Ye of Subjective Faith

I started writing this in response to an interesting, new commentor to this site, SandalStraps, but it got a little longer than most comments should be. I tried to generalize it a little.

I asked SandalStraps, "What reasons do you have for believing there is a god to place your faith in?" He responded:
Intuition, personal religious experience, and all sorts of other "non-rational" but not irrational claims.

Faith in God is not principally about belief in propositions, but rather about experience of a personal nature which fills life with meaning.

I've seen a study that says 70% of the world's population has experienced déjà vu. I've experienced it several times myself and it is very real. I truly felt that I had been in that conversation, room, situation before.

So, it seems I have two choices in my analysis of this very real, subjective experience. I can (1) believe that time is noodlier than I thought and that I am actually experiencing the same events a second time, or (2) my brain is simply mixing qualia and it is applying the sensation of the past where it should be applying the sensation of the present to my situation.

Now, I must choose between these two options. I ask myself which is the simplest answer. Is it easier to think that I am experiencing time in a different way than the person next to me, or is it simpler to think that my brain has simply made a “mistake”?

The latter seems far more plausible.

Many Christians describe their subjective "personal religious experience" very similarly. They believe that they have had an experience with a disembodied mind. Is this probable? How does a thought exist without a brain? Have you ever heard of a thought without a brain? Yet this is what some Christians are claiming for their god. This being of theirs has a really odd characteristic; one that seems impossible, in fact.

On the other hand, it could be that a Christian’s brain produces a qualia that we call a religious feeling. Feelings of religious experience can be induced in labs.

Dr. Michael Persinger, for instance, has constructed a "God Helmet" that causes 80% of its wearers to have a "religious experience." Read about it here and here.

Other, less controversial, experiments have also linked the temporal lobes of the brain to religious experience.

Temporal lobe epilepsy, for instance, has been shown to cause intense religious experiences. The brains of praying nuns and Buddhist monks have been studied during their religious practice and the temporal lobes have been singled out as the location of these religious experiences.

What if religious experiences are simply actions of the brain that are as real to us as anything else? Just like we really experience déjà vu, so some really experience a religious feeling.

Now, you must choose which is the simplest answer. Either (1) your religious experience is the result of an action inside your brain, or (2) an eternal, all-wise, all-powerful, disembodied ghost-mind has spoken to you.

Either way, the experience is the same. The question is whether a disembodied ghost-mind is the cause or your brain is the cause.

Look at the evidence for the former (viz. your religious experience is the result of an action inside your brain): (1) people with temporal lobe epilepsy often have religious experiences associated with their condition. (2) Studies on monks and nuns in deep meditative states show the temporal lobe active during those religious experiences. (3) A "God Helmet" can produce religious experiences in most people by creating a magnetic field around your brain.

Let's examine the evidence for the latter (an eternal, all-wise, all-powerful, disembodied ghost-mind has spoken to you.):

. . . [Sorry, can't think of any. Maybe the Christian bloggers can help me out here. Your job is to show me why you should believe that the religious feeling you experience isn't simply result of a brain activity and that it si more reasonable to believe a disembodied mind causes your religious experience.]

If no one offers any reason to think that a disembodied ghost-mind caused your particular religious feelings, then I think I'm going to have to side with the brain explanation since there is more evidence in that direction.


I wrote this post before I read SandalStraps' latest comment. There, he writes,
If a person, S, has experience, E, which seems to be of a particular object, O, then, everything else being equal, the best explanation of S's having E is that S has experience O, rather than something else or nothing at all.


The presumption created by BEE that a seeming experience of a particular object, O, is, in fact, an experience of O is strengthened by the more "sightings" of O and the more variable the circumstances under which O has been sighted.

This fits in very nicely with my comments above.

I, person S, experience the feeling, E, of having lived this moment before (i.e. deja vu; object O). Everything else being equal, then, the best explanation of my, person S, having E is that I, S, have experienced living this moment in time before.

Sounds pretty fishy so far.

As I mentioned, as many as 70% of the world's population experience deja vu--i.e. they feel they have lived a particular moment before.

Therefore, the presumption that I have experienced living a particular moment in time before is strengthened by the more "sightings" of living in a particular moment in time before.

[I know this sounds bad, but you have to blame the argument, not me. In religious encounters, a person S is not experiencing an "object," (i.e. something with mass or appearance), but rather an emotion. No one is having a "sighting" of a god, just as no one truly has a sighting of deja vu. They may have experiences of both, but they really aren't "seeing" anything in either case. I'm simply using the language of the argument.]

Using the argument above then, it would be most reasonable to assume that experiences of deja vu are actually occassions of re-experiencing a particular moment in time.

This, however, seems implausible and I refer my reader back up to my argument above about which seems to be more likely.