Sunday, January 6, 2013

IDHEF - Chapter 5, Addendum #1: Religious Experiences

This is part of my breakdown of the book "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist." Related posts can be found by clicking here.

   One thing about Chapter 5 of IDHEF has been bothering me as of late. It comes from the section "Materialism Makes Reason Impossible" on page 129 of the book in regards to religious experiences. I covered this a little bit in my part II analysis, but I no longer feel I gave it its due diligence. In this section, the authors say the following:
While this is possible, given the vast number of spiritual experiences, it does not seem likely. It is difficult to believe that every great spiritual leader and thinker in the history of humanity—including some of the most rational, scientific, and critical minds ever—have all been completely wrong about their spiritual experience. (p129)
   The first thing that has been bothering me is what ever happened to their points from Chapter 2 about "using logic, evidence, and science seems to be the best way to get at truth" (p54)? If this part about "it being difficult to believe" (p129) is their idea of logic...I really just don't know what to say, other than to point out that this isn't logic. It used to be difficult for people (and still is for some) to believe that the earth rotates about an axis. If that were true, they say, then we should be thrown off the planet. Others cannot understand how, when they jump straight up, they end up landing in the same spot. Shouldn't the earth be rotating out from under their feet? The point to all of this is that something being difficult to believe does not mean it is not true.

   Something else I am noticing that is important to point out is the argument from authority. This comes from the part about calling some people "the most rational, scientific, and critical minds ever." First of all, is this really true? When I originally analyzed this part, I laughed at the fact that this list included Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jesus. We can't even be sure any of these people existed, let alone evaluate how critical their minds supposedly were. But even if we look at someone like Newton, who apparently was quite bright, are we supposed to believe that since they were so smart that they must have been right about everything they said? Please.

   The second part that has been bothering me, though, is why they do find it difficult to believe that everyone would be wrong. As I said in the original analysis, "There is also a problem that many people come to different, and often contradictory, conclusions through those experiences. This tells us that many of those experiences must be mistaken. If most of them are mistaken, is it really much of a stretch to suggest that all of them are mistaken?" Worse than this, though, is what the authors want us to believe. They want us to believe that most people are right; yet, some are correct. This is apparently less difficult to believe than just believing that all of them are wrong. Why? If I believe all of them are wrong, it only takes one explanation for this. As I said before, it could be something that is common in human brains. The authors, however, need to explain why many people are wrong while there are people who get it right. They need essentially two explanations — a reason why people are wrong about their experiences and a reason why this first reason would not apply to everyone. Otherwise, why would believing everyone is wrong be so hard? Now, they sort of gave us the second reason, which seems to be that they believe there are people that are too smart to be fooled. I'm not convinced. And why should I be? Where is the evidence that this is true?

   The third part that has been bothering me is consistency. The following arguments are arguments I've heard in regards to eye-witness testimony, so it would seem they can apply here. One argument goes that if you believe eye-witness testimony to be reliable, then you must necessarily believe that people have been abducted by aliens. A similar argument that I just heard recently is in regards to witches. Many people have claimed to be abducted by aliens or to have been put under the curse of a witch. (And some people have even admitted to being witches!) Is it hard to believe that all of these people are mistaken*? If not, why is this different in regards to religious experiences?

* This point relies on the reader not believing in alien abductions nor witches. Sadly, though I do give them points for consistency, the authors of IDHEF do not deny the existence of witches. Spoiler alert, this appears in Chapter 7, where the authors say that "People no longer believe [that witches can really murder people by their curses]" (p183).

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