Argument from personal experience- underrated?

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narnia4
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Argument from personal experience- underrated?

#1

Post by narnia4 » Thu Aug 11, 2011 5:54 pm

I wasn't quite sure where to put this, so I put it in the God and Science forum because I think it could have some relevance in that area. Maybe add more to my post if anybody else has thoughts. I don't make threads too often, but since I made a thread about what I consider to be one of the most overrated arguments for atheism, why not make a thread about an underrated argument for the supernatural... the argument from personal experience.

I was reading something on Craig's website that I found interesting, namely the Holy Spirit as an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Meaning that even if all other theistic arguments could be disproved and everything pointed toward atheism, but it would still be right to be a Christian with the witness of the Holy Spirit.

This is pretty well-accepted by theists, possibly even some atheists, but usually this argument is seen as having severe limitations. Pretty much, if one person has a personal experience that leads them to believe in God, another person shouldn't draw conclusions based off that person's experiences.

My thought, then, was that maybe personal experience should be seen as a broader evidence for the supernatural. Millions of people throughout history have claimed to have experiences, whether its "fulfilled prophecy" (I use this term lightly in this case, meaning being forewarned that something was going to happen), visions, dreams, someone speaking to them, miracles, and much more. Also, its undeniable that these people have sometimes had "Paul on the Road to Damascus" experiences and been converted based off those experiences. Its also undeniable that many of these people weren't/aren't insane with long medical histories, and while many may have been emotional and/or in an irrational state... many more WEREN'T in such a state.

Please notice that I wrote "evidence for the supernatural", rather than "evidence for the Christian God". That's because a common objection would be that people of any and probably almost every religion have had these sort of experiences. Under the Christian worldview, experiences with the supernatural don't have to come from God and people who aren't Christian having experiences with the supernatural isn't impossible.

So to make a long post short, the huge number of people claiming to have such experiences makes things... interesting. Is there a scientific study to show that it is probable that all of these experiences were imagination, illusion, or delusion? With the huge number of rational people who may not be religious and may have had only one such very convincing experience, to say that all of these experiences are delusion is a tough pill to swallow. I would go so far as to say that the skeptic has the burden here to produce something that shows that rational people not prone to hallucinations can have these sort of experiences (and again, not one or two sane people, but millions throughout history).

So... any thoughts?
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Re: Argument from personal experience- underrated?

#2

Post by dorkmaster » Thu Aug 11, 2011 9:05 pm

This argument is vehemently denied by the atheists I know. They always say how I must be wrong because people of all religions claim to have personal experiences. In most cases, the atheist will say it's only delusion, like you pointed out. That's my take.

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Re: Argument from personal experience- underrated?

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Post by kmr » Thu Aug 11, 2011 9:52 pm

Especially in the modern world, it is just too hard to separate what is truth from lies or delusion. God doesn't like to be recorded or electronically documented, it seems, or at least hasn't yet. And even if he were to be, it could still be argued that the tapes were edited. So there is a problem.
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Re: Argument from personal experience- underrated?

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Post by narnia4 » Thu Aug 11, 2011 10:21 pm

Yeah, like I said I think the point that "all religions have adherents who claim to have had personal experience" is a valid one, but only if you're claiming that personal experience proves the Christian God exists. For the adherent, this personal experience is enough. If you have a real vision where God or another "spiritual entity" appears to you, atheists may still try to say that its a delusion... but now you need a REASON to believe its a delusion. If there is no apparent psychological factor (don't get me wrong, there often are), I don't see why you should dismiss that experience any more than you should dismiss any other experience that you have. I guess that goes to show that even appearances in the flesh wouldn't be enough to satisfy some skeptics.

Of course my larger point was whether personal testimony about the supernatural should be enough to affirm the existence of the supernatural to those who haven't had those experiences. Again I'll mention that my claim would be the existence of the supernatural- this apparently doesn't even leave out atheism (from some survey numbers belief in ghosts is more common than belief in God in some countries) but it certainly hurts its case and leaves room for any religion that allows for spiritual experiences of that kind.

I'm sure there's been scientific studies on things like this but I haven't read much about it. Even if you say that only 1% are legitimate, that's still certainly leaving millions of experiences of that kind. It would obviously be impossible to "prove" that each and every experience was delusion, but it seems to me that the skeptic has the burden here to show that its normal for rational people to have realistic, delusional experiences, sometimes very powerful ones (like NDEs or even "looking down on your own body" during an NDE, and multiple other similar reported things).

Edit- of course there are lots of lies out there (I don't think videos or recordings are necessary for a spiritual, non-material experience). But it sounds pretty foolish to deny that there are a huge number of rational people across the world who believe that they really have had a spiritual encounter.
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Re: Argument from personal experience- underrated?

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Post by August » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:44 am

The argument from personal experience has some merit, in my opinion. We should just be careful not to view the experience, or separate it, from the rest of the world around us. The key issue would be whether to view the experience as primary, overriding what the rest of our experiences (intellectual etc) tells us. That also answers the argument about people from all religions having experiences. It's not like the Bible denies that others do have religious experiences, but it does tell us to see those experiences in the right context.

The other side of the coin is of course that everything we know and see is personal experience. Even though atheists try to deny this, there was a moment in their lives too where they came to the personal conviction to be atheist. How do they separate that process from any other personal religious experience? It is a similar process, is it not? Intellectually and emotionally they made a commitment to believe a certain way, and it makes them feel good, raises their passion and they seek to defend it.

For them to deny that would be circular reasoning.
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Re: Argument from personal experience- underrated?

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Post by TexasApostolic » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:51 pm

I had someone tell me the other day, a very profound statement. They asked me, "What does your testimony do for me?" I really couldn't come up with anything until they said, "It shows me that God is working in this world." Now, when we think of all the propaganda these days from science that says there is no possible way to prove God's existence empirically, they are right. However, there are thousands of people who have received answered prayers, have been cured of addictions and diseases, and have turned their lives around when they started following God. Surely these are just part of the natural laws that say there is a probability or chance that any of these things could happen without a God existing. That is true, but some of the testimonies are so profound that they can only lead to something more than just mere chance. I believe that personal experiences with God are the only way we can prove that He is real! And for those who do not believe, they can never see this proof until they are willing to open up their minds to anything and believe that He can show them what He has shown so many others.
I must tell you that I am a Christian, but I am starting to realize that God being everything and "I AM" tells me that He can show himself to many different people in many different ways. This being said, maybe there is more than one way to enlightenment? Guess we shall see.

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