Religious Revelations Never Disagree with Atheist’s Assumptions

Atheist Jonathan MS Pearce recently wrote a post claiming that the nature of religious revelations is evidence for atheism. I challenged him on a specific point of his argument. Notice how unwilling he is to take evidence at face value despite the fact that admitting his argument fails would do little harm to atheism. Keep this in mind when you are told that atheists just follow the evidence.


Religious revelations never disagree with you By Jonathan MS Pearce • Apr 21, 2015

I did a podcast segment for the Skepticule podcast (my regular counter-apologetics segment called Pearced Off) on the self-authenticating inner witness of the Holy Spirit. Something that William Lane Craig often uses to argue for God from a personal point of view that has the handy characteristic of trumping all evidence. See my previous post on this or the podcast to understand further.

Paul Thompson, one of the hosts, brought up the good point that followed on from mine. My basic point is that revelations from God, the feeling of the inner witness, however these might materialise, never add any propositional content. That is to say that these visions, revelations, experiences, add no knowledge, have no content, that they bring to the experiencer. All they do is validate the experiencers’ already held beliefs. A Catholic will experience Mary, or a Catholic understanding of God. They will not experience an Amazonian god.

To take this further, these revelations never come to disagreement with already held moral or doctrinal beliefs. For example, if a Christian hated gays, then any experience of God, any revelation, would almost certainly ratify this, rather than being a revelation of the notion that this intolerant position was outright wrong. Basically, God tells you things that you already believe and accentuates them.

If you want evidence of this, just google “God told me to”.

This, of course, makes it all look even more suspicious than such revelations already were.

However, there is one comeback to this. People do reform after experiencing God. Whether it be giving up drink and drugs, or an overly promiscuous lifestyle, there are those born again who reform.

There is, though, a counter-point to this. These are positions and behaviours that people often hold that they know, at the time of holding them, are not morally perfect. There is an implicit understanding that these behaviours are less than the paragon of virtue. Thus there is no moral shift in the revelation, merely a self-reflective acceptance and a change in behaviour to align better with such moral beliefs.

It appears, then, that revelations never flatly deny existent moral beliefs strongly held by the experiencer.

On balance, this makes them even less probable as true and real revelations.


Jayman

As one example, the revelation of Jesus Christ to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus seems to be a counter-example to your claim. Prior to the revelation Paul had a negative view of Jesus and afterwards he had a positive view of Jesus. His doctrinal beliefs changed radically.

On the one hand you claim that revelations never change a person’s moral beliefs. On the other hand you claim that revelations do cause people to reform. Are you seriously implying that everyone who reforms after a revelation knew what they were doing was wrong? In no case did the revelation change moral beliefs which, in turn, caused reform?


Jonathan MS Pearce

I was actually going to write about this but ran out of time. This is, if believed in the first place, an interesting counter-example, as brought up by Paul Thompson on the podcast. What I reckon to these, and other deconversion revelations, are that they play on already held, possibly at times subconsciously so, beliefs, or niggling ideas.

This can be inferred by looking at the simple fact that no one has ever been converted to a belief system by revelation which they previously knew nothing about. Such revelatory (de)conversions should be expected on theism, not on atheism.

Paul, dealing day in/day out with Christianity and its theology, arguing internally and externally with their claims, would have had a revelation which acted as the straw which ratified the camel’s direction, so to speak.


Jayman

What do you mean if we believe the revelation to Paul? I’m assuming that we are speaking of the revelation experience and not whether the revelation was truly from God (or another agent). If you can doubt Paul’s own words (that he had a revelation experience) and his change of behavior (attested by others) I’m afraid you can just dismiss any revelation that contradicts your claims. In your opinion, what counts as a revelation that makes it part of the data that need to be considered?

If you are going to reckon that revelations that appear to change a person’s beliefs are playing on subconscious beliefs then it is no longer an empirical question. You can take any revelation and fit it into you preexisting beliefs.

Nor does your claim that no one has ever converted to a belief system by revelation which he previously knew nothing about prove your initial claim that revelations never change existing beliefs. This is a non sequitur.

You have also provided no empirical support for your claim that no one has ever converted to a belief system by revelation which he previously knew nothing about. Do you have a detailed database of revelations that you can point to? If a counter-example is provided, are you just going to assume the person is lying or subconsciously already knew something about the belief system in question?


Jonathan MS Pearce

I would be interested in seeing you present any evidence of conversion to a religion that no one previously knew anything about. As far as I can tell, this has never happened in the history of the world. This would truly be empirical evidence to support the negation of my claim.

It seems trivially true that all revelations which result in conversion (and I am struggling to really find any online) happen exclusively to people who have a working knowledge and interaction with the religion or denomination to which they convert.

My theory is that such occurrences are post hoc ratonalisations of sorts. This might appear to be unfalsifiable or unprovable in some way, but that is actually what most every argument the nature of god would be anyway. The evidence (or lack thereof) which I postulate verifies and coheres with my thesis, and that is something.

Conversions were not the exact subject of what the OP was about, though they are obviously very relevant.


Jayman

I would be interested in seeing you present any evidence of conversion to a religion that no one previously knew anything about. As far as I can tell, this has never happened in the history of the world.

You mean like the founding of a religion? You don’t know of any religion that was founded by a prophet who received a revelation? I predict that you’ll consider any new religion to not be unique enough to count.

This would truly be empirical evidence to support the negation of my claim.

Which claim? You keep moving the goalposts. You’ve already been given empirical evidence that people do change their beliefs due to a revelation. Two days ago you claimed that “no one has ever been converted to a belief system by revelation which they previously knew nothing about.” You’ve now changed that request to “conversion to a religion that no one previously knew anything about.” Nor have you shown the logical connection between the first claim and the latter two claims.

My theory is that such occurrences are post hoc ratonalisations of sorts. This might appear to be unfalsifiable or unprovable in some way, but that is actually what most every argument the nature of god would be anyway. The evidence (or lack thereof) which I postulate verifies and coheres with my thesis, and that is something.

You’ve pretty much demonstrated that it is not falsifiable. Instead of taking the evidence at face value you concoct new theories to explain the holes in your initial theory. And without a detailed database of revelation experiences your evidence is just anecdotal.

Conversions were not the exact subject of what the OP was about, though they are obviously very relevant.

I take it that your main point is that, given the alleged facts about revelations (which I dispute), we have all the more reason to doubt that said revelations are truly from God.

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One thought on “Religious Revelations Never Disagree with Atheist’s Assumptions

  1. Hi Jayman

    Here a link of a video that includes the story of former taliban-fighter who new nothing about the Christian faith, and received a revelation from Christ. (Clark Slone is a trustworthy man).

    Greetings and thanks for all your good stuff!

    Bruno Sebrechts, Belgium

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