"You Shall Be My Witnesses"

A really good question, Arnold.

And my best answer to it would be: Me.

And Tris., and Lib., and Amulet, and a few dozen others.

Here’s my thinking: I have no access to cyclotrons or linear accelerators. Hence my knowledge and understanding of nuclear physics must of necessity come from authority. Scholarly theoretical physicists have devised an intellectual structure that explains and interprets the phenomena that they observe in terms of hadrons, leptons, quarks, and such. They confirm each other’s understandings and observations, critique each other’s variants on the theory underlying it, and in general present a coherent intellectual edifice that leads me, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, to accept their system. I have never seen, nor ever expect to see, an atom, much less a subatomic particle. (Ignoring the fuzzy scanning-ion-microscope pictures that might show atoms, or nano-dustbunnies.) But I have no doubts that the theory is, if incomplete, an accurate mapping of reality, because I accept it on the authority of intelligent men reasoning together.

A fundamentalist insisting on the literal inspiration of his Bible and rejecting any evidence that does not jibe with his understanding of Scripture, is not presenting you with evidence you can accept. His concept is based on an authority (Scripture as interpreted by his style) and a methodology (anything else must be Satan’s work to confuse humans) you find pitifully lacking.

But when otherwise rational and clear-headed individuals (a category I hope you will consider me to fall into) present you with a hypothesis that is beyond your previous world-view, i.e., that an insensible entity communicated through some mental/spiritual process with them, are willing to discuss at length the phenomenon, their understanding of it, answer questions about it, treat it as an experiential event they are reporting for further information, it moves from the realm of faith to the realm of analysis. Distinguish carefully my interpretation of the event (an encounter with God) and my faith-based response from the reportage of the event. And consider what you know of me as a poster and the personality and intellect that seem to lie behind the words you read. I do not troll; I try to resolve problems; I seem to be living out the life I claim to be trying to lead; I am capable of thinking rationally and judging the truth value of information. If I present to you evidence of a phenomenon I claim to have experienced, that data becomes information with which you may work, just as my reportage of what I noted during a solar eclipse that you had not seen and I had would.

Rats! This was supposed to be appended to the “Is Faith in God a Neurological Function” thread. Please close and delete it, David/Gaudere. Thanks!

But I do not need to believe in a solar eclipse in order to observe it. I sense that the opposite is true of God.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but . . .

QuickSilver, what about atheists or other nonreligious people who undergo conversion experiences? If their personal experience is to be believed, they apprehended or observed God before they believed in him?

I can only speculate of course but I believe they were well predisposed psychologically to that kind of interpretation. Either that or the event they witnessed took place at such a climactic time in their life that they were much more willing to accept a supernatural explanation than any other.

I think I mentioned while back in my OP that climactic events in peoples’ lives sometimes compell them to either develop a belief or lose it.

The problem with drawing evidence from individual’s reported observations is true in both the spiritual and the scientific realm.

The scientist reporting an experiment must offer proof that no other explanation will fit the circumstances; that all other variables have been accounted for. There must be a control group, or the equivalent. All outside factors must be eliminated, before the scientist will leap to the conclusion that (say) subatomic particles exist.

The religious convert you mention can offer no such proof. It’s something that happened inside that person’s head. Was it caused by drug usage? lack of sleep? hypnotism? did he just fall asleep during a particularly boring sermon and have a realistic dream? is it sheer fraud, from someone who craves publicity?

I put to you the question of stigmatics. Proof positive, right? Witnessed by dozens? Well, not quite… the bleeding itself only seems to happen while the person is UNOBSERVED. Thus, alternate theories (such as self-inflicted wounds) are not eliminated from consideration.

I would also put to you the question of flying saucers. We have lots and lots of people giving evidence of having seen green folk from Mars, waving anal probes, and the like. Do we accept their statements, just because lots of people make them? No, not while other explanations abound.