Thursday, March 12, 2009

Religious experiences and alcohol

If I have been drinking, and I think I see pink elephants on the ceiling, and my friends assure me that there are none there and that it must be the result of too many Miller Genuine Drafts, then I am justified in considering my “visions” hallucinatory and going on about my business. Is the situation really the same with religious experiences ?


Steven Carr said...

No, the experiences are not the same.

William Lane Craig, for example, cried a lot before his religious experience, rather than drinking alcohol.

He also saw a huge number of stars, something very different from drinking American beer.

Craig's Religious Experience

Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! 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.

Crying a lot and seeing stars are very different experiences to drinking beer.

Nobody has ever claimed that Craig hallucinated his crying bout.

Anonymous said...


If you really think that Craig can't tell the difference between being emotionally moved by seing the stars and real religious experience then you're just plain silly. He ain't stupid.


I don't think the scenarios are the same. You have no reason to think that your comrades are sufficiently spiritually alive to make competant judges.

Steven Carr said...

There was more to Craig's religious experience than seeing a lot of stars.

He also cried a lot.

That's why he put both in his personal testimony.

Merlijn de Smit said...

What if you have a religious experience while drunk? Seriously - if you have religious experiences while being wide awake and stone cold sober, you lack one obvious reason to dismiss them. Then again, people have sought mystical experiences by physical strain since the dawn of time (shamans eating mushrooms; ascetic practices of monks, etc.).

I've had shades of religious experiences (though nothing like what Craig describes) and dreams that I somehow consider as highly significant. I dream vividly, and most of them I dismiss as utterly nonsensical. There are some however that I don't. But I could never justify this to a skeptic.

And ultimately, I think the difference is in the nature of the experiences itself. What Craig describes is both a lot vaguer and a lot stronger than seeing pink elephants dancing on the wall - more like an overwhelming joy and sense of presence, both within and without. You pretty much know whether what you're seeing or feeling is divine or just a figment of the imagination.

So I don't think there's any outside criteria to judge religious experiences or distinguish them from hallucinations or anything. A skeptic will always be justified in dismissing them as just that (note that Craig had been looking pretty intensely for God before He allowed himself to be found).

Steven Carr said...

'...more like an overwhelming joy and sense of presence, both within and without.'

This can happen after a really good bout of crying, endorphins and all that...

If the Yorkshire Ripper has an overwhelming religious experience, where he feels God is telling him to butcher prostitutes, you will find Christians lining up to deride the genuiness of this experience.