Thursday, November 15, 2007

God argument: argument from religious experience

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With this argument I hurl down the gauntlet to John Loftus for formal debate.



Overview:


Decision Making Paradigm: logic of the lamp post"

AT the heart of all religious belief and all organized religions is experience and the sense of the numinous. This is the foundation of religious belief. If we are going to argue for God it would behoove us to examine the nature of this sense of the numinous.

The logic of the lamp post is this: we can't find our keys in the dark. We look under lamp post even if we did not drop them there because that is where we will find them. We can't find God in sense data, because God is not given in sense data. So we look in place we will find him, personal experience. Since this is the basis of religious belief it makes sense to look there.

Co-determinate: The co-determinate is like the Derridian trace, or like a fingerprint. It's the accompanying sign that is always found with the thing itself. In other words, like trailing the inviable man in the snow. You can't see the inviable man, but you can see his footprints, and wherever he is in the snow his prints will always follow.

We cannot produce direct observation of God, but we can find the "trace" or the co-determinate, the effects of God in the world.

Now how do we know the co-determinate? Schleiermacher saw it as the feeling of utter dependence, because the object or correlates of having such a feeling was the thing that evokes the feeling. Just feelings of sublimity imply that one encounters the sublime, feelings of love imply that there is a beloved, so feelings of utter dependence imply that there is a universal necessity upon which the live world and worlds are supremely utterly dependent. We can also include mystical experince and life transformation because these are part and parcel of what is meant by the idea of religion and the divine. As far back as we can dig for artifacts we seem to find some form of mystical experince at the heart of all organized religion. So we can conclude that God, religion, and life transformation always go hand in hand. The studies themselves tell us that life transformation always accompanies dramatic experiences which are understood as and which evoke a strong sense of the Holy. Is this really phenomenological? We can screw up our phenomenological credentials by responding to it in a non phenomenological way. But it is the product of the phenomenological method, because it derives from observation of the phenomena and allowing the phenomena to tell us what categories to group the data into.





The only question at that point is "How do we know this is the effect, or the accompanying sign of the divine? But that should be answerer in the argument below. Here let us set out some general perameters:

(1) The trace produced content with specifically religious affects

(2)The affects led one to a renewed sense of divine reality, are trans formative of life goals and self actualization

(3) Cannot be accounted for by alternate causality or other means.

_________________________________
this is the actual argument,

Argument:



(1)There are real affects from Mystical experince.

(2)These affects cannot be reduced to naturalistic cause and affect, bogus mental states or epiphenomena.

(3)Since the affects of Mystical consciousness are independent of other explanations we should assume that they are genuine.

(4)Since mystical experince is usually experince of something, the Holy, the sacred some sort of greater transcendent reality we should assume that the object is real since the affects or real, are that the affects are the result of some real higher reality.

(5)The true measure of the reality of the co-determinate is the transfomrative power of the affects. Since those are real we can assume the apparent cause is real.

___________________________________

Analysis:
Real Affects of Mystical Experience Imply Co-determinate

A. Study and Nature of Mystical Experiences

Mystical experince is only one aspect of religious experince, but I will focuses on it in this argument. Most other kinds of religious experience are difficult to study since they are more subjective and have less dramatic results. But mystical experince can actually be measured empirically in terms of its affects, and can be compared favorably to other forms of conscious states.

1) Primarily Religious

Trans personal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration (unpublished paper 1992 by Jayne Gackenback


http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/cehsc/ipure.htm

Quotes:

"The experience of pure consciousness is typically called "mystical". The essence of the mystical experience has been debated for years (Horne, 1982). It is often held that "mysticism is a manifestation of something which is at the root of all religions (p. 16; Happold, 1963)." The empirical assessment of the mystical experience in psychology has occurred to a limited extent."


2) Defining characteristics.

[Gackenback]

"In a recent review of the mystical experience Lukoff and Lu (1988) acknowledged that the "definition of a mystical experience ranges greatly (p. 163)." Maslow (1969) offered 35 definitions of "transcendence", a term often associated with mystical experiences and used by Alexander et al. to refer to the process of accessing PC."


Lukoff (1985) identified five common characteristics of mystical experiences which could be operationalized for assessment purposes. They are:

1. Ecstatic mood, which he identified as the most common feature;
2. Sense of newly gained knowledge, which includes a belief that the mysteries of life have been revealed;
3. Perceptual alterations, which range from "heightened sensations to auditory and visual hallucinations (p. 167)";
4. Delusions (if present) have themes related to mythology, which includes an incredible range diversity and range;
5. No conceptual disorganization, unlike psychotic persons those with mystical experiences do NOT suffer from disturbances in language and speech.
It can be seen from the explanation of PC earlier that this list of qualities overlaps in part those delineated by Alexander et al.


3)Studies use Empirical Instruments.

Many skeptics have argued that one cannot study mystical experince scientifically. But it has been done many times, in fact there are a lot of studies and even empirical scales for measurement.

(Ibid.)

Quote:

"Three empirical instruments have been developed to date. They are the Mysticism Scale by Hood (1975), a specific question by Greeley (1974) and the State of Consciousness Inventory by Alexander (1982; Alexander, Boyer, & Alexander, 1987). Hood's (1975) scale was developed from conceptual categories identified by Stace (1960). Two primary factors emerged from the factor analysis of the 32 core statements. First is a general mysticism factor, which is defined as an experience of unity, temporal and spatial changes, inner subjectivity and ineffability. A second factor seems to be a measure of peoples tendency to view intense experiences within a religious framework. A much simpler definition was developed by Greeley (1974), "Have you ever felt as though you were very close to a powerful, spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself?" This was used by him in several national opinion surveys. In a systematic study of Greeley's question Thomas and Cooper (1980) concluded that responses to that question elicited experiences whose nature varied considerably. Using Stace's (1960) work they developed five criteria, including awesome emotions; feeling of oneness with God, nature or the universe; and a sense of the ineffable. They found that only 1% of their yes responses to Greeley's question were genuine mystical experiences. Thus Hood's scale seems to be the more widely used of these two broad measures of mysticism. It has received cross cultural validation" (Holm, 1982; Caird, 1988).



4) Incidence.

(Ibid.)

Quote:

"Several studies have looked at the incidence of mystical experiences. Greeley (1974) found 35% agreement to his question while Back and Bourque (1970) reported increases in frequency of these sorts of experiences from about 20% in 1962 to about 41% in 1967 to the question "Would you say that you have ever had a 'religious or mystical experience' that is, a moment of sudden religious awakening or insight?" Greeley (1987) reported a similar figure for 1973".

"The most researched inventory is the State of Consciousness Inventory (SCI; reviewed in Alexander, Boyer, and Alexander, 1987). The authors say "the SCI was designed for quantitative assessment of frequency of experiences of higher states of consciousness as defined in Vedic Psychology (p. 100)."

"In this case items were constructed from first person statements of practitioners of that meditative tradition, but items were also drawn from other authority literatures. Additional subscales were added to differentiate these experiences from normal waking experience, neurotic experience, and schizophrenic experience. Finally, a misleading item scale was added. These authors conceptualize the "mystical" experience as one which can momentarily occur in the process of the development of higher states of consciousness. For them the core state of consciousness is pure consciousness and from it develops these higher states of consciousness.


Whereas most researchers on mystical experiences study them as isolated or infrequent experiences with little if any theoretical "goal" for them, this group contextualizes them in a general model of development (Alexander et al., 1990) with their permanent establishment in an individual as a sign of the first higher state of consciousness. They point out that "during any developmental period, when awareness momentarily settles down to its least excited state, pure consciousness [mystical states] can be experienced (p. 310). " In terms of incidence they quote Maslow who felt that in the population at large less than one in 1,000 have frequent "peak" experiences so that the "full stabilization of a higher stage of consciousness appears to an event of all but historic significance (p. 310)."

"Virtually all of researchers using the SCI are very careful to distinguish the practice of meditation from the experience of pure consciousness, explaining that the former merely facilitates the latter. They also go to great pains to show that their multiple correlation's of health and well-being are strongest to the transcendent experience than to the entire practice of meditation (for psychophysiological review see Wallace, 1987; for individual difference review see Alexander et al., 1987;


The point of all of this is that the long term positive effects of mystical consciousness demonstrate for themselves the divine in action in the world. The argument is not that we can't figure out how such effects are caused. This is not an explanation of something based upon an appeal to God ,as the atheist straw man would have it. That's the only way atheists know how to think about things. We know this is caused by brain chemistry that's not the issue. That doesn't' tel us anything because it could be just a matter of random evolution, or it could be that this is how God creates corporeal life, he use chemicals links for consciousness. That is not at issue. The issues is that nothing else can produce such effects. It is God's action because nothing else will produce these effects to this degree.

at that level questions of causation do come int o it but as ex post facto argument on counter causality.


B. Long-Term Positive Effects of Mystical Experience


what follows is a summary of the major studies. The data is gathered by subjecting subjects whose experiences are measured by Hood's "M scale" (mystical scale) to standardized personality tests and demographics. We seen in these first examples high ratings of self actualization for mystical experiences. Self actualization tests are standardized and form a measurable base in psychological research. Essentially it means how comfortable you are with being you. In these results we see those who have had religious experiences score much higher than those who have not.




Research Summary

From Council on Spiritual Practices Website

"States of Univtive Consciousness"


Also called Transcendent Experiences, Ego-Transcendence, Intense Religious Experience, Peak Experiences, Mystical Experiences, Cosmic Consciousness. Sources:

Wuthnow, Robert (1978). "Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18 (3), 59-75.

Noble, Kathleen D. (1987). ``Psychological Health and the Experience of Transcendence.'' The Counseling Psychologist, 15 (4), 601-614.
Lukoff, David & Francis G. Lu (1988). ``Transpersonal psychology research review: Topic: Mystical experiences.'' Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20 (2), 161-184.

Roger Walsh (1980). The consciousness disciplines and the behavioral sciences: Questions of comparison and assessment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137(6), 663-673.

Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar (1983). ``Psychedelic Drugs in Psychiatry'' in Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, New York: Basic Books.

Furthermore, Greeley found no evidence to support the orthodox belief that frequent mystic experiences or psychic experiences stem from deprivation or psychopathology. His ''mystics'' were generally better educated, more successful economically, and less racist, and they were rated substantially happier on measures of psychological well-being. (Charles T. Tart, Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, p. 19.)



Long-Term Effects

Wuthnow:

*Say their lives are more meaningful,
*think about meaning and purpose
*Know what purpose of life is
Meditate more
*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities
*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends
*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy
*Reflective, inner-directed, self-aware, self-confident life style

Noble:

*Experience more productive of psychological health than illness
*Less authoritarian and dogmatic
*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient
*intelligent, relaxed
*High ego strength,
*relationships, symbolization, values,
*integration, allocentrism,
*psychological maturity,
*self-acceptance, self-worth,
*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,
*increased love and compassion

Short-Term Effects (usually people who did not previously know of these experiences)

*Experience temporarily disorienting, alarming, disruptive
*Likely changes in self and the world,
*space and time, emotional attitudes, cognitive styles, personalities, doubt sanity and reluctance to communicate, feel ordinary language is inadequate

*Some individuals report psychic capacities and visionary experience destabilizing relationships with family and friends Withdrawal, isolation, confusion, insecurity, self-doubt, depression, anxiety, panic, restlessness, grandiose religious delusions

Links to Maslow's Needs, Mental Health, and Peak Experiences When introducing entheogens to people, I find it's helpful to link them to other ideas people are familiar with. Here are three useful quotations. 1) Maslow - Beyond Self Actualization is Self Transcendence ``I should say that I consider Humanistic, Third Force Psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still `higher' Fourth Psychology, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interest, going beyond humanness, identity, selfactualization and the like.''

Abraham Maslow (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being, Second edition, -- pages iii-iv.



2) States of consciousness and mystical experiences
The ego has problems:
the ego is a problem.

``Within the Western model we recognize and define psychosis as a suboptimal state of consciousness that views reality in a distorted way and does not recognize that distortion. It is therefore important to note that from the mystical perspective our usual state fits all the criteria of psychosis, being suboptimal, having a distorted view of reality, yet not recognizing that distortion. Indeed from the ultimate mystical perspective, psychosis can be defined as being trapped in, or attached to, any one state of consciousness, each of which by itself is necessarily limited and only relatively real.'' -- page 665



Roger Walsh (1980). The consciousness disciplines and the behavioral sciences: Questions of comparison and assessment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137(6), 663-673.



3) Therapeutic effects of peak experiences

``It is assumed that if, as is often said, one traumatic event can shape a life, one therapeutic event can reshape it. Psychedelic therapy has an analogue in Abraham Maslow's idea of the peak experience. The drug taker feels somehow allied to or merged with a higher power; he becomes convinced the self is part of a much larger pattern, and the sense of cleansing, release, and joy makes old woes seem trivial.'' -- page 132

Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar (1983). ``Psychedelic Drugs in Psychiatry'' in Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered, New York: Basic Books.




Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration. Unpublished paper by Jayne Gackenback, (1992)
http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/cehsc/ipure.htm

"These states of being also result in behavioral and health changes. Ludwig (1985) found that 14% of people claiming spontaneous remission from alcoholism was due to mystical experiences while Richards (1978) found with cancer patients treated in a hallucinogenic drug-assisted therapy who reported mystical experiences improved significantly more on a measure of self-actualization than those who also had the drug but did not have a mystical experience. In terms of the Vedic Psychology group they report a wide range of positive behavioral results from the practice of meditation and as outlined above go to great pains to show that it is the transcendence aspect of that practice that is primarily responsible for the changes. Thus improved performance in many areas of society have been reported including education and business as well as personal health states (reviewed and summarized in Alexander et al., 1990). Specifically, the Vedic Psychology group have found that mystical experiences were associated with "refined sensory threshold and enhanced mind-body coordination (p. 115; Alexander et al., 1987)."




(4) Greater happiness


Religion and Happiness

by Michael E. Nielsen, PhD


Many people expect religion to bring them happiness. Does this actually seem to be the case? Are religious people happier than nonreligious people? And if so, why might this be?

Researchers have been intrigued by such questions. Most studies have simply asked people how happy they are, although studies also may use scales that try to measure happiness more subtly than that. In general, researchers who have a large sample of people in their study tend to limit their measurement of happiness to just one or two questions, and researchers who have fewer numbers of people use several items or scales to measure happiness.

What do they find? In a nutshell, they find that people who are involved in religion also report greater levels of happiness than do those who are not religious. For example, one study involved over 160,000 people in Europe. Among weekly churchgoers, 85% reported being "very satisfied" with life, but this number reduced to 77% among those who never went to church (Inglehart, 1990). This kind of pattern is typical -- religious involvement is associated with modest increases in happiness



Argyle, M., and Hills, P. (2000). Religious experiences and their relations with happiness and personality. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10, 157-172.

Inglehart, R. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

12 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

All you must do here is to answer the mind/brain problem and you'll have a case. If you cannot do that you have no case. Q.E.D.

J.L. Hinman said...

I am not sure to which brian/mind problem you refer. I assume you mean the one with the functionalists vs the property dualist's?

that doesn't even come close to taking out this argument. It has nothing to do with it. But in itself that argument has no bearing on the existence of God. I have a God argument based upon the answer to it.

but I'm not sure this is the right argument you mean?

zok said...

Interesting posts, Joe; keep it up.

J.L. Hinman said...

thanks Zok

Jason Barr said...

I think this is basically pretty good. I also have no idea what brain/mind problem Loftus is talking about, unless he's trying to make a point about the relation of the physical brain processes to the existential experience of the conscious mind.

I must admit to still being somewhat unsure of how exactly the positive effects of mystical experience demonstrate the work of the divine in the world. I really like the reference to the Derridean trace above and I tend to use the same sort of expression to refer to God in the world, and I think it's a good analogy. I'm just not sure how to make the jump between analogy and reality. I have visions of Deleuze's views on language dancing in my head but can't quite put it together - basically it has to do with the idea that language delimits and points to a particular shaping of difference, but does not exhaust the possibility of difference - in the same way the trace points to God, but does not define or delimit God in a way that would allow us to more definitively "put our finger" on him.

Would you say the brain chemistry explanation can be put in terms of being a trace, or perhaps a co- or subordinate cause? The way I read Genesis 1 the creation participates in its own making, and so I would see such a formulation as coherent with that.

And I could use a bit more explanation of this:

at that level questions of causation do come into it but as ex post facto argument on counter causality.

But overall, I'm pretty impressed.

akakiwibear said...

A great argument - stretched the mind!.

The argument from religious experience is strong even at an empirical level. The number of people who have them cannot be ignored. Yes some who claim them are charlatans, but many are reliable individuals.

The often heard, and rather patronising, atheist response that ‘those who claim to have had a religious experience are sincere in what they think happened, but wrong’. The atheist defence of mental illness does not hold water when applied to such a large number of instances across such a range of individuals – it is a shield from the weight of evidence.

Paul’s Damascus road experience is an example that is hard to refute. He had a conversion that even common sense can only attribute to his own explanation of a religious experience.

If Paul’s conversion was a conscious exercise of choice then it was certainly a very stupid move – there was no logical upside to becoming a Christian, the persecutions (as Paul well knew) were not fun and the job did not pay well or come with status and power that compared to his old job.

Simple reasoning says Paul was converted through a religious experience plus there is a pattern of similar experiences across a range of diverse people in different countries over an extended period of time with. It is very hard to deny that there is some substance here – and if there is, then there is a spiritual realm.

Really, if atheists accepted the evidence supporting the likelihood of religious experiences then the atheist/theist debate would be about the nature of the supreme figure in that realm – is it really “God”.

painterofblue said...

Interesting article! I'm curious why you always link mystical experience with religion? I've always considered that religion blocks our access to the "traces" of the Divine within by trying to define them. I would think linking the two would obscure you results.

J.L. Hinman said...

Jason Barr said...

I think this is basically pretty good. I also have no idea what brain/mind problem Loftus is talking about, unless he's trying to make a point about the relation of the physical brain processes to the existential experience of the conscious mind.

I can think of two or three things he could have meant.

I must admit to still being somewhat unsure of how exactly the positive effects of mystical experience demonstrate the work of the divine in the world. I really like the reference to the Derridean trace above and I tend to use the same sort of expression to refer to God in the world, and I think it's a good analogy. I'm just not sure how to make the jump between analogy and reality.


that's always the problem in anything. not unique to this argument. non uniqueness is a defense for any argument.



I have visions of Deleuze's views on language dancing in my head but can't quite put it together - basically it has to do with the idea that language delimits and points to a particular shaping of difference, but does not exhaust the possibility of difference - in the same way the trace points to God, but does not define or delimit God in a way that would allow us to more definitively "put our finger" on him.


the Derridians basically lost the argument to Pinkham, the student of Chomsky, who unfortunately is an atheist. But Chomsky could make Mincemeat of the decons. meaning in language does not derive from difference or from signifies but from context.

that was the basis of the whole argument between Derrida and Searl. So Searl deserves credit to for taking it back to J.L. Austin.


Would you say the brain chemistry explanation can be put in terms of being a trace, or perhaps a co- or subordinate cause?

the God "parts" of the brain? yes. I use that as a God argument on the big list of 42.



The way I read Genesis 1 the creation participates in its own making, and so I would see such a formulation as coherent with that.

And I could use a bit more explanation of this:

at that level questions of causation do come into it but as ex post facto argument on counter causality.

But overall, I'm pretty impressed.

thanks I apprecaite that. I'm writing back about this one and the Thomas Reid argument.

J.L. Hinman said...

akakiwibear said...

A great argument - stretched the mind!.

hey thanks man.

The argument from religious experience is strong even at an empirical level. The number of people who have them cannot be ignored. Yes some who claim them are charlatans, but many are reliable individuals.

and there are different kinds. (9 x out of 10 when atheists argue against this they assume the arong kind of experience.

The often heard, and rather patronising, atheist response that ‘those who claim to have had a religious experience are sincere in what they think happened, but wrong’. The atheist defence of mental illness does not hold water when applied to such a large number of instances across such a range of individuals – it is a shield from the weight of evidence.

and studies. I think I pointed this out, there are specific studies that rule that out.

Paul’s Damascus road experience is an example that is hard to refute. He had a conversion that even common sense can only attribute to his own explanation of a religious experience.

but that is no the type use din the studies I talk about.

If Paul’s conversion was a conscious exercise of choice then it was certainly a very stupid move – there was no logical upside to becoming a Christian, the persecutions (as Paul well knew) were not fun and the job did not pay well or come with status and power that compared to his old job.


how could he choose to see a bright light and hear a voice?

Simple reasoning says Paul was converted through a religious experience plus there is a pattern of similar experiences across a range of diverse people in different countries over an extended period of time with. It is very hard to deny that there is some substance here – and if there is, then there is a spiritual realm.

Really, if atheists accepted the evidence supporting the likelihood of religious experiences then the atheist/theist debate would be about the nature of the supreme figure in that realm – is it really “God”.

12:35 PM

I have only one or two times been confronted with athesits who even had a clue about how to beat this argument. Most of them poo poo it without even reading the material. most recently on an EZB universe board I put this augment down and they said "O these are just stupid Christian studies." so they have never heard of Maslow. that's par for the course in dealing with atheists, the most ignorant of them, anyway, their version of fundies.

J.L. Hinman said...

painterofblue said...

Interesting article! I'm curious why you always link mystical experience with religion? I've always considered that religion blocks our access to the "traces" of the Divine within by trying to define them. I would think linking the two would obscure you results.

4:35 PM

you seem to be defining religion in a negative way. So any positives that come from it you just define as not religion. Mystical experience is the essence of religion. It's at the base of all organized religious impulse, its' the foundation of the existence o the religious phenomenon.

akakiwibear said...

Yes it is about personal experience.

I am interested to see where Sam Harris ends up as he wrestles with the problem of explaining mystical experiences and encouraging meditation - while I think it will test his faith in the flying spaghetti monster I can't see a turn around happening.

Peace

Jason Barr said...

the Derridians basically lost the argument to Pinkham, the student of Chomsky, who unfortunately is an atheist. But Chomsky could make Mincemeat of the decons. meaning in language does not derive from difference or from signifies but from context.

that was the basis of the whole argument between Derrida and Searl. So Searl deserves credit to for taking it back to J.L. Austin.


Yeah, I tend to think in terms that difference is the field from which meanings can be drawn, but difference is not sufficient to move us towards a determination of meaning - context is required. That's why when you say "I love you" to someone they don't think you might be ordering a cheeseburger. Context is contingent, but that doesn't mean it's insufficient to regulate meaning in a real sense.

I think maybe embryonic stem cells could be a good illustration of the point - what they will become is contingent on a number factors that interact with the coded material they contain, but that they will become bone cells, neurons, muscle cells, etc. developing into tissues and organs and such is defined by the context of the development process within the womb and the interaction between the embryonic cells, the mother, and the process itself. You generally don't have to worry that a human mother is going to give birth to a yak, even though human genetic material has no small number of factors in common with that of a yak (though the two are not the same, just as two signifiers are not the same).

In a similar fashion, the mystical or religious experience could be seen as a real encounter with a reality that is beyond the temporal order and yet interacts with it, but the way such experiences are expressed within the culture of the one having the experience are contingent - is that the track to take with this? I already agree with the conclusion, that it is reasonable to assume there is something legitimately causing these experiences that is "Other" to us and to the material order. I'm just trying to shore up in my mind how to get there.

It's early and I'm having trouble holding a thought, so I hope this is coherent.

I like the Thomas Reid argument too, I just didn't have any comments. I don't have as good a background with this philosophy stuff as I do in Biblical studies. ;-)