Personal Experience or Empirical Evidence?


In this short essay, I am going to explain why I believe “personal spiritual experiences” are a valid form of evidence for the belief in God. Let me start with the objection:

Atheist Objection: One of the main problems with the “God hypothesis” is the complete lack of evidence. If one wanted to prove the existence of, say, an apple, he would bring forth observable, demonstrable evidence of its existence. This can come in many forms, such as a picture, its weight, or even its taste. These observations can be confirmed by others and thus we can conclude that the apple exists. However, the same method of analysis cannot be performed with God. To date, there are no objective measurements of God. Thus, just as a person with the complete lack of evidence of an apple is likely to conclude that the apple does not exist, no theist can demonstrate the existence of God. Therefore, we conclude that God does not exist.

I say: While the reasoning is acceptable, the main problem with this argument is the rejection of certain kinds of evidence. This is usually done through ridicule rather than a genuine argument. When a theist attempts to bring forth evidence in support of God, his evidence is dismissed as a delusion.

To understand this, juxtapose a deaf person and a person who can hear, both in a concert hall. From their vantage point neither can see the orchestra. But, the person without the physical challenge can hear their music. He insists that the orchestra is around a corner. But, the deaf person demands proof. From the deaf person’s perspective, there is no evidence whatsoever of their existence. In reality, the deaf person is not aware of his own state- his lack of auditory faculty. To him, no evidence exists. To the one who can hear, his experience of the sound is proof.

To the person who can hear, the orchestra’s existence is confirmed by the personal experience he has of the sound it produces. The skeptic deaf person may reject the orchestra’s existence because he has had no experience. Similarly, it is because of the personal experiences that a believer has that he believes in God. This is why core testification of Islam can be understood as “I witness [ie. personally experience] that there is no God but Allah”.

Atheist Objection: The problem with the “personal experience” evidence is obvious. It cannot be independently verified or objectively measured. For example, if a theist is in a state of experiencing God, there is nothing that an atheist can do to experience what he is experiencing. It is more reasonable to conclude that his experience is either a self-created delusion that has no reality.

I say: This response is rooted in ignorance and inconsistency. By its nature, all experience is personal. For example, the deaf person could not personally experience sound because he lacks the faculty to perceive it. But, that does not mean it has no reality. The atheist is arguing from this perspective- a person who cannot hear and therefore denies the existence of sound. The Qur’an refers to the spiritual heart as the root of his faculty of the perception of God and parallels this with other faculties by calling those who deny it as “deaf, dumb and blind”. Thus, on would argue that the atheists have dead hearts.

As for independent verification, it already exists. Attend any Pentecostal church on a Sunday. One can witness many individuals all going through the same personal spiritual experiences, and is therefore independently verified. It can be repeated, every Sunday or day of worship. It can even be measured, as many comment on the strength of their experiences with the Holy Spirit or other divine beings.

I say, all experience is personal. In fact, to say “objective observation” is an oxymoron, because observations by definition are personal and subjective. But, we arbitrarily define some as empirical while relegating others to subjective and potentially delusional. This is leads to our conclusion that there is no evidence for the existence of God.

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About Nahraf
Providing interesting insight into the world of Economics, Theology, Computer Science and Social phenomena.

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