Monday, March 17, 2008
Religious experiences - the telescope analogy
Here's another analogy with religious experience.
It's supposed that we (or some of us) are equipped with what Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls a sensus divinitatis - an extra "sense" that allows us to experience God directly.
If someone experiences God by such means, then, it's suggested, they can know God exists. It's also reasonable for them to believe God exists.
But is it? After all, there are so many different religious experiences, experiences which contradict each other in so many ways (about the number of Gods, character of these Gods, and so on). The power of suggestion is also clearly heavily involved in shaping these experiences - as the experiences tend to be culturally highly specific.
Here's my analogy.
Suppose a new kind of telescope is developed to reveal otherwise unobservable and unknowable portions of reality. Scientists know, however, that on at least a majority of occasions, this telescope produces at least very significantly deceptive results. In fact, it may not work at all. You peek through the telescope and seem to observe P. However, when others peek through it, they observe quite different things. Oddly, very often, people tend to see what they expect to see.
Knowing all this, how reasonable is it for you to believe P?
Not very reasonable, I'd suggest (not even if the telescope is, on this particular occasion, functioning reliably).
So why is it reasonable of you to trust your religious experience?