Class Warfare Blog

June 4, 2019

Religious Experiences

I am currently reading Keith M. Parsons book “God and the Burden of Proof.” In it he discusses Alvin Plantinga’s defense of religious belief. One particular excerpt has prompted this post. Here it is:

“What, then, are the circumstances in which Plantinga regards belief in God as obviously properly basic? He gives a number of such circumstances:

“Upon reading the Bible, one may be impressed with a deep sense that God is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in God’s sight and form the belief `God disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `God forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to God asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that God is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise the Lord for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed the Lord is to be thanked and praised.

“Plantinga claims that it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God.”

To me this is nonsensical. Plantinga’s “feelings” of guilt, shame, gratitude, etc. are just feelings and are not deniable. But all of the rest are interpretations of the sources of those feelings. Allow me to reframe his statement:

Upon reading the Koran, one may be impressed with a deep sense that Allah is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in Allah’s sight and form the belief `Allah disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `Allah forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to Allah asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that Allah is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise Allah  for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed Allah is to be thanked and praised.

In a similar fashion, could not any religious believer make the same statement, invoking whatever god they have?

William James’ definition of religion—“the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” I emphasize “whatever they consider to be divine.”

So, basically Plantinga is arguing for polytheism because his argument is “it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God” or rather a spontaneous belief in their god.

But I do not even accept that as a reasonable conclusion. I think those interpretations are what people are taught to make and that they do not happen spontaneously. If you have had children, you have had the experience of a child who hurts. If they can talk, you probably had to work with them to find out what was wrong: “Where does it hurt?” “Does it hurt here? . . . or here?” “Oh, you have a tummy ache!” Children are always relieved that their parent’s know what was wrong and knew what to do to make them better. I can remember being sick as a child and enjoying the extra attention I got. And we teach our children in this fashion how to interpret what they feel.

Children in religious families are indoctrinated into the religion because that is what most Abrahamic religions teach you yo do. Sometimes this indoctrination is half-hearted, as mine was, and sometimes it is full tilt boogie, which I do not wish on anyone. Seeing little children coached in how to interpret any feelings they have as communications with Jesus makes me ill. But this does happen. Parents do praise their children for saying things like “I love Jesus,” and other inanities that cannot possibly be true. They are coached to feel Jesus in their hearts, to see Jesus around them, to hear Jesus in the words of the Bible. So, is it any wonder that many natural feelings get interpreted as being sourced in their god? But just how this in any way “forms a spontaneous belief in God.” I’ll tell you; it does not.

4 Comments »

  1. The arguments get weaker and weaker, and to think Plantinga is considered a giant of apologetics. Is it any wonder why evangelicals flock to Trump?

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by john zande — June 4, 2019 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

    • I find very few of them come even close to arguing honestly. In Plantinga’s case, Parsons points out that his argument (the one under discussion) puts atheism and theism on equivalent levels (being rational beliefs), which is not what the theists want. They want to show that we are wrong. So, competence and honesty are definitely lacking in apologetics.

      On Tue, Jun 4, 2019 at 2:04 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 4, 2019 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  2. OK, I was taught at a very young age to buy into this doG critter and ‘his only begotten’ son Jesus. Around age 13/14 I asked the very worst question any kid at a Lutheran church could ever even think of, let alone ask out loud. Since we’d been taught the whole “perfect” world this doG had made for all life came to a nasty one we have as she ate the forbidden fruit. Well, all four of my grandparents and Dad for sure, told me to ask questions. That is how a kid learns, by trying to do something and also asking questions.
    Any who, I open up and ask, OK, I’m with you so far, BUT, who planted that tree? That was the end of my belief in that doG and every other doG.
    I have looked up apologetics, but cannot (I have a warped mind–very sarcastic even) but I still cannot quite understand why they need to go to school to learn how to just say “Oh, sorry” and mean it. Some folks even have college degrees in Apologetics. Hells bells, I figured out apologizing well over 65 years ago. Yes, this portion of my comment was intended to be sarcastic.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Walter Kronkat — June 4, 2019 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

    • If you look at those degrees, a great many of them come from Bible Colleges that don’t exactly offer curricula that stretch the ability of the students paying the freight (few courses, standards not very high, etc.).

      On Tue, Jun 4, 2019 at 2:40 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:

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      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 4, 2019 @ 10:14 pm | Reply


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