Atheist Ex-Pastor Unsuccessfully Debunks God Experiences

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People often think that if someone — a scientist, perhaps — is able to adequately explain the manner by which particular mental states occur in the brain, then they’ve successfully called into question whether those mental states are objectively what we suppose them to be, if not outright proven they aren’t. They can’t be real, apparently, because they were the result of such and such neurons firing, or because of such and such materialistic explanations of how similar mental states occur. This is wrong-headed, of course, as it commits the genetic fallacy. Needless to say, what makes it doubly annoying is the fact that the people who make these logical fallacies claim to have lost their faith as a result of ‘rigorous thinking’.

So this atheist ex-pastor who wrote this blog post a friend of mine shared on fb is claiming, among other things, that the experience of the holy spirit — any ‘God experience,’ in fact — is merely a series of neurological  events in the brain that’s been set off by some manner of hypnosis. This makes him conclude that it’s all superstitious foolery. I mean, it can’t be real — how can it be? — since we’ve got an adequate, step-by-step, causal account (from the words spoken by the evangelist to the very experience itself of the audience member) of how the experience came to be.

The problem here is that I can use that same kind reductionism and tell this guy he doesn’t actually love anyone; “Look, you don’t really love your wife — those are just the neurons firing!”

“Also, no, you’re not hungry — that is, again, just these other set of neurons firing!”

And reductio ad absurdum.

Of course, the more reflective will say, ah, but those neurons firing just is what we call love. Or those other neurons firing just is what we call hunger. But so can the silly chap who says he just experienced the holy spirit; he can likewise say that those neurons firing just is what happens when you experience the holy spirit!

I don’t even for one nano-second doubt that most, if not the overwhelming majority, of these claims to have experienced the holy spirit are nothing but a result of some kind of group hypnosis. I myself am skeptical of a lot of these claims. I think evangelists like Benny Hinn are frauds, and the people epileptically flailing-about around his pulpit have been duped, pretty much in the covert manner this ex-pastor describes. But to claim to have ‘debunked’ all ‘God experiences’ because you were able to give an account of how other experiences that can be mistaken for the genuine one can occur is just shoddy reasoning. Nobody but the sufficiently unintelligent is of the mind that people aren’t capable of being misled. And that people can be misled is the trite conclusion of this ex-pastor’s kilometric blog post.

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Posted on November 22, 2014, in apologetics, philosophy, Religion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Actually, it is shoddy reasoning to think that one experience that is ‘just like many others’ is different than the others and is somehow real where the others are not. For such a claim evidence is required and that is the one thing that you lack and always will. When there is a simple answer or explanation any objection to this requires proof or evidence. That is what you do not have therefore it can not be concluded that one experience is different when the evidence available says they are all the same. Any experience of the holy spirit requires evidence if it is to be thought more than a neural experience generated by external stimulus of a natural kind. It is unkind to tell people they are wrong without being able to show how and why. By that, I mean that you need to show how it is that experiences of the holy spirit are true.

    BTW, love and god have no context insensitive meaning. No human can positively define either in a way which is beyond reproach. There are a lot of folk that would like to see you do so, so by all means tell us.

    • No, you are simply begging the question.

      The question is whether something supernatural actually occurred. Or, more specifically, whether what caused these sets of neurons to fire (say) was in particular supernatural or natural.

      Since the evidence you require is unfortunately of the empirical (or testable) sort, it would obviously be impossible to show the experience was caused by something supernatural, because a supernatural event is a violation of natural laws, and it would be downright illogical to employ a method that requires natural laws to exist to prove those laws can actually be violated. That’s pretty much why it’s called methodological naturalism — because it needs to rule out supernaturalism to work.

      Therefore, for you, those neurons firing and thusly generating the ‘experience’ can never have a supernatural cause — because you’ve ruled it out from the getgo.

      Now, don’t get me wrong, I wholly agree that one can never prove his experience was caused by something supernatural. This is why I, in particular, don’t hold these kinds of ‘experiences’ to be evidence for some form of theism. Rather, I hold that the evidence for theism makes these kinds of experiences possible.

      I’m perfectly content to say that there is a more terrestrial cause to the ‘experiences’ of the majority of the people who claim to have had them.

      But it is simply illogical to argue you’ve debunked ‘God experiences’ by showing that similar experiences can be had through different means. That would be like me ‘debunking’ your love for your wife because I can show you that you can feel the same exact thing by giving you certain drugs or by artificially firing such and such of your neurons with a machine.

      • This is getting interesting exponentially. I believe it is true that you can give me the same experiences as love for my wife by external means, or at least that it is possible no matter how complex it might be.

        Since you have no means, other than blatant unproven proclamation, to determine if a supernatural event occurs it is ludicrous to assume such did happen when there are testable alternative explanations. Only when these possibilities are exhausted does it make sense to even think about supernatural causes.

        Interestingly you state that the evidence for theism makes supernatural causes plausible. I have not yet seen sufficient or convincing evidence for theism. It follows then that there is not yet sufficient evidence for the supernatural experience.

        It’s all a bit circular but this brings us headlong into the evidence for theism discussion.

        Unless I’ve missed something.

  2. @myathesitlife

    “Since you have no means, other than blatant unproven proclamation, to determine if a supernatural event occurs it is ludicrous to assume such did happen when there are testable alternative explanations.”

    Like was implied earlier, it’s only ‘ludicrous’ to assume the supernatural explanation if you already presuppose that supernatural events do not happen. Although I will agree that always assuming the supernatural explanation would be ludicrous.

    To me, supernatural events can happen, but it’s still more reasonable to suppose that, since a natural explanation is more probable (after all, a supernatural event is a suspension of physical laws), a supernatural event likely didn’t happen, and that there exists a more terrestrial explanation. But since I have independent reasons for believing supernatural events can happen, I do not axiomatically rule out all supernatural claims made like you do. I just am naturally skeptical of most.

    And to say that we should only consider the supernatural explanation when all natural possibilities have been exhausted is to merely use the supernatural to plug a gap in your knowledge, something the new atheist cabal keeps reminding theists to refrain from doing. Essentially when the theist says ‘maybe God did it’, you’ll argue god of the gaps, yet when he asks you what it would take for you to believe, you’ll say ‘god of the gaps.’

    So a gap in our knowledge doesn’t warrant belief, yet it’s a gap in our knowledge that will take for you to believe!?

    You guys really ought to make up your minds.

    “Interestingly you state that the evidence for theism makes supernatural causes plausible. I have not yet seen sufficient or convincing evidence for theism. It follows then that there is not yet sufficient evidence for the supernatural experience.”

    Interestingly, you appeal to your own rationality to argue your worldview is true. Well, that is at least a creative way of arguing illogically.

    “It’s all a bit circular but this brings us headlong into the evidence for theism discussion.”

    Yes, I believe so.

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