The Argument from Personal Experience

The argument from personal experience is used by most apologists from Ray Comfort to William Lane Craig. Craig says "Of course, ever since my conversion, I believed in the resurrection of Jesus on the basis of my personal experience, and I still think this experiential approach to the resurrection is a perfectly valid way to knowing that Christ has risen. It’s the way that most Christians today know that Jesus is risen and alive."

The problem for such apologeticists is show how the believer can critically determine when the personal experience she has with God is accurately reflecting the wishes of God, and not those of a hallucination brought on by drugs, delusion, psychosis or social alienation.

Is there any reliable way for believers to warn off people like Andrea Yates, Dena Schlosser or Seung Hi Cho? If there is, why don't apologists include this sort of caveat when talking about the argument from personal experience?

It seems to me that believers and nonbelievers alike have an immense interest in the cessation of religiously motivated killings. I have heard of many ecumenical councils that brought together disparate leaders of many faiths. The most recent one I recall was in Jerusalem, where leaders of Islam, Christianity and Judaism got together to denounce homosexuality. Yet as far as I know, believers have never even discussed the development of a reliable universal method to prevent deluded believers from killing someone.

20 comments:

Flora said...

The answer to your last paragraph is this: they only care about making themselves look right rather than taking the chance of blaming those that follow them.

DonCordiner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DonCordiner said...

Well I'm sure there are instances of poeple confusing such thoughts and motives as divine. I can only think of that abortion killer as a Christian example and Joan of Arc (!).

If I'm wrong I'm sure someone will point it out. But surely its like asking why Christian leaders haven't got together and figured out how to get people to stop hitting their heads with hymnals. I'm sure if that bizarre phenonemon occured they would.
It like maintaining its irresponsible for not putting up signs saying 'don't feed the cat' when you don't own one.

Do you agree or have I missed something?
Also isn't the personal experience of Jesus meaning the base intuition that there is more beyond yourself and that Jesus is real; rather than meaning personal communication and developing symptoms akin to schizophrenia?

Tyro said...

Ever since I became a UFOlogist, I became to believe that aliens have infiltrated our government and I still believe that this experiential approach to alien investigation is a perfectly valid way of knowing that aliens are in our midst and controlling our minds.


Makes sense to me...


Reminds me of a couple of good Jesus and Mo comics:
http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/02/22/raft/
http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/02/26/firm/


We can see how quickly these theists drop the idea that personal experience is valid once you have, say, a homosexual saying that his personal experience of being a gay Christian has taught him that God favours homosexuality. Oooh, suddenly that isn't a reliable way to reach conclusions.

That's the problem with special pleading. It's only special when you're the one doing it :)

A Hermit said...

Aldous Huxley's discussion of the varieties of transcendent and ecstatic experience in "The Devils of Loudon" was one of the things that first got me thinking that maybe those feelings I had in Church had some explanation besides "God". (The book, as usual, is much better than the movie...)

Wanderin' Weeta said...

The argument from experience became a problem for me as a Christian missionary when I asked a Krishna devotee (raised Baptist) why he had converted. And the AfE was his reason: he "felt" Krishna respond to him, and he continued to feel the same "divine presence" in the temple services.

The president of the local HK temple confirmed this to me: it was his experience, also.

It knocked the pins out of any confirmation I had previously ascribed to my awareness of "the movings of the Spirit".

(It still took me 3+ years to deconvert: I still had to deal with reasoning and then with sheer, stubborn, refusal-to-give-up, dogged "faith". "Credo qua absurdam." But the first leg on that stool was gone.)

Pvblivs said...

     I can actually understand believing something because it "feels right." Fundamentally, we believe our experiences are accurate. The problem really comes in when they try to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. Let's be fair here. If christians weren't trying to turn the bible into the law of the land, most people wouldn't care.

Evan said...

Andrea Yates's kids cared, I'm willing to bet.

GordonBlood said...

I myself do have a problem with these sorts of arguments ultimately. Now arguments from mystical experience as a sign that there is something out there, those are quite different. This is so mainly because most persons who claim to be mystics dont claim that God is telling them things, they simply claim to be encountering something they cant begin to describe. I am not denying God does not provide individuals with revelation, I certainly believe he does, but the very nature of the case necessitates that one believes in God beforehand, I think, for other reasons.

Joe said...

I am a christian. I am surprised my fellow Christians would use the Personal Experience argument at all. In my opinion God left us too many facts to base our faith on instead of some warm fuzzy feeling.

In a way, it takes the "power" of the faith and the facts we claim to believe and turns the attention to ourselves. Seems prideful doesn't it?

Let each one examine the facts and come to his / her own conclusion. Lets leave the feelings out of it. Feelings are a terrible judge of truth.

-Joe
"He who closes his mind 1st loses."

Evan said...

I am not denying God does not provide individuals with revelation, I certainly believe he does, but the very nature of the case necessitates that one believes in God beforehand, I think, for other reasons.

So Gordon, what reliable test would you give that would allow any believer to differentiate personally a revelation that was from God and one that was from a delusion?

Jennifer said...

I think this may have more to do with what one believe about God and how gullible and easily led a person is.

You gave the example of Abraham and Isaac and glossed over the point that MMM made about the fact that Abraham recognized the ram as being God's way out. Abraham was not worried about Isaac going to hell as Andrea Yates was.

The examples of the crimes you mention do not attest to experiencing a god, they attest to the power of mind control...which is practiced by people.

You also used D.B. in regard to ethical/non-ethical obedience, yet his life was a great testimony to the love and peace of God. Maybe you know something I don't, but I don't remember reading anywhere that he thought God told him to do harm to anyone. In fact he wrote a whole book, Life Together in which he speaks of nothing but harmony.

The only way I can think to "scientifically" measure this...and there would be so many variables to rule out it would be huge... is to first find out what a person believes about their god and then measure that against their actual behavior. Not that they will be perfect all the time, but there should be consistency.

Jennifer said...

oops, I meant that for the other post you wrote...MMM was there. :)

Evan said...

is to first find out what a person believes about their god and then measure that against their actual behavior.

So when Andrea Yates believed that her kids could be saved by killing them -- what was she supposed to do to test that belief?

Jennifer said...

She could have learned more about the doctrine of hell and seen the inconsistencies in the descriptions, read some history on how the doctrine formed, done a word study on the original languages and how they translated etc...

Evan said...

She could have learned more about the doctrine of hell and seen the inconsistencies in the descriptions, read some history on how the doctrine formed, done a word study on the original languages and how they translated etc...

Are you saying she didn't spend enough time studying her religion? Have you read about her case?

Jennifer said...

No, I'm saying that making a religion around God always leads to trouble and mind control. It is possible to believe in and experience God without any religion.

Cole said...

I agree Jennifer. That's one reason I have abandoned the Christian religion and instead have a God of my own understanding.

mike rucker said...

some interesting thoughts; glad i came across this site. even put a link to it on my blog.

i probably have come to some different conclusions than a lot of you, but each weighs the sum of what he reads, what he's taught, what he sees in the world, and what others say and draws his own conclusions.

personal experience is tough. never having been in the 'charismatic' camp of christianity, i always steered myself (and others, given the opportunity) to passages in the bible that seemed to indicate those 'signs' and 'gifts' died out with the original apostles. thus, when those signs and gifts appear today, it has to be the work of ... shhhhhh! ... satan. (just as an aside, i found my own occasionally evil tendencies didn't really demand the need for a devil...) but, just the same, a lot of people in the 'signs' camp will argue that without those gifts you can't really be sure you're a chrisitian; so, like everything that becomes a dogma, it works both ways.

and when i was in my deepest battles with alcoholism, i constantly cried out for God to 'deliver me' like He apparently delivered from drugs the minister of the church i attended. and He never did. it was only when i got into AA that i realized Christians had no monopoly on God.

i went back and forth with a guy yesterday in a comments section and summarized it on my blog as follows: sometimes the most powerful arguments against the name of Jesus Christ are Christians themselves...

looking forward to reading more here.

mike rucker
fairburn, ga
http://mikerucker.wordpress.com

Shygetz said...

Wait, first jennifer said:

"She could have learned more about the doctrine of hell and seen the inconsistencies in the descriptions, read some history on how the doctrine formed..."

Then she said this:

"No, I'm saying that making a religion around God always leads to trouble and mind control. It is possible to believe in and experience God without any religion."

So, jennifer, where exactly does this doctrine come from that she should study the history of and rely upon? Did the same person write these two posts, one after the other?

joe, well said.