Yes, it's clear enough, and I'm anxious to get on to religious experience. Before you go ahead, though, there are some things about religious experience I want to get out on the table so that they don't slip by us. Let's start with the thought experiment argument you made last time. If I understand it correctly, it shows that belief in something as the ultimate reality can never be justified if that something is thought to have a nature that corresponds to any of the aspects of the world studied by the sciences. I don't see any way to rebut that, so I'm going to let it stand for now. But it leads me to make several points about what I suspect is coming down the road.

First, since you intend to appeal to some sort of experience to justify belief in God, won't you then be doing the same thing the thought experiment criticizes? Won't an appeal to religious experience have to say that something experienced is divine or shows what is divine?

That's true enough. But remember, I don't claim that belief in God can be justified by argument and evidence. I maintain it is justified by experience itself without argument. Naturalism, by contrast, does take on the job of trying to show that some aspect of the world has independent and self-sufficient existence.

OK. That's what I thought you'd say, and it leads to several worries I have about the very idea of justifying belief in God by experience. First, any appeal to experience will have difficulties that Naturalist candidates for divinity don't have. For one thing, candidates for divinity drawn from the world are known to be real by our ordinary experience, whereas the whole notion of experience seems fishy in relation to God. You don't claim to have tea with God on Tuesday afternoons, do you? See what's bothering me? I'm afraid what you're going to appeal to won't be anything like ordinary experience so that the meaning of ''experience" will get stretched in a way I'll find completely implausible.

And that's not all. There's another problem with the notion of experience about God. Since God is supposed to be a transcendent Creator, it seems to me that taking transcendence seriously creates grave problems for appealing to any sort of experience. In fact, I'm inclined to say that anything we could experience would thereby not be transcendent!

Those are all legitimate concerns, and I promise to address them. But there are no short, easy answers I can give to them right now that are independent of the analysis of religious experience we're about to launch into. I will say, however, that what I take to justify belief in God will be an element of our ordinary experience, not some implausibly stretched notion of it.

That's some relief. But even so, your project still looks doomed for yet another reason. I don't see how experience alone could ever show any particular religious belief to be true since religious experience seems to generate incompatible beliefs. It seems obvious that since these beliefs all appeal to experience but can't all be true, experience alone can't show us which (if any) is true. This alone seems fatal to what you propose to do!

I promise to deal with that issue as well. But like the other questions you've raised, the answer to it needs preparation and must come later. Let's first address what is at the core of religious experience and then ask whether it can justify the beliefs it produces and how to deal with the fact that those beliefs conflict with one another.

Let's start by looking at the usual ways religious experiences are sorted into types. The major classifications I'm about to review are based on William James's classic work which I mentioned earlier: The Varieties of Religious Experience. I'll be drawing on Varieties for several of the types and for its wide survey of experience reports, though I won't follow James when he distinguishes types of experiences according to the sorts of people who have them, or according to the different ways those who had them were affected by them. I'll also be drawing on the suggestions of other scholars, 7 and I'll add my own modifications wherever they seem helpful. I must add right away, however, that we'll be reviewing these classifications only as a point of departure. I'm starting with them partly because they're so widely accepted and partly because it's an easy way of introducing a lot of information about religious experience. But in the end, I'll mainly use them to make my position clear by contrasting it to James’ classifications - not so much because they are patently wrong as because their emphasis is misleading in a way I think it important to correct. James’ approach is to start with any dramatic, strange and unusual episodes or experiences that were regarded as relig­ious by those who had them. My own focus is going to differ from this in a way that parallels what I tried to do with religious belief: I want to see if there's anything all religious experiences have in common. I mean, of course, what they all have in common besides generating beliefs in something as divine. I'll do that by looking for what is essential to the experiences taken as events, rather than in their specific contents or outcomes.

Because you frequently express concern about where our discussion is headed, I'll say right now that all such experiences have discernible features which are the source of their religious significance and which, I will argue, attach to quite ordinary experiences as well as to those that are weird, miraculous or mystical.

I think I see where you're going. The prevailing way of breaking religious experience into types takes only strange experiences to be religious and takes every strange experience as religious as long as the person who had it thinks it was. In that case, there's no way to say that an experience wasn't really religious when the one who had it thought so. Is that it?

That's one part, yes. The other part is its converse: on the prevailing view, there's also no way to say that anyone had a religious experience but failed to recognize it as such. My view will allow for both possibilities.

I'm surprised that your view allows ordinary experiences to be genuinely religious. I still think of religious experiences mainly as events such as seeing visions or hearing voices.

Well, that's certainly one type, namely, those that involve the faculties of ordinary sense perception - especially seeing and hearing. When they involve the normal organs of perception, they're not utterly out of the ordinary, as is the mystical sort of experience emphasized by the pantheist traditions. By contrast, the perceptual experiences are classified as religious because of what is seen or heard. They are so varied that they defy any simple blanket characterization other than their being experienced as coming from and revealing the divine or a divinity. For example, they may be an appearance of God, a god, or a messenger from God such as an angel, a saint or someone who has died. Sometimes what is seen is just a great light. They may include verbal messages such as commands to action or information about the future.

Then this would include biblical examples such as Moses' seeing a burning bush and hearing God's voice, or St Paul's being blinded by a great light and hearing the voice of Jesus?

Yes. And there’s a sizeable record of such experiences reported by quite ordinary folk. The case of Sadu Sundar Singh is an example. Singh had been a devout Sikh all his life. Eventually he became discouraged with Sikhism and embarked on a deliberate quest to find God. His quest, he says, was open to everything except Christianity. He tells us that early one morning he was praying, when

I saw something of which I had no idea at all previously. In the room where I was praying I saw a great light. I thought the place was on fire. I looked around, but could find nothing. Then the thought came to me that this might be an answer that God had sent me. Then, as I prayed and looked into the light, I saw the form of the Lord Jesus Christ. It had such appearance of glory and love. If it had been some Hindu incarnation I would have prostrated myself before it. But it was the Lord Jesus Christ whom I had been insulting a few days before. I felt that a vision like this could not have come out of my own imagination. I heard a voice saying in Hindustani, "How long will you persecute me? I have come to save you; you were praying to know the right way. Why do you not take it?" The thought came to me, ''Jesus Christ is not dead but living and it must be he himself." So I fell at his feet and got this wonderful peace which I could not get anywhere else.8

Virtually every religious tradition includes reports of such experiences. Many describe gods appearing to humans or visions of animals that represent gods. In all of them the visions and voices are experienced as communicating genuine information about the divine, whether the re­cipients of the messages are asleep or wide awake and whether the visions are spontaneous or induced by disciplines such as fasting, prayer or meditation. Here's another example, a report from a village chief of the Apinaye tribe of eastern Brazilia about his encounter with the sun god:

I was hunting near the sources of the Botica creek. All along the journey I had been agitated and was constantly startled without knowing why. Suddenly I saw him standing under the branches of a big steppe tree.... I recognized at once that it was he. Then I lost all courage. My hair stood on end, and my knees were trembling.... When I had grown somewhat calmer, I raised my head.... I pulled myself together and walked several steps toward him, then I could not go farther because my knees gave way. I remained standing a long time, ... lowered my head, and tried again to regain composure. When I raised my eyes again, he had already turned away and was slowly walking through the steppe… At night while I was asleep he reappeared to me. I addressed him, and he said he had been waiting ... to talk to me, but since I had not approached he had gone away. Today I know I was very stupid then. I should certainly have received from him great self-assurance if l had been able to talk to him.9

Also included in this type are perceptions of miracles10 as reported in every tradition - those that are publicly accessible as well as those that are private to a particular person. Witnessing someone being raised from the dead, water being changed into wine, or a serious deformity or disease being healed instant- aneously is an example of a public miracle; a sudden transformation of character or a spontaneous recovery from an addiction would be an example of a private one. These are all experienced using the senses.

Does that mean there are religious experiences that are not perceived via the senses? How then could they be experienced at all?

The second type of religious experience involves becoming aware of the presence of divinity when that presence is not perceived by the senses. This is not to say that the person having the experience isn't perceiving anything at the time, but it does mean that he or she becomes aware of something in addition to what is perceived via the senses. This experience occurs in both a personal and an impersonal form.

The impersonal version of this type of experience was perhaps best described by Rudolf Otto, who called it an encounter with the "holy," the "numinous," the "uncanny" or the "mysterious." It is an experience in which a person is perceptually confronted with something ordinary but becomes aware of the presence of divine power in addition to what is perceived. Otto stresses how such experiences often produce reactions of "fascination," "awe" and even terror.11 He says:

              It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic forms and ... may become the hushed, trembling and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of - whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.12

Notice, by the way, that Otto confirms that what is experienced is divine in my sense of that term when he speaks of it as "above all creatures." In fact, he adds that the experience is, at its heart, one that produces "creature consciousness"; what is experienced is mysterious, but it is known not to be a creature, but to be that which creatures depend on.13

This type of experience has long been valued in many pagan traditions, in which priests and shamans are considered experts in (non-perceptually) sensing the divine presence in particular objects, locations or occasions. There are many expressions of it in poetry as well; Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" is an instance:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things.

The personal version of this type is one of the most frequently reported of all religious experiences. In it, too, the experiencer is aware of the presence of the divine without perceiving it sensorily, but the divine is sensed as personal. The experience is like the nonreligious experience people often report of feeling the presence of another person or of someone watching them, when they neither see nor hear anyone. Such experiences are often called "sensing" the presence of another person, but no conscious perception is involved - just as Wordsworth said he ''felt a presence" to indicate his sense of it without any actual, conscious sensation or emotion.14

The religious experience of sensing a presence differs from a nonre­ligious sensing of another person not only in that the personal presence is experienced as divine, but also in that the experience is much more definite. It includes certainty about being in the presence of another person and about the person's being a divine spirit or, more specifically, the Spirit of God. The descriptions of these experiences are remarkably alike over thousands of reports. The following example was reported to me by a person who was a dedicated atheist at the time the experience occurred:

I was alone for the evening and decided to try reading the Gospel of John as you had suggested, convinced it could make no difference to my skepticism about God. I'd picked up the Bible and turned to John, when suddenly I was overwhelmed by a presence that filled the room. I was startled and jumped up, closing the book at the same time. It seemed to be gone, so I decided my mind was playing tricks on me. I'd get a shower, calm down, and try again. Refreshed by the shower, I was surprised at the way I'd let the simple suggestion of reading the Bible spook me. "It's just a book!" I said, laughing at myself. But when I opened the Bible again, the presence was far more overpowering than the first time. Although it was not threat­ening -- and in fact was powerfully loving -- I was really scared. I threw the Bible across the room and yelled, "Go away and leave me alone! I like my life the way it is!" But it persisted; it would not let me go. Now in tears, I picked up the book again and began to read John chapter 1, and suddenly it all looked undeniably true.

James reports another experience which, though slightly different, is of this same type:

I remember the night, and almost the very spot on the hilltop, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite... I stood alone with Him who had made me, and all the beauty of the world, and love, and sorrow, and even temptation...  The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not have any more doubt that He was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.15

And Simone Weil has written of such an experience this way:

I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of real contact, person to person, here below, between a human and God... Moreover, in this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part.16

Of course, not all experiences of this type are so powerful and dramatic; many are quiet and calm, and some come on gradually.

The third type of religious experience is called "mystical" to emphasize its radical difference from anything even close to ordinary experience. In it nothing is perceived by the senses at all, nor is there an awareness of an individual personal presence. Rather, the person having this sort of experience is aware of a close­ness with the divine which involves a direct communion that is not like any other relationship humans experience. There are several sub-types of this sort of experience.17 According to the most radical of them, the mystic is said to be absorbed into the divine. All distinc­tions seem to be canceled, and the divine becomes the only reality. Usually, this experience takes place in a trancelike state, which James describes as having four main characteristics.18 The first is ineffability: it defies expression in words. The second is certainty: truth is conveyed about the divine so that it is indubitable. A third is transiency: the state never lasts long and often cannot be repeated at will. When it is repeated, however, it is always recognizable as the same type of experience. Finally, it is passive, in two senses. The onset of the experience is never in the person's control, although he or she may have engaged in meditation and other disciplines to induce it. And once it has begun, the person feels in the grasp of something vastly superior; the person is helpless or, in the most extreme subtype, unreal.

This last type of experience is especially emphasized and sought in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, which take it as the ultimate authority concerning the divine. Though achieving it usually takes years of disci­pline and meditation, these traditions both admit that it can also occur spontaneously. One name for its spontaneous occurrence is "Zen." Experiences of mystical communion with the divine are also reported in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but are rarer in those traditions. These are occasionally claims of actual union with God, but this sub-type is highly problematic in these traditions.

To summarize, the main types of religious experiences include (1) perceptual phenomena such as voices, visions, and miracles, (2) the sense of a presence (both impersonal and personal) and (3) mystical communion or union. These types are not intended to be mutually exclusive, and some reported experiences cut across these categories. Neither should the list be taken as exhaustive since there are other experiences that produce belief in something as divine but don't fall into any of these types, as James himself admits.19 Even so, this is enough to introduce the types of experiences most discussions of this topic follow.

I must say that your description of these experiences does nothing to allay my suspicions of them. My initial reaction is that they all seem best explained as psychological abnormalities. But whatever happened to your claim that religious experiences are not all weird? Nothing you've said so far seems to allow that any ordinary experience could be religious.

Many scholars share your suspicions and dismiss the strange sorts of experiences classified here as abnormal. Others, however, do not, includ­ing James, who was a psychologist himself. But my purpose here is not to defend them as normal. As I said, they serve to introduce the usual way the subject is discussed so that I can contrast another approach. And since you've pressed me about that point, I'd like to get right to it.

Rather than dwell on the strangeness of the types we just noticed, I want to get past that by seeking, as I forewarned you, what they all have in common. I don't mean that we should look for what the objects of those experiences have in common since the answer to that is "nothing." The most radical form of mystical experience doesn't have any object as such since in it even the difference between subject and object seems to disappear. Rather, I want to call attention to specific features common to them all as far as the mode of the experience itself is concerned.

At first glance, the task of finding anything common to them all looks almost as daunting as the task of finding an element common to all religious beliefs. Not only are they all strange in comparison with ordinary experience, but they are strange in very different ways. The first mode uses ordinary faculties of perception to see or hear very non-ordinary things; the second doesn't use those faculties at all but becomes aware of something anyway; and in the third, all distinctions seem to be obliterated, even the one between the person having the experience and the all-en­compassing reality being experienced. Nevertheless, I think they do indeed have common features, and the shared features are essential to their being religious experiences. One of these I've already argued for: they all produce belief in something or other as divine, where the divine is (minimally) the unconditional reality on which all that is nondivine depends.

Another feature is that the beliefs these experiences produce are non-inferential. They are not believed by reasoning from other beliefs, but are produced by the experience itself. What is experienced is experienced as the voice of God, the presence of God, divine power, unity with the divine and so on. It is not that the person has a weird experience and then reflects on it, ponders over it, and draws conclusions about it that lead him or her to decide to interpret it as God, Brahman-Atman, nirvana or whatever. Rather, the experiences produce those beliefs directly without any mediating steps of reasoning. This is why those who have had them, as well as scholarly reflections on them in every major religious tradition, often refer to them as "intuitions" rather than the products of reasoning.

This doesn't mean that those who have such experiences never sub­sequently think about them, or never later draw any additional conclu­sions about them. I am simply pointing to the fact that the experience reports of each type include the point that beliefs were produced the truth of which was directly intuited without being inferred.

Another feature that these experiences share is both hugely important and sorely neglected by those who have written on the subject, including James. I don't mean that James and others miss this feature altogether, but rather that they fail to give it its due. I'm referring now to the quality of certainty that attaches to the belief that these experiences generate. Moreover, this quality is often experienced as compelling, so that the experiences have the quality of revealing truth about the divine in such a way that the beliefs they produce have the quality of irresistible certainty.20

James does notice that such certainty is part of the description of every one of the types of experiences cataloged above. At one point, he says:

One may indeed be entirely without them; ... but if you do have them at all strongly, the probability is that you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however, unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.21

But although he recognizes this, James treats it as just an interesting addi­tional observation. And that just won't do. That these experiences generate certainty, is a central feature of them not just an interesting sidelight.

Supporting evidence for this point is provided by cases in which people had something like one of these types of experiences, but its content was unclear, and no certainty was produced. The result was that those reporting such experiences did not then regard them as religious at all. For example, there are reports of people being suddenly overwhelmed by a presence that they could not identify. They subsequently regarded the experience as strange but not as religious; no belief in anything as divine was produced, and no certainty about it was conveyed. There are also reports in which the presence was thought at the time to be divine, but in the absence of certainty that experience later became undermined by doubt: "I had a strange experience which might have been God, but I'm just not sure."22 Again, no abiding religious conviction was produced.

To sum up, my first conclusion is that to be religious, an experience must generate belief in something as divine; my second conclusion is that the experience directly - non-inferentially - produces that belief, and my third conclusion is that the belief carries the quality of certitude. This serves to support my earlier definition that a religious experience is one that generates, deepens, or confirms a religious belief. And I remind you that in this discussion we will confine ourselves to experiences that generate a religious belief.

But if this much is right, there is no longer any reason whatever to confine the study of religious experience to experiences that are strange, miracu­lous or mystical. James admits at one point that certainty attaches to experiences that produce religious belief despite their not being strange at all.23 Amazingly, he never seems to realize the importance of that point. Its importance is this: the strangeness of an experience is irrelevant to its being religious. What is essential to a belief’s being religious is that it's an experience of non-inferentially recognizing the prima facie truth about what is divine, where that includes its certainty.

But how does this view of religious experience show that we're not restricted to strange experiences? The very idea of "experiencing something to be divine" itself sounds strange!

I'm saying that certainty about what is divine does not attach only to experiences having strange contents or taking place in unusual ways. It does not attach only to the weird and the miraculous; in fact, it does so less often than it does to such ordinary experiences as reading about the belief, hearing it taught or preached or seeing it lived out in the lives of those who believe it. My point is that cataloging only strange, miracu­lous and mystical experiences as religious is seriously misleading. The vast majority of religious experiences do not fall into those classifications at all, so it's not surprising that most of the people who consciously hold a belief in something as divine have never had any of the strange experiences.

And that's not the only correction in the idea of religious experience that results from this point. If the direct apprehension of truth about the divine is all that needs to occur for an experience to be religious, even if it comes about quietly and with no mystical or miraculous elements, then neither is there any good reason for insisting that only distinguishable individual episodes of seeing religious truth should count as religious experiences. To see why this is so, compare the experience of apprehending the divine with that of recognizing aesthetic beauty. Our appreciation of beauty is often connected to special episodes that are memorable. We may marvel at a great performance of music, dance or drama, for example. But our experience of aesthetic value is just as real when it is a steady, continuous background that is woven into the rest of our experience without issuing in an intense episode. A case in point would be the quiet, continuous appreciation of a beautiful, well-designed building or garden. Many people's reports of their recognition of truth about the divine have more in common with a continuous appreciation than with an intense episode.

Additionally, religious experiences need not be sudden. They can develop gradually. Again, consider the analogy to our experience of art. We may be exposed to a particular work of music or a painting but not think much of it at first. As time goes by, however, it strikes us more strongly; we say it "grows on us." Similarly, belief in God can come on gradually as well. The certainty I've been pointing to can be the gradual result of a lengthy chain of experiences as well as be a sudden “aha!” experience analogous to turning on a light switch.

In confirmation of this, there are many reports from people who recognized the truth about God gradually, as an element running through a prolonged tract of experience. Many say that they were exposed to teaching about God in their youth, but as they grew older concerns about education, work, marriage and family came to dominate their attention in such a way that the whole issue of religion took a back seat. Often they jumped to the conclusion that belief in God must be false for no other reason than that they seemed to be able to get along without it.

But then something happened to raise the question of God's existence again. For some it was the death of a close relative; for others, it was their own close shave with death. For still others, the aging process brought them face to face with their mortality. The reasons are not always connected with death, though. Sometimes the experience was initiated when they began to notice little incidents that seemed to be too meaningful to be only coincidences. Perhaps they were considering a religious issue when the words of a song on the radio perfectly answered the question that was bothering them, or they heard a sermon or recalled a Scripture text that did the same thing. After a number of such incidents, they began to wonder whether God was trying to reach out to them and thus started to think seriously about the Scriptures again or even attend worship occasionally. Upon discovering that others were reporting the same sorts of things, they began to take the matter even more seriously, and even took to studying Scripture and attending worship regularly. In time, the truth of God’s reality came to be a certainty.

This is only one way of gradually coming to experience full certainty concerning the love of God; there are many other ways it can happen. A woman I knew had been an outspoken atheist for years. She surprised me one day by speaking about God. When I asked how she came to believe, she said, "Nothing really happened. I just woke up one morning, and it all looked true. I have no explanation."

Clearly, then, religious experience is highly variable not only as to precisely what is experienced or how it is experienced, but also as to whether it occurs as an episode or results from a prolonged stretch of experiences. In the light of all this, we can now draw yet another conclusion, a conclusion I call the "democratization of religious experience": There is no reason to think that only religious leaders, prophets, and mystics have religious experiences. This is not to deny that there have been (and still are) those who have more – and more intense - experiences than others. It is only to insist that the common­ers of religious belief have genuinely religious experiences as well as the nobility. Simple, quiet, non-inferential certainty about what has unconditional reality is actually as prevalent among the average worshipper (and even supposedly secular academic theorists), as it is among religious leaders.

But don't those who report the strange types of experiences put great stock in their very strangeness? Isn't that what is supposed to make their experiences convincing?

Not at all! In report after report, those who had the stranger sorts of experiences take pains to say that it was not their strangeness that was important, although it served to get their attention. While they often marvel at its strangeness and feel privileged to have had such an experience, they insist that what was really important about it was precisely the truth recognition it made possible, and the certainty of the belief they acquired. It has not been those who had the experiences who placed great stock in the strangeness of them, but the scholars of religion who downplayed the certainty of truth they conveyed and concentrated instead on cataloging the types of strange­ness that accompanied the experiences. In fact, those who had the experiences often go further. Many add that whereas the experience was fleeting, the truth they gained was abiding; though the experience never came back, the truth they realized stayed with them for the rest of their lives and changed them.24 So again, although the reporters of strange experiences stress the truth conveyed to them, the scholars of religion focus on cataloging their strangeness and on trying to establish whether or not they are pathological. There's something perverse about that, even aside from its having the effect of shutting out the majority of religious experiences from the discussion.

Thus my last conclusion is that the vast majority of religious experi­ences don't consist of episodes that are strange in mode or content, and many are not even episodes at all. But whether they are episodic or not, they are all: 1) experiences of the prima facie truth of a divinity belief, 2) in which the divinity belief is not held on the basis of inferring it from any other beliefs, 3) and in which the belief is experienced as irresistibly certain. In philosophy, math, and logic such beliefs have long been called “self-evident.”25

I am relieved to hear you downplay the strange experiences, but I'm still nervous about this business of simply recognizing something as true. Lots of people claim to "just see" that all sorts of crazy things are true. Are all of those self-evident as well?

The key issue here is not whether people have experiences that convince them of various beliefs. Who doubts that? People have all kinds of experiences and are convinced by them of all sorts of beliefs. Some people claim to have been captured by space aliens, and others know themselves to be Napoleon. The key issue is whether there are experiences that not only produce beliefs but justify them, which is how you described your position.

This brings me back to something I said last time. I proposed that beliefs about ultimate reality weren't religious when they were argued for, but only when they are taken on faith. That still looks good to me, though right now I don't know how to rebut your criticisms of it. Even if beliefs in something as divine initially arise from the experience of having them look right (and I don't think they all do), at least philosophers and scientists then try to justify them by arguments, whereas in religions people are content simply to have them look right. I think that puts each case in a different category.

I'll put the same point another way: even if you distinguish two senses of the term "faith," one referring to blind trust or wishful thinking and the other referring to a belief that arises from experiencing its self-evidence, that alone does not make the second a justified belief. You seem to speak as if it does.

I agree with a great deal of what you have just said. I agree that many who adhere to a religion do not do so because of a genuine experience of self-evidence. And more importantly, I agree that you've put your finger on the crucial question: is there any sort of experience that can justify as well as produce belief? I, along with the vast majority of thinkers who have dealt with the study of how we acquire knowledge, think the answer to that is “yes.” The two types of experience that the vast majority of philosophers have held to confer justification on a belief are normal sense perception and the intuition of the belief’s self-evidence.

I further agree that we need to distinguish "faith'' as it refers to wishful thinking, blind trust, cultural conditioning, and so on, from faith (trust) that connotes a conviction arising from the experience of seeing for oneself that the belief is true. Every major religious tradition explicitly agrees with that point, and insists that the first sense is not genuine religious belief. What they all require is the experience of being "enlightened" so that the believer sees the truth of that divinity belief for himself or herself. In non-religious contexts, the recognition of non-inferred truth is often called "intuition," while the beliefs acquired this way are said to be “self-evident.”

This is why it’s so misleading for a person such as Richard Dawkins to say repeatedly that since religious beliefs have no proof they must be blind trust. Those are not the only options, and he ought to know better because getting a proof of anything requires using the laws of math or logic which are themselves not proven but are self-evident truths. He also characterizes religious faith as blind adherence, when there is not a religion on this planet whose official scriptures ever recommended its truth on the grounds of blind adherence.

And please don't read anything weird into the meaning of "intuition." I am not now introducing something strange or mysterious into our discussion. It doesn't mean merely having a hunch, as we sometimes use it in ordinary speech. In theories of knowledge, the word "intuition" is often used to mean apprehending a truth without any mediating steps of reasoning, evidence weighing, arguing and so on. As I said at our last session, those mediating steps are at the very heart of justifying theories because hypotheses (educated guesses) have to be judged in those ways. But as I also said in our last discussion, there are many beliefs we form without engaging in those processes, namely, the self-evident beliefs. These include beliefs that are necessary both for everyday life and for making theories in philosophy and science, and they are beliefs that have no other justification.

Take, for example, beliefs produced by normal sense perception. We don't perceive a tree and then engage in reasoning or weighing evidence to decide whether there's a tree before us. Under normal conditions seeing the tree triggers our belief-forming faculties, which produce in us the belief that the tree is there. There are also truths of mathematics and logic that we don't believe by proofs or evidence, such as 1 + 1 = 2 or the axiom "Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other." The ability to form these beliefs is what I mean by "intuition." It is our capacity to recognize a state of affairs as in fact the case, and thus to form a belief about it, without going through a series of steps of reasoning to prove its truth.

This, then, is also what I want to say the about that other sense of "faith" in the New Testament, where none of them are ever blind trust or belief beyond the evidence. It’s the experience of intuitively seeing that the gospel is the truth about God from God, so that belief in God is a self-evident truth to anyone having that experience. Since this claim strikes you as odd, let me add that this sense of "faith'' has long been used in connection with religious belief. From your reading, you may be better acquainted with the long history of Theists producing proofs of God’s existence. But all along there have been dissenters from that project who pointed instead to belief in God as self-evident. Calvin and Pascal did that, for example, and a more recent theologian put it this way: "Faith [is] that function of the soul ... by which it obtains certainty directly ... without the aid of discursive demonstration. This places faith over against 'demonstration' not of itself over against knowing."26

But you can't really think I'll let you get away with simply defining "faith" so that it turns out to be on a par with, say, normal sense perception or mathematical self-evident truths! If that's what you want to maintain, you're going to have to do a lot more than just say it. And then - as I already pointed out - you're going to have to deal with the fact that these experiences yield conflicting beliefs and so can't all really be experiences of recognizing truth! Although these experiences produce beliefs, that's still a million miles from showing they can intellectually entitle anyone to them.

As I see it, then, you'd need to do both tasks in order to convince me I'm wrong in saying that some beliefs about what is nondependent are religious because they are taken on faith whereas others are not because they have arguments to support them. To defend what you just said, you'd need to show that (1) religious beliefs are formed by the same intuitive capacity that enables us to form beliefs such as axioms, and (2) you'd need to explain how such intuitions could justify those beliefs in the face of the fact that they lead people to form conflicting divinity beliefs.

Fair enough. I had no intention of merely saying that truth recognition concerning what is divine is one sort of self-evidence, though that's exactly what I plan to show. And, once again, I promise that I will deal with the problem created by the fact that such experiences produce conflicting beliefs about what is divine.

I propose, then, that we get right to those issues at our next session by examining the whole notion of what it means for a belief to be self-evident. That seems appropriate because they're the paradigm case of basic beliefs considered to be justified without evidence or argument. Since the experience of a belief as self-evident is one we've all had and can reflect on, we should then be able to compare what we find about cases of nonreligious self-evi­dence with the certainty produced by religious experience.

To prepare for that discussion, I'd like you to read an essay I wrote for my students on the idea of self-evidence. It surveys what a number of the most influential writers have had to say about it and critiques certain parts of their views in order to come to a clearer understanding of it. Please don't be put off by its references to philosophers and scientists; if you’ve never heard of them it won’t make any difference to your understanding of the issues at stake (and I’ve tried to keep most of that stuff in the endnotes).

I think your reading this will help to give us a common point of departure when we meet again.

Última modificación: martes, 28 de enero de 2020, 07:01