The Raving Theist

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Observing God

December 15, 2006 | 15 Comments

Atheists err in subjecting God’s existence to empirical inquiry, argues Robert E. Meyer of Renew America. He then gives an example of why this is so, which I will analyze below shortly. First, however, it will be helpful to clear up some confusion in terminology which is identified, and to a certain extent perpetuated, by Meyer’s essay.

Meyer asserts that atheistic appeals to reason and logic in disproofs of theism are “tantamount to empiricism.” Now, it is true that in ordinary conversation people often blur the distinction between logic (or reason) on the one hand, and facts (or empiricism or science or observation or experience) on the other. For example, someone might say “it would be illogical to believe that there is a crocodile in my closet.” But technically speaking, the presence of a crocodile would not give rise to any of the contradictions or impossibilities which are the subject of logic. What is really meant is that finding a crocodile in that place would be inconsistent with the individual’s prior factual knowledge regarding his geographical location, the content of his home or his preference in pets. There might be a crocodile there, of course, but in any event the question would be determined by resort to the five senses rather than pure abstract reasoning or an analysis of concepts. Logic and reason would, however, be effective to evaluate propositions such as “the crocodile is both in the closet and not in the closet” or “the crocodile is both longer than eight feet and shorter than three feet,” which can be dismissed as false based upon the meaning of the words without the need for observation.

Meyer does not employ the concepts of logic and fact in a consistent fashion. Although at first he states that “the very concepts of logic and reason . . . are abstract entities,” he later seems to adopt the purported atheistic misconception that they are a form of “observational analysis.” Thus, although the point of the essay is ostensibly that appeals to reason and logic are ineffective to resolve the God question, the discussion mostly focuses (as I indicated at the outset), on whether empirical means are sufficient.

Keeping the relevant distinctions in mind, let’s turn to the example at the core of Meyer’s argument:

The atheist/empiricist makes the mistake of assuming that all factual questions can be distilled to this simple observational analysis. Let’s test this philosophically with an assumption about my own hypothetical experience. One night I walk out to the mailbox for the mail. As I am about to return to the house I hear the audible voice of God telling me to write this editorial. For a minute, presume this actually happened. Exactly what empirical fingerprint can I show you to verify my talk with God, thus proving I’m not a crackpot? None. That is my point. Empirical methods cannot test for all truth or truth claims, because of the metaphysical nature of the entity subject to investigation. Any truth claim can be philosophically cross-examined for logical cogency, however. I have shown theoretically, that truth can exist outside the parameters of empirical analysis. A denial of this claim is not based on objectivity, but a presupposition and bias toward empiricism.

Although this resembles arguments that “God is beyond science” or “God cannot be tested,” it differs in a number of respects. First, Meyer’s hypothetical is not the usual attempt to justify the existence of God in the face of a seeming absence of direct sensory evidence. To the contrary, it is centered around the apprehension of an “audible voice” — something fully amenable to one of the five senses, namely hearing. So there is very much an “empirical fingerprint,” in the form of a “voiceprint.” Thus, at least part of the truth resides inside “the parameters of empirical analysis” rather than outside as Meyer suggests.

That Meyer might be unable to later present the evidence to a third party does not make that evidence any less empirical. Had Meyer seen a squirrel which ran away, the fact that he did not take a picture of it to verify its existence to others would not make his sighting of it non-empirical. Rather, the evidence of the squirrel — the only evidence — would still be the original observation made with his eyes.

Given Meyer’s premise that he did hear God, his statement that the “metaphysical nature” of that entity precludes its empirical verification is problematic. Once again, the only evidence identified in his hypothetical are God’s audible words. What precluded others from verifying Meyer’s experience was their failure to be present at the mailbox, not the alleged metaphysical nature of the entity involved. By his own admission, that nature did not stop Meyer from making the determination regarding the entity’s existence. And certainly the failure of others to see the squirrel could not be blamed on a metaphysical nature. The blame would lie with the fact that it ran away.

This is not to say that empirical evidence is necessarily sufficient to verify metaphysical claims. Logic and reason must be brought to bear on that question. As Meyer correctly stated, the matter must “be philosophically cross-examined for logical cogency.” In his hypothetical, this would involve examining whether the observational evidence was consistent with his conclusion that God was the speaker. In his case the examination is impossible because Meyer failed to provide his definition of God. But assuming Meyer embraces one of the standard definitions, the data provided is insufficient because all it establishes is the existence of voice with the power to tell people to write editorials.

Comments

15 Responses to “Observing God”

  1. sam
    December 15th, 2006 @ 1:01 am

    What a load of B.S. !!!!!

    People who hear voices in their heads are given a name
    and there are many scientific and medical names too.

    In addition to being “MAD” they are also under a delusion
    of being more special than the rest of us since they
    were “chosen” to hear God.

    Usually these people are recovering Alcoholics, or
    drug addicts and/or are suffering or recovering from
    depression, and/or are under some kind of medication.

    It is amazing to me that no one has made a
    correlation between the fact that there are more
    people in America that claim to have had some
    Encounter of The First Kind, whether with God or
    Aliens, and the Fact that America is the nation
    with the most number of prescriptions of heavy
    medications than any other nation in the world.

    What with Retilin given to our children, and
    the myriad of other drugs for the myriad of
    minor ailments, the entire nation is a nation of
    zombies. No wonder they elected Bush.

    Even after Ramsfield , Bush etc. have admitted
    that there are no WMDs, 34% of America still
    believe that they have been found.

    With “faith” like that what can one say but
    sheeeeeeeesh!!!!!

    I have a friend who starved himself for four days
    in order to see God. And no matter what medical and
    scientific evidence I tried to give him that his brain
    chemistry would be altered drastically, he insisted
    on doing it and he now will not be convinced other than
    that he actually had seen Jesus in the flesh.

    When people claim that they hear Aliens in their head
    we call them Mad, but when they claim to hear God
    some people (even some atheists) wonder if it may
    have been true. WHY?????

    Because we are all delusionals, or recovering delusionals.

  2. The Power of Greyskull
    December 15th, 2006 @ 4:00 am

    So you can’t use empirical evidenc to verify peoples experience of God? That means that anything anyone says about anything goes. What about the psychiatric patient who claims he is being spoken to by the devil. How about the muslim who is convinced that Allah is engaging with him?

    The fact is, there are a lot of bullshit claims that are made. How do we separate the bollocks from the truth? We know for sure that we cannot trust one person’s testimony so we need a way of verifying claims. That is the role of evidence.

  3. sam
    December 15th, 2006 @ 9:09 am

    I love the theists’ new tactics for combating reason.

    1- Make some B.S. comments that borrow from science
    jargon to APPEAR as if they are talking science.

    2- Belittle science and try to make it as if it is “faith” based

    3- Claim that LACK of “faith” is a faith in itself

    4- Claim that requiring empirical evidence is a prejudice
    on par with “faith”

    5- Add some old (trite) arguments they have been using
    for thousands of years, like the “watch-maker” argument.

    6- Rely on the fact that many atheists are as feeble in
    their science and logical thinking as theists.

    7- Dismiss the completely insane B.S. in the bible as
    allegory, while maintaining that the bible is the word
    of an omniscient, omnipotent being.

    8- Use the limitations of scientific knowledge to claim
    that science is faulty and they are the ones that have
    the TRUE answers.

    9- Dismiss all previous atrocities of theists (with
    scriptural support) in comparison with weekly-theistic
    maniacs who could have not done their deeds without
    the masses of theists behind them.

    10- Claim that many previous atheists have reverted back
    to theism, as if their previous atheism was only a
    diversion on their journey towards true wisdom in the
    true faith. (see point 6 for reasons of this)

    This strategy relies on a simple fact:
    all humans are either delusional or are Recovering-
    delusionals.

    Just like alcoholics, some recovering delusionals are
    liable to succumb to the temptation again.

    Just like alcoholics, the recovering process is hard
    and the pleasures of the stupor are hard to resist
    and hard to forget.
    An alcoholic does not know he is one, and the pains
    of reality are attributed to the need for more drink.

    Is it a wonder that man “born-again” theists are
    ex-alcoholics, ex-drug-addicts, ex-prisoners,
    ex-whatever-brain-malfunction?????? Just
    substitute an addiction for another. And I am
    glad they do that. If you are going to be addicted to
    something, it is better if it is a religion. But that is
    like saying a grass induced high is less harmful than
    an acid based one.

    Every argument they make eventually becomes:
    “We cannot explain this amazing thing, and
    science has no satisfactory explanation,
    so it has to be GOD who is the answer”

    Is it a coincidence that religious leaders are
    called PASTORS and their followers are called
    FLOCKS.

  4. JUST_ANOTHER_PRIMATE
    December 15th, 2006 @ 9:34 am

    One night I walked out to the mailbox for the mail. As I am about to return to the house I hear an audible voice that says “THERE IS NO GOD”.

    Whew – I’m glad that controversy is finally settled!

    This stuff gets just plain silly after a while.

  5. sam
    December 15th, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    Here is an interesting obfuscation of logic:

    Ask theists why God does not stop evil
    people and/or reveal himself to all
    people once and for all.
    They invariably answer:
    God does not interfere with worldly affairs
    because that denies us “free will”, also
    he wants us to have faith in him and
    evidence trumps faith.

    Well then, what do you call the Bible, prophets, miracles
    and people who hear/see God/Mary/Jesus?
    What is the point of prayer?

    These same people call Katrina God’s vengeance, and
    pray for everything they desire.

    These same people are awed by some peace of
    faked toast.

    These same people are waiting for the rapture.

    These same people are willing to kill or persecute others
    because they are doing his will.

    WHERE IS THE LOGIC???????????

    So it is no wonder that they do not recognize the
    illogic in the following statement:
    “A denial of this claim is not based on objectivity, but a
    presupposition and bias toward empiricism.”

  6. sam
    December 15th, 2006 @ 9:45 am

    ======
    “That Meyer might be unable to later present the evidence to
    a third party does not make that evidence any less empirical.
    Had Meyer seen a squirrel which ran away, the fact that he
    did not take a picture of it to verify its existence to others
    would not make his sighting of it non-empirical. Rather, the
    evidence of the squirrel — the only evidence — would still be
    the original observation made with his eyes. ”
    ======

    Well, a squirrel exists and can be produced as evidence.
    So a claim that one has seen one is plausible even though
    it is not verifiable.

    What if you substitute the word squirell with Dragon/Unicorn???
    Can you produce a Dragon/Unicorn?

    So the claim becomes implausible and thus requires
    closer scrutiny and verification.

    Can you see where logic obfuscation comes in.

  7. Thorngod
    December 15th, 2006 @ 9:48 am

    The mind is a terrible thing. Its raison detre is to serve the body, but the faculties with which it must be equipped to do so allow it to imagine a reversal of the roles and to glorify itself with fantasies. The body, of course, always has the last word.

  8. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 15th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    Yes, well, as commenters above have pointed out, Meyer conspicuously fails to control for a few other plausible third variables. I myself have vividly “heard voices” in my head, but given my metaphysical disposition I simply don’t find the experience pregnant with any ontological import. I suppose if I were religious I would (like Meyer and other theists) be inclined to give such experience a religious interpretation. (Of course, if I were religious, I’m sure the voices would bear a rather more religious message than they do; they’re my voices, after all, so it’s no wonder they tell me what I want to hear.)

  9. "Q" the Enchanter
    December 15th, 2006 @ 10:51 am

    Yes, well, as commenters above have pointed out, Meyer conspicuously fails to control for a few other plausible third variables. I myself have vividly “heard voices” in my head, but given my metaphysical disposition I simply don’t find the experience pregnant with any ontological import. I suppose if I were religious I would (like Meyer and other theists) be inclined to give such experience a religious interpretation. (Of course, if I were religious, I’m sure the voices would bear a rather more religious message than they do; they’re my voices, after all, so it’s no wonder they tell me what I want to hear.)

  10. Aaron Kinney
    December 15th, 2006 @ 12:57 pm

    RA,

    Excellent post!!! Ive been ho-humming at a few of your more recent posts, but this one bucks the recent trend.

    Very good subject matter chosen, and a very good analysis. This is the best post Ive read from you in awhile. Well done!

    And Merry Christmas :)

  11. Cthulance
    December 16th, 2006 @ 10:47 pm

    If I see a squirrel and that squirrel subsequently runs away, all anyone has is my word that I saw it.

    I seriously doubt anyone would question my claim, as squirrels are rather common creatures whose existence is both prevalant and easily verifiable.

    If I hear the voice of God and the voice subsequently disappears, all anyone has is my word that I heard it.

    Squirrels running away are not the same as uniquely hearing the voice of God on one’s way to the mailbox.

  12. axolotl
    December 18th, 2006 @ 7:51 pm

    In Meyer’s hypothetical, I would also inquire what method(s) he use(d) to determine that the voice he “heard” was God and not a hallucination. Most schizophrenics hear “voices”, some of them even claim they hear God. How can we tell which ones are holding conversations with diety and which ones are suffering from a chemical imbalance in their brains?

  13. Monty
    December 18th, 2006 @ 8:16 pm

    The bottom line of ALL religions is: The Universe is run by invisible beings that need to be worshiped.
    And that is just 100% BULLSHIT.

  14. Conley T. Wilson
    December 23rd, 2006 @ 4:51 am

    Schizophrenics are not the only delusional types who hear the voice of a god. Many normal “believers” do also, though not many will admit to it in mixed company. To some it comes as a “still, quiet voice,” and to others a more insistant one. To still others it is not a vocalization, but an emotionalization–but the message is just as clear, because it, like the vocal ones, is generated by the mind of the recipient.

    I have worked that simple trick myself, a number of times, many years ago, when I was an aspiring young servant of the Lord. The last couple of times I received such a message, I felt a nudge of suspicion that I might be putting words in the Holy Spirit’s mouth. It was only a mild intimation, though; I still believed I was receiving guidance from above. It was a little later, after I began to reason about “belief” and “gospel,” that I realized whose voice I had heard.

    Every child indoctrinated from birth in “the faith” (any such “faith”) expects to be spoken to occasionally by God or one of his emisaries. In fact, if he’s been properly tutored, he’ll think something’s wrong with him if he doesn’t occasionally receive heavenly advice and encouragement. He/she has been repeatedly assured that God “speaks to us” in many ways. (And you’d better believe it!)

    Schizophrenia is one of several clinically defined disorders in which hearing “voices” is just one of a number of their disorienting and debilitating symptoms. In a particular victim, the “voices” may or may not have originated in religious conditioning–and it is now fairly well established that chemical and electro-chemical dysfunction is largely responsible for the severity of such mental disorders. What is not generally acknowledged (though it is surely understood by our more intelligent psychologists, psycho-therapists and neuro-scientists) is that religious devotion, as well as other emotionally charged irrational dispositions (such as racial and sexual prejudices), is a form of mental derangement. It is, patently, emotional, and it is, patently, irrational. And these are, patently, the two requisite characteristics of mental derangement.

    The human race is, on the whole, insane. How else account for the fact that there are approximately forty major conflicts (the minor ones are uncountable) raging at any given time? We humans long ago bested all the other beasts; we have bent the once secret powers of nature to our service; we have conquered hunger, and the worst of discomforts and disease–yet we cannot live with ourselves. Tribal bias is a factor; the territorial imperative is a factor; and the third major factor is religion. All three factors are in some degree irrational– but religion is the most irrational of the three.

    What can we do about it? Not much. We sure as hell are not going to vanquish the “faith.” All we can reasonably hope for is to sustain a holding action–and that just here, in our own province, the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave.” That is the pattern, a few outposts of sanity in a perpetually insane world. Ancient Greece was not enlightened; only Athenians were enlightened, and only the cream of Athenians, and only for a moment before the crush of the crude, efficient, pragmatic but god-soaked Roman juggernaut. Show me a Periclean Athens or a Jeffersonian America that has pravailed for more than three centuries.

    Tomorrow my wife and I will take a pleasant 3-hour Xmas Eve drive to our daughter’s home, timed for an arrival after their Christmas Mass. We will spend two or three lovely and loving days in reunion and celebration, and though the Christmas experience will be somewhat different for each of us, it will be equally as meaningful. If I prayed, I would pray that it would always be so.

    It has been half a century now since I last thought I could see a glimmer of hope for the enlightenment and salvation of the human race. If one of you has glimpsed one more recently, I would be grateful for an account. I don’t want to disparage anyone’s optimism, because optimists always seem to have an inordinate need for optimism; but I have detected, among the people I’ve been able to observe, no particular interest in elevating truth above fantasy. Tell me I have misperceived.

    I have now imbibed four hearty libations of Wild Turkey and ginger ale, so I will bid a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Feliz Navidad, Sulubrious Solstice, etc, to all still attending. Keep the faith. ──Godthorn

  15. Godthorn
    January 1st, 2007 @ 1:56 am

    It is now the Year of Our Lord 2007──though, by right and reason, it should have commenced seven days ago. At any rate, He shall rule America justly for another extravagant year. Sip this champagne; it is his blood. Partake of this caviar; it is his flesh. Commemorate and celebrate, for the next hour is near, and no one knows when he cometh again.

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