Another Case Study In How To Defend Obfuscate The Christian Faith, Part 1

As readers know I wrote a book on this topic, titled, you guessed it, How to Defend the Christian Faith (subtitled, Advice from an Atheist). The book has received some good recommendations including those from Christian scholars Karl Gilberson, Chad Meister, and Gary Habermas who has recommended it for his PhD apologetics students.

Our case study today is from apologist Randal Rauser, who objected to a recent post of mine, titled Subjective Private Religious Experiences Prove Nothing. The first question is why Rauser the apologist would even care? Surely he has the goods, the objective evidence, a sufficient amount of it, such that he doesn't need to bother with subjective private religious experiences. Right? So by dealing with what I wrote he tacitly admits that a sufficient amount of third party independent corroborative objective evidence does not exist. For if it did, he could ignore what I said. My stated requirement for "a sufficient amount of third party independent corroborative objective evidence", while clumsy and a bit redundant, says it all. The two parties involved are the person claiming to have subjective private religious experiences and a god who provides them. We need sufficient independent evidence, corroborative objective evidence, that has the potential for reasonably convincing third parties.

I'll call these alleged subjective religious experiences private miracles since they cannot be adequately explained by the natural processes of the brain alone, just as biblical miracles cannot be adequately explained by the natural processes of nature alone. Sufficient objective evidence of miracles, the kind we're looking for, the kind we need, is independent corroborative evidence that has the potential for convincing reasonable informed third party adults, whether they're privately experienced in the mind or publicly experienced in the world outside the mind. So all by themselves subjective religious experiences of a private miracle prove nothing to reasonable informed third party adults.

To be clear, I don't deny that these private subjective religious experiences have the potential for convincing people who have experienced them. Sadly, they can and they do convince childish uniformed ignorant gullible superstitious people. What I deny is that they have the potential for convincing reasonable people. That's because to convince a person they should also have the potential for convincing reasonable informed third party adults. To be additionally clear, I'm not talking about some hypothetical fictionalized story of a private miracle experience created to obfuscate actual testimonies. No, I'm talking about the kinds of testimonies people actually claim of private miracles. They are no more able to convince reasonable informed third party adults than ancient biblical testimonies to miracles can.

Here's Rauser now, who uses a red herring diversionary tactic, claiming what I wrote has:
Vagueness: It isn’t clear what content would be required for an experience to be religious rather than non-religious.

Relevance: If there is a veridical problem here, it is a problem with subjective private experiences generally rather than with some specific subset of such experiences (i.e. religious ones).

So here’s the question: can a subjective private experience provide evidence for a truth claim?
Boom!! Just like that he wants to discuss a different issue. The reason I'm talking about a religious issue is because the video I linked to had a multitude of religious people all claiming private miracles who are all sure of their different culturally indoctrinated religious faiths, many of which are mutually contradictory to each other. Why can't Rauser deal with the specific issue before him instead of feigning ignorance that he doesn't know what a religious experience is, while holding to his own private miracle as the basis for his whole religious faith? You see, it's not my claim I'm dealing with, but his. Maybe it's because he can't do it and get the same conclusion-driven result he wants.

Rauser again:
Let’s consider an example.

James decides to spend the night in an abandoned mental hospital that is rumored to be haunted. About 3 am, James wakes up in the darkness and senses a presence in the room. It’s an experience unlike any he has experienced before. Every hair is standing up, he is covered with goosebumps, and a chill goes down his spine. “Who’s there?” he says into the darkness. Suddenly, a figure materializes in front of him, levitating about 10 inches above the linoleum. It is the image of an incredibly sad woman with a severe head wound. Terrified, James runs out of the hospital. Days later, he identifies the apparition as a woman who died in the hospital in 1954 after being beaten in the head by another patient.

James underwent a subjective private experience. Could it provide evidence for James to believe that ghosts exist? Yes, of course it could. Could it provide evidence for other people, people who obviously did not have James’ experience, to believe that ghosts exist? Possibly so. That would depend on how they evaluated the credibility of James’ testimony relative to their background set of beliefs (i.e. their plausibility framework).
Wait just a minute! What actual case is Rauser talking about? He's making this story up. A made up pretend story is supposed to be analogous to the ones in the video from real people claiming to know which god exists, based on their own sect-specific religious private miracles. In Rauser's case, supposedly there is a bit of third party objective evidence for the private miracle that his imagined friend James claims (i.e, the identification of the dead woman later). This is something that just doesn't happen very much in the real world of private miracles, and can be explained by pure chance. Furthermore, when it comes to background beliefs, or plausibility frameworks, the only ones that count are evidence-based. Plenty of people have misinformed background beliefs that need to be subjected to the same objective standards as I'm writing about here, ones that Rauser rejects. So you cannot reasonably compare previous misinformed background beliefs with alleged private miracles to verify private miracles as veridical (or true to reality).

Rauser concludes:
To sum up, Loftus’ claim is false. Subjective private experiences can provide evidence to accept (or retain) a particular truth claim. Of course, Loftus could claim that this is not true of that specific subset of subjective private experiences which are religious in nature. But first, he would need to overcome the vagueness problem by explaining what it is the makes an experience religious. Next, he would need to explain what specific problem applies to all subjective private religious experiences but not to subjective private experiences generally. LINK.
Notice the word "can" in what Rauser said: "Subjective private experiences can provide evidence to accept (or retain) a particular truth claim." Now I don't deny that they can, if someone is allowed to make up just any story he wants to. I call this tactic of his definitional apologetics, where he tries to obfuscate or obscure what we're really talking about by steering us away from it to chase him down that endless definitional rabbit's hole instead. Good apologists need to be good at this, even if it's not the honest way to proceed. That's why I focus on concrete examples. It gets to the heart of the matter for people who really want to know the truth. Don't be shocked. Most people don't want to know the truth. Their brains are lying to them. Not only that, but most people reading this don't think they're in the grouping of "most people", which means most people think they're different than most people when we know they can't be (just do the math).

Most believers, if not all of them I have known, will say their private miracle experience proves with certainty their entire sect-specific religious faith is true down to the minute details. Conservative Christians, for instance, will come away feeling certain they had an experience with Jesus, who existed eternally as the second person of the trinity and was born of a virgin, and so on, and so on. It's that claim they almost always make that cannot be known by a private miracle experience.

I'll say more on how to test these private miracles in Part 2.


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