Tom Gilson

The Holy Spirit: No Inconsistent Truths

There are inconvenient truths, there are even unwanted truths, but there are no inconsistent truths.

Christians speak of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit in our lives as evidence that God is real. Often we are asked, “How do you know that your internal sense of God really is from God? Other people have experiences inside their minds and hearts, too. How do you know yours is genuine and theirs isn’t?”

I don’t have access to those others’ experiences, and no non-believer has access to a Christian’s internal experience. These perceptions of God are never put forth as evidence for others to believe; rather they are always presented as assurance and knowledge granted to the follower of Christ. William Lane Craig summarizes it aptly: it is a way that we can know that God is real, but it is not a way we can expect to show that God is real.

The key biblical passages on this are in the Gospel of John and in the first letter of John, along with a few passages sprinkled in some of Paul’s letters. Those in I John will be especially helpful for us to look at here, using the English Standard Version as our source:

2:18-20 — Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

(Antichrist here refers primarily not to some future worldwide religious leader but to any person or spirit opposed to Christ. I mention that only in passing; it is not the main point we are looking at.)

2:27 — But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

3:19-21 — By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;

4:13 — By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

5:7-10 —For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

So clearly we see here that the Holy Spirit provides teaching, assurance, confidence, testimony for believers. This is that of which we speak when we say that God’s Holy Spirit provides us inward confidence of his truth. In the John’s Gospel we also find reference to the Spirit convicting (convincing) persons regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment; leading Christ-followers into all truth; comforting and coming alongside to help. In Paul’s letters we see the Spirit referred to as a seal, a deposit, or in a sense a down-payment or guarantee of God’s promises.

Now we come to the question, how can we be so sure? What gives us such certainty that it is God’s Spirit moving within us rather than, say, a particularly aesthetic kind of satisfaction, or even a caffeine buzz? What about other religions that make similar claims? I may be correctable on this, but to my knowledge only Mormonism adopts a similar position, that one can know the truth of their teachings by an internal experience. They often call it a “burning in the bosom.” I don’t think that’s how many Christians would describe their experience; more often it seems like a sense of settled, peaceful, joyful assurance, sometimes accompanied by a sensation of very personal closeness to God.

That’s the part of it that’s describable. It is a perception, and perceptions in one mode are not describable in terms of other modes. I cannot explain what I see in terms of what I hear or touch. That doesn’t mean I can’t hear or touch the same object I’m seeing, it is only to say that the seeing itself cannot be explained or described in terms of hearing or touch. A person blind from birth may accept that vision exists, and that what she touches and hears, her seeing friend can perceive in yet another manner, but she will have no conception at all of what sight is. So it is with the perception of God: it is not easily describable in terms of other sensations. This is in itself no strike against the Christian position that direct perception of God is possible. The Bible speaks of new life, a re-generation, coming upon a person who enters a relationship with God. A perceptive faculty that had been dead awakens (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

So we see that this perception of God, qua perception, is not inherently nonsensical or self-contradictory. I have not yet provided any reason, though, to be sure that it actually exists.

This is where context comes in. Let’s look at some other things John had to say in this letter of his. First, with respect to the passages in 2:18-20 and 2:27 where he says “you have all knowledge,” and “you have no need that anyone should teach you,” these cannot be understood as absolute statements, for John is actually writing to tell them things they need to learn, and he is teaching them. The context of the entire letter (including the purpose for which he wrote it) shows that he means for them to accept teaching and new information. The paragraph context of these verses (1 John 2:18-27) shows that he is specifically referring to false teachers, and he is instructing them to pay attention to what the Spirit of God tells them about these deceivers. It should not be taken further than that.

But this is hardly all we can learn from the full context. Consider how he began the letter:

1:1-3 — That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

He starts with an appeal to physical evidence: what he and others had heard, seen, looked upon, and touched. The inward experience of God is accompanied by experiences in other modes, just as sight may also be accompanied by hearing, touch, or smell, with all senses together confirming each other.

Now in order for this to really be confirmatory, there has to be congruence between all these modes of perception. There are no inconsistent truths. John in this letter appeals to consistency in many ways. It is an epistle of evidences. Over and over he says, “By this we know…” referring not to some inward experience but to outward, visible evidences (1 John 2:3, 5; 1 John 3:14, 16, 19; 1 John 4:2; 1 John 4:13; 1 John 5:2). He also points to inconsistencies and contradictions with respect to the truth being practiced (1 John 1:6-10; 1 John 2:4, 9, 11; 1 John 2:15-16; 1 John 3:9-12; 1 John 3:21, and more).

He assures us (1 John 2:21) that “no lie is of the truth” — a nice compact statement of the law of non-contradiction, or what I have been stating here as “no inconsistent truths.” He acknowledges that there are false spirits, and crucially, he calls on his readers to test the spirits (1 John 4:1-3). The test he suggests there (no spirit is from God that denies Jesus is Lord) is for a particular kind of error, but the whole tenor of the letter is that of multiple kinds of tests.

The answer to the question we started with is becoming clear, I hope. How do we know whether our internal experience of God can be trusted? We test it against other experiences and other knowledge. Is it consistent with what we know from other biblical teachings? Does it accord with what we know of the world through science, history, and our own experiences of life? If it does, is there any reason not to trust it?

Mormons’ experience ought also to be tested in the same way. Mormonism asks us to accept that their experience of God is consistent with other teachings of theirs, such as that Jesus Christ is a created being and Lucifer’s (the devil’s) brother, that Jesus Christ came to America after his time in Palestine and preached to a large civilization here, and that good followers of the Mormon way will become gods. The first and last of these clearly contradict the Bible, even though Mormons claim to follow it along with their Book of Mormon, while the middle one is unbelievable in that it leads us to expect far more archaeological evidence of this civilization than has ever been found or even hinted at.

If other religions make similar claims of testability by internal experience, then I am unaware of them, but they ought to be tested in exactly the same way.

Christianity, I am quite convinced, passes the test of internal consistency and coherence. It is supported by the Scriptures, and it is consistent with a broader view of reality. The strongest accusations against Christianity amount to its being allegedly unprovable or not demonstrable, not that it is internally contradictory. (I am aware of charges of Christianity being self-contradictory, but I’ve never encountered such an objection that stood up to analysis.) The most obvious objection along these lines goes something like this: “You say you’ve experienced God in this way, but you can’t explain what sense organ is involved, and I can’t imagine it at all myself.” But this is not at all difficult to deal with. God, who created us and who has all power, can certainly make his presence known to us with or without an identifiable sense organ. This is not self-contradictory at all.

Let me return once again to comparisons with other perceptions. How do we know that what we are seeing is real and not a hallucination or (more likely) an optical illusion? By comparing it to other sense perceptions and to our background knowledge. In the absence of some other information that undermines our trust in what we see, we generally trust it. We extend that trust even to things we cannot otherwise test, like the existence of stars, for example. (There are independent tests for the existence of stars in today’s science, but we accepted that they existed long before that.)

Similarly for Christians, God impresses himself strongly upon us through a direct experience of himself. With no defeating information for our trust in that impression, there is no rational reason to deny that what we experience is genuine.

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77 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit: No Inconsistent Truths


  1. The answer to the question we started with is becoming clear, I hope. How do we know whether our internal experience of God can be trusted? We test it against other experiences and other knowledge. Is it consistent with what we know from other biblical teachings? Does it accord with what we know of the world through science, history, and our own experiences of life? If it does, is there any reason not to trust it?

    Would it be implausible for one to have religious experience which is consistent with the scriptures you regard as authoritative and your views about what is supported by science, history and your life experience but still be of psychological origin?

    Not in the least.

    In fact, there seems no reason at all to regard the psychological hypothesis as, at least, as consistent with these criteria as the divine origin hypothesis.

    And its seems to me that there are at least a couple of good reasons to regard the psychological hypothesis as more likely even given the criteria you suggest. For example, we know that similar kinds of inner sense of religious conviction or revelation are common to many religions (it is to be found in some form in most religions even if you seem unaware of this). These other experiences probably meet your criteria just as well as yours do (so long as the scriptural component of the criteria is that of their own religion and not yours). So, clearly, most (if not all) such experiences are in error. There’s just no reason to think yours aren’t one of the mistaken ones.

  2. I think this is what you’re saying, David:

    Religions a, b, c, … all claim (I’ll use a very generic term here) numinous experiences that their adherents consider to be a touch from God, gods, ultimate reality, or whatever. So what separates the numinous experience (NE) of religion (a) from that of religion (b), or from simple psychological effects? Or, how does NE-a (I wish I could use subscripts) differ from NE-b, NE-c, etc. in its veridicality with respect to ultimate reality?

    I think the major tests have been laid out in the post, for at least some religions. NE-m for Mormonism fails the test; it is unsupported by its external concomitants. But you might say nevertheless there is some other religion R and some NE-r, such that NE-r and R are fully consistent within their own teachings and experience, and also with the rest of reality. I would ask which religion that is, and I would that this its existence is implausible to me from the start, for Christianity is superior in its overall coherence: its historical and archeaological support, its understanding and explanation of the human condition, its marriage of justice and grace, the greatness of the life of Christ its founder, its explanation of good and evil, its effects on the lives of its adherents, its philosophical implications and connections, and more. (I have written of this at length: the Beauty series, beginning here.

    So that would be my first answer, and I suppose I could leave it there. I think Christianity passes the consistency test to a degree that greatly outstrips other belief systems.

    But I could go further anyway, since I doubt you would accept what I have just said. Suppose (for the sake of argument) that NE-r did exist, or even that there were multiple instances of NE-r (multiple religions whose numinous experiences were consistent with their internal and external implications and beliefs). Would that constitute a defeater for Christianity or for NE-c (Christians’ experience of the Holy Spirit)?

    It would certainly show that a person might have a numinous experience and misinterpret it. This does not even begin, however, to explain what that numinous experience actually is. The naturalist races to the conclusion that it is all in the head, but that is by no means a given, unless naturalism is assumed a priori. Christianity suggests that most or all NEs may actually have spiritual causes, but not all of them have godly spiritual causes. Not all that is spiritual is godly or good, according to Christianity; and as is clear even from passages I’ve quoted here, spirits need to be tested because they can deceive. So NE-r could quite likely be an experience produce by a deceiving spirit.

    The psychological explanation wins out over that one only if it is given a rather roaring head start by being taken as the default answer. But why assume that a spiritual experience is not related to spiritual reality? To do so is to assume, rather than to demonstrate, everything but matter and energy out of existence.

    But again I emphasize that it seems clear to me that NE-c, and Christianity itself, is more believable and plausible than any NE-r. Thus my real answer is that I doubt the plausibility of your premise, that there is some NE-r or some religion R that is as consistently in touch with reality as NE-c and Christianity.

  3. I loved this entire article except for the unexpected attack on Mormonism, which surprised me. As Christians, isn’t our top desire simply for people to know Christ through the Holy Spirit and form a strong, loving relationship with him? When our planet is being threatened by fundamentalist views that involve killing all Christians, do differences among Christians truly matter? Does Jesus find it insulting if Mormons think He went to America or Brazil or the moon, as long as they have accepted Him as their Lord and Savior?

    I was equally surprised when Michael Steele recently launched an attack on Mormons. Is this really a time for Christians to be divided against one another?

  4. DrDeb,

    Thank you for the encouraging word!

    Mormons adopt much of the language of Christianity, but as explained here, “the theological chasm is wide” between Christianity and Mormonism. It’s wide enough that the “Christ” they accept is not at all the Christ of Christianity.

    Further, it’s not a matter of whether Jesus finds it insulting that they think he came to America. It’s a matter of whether it’s true (which it isn’t), and whether, if it is false, it is an innocuous peripheral part of their belief system or a central aspect of it. If it’s at the core and if it’s not true, then it most certainly does matter.

  5. Tom,

    You don’t need to find the organ or structure that perceives the numinous experience (although that would be a big help); you first have to demonstrate that it exists as a real force outside the individual who claims to perceive it.

    You wrote:

    …spirits need to be tested because they can deceive.

    So, what’s the test? What test for a numinous experience can you propose that Christianity passes and all other religions fail?


  6. I think Christianity passes the consistency test to a degree that greatly outstrips other belief systems.

    Consistency is a very low bar to set. Most religions can easily pass such a test (in fact, most schizoid fantasies can probably pass it).


    The psychological explanation wins out over that one only if it is given a rather roaring head start by being taken as the default answer.

    The psychological explanation has an explanatory advantage in the simple fact that psychological phenomena indisputably exist. Gods and demons are, to say the least, far less well established to be real.


    But why assume that a spiritual experience is not related to spiritual reality? To do so is to assume, rather than to demonstrate, everything but matter and energy out of existence.

    Recall, firstly, that I am not a materialist.

    And, secondly, it is a rather bizarre claim to say that my thinking that a psychological (mental) explanation is more feasible indicates that I rule out the existence of all but matter and energy—given that the explanation being proposed by me is a mental one.

    As to a spiritual experience being related to a spiritual reality—I think it is. To the reality of the human mind. We already know that exists, unlike deities and devils, so why posit mysterious unknowns to explain what fits well into an explanation in terms of something which is far more definitely real?

  7. Something of a side issue but does Mormonism really diverge any more from Christianity than Christianity does from Judaism. Christians typically read the OT with a mindset colored by their christian beliefs and, I think, fail to see the rather obvious fact that OT and NT don’t really fit well together at all (I know that was true of me when I believed in Christianity).

  8. The psychological explanation has an explanatory advantage in the simple fact that psychological phenomena indisputably exist. Gods and demons are, to say the least, far less well established to be real.

    My understanding of reality is a psychological phenomenon so I’m not sure what it means to say the psychological explanation has an explanatory advantage.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you mean the kind of psychological phenomenon that does not correspond with reality. If so, then you’re begging the question.

  9. As to a spiritual experience being related to a spiritual reality—I think it is. To the reality of the human mind. We already know that exists, unlike deities and devils, so why posit mysterious unknowns to explain what fits well into an explanation in terms of something which is far more definitely real?

    This makes no sense at all. First you say the spiritual reality exists, then you say the beings in that spiritual reality don’t exist.

    If spiritual reality exists in the reality of the human mind as you say, then spiritual beings such as God, Satan, etc do exist precisely because the former entails the necessity of the latter.

    In essence, you’re saying that a family exists – we know that – but don’t posit mysterious unknowns like a wife and a child to explain the existence of a family. That’s nonsense.

  10. David, you wrote,

    Consistency is a very low bar to set. Most religions can easily pass such a test (in fact, most schizoid fantasies can probably pass it).

    Internal and external consistency, including history and wide human experience. I can’t think of another one. Can you be more specific? I don’t think secularism works either, by the way; and I think your non-reductive, non-materialist atheism is itself puzzling, to say the least. I don’t know what else you think actually exists besides matter and energy. Mental phenomena, yes, but what are they?

    Why posit mysterious unknowns to explain what fits well into an explanation in terms of something which is far more definitely real?

    Why consider them mysterious and unknown? They’re unknown to science, but they’re not unknown to scriptural revelation. God is more definitely real than that which he created, even though (bizarrely, in my view) not all persons accept that he is.

    As to Christianity and Judaism, of course Christianity takes itself to be a different religion than Judaism, and Mormonism likewise is a different religion than Christianity. I’ll let your comment about Christianity not “fitting” with Judaism pass by, since you didn’t support it and besides, it’s way off the topic and would turn into a rabbit trail.


  11. This makes no sense at all. First you say the spiritual reality exists, then you say the beings in that spiritual reality don’t exist.

    Obviously, I’m using spiritual here in the very limited sense of mental phenomena involving a person’s “inner” life.


    Internal and external consistency, including history and wide human experience. I can’t think of another one. Can you be more specific?

    I don’t feel an obligation to be any more specific than you’ve been.


    They’re unknown to science, but they’re not unknown to scriptural revelation.

    What reason do we have for thinking your religion’s scripture’s a divine revelation?


    God is more definitely real than that which he created, even though (bizarrely, in my view) not all persons accept that he is.

    What makes you think so?


    I’ll let your comment about Christianity not “fitting” with Judaism pass by, since you didn’t support it and besides, it’s way off the topic and would turn into a rabbit trail.

    Yes, that would take us away from the central topic—a discussion for another time. And, again, I feel no need to support my contrary opinion any more than you did your claim concerning Mormonism.

  12. You might be interested in Barbara Bradley Haggerty’s reporting on spiritual experiences for NPR (unfortunately I can’t get the link to work properly., but as of today it is located on the front page at npr.org…)

    One of the things a scientist said made sense to me—when you are in love, the experience can be described by a bunch of chemicals in your brain, but that doesn’t imply that the person you feel love for doesn’t exist (I’m paraphrasing, he said it much better).

    Her own conclusion (based on listening to her speak on the Diane Rehm show ) seems to be that having an organ which facilitates communication with God could indicate the existence of a being who wishes to communicate with us, instead of spiritual experience being unrelated to an external reality. Based on her reporting, she concludes that science is agnostic on the existence of God.

  13. Unfortunately, Kim, the existence of parts of the brain which, when stimulated, result in experiences described as numinous or religious or spiritual by those who have them really doesn’t amount to much in the way of evidence for theism (and is probably more consistent with a naturalistic view of religion). Could it be something put into our brains by God to facilitate communication? I suppose. But as Tom pointed out, God doesn’t need such an organ to speak into our minds.

    For the theistic position its completely unnecessary. Not to mention that the experiences take a form which is derived, in most cases, from the religious background of the person having the experience induced. Its hard to see why God would give us an organ as likely to generate belief one is in contact with Ganesh or a bodhisattva as Jesus.

    However, it goes far to explain the persistence and near universality of religion from a naturalistic perspective if we evolved the ability to have such experiences because they contributed to our emotional lives in ways that improved survivability (not that this is the only naturalistic hypothesis available to explain the religious impulse—its just one that I happen to find especially plausible).

  14. @david ellis:

    I don’t feel an obligation to be any more specific than you’ve been.

    Then for now your contention that other worldviews are as well supported as Christianity remains unsupported. If you’re waiting for me to go through every other religion and demonstrate its inconsistencies, I’m just not going to take time to do that unless someone comes forth with a case in favor of one such.

    What reason do we have for thinking your religion’s scripture’s a divine revelation?

    Read the blog. There’s more than one reason.

    What makes you think so?

    Read the link above, on the Beauty series, for starters. Again, if you want me to give an answer that’s bite-sized enough for a single blog comment, there isn’t room for it. The short answer is what I already gave above in the comment where I referred to the Beauty series, so I’ve already done that: a summary, and a link to more, and I don’t know what else you could ask for.

    Finally, I’m curious what you think explains or constitutes “mental phenomena involving a person’s ‘inner’ life.” You’re not a materialist, in the sense of thinking matter and energy are all that there is. But you don’t accept a non-material spiritual realm. You do accept that there is such a thing as mental phenomena. What are they, ontologically speaking?

    As far as I’ve been able to tell, from a non-theistic starting point the answer to this is no less “mysterious” or “unknown” (your terms from a previous comment) than God or spirit beings.

  15. I agree somewhat with david’s latest about the brain, though I didn’t actually say, “God doesn’t need such an organ to speak into our minds,” and I don’t think the evidence is at all more consistent with a naturalistic view of religion. It’s neutral at best. Your evolutionary story is, I’m sad to have to point out, completely evidence-free.

  16. Tom,

    The Trinity is inconsistent with logic. Miracles are inconsistent with what we know about reality. Supernaturalistic forces being perceptible is contradictory. (I won’t even bring up the ED and the problem of Evil.) The premise of your post, that Chrisianity is a religion without inconsistent truths, does not appear to be supportable.

    You have not addressed my question of what the test is that allows us to ascertain whether or not spirits are deceiving us. Without a transparent test that can reliably inform us that a Numinous experiences is authentic or deceptive you appear to be simply reciting doctrine.

    How do we know whether our internal experience of God can be trusted? We test it against other experiences and other knowledge. Is it consistent with what we know from other biblical teachings? Does it accord with what we know of the world through science, history, and our own experiences of life? If it does, is there any reason not to trust it?

    And what about the many instances when internal experiences do not accord with our other experience and knowledge? History and life are rife with these. Shouldn’t these present as much doubt as the affirming truths give?

  17. Hi Tony,
    First among your recent assertions was this:

    The Trinity is inconsistent with logic.

    Can you back that up logically?

  18. The Trinity states that God is one in essence and three in person. This is not contradictory, though it is hard to understand in human terms. If God were understandable in human terms, that would be illogical.

    Miracles are decidedly not inconsistent with what we know about reality. I could go on with a lengthy response on that, but I’m stuck on “know about reality.” What do we know about reality, anyway? Do we know that it is ruled by natural law? That’s begging the theistic question. Do we know that most of the time nature runs according to regular principles? That’s entirely consistent with miracles; there can be no exception without a rule, no miracle without regularity to compare it against.

    Supernaturalistic forces being perceptible is contradictory???? Are you saying that God who created us cannot communicate with us without contradicting something in reality? How could that be true? That’s just wrong, Tony.

    The problem of evil, as far as it’s being a logically deductive disproof of God, is history. It’s over, done with, settled. There remains an evidential problem of evil, but Christianity can indeed present an answer that is internally consistent on that.

    The Euthyphro Dilemma is settled as far as I can see, though I know we disagree on that, and I don’t want to re-play that recent discussion now. If that’s all you have, it’s not much, really.

    The test of whether spirits are deceiving us is presented in the main blog post, and you quoted some of it. What’s wrong with reciting doctrine in this case? What’s wrong with testing experiences against other experiences and other knowledge, science, history, and experiences of life? I left out biblical teachings in that last sentence, but I don’t what’s wrong with testing them against that. Here’s why. NEs are either real experiences of God as revealed in the Bible or they are not. If they are consistent with what else we know of God from the Bible, then they pass that test of consistency. If they are not consistent with that, then are they consistent with some other religion’s beliefs (and the rest of what we know about the world)? If so, they pass that test. Good for them. Now, we have to enlarge the question: are those other religion’s beliefs fully consistent with what we know about reality? I believe Christianity is, and other religions are not. I would add the same with respect to various forms of naturalism and secularism as well.

    If internal experiences do not accord with other experience and knowledge, then those experiences need to be treated with doubt, certainly. What’s your point?

  19. Your evolutionary story is, I’m sad to have to point out, completely evidence-free.

    I have to point out, though, that the evolutionary story is consistent and non-contradictory.

  20. Tom wrote:

    Then for now your contention that other worldviews are as well supported as Christianity remains unsupported. If you’re waiting for me to go through every other religion and demonstrate its inconsistencies, I’m just not going to take time to do that unless someone comes forth with a case in favor of one such.

    This brings up an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while.

    Either the numerous pieces of data that are used to support a religion’s claims form an interlocking web, reinforcing the religion’s claims, into a structure that therefore rightly commands a positive conclusion (the religion is true), or the data is misused, nothing is ever really verified, but is used to support other unverified data or claims, the whole thing being a structure that has no ultimate evidentiary foundation.

    Here’s the issue, and I state it quite specifically: on what criteria can we judge whether a complex structure of potentially self-reinforcing data establishes the foundation that would lead to conclude that the entire structure is true?

  21. Tom, you made a subtle shift that doesn’t work:

    The test of whether spirits are deceiving us is presented in the main blog post, and you quoted some of it. What’s wrong with reciting doctrine in this case? What’s wrong with testing experiences against other experiences and other knowledge, science, history, and experiences of life?”

    Tony’s point wasn’t merely whether the numinous experience was consistent. Consistency is not sufficient for claiming truth. I’ve had dreams that are consistent, within themselves and with everyday reality.

    Furthermore, consistency is consistent with both the spiritual interpretation as well as the psychological, secular one. Consistency does not allow us to distinguish between the two.

    So, beyond consistency, what is the test that will allow us to determine whether the spirits are deceiving us or not?

  22. If God were understandable in human terms, that would be illogical.

    I thought the point of your post was that the numinous experience of God is understandable in the way it is confirmed by our other senses. What’s the point of your post if the experience of God isn’t to be understood in human terms? What other possible way would we have of experiencing the numinous besides as we are?

    Miracles are decidedly not inconsistent with what we know about reality.

    I can’t speak for your reality but in mine bushes don’t talk, the dead don’t rise again, people aren’t turned into pillars of salt, etc. A reality that includes miracles is completely foreign to everything I know.

    What do we know about reality, anyway? Do we know that it is ruled by natural law? That’s begging the theistic question.

    One doesn’t have to be a theist to recognize or assume natural laws, nor is there anything illogical or illicit in so doing. (They can be brute facts, for instance.)

    Supernaturalistic forces being perceptible is contradictory???? Are you saying that God who created us cannot communicate with us without contradicting something in reality? How could that be true? That’s just wrong, Tony.

    I make no normative statement about God. I believe that perceiving a supernatural phenomenon is contradictory because supernatural forces are, by definition, beyond nature. If you want to infer supernatural forces then I’m fine with that. If you say you can perceive them I think you are asking to redefine the term.

    I believe that extreme and unnecessary suffering, and eternal damnation for human sins, are inconsistent with a loving God. I believe that a God cannot be known to be moral without a standard for morality outside of God. I understand that you do not agree, but I have not found the arguments to the contrary persuasive.

    The test of whether spirits are deceiving us is presented in the main blog post, and you quoted some of it.

    I’m afraid you’ll have to be more explicit about what you consider a test. The terms I’ve quoted seem far too general to constitute a test that Christianity will pass and other religions fail. For that matter, I believe I could confirm naturalism according to what you’ve written, and proclaim it trustworthy.

    If internal experiences do not accord with other experience and knowledge, then those experiences need to be treated with doubt, certainly. What’s your point?

    That in my opinion an inductive approach like the one you seem to be proposing should lead one away from a theistic conclusion, and that the fact that it confirms your convictions leads me to think you are in fact working deductively.


  23. Then for now your contention that other worldviews are as well supported as Christianity remains unsupported.

    Yes, as does your contention that the christian worldview is “well-supported”. We have both expressed our opinions on the matter. I’m not going to assume more of a burden than you’re willing to carry out yourself.


  24. Your evolutionary story is, I’m sad to have to point out, completely evidence-free.

    I presented it as a plausible speculation. Nothing more. There are several other plausible possibilities (I highly recommend, by the way, Daniel Dennett’s recent book BREAKING THE SPELL: RELIGION AS A NATURAL PHENOMENA for anyone interested in that topic).

  25. An example of the relative uselessness of consistency as a criteria:

    Imagine a man who believes, with complete conviction, that the Harry Potter novels are not fiction but pure fact. He believes that we don’t know about them for precisely the reason given in the books—the wizarding world keeps itself secret and can alter the memories of us muggles to prevent knowledge from getting out and has been doing so for centuries. JK Rowling is herself a witch and the books were published for the express purpose of gradually introducing us to the wizarding world in a way that allow us to become used to the idea of the wizarding world in a nonthreatening way. To facilitate this the books have been enchanted with a spell that makes people eager to buy them (thus accounting for their amazing and unprecedented popularity).

    All of the above is both internally consistent and consistent with all external facts.

    It involves unfalsiable claims. But then so does religion. That’s the stock in trade of religion.

    Obviously, setting the bar so low as mere consistency is ludricous and allows utterly ridiculous beliefs to pass muster.

  26. @Paul:

    Here’s the issue, and I state it quite specifically: on what criteria can we judge whether a complex structure of potentially self-reinforcing data establishes the foundation that would lead to conclude that the entire structure is true?

    That’s a tough one, but the most useful answer is to keep looking to make sure that the system really is self-reinforcing and internally consistent.

    Tony’s point wasn’t merely whether the numinous experience was consistent. Consistency is not sufficient for claiming truth.

    Right, I agree.

    Recall that we are talking about a perception here, or what Christians take to be a perception. I am saying that we do the same with this perception as we do with all our others: in the absence of defeaters for their truth (contradictory or opposing information) we take our perceptions to be veridical. So for myself as one who experiences God through the Holy Spirit, I am not unjustified, not irrational, to take that experience as genuine, as long as I know of nothing to tell me otherwise.

    The sticking point comes if you don’t take me seriously on this being one mode of perception. Again, we generally take our perceptions to be trustworthy in the absence of contrary information, and that’s all I’m saying that Christians do.

    I think that’s the answer to this:

    Furthermore, consistency is consistent with both the spiritual interpretation as well as the psychological, secular one. Consistency does not allow us to distinguish between the two.

    If a blind person said to a seeing person, your perception through what you call vision is perfectly consistent with a psychological interpretation, the seeing person would not consider that much of an argument against vision. If I experience God through the Holy Spirit’s presence, then I am equally justified in taking that to be an experience of God, in the absence of a defeater to that belief.

    Tony:

    I thought the point of your post was that the numinous experience of God is understandable in the way it is confirmed by our other senses.

    To understand the numinous experience of God is not to understand God himself; and besides, I didn’t say quite what you said I said anyway. It’s experiencable. It’s not a matter of logical analysis, any more than your experience of red is logically analyzable.

    I can’t speak for your reality but in mine bushes don’t talk, the dead don’t rise again, people aren’t turned into pillars of salt, etc. A reality that includes miracles is completely foreign to everything I know.

    Miracles are rare. Nobody said otherwise.

    What do we know about reality, anyway? Do we know that it is ruled by natural law? That’s begging the theistic question.

    One doesn’t have to be a theist to recognize or assume natural laws, nor is there anything illogical or illicit in so doing. (They can be brute facts, for instance.)

    You missed the point. When I said “do we know that reality is ruled by natural laws,” I really meant ruled, i.e., natural law is in charge, and there is no God. The question remains, what do we really know about reality?

    I make no normative statement about God. I believe that perceiving a supernatural phenomenon is contradictory because supernatural forces are, by definition, beyond nature. If you want to infer supernatural forces then I’m fine with that. If you say you can perceive them I think you are asking to redefine the term.

    No. Supernatural does not mean, and never has meant, incapable of interacting with nature. I’m not re-defining a thing. Remember the first words of the Bible? God (supernatural) created (interacted with) the heavens and the earth (nature). It’s been there since (the other first words) in the beginning.

    I’m afraid you’ll have to be more explicit about what you consider a test. The terms I’ve quoted seem far too general to constitute a test that Christianity will pass and other religions fail. For that matter, I believe I could confirm naturalism according to what you’ve written, and proclaim it trustworthy.

    I guess we disagree. I’m not sure how to pursue this one fruitfully any further than I have….

    an inductive approach like the one you seem to be proposing should lead one away from a theistic conclusion, and that the fact that it confirms your convictions leads me to think you are in fact working deductively.

    I’m really talking about whether one ought to cast aside one’s perceptions when there is no defeater for trust in those perceptions.

  27. @david ellis:

    I like your Harry Potter analogy a lot. But recall the purpose of the consistency argument. It’s not to prove that Christianity is true. It’s to explain why it is not irrational for Christians to accept that our perception of God through the Holy Spirit is trustworthy or veridical. I also present it as a test for other religions’ claims about their alleged perceptions of ultimate reality. I’m not asking it to do more than that in this case.

  28. David,

    All of the above is both internally consistent and consistent with all external facts.

    So then it’s a reasonable belief.

    It involves unfalsiable claims. But then so does religion. That’s the stock in trade of religion.

    Accepting your story as is, meaning that everything is internally and externally consistent, the only conclusion one can form is that it’s a reasonable belief to hold, albeit an unproveable and undemonstrable one. It would be irrational to conclude the opposite. However, you keep arguing that it’s not a reasonable belief, that it’s somehow irrational, and I have yet to hear an argument so I can understand why.

    Use your Harry Potter example where everything is internally and externally consistent and explain to me why it’s irrational for the person to believe what they do.

  29. Me:

    Here’s the issue, and I state it quite specifically: on what criteria can we judge whether a complex structure of potentially self-reinforcing data establishes the foundation that would lead to conclude that the entire structure is true?

    Tom:

    That’s a tough one, . . .

    I only come to you with the difficult ones. ; )
    Tom:

    but the most useful answer is to keep looking to make sure that the system really is self-reinforcing and internally consistent.

    I’d like you and I to keep on thinking about the answer here, because I think your answer is not an answer at all. The criteria must go beyond just consistency and self-reinforcement, as that will not allow us to distinguish between those intellectual structures with a foundation in reality and those without.
    ==========
    Regarding a perception of God being veridical, there is an important distinction between the perception of God and other perceptions that applies directly to its veridicalness. That is, there are radical, fundamental differences between people concerning this perception. Everyone (grant this for the moment) can see, and we see in the same way (qualia notwithstanding). That’s one reason (the main reason?) why perceptions are veridical. Even for a blind person, we can point to something (physical) to explain why a person can’t see. But for this perception of God, none of that applies, which makes perception of God exactly not veridical, because *not everyone has these perceptions.* If such perceptions of God were completely made up and incorrect, it would fit the situation as we see it.

    If a blind person said to a seeing person, your perception through what you call vision is perfectly consistent with a psychological interpretation, the seeing person would not consider that much of an argument against vision.

    See above. We can tell why someone can see and why someone can’t, but we can’t point to anything, except question-begging, as to why some perceive God and some don’t.

  30. And my point is precisely that consistency alone does absolutely nothing to indicate that its rational to think something is true.

    Imagine a man who believes he is in telepathic contact with wise aliens of super-advanced psychic abilities. His elaborate statements about what the aliens reveal to him concerning the nature of the cosmos and the great Galactic Civilization of over 10,000 species to which humanity will soon join in psychic communion is entirely internally consistent and cannot be shown to contradict any verifiable facts about the world.

    And when others try to ask for a test to show it isn’t all in his imagination—-telling him to ask the aliens for information which he couldn’t have himself but which could be later verified and, therefore, showing it not to all be in his head—when they ask this he tells them that the aliens don’t think we are ready for such definitive confirmation of their existence.

    All of this passes the consistency test despite being nuttier than a fruitcake.

    And yet it sounds so very familiar….


  31. Accepting your story as is, meaning that everything is internally and externally consistent, the only conclusion one can form is that it’s a reasonable belief to hold, albeit an unproveable and undemonstrable one. It would be irrational to conclude the opposite.

    Wow. You really don’t realize that consistency alone simply indicates that a claim is logically possible?

    For a belief to be reasonable it must be plausible. Not just logically possible.

    I shouldn’t have to tell that to an educated adult human being. I probably shouldn’t have to tell it to a bright 9 year old.

  32. David,

    And my point is precisely that consistency alone does absolutely nothing to indicate that its rational to think something is true.

    Your examples argue for the opposite conclusion. What you lack are arguments that support the irrationality charge. Will you ever get to that?

  33. And for that matter, even plausibility is not sufficient grounds for be convinced. Many false claims are plausible. There really needs to be actual evidence in its favor as well.

  34. For a belief to be reasonable it must be plausible. Not just logically possible.

    Then explain how your examples are not plausible.

  35. And for that matter, even plausibility is not sufficient grounds for be convinced. Many false claims are plausible. There really needs to be actual evidence in its favor as well.

    Given that the belief is consistent with all external facts, we do have actual evidence. Or is there some difference between ‘external facts’ and ‘actual evidence’ that I am unaware of?

  36. Steve, I’m not going to waste my timing explaining to you why the claim that Harry Potter books are historical fact is not plausible.

    If someone fails to comprehend that without explanation I can only conclude that they lack the basic intellectual competence to hold a conversation with profitably.

    I don’t generally like to be harsh….but COME ON! Don’t waste everyone’s time with such nonsense.


  37. Or is there some difference between ‘external facts’ and ‘actual evidence’ that I am unaware of?

    The claim “telepathic aliens exist in our galaxy” is not directly contradicted by any verifiable external fact.

    This does not, however, mean that the claim is true. We have no way of knowing one way or the other, at this point, whether alien intelligence exists elsewhere in our galaxy—much less whether it has telepathy.

    “Consistent with known verifiable facts” is a far cry from “having positive evidence in its favor”.

    Again, I shouldn’t be having to explain anything so elementary.

  38. Don’t waste everyone’s time with such nonsense.

    Then don’t waste our time with nonsensical examples unless there is a point to be made in all of what you wrote. If a belief is consistent with all external facts then we have actual evidence. If you disagree, or if you think the plausibility angle is the better approach, then now is the time to explain why.

    I’m only asking you to follow through with your own criteria. You assert the charge of irrationality without ever backing it up.

  39. “Consistent with known verifiable facts” is a far cry from “having positive evidence in its favor”.

    Really? Remember Steve has been using the modifier “all” with respect to external facts. For some reason you’ve been leaving it out. Is it to make Steve look silly? It’s not working. I should think that if a belief is consistent with all internally- and externally-related facts, it would have considerable positive evidence in its favor.

    In the case of Harry Potter, for example, one of the externally-related facts is that Rowling has presented it as a work of fiction. Another externally-related fact is that there is no well-developed system of general belief, with historical, documentary, archaeological, philosophical, existential, and theological aspects all interweaving to hold it up. On those two grounds alone, the analogy is so distant from what we’re talking about here that (like Steve) I wonder why you bothered with it.

    I am thoroughly puzzled and bemused by those who equate Christianity with fantasy tales in this manner, when Christianity has been tested and tried down through many centuries. I’m speaking of testing in the realms of documentation, archaeology, logic, systematizing of thought, intellectual attacks from skeptics, personal application (especially under persecution), prayers prayed and answered, congregations holding up under severe oppression, and more. I’d think a person would be embarrassed to make an analogy drawing on Harry Potter, and suggesting it applied to the issues in discussion here.


  40. If a belief is consistent with all external facts then we have actual evidence.

    All KNOWN external facts.

    HUGE DIFFERENCE. These things concern claims seemingly designed for unfalsifiability.

    There is, for example, no KNOWN fact which contradicts the claim that I, unlike other human beings, have the power to fly like Superman.

    But this is not evidence I can. Only the simple recognition that its logically possible and unfalsifiable.

    And if you consider that enough to be reasonably convinced I have some invisible, intangible designer clothes to sell you. You can be as finely attired as any emperor.


  41. Remember Steve has been using the modifier “all” with respect to external facts. For some reason you’ve been leaving it out.

    And Steve is leaving out the term “known” and “verifiable” in his response to my position. A rather important omission.

  42. Tom,

    I should think that if a belief is consistent with all internally- and externally-related facts, it would have considerable positive evidence in its favor.

    That’s just it. If all available external and internal data support the belief, then that means there is no external and internal data to support the disbelief.

    Even if there is some data to support the disbelief, the belief can be rationally held, albeit less firmly or confidently.

    I have yet to hear anything from David to support the charge of irrationality. Will he ever get to that?


  43. In the case of Harry Potter, for example, one of the externally-related facts is that Rowling has presented it as a work of fiction.

    Already explained. Our believer contends that it was presented in that way to ease us into awareness of the wizarding world in a way which is not jarringly abrupt.


    Another externally-related fact is that there is no well-developed system of general belief, with historical, documentary, archaeological, philosophical, existential, and theological aspects all interweaving to hold it up.

    No contradiction there. The wizarding world, as stated, keeps its existence secret so we would not have any reason to expect anything of the sort—not in the muggle world anyway. Such actually does, according to the believer, exist within the wizarding world. Muggles just don’t have access to such information.


    I am thoroughly puzzled and bemused by those who equate Christianity with fantasy tales in this manner, when Christianity has been tested and tried down through many centuries.

    I’m not equating Christianity with anything. I’m making clear by example the point that consistency is an inadequate criteria by showing that what absurd things can meet such a low standard as mere consistency.

  44. And Steve is leaving out the term “known” and “verifiable” in his response to my position. A rather important omission.

    Dude! Your said as a GIVEN that, and I quote, “All of the above is both internally consistent and consistent with all external facts.”

    So now you’re saying nobody really has knowledge of anything, including the believer. Nobody really knows if your quoted statement above is true. Well, which is it David? Stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.

  45. Let me take these one at a time, Tom:

    “I’m speaking of testing in the realms of

    documentation: If I understand this term correctly, this isn’t evidence, merely supporting material

    archaeology : ditto
    logic, systematizing of thought: consistency, not evidence
    intellectual attacks from skeptics: consistency, not evidence
    personal application (especially under persecution): irrelevant, but what does this actually mean?
    prayers prayed and answered: would be evidence if true
    congregations holding up under severe oppression: irrelevant to truth claims of the religion

  46. I clarified that I was talking about known facts in my discussions and examples. Something you simply ignored. And something which should have been obvious from the context anyway. Beliefs aren’t reasonable simply because they’re consistent with all facts (that’s just saying that they’re true). For all I know, it might be a fact that an earthquake destroyed Los Angeles 45 seconds ago. But if I have no information indicating that this is the case my believing it would not be reasonable—even if, by amazing coincidence, it turned out to be true.

  47. If all available external and internal data support the belief, then that means there is no external and internal data to support the disbelief.

    This formulation conflates direct evidence and lack of contradicting evidence, both of which “support” a claim, but only one of which is sufficient (evidence). Did you mean data as direct evidence, or merely data that does not contradict the claim?

  48. Looks like we’re headed back to a discussion on what it means to have knowledge of reality.

    David, do you know the content of your thoughts or do you just believe you know? If the latter, do you know that you believe you know?

  49. I clarified that I was talking about known facts in my discussions and examples. Something you simply ignored. And something which should have been obvious from the context anyway. Beliefs aren’t reasonable simply because they’re consistent with all facts (that’s just saying that they’re true).

    So now we’re talking about known facts vs. belief. Sounds like you meant to say:

    “All of the above is believed to be both internally consistent and consistent with all external facts.”

    Okay, so when does a belief become a known fact? Is the solution Verification as you claimed earlier? No, because the solution itself is not a known fact. You can’t verify the belief that verification leads to knowledge so it remains a belief – just like in your Harry Potter example.

    When are you going to get around to explaining why the beliefs in your examples are irrational given that they are believed to be both internally consistent and consistent with all external facts? Verificationism doesn’t do the job.

  50. Paul,

    Did you mean data as direct evidence, or merely data that does not contradict the claim?

    There can be competing beliefs based on the same evidence, sure. I was picking up on the word “all”, but maybe I got it wrong when I made my comment. Obviously contradictory beliefs based on the same evidence can’t all be true. I also think it’s possible for competing beliefs to all be rationally held beliefs.

  51. SteveK, I don’t understand how your comment #54 addressed my questions in the slightest.

    I’m not talking about competing claims on the same evidence, so your response about competing claims on the same evidence doesn’t answer my question at all.

    I have no idea what usage of the word “all” you’re talking about, as I did not reference your use of the word “all” in my query to you. You used the word “all” in the quote by you that I quoted, but that was not the operative part of what you said that I was talking about.

    I was hoping for a clear, direct answer to my question: were you talking about direct evidence or non-contradictory data when you talked about data supporting a belief?

    Do you see how your response wasn’t a response to my point?

  52. Tom,

    You wrote:

    No. Supernatural does not mean, and never has meant, incapable of interacting with nature. I’m not re-defining a thing. Remember the first words of the Bible? God (supernatural) created (interacted with) the heavens and the earth (nature). It’s been there since (the other first words) in the beginning.

    You’ve misstated my position. I did not say that supernatural entities are, by definition, incapable of interacting with nature. I basically said that if supernatural forces are to have an effect on nature that we humans perceive then that effect must be perceptible. (If one actually perceives a supernatural event, then the supernatural event is not so super.) One perceives the natural, and (may, I grant) infer the supernatural. I will remain insistent, however, that one does not perceive the supernatural as a matter of definition.

    On a broader note, this conversation appears to be hanging itself on a failure to provide specifics for the claim at hand: that Christians alone experience numinous perceptions that confirm a belief supported by all their other senses. The problem is that the numinous perceptions are not, it appears, definable (testable, verifiable), and further I don’t see any offering of beliefs that would be tested by these undefined perceptions.

    I would have imagined the argument would go like this: I experienced a feeling that God loves me. The Bible says that God loves me. In my life, good things happen, indicating that God loves me. Therefore, I can conclude that my belief in Christianity is affirmed.

    In the original post Tom brought up the word “test” several times, and I have asked him to provide explication on what he considers testing, but this does not seem like it will be forthcoming. I have to conclude from the lack of further engagement on that question that there is no desire to apply real scrutiny to the question.

  53. Okay, then, what you said was that supernatural entities are incapable of interacting with nature in such a way that their effect is perceptible. Does that change what I said about the truncated view of God you’re setting up that way? You’re still saying God can’t do anything that a human would know he did. Sheesh, even I can do something that a human can know that I’ve done. Do you think God is less capable than I am? If so, then we agree on at least one thing: neither one of us believes in a God of that sort! In other words, your conception of the supernatural, as that which no human can ever perceive, is strangely unrelated to the kind of supernatural that’s relevant to this discussion.

    The numinous experiences are testable by their consistency with other information, including that which you have mentioned in your second to last paragraph. I thought that had been said clearly enough.

  54. Paul,

    were you talking about direct evidence or non-contradictory data when you talked about data supporting a belief?

    Sorry for missing the mark with my last comment. I was saying if ALL (external/internal) data points to a belief being true then it would follow, logically, that there is no data left to point to the belief being false (so why think it is false?). I was merely making a logical statement out of David’s earlier statement and nothing more than that. Did I make a logical error by saying that?

  55. Okay, then, what you said was that supernatural entities are incapable of interacting with nature in such a way that their effect is perceptible….You’re still saying God can’t do anything that a human would know he did.

    No. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly. I’ll try one last time. A supernatural event that is perceived by us must have a natural component. We can see the burning bush, feel the heat, etc. The burning bush is not supernatural, even though it (for the sake of argument) was caused by a supernatural entity. If the event of the burning bush had no natural component, it would be imperceptible to us.

    I am just pointing out that by failing to even define the perceptible components of the numinous experience, as well as the other perceptions that this experience confirms, you have introduced no test whatsoever for which to examine Christianity and other religions. In other words, there’s really nothing there to support your conclusion.

  56. Tony, A supernatural event that is perceived by us must have a natural effect, not a natural component. And God is able to produce natural effects.

    But your last paragraph helps me understand better what you’ve been getting at all along. I think you’re looking for a test that will prove independently that a Christian’s experience of God is veridical, and that other NEs are not.

    First, I’m trying to understand why you say I have produced “no test whatsoever.” I have produced multiple tests, but to you they apparently count for nothing. This seems to be because I have (paraphrasing slightly) “failed to even define the perceptible components of the numinous experience, as well as the other perceptions that this experience confirms.”

    I don’t know what it would mean to define the perceptible components of the experience. The experience is what it is. Seeing green is what seeing green is. How would I define the perceptible components of seeing green? Does it have components? I don’t think so. So that’s not a test you can ask for, really; it doesn’t apply.

    What you presented next does qualify as a reasonable kind of test, though: the other perceptions that this experience confirms. I would add a lot more to that than perceptions, however. The experience is what it is, but just as seeing green in a given context may lead me to conclude that, say, I am looking at a picture of a forest in summer rather than winter, the perception of God may lead a person to a certain kind of conclusion. The context will certainly affect what I conclude from that as well.

    Now obviously it is possible to draw wrong conclusions from any perception. I might conclude that I am looking at a picture of a forest that was taken between May and September. I might not realize that the picture was shot in January, somewhere in the southern hemisphere. So background knowledge is important for filling in missing information.

    My background knowledge includes an understanding of who God is, and that he exists in three persons; and that the Son has promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him, and that the Holy Spirit would do many things for me as described in the original post. Thus if God imparts to me, internally, the assurance that I am accepted into his family, that accords with my other knowledge, and there is reason to be confident that this assurance actually came from God.

    I can still be mistaken, and that is why the instruction (already cited) was given to “test the spirits.” The test is whether the impression or sense I’m experiencing is in accord with what God has revealed in his word.

    Now, there are also times when there is content delivered along with the perception. When I was a freshman in college I made a decision about my course schedule that was well-considered, rational, and sensible; made for good academic and scheduling reasons, in other words. But after I signed up for those courses, I got a clear sense that I knew was from God that I had made a mistake. I didn’t know what the mistake was, but there was a very plain indication there that I needed to go drop and add some courses. It was about two years later that I recognized that if I had followed my first plan, it would have put me in a real scheduling bind that would have delayed my graduation half a year.

    I have experienced the same kind of thing with content included several times, but this is the one that most clearly illustrates definite information imparted. These kinds of content-filled experiences are out of the ordinary for most Western Christians. I have mentioned them here for the sake of being more complete, but they are not the main kind of experience I have been speaking of in this post.

    So what I’m saying is this: There are perceptions of the numinous, they need to be interpreted, we interpret them according to our background knowledge and beliefs, those beliefs can be wrong and must themselves be subjected to good analysis, and in my case I’m satisfied that I have subjected my beliefs to such analysis, so I trust that my experiences of God really are experiences of God. That’s the testing of which I have been speaking.

    I’ll take it one step further: I think you and everybody else has had some experience of God. I don’t think you’ve interpreted it accurately. I pray that God will keep knocking on your door until you hear him for who he really is.

  57. Stevek: gotcha, I understand your correction. I think the point about ALL data, and David assuming that in one post, the resulting misunderstanding, etc., is not crucial, and we’ve covered it by correcting things.

  58. In all of this discussion, there is what Plantinga calls properly basic knowledge at the foundational level and then there is knowledge that we gain by building on that with reason and by testing.

    I think this understanding of properly basic knowledge meshes well with what the bible says about the human condition (knowledge of free will and sin), about the law written on the hearts of man (knowledge of morality), about nature pointing to a Creator (knowledge of purpose/design).

    These things are known by us, not because we can demonstrate, test or reason our way to know them, but because we experience the reality of each one at a fundamental level.

    As Tom said, seeing green is what seeing green is. We don’t reason our way toward knowing that. It’s properly basic knowledge. I think the same is true for the knowledge of sin/morality/purpose/design/etc.

  59. It seems to me that properly basic knowledge, at the foundational level, that we don’t have to or can’t explain, justify, verify, etc., cannot be *public* knowledge, it can only be completely internal and particular to an individual. Qualia is a good example, hearing God’s voice isn’t. Any statement beyond what would be contained within the individual making it is not properly basic knowledge. That’s why a public statement, about things beyond the interior of an individual, must be verified and justified. Broadly, properly basic knowledge is subjective, and public, verified, and justified knowledge is objective.

    I haven’t read Plantinga on this, so if you want to discuss this without requesting that I read Plantinga on this, I’m happy to discuss it. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, though, then let’s not even start.

  60. Paul, this doesn’t make sense to me. Why is an experience of God less of an example than the experience of other qualia? How do you know it isn’t a quale, experienced through a different mode of sensing?

    You’re right that knowledge transmitted by communication is not properly basic. But I think you’ve missed what I’ve said at least once, maybe more times than that (I’m not going to go and count them). One may know that one is having an experience of God, and one may even know that it is God that one is experiencing, but that doesn’t mean that one may show that to another person. I’m not claiming that my experience of God is something I can show you or offer as evidence before you. It’s evidence to me but not to you.

    Do not get confused on this point: properly basic knowledge most certainly may be justified. I pause and think about a canoe trip I took when I was young. My knowledge that I am thinking about a canoe trip is justified knowledge, just in that it is properly basic knowledge.

  61. I haven’t read Plantinga on this, so if you want to discuss this without requesting that I read Plantinga on this, I’m happy to discuss it. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, though, then let’s not even start.

    That sounds like a refusal (likely based on fear) to challenge one’s presuppositions… presuppositions that are, as Paul wants us to believe, “just neurons.”

    Truth will set one free only if one wants to be free. Even God will not force someone determined to avoid Him at all costs… nor will God reveal Himself within the confines of imposed a priori limitations. The choice for Hell is made on Earth, and Hell’s doors are closed from the inside.

  62. Paul,
    Here’s my abbreviated understanding of the topic.

    In order to know the first truth about reality via some test, reasoning process or methodology, you must first know something that is true about reality. If you don’t know that something, then it’s impossible to know that you arrived at the first truth. That something is called properly basic knowledge.

  63. One everyday example that I can think of would be evidence. If you have no knowledge of the concept of evidence prior to you searching for it, then how would you know when you’ve found it? You wouldn’t. Imagine turning over rocks looking for something that you know nothing about. You could never know if you found it.

    I think something similar is going on with God. We recognize God when we experience him, only because we have properly basic knowledge of him.

  64. One may know that one is having an experience of God, and one may even know that it is God that one is experiencing, but that doesn’t mean that one may show that to another person. I’m not claiming that my experience of God is something I can show you or offer as evidence before you. It’s evidence to me but not to you.

    Excellent. If you can’t show it to another person (that is, show its objectivity), there is no way to show that it is anything beyond a quale. Sure, it could be, but for *other* reasons. (You may conclude you were talking with God based on what the Bible says, etc.) So it’s not properly basic knowledge because it needs justification from another source.

    It seems impossible, logically, for an interior experience to have exterior meaning without something exterior being added to the equation. Even when I see an apple, it’s not *merely* my experience of it that, ultimately, justifies my belief that the apple is there. There is an enormous background of successful, useful results that underly my relying that the apple is objectively real. I’m not arguing whether we can prove that God exists this way or not, I’m just saying that the apple’s reality is not properly basic, just its quale, and the same holds for God or anything else.

  65. Paul, I’ve already discussed the difference between experiencing a perception and drawing interpretations around that perception. One may produce properly basic knowledge: “I am being appeared to greenly.” The other involves more than that: “I am looking at a picture of a forest.” Now, does the interpretation of the green perception mean that the first knowledge, that of being appeared to greenly, is not properly basic? No.

    Similarly Christians’ experience of the numinous may at times be indefinite enough to require interpretation, but when I was told by God, as I reported above, that I needed to change my college schedule, there was no interpretation. There was only knowledge imparted directly. The only thing exterior to “the equation,” as you put it, was that the knowledge thus imparted was about a familiar subject (college course scheduling). There was that connection, which was in the implication or application of the knowledge. There was no connection other than God’s speaking to me, in the acquisition or receiving of that knowledge.

  66. Tom, I’m not ashamed to say I don’t understand both the sentence “I am appeared to greenly,” as well as what you meant by its example.

    But I think I can cut to the chase: I don’t see how your definition of properly basic knowledge excludes hallucinations, mistakes, wishful thinking, etc.

  67. Paul, search the page for Chisholm on this link and see how that helps on “being appeared to,” and the whole article for properly basic knowledge. See here for more on belief in God as properly basic knowledge.

  68. Tom, http://stairs.umd.edu/236/plantinga.html has problems right away with the straw man of icorrigibility (an extreme position not necessary to foundationalism’s point). It also seems to ignore the point that we only need to drive the pilings deep enough to be useful, as opposed to absolutely requiring them to be driven into bedrock.

    Meanwhile, I note that you have not addressed my point about hallucinations (and neither do the links you offered).

  69. The properly basic knowledge that comes from sense perception is that I am perceiving x. It is not that x exists. So “I am perceiving x” is properly basic, even if there is no x there; that is, if x is a hallucination.

    So then there is a follow-up, to which I think you could supply an answer yourself, Paul, if you ask the question this way: how do we tell a hallucination from reality? Do you think it’s possible?

  70. It also seems to ignore the point that we only need to drive the pilings deep enough to be useful, as opposed to absolutely requiring them to be driven into bedrock.

    Meanwhile, I note that you have not addressed my point about hallucinations (and neither do the links you offered).

    In keeping with your hallucination meme, how do you know you aren’t hallucinating and haven’t really driven the pilings deep enough to be useful? Maybe you’re at a place that’s not really useful. See how old and unproductive that line of questioning is, Paul?

  71. So the properly basic knowledge isn’t that one has talked with God, but only that one “has the perception” of talking with God. Whether it’s really God that’s speaking to you, purely on the basis of your perception, and not including other factors, like knowledge of the Bible, and consistency with other things that may be known, cannot be determined and therefore isn’t properly basic knowledge. Do I have that right?

    Reality is what everyone else confirms after excluding the possibilities of confirmation bias, wishful thinking, mistakes, etc.; and quale. This distinguishes hallucinations from our shared reality.

  72. Also, my original critique didn’t hang on hallucinations. If we get nowhere in a consensus about hallucinations, there’s still wishful thinking, confirmation bias, etc. to deal with.

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