Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why The "Inner Witness To The Holy Spirit" Is Evidence Of Nothing

When all else fails for the theist, many decide that they can always fall back on the "inner witness to the holy spirit." This is true among Christians but other theists and New Age types that I've debated with in person have similar justifications for their beliefs. For example, I remember one time talking to this woman who described herself as "spiritual" who told me she knew for a fact that the spiritual force behind the universe had put certain situations into her life for a purpose. All attempts to inject a little skepticism to the conversation were futile. But people like this I think highlight what is at the core of religious/spiritual belief  that there is at heart, primarily an emotional basis for belief in god or one particular religion and things like the "inner witness to the holy spirit" are really just manifestations of strong emotional triggers contextualized in a Christian environment.

It seems that some people just "know" that god or some higher power exists because they "feel" it, and nothing can come in their way. But it always seemed obvious to me that the fact that Christians, Hindus, Mormons and New Age spiritualists alike can all have these amazing emotional/spiritual experiences, that their experiences were indicative of nothing more than just our natural tendency to attribute deeper meaning to our emotional experiences and hallucinations. For example, if the Christian god existed, why would he be giving Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims amazing transcendent spiritual experiences when they meditate, chant and pray? These experiences often lead to the faith of those believers increasing, and as a result often takes them further away from ever becoming a Christian. It seems odd that the Christian god would give any non-Christian a spiritual experience that strengthens their non-Christian faith.

Christians have two general answers to this dilemma: (1) The spiritual experiences of non-Christians are mistaken or are possibly caused by the devil; or (2) in the Calvinist tradition, these people are being purposely mislead by god because god has predestined them to hell where he wants them. Since I think Calvinism is intellectually bankrupt, I will focus on (1).

If I grant the validity of the spiritual experiences of Christians, as they want me to, then I have to grant the same validity to the spiritual experiences of non-Christians. But Christians don't want me to grant the experiences of non-Christians, and so we have a problem here. Aside from any evidence for either religion, how can I as an objective observer discern the truth of one spiritual experience over another? On top of that, we know for a fact, as shown to us by science, that people can hallucinate, and that the human mind can be very easily deceived. Somewhat ironically, many Christians will often use this very fact to discredit the spiritual experiences of non-Christians as being nothing more than hallucinations or misapprehensions. But if course, the problem for the Christian is that they're offering me no more evidence than the non-Christian is and they too are susceptible to the same brain phenomena.

So given the fact of our tendency to hallucinate, and our tendency to attribute supernatural elements to our emotional responses, and the fact that all spiritual experiences are subjective, I as the skeptical observer of this phenomenon am forced to come to one conclusion: The spiritual experiences that people of all different faiths have cannot all be true because the religious contexts that they occur in all contradict other religions, and since natural explanations exist to explain this phenomena, spiritual experiences are best explained as the result of natural emotional subjective processes in the brain.

Thus the "inner witness to the holy spirit" can be explained away in the same breath as any other subjective spiritual experience: they're all products of the brain. And a decisive application of Hitchens' razor can shave off whatever inklings of faith that is required for me to believe such claims: what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.


  1. We all have a tendancy to project how we feel to other people, in some cases to everyone else. See? I just did. :-) Theists are less likely to recognize this and claim that "since I feel God everyone does." We can say they are decieving themselves with their belief. They can say we are decieving ourselves by ignoring the feeling or attributing it to something else.

    I don't argue with this kind of thinking because I can't interpret other people's feelings and internal monololgues because I don't truely know what they are without a filter. I can only say that I'll consider that I'm decieving myself if they do the same. Then, likely, neither of us do. Ah well.

  2. I agree. I try to take into consideration the other person's perspective. I fully grant that many believers feel that their experiences are real - but only real to them.

  3. As far as evidence goes, many people see and feel the evidence in their own lives. I think that is enough evidence for many, as it is for me. There's no proof, that's why belief requires faith.

    1. Well as along as a theist can rightly admit that their belief in a certain god is founded on faith, I can accept that as honesty. I only have a problem when subjective experiences are used to justify an objective truth of that god.

    2. Frank, why is it evidence enough for you?
      Is it reasonable that a Hindu or Muslim also has "evidence" enough for their beliefs?
      Since both of them have false beliefs, and according to your own, will be eternally punished for having false beliefs, is it reasonable to then think such "evidence" as they have is evidence enough?
      If your God does indeed want all to know and worship him, as many/most/all Christians claim, should this God have provided better evidence for Christianity than for these false beliefs?

      And finally, if the only evidence you have can also be used in support of other beliefs, and if all such evidence can be explained without reference to any god or gods at all (as psychology/neuroscience are/have shown), then is it reasonable to call this evidence at all?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...