Mystical Faith? Reviewing Mittelberg's "Confident Faith" Part 15

In his apologetics book, Confident Faith, Mark Mittelberg is writing sentences and chapters on examining his religious faith from the luck of the draw of childhood and cultural indoctrination. I think he acknowledges the problem fairly well. The question I wrestle with is how his brain can allow him to understand the problem, yet utterly fail to honestly deal with it, as is obvious here. So his book is little more than a 287 page example of confirmation bias in action.

At least Mittelberg can be credited with acknowledging the problem. But then, apologists can admit this problem, along with the twin problems of horrendous suffering for a good god, and of believing a virtually impossible miraculous biblical event took place, yet go on to write as if they didn't acknowledge these problems at all. It's because their brains will not allow them to truly acknowledge THE FORCE OF THESE PROBLEMS, no matter how accurately they are described. Cognitive biases are like viruses of the mind that won't let them consider the force of these and other problems for their faith.

William Lane Craig by contrast, doesn't think there's a childhood and cultural indoctrination problem at all, because he says
"The Bible says all men are without excuse. Even men who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no good excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit. Therefore, the role of reason in knowing Christianity is true is to be a servant. A person knows Christianity is true because the Holy Spirit tells him it is true, and while reason can be used to support this conclusion, reason cannot overrule it." [Craig, Apologetics: An Introduction, p. 22.].
Craig says, "I am asserting that not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit's witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer." SOURCE.

In this 7th chapter Mittelberg deals with the Mystical path to faith, which he says is different than the intuitive path. The Mystical path "goes beyond the Intuitive method we discussed in chapter 6, because it entails not just a human instinct or some kind of natural 'sixth sense' that leads a person to certain conclusions. Rather, the Mystical method bases its position on claims of an actual encounter with a supernatural entity." (p. 102)

Middleburg describes a few bizarre cases, one of a man who claimed he was the Holy Spirit and participated in the creation of the world, another where a woman claimed God raised her husband up from the dead, and rumors of angels mysteriously riding in the backseat of cars. About these bizarre claims Middleburg rightly says "what they feel does not necessarily equate with something that's real."

His focus is on the Mormons who testify after a prayer that they know their god was real. Middleburg quotes from one of the chief defenders of Mormonism today, Robert L. Miller, professor of ancient scripture and former dean of religious education at Brigham Young University. Miller wrote a book called Getting at the Truth: Responding to Difficult Questions about LDS Beliefs. The following quotes are from Miller, as quoted by Middleburg:
The most tried and true method of obtaining divine direction--is prayer itself.

In a very real sense believing is seeing. No member of the church need feel embarrassed at being unable to produce the Golden Plates or the complete Egyptian papyrus. No member of the church should hesitate to bear testimony of verities that remain in the realm of faith, that are seen only with the eyes of faith.

President Ezra Taft Benson pointed out: "We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it.... We are not required to prove that the Book of Mormon is true or is an authentic record through external evidences--though there are many. It never has been the case, nor is it so now, that the studies of the learned will prove the Book of Mormon true or false. The origin, preparation, translation, and verification of the truth of the Book of Mormon have all been retained in the hands of the Lord, and the Lord makes no mistakes. You can be assured of that."

President Gordon B. Hinckley put things in proper perspective when he taught regarding the Book of Mormon.... "The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence lies not an archeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable individuals may sincerely question its origins, but those who read it prayerfully may come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true."

Elder Boyd K. Packer declared... "Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction. If we can stand without shame, without hesitancy, without embarrassment, without reservation to bear witness that the gospel has been restored, that there are prophets and apostles upon the earth, that the truth is available for all mankind, the Lord's spirit will be with us. And that assurance can be affirmed to others."

In the end the only way that the things of God can be known is by the power of the Holy Ghost... the only way spiritual truth can be known is by the quiet whisperings of the Holy Ghost. I'm grateful to have, burning within my soul, a testimony that the father and the son appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820, and that the Church of Jesus Christ the Latter-Day Saints is truly the kingdom of God on Earth.
I highlighted a few statements in what Miller wrote, of which William Lane Craig agrees. Craig advocates a duo approach to Christianity. On the one hand the Holy Spirit is all anyone needs to justify Christianity. But on the other hand, Craig says there is evidence for his faith, basically confirming the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. That's what these Mormon's say, especially the quotes by Benson and Hinckley above.

But a fatal problem emerges between these two types of Christianity. How can they dispute each other's claims of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? Each of them denies they need any evidence, so they cannot show by means of evidence that the other's claim is wrong. Doing so would deny their claims that the evidence isn't needed. All they can say is that the Holy Spirit testifies to THEIR OWN RELIGION, which denies the other's religion, na na na boo boo! So surprise, that's exactly what Craig does when asked about the Mormon's claim! "I'm right." "No I'm right." They say to each other.

So it's crystal clear that when two different Christianities (or religions) use the same "method" or "approach" or experience, and it leads them to different and contradictory Christianities, then that "method" or "approach" or experience should be rejected when honestly desiring to know which religion is true, if there is one. Period.

Craig is on record in the last link above, saying, "What’s at issue here is whether holding that the witness of God’s Spirit is indefeasible leads to some epistemic misstep. If it does, then I’ll gladly give up that claim." Well, I just gave it to him. But it's even worse. Different Christianities abound down through time and throughout the world. Someone would have to close his eyes and hold his ears not to know this.

Craig is on record saying the inner witness of the Holy Spirit all by itself warrants Christianity, which I argue is his fatal flaw. By that he means, "the truths of the Gospel" "assurance of salvation" "conviction of sin" that "God exists and that Christianity is true." Since many other Christian theologians say the Holy Spirit warrants their own Christian sect--and I'm not going to get involved in proclaiming which Christanity is the true Christianity, since I reject them all--then that same flaw in his reasoning applies over and over again. Plus, other religions say the same kind of things, that their god, gods or goddesses warrant their own sect-specific religions through a spiritual influence called by a different name. So the same fatal flaw of Craig's emerges in most all of them.

Middleburg wrote something important when discussing the Intuitive approach. It applies here:
It's interesting that those who advocate the intuitive way of knowing routinely write detailed logical defenses of it, trying to support it with evidence and examples drawn from daily life. They don't tell you just to clutch their books to your heart or hold them over your head as you decide through some 'sixth sense' if what they're saying is true. Rather, they give you reasons to trust them to buy their books, and to listen to their lectures--reasons that at least to some degree undermine the main thrust of their approach (pp. 97-98).
I know Craig is advocating a duo approach to Christianity, but one of these two approaches is utterly superfluous, the one where he defends his faith with arguments. So it can be dropped. Or, does Craig think his god needs him and his arguments? Let him say his god DOES indeed need him and that would change everything for him. Until he does apologetics is utterly superfluous for Craig's theology.

Middleburg ends his chapter arguing for a "triple test" to fact-check Mystical claims. He says we should make sure the psychic messages being given through mystical encounters are "1) true to the world; 2) true to the messengers own words; and ultimately 3) true to God's words."

While his first two tests are good ones, there is no justification at all in judging one set of paranormal claims by another set of paranormal claims. It's certainly not an honest way to test or judge whether his own faith is true, by assuming it to prove other faiths are false. Middleburg must first independently examine his own faith by the two tests he mentioned.

I've written three books to educate believers on how to honestly seek the truth. In them I do it correctly, something neither Middleburg nor Craig have done.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. Thank you so much!