Why “I Feel It In My Heart” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence


Sacredheart “I just feel God in my heart. I sense his presence. Why should I doubt that? Any more than I doubt my senses?”

As I’ve written before: Most of the arguments I encounter for religion are dreadful. They’re not even arguments. They’re attempts to make arguments go away: attempts to deflect legitimate questions; bigoted attacks on atheists’ character; fuzzy confusions between evidence and wishful thinking; the moral equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling, “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you!” Or worse.

But some arguments for religion and God are real arguments. They’re not good arguments — but they are arguments, sincere attempts to offer evidence supporting the God hypothesis. So I want to do these arguments the honor of engaging with them… and point out why, exactly, they don’t hold water.

Today’s argument: “I feel it in my heart.”

“I just sense God intuitively. (Or the soul, or the metaphysical world, or whatever.) I feel it. His existence seems obvious to me, in the same way that the existence of the Earth under my feet seems obvious. Why should I doubt that perception — any more than I doubt my perception of the Earth?”

This is a tricky one to argue against. Not because it’s a good argument — it’s not — but because it’s a singularly stubborn one. Religious experiences can be very vivid, very powerful. I had them myself, back when I had religious beliefs. (I still have them, in fact: I just don’t interpret them as religious anymore.) And they can feel real — almost as real as physical perception, in some ways even more so. What’s more, this argument is singularly resistant to reason… since, almost by definition, it’s not very interested in reason.

But here’s the problem. Well, one of many problems.

*

Thus begins my latest piece on AlterNet, Why “I Feel It In My Heart” Is a Terrible Justification for God’s Existence. To find out the problem — a whole bunch of problems, actually — with the “I feel it in my heart” argument, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Maria says

    *Do not read the comments… do not read the comments… do not…* Damn! >_<
    Reading comprehension fail all over, as usual. *sigh*
    This is a great piece! When I, around 10 or 15 years ago, slowly started to understand these things(I took a course in psychology at the uni, which gave me knowledge I hadn't had before about how the brain works and so on) it explained so much and changed my thinking in many ways.
    But even when I did mistakenly believe in newagey stuff, I never really had these kinds of experiences. My friends had and I thought it sounded, well… cool :-) The way I saw it back then was that there was something wrong with me who couldn't tap into these things that people experienced – that I wasn't "open enough" I guess. But then I understood more and more that it was because there was nothing out there to tap into, and that the experiences happened inside people's minds, and that I just wasn't prone to experiencing that particular kind of things.
    The closest I ever got, I think, was when being out in nature and feeling complete awe at its vastness and complexity, and feeling deeply touched by its beauty to the point of crying, and feeling much sentimentality about the forests where I grew up and played in as a child, and similar things. But I never felt connected to all of it in a spiritual sense. It really did feel "only" like a subjective experience (though a strong one), and it used to worry me that I didn't feel these "other things".
    My friends often related their experiences with the supernatural, saying they had heard things and seen things and felt things, and I wondered when it would be my turn! I just didn’t see it, and I was jealous of them!
    Today I don’t worry about this in the least anymore :-)

  2. says

    Couldn’t get the comments page to load over there so I came back here.

    Now, some will make the “blind men and the elephant” argument here

    The problem with the “blind men and the elephant” argument that the believers who bring this up always miss is that every one of the blind men’s interpretation of their experience was utterly wrong. Every single one of them completely misinterpreted the experience. The blind men and the elephant story in fact demonstrates exactly why we should not accept those contradictory interpretations of personal experiences as representing what the people experiencing claim them to be.
    It’s an argument for skepticism!

  3. says

    when I get faced with the “I just feel it”
    my response is that’s personal preferance, not proof
    and that just means that the feeling believer has set the bar for proof very low
    laws, in particular, human rights cannot be based on subjective and fickle feelings.

  4. Cathy Sander says

    It’s also easy to make it up on the fly. I sometimes have the thought that someone was over my shoulders, but to turn around and see no one there. Even better: I can simulate such feelings of being not alone. All it takes is a vulnerable mind-state.

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