One of the major atheist myths that I hear a lot is used in answer to my religious experince arguments. They always say "just because it works doesn't mean it's true." In other words, just because a vast array of studies demonstrate that religious experince is good for you doesn't mean God exits. The thing is, it does. This is something they always overlook, it does mean that exactly unless they can make good on counter causality. now of course in general terms it is true that just because religious experince has long term positive effects doesn't prove there's a God. In fact this is merely dogging the argument, because I never argue that it does! Most arguments I have on this topic these says go like this:
Atheist: there's no reason to believe in God.
Me: sure there is, it's rationally warranted.
Atheist: no it's not.
Me: sure, because the long term positive effects is a good reason to beleive in God.
Atheist: Just because soemthing works doesn't mean it's true, so this doesn't prove that God exists.
So what is wrong with this picture? I didn't say it does prove it, I said it's rationally warranted. This is even more flagrant at times when the atheist says "all I ask for is a warrant" so when I give them one, they go "that doesn't prove it."
While it is true that long term positive effects don't prove that God exists, they do furnish a rational justification for construing God as existent, and moreover, given the special nature of the argument, they do in fact demonstrate a very logical reason to believe in God. Before I get started, the problem is the one proviso, this only works if the counter causality is less likely. In other words, if and only if, the alternative explanations don't work account for the transformative effects and only then is it true that working is a rational warrant for belief. The reason is because the nature of the argument turns upon the co-determinate. The co-determinate of a real effect is a real cause. If the experience is real, the effects are real that is, then then cause has to be real. If there are no internal causes or pathologies that are valid as explanations then it is certainly valid to conclude (although it is not necessarily proof) that the one reaming explaination is a rational one.
Now the bromide that working doesn't prove truth is counter intuitive and seems almost certainly false. That something works is a darn good reason to believe that it's true. This is so in this case becasue working is a pretty good reason to think the experinces have an actual referent beyond the human mind. This is so because nothing in the mind can be demonstrated with empriical studies to actually cause this kind of amazing life transformation. Of course atheists "always try to reduce it to a few benefits." But that is exactly what they are doing, reducing it. If we take the studies at their words teh benefits are quite dramatic.
From time immemorial it is believed that spiritual experiences and practices have a therapeutic value in so far as they are capable of establishing an integrated personality. A report (Culligan, 1996) of a 1995 conference held at Harvard University reflects the new collaborative attempts of religion and medicine wherein there is a recognition of the power of religion and spiritual practices in medical treatment. The conference explored the relationship between spirituality and healing in medicine, with reference to the major world religions, and it provided a platform to discuss the physiological, neurological and psychological effects of healing resulting from spirituality.
Several recent studies (Allman et al., 1992; Elkins, 1995; Shafranske & Malony, 1990) have shown that the majority of practicing psychologists though not involved in organized religion, consider spirituality important not only to their personal lives but also to their clinical work. In a study Sullivan (1993) reports findings from a larger qualitative study that is seeking to discover factors associated with the successful adjustment of former and current consumers of mental health services. The study concludes that spiritual beliefs and practices were identified as essential to the success of 48% of the informants interviewed.
Vaughan (1991) explored the relevance of spiritual issues for individual psychotherapy among those motivated by spiritual aspiration and concluded that spirituality underlies both, personal impulses to growth and healing, and many creative cultural and social enterprises. Spitznagel (1992) and Sweeney and Witmer (1992) discussed the spiritual element in the well-ness model approach to work-adjustment and rehabilitation counselling and said that this holistic concept of working with clients is generally centred on faith, belief and values. Westgate (1996) in her review proposed four dimensions of spiritual wellness: (1) meaning in life (2) intrinsic value (3) transcendence and (4) spiritual communality. The paper also discussed the implications of these dimensions for research, counselling and counsellor education.
In a two year exploratory group study of participants in spiritual healing practices, Glik (1986) found that the healing which occurred is related to various measures of psychological wellness defined as the construct of subjective health. Fehring et al., (1987) correlating studies that investigate the relationship between spirituality and psychological mood states in response to life change, found that spiritual well-being, existential well-being and a spiritual outlook showed a strong inverse relationship with negative moods, suggesting that spiritual variables may influence well-being.
Over the years numerous claims have been made about the nature of spiritual/mystical and Maslow’s “peak experiences”, and about their consequences. Wuthnow (1978) set out to explore findings regarding peak experiences from a systematic random sample of 1000 persons and found that peak experiences are common to a wide cross-section of people, and that one in two has experienced contact with the holy or sacred, more than eight in ten have been moved deeply by the beauty of nature and four in ten have experienced being in harmony with the universe. Of these, more than half in each have had peak experiences which have had deep and lasting effects on their lives. Peakers are more likely also, to say they value working for social change, helping to solve social problems, and helping people in need. Wuthnow stressed the therapeutic value of these experiences and also the need to study the social significance of these experiences in bringing about a world in which problems such as social disintegration, prejudice and poverty can be eradicated. Savage et al., (1995) provided clinical evidence to suggest that peakers produce greater feelings of self-confidence and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Mogar’s (1965) research also tended to confirm these findings.
Some researchers in the recent past have found that life satisfaction correlated positively with mystical / spiritual experiences, and these experiences were further found to relate positively to one’s life purpose (Kass, et al., 1991). In fact researchers are of the view that a positive relation between positive affect and mystical experiences may not be surprising given that intense positive affect is often considered to be one of the defining characteristics of these experiences (Noble, 1985; Spilka, Hood & Gorsuch, 1985). The few studies that investigated well-being measures, spirituality and spiritual experience have found that people who have had spiritual experiences are in the normal range of well-being and have a tendency to report more extreme positive feelings than others (Kennedy, Kanthamani & Palmer, 1994; Kennedy & Kanthamani, 1995).
Spiritual experiences are also considered to be exceptional human experiences at the upper end of the normal range such as creative inspiration and exceptional human performance, and can be life changing. Fahlberg, Wolfer and Fahlberg (1992) interpreted personal crises from a developmental perspective that includes the possibility of self-transcendence through spiritual experience / or emergency. The authors suggest that health professionals need to recognize, facilitate and support positive growth experiences.
A study by De Roganio (1997) content-analyzed and organized into a paradigm case examples found in themes of 35 lived-experience informants and 14 autobiographers who represented a wide range of people with physical disability and chronic illness. It was found that the combined elements of spiritual transformation, hope, personal control, positive social support and a meaningful energetic life enabled individuals to improve themselves and come to terms with their respective conditions. These experiences led many people to realize their own interest, sense of wholeness and unity, and to experience and integrate a deeper meaning, sense of self and spirituality within their lives.
Some studies have offered a spiritual approach to addiction problems. Caroll (1993) found that 100 members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) benefited from spirituality which was found to correlate positively with having a purpose in life and the length of sobriety. Frame and Williams (1996), in their study of religions and spiritual dimensions of the African-American culture, address the role of spirituality in shaping identity, and conclude that reconnecting AA clients to their powerful spiritual tradition may be a crucial catalyst for personal empowerment and spiritual liberation. The finding was confirmed in a later study by Wif and Carmen (1996). Another study reported by Green et al., (1998) described the process of spiritual awakening experienced by some persons in recovery during the quest for sobriety. The data suggested that persons in recovery often undergo life altering transformations as a result of embracing a power higher than one’s self i.e., a “higher power”. The result is often the beginning of an intense spiritual journey that leads to sustained abstinence.
In the last few years investigators in the rapidly growing field of mind-body medicine are coming across findings that suggest that an attitude of openness to unusual experiences such as spiritual, transcendental, peak, mystical may be conducive to health and well-being. For example, Dean Ornish, a heart disease researcher, believes that “opening your heart” to “experience a higher force” is in an important component of his programme for reversing heart disease (Ornish, 1990, chapter 9). There are also studies that relate illness with spirituality: Reese (1997) found in her study of terminally ill adults aged 20-85 years that, (1) they had a greater spiritual perspective than non-terminally ill hospitalized adults and adults, (2) their spiritual perspective was positively related to well-being and (3) a significant larger number of terminally ill adults indicated a change toward increased spirituality than did non-terminally ill or healthy adults.
Further, McDowell et al., (1996) investigated the importance of spirituality among 101 severely mentally ill and chronically dependent in-patients, and 31 members of the nursing staff who treated them. It was found that both the patients and the staff who treated them were equally spiritually oriented, and that the patients viewed spirituality as essential to their recovery and they valued the spiritual programme in their treatment more than some of the more concrete items.
Numerous studies have found positive relationships between religious beliefs and practices and physical or mental health measures. Although it appears that religious belief and participation may possibly influence one’s subjective well-being, many questions need to be answered such as when and why religion is related to psychological well-being. A review by Worthington et al., (1996) offers some tentative answers as to why religion may sometimes have positive effects on individuals. Religion may (a) produce a sense of meaning, something worth living and dying for (Spilka, Shaves & Kirkpath, 1985); (b) stimulate hope (Scheier & Carver, 1987) and optimism (Seligman, 1991); (c) give religious people a sense of control by a beneficient God, which compensates for reduced personal control (Pargament et al., 1987); (d) prescribe a healthier lifestyle that yields positive health and mental health outcomes; (e) set positive social norms that elicit approval, nurturance, and acceptance from others; (f) provide a social support network; or (g) give the person a sense of the supernatural that is certainly a psychological boost-but may also be a spiritual boost that cannot be measured phenomenologically (Bergin & Payne, 1993). It is also reported by Myers and Diener (1995) that people who experience a sustained level of happiness are more likely to say that they have a meaningful religious faith than people who are not happy over a long period of time.
A study by Handway (1978) on religiosity concluded that religion is one potential resource in people’s lives. More recently Myers and Diener (1995) in their survey of related studies observe that links between religion and mental health are impressive and that culture and religiosity may provide better clues to understanding the nature of well-being. Religious belief and practice play an important role in the lives of millions of people worldwide. A review by Selway and Ashman (1998) highlighted the potential of religion to effect the lives of people with disabilities, their families and care givers.
Research relating stress to religion indicated that religious and non-religious people tend to experience equal amounts of stress but religion may help people deal better with negative life events and their attendant stress (Schafer & King, 1990). A study by Maton (1989) supports the view that high level of stress individuals are likely to benefit from perceived spiritual support and is consistent with the stress and coping model based on religion proposed by Pargament. Anson et al., (1990) found that belonging to a religious community reduced stress whereas personal religious beliefs did not among 230 members of a kibbutzim. Similar findings were obtained by Williams et al., (1991) where for 720 adults religious attendance buffered the deleterious effects of stress on mental health. Courtenary et al., (1992) found a significant relationship between religiosity and physical health and that religion and coping were strongly related especially among the oldest-old.
With regard to coping Pargament (1996) cites five studies that show that religious forms of coping are especially helpful to people in uncontrollable, unmanageable or otherwise difficult situations. In the same lines Moran also believes that survivors of crisis or disaster may benefit by experiencing God as a refuge and as a reason to have hope (Moran, 1990). Patricia (1998) in her review shows how religion and spirituality help adult survivors of childhood violence.
Individuals with strong religious faith have been found to report higher levels of life satisfaction, greater personal happiness, and fewer negative psychological consequences of traumatic life events (Ellison, 1991). Anson et al., (1990) examined among 639 Jewish retirees over 60 years the relationship between self-rated religiosity, physical and psychological well-being and life satisfaction using data from a longitudinal study. Findings revealed religiosity was only weakly and inversely related to health and psychological distress, poor well-being at time 1 and a decline in well-being during the follow-up year led to an increase in religiosity. Ellis and Smith (1991) administered to 100 undergraduate students the Reasons for Living Inventory (RFL) and a spiritual well-being scale, and found a positive correlation between religious well-being and the total RFL score. Ellison’s (1993) data from a national survey of Black Americans supported the hypothesis that participation in Church communities fosters positive self-perception.
There have been studies on the effects of religiosity. A study by Mookherjee (1994) found that the perception of well-being was positively and significantly influenced by, among other things, church membership and frequency of church attendance. Blaine and Crocker (1995) found that religious belief salience and psychological well-being were moderately positively correlated among Black students. Two-thirds of the panel reported a consistently positive attitude –toward being religious when subjects attached importance to being religious even after 14 years later (Atchley, 1997).
Many psychologists who study religion distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientation (Paloutzian, 1996). An intrinsic orientation involves internal religious motives within a person. On the contrary extrinsic orientation involves external motives outside of the religion, using the religion for unreligious ends. There appears to be a positive correlation between intrinsically religious people (religion as an end in itself) deriving substantial positive mental health benefit from their religion (Donahue, 1985). Intrinsic religiosity has been related to the following qualities characterising positive mental health: internal locus of control, intrinsic motivational traits, sociability, sense of well-being, responsibility, self-control, tolerance, and so on (Bergin, 1991).
A long standing misconception is that religion is a crutch for the weak. However, researchers in the psychology of religion have found that many religious individuals were competent. Payne et al., (1991) in their review on religion and mental health found that there was a positive influence of intrinsic religiosity on mental health in regard to well-being. In one study (Ventis, 1995) found that individuals with intrinsic religious motivation reported a greater sense of competence and control, as well as less worry and guilt than did individuals with extrinsic religious motivation. In another study by (Genia, 1998) it was found that intrinsically religious and pro-religious students reported greater existential well-being than extrinsic or nonreligious subjects.
As Indian culture has a long tradition of spiritual practitioners as well as authentic records of spiritual experiences it will not be out of place here to consider them briefly. In addition their contribution to well-being is not inconsiderable
Thus the real nature of the effects of the experince are the essence of the argument, if they can't accounted for by psychology or chemicals that's a good reason to think it might actually be the effect of encounter with the divine. Since it's not a proof but a warrant for believing all it need do is be consistent, logical, and have some kind of weight in terms of making sense. Because it is a real experince it makes sense to think it has a real cause.
Suppose the atomic bomb didn't work? Suppose they never did get it work. Would they not consider that maybe their understanding of the theory was wrong? who would ever think that scientists would not question the theory if they couldn't get the thing to work? Would that not be a case in which working proved something was true? In this case it proved our understanding of physics was true. Or suppose someone kept saying he knew exactly how to fix your car, but he never could get it started. wouldn't that indicate that his idea of what was wrong and how to fix it was wrong? Of course working is always a sing that we know something. Why do they do trouble shooting? These simple little things one finds in instruction manuals for computers and things. It says "make sure the machine is plugged in." why does it say that? Does being plugged in prove the machine works? Its' part of it. So working is a good indication that we know something. This is not fool proof, but it's a good general indication. In science we assume that we can predict findings, and predictive power is taken as a sign that the theory is generally correct. If a theory can predict things scientists assume the theory is generally true. This is an example of something working that proves a truth.
God is not merely another fact in the universe. God is the basis of all that is, all reality. So for God to be true we would have to be able to understand the crux of what it means to be. We would have to understand the purpose of life and basic meaning of our existence. This is exactly the sense that people come away with in religious experince. This is just what religious experince tells us. But then atheists are afraid of subjective experiences. They refuse to believe that sensing God's presence could be anything but a silly mental problem or chemical imbalance, or just a trick of the mind. This is because they fear the subjective.This is really an illogical assumption because none of those kinds of things can producing any sort of positive experinces. Mental illness is degenerative, it can only get worse. Sensing God's presences helps one to get one's life in order. This is the sort of thing we should expect from the divine and this is the sort of thing that demonstrates a good reason to believe because it works and that is a sing that its real. It couldn't work if it wasn't real. Mental illness and pathological states never enable one to get one's life together. chemical imbalances are rarely healing. These experinces are healing. Because they work, because they are healing they give us an idea that something is going on, something above and beyond the reductionist explanations. Atheists never produce any sort of studies that back up their assertions that mystical experinces can be explained by reducing the phenomena to naturalistic counter causes.
There are three major categories in which atheists attempt to explain away the phenomena.
(2) Brain chemistry
(3) Tricks of the mind
The problem with Placebo is that it's just a throw away answer. They have no data whatsoever to prove that placebo can have any application to non medial uses. While these experiences do have medical outcomes, they would require something beyond the scope of the usual placebo which is after all a medical matter. Now the atheists, in using the term, are just using it as a metaphor for some other process like that which is no understood and which can't be documented and for which they have absolutely no proof at all. Arguing placebo makes no sense becasue the whole concept turns upon expectations. Mystical experiences are rarely expected, and they don't follow the pattern of expectation. Much of the time they happen to children who have no preconceived notions about them, and much of the time they contradict cherished doctirne. It is quite common that the first mystical experince is a conversion experience and was completely unexpected. This is not at all analogous to the case of giving a sugar pill to a hypochondriac who expects the pill to stop the pain: the hypochondriac knows what's he's getting (at least he knows he's getting a pill) and has many expectations about what it will do. This is not the case wiht mystical experince.
Grain chemistry can't explain the nature of the case. The M scale is a means of measuring mystical experince. It works by predicting mystical experiences according to the model set forth by W.T. Stace in the early 60s. Stace gained his data from reading the great mystics. The M scale has validated the finds on a cross cultural basis. It shows that when one ignores the minute details of religious traditions and observes how idea function in the tradition mystical experiences ar universal: mystical experience the same kinds of things all over the world. They call them by different names but htey are acting the same way. What an atheist calls "void" (or a Vadantist for that matter) a christian calls "God" both function exactly the same way in mystical experince. This is been cross culturally validated several times, with Iranian Muslims, Indian Hindus, American Christians, secular Swedes, and others. This cannot be explained by mere chemical imbalances something more has to be going on because it would require so much more for the same kinds of concepts to produce the same kinds of effect, to function the same in the each theology, and produce the same trans formative power. That's a heck of a lot to have going on just to dismiss it with the idea of an imbalance, which can't even be accounted for.
The idea of a trick of the mind comes in many forms, but it's really just a blow off. Placebo is actually a trick of the mind. They have no studies to back them up and no proof. They act like if they can assert a mere possibility however slight it has to be the case because there can't be a God!
When we face the facts surely what these studies prove is that religion works. It does what it's suppose to do. who would ever say "this theory works, it doesn't prove anything?" when theories are proven to work to explain things and predict they are assumed to be true. Working is a pretty good reason to assume something is true. If religion works, why oppose it?