I think one misunderstanding that might have brewed out of the exchanges in comment section is that Dave is saying there are other possible explainations. He seems to not hear me saying 'yes there are other possible explanations but i think mine is the most likely." That's what I'm saying, he seems to hear me saying "No I've proved this is the only one." I don't want to second guess what he thinks. I am not claiming I have absolute proof. My argument has always been a prima facie justification argument. That means it's not a claim of proof it's a claim that the case I make is justified on face value (prima face) given the evidence.
Nor should we limit this to sense data. It is also true that we can have flaws in our reasoning, so that we come to erroneous conclusions. This is especially true of basic, everyday reasoning that is largely subconscious and which results in what are referred to as common logical fallacies.That's why I don't make the argument in terms of "proof" but rational warrant. I don't claim anything absolute.
So your assumption that assumes that if we have an impression of something, a sense that something exists, that we can assume that A) it exists and that B) it is what we think it is, is flawed.
That's a flawed description of what I said. Here's the argument as I make it on Doxa:
Theory of Knowledge lecture notes.
Philosophy, UC Davis
"Consider the question whether we are justified in believing that a physical world exists. As David Hume pointed out, the skepticism generated by philosophical arguments is contrary to our natural inclination to believe that there are physical objects." "[T]he skeptic . . . must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, tho' he cannot pretend by any arguments of philosophy to maintain its veracity. Nature has not left this to his choice, and has doubtless esteem'd it an affair of too great importance to be trusted to our uncertain reasonings and speculations. We may well ask, What causes induce us to believe in the existence of body?, but 'tis in vain to ask, Whether there be body or not? That is a point, which we must take for granted in all our reasoning." (A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, Section II)Mattey again:
"Thomas Reid, who was a later contemporary of Hume's, claimed that our beliefs in the external world are justified.'I shall take it for granted that the evidence of sense, when the proper circumstances concur, is good evidence, and a just ground of belief' (Essay on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Essay IV, Chapter XX). This evidence is different from that of reasoning from premises to a conclusion, however."In other words, We accept the existence of the external world as a matter of course merely because we perceive it.
"That the evidence of sense is of a different kind, needs little proof. No man seeks a reason for believing what he sees or feels; and, if he did, it would be difficult to find one. But, though he can give no reason for believing his senses, his belief remains as firm as if it were grounded on demonstration. Many eminent philosophers, thinking it unreasonable to believe when the could not shew a reason, have laboured to furnish us with reasons for believing our senses; but their reasons are very insufficient, and will not bear examination. Other philosophers have shewn very clearly the fallacy of these reasons, and have, as they imagine, discovered invincible reasons agains this belief; but they have never been able either to shake it themselves or to convince others. The statesman continues to plod, the soldier to fight, and the merchant to export and import, without being in the least moved by the demonstrations that have been offered of the non-existence of those things about which they are so seriously employed. And a man may as soon by reasoning, pull the moon out of her orbit, as destroy the belief of the objects of sense." (Essay on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Essay IV, Chapter XX)
"Here Reid shows himself to have foundationalist tendencies, in the sense that our beliefs about physical objects are not justified by appeal to other beliefs. On the other hand, all he has established at this point is what Hume had already observed, that beliefs about physical objects are very hard to shake off. Hume himself admitted only to lose his faith in the senses when he was deeply immersed in skeptical reflections. But why should Reid think these deeply-held beliefs are based on "good evidence" or "a just ground?" One particularly telling observation is that a philosopher's "knowledge of what really exists, or did exist, comes by another channel [than reason], which is open to those who cannot reason. He is led to it in the dark, and knows not how he came by it" (Essay on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Essay IV, Chapter XX). Philosophers "cannot account for" this knowledge and must humbly accept it s a gift of heaven."
"If there is no philosophical account of justification of beliefs about the physical world, how could Reid claim that they are justified at all? The answer is the way in which they support common sense."
"Such original and natural judgments [based on sense-experience] are, therefore, a part of that furniture which Nature hath given to the human understanding. They are the inspiration of the Almighty, no less than our notions or simple apprehensions. They serve to direct us in the common affairs of life, where our reasoning faculty would leave us in the dark. They are part of our constitution; and all the discoveries of our reason are grounded upon them. They make up what is called the common sense of mankind; and, what is manifestly contrary to any of those first principles, is what we call absurd. (An Inquiry into the Human Mind, Chapter VII, Section 4)"
"One might say that judgments from sense-experience they are justified insofar as they justify other beliefs we have, or perhaps because they are the output of a perceptual system designed by God to convey the truth. (Of course, if the latter is what gives these beliefs their justification, the claim that we are designed in this way needs to be justified as well.)"
(me on Doxa)
1) Acceptance of Perceptions about the world.
But it is not merely because we percieve it that we accept it. It is because we perceive it in a particular sort of way. Because we perceive it in a regular and consistent way. This has been stated above by Reid. The common man goes on with his lot never giving a second thought to the fact that he can no more prove the veracity of the things around him than he can the existence of God or anything else in philosophy. Yet we accept it, as does the skeptic demanding his data, while we live out our lives making these assumptions all the time.
2) Consistency and Regularity.
If every time we woke up in the morning it was in a different house, with a different family, but one which make the assumption that we did nevertheless belong there and always had, and if the route to work changed every morning, if we never went to the same job twice, if our names and our looks were always different each day, we might think less of direct observation. But because these things are always the same from moment to moment and they never differ, we learn to trust them and we trust them implicitly as a matter of course. We do not try to prove to our selves each day when we get up "I am the same person today that I was yesterday," precisely because we learn very early that we always are the same person. We observe early on that we cannot penetrate physical objects without leaving holes and so we do not try to walk though walls; we know that doesn't work because it never works.
Hume observed that when we see two billiard balls we do not really see the cause of one making the other one move. What we really observe is one stopping and the other one starting. But, in practical terms, we do not observe the causality of a car running over the pedestrian as causing the pedestrian to fly across the road, but we know from experience that these two factors usually go hand in hand and so we don't play in the street.
a) Empirical proof?
In making this argument on boards many skeptics have argued "I see that the world is real with my own eyes." That's the point, why trust your eyes? You cannot prove they are seeing things properly. Everything could be an illusion everything we observe could be wrong. We cannot prove the existence of the external world, we assume it because it is always there. Some try to claim this direct observation as empirical proof. But they are confusing the notion of scientific empiricism with epistemological empiricism. Before we make the assumption that scientific data is valid we first make the epistemological assumption that perception is valid. Otherwise there would be no point in assuming the data. So epistemological empiricism is prior to scientific methods. In fact we have to simply make this assumption a priori with no proof and no way around the problem in order to able to make the assumptions necessary to accept scientific data. WE do usually make these assumptions, but they are assumptions none the less.
Just because a sense of the numinous *feels* extremely important, profoundly meaningful, and strongly connected to something greater than oneself, it does not automatically follow that this is so. That is, that one has found and plugged into some pre-existing transcendent order to the universe. That is certainly a possibility, but it isn't necessarily true.Meta:At that point all you are saying is that everything can be doubted. I never claimed to offer absolute proof. That's also a bit of straw man argument, because the basis upon which you are arguing ("feels extremely important") is not the basis upon I make the argument. I never said this is true because it feels important. I based the argument upon the way it fits epistemic judgment criteria (regular, consistent,inter-subjective).
That alone leaves the door open for other potential explanations of why some people have such experiences, which supports the assertion you were contesting. But that isn't all. Because there isn't just an opening for other explanations, other explanations exist.Meta:Just giving an alternative is not enough. You must prove the greater likelihood of it.
Nor do they involve dismissive claims such as saying that people who have a sense of embracing and nurturing transcendence are just victims of brainwashing or wishful thinking or perhaps mentally ill.Meta: Ok
Take an evolutionary argument. A currently popular hypothesis is that the human brain didn't just get better and better at particular tasks by increasing neural processing power to particular area; rather, the increased interconnections between these various functional loci in the brain was just as if not more important.
All brains try impose artificial meaning on the world based on certain goals such as finding food, detecting danger, and the like. This can include making general assumptions about the nature of the world and its properties based on experience and sense data.
This also extends to making predictions about what will happen next. In more sophisticated brains, this includes an assumption of agency on other living creatures, which itself extends to attributing purpose and motive to what is happening around the organism.
sure but we do not assume as a matter of course that what we perceive is merely imposing order on the world.If we assume this why do we act as though our perceptions are true. If it is the case that we impose order why does acting consistently with our perceptions work to get us by? The order must be there or it wouldn't work to act as though it is. Moreover, the basic assumption of science is that it is there. Otherwise why study it?
An even more advanced feature is empathy, the capacity to guess what another creature is experiencing and to mimic that experience; examples would include sharing another organisms fear or pain. This is thought to be more common among more social animals with more sophisticated brains.Meta: that doesn't prove that pain isn't real. We are not imposing a non existent order on the world by sharing fear of pain, pain is real and it should be avoided. That's real order. Your arguments seem to be assuming that perceiving something is the worst evidence for its existence, yet that is still considered the best evdience in all quarters.
Now if we take these and similar features and qualities of the brain, and we boost their capacity and then increase the interconnections of their circuits, we might expect that this would lead to new properties of the brain and qualities of the mind. Complexity theorists would call them emergent properties.
Some of these properties might be beneficial, some might be detrimental, and some may be neither. Some may also be both depending on circumstance. If we assume this kind of model, a more balanced system may lead to artistic and intellectual genius, intense creativity, and a heightened capacity for social perceptiveness. A less balanced system could lead to obsession, neurosis, schizophrenia, etc.
Now, consider a species where fitting in, security in belonging, social and personal empathy was important; where agency detection and theory of mind (being able to "get inside someone else's head) was important; where recognizing or creating sophisticated and overarching patterns of causality is important; and where attributes such as creativity and suspension of disbelief (needed as much for activities such as thought experiments as for enjoying a good story) are important.
It is not at all unlikely that such a species, when the connections between the circuits for these attributes are increased, might have develop a tendency for an innate sense that the world is ordered and logical, that this is due to a greater intelligence or consciousness, and that one is connected to this greater whole. It would need not be something clearly articulated, say, in the strictly logical aspects of conscious awareness. It could instead hover as a profound sense of wonder and interrelatedness. It could even seem to precede the subjectively created experience of the world that one takes for granted as actual reality.
Now, could this suffice as an explanation for the sense of the numinous? Sure it could. It could also explain why some people have such a sense or have it more readily and experience it in a more pronounced way while others seems to lack it or to experience it less frequently or in a more subtle fashion.Meta: not really. that's not adequate to account for all of the aspects of the phenomena. Yet, moreover, it's also just playing off of this assumption above that if perceptions work out then they must be false. you are really just arguing that my argument works too well. There is no premia facie reason for assuming your answer. we don't normally assume that if things work out they must be false. We don't assume "I perceive order therefore I'm just projecting it and it's not there." Sure that could be the case at some point, it also has to be that order is really there when it consistently works out that we follow it and we wind up walking off a cliff. We see the road ahead is clear and of all the amazing things we make it. We don't assume "wow that must have totally false as a perception, that's why it worked out." There's no reason to make that connection.It's a possibility as you say,I never claim an absolute proof. It's not a likely hood.
It doesn't account for all the phenomena. Why is the sense of the numinous the same in all cultures and all times, and its' always beneficial and life transforming? The prima facie sense, On face value, is that our perceptions have paid off. The mere possibility that they might be false is not a likelihood when they consistently work out. The sense of the numinous is transmitted by brain function, is it a mis fire? An imbalance, or just some perceptual sense that is normal but not often noticed and is now begin taken as a reflection of some reality when in fact it really serves some other purpose in the evolutionary endowment? This is a fair question, but to the extent that it's consistantly positive, that doesn't seem likely that it's an imbalance or"misfire" when those usually are not beneficial.
The possibility that it serves another purpose and we are misapplying is a real possibility, but that in itself doesn't disprove the argument. It's a justification argument not a proof. That means assuming the conclusion is valid based upon the result of following the perception is a valid assumption. There is no prima facie reason to assume it's wrong just because it worked out, when all our other assumption are prima facie that the perception is true when it works out. That amounts to dogmatic doubt for doubt's sake. This especially true as long as one doesn't show this alledged hidden purpose for the experience.
One could counter that the same evolutionary process and reconfiguration of the brain could have enabled people to sense an actual pre-existing transcendent order in the same way that the evolution of photosensitive cells allowed for an awareness of the phenomena of light, but this would still pre-suppose the existence of this transcendent order. And it would also mean that some people would, biologically, have little or no access to it.Meta: At this point that's just an empty possibility. In order to over turn a prima facie assumption you must show that the evidence justifying it isn't enough. That requires more than just a mere possibility that "this might be the case."
Again, the point at this time is not an argument over which explanation is best, but rather that there are multiple explanations. Peak experiences, the sense of the numinous, etc, COULD point to God but don't necessarily do so.Meta: just hanging out bunch of possibilities is not enough to overturn a prmia facie argument. If the standard is a prima facie case, then the presentation of empirical studies that back the case in all its major aspect with no counter data is a strong PF case.
Here's a good book, one which I actually researched from and quoted from in my book in making this argument. It's a fine defense, by a great philosopher (William Alston) better than I can ever do. This is a google book so this link will take you to an online copy of the actual book.
Perceiving God William P. Alston.