Sunday, November 30, 2008

Personal experiences are meaningless without evidence

One of the most popular reasons people give for their belief in their religion is that they've had a 'personal experience'. They don't usually properly explain what this means, but it's often described rather vaguely, as some kind of 'feeling' they had which pointed them to the truth.

As an example, one of my friends, who is definitely on the hippie side, recently told me about her time in Hawaii, where (I think) she lived in some kind of hippie community. She relayed a vague story in which she was united with the goddess Gaia, or something like that. She could feel the goddess all around her, oozing from the natural surroundings. Of course, her personal experience proves to her that Gaia is the truth.

The problem with the personal experience angle, and it's a serious surprise to me that more people don't figure this out, is that it's about the weakest argument you can use for deciding which religion, if any, is the truth. People from all religions that exist, or ever have existed, have used personal experiences to justify their faith. If you believe you've had a personal experience which justifies your faith, ask yourself, "What makes my experience fundamentally more valid than those experiences other people claim to have?" If you believe that some god actually speaks to you, then ask yourself, "What is the fundamental difference between the voices in my head that I believe are from a god, and the voices in the heads of those people in mental institutions?"

When so many people declare that their personal experience has revealed a truth which is in direct opposition to the truth that everybody else has determined from personal experiences, a reasonable person needs to step back and look for something more objective.

That more objective thing is commonly referred to as 'evidence'. Repeat after me, 'e-vi-dence'. Evidence is a wonderful thing which allows us to distinguish between truth and fantasy. And there is no evidence at all to believe that any of your religions based on your personal experiences are anything more than fairy tales.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like this commentary. I myself have had those "experiences" and I say it is nothing more than a feeling that is normal. When speaking to some Mormon missionaries, their thoughts were so strong and beautiful on the surface I felt elated to be around them. (Now this doesn't mean I became a Mormon, as I explore the meaning of different faiths.)

That elation can be felt in anything if we feel that we are doing well. (I.E. I can get the same feeling from handing out food to the poor.) It is my opinion that to "prove" anything more than that feeling has to exist. We as humans have a problem with believing we are always behaving the correct way, and perhaps for us we are. That doesn't translate in we are behaving the correct way for everyone else.

I can't remember where I was going with this so I am going to quit talking about it, I think part of my point was made anyway...


I am tired, and most likely shouldn't have tried to comment today.