Arguments for the existence of a god debunked part 3
The next topic in our series of debunking arguments.
Arguments for the existence of a god debunked – Part 3: The Argument from Personal Experience
Once the reasons religious people give non-believers as to why they too should believe have been eviscerated, they often revert to one of the real reasons that they believe. That they have had some sort of personal “mystical” experience, which to them “proves” that their particular god exists.
There are many problems with this reasoning, but before we examine these problems I want firstly to talk about a position that a lot of fellow non-believers take when presented with this argument. They will shrug their shoulders and not take the argument any further because they feel that their work is done by exposing the other reasons as either false or a result of a logical fallacy (or more often both) and quite happily pat themselves on the head (intellectually) and say fair enough I can’t argue against someone else’s personal experience.
I do not take this view. The argument from personal experience is one that must be examined and the religious person must be show that it is also a fallacious one.
The argument goes like this:
1. I have had a personal “mystical” or “spiritual” experience.
2. This experience could only have been given to me by my god.
3. Therefore my god exists.
4. You should believe that this god exists, too.
Firstly point 1. We must ask what the experience actually was. This sounds basic, but before we can leap to point 2 we must establish the exact nature of the experience. I do not doubt that the person has had an experience of some kind. Humans have several senses and our brains work in ways that we still do not totally understand, and the “mystical” or “spiritual” element must be explored.
Before we start major debates about what “mystical” or “spiritual” actually mean (if they mean anything at all) we must ensure that the experience is not a mundane (I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense, simply one that has a real world explanation) one. Sadly (for the religious) the fields of psychology and neuroscience are “demystifying” these so called “mystical” experiences every day, with phenomena such as paredolia, hallucination, or temporal lobe abnormalities, which explain away almost all of the so called “mystical” experiences. I have (again sadly) discovered that many religious people have a tendency to exaggerate or even flatly lie about some of the experiences that they have had, so we must examine the nature of the experience fully.
If we grant premise 1, we move onto premise 2. If you haven’t already spotted the logical fallacy let me refresh your memory back to my previous article “Arguments for the existence of a god debunked- Part 1: The Argument from Ignorance”. “I can’t think of any other reason how this experience could have happened; therefore, it had to be a god.” No, it could be something else that no one knows about, or (most likely) it could be one of those psychological or neurological reasons set out above. One of the reasons that the god reason is reached for by most religious people is that they do not follow developments in these fields (or perhaps simply don’t want to, or like many religious people refuse to accept the reality that modern science has revealed to us through its consistently reliable methods). So to put it simply, because of the argument from ignorance we cannot accept premise 2 and so the argument actually falls here. Let’s continue to examine premise 2 a little more, specifically the last two words “my god”.
One of the things you will notice is that Christians will interpret their experience in Christian terms e.g. visions of Jesus, the virgin Mary or some other saint or angel or celestial being. Muslims often view theirs in Islamic terms e.g. the veins and seeds of a tomato plant forming the words “god is great” in Arabic script. Hindus often have visions in the terms of the Hindu traditions, etc. So people frame the experiences in terms of their own religious traditions (or in the rare cases of visions that prompted conversions to other religions, traditions that they were at least culturally aware of). If a particular religion was true why is it that these experiences are framed in a tradition that the believer was never (even slightly) aware of? This is highly suggestive that these experiences are cultural and are a product of something psychological.
Moreover, as all of these traditions are mutually exclusive why is this god character apparently leading a majority of the world down the wrong path? As has been said many times, they can’t all be right.
Therefore, the first conclusion at point 3 simply is not true as either premise 2 must be rejected as it does not follow from premise 1 and in most cases premise 1 can be thrown out as it has a real world explanation.
Any other dissection of point 3 has already been done when looking at the “my god” discussion of point 2. Why does any experience prove “my god”, why does it not prove any other?
Which leads us to the second conclusion in point 4 and the point that began this discussion, why do other non-believers tend not to fight this argument? Any personal experience is, by definition, personal. You are the one that has had it and not me. If you have had this experience why should I believe it on that basis? A personal reason to believe cannot be a reason for someone else to do so. I will need to experience the evidence for myself and even if I did, I am aware of the psychological and neurological reasons this might happen.
Frankly, this argument provides no tangible evidence to believe such a god exists. This argument fails.