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Divine Intent in Counter-Cultural Religious Experiences


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Hey everyone! As you may know I've lurked on the forum on and off for about a year, occasionally chiming in on matters of history and philosophy. I've never started my own topic before though, until now, but this is an intelligent community and I want to pick your brains.

Philosophically speaking I am deeply interested in the philosophy of religious experience, primarily since religious experience is the root and ground of my own Restored Christian (a demonym I prefer to "Mormon" or "member of the CoJCoLDS") faith, as well as that of the vast majority of believers throughout the ages, and the founders of all major religious traditions. In this vein I have begun to study everything I can on the philosophy of religious experience. I found the following while so doing. 

I've become rather fond of the work of Travis Dumsday of Concordia University. He's a Christian philosopher who has written at length about the arguments from divine hiddenness and the problem of evil, as well as touching on the philosophy of religious experience. I'm especially fond of one of his articles but it raises some conceptual questions and I thought I'd pick your collective brains for a minute.

The article, simply entitled "Counter-cultural religious experiences", catalogues a series of religious experiences, conversion experiences, to various religions and spiritual traditions throughout the world. Their notable unifying feature is that they occur entirely, dramatically, against the grain of an individual's cultural expectations and ingrained interpretive frameworks. I find this to be compelling evidence of external spiritual guidance, though Dumsday is appropriately modest in his conclusions and offers an out for materialists. However, this does raise an interesting question: it is evidentially established that this external spiritual guidance leads some people away from Christianity even as it leads others to it. Why would this be the case? What purpose might God have in doing such a thing?

I am nursing my own opinions on this matter but I would love to hear your thoughts. Paging @mfbukowski- your opinion, as usual, would be greatly appreciated. 

 

Edit: The link I posted isn't working, so try this one: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23013370?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Edited by OGHoosier
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1 hour ago, OGHoosier said:

Restored Christian (a demonym I prefer

It is a good one, though I love Saint.

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3 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

What purpose might God have in doing such a thing?

We need different experiences if the purpose of life is to help us figure out our wants and desires.  If I have no interest in developing musical talent, my parents forcing me to learn piano is a waste of my youth and their money and ears.  Maybe God operates on somewhat the same principle.

And seems like going into unfamiliar territory would be needed by some who seek a wider experience to create their context of eternal life.  Others are going to be homebodies where it is the very familiarity of the experience that gives happiness or people who are adaptable whose happiness is easily expressed in the things that surround them and they don't need specifics to be satisfied (think of someone who can be happy with any little sweetness for dessert, so some fruit or a chocolate cookie yields the same pleasure as something exotic while someone else is looking for a specific taste combo to be fully satisfied).

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2 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Hey everyone! As you may know I've lurked on the forum on and off for about a year, occasionally chiming in on matters of history and philosophy. I've never started my own topic before though, until now, but this is an intelligent community and I want to pick your brains.

Philosophically speaking I am deeply interested in the philosophy of religious experience, primarily since religious experience is the root and ground of my own Restored Christian (a demonym I prefer to "Mormon" or "member of the CoJCoLDS") faith, as well as that of the vast majority of believers throughout the ages, and the founders of all major religious traditions. In this vein I have begun to study everything I can on the philosophy of religious experience. I found the following while so doing. 

I've become rather fond of the work of Travis Dumsday of Concordia University. He's a Christian philosopher who has written at length about the arguments from divine hiddenness and the problem of evil, as well as touching on the philosophy of religious experience. I'm especially fond of one of his articles but it raises some conceptual questions and I thought I'd pick your collective brains for a minute.

The article, simply entitled "Counter-cultural religious experiences", catalogues a series of religious experiences, conversion experiences, to various religions and spiritual traditions throughout the world. Their notable unifying feature is that they occur entirely, dramatically, against the grain of an individual's cultural expectations and ingrained interpretive frameworks. I find this to be compelling evidence of external spiritual guidance, though Dumsday is appropriately modest in his conclusions and offers an out for materialists. However, this does raise an interesting question: it is evidentially established that this external spiritual guidance leads some people away from Christianity even as it leads others to it. Why would this be the case? What purpose might God have in doing such a thing?

I am nursing my own opinions on this matter but I would love to hear your thoughts. Paging @mfbukowski- your opinion, as usual, would be greatly appreciated. 

William James speaks of God being like THE "master chess player" who's intelligence is infinite but not supernatural.  He knows "all things" except what cannot be known- he can see the future the way we might see the future and know with certainty, for example as a parent may know a 3 year old and KNOW ahead of time how the child will act when Oreos are put in a bowl inf front of him, while being told NOT to take any cookies.   But of course he knows the child even better than we would, he knows every detail of how the child's individual brain works, her entire history of stealing or not stealing Oreos, how hungry the child is etc etc.

So as the master chess player, he knows well enough just based on his natural intelligence what the best plan is for each of us to return to him, and he also knows the likelihood that we will respond in a certain way- our DISPOSITIONS.   Am I getting close?  ;)

So the short answer is that God knows the path and our dispositions which will be most likely to bring us back to him, and will lead us along that path regardless of whether or not it immediately goes to "the right answer" first.   In my experience, I am highly highly skeptical as a person.  You can tell in my doubt that we can even see the world as it is, or that what is plainly in front of us may not be "real" at all.  ;)

So the Lord knew I was that way, and so I studied every religion I could find, including secular religions like Communism

I have often told my wife that if I had first found the LDS church, there is no possibility I would join- I did not have an understanding of religious experience nor did I understand any rational basis for belief in God.  

Yet God knew what I had to do to change and I was led down that path.   In retrospect it is very clear to me- I can see step by step that every change and twist took me closer to the final answer.

If a drunk on skid row needs God and the only people offering Him are the Salvation Army- will he get a "true" testimony of the Salvation Army or will he wait for the "one true church" to find him?   How much work do we do with drunks on skid row?   Who does more of that kind of seeking out God's children than the Salvation Army?  Were I God I would not be waiting for all those innocent boys from Utah to be preaching on skid row, in the homeless camps among the crazy and addicted.  ;)

So yes, God wlll give us whatever experiences we need to lead us.    And I believe I needed to explore far from my culture- to places where I could not even imagine the truth would lead.  I could not imagine while I was learning more about philosophy that some Utah farmers- peculiar people- could possibly have the "true religion" though of course I knew nothing about it.   But people that "primitive" to believe in golden plates could not possibly be even close to anything important except cows.

Seriously I thought that way.  I thought Mormons were people who thought Native Americans were modern- latter day- saints and so they worshiped Native Americans.  ;)

Counter cultural religious experiences related to dispositions?

But the clincher is when God whops you upside the head with a spiritual 2x4 and tells you this is where He wants you.  ;)

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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1 hour ago, Storm Rider said:

Further, I don't see this as a linear progression. We too often make judgements in the middle of one's journey. It is my belief that eventually all disciples of Jesus Christ will come to a unity of the faith.

This is the way I see it as well.  And I see it coming from Pragmatic reasons, and though this turns people off,  I do not see it as coming- necessarily- from the historic stories about the plates and BOM or BOA historicity

I believe one MIGHT see the teachings of the church as purely rational and the best pragmatic path for humankind- in essence a faith that worships what we might call 'family values" - values taught in all cultures.   No one celebrates random violence.

Notice I emphasized MIGHT because one might also see it other ways- there is really no way to prove that all the historical events- as preached- did NOT happen.

But "all roads lead to Rome" because they all seek the same destination and certainly God's great intelligence can lead them on his path.

Our doctrine even provides for progression on the other side- I can't see any counter argument that works against that wide a net of salvation.  It's virtual Universalism, and just plain good advice

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I looked more into the book you mentioned- it's GOT to be good if it's $75. for a KINDLE VERSION?

Wow!   HOT!

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9 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

However, this does raise an interesting question: it is evidentially established that this external spiritual guidance leads some people away from Christianity even as it leads others to it. Why would this be the case? What purpose might God have in doing such a thing?

I think this would make sense if their understanding of "Christianity" was not good for them, and they had to start over with some other manifestation of the Light of Christ in their lives. A reset of sorts.

Elder Christofferson in this last conference: "I am referring to the Light of Christ. The Savior declared, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Whether aware of it or not, every man, woman, and child of every belief, place, and time is imbued with the Light of Christ and therefore possesses the sense of right and wrong we often call conscience." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/22christofferson?lang=eng

He also speaks of how it shines even in secular principles and other religious traditions.

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Clearly there is one strait(spelling is important) and narrow covenant path but there seem to be many ways that people can stumble upon that path... All of these ways if continued to their logical end will lead to fulness and perfection. Some may be less direct and more convoluted but each is suited to the capacity and desired of the individual.

 

Alma 12:9-11

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9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

D&C 50:21-25

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21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

25 And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;

 

 

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11 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

I find this to be compelling evidence of external spiritual guidance,

Your link seems to link one back to your OP.  I looked it up and I'm blocked from accessing it from the couple of locations I find it.  I'd like to see it.  I can't really understand how counter-culture spiritual experience is evidence of external spiritual guidance.  

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18 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Your link seems to link one back to your OP.  I looked it up and I'm blocked from accessing it from the couple of locations I find it.  I'd like to see it.  I can't really understand how counter-culture spiritual experience is evidence of external spiritual guidance.  

Oof, sorry about that. I've edited the OP, hopefully the new link works. It'a a link to JSTOR, but this particular paper should be public access.

Dumsday doesn't go for the throat in this paper. He brings up a few prominent atheist philosophers like Mackie who have commented that they think spiritual experience is unreliable because it often follows cultural lines, which his data obviously contradicts. The cultural-reinforcement and confirmation-bias arguments against religious experience don't work under these conditions. He includes an addendum at the end saying that it may be easier for naturalists to simply disbelieve the accounts he's brought up, and that is fair game, but in a later paper( "Evidentially Compelling Religious Experiences and the Moral Status of Naturalism", 2016) he changes direction and argues that for settled naturalists to simply dismiss the accounts is both immoral and irrational. I linked to the abstract, but a public access version of this paper is hard to find. 

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Double post, sorry.

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11 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Hey everyone! As you may know I've lurked on the forum on and off for about a year, occasionally chiming in on matters of history and philosophy. I've never started my own topic before though, until now, but this is an intelligent community and I want to pick your brains.

Philosophically speaking I am deeply interested in the philosophy of religious experience, primarily since religious experience is the root and ground of my own Restored Christian (a demonym I prefer to "Mormon" or "member of the CoJCoLDS") faith, as well as that of the vast majority of believers throughout the ages, and the founders of all major religious traditions. In this vein I have begun to study everything I can on the philosophy of religious experience. I found the following while so doing. 

I've become rather fond of the work of Travis Dumsday of Concordia University. He's a Christian philosopher who has written at length about the arguments from divine hiddenness and the problem of evil, as well as touching on the philosophy of religious experience. I'm especially fond of one of his articles but it raises some conceptual questions and I thought I'd pick your collective brains for a minute.

The article, simply entitled "Counter-cultural religious experiences", catalogues a series of religious experiences, conversion experiences, to various religions and spiritual traditions throughout the world. Their notable unifying feature is that they occur entirely, dramatically, against the grain of an individual's cultural expectations and ingrained interpretive frameworks. I find this to be compelling evidence of external spiritual guidance, though Dumsday is appropriately modest in his conclusions and offers an out for materialists. However, this does raise an interesting question: it is evidentially established that this external spiritual guidance leads some people away from Christianity even as it leads others to it. Why would this be the case? What purpose might God have in doing such a thing?

I am nursing my own opinions on this matter but I would love to hear your thoughts. Paging @mfbukowski- your opinion, as usual, would be greatly appreciated. 

 

Edit: The link I posted isn't working, so try this one: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23013370?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Thanks I got access to it, but I signed in through a library.  I guess I could have done that before.  I read it and read his previous paper and find them interesting but would conclude they leave us far short of evidence for God.  The second paper doesn't really get into the details of the experiences, but each one, as summarized, seems as easily attributed to previous influence as it is to the presence of a God.  One need not posit a God for spiritual experience to be taken seriously.  Many naturalists accept spiritual experience.  One may need to connect religious experience with spiritual experience.  But as it were, it doesn't seem to matter since God must first be assumed anyway.  

The problem is one experience can't possibly be evidence because it lacks any verification.  Even adding millions experiences up doesn't give us evidence.  There are too many other causal factors.  We need not learn the specifics of Hinduism to have an experience that gives someone a sight of a Hindu religious leader, even if that someone has nothing to do with Hinduism and thought she had not prior information to base such an experience on.  A hindu follower could just as easily have a sight of Joseph Smith.  But, in each case, it can't possibly mean much of anything.  Pictures, whether we remember them or not, might lodge deep in the recesses of one's mind.  It is way too easy, without the experiencer realizing it, to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience.  Information about a particular religion or group can enter into our brains and seemingly disappear.  years later might not even have realized we had learned something we thought we were just learning for the first time, and some eerie feeling of deja vu hits us.  We simply can't view the picture that this British lady, the first one listed in his latest paper, had.  It might be something akin to this later found out Hindu leader, and she is simply certain they are one and the same, and she was wrong, or it could be she had seen a picture at some previous time and did not remember.  

I don't understand how we can possibly consider an internal event happening inside someone can possibly be considered as evidence for something perhaps only slightly related to the event when described.  That's basically the barrier I'd have to get past to find much reason to his efforts.  

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3 hours ago, stemelbow said:

Thanks I got access to it, but I signed in through a library.  I guess I could have done that before.  I read it and read his previous paper and find them interesting but would conclude they leave us far short of evidence for God.  The second paper doesn't really get into the details of the experiences, but each one, as summarized, seems as easily attributed to previous influence as it is to the presence of a God.  One need not posit a God for spiritual experience to be taken seriously.  Many naturalists accept spiritual experience.  One may need to connect religious experience with spiritual experience.  But as it were, it doesn't seem to matter since God must first be assumed anyway.  

The problem is one experience can't possibly be evidence because it lacks any verification.  Even adding millions experiences up doesn't give us evidence.  There are too many other causal factors.  We need not learn the specifics of Hinduism to have an experience that gives someone a sight of a Hindu religious leader, even if that someone has nothing to do with Hinduism and thought she had not prior information to base such an experience on.  A hindu follower could just as easily have a sight of Joseph Smith.  But, in each case, it can't possibly mean much of anything.  Pictures, whether we remember them or not, might lodge deep in the recesses of one's mind.  It is way too easy, without the experiencer realizing it, to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience.  Information about a particular religion or group can enter into our brains and seemingly disappear.  years later might not even have realized we had learned something we thought we were just learning for the first time, and some eerie feeling of deja vu hits us.  We simply can't view the picture that this British lady, the first one listed in his latest paper, had.  It might be something akin to this later found out Hindu leader, and she is simply certain they are one and the same, and she was wrong, or it could be she had seen a picture at some previous time and did not remember.  

I don't understand how we can possibly consider an internal event happening inside someone can possibly be considered as evidence for something perhaps only slightly related to the event when described.  That's basically the barrier I'd have to get past to find much reason to his efforts.  

As you might expect, I would like to raise objections to some of your comments. 
 

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One need not posit a God for spiritual experience to be taken seriously.  Many naturalists accept spiritual experience.

I disagree. If by "accept" you mean "acknowledge the existence of", sure. They don't have a choice. However, for the settled naturalist, accepting the veridicality of the experience is impossible, so the content of the experience must be dismissed in some way and causally attributed in some way to a form of deception, whether intentional or otherwise. That is not acceptance. That is not taking it seriously. 

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But as it were, it doesn't seem to matter since God must first be assumed anyway.  

On the contrary, the point of most of these is that God, or at the very least outside spiritual experience, is the subject of the experience. That is what is observed. Therefore, it's prima facie evidence. In fact, explanations appealing to repressed memory or other psychologizing must first assume that the experience cannot be veridical, or at least externally influence by spiritual means. 

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The problem is one experience can't possibly be evidence because it lacks any verification.

Verificationism is an incomplete epistemological standard. There is much which is known which cannot be verified external to itself. The existence of other minds, the validity of the senses, the validity of memory and thus the persistence of the self, the validity of rationality itself...these things cannot be demonstrated without appealing to self-referential means. 

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Even adding millions experiences up doesn't give us evidence.

What is the evidence-proof distinction? It's so important and in most of my internet conversations with various varieties of atheist there is an almost universal paucity of acknowledgement that evidence and proof are not synonymous, that which is not proof can still be evidence, and in fact proof is not needed to maintain rational belief in almost any sense. "Proof" is essentially a meaningless word because it can only realistically be applied in mathematical and deductive arguments whereas almost all everyday inquiry depends on inductive and abductive reasoning. 

Millions of experience do give us evidence. If you can come up with a counterexplanation then you can say you don't have proof, and be right, but you do have evidence. 

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There are too many other causal factors.  We need not learn the specifics of Hinduism to have an experience that gives someone a sight of a Hindu religious leader, even if that someone has nothing to do with Hinduism and thought she had not prior information to base such an experience on.  A hindu follower could just as easily have a sight of Joseph Smith.  But, in each case, it can't possibly mean much of anything.  Pictures, whether we remember them or not, might lodge deep in the recesses of one's mind.  It is way too easy, without the experiencer realizing it, to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience.  Information about a particular religion or group can enter into our brains and seemingly disappear.  years later might not even have realized we had learned something we thought we were just learning for the first time, and some eerie feeling of deja vu hits us.  We simply can't view the picture that this British lady, the first one listed in his latest paper, had.  It might be something akin to this later found out Hindu leader, and she is simply certain they are one and the same, and she was wrong, or it could be she had seen a picture at some previous time and did not remember.  

Here we come to the normal progression of internet discussion of spiritual experience: "the black box brain" argument epitomized by your statement: "it's way too easy to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience." However, why should such reframings be considered legitimate? You are essentially positing that entirely hypothetical images or bits of information lodged in somebody's unconscious memory and then suddenly got called forth in an entirely life-redefining experience with absolutely no explanation why this should be the case. Most dismissals of religious experience usually play on the thought that it is a manifestation of cultural ideals. I don't believe such - it doesn't explain the phenomenological quality of the experience nor can it account for intersubjective or counterintuitive spiritual experience (see Intuitive Knowing as Spiritual Experience and Visions of Jesus by philosopher Phillip Wiebe, another of my favorites). 

The flaw I see in all of this is that it still doesn't explain why the experience occurred. All it does is posit a black box wherein hypothesized inputs of scraps of information enter, are suspended without any concept of time-depth, and then explode in an immense and life-changing experience with no clear explanation and against all predictions. Unfortunately, this explanation doesn't tell us why the experience happened - it's an alternate theory designed to save another theory by essentially negating the phenomenological observations with which you are challenged. It is, in other words, everything apologetics has a bad rep for. I'm not satisfied with what looks like an excuse. We generally trust our senses to tell us the truth and even optical illusions and hallucinations don't dissuade us. The basic circularity at the heart of sense perception doesn't dissuade us, nor does its subjective nature. Even sense perception doesn't have the kind of logical caliber which you would need to "see the reason".  Which means all of empiricism falls by the same stroke. 

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19 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Edit: The link I posted isn't working, so try this one: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23013370?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

AHA!

That helps just a tad.....   hang on a bit... 

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10 hours ago, gav said:

Clearly there is one strait(spelling is important) and narrow covenant path but there seem to be many ways that people can stumble upon that path... All of these ways if continued to their logical end will lead to fulness and perfection. Some may be less direct and more convoluted but each is suited to the capacity and desired of the individual.

 

Alma 12:9-11

D&C 50:21-25

 

And my fave

Mark chapter 9:38-40 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said . . . for whoever is not against us is for us."

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10 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Oof, sorry about that. I've edited the OP, hopefully the new link works. It'a a link to JSTOR, but this particular paper should be public access.

Dumsday doesn't go for the throat in this paper. He brings up a few prominent atheist philosophers like Mackie who have commented that they think spiritual experience is unreliable because it often follows cultural lines, which his data obviously contradicts. The cultural-reinforcement and confirmation-bias arguments against religious experience don't work under these conditions. He includes an addendum at the end saying that it may be easier for naturalists to simply disbelieve the accounts he's brought up, and that is fair game, but in a later paper( "Evidentially Compelling Religious Experiences and the Moral Status of Naturalism", 2016) he changes direction and argues that for settled naturalists to simply dismiss the accounts is both immoral and irrational. I linked to the abstract, but a public access version of this paper is hard to find. 

Just to keep my finger on the scale,  I finally found the article and discovered it was quite different than what I thought it was about.   

Fergitabout anything I said before this post about this article.  ;)

It is not a long article nor is it especially technical- I thought it was going to be about dispositionalism which is a whole different kettle of pescado as we say here in LA.  I am almost done with it- busy day- and will get back to you soon.  Frank Ramsey was a total genius about qualia and it is such a tragedy that he did not live longer.  Anyway I would be more along the Alston/Wittgenstein approach.  Being very direct, I disagree anything that leads toward metaphysics because inevitably - whatever the theory- it creates some kind of dualism, tacitly or otherwise creating some kind of view of "reality" outside of what we know/perceive.

The entire goal of Pragmatism denies and seeks to extinguish the idea of any split between experience ie: appearances and perceptions and any kind of foundation of "reality".

But re the article, more later.

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14 hours ago, CV75 said:

I think this would make sense if their understanding of "Christianity" was not good for them, and they had to start over with some other manifestation of the Light of Christ in their lives. A reset of sorts.

Elder Christofferson in this last conference: "I am referring to the Light of Christ. The Savior declared, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Whether aware of it or not, every man, woman, and child of every belief, place, and time is imbued with the Light of Christ and therefore possesses the sense of right and wrong we often call conscience." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/22christofferson?lang=eng

He also speaks of how it shines even in secular principles and other religious traditions.

Great quote- good to have ready at hand.  Thanks

I see the idea of 'conscience" as something even atheists can accept while if you call it "divine communication", or perish the thought, "revelation" you will get major lash back.

Also I wonder of the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost are discernably differently- if there is a qualitative difference.  I doubt it.  But we have spoken about that often.

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18 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

As you might expect, I would like to raise objections to some of your comments. 

Expected and appreciated that you would take the time.  

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I disagree. If by "accept" you mean "acknowledge the existence of", sure. They don't have a choice. However, for the settled naturalist, accepting the veridicality of the experience is impossible, so the content of the experience must be dismissed in some way and causally attributed in some way to a form of deception, whether intentional or otherwise. That is not acceptance. That is not taking it seriously. 

I'm not so sure about this point.  Consider:

https://samharris.org/on-spiritual-truths/

 

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On the contrary, the point of most of these is that God, or at the very least outside spiritual experience, is the subject of the experience. That is what is observed. Therefore, it's prima facie evidence. In fact, explanations appealing to repressed memory or other psychologizing must first assume that the experience cannot be veridical, or at least externally influence by spiritual means. 

The first example mentioned by Dumsday was a woman seeing a Hindu religious leader.  That's not God.  No doubt when one hears or thinks of "spiritual" they as a matter of assumption think of God and thus God is often involved.  But I don't think that means there is a god at all.  

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Verificationism is an incomplete epistemological standard. There is much which is known which cannot be verified external to itself. The existence of other minds, the validity of the senses, the validity of memory and thus the persistence of the self, the validity of rationality itself...these things cannot be demonstrated without appealing to self-referential means. 

That may be but I can't fathom how that means spiritual experiences can be considered evidence of God.  

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What is the evidence-proof distinction? It's so important and in most of my internet conversations with various varieties of atheist there is an almost universal paucity of acknowledgement that evidence and proof are not synonymous, that which is not proof can still be evidence, and in fact proof is not needed to maintain rational belief in almost any sense. "Proof" is essentially a meaningless word because it can only realistically be applied in mathematical and deductive arguments whereas almost all everyday inquiry depends on inductive and abductive reasoning. 

I agree evidence and proof are different.  

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Millions of experience do give us evidence. If you can come up with a counterexplanation then you can say you don't have proof, and be right, but you do have evidence. 

Evidence of what?  Are you saying spiritual experiences somehow provides evidence for God or evidence that people have spiritual experience?  

Consider (copied from the link I provided above):

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And I share the concern, expressed by many atheists, that terms like “spiritual” and “mystical” are often used to make claims, not merely about the quality of certain experiences, but about the nature of the cosmos.

 

 

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Here we come to the normal progression of internet discussion of spiritual experience: "the black box brain" argument epitomized by your statement: "it's way too easy to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience." However, why should such reframings be considered legitimate? You are essentially positing that entirely hypothetical images or bits of information lodged in somebody's unconscious memory and then suddenly got called forth in an entirely life-redefining experience with absolutely no explanation why this should be the case. Most dismissals of religious experience usually play on the thought that it is a manifestation of cultural ideals. I don't believe such - it doesn't explain the phenomenological quality of the experience nor can it account for intersubjective or counterintuitive spiritual experience (see Intuitive Knowing as Spiritual Experience and Visions of Jesus by philosopher Phillip Wiebe, another of my favorites). 

I disagree with that.  I think we can very easily adapt our consciousness to counterintuitive, or as Dumsday calls it, counter-cultural ideas.  It's actually rather easy to find ourselves half-convinced of anyone's worldview. 

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The flaw I see in all of this is that it still doesn't explain why the experience occurred. All it does is posit a black box wherein hypothesized inputs of scraps of information enter, are suspended without any concept of time-depth, and then explode in an immense and life-changing experience with no clear explanation and against all predictions. Unfortunately, this explanation doesn't tell us why the experience happened - it's an alternate theory designed to save another theory by essentially negating the phenomenological observations with which you are challenged. It is, in other words, everything apologetics has a bad rep for. I'm not satisfied with what looks like an excuse. We generally trust our senses to tell us the truth and even optical illusions and hallucinations don't dissuade us. The basic circularity at the heart of sense perception doesn't dissuade us, nor does its subjective nature. Even sense perception doesn't have the kind of logical caliber which you would need to "see the reason".  Which means all of empiricism falls by the same stroke. 

I don't know that demanding the reason turns internal happenings into evidence of something merely proposed.  It could be that spiritual experience is a product of evolution working the imagination.  The reason why this doesn't amount to evidence for God, in my mind is there are too many other reasonable possibilities.  And I"m granting plenty, I feel, by acknowledging these experiences as something real.  

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I'm not so sure about this point.  Consider:

https://samharris.org/on-spiritual-truths/

Thanks for the article. I did read it. I'm afraid that I believe he missed the point. He didn't address spiritual experience and its causes so much as handwave it with an appeal to aesthetics -"The intellectual and moral stains of the world’s religions—the misogyny, otherworldliness, narcissism, and illogic—are so ugly and indelible as to render all religious language suspect"- and promissory naturalism - "a maturing science of the mind should help us to understand and access the heights of human well-being." We've been around the merry-go-round on The Moral Landscape before. Suffice it to say I am unconvinced that a universal definition of well-being could ever be anything more than scientific imperialism stomping those who feel otherwise, nor that the quality of experience can ever be so tightly associated with neurology as to offer us such an insight. 

In any sense, Harris himself says "many of the beliefs people form on the basis of these experiences are false." So he essentially does dismiss the content of spiritual experiences which point to anything other than what he seems to accept: being dipped into a sea of tranquility.

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The first example mentioned by Dumsday was a woman seeing a Hindu religious leader.  That's not God.  No doubt when one hears or thinks of "spiritual" they as a matter of assumption think of God and thus God is often involved.  But I don't think that means there is a god at all.  

Hence my qualifier "most". Many of his experiences do regard the presence or manifestation of God as a matter of intuitive knowing. God is the prima facie subject of the experience. He is the subject observed. 

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That may be but I can't fathom how that means spiritual experiences can be considered evidence of God.  

They can be considered evidence of God because that is prima facie what they are. To the individual, they have come into contact with something else, something immense. The fall of the verificationism standard means that the argument "you can't verify it" doesn't work anymore, because not all knowledge can be verified or has to be verified to be true. Public knowledge like science can be tested again and again and thus confirmed, but private knowledge cannot. This does not mean it is not knowledge, it is just knowledge of a different type. Down with epistemic monism. 

The special irony is that all public knowledge is in fact based on private knowledge which cannot be externally confirmed - the reality of consciousness and validity of the senses. 

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I disagree with that.  I think we can very easily adapt our consciousness to counterintuitive, or as Dumsday calls it, counter-cultural ideas.  It's actually rather easy to find ourselves half-convinced of anyone's worldview.

We find ourselves half-convinced of someone's worldview when we listen to or reflect on it, which is not the case in the circumstances Dumsday describes. Nor does the soundness of an opposing argument manifest as a phenomenological vision or otherworldly ascent in standard experience. 

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I don't know that demanding the reason turns internal happenings into evidence of something merely proposed.

Except that the reasons you demand would undermine even the 5 senses, so they simply cannot be a valid expectation for what constitutes knowledge. Sense experience is an internal happening - data being transmitted to the brain. I can tell you firsthand that my spiritual experiences have felt just as phenomenologically external as sense experience does. In any sense, any hypothesis is first something proposed so internal happenings becoming evidence of something proposed is not controversial. 

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It could be that spiritual experience is a product of evolution working the imagination.

Evolution molded our senses and our brains and yet we trust them. I don't see  how evolution devalues religious experience. 

The major difficulty between religious experience is that we perceive sense experience as producing a unified perception across all humanity, whereas religious experience quite obviously produces differing thoughts. This is not problematic if spiritual experience is viewed as communication instead of pure observation, as our theology permits a vibrant diversity of spiritual influences. It is rendered less problematic when you dispense with verificationism and epistemic monism, realizing that verification does a good job of verifying the kind of knowledge that can be verified; but this is not the only kind of knowledge there is. And the thrust of Dumsday's work is that spiritual experience can break out of our prior interpretive categories and implement things we didn't even know or were not familiar with. This directly militates against the idea that spiritual experience is internally created to bolster our preconceptions. If it can break us out of our internal paradigms, that indicates that it is external, particularly when, like many of Dumsday's respondents, the paradigm change is unrelated to prior consideration, is manifested as a sensory experience, and involves concepts of which the individual was not aware. 

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15 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Great quote- good to have ready at hand.  Thanks

I see the idea of 'conscience" as something even atheists can accept while if you call it "divine communication", or perish the thought, "revelation" you will get major lash back.

Also I wonder of the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost are discernably differently- if there is a qualitative difference.  I doubt it.  But we have spoken about that often.

Thank you -- since we last spoke about it, I found out that when I act morally it is by the enlightenment of the Light of Christ and when I act in holiness it is by the sanctification of the Holy Ghost, and that I discern, both in the mind and in the heart, a difference between the two :)

 

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2 hours ago, CV75 said:

Thank you -- since we last spoke about it, I found out that when I act morally it is by the enlightenment of the Light of Christ and when I act in holiness it is by the sanctification of the Holy Ghost, and that I discern, both in the mind and in the heart, a difference between the two :)

 

Well good!

I am probably confusing myself because I do not know how to experience the difference between "acting morally" and "acting in holiness by sanctification"

I just feel inspired to break a habit or do whatever I need to do to repent, and then I feel more sanctified and closer to the Lord, but then I have a problem with definitions, which I am sure is quite clear to everyone. ;)

 

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On 10/26/2020 at 11:27 AM, OGHoosier said:

As you might expect, I would like to raise objections to some of your comments. 
 

I disagree. If by "accept" you mean "acknowledge the existence of", sure. They don't have a choice. However, for the settled naturalist, accepting the veridicality of the experience is impossible, so the content of the experience must be dismissed in some way and causally attributed in some way to a form of deception, whether intentional or otherwise. That is not acceptance. That is not taking it seriously. 

On the contrary, the point of most of these is that God, or at the very least outside spiritual experience, is the subject of the experience. That is what is observed. Therefore, it's prima facie evidence. In fact, explanations appealing to repressed memory or other psychologizing must first assume that the experience cannot be veridical, or at least externally influence by spiritual means. 

Verificationism is an incomplete epistemological standard. There is much which is known which cannot be verified external to itself. The existence of other minds, the validity of the senses, the validity of memory and thus the persistence of the self, the validity of rationality itself...these things cannot be demonstrated without appealing to self-referential means. 

What is the evidence-proof distinction? It's so important and in most of my internet conversations with various varieties of atheist there is an almost universal paucity of acknowledgement that evidence and proof are not synonymous, that which is not proof can still be evidence, and in fact proof is not needed to maintain rational belief in almost any sense. "Proof" is essentially a meaningless word because it can only realistically be applied in mathematical and deductive arguments whereas almost all everyday inquiry depends on inductive and abductive reasoning. 

Millions of experience do give us evidence. If you can come up with a counterexplanation then you can say you don't have proof, and be right, but you do have evidence. 

Here we come to the normal progression of internet discussion of spiritual experience: "the black box brain" argument epitomized by your statement: "it's way too easy to reframe any given claimed spiritual experience." However, why should such reframings be considered legitimate? You are essentially positing that entirely hypothetical images or bits of information lodged in somebody's unconscious memory and then suddenly got called forth in an entirely life-redefining experience with absolutely no explanation why this should be the case. Most dismissals of religious experience usually play on the thought that it is a manifestation of cultural ideals. I don't believe such - it doesn't explain the phenomenological quality of the experience nor can it account for intersubjective or counterintuitive spiritual experience (see Intuitive Knowing as Spiritual Experience and Visions of Jesus by philosopher Phillip Wiebe, another of my favorites). 

The flaw I see in all of this is that it still doesn't explain why the experience occurred. All it does is posit a black box wherein hypothesized inputs of scraps of information enter, are suspended without any concept of time-depth, and then explode in an immense and life-changing experience with no clear explanation and against all predictions. Unfortunately, this explanation doesn't tell us why the experience happened - it's an alternate theory designed to save another theory by essentially negating the phenomenological observations with which you are challenged. It is, in other words, everything apologetics has a bad rep for. I'm not satisfied with what looks like an excuse. We generally trust our senses to tell us the truth and even optical illusions and hallucinations don't dissuade us. The basic circularity at the heart of sense perception doesn't dissuade us, nor does its subjective nature. Even sense perception doesn't have the kind of logical caliber which you would need to "see the reason".  Which means all of empiricism falls by the same stroke. 

I have been thinking and pondering this article since finally getting it yesterday and finally feel good about commenting on the OP- but I think this post really captures how I also see these issues. So I would like to comment on a few other points here as well.  I have been through the article now three or so times 

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... for the settled naturalist, accepting the veridicality of the experience is impossible, so the content of the experience must be dismissed in some way and causally attributed in some way to a form of deception, whether intentional or otherwise. That is not acceptance. That is not taking it seriously. 

Exactly!  And though I do not know Mackie's work, from what is presented here, I would suspect that his “vision” ;) of reality itself already presupposes atheism due to his devotion to verificationism.  His position seems to be essentially like those of logical positivists and the usual suspects in the “new atheism” - the DH Group,  Dawkins Dennet Harris and Hitchens who all make the same common mistake.  I deliberately used the word "vision" because for me, verificationism- the notion that a proposition cannot be "true" unless it is verifiable- IS a kind of religion.  We have all heard it repeated again and again that the logical positivist version of verificationism cannot itself be verified using its own tenets!

It becomes its own "religion" which is itself NON-verificationist- meaning of course that by its own premises it is nonsense.

I remain amazed that these guys can still sell books, the error of their theories having been so roundly trounced.   For those in doubt about these assertions simply google "death of logical positivism" and you will get a better notion of how that philosophical school is viewed today.

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Verificationism is an incomplete epistemological standard. There is much which is known which cannot be verified external to itself. The existence of other minds, the validity of the senses, the validity of memory and thus the persistence of the self, the validity of rationality itself...these things cannot be demonstrated without appealing to self-referential means. 

And besides these you have "category errors" in logic where different types of evidence apply in different contexts, and the notion itself that knowledge is contextual.  Gilbert Ryle of course brought these errors to light with an imaginary tour of a university wherein someone questions are supposedly asked about whether or not there is a "University" because all he could see were buildings.  "But where is the University?   Where is the famous school spirit I have heard about?   I see not evidence of it here!"

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What is the evidence-proof distinction? It's so important and in most of my internet conversations with various varieties of atheist there is an almost universal paucity of acknowledgement that evidence and proof are not synonymous, that which is not proof can still be evidence, and in fact proof is not needed to maintain rational belief in almost any sense. "Proof" is essentially a meaningless word because it can only realistically be applied in mathematical and deductive arguments whereas almost all everyday inquiry depends on inductive and abductive reasoning.

 Precisely!

But now regarding the article itself, it makes me uncomfortable.  I feel it alludes to errors in thinking without actually making them explicit, so for me there is a bit of a cloud over the logic in it, which is more of a feeling about the author's attitude about the problem than anything else.

Let's see if I can make it more explicit.

The very notion that someone else's spiritual experience which is beyond my culture can be more veridical than my cultural experience still maintains, in my opinion, the idea that there is something “out there” beyond what humans can know, except perhaps by accident when the coils somehow get reversed 😜

That there IS, beyond routine human experience something out there waiting to be discovered.  It WANTS there to be something like "evidence" that someone else has felt somewhere else which "confirms" the veracity of religious experience because "Even that atheist had these Christian experiences, like I did."   And the more exotic the better!

Because the observers ARE counter cultural the observations seem somehow more valid because they are NOT linked to culture- and therefore more linked to that objective,   supposedly existent world beyond perception, when something unusual happens.

It is like UFO abductions or the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot becoming "more veridical" because after all couldn't a Yeti and Big Foot "really" be the same thing found all over the world?

But there IS no objectively existent world beyond human perception THAT WE CAN KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT.   Experience/Perception is a necessary condition for "knowing" anything, and that includes spiritual experence and spiritual knowledge.    It's got to "get into your head"- it has to be in your consciousness - to be something you "know" and the only way in is through experiences including feelings as part of reality.   Are feelings and hunches "real"?  If you are hiking at night and hear a loud growl you had better regard that feeling as "real" even if it is "just emotional".

It becomes an apriori statement- we cannot know what we cannot know

The set of “things” about which we cannot know - for all we know- does not exist!   Are there "undiscovered species" out there?  In what sense do they "exist" to us if they are unseen or unknown?  Semantics!  Tree falling in the forest!

Rorty: 

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 " To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. "

It is common sense to know there are “causes” of experience that are NOT part of us- but whether or not those causes are more veridical for being counter cultural remains something unknowable in principle!

The “causes” for a Jewish man to have visions of Christ are unknowable in principle.  We can make guess what they might be, we can produce paradigms for what they might be.

As Scrooge said to Marley

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““You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Or Marley might have been an apparition from God.  None of these hypotheses are more “veridical” than any other because the “cause” is IN PRINCIPLE unknown in a realm beyond human experience. 

I think a perfect parallel would be arguing that because someone in China believes that murder is wrong it makes it more “true” for an American to also believe it is. 

In a sense it certainly seems to be an evidence

It just doesn't sit well with me as an orthodox Rortian .   There is something "fishy" about it!

I would simply account for counter cultural religious experience, if one wants a naturalistic explanation as an evolutionary tendency to seek for what we call "meaning in life" or a reason to live longer and have more babies and want them to live in peace.   We receive feelings of peace when our actions accord with what is evolutionarily better for the species.

Again, no culture likes to be victims of random violence, but seeks peace with their neighbors.   "Can't we all just get along"?

Or the spiritual answer, after experiencing a spiritual Intelligence other than oneself, whatever the cultural mix, it could be God leading us personally in our own tutored custom curriculum to move us into the next step for our spiritual growth, using whatever culture will communicate to us at that particular juncture in our life experience.

I think that approach as a paradigm handles all the necessary explanations, as I think was mentioned somewhere as an alternate way of seeing it, regardless of culture.  My devout Mormon wife found me interesting and "exotic" for being a Polish Easterner who had never heard of Mormons.and studied philosophy.  The counter-culture was itself interesting and got her attention for some reason.  That was the hook that made her interested at the very first.   That was also now 41 years ago.   I'm not that interesting now ;) but she loves me anyway, why I will never know.

The interest in the "exotic" and diversity the gene pool.   Who knows?!!?

Works for me!

 

Edited by mfbukowski
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2 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Well good!

I am probably confusing myself because I do not know how to experience the difference between "acting morally" and "acting in holiness by sanctification"

I just feel inspired to break a habit or do whatever I need to do to repent, and then I feel more sanctified and closer to the Lord, but then I have a problem with definitions, which I am sure is quite clear to everyone. ;)

I don't think you have a problem.

Instead of "morally" I also use "honorably" (my first choice, actually) as in D&C 76:75, the kingdom where the gift of the Holy Ghost has not been obtained (our sense of right and wrong do not make us valiant in doing what is right, nor does it grant us additional sight), though the testimony of Jesus (by the power of the Holy Ghost) was later received. The kingdom where people with the gift of the Holy Ghost (and used it to be valiant) is described in verses 50-53, 60-70.

Perhaps the discernible difference is in the degree of fulness of glory or perfection obtained through the respective operation of the two.

For example, I think morality, honorableness and integrity are more culturally defined than the often counter-intuitive and counter-cultural attributes of holiness. This allows that the Lord works within our cultural settings through the Light of Christ first, "winking" at the craftiness of men for a time, and then changes it to be more like Zion's culture as cultural blindness is removed. This is how the Gospel could be restored in such a depraved, benighted setting through such crude characters (my presentist glasses ON). The light shines in darkness and progress rolls forth (my presentist glasses OFF).

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9 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

And the thrust of Dumsday's work is that spiritual experience can break out of our prior interpretive categories and implement things we didn't even know or were not familiar with. This directly militates against the idea that spiritual experience is internally created to bolster our preconceptions. If it can break us out of our internal paradigms, that indicates that it is external, particularly when, like many of Dumsday's respondents, the paradigm change is unrelated to prior consideration, is manifested as a sensory experience, and involves concepts of which the individual was not aware. 

What does "external" mean here?  That may be the crux of my problem- insofar as it is a "problem".

For me, any interpretation is "internal" I suppose.

EDIT: That is connected to doctrine in the sense that this "creating our worlds" starts right here as we create them right here, where we live.

It also makes it possible for that belief to be metaphorical if our world view demands it.   We can be fully Humanist and fully members of the Church of Jesus Christ as spiritual beings simultaneously as for example the Adam and Eve story can be literal or about our individual falls from grace depending on the paradigm we choose

Edited by mfbukowski
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