Mark Vernon wrote a response to Julian’s Heathen’s Progress series. It’s got to do with the fact that cognition is embodied, which Vernon somehow takes to mean that subjective convictions are trustworthy, or something along those lines.
…the modern sceptic is suspicious of subjective convictions. They fixate on the many ways in which individuals can be self-deluded, and forget that they can also be wonderfully discerning. They miss truths that can only be known by acquaintance, which is to say, by letting them in.
Alternatively, the modern atheist may admit that going to church can be tremendous and saying prayers valuable to cultivate thanks. But they will ensure that these activities remain contained – quarantined, you might say – by interpreting them as of strictly aesthetic or instrumental merit. They must not be allowed to become processes by which the individual becomes porous to the divine.
That’s because it hasn’t been shown that “the divine” exists at all, and because it’s well known that “becomes porous” is just another way of saying “gives up all reasoning ability and becomes credulous.”
Julian says this in his reply to Vernon.
I’m afraid it’s all too common for defenders of faith to start off by piling up a whole load of interesting scientific findings, only to follow up with a plethora of non sequiturs.
The question rightly asked, however, is how reliable are the various cognitive mechanisms we use for establishing different kinds of truth? And there seems to be no escaping the simple fact that subjective experience, in all its forms, is a very unreliable detector of objective reality. Despite the comfort Vernon draws from recent research, there is no escaping the fact that the vast bulk of it points in exactly the opposite direction, undermining any confidence we might feel that our intuitive judgments are effective truth-trackers.
The TP post was a thought experiment about a subjective experience of a monster crashing through the bathroom window –
at least this is what you experience – and it’s on you. It doesn’t attack, but it’s right in your face, and you can smell rotting flesh on its breath. You close your eyes hoping it’ll just disappear, but you can hear its breathing, sense its malevolence, and in your head there’s this insistent thought: What if it’s real?
And then the argument that it would be reasonable to believe the experience not just at the instant it happened, but afterward.
I pointed out a lot of things, including the question of evidence: was there any broken glass? Was there any physical evidence of any kind? Where did the monster go? I pointed out all kinds of obvious things that would follow the hallucination, and thus make it untrue that it would be reasonable to go on believing the experience.
All good clean fun. Julian goes on
The reasons we have for doubting that prayer and meditation provide any kind of access to divine reality are not that we have an unjustified prejudice against subjective experience. It is that we use our reason to examine the reliability of various kinds of subjective experience and distinguish between the ways in which they lead us aright and the ways in which they lead us astray. A persistent pain is a pretty good indicator of the presence of bodily damage; the feeling that you have been touched by the Holy Spirit is only a good indicator that you have had a generic religious experience, shared by many the world over, and you have interpreted it according to the narratives and belief systems familiar to you.
Just what I was saying two years ago. “We use our reason to examine the reliability of various kinds of subjective experience and distinguish between the ways in which they lead us aright and the ways in which they lead us astray.”
If we have a waking hallucination of a monster breathing in our face that might be evidence that we should get our brain checked for a tumor.