Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?
Kersey also pointed generally to a number of unspecified papers by Bahnsen that are available here. I’ve examined a number of Bahnsen’s papers available at this site, and I have yet to find one which gives good solid reasons to suppose his god exists. If he or other apologists have a particular article in mind, I'd be happy to take a look at it.
Then Kersey made the following statement:
In terms of evidence for God's existence, the answer inevitably is everything in human experience as well as experience itself.
Let’s examine what Kersey is essentially saying here. Basically, he’s saying that human "experience" is "evidence for God’s existence." The term ‘experience’ is probably preferred by apologists who want to rest their position on this case because it tends to be philosophically imprecise and approximate, thus allowing them to invest it with all kinds of questionable notions. Apologetics glossaries such as Frame’s A Van Til Glossary, Apologetics.org, Haus-von-Nomos, and the one in Bahnsen’s By This Standard, do not give entries defining this term. And why should they? After all, doesn’t everyone "just know" the definition of ‘experience’? Maybe, but in matters of philosophy where imprecision and approximation do more to obscure our ideas than enlighten them, care should be taken to qualify them with more precise terms. Thus it should raise our suspicions if apologists who want to use this term in key premises of their argument for the existence of the Christian god are reluctant to state their definitions for the record. How much confidence do such thinkers have in their argument? Are not Christians always telling us that there would be no "meaning" if their god did not exist?
Since consulting these apologetic sources themselves offered no intelligence on what they might mean by ‘experience’, I turned to Webster’s online dictionary, a non-biblical source, and found the following:
1 a : direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge b : the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation
2 a : practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity b : the length of such participation
3 a : the conscious events that make up an individual life b : the events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or mankind generally
4 : something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through
5 : the act or process of directly perceiving events or reality
Now, it’s been my position all along that religious philosophies ultimately stem from a grotesque misunderstanding of the nature of human consciousness, a perversion which the ancients themselves never identified even though the view opposite to the one they verbally endorsed is inescapable. Central to that misunderstanding is the invalid view that consciousness has the power to create its own objects, which constitutes a complete reversal of the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship. This reversal can be observed throughout a religion’s metaphysical, epistemological, moral and social doctrines when one examines them with an explicit understanding of the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects in mind. Furthermore, the bible, which is the source of Christianity's many doctrines, presents no serious discussion of the fundamental nature of consciousness (I am not the first to question whether any of its authors had ever explicitly formed the concept to begin with; indeed, none of my bibles uses the term), and seemed to associate certain mental states (particularly the emotions or "passions") with the body's abdominal organs, not the brain and the nervous system which it regulates (the inclinations behind such associations no doubt arose due to the fact of mind-body integration, whereas their explicit religious views reduce to a division or dichotomy between mind and body). Also, the overt implications that the bible’s teachings have regarding the nature of consciousness, only show that its authors had uncritically adopted the primacy of consciousness model of metaphysics from their intellectual forebears, and this metaphysical view invalidates itself.
Because of such reversals and misunderstandings, Christians typically view consciousness as if it were somehow mysterious, unnatural, even "otherworldly." But it’s hard to see how one could maintain such a view given certain discoveries about consciousness that have become common knowledge due to a major shift away from the religious conception of the world to the scientific, thanks in large part to the achievements of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. We know, for instance, that human beings are biological organisms, and that there are definite physical organs in the human body which make consciousness possible, such as the brain, the nervous system, and those associated specifically with the senses, such as the eyes, olfactory nerves, taste buds, ears and skin. We also know that human beings are not the only biological organisms capable of consciousness, that other animals are conscious, and that the consciousness of non-human animals is also the product of similar organs in their bodies. All these facts, which are undeniable on a rational worldview, point incontestably to the view that consciousness is a natural, indeed biological phenomenon.
The Christian god, however, is said to be something other than natural. Christians prefer the dubious term "supernatural," a notion which seems to be invoked only when one has no legitimate explanation for some position he wants to maintain, thus making it an anti-concept which, according to Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen, means "whatever surpasses the limits of nature." (Always Ready, p. 178.) It’s not clear that anything "surpasses the limits of nature," for it’s not clear how one could determine just what the limits of nature may be. Indeed, in rational philosophy, to say that something has a nature basically means that something is itself, that to exist is to be something specific and therefore finite. In rational philosophy, the concept 'natural' is contrasted with 'man-made', that is, something taken from nature and altered in some way by man. But even shoes, watches and jumbo jets have their own specific nature, even though they are not naturally occurring, that is, occurring without the intervention of men.
And yet, believers continue to tell us that there are so-called "supernatural" beings, beings which are invisible and inaccessible to any of man's senses. This poses many obvious (and even not so obvious) epistemological problems for those who want to try to justify such beliefs, but this doesn't stop those who want to believe that their "supernatural" being exists from insisting that they do. The issue that I want to focus on here, however, is the fact that theists characterize that which is allegedly "supernatural" as something that is other than natural, and yet not man-made. So the theist introduces a third category which he calls "the supernatural," something which by definition is not observable in nature (for there is no reason to suppose that what we observe in nature "surpasses the limits of nature"), and, according to the theists' own vehement protestation, also not man-made (for believers would not want to allow that their deity is a human invention). So on the one hand we have that which is natural, and on the other hand that which is allegedly not natural ("supernatural"). In other words, A (natural) and non-A ("supernatural").
Given these points, then, let us return to Kersey's statement, that man's experience somehow qualifies as "evidence" for the existence of the Christian god. As described in their literature, the Christians' god is said to be "supernatural," immaterial, infinite and incorruptible. Man's experience, however, is neither of these; it is natural, material, finite and in fact corruptible (for man can and sometimes does misidentify what he perceives). So the question logically arises:
How does that which is natural, material, finite and corruptible serve as evidence of that which is supernatural, immaterial, infinite and incorruptible? In other words, how does A serve as evidence of non-A?
Questions such as this seem to have slipped by apologists, for they continue to equate man's experience with evidence for the "supernatural" without bothering to attend to such questions. Recall, however, that the definitions of 'experience' given above specify direct observation. But the Christian god is said to be invisible (I Tim. 1:17), and thus at best not directly observable. And since man's experience entails his nature as a biological organism, it is by necessity also natural, just as are other bodily functions, such as respiration, circulation, digestion, etc.
How does something serve as evidence of that which completely contradicts it?
But consider: suppose I perceive an object, such as the apple tree in my backyard. Christians like Kersey are in effect saying that this tree, or at least my consciousness of the tree, is somehow evidence of his god's existence. But what is it that I see? I see a tree, not a supernatural, invisible, magic being. The tree itself is not in any way like the Christian god is supposed to be; the tree that I perceive is a biological organism (and therefore natural) composed of atoms and molecules (and therefore material) which has a specific nature (and therefore finite), and which dies if denied the nutrients it requires (and therefore corruptible).
If I accept the tree as evidence of anything, I must accept it as evidence only of itself, of its own existence. To suppose that it is evidence of something other than itself - indeed, as evidence of something which fundamentally contradicts it (e.g., "supernatural," immaterial, infinite and incorruptible), I would at the very least have to infer this somehow from what I do perceive. But why would I interpret something I directly observe as evidence of something that contradicts what I directly observe? Such a process of inferring could not rest on what I perceive alone; it would in fact require certain assumptions imported expressly to bridge the gap between what I really perceive (i.e., what is real, natural, material, finite and corruptible) and what I can only imagine (since I can only imagine something that "surpasses the limits of nature"). Where would I get such assumptions, and what would their basis be, if not just the arbitrary imaginings that religion supplies?
Here is where the apologist simply blanks out, giving us absolutely nothing to go on, apparently expecting us to accept what they claim about "the supernatural" on their say so, i.e., on faith.
So unless the apologist can shore up his claim and give a plausible explanation as to how man's conscious experience can somehow serve as evidence of that which completely contradicts it on every essential, it is safe to assume that he has no case whatsoever to support his god-belief.
by Dawson Bethrick