Wednesday, November 14, 2018

All God's Point to God or No Other Name?


On Monday I talked about the seeming universality of the God concept, and the relative nature of religious traditions. One reality (God) behind all traditions that seem to be different only becuase experience of God must be filtered ("mediated") through cultural constructs. In Christian terms where does that leave faith in Christ? How can Christ be the savior, the one name by which we can be saved, if God is the same reality behind all religions? First of all I did not say that I think all religious traditions are the same. Nor did I say they are all equal. They are not alike becuase they are all tainted by the various cultural constructs we use to understand reality. We can't think about that which is beyond our understanding, the slight glimpse we get of it must be compared to that which do know. Secondly, I don't think all gods are God. I have been known to say "all God's point to God." That means the individual personages of various mythological traditions are place holders. They are not coterminous names or the same personage, they are sign posts that point beyond themselves to something else. That is true except for Jesus. By extension the God of the OT. The God of the OT can fool us.
First Jesus is a historical person who actually lived and breathed and walked the earth. I know there are despisers of who God fervently wish that was not true. They have brain washed themselves by concocting their own silly standards to convince themselves, but those are not the standards of historians. There's still an option for the skeptic to doubt the divinity of the person in history; after all it is an impossible thing. It's a incredulous thing. It's what Reinhold Niebuhr called "impossible possibly." They will have to do their doubting through the humanity of the historical guy becuase the evidence is simply overwhelming that he did live. I am going say to more on the incarnation as we get near Christmas. Getting on toward the end of next week I'll dwell more fully with that. Jesus is the unique point of the Christian tradition, without that we can just be Unitarians. We might as well, therefore, put our eggs in one basket so to speak, the Jesus basket as it were. Becuase he was a man in history Jesus offers a unique focal point for understanding the divine and his sacrifice on the cross as unique statement of solidarity between God and humanity. All the other figures of other faiths are either not divine (not suppose to be by their reckoning) or they were not flesh and blood. Zeus was not a real guy, he was a myth. Hercules might have been based upon a real guy or even two but he was not a object of religious devotion. There were examples of soldiers mainly who made votive offerings to Hercules because he was a symbol of strength but he is still a symbol. The real guy is forgotten and he's not the point of the Greek religion. He would be more analogous to a saint in the Catholic chruch rather than to Christ. Buddha was flesh and blood but he wasn't a "god." Hercules was not the divine logs, his death could never be a major symbol of God's solidarity with humanity. Alexander the great was a hybrid in that he was a historical figure but a legend grew up around the historical figure that he was a demi-god, he son of a god. He was not the embodiment of the universal logos. He was more like Hercules, more like a saint.
Jesus was not son of God in the same sense. Jesus son ship is eternal, and part of the Trinity and sort of what we might call "mega doctrine." He much more than just a saint-like figure to whom one can pray for intercession, he is much more than even though his role is intercessory. Jesus is the called the son of God in the Gospels not becuase he's vice President God but because it was an epithet of Messiah. The Greek Christians understood it in the demi god sense due to associations with Greek religion. It was the Platonic philosophy that triumphed in understanding the Trinity. Of cousre Jesus is also called the "only begotten son of God." That Greek word is mongenase meaning "foal." Or it might be translated "unique son." We are said to be children of God, ton technon theon. This means adopted children. We are children by adoption. Jesus was begotten by the father, not referring to his coming to be at a point in time, as the son of the Trinity is eternally generated, he's eternally being born and born constantly forever as the son. That's not the begotten part. The begotten part is the incorporation.
It's because he was a real historical figure that he can fit both roles uniquely, both pointing beyond himself to the one true reality behind all religions, and also himself being the employment of divine in the flesh. When I say by extension this brings in the OT God, what I mean is that the eternal generation of the son implies the father. The embodiment of the divine implies the transcendent divine that is pointed back to. That does not mean the images used individually in the OT are so closely identified with God that they are literalized. They remain metaphorical is obvious becuase they are so diverse. So the OT not only has the unique presentation of the one true God but also reflects the same relative nature that all religious traditions do of pointing beyond itself to the true reality behind them all. This is acknowledge in the Bible. Genises 14:18 we read "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High." He's priest of God but Israel doesn't exist yet. He's dealing with Abraham, before the sons whose names would grace the twelve tribes. Of wast religion is he a priest that he is priest of God most high? Obviously there's something different in the relationship between God and religious traditions that we don't get. The God of the OT is the object of worship Jesus taught us to worship but he not teach us to literalize the metaphors of the OT. Nor did he sort out for us the canonical status of the books therein. We are not bound to think of God as the big meaning of the OT smiting and condemning and so forth. There's a very different picture of the OT God that emerges which I will discuss on friday.
I should discuss salvation and damnation and things such as this. That is rather crucial in dealing with the issue of "one true faith." Many good and well meaning people do not feel the need to be saved. Some wonder why is it not enough to jut be good and well meaning. Surely God knows that we are well meaning, if God looks upon the heart, so why do we need to conform to the ideological strictures of a particular religious view? Wouldn't God be extremely unjust to condemn someone who was well meaning? And aren't Christians really unfair to assume that all but those who follow their views are not well meaning?2) Unfair because believers in other religious traditions will not be saved?This is an often heard objection and it is not without merit. Why should God send someone to hell for all eternity, simply because he/she was born in a culture that is not open to Christianity, perhaps has not herd of Jesus, and perhaps even at a time before there was any possibility of hearing (say before Christ came to earth). Such a person would have no chance of being saved. Closer to home, a person in another culture who is very committed to the religious tradition he/she was brought up in, why should such a person suffer eternally just for being who they are? That is basically what it amounts to, everyone is proud of their own culture, and everyone identifies with his/her own religious tradition in a very personal way. Why should someone be condemned just for being who they are, being born and raised in the culture they were born into?

Sice hell is eternal, and sin is finite, it seems unjust to punish someone in a mannar that far exceeds the crime. Moreover, isn't the punishment unfair in the first place? Just to go to hell simpley for not being a Christian, this is very unjust becuase it means that who the person is and what they live for, and the nature of their intensions aren't even considered. To just whisk people off to hell forever, where there is no learning process so no chance to correct mistakes, is unjust."Gospel" means "Good News." The Good News is not that people are going to hell. The Good News is that God cares and provides a way to orient our lives toward him so that we can know him in this life, and in the world to come. I don't believe in hell as eternal conscious torment. I think the eternal aspect of it is the cessation of existence, forever. Those in hell cease to exist and they are forever gone. That's the eternal aspect not the conscoius torment. I will deal with that at another time. If one wishes to be reading up on it in the mean time my views on the subject are recorded here.
Jesus himself never speaks directly of hell, but always in parables. The other statements of Hell are mainly in euphemistic passages or in apocalyptic passages such as the book of Revelation. But I suggest that for some crimes hell is deserved. The slaughter of innocent people, the disruption of thousands of lives, the Hitlers of the world, and those who rationalize the deeds through "following orders" deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions. Evil has consequences, and those who commit evil should suffer the consequences, and they will.I have no direct knowledge of what hell is. It is based upon the Greek mythological concept of Tartarus which got into Hebrew thinking through Hellenization. There is no "hell" in the Tennach or the Pentateuch ("OT"). In the Hebrew scriptures there is only mention of Sheol, or the "the grave" to which everyone goes. But in the books of Revelation it does speak of those who work inequity being "outside the Kingdom of God." I don't' believe that hell is literal fire and brimstone, I do believe it is some state of anxiety or separation from God."All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." From a human perspective, relatively speaking from one human to another there are, of course, well meaning people. There are good people all around us, from a human perspective. Relative to the Divine however, no one is good, no one is capable of meriting salvation. We all have our sins, we all have our human frailties. We are all caught up in "height" (our ability through the image of God in which we were created to move beyond our human finitude and seek the good) and "depth" (our nature burdened in the sinful wickedness to human deceit). These are Augustinian terms and they basically mean that we are both, good and bad, saint and sinner. God knows the heart, He Knows what we truely seek. God is merciful and is able to forgive our trespasses. But, if we are really well meaning toward God we will seek the turth. If we are seeking the truth than God will make it plan to us.

Other Religions

Paul said "To those who through persistance seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) thorugh a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.

These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us."This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his paln to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.

In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelite to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolotry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.

Knowing God.

Heb. 8:10-12 "...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man say to his neighbor 'know the Lord' for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This passage promises a "personal relationship with God."The word for "to Know" is the Greek Term Ginosko, which means personal experiential knowledge. To give one's life to Jesus means to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said (John) "My sheep know my voice..." Personal relationship means that it is more than a set of rules, more than an ideology or a belief system, but a matter of the heart, the emotions, religious affections. IT may not be through dramatic miraculous effects (although I do believe that that is open to all Christians) but it is deeper than mere rule keeping, and does make for a satisfaction nothing else can match.God acts upon the heart. Salvation is a matter of "knowing God" not of mere intellectual assent. What does it mean to know God? It means that being a Christian is a matter of experiencing God's love in the heart and of loving God and others. It is also a matter of being "led" by God through impressions upon the heart, and not merely a set of rules or a list of beliefs that one must check off. IT is the development of "religious affections."The excitement of knowing God is unequaled by anything else in this life.
Developing Personal Relationship with God.

This is very simple. God keeps it simple so all of us can do it. John tells us "...that whosoever believes on him shall be saved." (3:16). Belief is the first step. But believe doesn't just mean intellectual assent, it means to place our faith in him, to trust him, as said above to place ourselves into his death, to express our solidarity with him.

Paul says "...That if you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the Dead, you will be saved, for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved....everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9-12).

Note that the resurrection is stipulated as a criterion of belief, and notice that it also says believe in your heart. Belief is not mere intellectual assent but is a decision of the will to trust in God. Does this mean we must believe in the resurrection to be saved? It at least means we must believe in the thing the resurrection points to, the new life in Christ, that we trust God to give us this new life and that such life is found in him. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. What does it mean to call upon the name of the Lord? It means, to place our trust in God and in Jesus as God's Son, as our savior.

The Name of Jesus

The name of Jesus then becomes our expression of solidarity with God, that we state clearly that we choose God's way, we want to change our lives and we are ready to accept God's terms for life; that we respond to the solidarity he shows us by committing to solidarity with him.In Acts 2: 38 the mob asks Peter what they must do, in response to the miracles of Pentecost and Peter's sermon on Jesus being raised form the dead. Peter tells them "Repent, and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ that your sins may be forgiven." Does this mean that baptism is a pre-requiset for salvation? I don't believe so. They were really asking a more general question than "how do I get saved." IN response to Peter's sermon they were asking in a general way "well, we curcified the Messiah, what can we do about it."

Peter tells them two things, repent (change your mind, express sorrow for sin and determine not to sin any longer) AND be baptized as an expression of surrender to God (in keeping with the Jewish custom). The key here is to repent, turn from the present course of life and follow Jesus. Baptism is something we should do. It is an expression of our faith, and a symbol that we place our hope in God, die to the old way, it is an outward symbol of placing ourselves in solidarity with God and in Jesus death. But the important thing here is to repent. And, "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."Latter in Acts when Peter takes the Gospel to the gentiles for the first time, the house of Cornelius. He tells them (Acts 10:43)"... everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." With that the Holy Spirit comes upon them while Peter is still talking. He does not tell them to be baptized, nor does God wait for that to give the gift of the Holy Spirit (which is the renewing of the spirit, the "born again" experience and empowering for service to God). So here again the common link is belief, which implies a commitment of trust.Eph 1: 13 "Having believed you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance unto redemption of those who are God's possession."Romans 5 "since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access into this grace..."Therefore, "getting saved" is very simple, although it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. Just place our trust in Jesus and give your life to God. Actively determine to believe (place trust) in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, God's expression of solidarity with humanity.
The formula?

It doesn't matter what formula you use, just pray, tell God you are sorry for your sins and you want to change and follow him, ask him to save you and to come into your life, and tell him you want to commit your life to Jesus. Don't formulate preconceived notions about how you are supposed to feel, just try to be sensitive to how you do feel. Read and study the Bible and find a chruch where you feel at home and where they beleive the Bible. It is important to develop friendships with believers, but don't burn your books, don't become obligated to obey some preacher man in everything he would tell you, if a group insists that you need their particuarl group to be saved, or if they impose a bunch of rules don't stay with them. God will convict you about what you need to change. Just try to be open to him. Of course some things are obvious, stop sinning try to be good to peole and spread the word about what Jesus is doing in your life.B. Personal Testimony Hesitate to give my "testimony" because it's private, and I don't want skeptics trying to disect it, and also because all conversions are different, most aren't dramatic, and I don't want people expecting that if they pray to be saved the same things will happen to them that happened to me. It is different for everyone, God tailor makes conversions special for each individual. But it does seem logical to at least mention it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Empirical Study of Mystical Experience (2) : Brain Structure Objection

Image result for mystical experience

The major objection to the universality argument stems from a vast movement that has arisen just since the turn of the century, the rapidly expanding field of Neuro-theology (or Cognative Science of Religion):

In recent years a number of books have been published in the United States which argue that religious experiences and activities can be measured as neural activity in the brain...these theories purport to explain why there are common patterns of religious behavior and experience across culture which are observable in the field of comparative religion..Most such theories assert that as our understanding the brains activities develop through exploration of its underlying structures and mechanisms so the origin of religious experiences and ritual behavior will be revealed...These theorioes purport to explain why there are common paterns of religious behaviors and experience across cultures.[1]

R. Joseph states, “that The brain underlies all experience of living human beings is an absolute statement It subsumes all religious phenomena and all mystical experiences including hyper lucid visionary experiences, trance states, contemplating God and the experience of unitary absorption.”[2] Since religious experience is linked to brain chemistry it must be the result of brain chemistry, thus there’s no reason to assume it’s indicative of any sort of supernatural causation. This view has become standard in the scientific community. Tiger and McGuire state:

Religion as a process generates remarkable action, countless events, numberless provocative artifacts. Yet what factual phenomenon except perhaps slips of ancient holy paper underlies and animates one of the most influential and durable of human endeavors? We've an answer. Shivers in the moist tissue of the brain confect cathedrals our proposal is that all religions differ but all share two destinies: they are the product of the human brain. They endure because of the strong influence of the product of the human brain. The brain is a sturdy organ ith common characteristics everywhere. A neurosurgeon can work confidently on a vatican patient and another in mecca. Same tissue, same mechinisms. One such mechinnism is a readiness to generate religions.[3]

Skeptics argue that the experiences have a commonality because they are all produced by human brain structure. In other words the names from the various religions are the constructs but the experiences that unite the subjects and that transcend the individual cultural filters are the same because they are products of a shared structure that of the human brain. Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser state the argument:

Considerable debate has surrounded the question of the origins and evolution of religion. One proposal views religion as an adaptation for cooperation, whereas an alternative proposal views religion as a by-product of evolved, non-religious, cognitive functions. We critically evaluate each approach, explore the link between religion and morality in particular, and argue that recent empirical work in moral psychology provides stronger support for the by-product approach. Specifically, despite differences in religious background, individuals show no difference in the pattern of their moral judgments for unfamiliar moral scenarios. These findings suggest that religion evolved from pre-existing cognitive functions, but that it may then have been subject to selection, creating an adaptively designed system for solving the problem of cooperation.[4]

In other words, the discussion about origins of religion there are two genetic choices, a specific gene, or spandrels. The weight of the evidence, according to Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser, leans toward the latter (spandrels: pre-existing cognitive functions based upon combined genetic functions from other areas). The deeper level of complexity comes with the finding that religion evolved from spandrels and yet it is still subject to adaptation manifesting in a system for cooperation (religion). What their findings really suggest is that moral motions are more basic than religious doctrine and that moral decision making transcends social structure or organization. Religion is perpetuated because its conducive to cooperation but there is an underlying sense or moral motion that's tied to the specific religious affiliation. Moral reasoning is not the same as mystical experience. Religious experience is a passive apprehension and moral decision making is an active use of deductive reasoning. Moreover, in finding religion is not original adaptation they are really negating the brain structure argument for uniformity of religious experiences. Their findings show that moral decisions transcended the religious background, thus the religious symbols, ideas, and presumably experiences are not reducible to moral motions since the latter transcends the former.[5] If religious experiences are of the same nature because of the state of human brain structure we should expect to find a conformation between moral motions religious experience. Frederick Schleiermacher argued that  religion is more than just enhanced ethical thinking.[6] This has led to the widely accepted theory of the religious a priori. Religion is understood as it's own discipline separate from ethics. The a priori is seen as a “special for of awareness which exists alongside the cognitive, moral and aesthetic forms of awareness and is not explicable by reference to them.” [7]

 As an argument about the origin of religion, the genetic aspects would only be the proximate cause. It doesn't rule out a distal cause in the divine. Andrew Newberg, one of the pioneers in researching neural activity of religious experience and God talk tells us that none of the research disproves God, nor could it:

…Tracing spiritual experience to neurological behavior does not disprove its realness. If God does exist, for example, and if He appeared to you in some incarnation, you would have no way of experiencing His presence, except as part of a neurologically generated rendition of reality. You would need auditory processing to hear his voice, visual processing to see His face, and cognitive processing to make sense of his message. Even if he spoke to you mystically, without words, you would need cognitive functions to comprehend his meaning, and input form the brain’s emotional centers to fill you with rapture and awe. Neurology makes it clear: there is no other way for God to get into your head except through the brain’s neural pathways. Correspondingly, God cannot exist as a concept or as reality anyplace else but in your mind. In this sense, both spiritual experiences and experiences of a more ordinary material nature are made real to the mind in the very same way—through the processing powers of the brain and the cognitive functions of the mind. Whatever the ultimate nature of spiritual experience might be—weather it is in fact an actual perception of spiritual reality—or merely an interpretation of sheer neurological function—all that is meaningful in human spirituality happens in the mind. In other words, the mind is mystical by default.[8]

Just being connected to brain chemistry is not enough to disprove the universal experience argument.

The problem with the brain structure argument is that even though we all have human brain structure we don’t all have the same kinds of experiences. We can’t assume that universal experiences come from brain structure alone. First, not everyone has mystical experience. Even though the incidence rates are high they are not 100%. We all have human brain structure but not all have these experiences. Secondly, even among those who do there are varying degrees of the experience. William James saw it as a continuum and Robert Wuthnow, one of the early researchers who did a modern scientific study on the phenomenon also theorized that there is a continuum upon which degree of experience varies.[9] If the brain structure argument was true then we should expect to always have the same experience; we should have the same culture. We have differing experiences and even our perceptions of the same phenomena vary. Yet the experience of mystical phenomena is not identical since it is filtered through cultural constructs and translated into the doctrinal understanding of traditions that the experiencers identify as their own.

The brain Structure argument is based upon the same premises reductionists take to the topic of consciousness and brain/mind. They assume that any subjective experience is ultimately the result of brain chemistry. There really is no reason to assume this other than the fact that brain chemistry plays a role in our perceptions. There’s no basis for the assumption that any mental phenomena must originate in brain chemistry alone. In those arguments a sense usually emerges that any involvement with the natural cancels the supernatural. I suggest that this is the ersatz version of supernature. The alien realm, juxtaposed to the natural realm and brought in as a counter to naturalism, this is the false concept of Supernatural that Eugene R, Fairweather spoke about.[10] The original concept of supernature is that of the ground and end of the natural. Thus it would be involved with nature. The ground/end of nature is the ontology of supernature and pragmatic working out of the phenomenon would be the power of God to lift human nature to a higher level, as discussed by Fairweather and aslo Mathias Joseph Scheeben.[11] How can human nature be elevated without supernature being involved with the realm of nature? Thus, if it is true that bonafide experiences of God are mediated by brain chemistry, then the fact that supernature works through evolutionary processes and physiological realities such as brain chemistry is hardly surprising.

Some studies have explored questions about brain function and the texture or mechanics of mystical experience. Van Elk et al explore the hypothesis that the sensation of supernatural presence is an adaptation from the need to over-detect presences of predictors in the jungle. There findings did not coroborate that hypothesis. He does makes the statement that it otherwise lacks empirical proof.[12] In other words if one sets out on a jungle trail, and there is darkness, sensing a predictor and turning back from the trek would be helpful. If the sensation was wrong and there was no predictor the mistake of being wrong would be less grave than that of being right but ignoring the sense. Thus, the sensation of presence is selected for. This might be used by a skeptic to answer the argument from mystical experience. Elk has five experiments that that seek to explore weather processing concepts about supernatural agents enhances detection in the environment.

Participants were presented with point light stimuli representing kinds of biological motion, or with pictures of faces embedded in a noise mask. Participants were asked to indicate if the stimuli represented a human agent or not. In each case they used three “primes,” one for supernatural, one ofr human, one for animal. They found that supernatural primes facilitated better agent detection.[13] So the argument is that the perceived presence of agents in threatening situations and tendencies to anthropomorphizing leads stronger belief in ghosts, demons, angels, gods and other “supernatural” agency.[14] They point to a body of work consisting of several studies showing that particular paranormal beliefs are a reliable predictor of illusory perceptions of faces and agency detection. These studies include Willard and Norenzayan (2013), Reikki et. al. (2013), and Petrican and Burris (2012).[15] “although these studies provide tentative support for the relation between agency detection and supernatural beliefs, the notion that reigious beliefs are a byproduct of perceptual biases to detect patterns and agency has been challenge by several authors...” (Bulbulia, 2004, Lisdorf 2007, and McKay and Efferson, 2010).[16]

While it may be true that some aspects of mystical experience are genetically related, and may be related to agent detection, that is no proof that mystical experience originates wholly within a naturalistic and genetic framework. First, because these studies only demonstrate a correlation between supernatural beliefs and agency detection. There is no attempt to establish the direction of a causal relationship. If there is a connection between supernatural and agent detection it could as easily be that awareness of supernatural concepts makes one more sensitive to agent detection. Secondly, of course just being genetically related doesn't reduce the phenomenon wholly to genetic endowments. Thirdly, there is a lot more to mystical experience than agent detection. Both involve sensing a presence beyond that point the differences are immense. I am not even sure that facial recognition and sensing a predator are similar enough to count for anything. In sensing being observed one is not usually aware of visual ques as one would be in facial recognition. There's no guarantee that the quality of the sensing is the same. Feeling the divine presence is much more august and involves levels and textures. Such an experience is, overall, positive, life changing, transformational (even noetic) but merely feeling one is being observed could be creepy, negative, or even trivial. The vast differences can be spelled out in the tiebreakers I discuss in The Trace of God.


If supernature manifests itself in the natural realm through brain chemistry then the conclusion that this is somehow indicative of the divine could go either way. We can’t rule out the divine or supernatural just because it involves the natural realm. What then is the real distinguishing feature that tells us this is inductive of something other than nature? That’s where I introduce the “tie breakers.” There are aspects of the situation that indicate the effects of having the experience could not be produced by nature unaided:

(1) The transformative effects

The experience is good for us. It changes the experiencer across the board. These effects are well documented by that huge body of empirical research. They include self actualization, therapeutic effects that actually enhance healing form mental problems, less depression better mental outlook and so on. Summarizing the results of two of the major studies:

This is not merely a list of warm fuzzies. The results represent actual life transformation and change of world view. The results are dramatic and positive; well grounded psychological health, a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life, overcoming fear of death and overcoming physical addictions. Examples, Patricia Ryan's study finds that abuse victims often come to view God in more cosmic and impersonal terms. Or they become embittered and turn away from God, victims of childhood trauma and abuse often report that they felt the abuser was trying to destroy their soul and that this was the one inviolable core that could not be destroyed. This sense was related to mystical experience.[17] Loretta Do Rozario studied patients who were either dying or in chronic pain. She found that mystical experience elevated the sense of illness and pain to a level of the “universal search for meaning and self transcendence.” The subjects reported that the experience ot only enabled them to cope with pain and fear of death but also enabled them to experience joy within the hardship.[18]

Skeptics often advance the placebo argument, but it is neutralized because Placebos require expectation and a large portion of mystical experience is not expected. It’s not something people usually set out to have. Without being able to argue for placebo effect there is really no way to account for the transformational effects.[19] Moreover, while placebo get's used against any claim about the mind there's actually a much more narrow range to which it rightly applies.

...People frequently expand the concept of the placebo effect very broady to include just about every conceivable sort of beneficial, biological, social or human interaction that doesn't involve some drug well known to the pharmacopeia. The concept of placebo has been expanded much more broadly than this. Some attribute the effects of various alternative medical systems such as homeopathy or chiropractic to placebo effect. Others have described studies that show the positive effects of enhanced communication, such as Egbert's as the ploaebo response without the placebo.[20]

Thus the burden of proof is upon the skeptic to prove that placebo even applies to religious experience.

(2) Noetic aspects to the experiences

These are not informational but there is a sense in which the mystic feels that he has learned soemthing about the universe as a result of the experience. This usually is on the order of “God loves me” or “all is one.”

(3) The experience contains

the sense of the numinous or sense of the holy.

This is closely related to the Noetic sense and they clearly overlap but there is a distinction. The snse of the Holy could be more general and gives the sense that some unique and special aspect of reality exists. Some noetic qualities might be considered doctrinal in nature. “all is one” is a doctrinal statement. While I don't advocate using mystical experience to shape doctrine, because the shaping of doctrine in the Christian tradition revolves around pre given principles in revelatory texts, the nature of these qualities indicates more is going on than just misfire of some neuron.

(4) why positive?

These experiences are never negative. The only negativity associated with mystical experience is the sense of the mysterium tremendum, the highly serious nature of the Holy. That is not a lasting negative effect. If this is nothing more than brain chemistry and it’s just some sort of misfire where the brain just forgets to connect the sense of self to the part that says “I am not the world,” why is it so positive, transformative, vital? It’s not often that such a positive experience results form a biological accident.

(5) bad evolutionary theory

Mystical experience has not been tied to gene frequency. So the argument about adaptation has to rest upon the intermediaries that it provides, such as surviving long winters so one can have gene frequency. Yet all of those kinds of experiences flaunt the explanatory gap of consciousness. Why should we develop a mystically based sense of the world to get through hard long winter when we could more easily develop a brain circuiting that ignores boredom? Then this adaptation that is only there because it enabled us to get through being snowed in has such an amazing array of other effects such as life transformation and better mental health, and leads to the development of such complex fantasisms of errors as religious belief and organized religion. It’s so inefficient. Surely survival of the fittest should take the course of least resistance?

(6) Navigation in life

Mystical experiences enable navigation in life, these experiences and their effects enable us to get through and to set our sights on higher idealistic concepts and ways of life. They provide a sense of self actualization, authentication, and enable the subjects to bear up in the face of adversity. Rozario writes about those in her study who suffered chronic pain or were dying: “The inner awareness of wholeness despite the odds points to an explicit experience of life which can transcend form and matter. This experience of wholeness or consciousness extends and challenges the view of disability and illness as only a myth making and revaluing opportunity in the lives of people.”[21] Gackenback,


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).[22]

[1] George D. Chryssides and Ron Geives, The Study of Religion an Introduction to key ideas and methods. London, New Deli, New york: Bloomsbury, 2nd ed. 2007, 59-60.
Chryssides is a research fellow with the University of Birmingham. He has an MA in Philosophy and D Phil in systematic theology from University of Glasgow. Among the books he mentions as examples of the trend are Why God Wont Go Away, by E. Aquili andAndrew Newberg(1999) , and Nuero-Theology by R. Joseph (2003)

[2]  R. Joseph, Nuero-Theology:Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience. University Pr; 2nd edition (May 15, 2003) 22.

[3]Lionel Tiger and Michael McGuire, God's Brain, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2010. 11.
[4] Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser, "The Origins of Religion: Evolved Adaption or by Product." Science Direct: Trends in Cognitive Science, Volume 14, Issue 3, (March 2010), 104-109.

[5]Ibid,. 105=106.

[6]Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, Hugh S. Pyper. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought:Intellectual, Spiritual and Moral Horizons of Christianity, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000, 483
In the Trace of God I do two chapters defending Schleiermacher's notion and the religious a priori against reductionist based attacks by philosopher yne Proudfoot. (Hinman, Trace...op. Cit., 179-241).

[7]David Pailin, “The Religious a priori,” Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, Alan Richardson and John Bowden, ed.,1983, 498.

[8]Andrew NewbergWhy God Won’t God AwayBrain Science and the Biology of Belief. (New York, Ballentine Books), 2001, 37.
[9]Robert Wuthnow, “Peak Experieces, Some Empirical Tests,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 183 (1978) 61-62.

[10]Eugene R. Fairweather, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” in New Theology no.1. New York: Macmillian, Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman ed. 1964. 235-256

[11]Mathias Joseph Scheeben in Fairweather, Ibid.

[12]Michiel Elk, Bastiaan T. Rutjens, Joop van der Pligt,& Frenk van Harrveled (2016) Priming of Supernatural agent concepts and agency detection, Religion, Brain and Behavior, 6:1, 4-33, DOL: 10.1080/2153599X.2014.93344

[13]Ibid., 4

[14]Ibid., 5.

[15]Ibid., 5. A.K. Willard and A. Norenzayan, “Cognative Biases Explain Religious Belief and belief in life's purpose,” Cognition 129 (2013), 379-391. T. Reikki, M.Litterman, et. al. “Paranormal and religious believers are more prone to illusary face perception than skeptics and none believers.” applied cognitive psychology 27 (2013) 150-155, and R. Petrican and C.T. Burris, “Am I a Stone? Over attribution of agency and Religious Orientation,” Religion and Spirituality 4 (2012), 312-323.

[16]Ibid., 6. J. Bulbulia, “The Cognitive and Evolutionary Psychology of Religion,” Biology and Philosophy 19, (2004) 655-686, A. Lisdorf, “What's HIDD'n in the HADD,” Journal of Cognition and Culture 7, (2007), 341-353, and R. McKay and C. Efferson, “Subtitles of Error Management,” Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (5)(2010) 309-319.

[17]Patricia L. Ryan, “Spirituality Among Adult Survivors of Childhood Violence: a Literary Review.” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 30, no. 1, (1998) 43.

[18]Loretta Do Rozario, “Spirituality in the Lives of People With Disability and Chronic Illness: A Creative Paradigm of Wholness and Reconstitution.” Disability and Rehabilitation: An International and Multidisciplinary Journal, Vol. 19, no. 10, (1997) 427.

[19]Hinman, Trace...Op cit., 291.

[20]Daiel E. Morman, ayne B. Jonas, “Deconstructing the Placebo Effect and Finding the Meaning Response.” Annuals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 136, issue 6, (19 March 2002), 471-476. Dr. Moreman is an anthropologist at University of Michigan.

[21]Rozario, op.cit. 102.

[22]Jayne Gackenback,Transpersonal Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: Literature Review and Theoretical Integration. Unpublished paper (1992) Online resouirce accessed 1/19/16.
 this issue relates directly to my book

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Phenomenology and Epistemic Judgement: answering Eric Sotnak

Image result for nebula

Eric Sotnak said... in a comment to my post last Monday  my argument from epistemic judgement):

I think the biggest weakness in this argument is the lack of any known mechanism by which experiences like these could be caused by that which they appear to represent. So, for example, if I have an experience of the metaphysical oneness of all things, the question is how the oneness (and also the type of oneness represented in the experience) is causally related to the experience in such a way that the experience can plausibly be said to represent or to be genuinely indicative of the object (the oneness).Note that I'm not saying the experience can't be veridical,* but that the absence of details in explaining how it works renders the judgment that it is veridical much weaker.
Here is an analogous argument I have used in conjunction with Buddhism: When the Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment, he is said to have realized the fundamental impermanence of all things. But how, exactly, could such a cognition be validated as a part of an enlightenment experience? Supposing it is true that all things are impermanent, how does their impermanence "get into" the Buddha's experience in such a way that he could say, "I experienced the impermanence of all things"?[1]

I answered this saying: "That is a phenomenological question. you are talking about  Heidegger's 'being in the world.' What I am going to do here is to explain what this means and why it helps my argument,  First let's explain something about Phenomenology.My understanding of Phenomenology is that we are allowing the sense data to suggest the categories off reality rather than  forcing data into preconceived categories, For a more elaborate definition turn to  the Stanford Encyclopedia:

 The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy is then to be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields of philosophy: ontology (the study of being or what is), epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of right and wrong action), etc.[2]
Heidegger speaks of what he calls "Dasein," or being in the world.  Our understanding of or experiences as humans in relation to an as part of the world. This differs from merely talking about objects per se because it entails a subjective understanding of objective reality. The world is unfolding chaos because it is not guided by a thoughtful discovery, we have to think about our own participation in  that chaos thus Heidegger asks what is being,? This is the fundamental question he seeks to answer, but perspectives are always subjective and situational.  Thus discovery also implies concealment. That's a major aspect of Heideggerian thinking, truth (a lethae the Greek "Unforgettikng") is a dialectal process of discovering and concealing.

A good analogy might be standing in a dark room with a flashlight. We can cast the light on different parts of the room to enlighten new things but in  so doing we leave the rest of the room dark.It's the subjective nature of consciousness that mandates this leaving in darkens that which does not hold our focus. Through phenomenology we can become aware of this subjective nature of our being and allow the sense data   suggest its  own categories rather than imposing  preset categories upon the world. We are imposing those pre set categories when we seek mechanisms. That's  necessary  and unavoidable since we are imposing preset categories to demand a set of epistemic criteria to subject experiences to, but we need to be aware that this is what we do.  

Both set's if criteria  are made from categories that were at one time suggested by the sense data. The criteria of regular, constant, and shared grow out of the nature of experience. The scientific demand for mechanism also grows out of that same awareness  but at a more removed level,since it has to grow out of the sophisticated development of scientific theory. At this point we are dealing with settling  for what can be had in lue of real understanding.In that case falling back on the basic epistemic criteria is the best we can do.

At this point we need to be aware undifferentiated unity is not the only form of mystical experience, there is also sense of the numinous.The oneness is experienced in relation to an all   pervasive  presence of love. So the one thing that is undifferentiated  is love as the basis of reality and the basis of the unity and oneness. Love implies personal awareness it's hard to think of it stemming from some impersonal origin. That's a reason in itself to think of a universal mind as the mechanism for the experience, Even so the inability to understand a mechanism did not prevent the surgeon general from spreading the warning 45 years before they knew the scientific mechanism That;s because it was the subjective nature of being in the  world that demanded action even despite gaps in knowledge. 

In that light the human need the correspondence of the experience to our subjective understanding of reality argues for the vertical nature or the experience. Sotnak's argument seems to find instances where a given problem can only be approached by falling into the problem of that issue and thus it can' really be solved. If that is true then we don't have a choice of waiting to find some kind of mechanisms, doing that will just evoke the same problem again, Mystical experience opens up for us more ontological understanding than does finding scientific mechinisms,


*veridical   = coinciding with reality.

[1] Joseph Hinman, "Comment: The Thomas Reid Argument: from Epistemic Judgement" Metacrock's Blog. (Nov 5, 2018);postID=6643928685574542615;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=1;src=link (accessed  11/7/18)

[2] David Woodruff Smith , "Phenomenology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), .

(access 11/7/18)

UR: fpr sub section of he article where quote  is found: