Argument VIII, page 2 The Thomas Reid Argument

Arguments for the Existence of God
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission

The Thomas Reid Argument

page 2

D. Religious belief is Justified prima facie based upon Religious Experience

1) Prima Facie Justification.

Mattey again:

"Far from concluding that our senses are "fallacious," Reid placed them on the same footing as memory and reason, though they are "undervalued" by philosophers because "the informations of sense are common to the philosopher and to the most illiterate. . . . Nature likewise forces our belief in those informations, and all the attempts of philosophy to weaken it are fruitless and in vain."

"Reid pointed out that when we fall into error regarding the objects of sense, we correct our errors "by more accurate attention to the informations we may receive by our senses themselves." So the "original and natural judgments" that are made on the basis of our constitution lose their original justification in the presence of additional information. Contemporary philosophers call this kind of justification "prima facie," a term from law which describes an initially plausible case that could prove to be entirely implausible given further evidence. A belief of common sense, then, is justified "on the face of it."

"According to the doctrine of prima facie justification, one is justified in accepting that things are the way they appear, when

* it does appear to one that they are that way, and
* there is no reason to think that something has gone wrong.


"But if there is such a reason, one's justification is "defeated." Thus prima facie justification is "defeasible."

"For Reid, our beliefs about physical objects are justified by sense-experience, which he took to be a product of the interaction between the senses and physical objects. Twentieth-century philosophers have been somewhat more cautious, however, and have followed more closely the account of perceptual knowledge given by Reid's predecessors such as Descartes, Locke and Hume: that what justifies our beliefs about physical objects is a mental state such as:

* looking like something is red
* a sensation of red
* seeing red-ly"

"For example, what justifies a person in believing that he sees something red is that it looks to him as though there is something red. The mental state of that person is one in which there is an appearance of red, and just being in this mental state is enough to give prima facie justification to the belief that he really sees something red. On the other hand, what confers justification might be a belief about how things appear."

2) No contradiction to prima facie case.

But I will argue that such further evidence is not forth coming. This is because no amount of evidence can ever prove the basis of the external world. If the world is an illusion everything we have access to as evidence of its veracity is always going to be inside the illusion. This is because we can never break out of the epistemologist dilemma, we cannot step outside of our own perceptions to check them. The consistency of experience itself is no guarantee of their truth content, but we live as though it is because we cannot live otherwise.

3) Prima Facie justification for Religious experience

Religious experience is "properly basic," it is built upon experiences that are regular and consistent in the same way that our experiences of the external world are, and thus they are justified prima facie. observe the two criteria:

E. Objection: Is The PF case is overturned with further examination?

1) Is religious experience consistent and regular?

Skeptics have argued that religious experience is not regular or consistent because such experiences are all different. Not only do you have so many different religions, but even from mystic to mystic things differ.

a) Consistency and over time.

Over the years as one develops a disciplined life of prayer, one does encounter growing diversity and newness, but a certain sense of the familiar as well. Experiences become regular and consistent in that the presence of God is usually found in prayer, the sense of the presence is always the of the same quality (although varying intensity) and the sense of God can become familiar enough that it is always recognized as the same.

b) Times millions of believers.

This sense of the familiar is communicable and can be recognized form one believer to another. The mystical and devotional literature presents a kind of ordered sameness. One can read accounts as different form one experiencer to another as those between St. Augustine and A.W. Tozer and still find passages that seem to be talking about the same things. This is amplified times millions of believers in the history of the church who have experienced the same things. Even though there is diversification and difference there is still a sameness. This is not even confined to mystics. The same can be said of conversion accounts, that the same aspects keep pooping up. Once can recognize the work of God from one person to another, form one time to the next, from one culture to all cultures.

c) across traditions.

But what about the vast array of different religions? These differences are due to cultural constructs. One experiences God beyond words, and when one tries to speak of such experiences one must encode them in a symbolic universe, that is to say, in culture. These differences in symbolic universes over time have spelled out the differences in the many religions. But there is a cretin unity even between all the differences in religion. The data presented above on long term effects represents typologies which can be used to compare "peak experience" with that of other phenomena. The Peak experiencers can be grouped together into a collection of those who have experiences X. They are not isolated assortments of differing phenomena. These studies do represent differing cultures and times. Thus, religious experience has a consistency to it even between cultures.

c1) Archetypical symbology universal.

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix I. An Example of B-Analysis

"...Jungian archetypes which can be recovered in several ways. I have managed to get it in good introspects simply by asking them directly to free associate to a particular symbol. The psychoanalytic literature, of course, has many such reports. Practically every deep case history will report such symbolic, archaic ways of viewing the woman, both in her good aspects and her bad aspects. (Both the Jungians and the Kleinians recognize the great and good mother and the witch mother as basic archetypes.) Another way of getting at this is in terms of the artificial dream that is suggested under hypnosis. It can also probably be investigated by spontaneous drawings, as the art therapists have pointed out. Still another possibility is the George Klein technique of two cards very rapidly succeeding each other so that symbolism can be studied. Any person who has been psychoanalyzed can fairly easily fall into such symbolic or metaphorical thinking in his dreams or free associations or fantasies or reveries.

c2) Archetypical Symbology linked to Peak experience.

The link from Archetypes to religious experience is supplied by Maslow as well, in a quotation already sited in Argument V. above. He argues that the ability to relate "B knowledge" to "C knowledge" where the female (Or the male) is balanced in the perception of the other between goddess and whore, and the proper ego relation is sorted out, is the managing of the sacred and profane. He points out that anyone can learn to see in this manner and that it is indicative of primitive people in their religious experiences as they explained the world through the sense of the numinous.

d) Anyone can have peak experience --universal to humanity

Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences
Abraham H. Maslow
Appendix D. What is the Validity of Knowledge Gained in Peak-Experiences?

"To summarize, the major changes in the status of the problem of the validity of B-knowledge, or illumination-knowledge, are: (A) shifting it away from the question of the reality of angels, etc., i.e., naturalizing the question; (B) affirming experientially valid knowledge, the intrinsic validity of the enlarging of consciousness, i.e., of a wider range of experiencing; (C) realizing that the knowledge revealed was there all the time, ready to be perceived, if only the perceiver were "up to it," ready for it. This is a change in perspicuity, in the efficiency of the perceiver, in his spectacles, so to speak, not a change in the nature of reality or the invention of a new piece of reality which wasn't there before. The word "psychedelic" (consciousness-expanding) may be used here. Finally, (D) this kind of knowledge can be achieved in other ways; we need not rely solely on peak-experiences or peak-producing drugs for its attainment. There are more sober and laborious—and perhaps, therefore, better in some ways in the long run—avenues to achieving transcendent knowledge (B-knowledge). That is, I think we shall handle the problem better if we stress ontology and epistemology rather than the triggers and the stimuli."

2) Why Does God seem Hidden to SO many people?
a) God is not strictly speaking "invisible."

According to Hartshorne, "[o]nly God can be so universally important that no subject can ever wholly fail or ever have failed to be aware of him (in however dim or unreflective fashion)." Now the issue of why God doesn't hold a "press conference" has do with the fact that God does not communicate by violating normal causal principles. In process terms, the "communication" of God must be understood as the prehension of God by human beings. A "apprehension" is the response of an occasion to the entire past world (both the contiguous past and the remote past.) As God is in every occasion's past actual world, every occasion must "prehend" or take account of God.

It should be noted that "prehension" is a generic mode of perception that does not necessarily entail consciousness or sensory experience. In previous postings I explained that there a two modes of pure perception --"perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy." If God is present to us, then it is in the presensory perceptual mode of causal efficacy as opposed to the sensory and conscious perceptual mode of presentational immediacy. That is why God is "invisible", i.e. invisible to sense perception. The foundation for experience of God lies in the non-sensory non-conscious mode of prehension. So now, there is the further question: Why is there variability in our experience of God?. Or, why are some of us atheists, pantheists, theists, etc.? Every prehension has an initial datum derived from God, yet there are a multiplicity of ways in which this datum is prehended from diverse perspectives.

I agreed with Hume that sense perception tells us nothing about efficient causation (or final causation for that matter). Hume was actually presupposing causal efficacy in his attempt to deny it (i.e., in his relating of sense impressions to awareness). Causation could be described as an element of experience, but as Whitehead explains, this experience is not sensory experience. From Hume's own analysis Whitehead derives at least two forms of non-sensory perception: the perception of our own body and the non-sensory perception of one's past.

b). Atheists basically deny the validity of religious experience because they assume that all perception is sense perception.

Or, they deny sense perception to theists when they actually presuppose it themselves (Hume is a case in point).

c) All people experience the reality of God or the "Holy" all the time.

But this is at an unconscious level. However, in some people, this direct prehension of the "Holy" rises to the level of conscious experience. We generally call theses people "mystics". Now, the reason why a few people are conscious of God is not the result of God violating causal principle; some people are just able to conform to God's initial datum in greater degree than other people can. I don't think that God chooses to make himself consciously known to some and not to others. That would make God an elitist. Now, the question as to why I am a theist as opposed to an atheist does not have to do with me experiencing some exceptional religious or mystical experience. Rather, I believe that these extraordinary experiences of the great religious leaders are genuine and that they do conform to the ultimate nature of things. It's not necessarily a "blind leap" of faith, as my religious beliefs are accepted, in part, on the basis of whether or not they illuminate my experience of reality.

The experience of no one single witness is final the "the proof" but the fact that there are millions of witnesses who, in differing levels from the generally intuitive to the mystical, experience must the same thing in terms of general religious belief the argument is simply that God interacts on a human heart level, and the experiences of those who witness such interaction is strong evidence for that conclusion.

3) Analogies: on the hiddenness of God.

a) If a fish scientist studied water could he find any?

God is "nearer than inmost" as Augustine tells us. God the basic background of the universe, and as such, the situation is like that of a fish in water. The fish can't find the water because it is the medium he is constantly in; looking through the water all the time for his entire existence the fish sees only the other things that show up through the water.

b) The guy who didn't know he could see.

I heard of a man (true story--on PBS) whose brain was damaged so that he wasn't aware of being able to see. He wasn't blind, he could see, but was unaware of seeing. A researcher could make a circle on a black screen with red lazier pointer, the man could trace the motions of the little red dot but was not aware of seeing the dot. Just as bees see the color we call "yellow" as "red" this indicates that we could be looking at God all the tie (so to speak) and not aware of seeing God, have the concepts in our minds that pertain to him.

Note on Reid. The Reid Project
Thomas Reid (1710-96) is internationally known as the chief representative of the Scottish School of Common Sense. Born near Aberdeen, Reid was a student at Marshall College. He was ordained into the Church of Scotland and became the minister of New Machar in Aberdeenshire. It was during this period that he studied Hume's Treatise, and by the time he was appointed to a Regentship at King's College Aberdeen, though his duties required him to teach a wide range of subjects, his main interest lay in philosophy. In 1764 he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow. His major works are An inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764), Essays on Intellectual Powers of Man (1785) and Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788). These established him both as a trenchant critic of Hume and a major figure in the formulation of the Common Sense alternative. Reid's philosophical ideas remain of great interest. They are marked by a striking lucidity of thought and expression.

By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.