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Feb 19 2010

Atheist Meme of the Day: Personal Experience Is Not Evidence

Scarlet letter Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day, from my Facebook page. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Personal spiritual experiences, no matter how intense or real they seem, are a terrible argument for religion. The human brain can produce vivid experiences that aren’t real, and our minds are fallible, subject to many cognitive errors — including the strong tendency to believe what we already believe or what we dearly want to believe. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Roy Sablosky

    People tell me, “You can’t tell me it isn’t true. I feel it in my heart.” I say: and what follows from that? A feeling doesn’t prove anything. It is not even an opinion. Nothing follows from it. It just sits there, being “deep”.

  2. 2
    Jake

    These things make me wince every time I read them.

  3. 3
    Bruce Gorton

    Jake | February 19, 2010 at 08:07 PM
    Why?

  4. 4
    chicago dyke

    when the religious use this type of argument, i’m always sort of shocked. it’s not like one can exactly compare individual experiences that “prove” religious claims, and anyway, it’s highly unlikely that two people will ever have exactly the same experiences. which leads to all kinds of problems, in terms of the supposed universality of religious experiences. on the one hand you’ve got dervishes and mystics, on the other hand you’ve got visionaries and charismatics… and when they don’t agree, well. the history of religious wars is a pretty long and bloody one, and in many cases began with an argument between two believers trying to impose their own personal religious “experiences” onto everyone else.
    i also think it’s sort of ridiculous to think that god/s wouldn’t want everyone to have the same religious “experience” in order to encourage faith in his/her/their creations. that is to say, if there is a jealous but loving yet also needing of lots of worship god out there, why wouldn’t he give everyone the most overwhelming, undeniable, better than herion and orgasms religious “experience?” just once or twice would do it, and you’d think an omnipotent being would be able to pull it off. you know, like the first time you went into a church. Bang! you just came, had a total out of body experience, and solved the grand unified theory equation. but strangely, that doesn’t ever happen.

  5. 5
    DSimon

    Well, all evidence we gather comes, in some way or other, through personal experience. So personal experience can be evidence; it’s just that its quality as evidence is a function of its verifiability.
    [ And that fulfills my weekly quota for using the phrase "function of" outside of mathematical contexts. :-) ]

  6. 6
    Timothy (TRiG)

    Wittgenstein. Beatles in boxes. That sort of thing.
    TRiG.

  7. 7
    J

    I dunno about this one. I call myself an “intuitive atheist” because my disbelief is not rooted in X, Y or Z pieces of scientific or philosophical evidence of god. Rather, I disbelieve mostly because of the way I feel: This doesn’t *feel* like a world like Jesus is lord or in which Muhammed is the last prophet of god or what have you.*
    Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame has my back on this one to some extent: When you see a website for scam, it always LOOKS scammy, doesn’t it? There’s misspellings. Telling vaguenesses. Thrilling but unattributed quotes. Etc.
    Similarly, all religions and religious people leave a–how do I say this?–a *taste* in my mouth that pretty instantly makes me think, “Lie. Error. Religion.” in quick succession. The context doesn’t matter. I’ve visited the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome (supposedly the oldest church in the city) and also the Higashi Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan (largest wooden structure in the world). Both have careful displays of ancient relics, super-earnest pamphlets describing the benefits and truths of their home faiths, etc.
    And both, to me, smelled like Wrong and False all over.
    *No, I am not in the SLIGHTEST interested in arguing about what I think a world in which Jesus IS lord would feel like or similar architectural debates about the shapes of cloud-castles.

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