of the best minds in historic Christendom.

Steven Carr said...

I think Gregory is trying to say is that he experiences voices in his head.

What other kinds of religious experiences are there?

Craig feeling better after a good cry and then looking at a lot of stars in the sky?

People starving or whipping themselves until they start to see things?

What sort of religous experiences do people have which do not look absurd when written down?

Steven Carr said...

'Every one of us has to have that metaphysical experience of Jesus or we're not saved."'

This is literally nonsense.

You may as well talk about having a yellow experience of Jesus...