bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 6

I will now try to wrap up this series of posts on Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience (AFR).   I don’t have any big bold conclusion that I’m driving toward, just a few observations, clarifications, and an objection or two.
One thing I have done is to make use of the concepts of dependence and independence, which are basic concepts in probability.  I have explored the question of whether and to what extent the veridicality of one generic theistic religious experience (TRE) is dependent upon the veridicality of other generic TREs.  Also, I have taken a closer look at the key concept of a “veridical experience”, and more specifically,  the concept of “a veridical generic  theistic religious experience”.
I toyed with the idea that the veridicality of one generic TRE is independent of the veridicality of other generic TREs.  Note that Swinburne does not hold this view.  One problem with this view is that it makes it virtually certain that God exists, given the assumption that each clean generic TRE is probably veridical (“clean” meaning that there is no particular reason to doubt the veridicality of that TRE).  In fact, if there is just a small probability (e.g. one chance in a hundred) of each clean generic TRE being veridical, it would still be nearly certain that God exists, because there are probably thousands or hundreds of thousands of such TREs.   Double-sixes may be rare in rolling a pair of dice, but if you keep on rolling a pair of dice, it is almost certain that you will eventually roll two sixes.
The idea that AFR makes the existence of God virtually certain is not only contrary to my skeptical intuitions, but also contrary to Swinburne’s intuitions, since he only thinks that AFR bumps up the probability of God’s existence from about .4 or .5 to about .6.  So, the idea of the veridicality of generic TREs being independent doesn’t fit with our shared intuitions about the force of AFR.  At best, AFR can increase the probability of the existence of God from .2 to .6, in Swinburne’s view, and I agree that it would be unreasonable to expect more out of this argument.
There is also a simple and decisive reason to reject the independence of the veridicality of one generic TRE from the veridicality of other generic TREs:  if just one generic TRE is veridical, then God exists, and if God exists then clearly that would significantly increase the probability that other generic TREs are also veridical.
I compared the idea of a veridical generic TRE to the idea of an actual or valid miracle.  One actual miracle is all it takes to show that God exists, and once it has been shown that God exists and that God has intervened in human affairs by violating a law of nature for some good prupose, then this knowledge or information would significantly increase the probability that other alleged miracles were actual miracles.  Clearly, the veridicality of just one generic TRE would have an impact on the probability of the veridicality of other alleged experiences of the presence of God.   Therefore, it is clearly NOT the case that the veridicality of one generic TRE is independent from the veridicality of other generic TREs.
Swinburne takes the extreme view that if God exists, then ALL generic TREs must be veridical.  He apparently failed to notice that this strong claim has a strong skeptical implication, namely that if just one generic TRE was non-veridical,  then God does NOT exist!  Swinburne was arguing for his strong claim in an attempt to set aside a whole category of potential objections to generic TREs.  If Swinburne’s strong claim is true, then if just one generic TRE is determined to be veridical, then not only does God exist, but it would follow that ALL generic TREs were veridical.
I pointed out a problem in Swinburne’s reasoning supporting his strong claim.  From a claim of this form:
(A) God was involved in causing an experience in which it seemed to P that God was present with P.
Swinburne infers a claim of this form:
(B) God’s presence was the cause of an experience in which it seemed to P that God was present with P.
But clearly (B) does NOT logically follow from (A), because there are various ways that God could be involved in causing an experience, and merely being present is only one of many different ways that God might cause an experience to occur. Thus, Swinburne’s argument fails to establish his strong claim, and Swinburne fails to eliminate a whole category of potential objections to generic TREs (i.e. objections to the effect that God was not the cause of the experience, that there are natural explanations of TREs).
I also took a closer look at Swinburne’s analysis of the concept of a “veridical TRE”, specifically of a “veridical generic TRE”  Swinburne’s analysis has three parts that parallel the traditional JTB analysis of the concept of knowledge:
 An experience E of a person P is a veridical generic theistic religious experience
IF AND ONLY IF:
(a) E is an experience in which it seems (epistemically) to person P that God is present with P,
AND
(b) God was in fact present with P (at the time when experience E occurred),
AND
(c) God’s presence with P (at the time when experience E occurred) was the cause of experience E.
This is not a bad start for an analysis of “a veridical generic theistic religious experience”, but I do see a problem here.
First of all, God’s presence does not, by itself, cause the experience of God’s presence, because if it did, and if God existed, then everyone would experience God’s presence all the time, because God would be present everywhere and at all times. People who are devout religious believers do not constantly have a generic theistic religious experience.  So, presumably something else is required besides the presence of God to initiate a generic TRE.
Second, if God exists, then what presumably kicks off a generic TRE is that God wills or chooses for a particular person to have a generic TRE at a particular time.   But if it is God’s will or choice that determines if and when someone will have a generic TRE, then this seems analogous to the scenario where a hypnotist causes me to have a NON-veridical experience of a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me.  Even if there is a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me, and even if it is the presence of the cat that infuenced the hypnotist to suggest that I “see” a cat sitting on the couch, the experience would be NON-veridical because the WAY in which that cat’s presence caused my experience would be unusual and unreliable.
The choices and whims of the hypnotist are involved in the causal chain of events leading to my NON-veridical experience of the cat (while in a hypnotic trance).  But if a generic TRE happens only because God wills it to happen, then the choices and whims of God are involved in the causal chain that leads to the generic TRE, and this, it seems to me, makes the causal chain unusual and/or unreliable.  Furthermore, God’s willing this experience to happen seems sufficient by itself to cause the generic TRE, so it is not clear what causal role God’s presence has in the production of the generic TRE.
If I am correct that condition (c) is insufficient, and that something more is required in order for an experience to be veridical, such as the reliability of the causal mechanism that produces the experience, then Swinburne’s analysis of ‘veridical generic theistic religious experience’ is mistaken, and furthermore, it is unclear whether a veridical generic TRE is even possible; it is unclear whether this concept is coherent because it is hard to see what could be meant by a normal and reliable causal mechanism in which the presence of God is the cause of a generic TRE as well as a choice by God to make a specific person have a generic TRE at a specific time.
If my objection to Swinburne’s analysis of “a veridical generic theistic religious experience” is correct, then there may be further difficulties for Swinburne to confront.  It is not clear to me that one can spell out a coherent meaning for the claim that “God caused experience E in a way that is normal and reliable.”  But something like that would need to be clarified and shown to be coherent to make his AFR workable.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 5

Here is a brief plot summary of the movie Harvey:
Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six-foot rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane – but he may be wiser than anyone knows.
James Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, the “whimsical middle-aged man” who could apparently see and converse with Harvey, a six-foot rabbit who was invisible to others.  The obvious conclusion is that Elwood is mentally ill and that his experiences of the six-foot rabbit are hallucinations.  But the movie casts doubt on this obvious conclusion, suggesting that we consider questions like these:
Q1. Does Elwood actually perceive a six-foot tall talking rabbit (a “Pooka” – a mischievous spirit who takes the form of an animal and who can appear selectively to  certain people)?
Q2. Does Elwood have veridical Pooka experiences of the presence of Harvey?
Q3. Does Elwood know that Harvey is present?
These questions have an obvious similarity to the questions that we are thinking about concerning the presence of God, alleged experiences of the presence of God, the veridicality of TREs, and Swinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience (AFR).
Our next order of business is to look more closely at the key term “veridical” , especially in the phrases “veridical theistic religious experience” and “veridical generic theistic religious experience”.   Swinburne argues that there is a very strong relationship between the veridicality of one generic TRE and the veridicality of other generic TREs.  The correctness or incorrectness of his reasoning on this issue depend crucially, it seems to me, on what the term “veridicality” means.
It  stikes me that (Q3) might well shed significant light on (Q2), and also on our question about the meaning of the key term “veridical”. I believe that the concept of veridicality is similar to, and closely related to, the concept of knowledge.
The first thing that occurs to most people is the question of TRUTH.  Is it TRUE that Harvey is present when Elwood is having his Pooka experiences?  Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, but we have doubts about this belief and are inclined to think Elwood is mistaken, and that there is no six-foot tall rabbit in the room, nor that there is a mischievous spirit who is taking the form of a six-foot tall rabbit.
We are strongly inclined to think Elwood’s BELIEF that Harvey is present is a FALSE belief.  Elwood, we might say, does NOT know that Harvey is present because although Elwood BELIEVES that Harvey is present, he is mistaken, and this is a FALSE belief. Not just any belief counts as knowledge; the belief in question must be TRUE to count as knowledge.  Elwood’s belief about Harvey being present is FALSE, so this belief does not count as knowledge.  We might further conclude that Elwood is having non-veridical Pooka experiences, because there is in fact no six-foot tall rabbit and no mischievous spirit present in the room  with Elwood.
Definition 1 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present.
Definition 1 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present.
If you have any background in epistemology or some familiarity with Socrates, you know that the idea that knowledge amounts to “true belief” is an overly simple analysis of the concept of knowledge, and that this analysis is mistaken.  There is at least the need for one more necessary condition: justification.  One can have a true belief by accident or chance or dumb luck.  But if I have a belief that is true by accident or chance or dumb luck, such a belief, though true, does not constitute knowledge.
John says: “I am thinking of a number between one and ten; guess the number.”
I respond: “You are thinking of the number seven.”
John replies: “Yes, that was the number.  Wow, good guess!”
I say: “I knew that you were thinking of the number seven.”
John says, “No you didn’t.  You just made a lucky guess.”
If I continue to claim to have KNOWN the number that John was thinking of, then John will challenge me to explain HOW I could have known the number, and if I claim to be able to read his mind, John will probably demand further proof of this amazing ability, perhaps by thinking of a number between one and a thousand, and seeing if I can still correctly identify that number.  This disagreement about whether I KNOW the numbers that John is thinking about is predicated on the distinction between a “lucky guess” and knowledge.  For a belief to be knowledge it must have something more going for it than simply being true.  Traditionally, going back to Socrates, knowledge was understood to be Justified True Belief, a subset of true beliefs:
Definition 2 of ‘knows that x is present’:
Person P knows that x is present IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P believes x is present,  and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s belief that x is present is rationally justified.
Definition 2 of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’:
Person P has a veridical experience of the presence of x IF AND ONLY IF
(a) P has an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present, and
(b) it is true that x is present, and
(c) P’s experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that x is present was caused by x’s being present.
Note how this second definition of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ is parallel to the second definition of ‘knows that x is present’.
Note also that this analysis of ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ corresponds to Swinburne’s view of perception:
It seems to me, for reasons that others have given at length, that the causal theory of perception is correct–that S perceives x (believing that he is so doing) if and only if an experience of its seeming (epistemically) to S that x is present is caused by x‘s being present.  So S has an experience of God if and only if its seeming to him that God is present is in fact caused by God being present. (EOG, p.296)
I take it that Swinburne understands the phrase ‘S perceives x’ to be equivalent to the phrase ‘S has a veridical experience of x’ as contrasted with non-veridical experiences such as hallucinations.
If a ‘veridical experience of the presence of x’ has the above three necessary conditions that when combined form a sufficient condition, then one would think that the logic of veridicality would NOT be symetrical with the logic of non-veridicality.  An experience can be veridical only by satisfying all three necessary conditions above.  But an experience could be non-veridical in a variety of ways: by failing to satisfy the conditions (a) and (c), or by failing to satisfy conditions (b) and (c), or by failing to satisfy (c), or by failing to satisfy all three conditions.  There are many different ways for an experience to be non-veridical, but only one way for an experience to be veridical.
In the case of an ordinary physical object, it could be that the object is in fact present, but that the object is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that the object is present.  For example, there might in fact be a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me, but my experience of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat sitting on the couch across the room is CAUSED BY a hypnotist planting a suggestion in my mind about a cat sitting on a couch across the room from me.  The cause of my experience is the hypnotist and the suggestion made by the hypnotist that I “see” a cat sitting on the couch.  The actual presence of the cat on the couch is NOT the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to me that there is a cat on the couch.  In this case, my experience is non-veridical, and yet there really is a cat sitting on the couch across the room from me.  Why couldn’t there be non-veridical generic TREs even if God was actually present in the room with the subject?
According to Swinburne, IF God exists, then ALL generic TREs are veridical:
And so, if there is a God, any experience which seems to be of God [of the presence of God] will be genuine…”                  (EOG, p.320).  
Swinburne apparently did not notice the skeptical implication of this conclusion, namely that IF there is just one non-veridical generic TRE, then God does NOT exist!  This means that an atheist or a skeptic need only show that there is one single instance of a generic TRE that is non-veridical and the existence of God would thus be disproved.  But this seems contrary to common sense.  With ordinary objects there are various different ways that an experience can fail to be veridical, and in some of those ways it can still be the case that the object that seemed (epistemically) to the subject to be present was in fact present, as in the above example of the cat being present in the room but it’s presence NOT being the cause of it seeming (epistemically) to the subject that a cat was present in the room.
God is different than a cat, according to Swinburne, because God, if God exists, is involved in every causal event that occurs in any time and any place (because God, by definition, is omnipotent and omniscient and eternal).  Thus, God is involved in the cause of every experience that ever occurs:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes… (EOG, p.320)
But Swinburne, it seems to me, has made a hasty conclusion here, which may not hold up under closer examination.   From this premise…
(GAC) God is among the causes that bring about the experience of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
Swinburne has drawn the following inference, related to one necessary condition of having a veridical experience:
(GPC) God’s being present with P is the cause of its seeming (epistemically) to P that God is present.
There are many different ways in which one person might cause another person to have a particular experience.  Being present in the same place and at the same time with the other person is just ONE of MANY different ways that one person could cause another person to have an experience.  For example, the hypnotist that causes it to seem (epistemically) to me that there is a cat present in the room with me could do this over the phone, and thus not be present with me.  Furthermore, even if the hypnotist were present, it is not the presence of the hypnotist that causes my non-veridical experience of the cat; rather, it is the action of hypnotizing and of saying certain things to me that causes my  non-veridical experience of the cat.
Since there are many different ways that one person can cause another person to have a particular experience, and since being present with the other person is just one such way, it seems to me that we cannot logically infer (GPC) from (GAC).  The claim made in (GAC) is too general and vague to logically imply the more specific claim made by (GPC).
Since God is always present to everyone, if God exists, there must be some additional factor that determines whether a particular person will experience the presence of God at a particular time and a particular place.  If generic TREs are sometimes caused by God, this presumably requires that God choose or will this experience to occur to that particular person at that time and that place.  But if this is so, then it is NOT the case that it is merely God’s presence that caused the generic TRE to occur, anymore than it is the hypnotist’s presence that caused me to have a non-veridical experience of the cat.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 4

Although I have been considering the implications of the idea that the veridicality of a Theistic Religious Experience (TRE) is independent of the veridicality of other TREs, this is NOT the view of Swinburne.  In fact, Swinburne clearly holds the opposite view, the view that the veridicality of a TRE is dependent on the veridicality of other TREs.  I will get into the details of this shortly.
First, let me back up for a moment and provide a key definition.  Swinburne defines “religious experience” in Chapter 13 of The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG, where he presents his Argument from Religious Experience, hereafter: AFR):
For our present purposes it will be useful to define it [a ‘religious experience’] as an experience of God (either of his just being there, or of his saying or bringing about something) or of some other supernatural thing. (EOG, p.295) 
Note the emphasis on TREs: “an experience of God”.  Swinburne does not limit religious experiences to experiences of God, since the definition also includes experiences “of some other supernatural thing”.  However, Swinburne immediately points out that his focus is on TREs, especially on one specific kind of TRE:
For most of the discussion I shall be concerned with experiences that seem to be simply of the presence of God and not with his seeming to tell the subject something specific or to do something specific. (EOG, p.296) 
So not only is Swinburne’s argument focused on TREs, but it is focused on a specific subset of TREs, what I have referred to as “generic” TREs.
Statements of key points in his argument also focus on TREs:
…a religious experience apparently of God ought to be taken as veridical unless it can be shown on other grounds significantly more probable than not that God does not exist. (EOG, p.321)
One who has had a religious experience apparently of God has, by the Principle of Credulity, good reason for believing that there is a God… (EOG, p.325)
Swinburne’s definition of ‘religious experience’ has a flaw, if taken as it stands.  It is not clear that one can have “an experience of God” if there is no God.  Swinburne does not intend to beg the question about the existence of God, and in the context of  the opening of Chapter 13, it is fairly clear that what he had in mind is an experience in which is seems (epistemically) to the subject that God is present (or that God is communicating a message to the subject, or that God is performing some action).
Swinburne leaves open the possibiilty that it might seem (epistemically) to a person that God is present when in fact there is no God, and thus God was NOT present to that person.  In other words, one can have a TRE that is non-veridical.  Having a theistic religious experience does NOT imply or entail that God was present or that God exists.  It might be the case that all TREs are non-veridical, that all TREs are misleading experiences.  Therefore, the occurrence of TREs does not in and of itself logically imply that God exists.
Back to the issue of dependency between the veridicality of generic TREs.  One obvious point is that if just one single generic TRE is veridical, then that means that God was present at least on that particular occasion.  But since God is omniscient and omnipotent and eternal (by definition), if God was present on one occaision, then it follows logically that God is present at any and every place at any and every time.  If God exists at one moment, then God exists in all moments, for any person who exists for only a finite duration of time cannot be ‘God’.  Any person who can only influence events in one particular part of the universe cannot be ‘God’.    Any person who is only aware of events in a particular place or at a particular time cannot be ‘God’.  In short, if God was present at one moment of time in one particular location, then God exists.  If God exists, then God is present at all times and at all places.
Recall that Swinburne saves his presentation of AFR until after all other major considerations for and and against the existence of God have been covered (in his view).  He believes that other relevant evidence shows that the existence of God is somewhat probable, that theism has a probability somewhere between .4 and .5:
g: God exists
.4 < P(g) < .5 
But Swinburne is clearly talking about a conditional probability, a probability that is based on the evidence in the premises of his previous arguments for and against God.  Let’s use a letter to represent this background evidence that was considered prior to examination of AFR:
k: [the background evidence of the premises of the inductive arguments for and against God previously presented by Swinburne]
Now we can represent the probability range more accurately:
.4 < P(g|k) < .5
Swinburne believes he has a bit of wiggle room here, because all that is required for the success of AFR, in his view, is that the prior probability of the existence of God be more than just ‘very improbable’.  I would interpret that to mean the following assumption is required for the success of AFR:
P(g|k) > .2
If AFR is as good as Swinburne thinks, then the evidence in the premises of this argument should bump up the probability significantly, to make the existence of God “more probable than not”:
e: Many people have had generic TREs which are not subject to special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality of those TREs. 
P(g| e & k) > .5
If we have before us a collection of clean (i.e. no special considerations apply) generic TREs, and if we could somehow determine that one TRE in this collection was in fact veridical, that would, by itself, make it certain that God exists.  From that point forward any further instances of TREs would need to be evaluated on the basis of a NEW prior probability of the existence of God.  This new information, that at least one TRE was veridical, would shift the prior probabililty of the existence of God from somwhere between .4 and .5, all the way up to the maximum probabilty: 1.0.  In other words, as soon as one single TRE has been determined to be veridical, we have good reason to be much less skeptical about the veridicality of other TREs.
This is kind of like the idea of a miracle.  As soon as one single miracle has been determined to be valid, that establishes both the existence of God and the fact that God is, at least on some occasions, willing to intervene in nature for the sake of some human (or some animal) and to cause a violation of a law of nature.  Once one single miracle has been determined to be valid, then we would have good reason to be much less skeptical about other miracles.
A similar sort of relationship appears to hold in the case that we determine a particular TRE to be non-veridical.  If someone claims to have had an experience of the presence of God, but we determine that God was NOT present on that occasion, then we have also determined that God does NOT exist.  For if God DID exist, then God would have been present in the time and place that the person who claims to have experienced God had this experience that seemed to him/her to be an experience of the presence of God.  If God exists, then God exists at all times and at all places.
Furthermore, according to Swinburne, if God exists, then God is involved in the causation of any religious experience that seems (to the subject) to be an experience of God:
But, if there is a God, he is omnipresent and all causal processes operate only because he sustains them.  Hence any causal processes at all that bring about my experience will have God among their causes; and any experience of him will be of him as present at a place where he is.  And so, if there is a God, any experience that seems to be of God, will be genuine–will be of God. (EOG, p.320)
It appears that if there is just one single TRE that we determine was non-veridical, then we have determined that God does NOT exist, and that all other TREs are also non-veridical.  If God exists, then all TREs are veridical.  Therefore, if just one TRE is non-veridical, then God does NOT exist.
So, at least at first blush, it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be veridical, that shows that God exists, and that other generic TREs are also veridical, and it appears that if one single generic TRE is determined to be non-veridical, that shows God does NOT exist, and that other generic TREs must also be non-veridical.  Given these two sorts of logical dependencies, the probability tree diagram for generic TREs would look like this:
3 TREs with Dependency
 
As soon as the status of the first TRE is determined, so is the status for any other TREs.  If the first TRE was veridical, then God exists, and all other TREs must then also be veridical, based on Swinburne’s views about the implications of the veridicality of a TRE.  If the first TRE is non-veridical, then all other TREs must then also be non-veridical.  Assuming that the prior probability of God’s existence is .4, we must either determine that the first TRE is veridical and raise that probabilty to 1.0, or determine that the first TRE is non-veridical and lower that probability to 0.
I don’t think Swinburne was aware of this implication of his view of the implications of determining a TRE to be veridical:
There are large numbers of people both today and in the past who have had religious experiences apparently of the presence of God and that must make it significantly more probable that any one person’s experience is veridical. (EOG, p.323-324)
It seems to me that the occurrence of large numbers of “religious experiences apparently of the presence of God” does NOT help the case for God.  The probability of the veridicality  of the first TRE that we consider will depend on the prior probability of the existence of God, but once the veridicality of that TRE is determined, the question of the existence of God will be answered, and no further TREs need be considered, because the veridicality of the remaining TREs will be determined by whether the first TRE was veridical or not, given Swinburne’s assumption that IF God exists, then ALL  generic TREs must be veridical.

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 3

Previously, I have only considered the very simple case where one person has a memory of having previously had a theistic religious experience (hereafter: TRE) of a generic sort–an experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to him/her that God was present.  There were a couple of basic points made about probable inferences in contrast to necessary or deductive inferences, but there are even more interesting points of logic and probability ahead as we consider more complex and more realistic scenarios.
For most skeptics, we don’t have religous experiences, and if and when we do have something that might be called a religious experience, we are not inclined to believe that the experience was caused by God or by any sort of supernatural person or being.  This might also be true for many Christians and Jews and Muslims.  In any case, there is a significant portion of the population for whom the evidence of religious experience must be second-hand and based on the testimony of others.
Recall that Swinburne proposes a principle concerning testimony which is similar to his principles about experience and memory:

TESTIMONY

…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 

So for many of us, especially for us skeptics, doubters, and atheists, there is a longer chain of probable inferences requried to come to a conclusion about the existence of God.  Furthermore, since testimony about TREs is not a constant feature of our experiences, once such a testimony is given and heard, the force of that testimony remains only by means of memories of having heard (or read) that testimony.  Thus, for many people, and probably for most skeptics, there are number of steps of probable inferences in reasoning to  a conclusion about the probability of God on the basis of an alleged TRE:

1. It seems (epistemically) to me that I heard John testify last Sunday to having had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

2. There are no special considerations casting doubt on my apparent memory about John testifying about having had a TRE.

3. If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. [Swinburne’s principle concerning memory]

Therefore:

4. It is probably the case that John testified last Sunday to having had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

5. There are no special considerations casting doubt on John’s honesty and integrity.

6. If someone testifies to having had a certain experience on a certain occasion in the past, and if there are no special considerations casting doubt on that person’s honesty and integrity, then it is probably the case that it seemed (epistemically) to that person during his/her testimony that he/she had that experience on that occasion in the past. [This is an additional principle in the spirit of Swinburne’s other principles]

Therefore:

7.  It is somewhat probable (it is probable that it is probable) that at the time John was giving his testimony it seemed (epistemically) to John that he had had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

8.  There are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliability of John’s apparent memory about a religious experience while he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

9. If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. [Swinburne’s principle concerning memory]

Therefore:

10.  It is probable that it is probable that it is probable that John had a generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

11. There are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this generic TRE had by John.

12. In the absence of special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality or reliabilty  of the experience, if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic). [Swinburne’s principle of experience]

Therefore:

13. It is probable that it is probable that it is probable that it is probable that God was present with John during his generic TRE when he was hiking in Yosemite last summer.

Because a chain consisting of a number of probable inferences is required to get from that actual data (my apparent memory of John giving testimony) to the conclusion (about God being present with John during a religious experience), the probability is somewhat diminished.  Suppose that we interpret “probable” to mean having a probability of about .6.   In that case the chain of four probable inferences requires that we multiply this probability four times:

.6 x .6 x .6 x .6

= .36 x .36

= .1296

If we round this to a single significant figure, then the probability of God’s existence, based on this specific evidence and Swinburne’s principles, would be: .1  or one chance in ten.  Not a very impressive conclusion.

Furthermore, we are assuming that the premises that state there are no special considerations casting doubt (on the testimony, or memory, or experience) are certain.  But we are finite and fallible human beings, so those premises might add more uncertainty into the equation, and reduce the probability further.  And we also may be less than certain about the various epistemological principles, so that could further reduce the probability of the conclusion.

However, if we make the simplifying assumption that the veridicality of each generic theistic religious experience is independent of the veridicality of other generic theistic religious experiences, then because there is a great deal of testimony about a great many alleged generic theistic religious experiences, even a very modest probability of veridicality will be sufficient to show that it is virtually certain that God exists.  If you roll two dice a hundred times, you are very likely to come up with a pair of sixes on one of the rolls, even though it is unlikely that you will get a pair of sixes on any specific given roll.  Similarly, if each and every generic theistic religious experience has some small but significant chance of being veridical, then if a hundred such experiences occur, it is virtually certain that at least one would be veridical (i.e. God would in fact be present with the experiencer).

Let’s set aside that issue of the chain of probable inferences involved in a memory of a testimony about a religious experience.  Let’s assume that we have some way to be confident that a number of generic theistic relgious experiences have occurred.  Let’s assume that with the examples we have collected there are no special considerations casting doubt on the veridicality of the experiences, and that the veridicality of each generic theistic religious experience was independent of the veridicality of other such experiences. Let’s assume, therefore, that each generic theistic religious experience has a probability of .6 of being veridical (meaning that God was actually present and being experienced by the believer).

[It is important to note here that Swinburne thinks that the veridicality of a generic TRE is NOT independent of the veridicality of other generic TREs.  Furthermore, I agree that the veridicality of a generic TRE is NOT independent of the veridicality of other generic TREs.  However, it is still worth considering the idea of them being independent, partly because this is a simplifying assumption making probability calculations simpler, but also just to be a bit clearer about the importance and implications of dependence relationships between TREs by means of contrast with the idea of TREs being independent of each other (in terms of veridicality).]

Consider the paralell scenario of fair tosses of a coin, where the probability of getting heads is .5 and the probability of tails is also .5.  If you do three fair tosses, what is the probability that at least one toss would come up heads?  We know that EITHER at least one toss will come up heads OR no toss will come up heads.  Those are the only two possibilities.  So, it is certain that one or the other of those possibilities will be realized if we toss the coin three times:

O: At least one toss comes up heads.

N: No toss comes up heads.

E: Every toss comes up tails.

====================

15. Either O or N.    [This is an analytic truth; we know with certainty that this statement is true.]

16. A statement that is known with certainty to be true has a probability of 1.0.

Therefore:

17. P(O or N) =  1.0   [The probability that either O or N will occur EQUALS 1.0, i.e. this is certain.]

 18. The probability of a disjunction is equal to the sum of the probabilities of each disjunct minus the probability of both disjuncts being true.

Therefore:  

19. P(O) + P(N) – P(O and N) = 1.0    [The probability that O occurs PLUS the probability that N occurs MINUS the probability that both O and N occur EQUALS 1.0.]

20. If O occurs, then N does not occur, AND if N occurs, then O does not occur.  [O and N are mutually exclusive outcomes.]

Therefore:

21. ~(O and N)   [O and N are mutually exclusive outcomes, so we know with certainty that they cannot both occur.]

22. If we know with certainty that a statement is NOT the case, then the probability of that statement is zero.

Therefore:   

23. P(O and N) = 0   [The probability that both O occurs and N occurs EQUALS zero.]

24.  If  two expressions are equivalent, then we can replace one expression with the other in any equation. 

Therefore:

25. P(O) + P(N) – 0 = 1.0   [The probabilty that O occurs PLUS the probability that N occurs MINUS 0 EQUALS 1.0.]

26. x – 0 = x   [Any number minus zero equals that number.]

Therefore:

27:  P(N) – 0 = P(N)

Therefore:

28.  P(N) can be substituted in any equation for the expression P(N) – 0.

Therefore:

29. P(O) + P(N) = 1.0   

30.  We can subtract the same thing from both sides of a true equation to produce a true equation.

Therefore:

31. P(O) = 1.0 –  P(N)   [The probability that O occurs EQUALS  1.0 MINUS the probability that N occurs.]

32. P(N) = P(E)   [The probability that no toss comes up heads is the same as the probability that every toss comes up tails.]

33. If they are equal, then we can substitute P(E) for P(N) in any true equation to produce another true equation.

Therefore:

34. P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)    [The probability that O occurs EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probabilty that E occurs.]

That is a lot of work for this meager conclusion:

The probability that at least one toss comes up heads EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probability that every toss comes up tails.

But it is easy to figure out the probability that every toss comes up tails.  Let’s start with the scenario where we do three (fair) coin tosses:

3 Fair Coin Tosses

In order to come up with tails on all three tosses, one must come up with tails on the first toss (probability = .5) and then come up with tails on the second toss (probability = .5) and then come up with tails on the third toss (probability = .5).  So, the probability of coming up with tails on all three tosses is:

.5 x .5 x .5

= .25 x .5

= .125

P(E) = .125   (or .1 rounded to one significant figure).

We have determined that the probability of coming up with heads at least once is equal to 1.0 MINUS the probability of coming up tails on all three tosses:

P(O) =  1.0 – P(E)

Therefore:

P(O) = 1.0 – .125

Therefore:

P(O) = .875  (or .9 rounded to one significant figure)

So, it is very probable that in three (fair) tosses of a coin, that heads will come up at least one time.

What if we do six (fair) tosses of a coin?  What is the probability that heads will come up at least once?  The same logic applies.  The probability that heads will come up at least once EQUALS 1.0 MINUS the probability that tails will come up on every toss:

P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)

The only significant difference is that it is much less likely for tails to come up six times in a row, as compared with tails coming up three times in a row.  In order to come up with tails on all six tosses, the first toss must come up tails (probability = .5), the second toss must also come up tails (probability = .5), etc.  Thus the probability that tails will come up every time in six (fair) tosses of a coin is:

.5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5 x .5

=  .25 x .25 x .25

= .015625  [I will round off when calculation is completed.]

Therefore (in the case of six fair tosses):

P(O) = 1.0 – .015625

P(O) = .984375  (rounded to two significant figures: .98 , and rounded to one significant figure: 1)

We can see that with just six tosses of a coin it become highly probable, nearly certain, that at least one toss will come up heads.  We can reasonably conclude that the probability of heads coming up at least once in six fair tosses of a coin is greater than .9 but  less than 1.0:

.9 < P(O) < 1.0

The same logic and similar math applies to analogous scenarios with TREs, where we consider having evidence consisting of a set of three TREs and then consider having evidence consisting of a set of six TREs, given the simplifying assumption that the veridicality of a TRE is independent of the veridicality of other TREs.

Let’s re-define the basic statements abbreviated by the letters used in reasoning about coin tosses:

O:  At least one of the TREs is veridical (i.e. is the result of God actually being present).

N: None of the TREs is veridical.

E:  Every one of the TREs is non-veridical.

Suppose we have accepted three generic TREs as having no special considerations casting doubt on their reliability or veridicality.  Suppose that we take each one of the TREs to be probably veridical, meaning that there is a probability of .6 that the TRE is veridical.  Suppose we assume that the veridicality of any one TRE is independent of the veridicality of the other TREs.  We can represent this with a probability tree diagram that is very similar to the above tree diagram for coin tosses:

3 TREs

In this case we can apply the previous formula:

P(O) =  1.0 – P(E)

First, let’s determine the value of P(E), the probability that every one of the three TREs is non-veridical.  In order for all three of a series of three TREs to be non-verdical, the first TRE must be non-veridical (probability = .4, because the probabiliy of it being veridical is .6), and then the second TRE must also be non-veridical (probability = .4), and the third TRE must be non-veridical (probability = .4).  Thus, the probability that all three TREs in the series will be non-veridical is:

.4 x .4 x .4

= .16 x .4

= .064  [I will round after calculation is completed]

Therefore:

P(E) = .064

Therefore:

P(O) =  1.0 – .064

P(O) = .936  (or rounded to one signigicant figure: .9)

Thus, with just three “clean” (having no special considerations casting doubt on them)  generic TREs as evidence, the probability that at least one of them is veridical (i.e. is the result of God actually being present) is high, about .9.

What if we had six clean generic TREs as our evidence?  The probability that EVERY one of the six TREs was non-veridical would be this:

.4 x .4 x .4 x .4 x .4 x .4

= .16 x .16 x .16

= .004096  [I will round number when calculation is completed.]

Therefore:

P(E) = .004096

P(O) = 1.0 – P(E)

Therefore:

P(O) = 1.0 – .004096

P(O) = .995904  ( or approximately: 1.0)

With just six clean generic TREs, the probability (based on the various assumptions above) that at least one of these TREs was veridical (i.e. the result of God actually being present during the experience) would be about .99, nearly 1.0,  nearly certain.

To be continued…

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 2

Richard Swinburne’s argument from religious experience (AFR) as given in The Existence of God (2nd ed.- hereafter: EOG) is based on three key epistemological  principles:

EXPERIENCE

…(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic)… (EOG, p. 303)

MEMORY

If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. (EOG, p.303)

TESTIMONY

…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 


There are some interesting issues and complexities involving probability calculations that I have run into recently in thinking about this argument.  Let’s start simple, and then work towards more complicated and realistic scenarios. The simple scenario  I have in mind is this:

Just one person has just one religious experience of a generic theistic sort (i.e. this person has an experience which seems (epistemicallly) to him or her to be an experience of the presence of God).  
What is the evidential force of this experience for that person who has the experience, given Swinburne’s principles?
If the person in question is having this religious exprience right now, then he or she does not need to make any assumptions about the reliability of his or her memory, nor is there a need to make use of testimony about the religious experiences of others, since we are assuming that there is just one religious experience on just this one occasion.  The reasoning of this person would go like this, based on Swinburne’s principle concerning experiences:
1. I am now having an experience in which it seems (epistemically) to me that God is present here and now.
2. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience.
3. In the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of this experience, if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic).
Therefore:
4. It is probably the case that God is present here and now.
One obvious “special consideration” against the veridicality of this religious experience is evidence against the existence of God.  Swinburne recognizes that this is relevant, and he has saved the argument from religious experience for the end of his case for God.  So, he thinks that he has already dealt with various reasons and arguments against the existence of God, including the problem of evil, and thinks he has shown that there is at least a significant probability that God exists, even taking negative evidence into account.   I interpret him to claim that the probability for the existence of God is between about .4 and .5 prior to consideration of AFR.
But Swinburne thinks that he only needs to show that the probability of God’s existence is something greater than “very low” prior to consideration of religious experience.  I interpret that to mean that he only needs to show that there is a probability of at least .2 (two chances in ten) that God exists, prior to consideration of AFR.
I’m not going to directly challenge the above reasoning that is based on a single instance of a theistic religious experience.  I’m more interested in looking at the issues that arise in more complicated scenarios.
One obvious complication is that religious experiences usually only last for a few seconds or a few minutes.  This means that the above reasoning will only be of temporary relevance to the person who had the religious experience.  Once the experience is gone, the person who had the experience must rely on a MEMORY of the experience to justify his or her current belief in God:
5. It seems (epistemically) to me that last Friday night, I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
 6. There are no special considerations that cast doubt on the  veridicality or reliability of my apparent memory of having had this experience last Friday night.
7. If it seems (epistemically) to a subject that he or she had a certain experience at a particular time in the past, then (in the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that apparent memory) he or she probably did have that experience at that particular time in the past.
Therefore:
8.  It is probably the case that last Friday night I had an experience which (at that time) seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.
The apparent memory does NOT absolutely guarantee that the experience really happened as one thinks it happened.  An apparent memory can only make it very probable that the experience happened and was of a certain character.  Furthermore, even at the very moment that the religious experience was occurring, the experience did not absolutely guarantee that God was in fact present; it only made the presence of God probable.  In remembering a religious experience, one makes two probable inferences.  The first probable inference is from the apparent memory to the occurrence of the religious experience, and the second probable inference is from the occurrence of the religious experience to the existence of God.  Each probable inference in a chain of inferences lowers the probability of the conclusion.
At the time I was having the religious experience, I could be very confident that I was having an experience which seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God.  So, at that time we could say that I was justifiably certain that I was having such an experience.  The probability that I was having such an experience could be said to be 1.0 for me at that time.  But that time has come and gone, and I can no longer be certain that I had that religious experience and that it was of the described character.
Suppose that given the apparent memory of having had a religious experience (of the sort described above), and given the absence of special considerations that cast doubt on the reliability of the apparent memory, the probable inference to the conclusion that the religious experience really occurred gives that conclusion a probability of .8.   That I am right now having an apparent memory of this event is something I can know with a very high degree of certainty, so let’s just say that the occurrence of the apparent memory is certain, that it has a probability of 1.0.  In this case, the conclusion that I had the religious experience (as described) last Friday night would be .8, based on the apparent memory of having had that experience.
If it were certain that I had an experience that seemed (epistemically) to me to be an experience of the presence of God, this would NOT make it certain that God exists, but if there are no special considerations that cast doubt on the veridicality or reliability of that expereince, then, according to Swinburne, I can justifiably infer that it is probable that the experience was veridical and thus that God probably exists.  Let’s suppose that given that it was certain that I had a religious experience of the sort described, this would make the probability of the  existence of God .8.  It is tempting at this point to reason along the lines of a hypothetical syllogism:
9. If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the memory), then that person probably did have a religious experience of the presence of God.
10.  If someone had a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that experience), then that person  probably was in fact in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
Therefore:
11.  If someone has an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God (and there are no special considerations casting doubt on that memory, and there are no special considerations casting doubt on the experience), then that person probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
From (11) we can form an argument for the probability that God exists, by adding a few premises:
12.  I have an apparent memory of a religious experience of the presence of God.
13.  There are no special considerations casting doubt on that apparent memory.
14. There are no special considerations casting doubt on that religious experience.
Therefore:
15.  I probably was in the presence of God and God probably does exist.
 
However, there are a couple of problems with the logic of the argument for (11).  First of all, the following is NOT a valid deductive argument:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
The concusion does not follow logically, because in a chain of probable inferences, the probability is reduced at each step.  Suppose that the truth of P made the probability of Q  equal to .6.  In that case, premise (16) would be true (if we interpret “probably” to mean having a probability greater than .5).  Suppose that the truth of Q makes the probability of R equal to .6.  In that case, premise (17) would be true. The truth of P would thus only make Q somewhat probable (.6), so we would not be certain that Q was true, and thus we would not be certain that premise (17) applies. There is only a probability of .6 that Q is the case, so only a probability of .6 that premise (17) applies.  Only if Q turns out to be true will the logic of premise (17) be activated.  Thus, we must multiply the probabilities of the two probable inferences:  .6  x .6 =  .36.    So, if P is the case, then this argument only supports the conclusion that the probability of R would be .36 , or rounding to one digit: .4.  But a probability of .4 is too low to justify the conclusion that R is “probably” true.  In order to conclude that R is “probably” true, one would need to show that the probability of R was greater than .5 (at the least).
Another way to put this point, is to note that this relationship (If X, then probably Y) is NOT transitive, as opposed to the similar sounding relationship If X, then Y, which is transitive.  In a chain of many implications or entailments, the strength of the logical connection does not weaken:
19. If P, then Q.
20. If Q, then R.
21. If R, then S.
22. If S, then T.
Therefore:
23. If P, then T.
The above reasoning is deductively valid.  The logical connection between P and T in the conclusion is just as strong as the logical connection between P and Q in premise (19).   Swinburne is very much aware of this basic logical point that distinguishes probable inferences from implications or entailments.
There is another problem or complexity involved in this argument form:
16. If P, then probably Q.
17. If Q, then probably R.
Therefore:
18. If P, then probably R.
With inductive reasoning, the probability of a claim or belief can change with new or additional evidence.  Thus, although P might well make Q probale in most circumstances, there are possible circumstances in which although P is the case, Q would definitely be false.  For example, suppose that you see that I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  You might reasonably infer that I am probably NOT poor. But if you learn that I have a part-time job as a driver for a wealthy business man, then your previous inference is cast into doubt.  I might well be poor, even though I frequently drive a late-model Mercedes-Benz sedan.  That is how inductive reasoning works.  New information can alter the probability of a claim or belief.
This means that in order for premises like (16) or (17) to be true, we must understand them to involve an unstated qualification: other things being equal.
16a. If P, then probably Q (other things being equal).
17a. If Q,then probably R (other things being equal).
Therefore:
18a. If P, then probably R (other things being equal).
In other words, probable inferences and inductive reasoning are always to be thought of as contextual, as referring to a certain collection of information or assumptions, and so there is always the possibility that new or additional information could alter the probabilities.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderSwinburne’s Argument from Religious Experience – Part 1

In The Existence of God (2nd edition, hereafter: EOG) , Richard Swinburne presents a careful and systematic case for the existence of God.  Eight of the arguments (that he considers to be significant) are presented as bits of empirical data each of which increases the probability of the hypothesis that God exists a bit (with the exception of the Problem of Evil, which he believes decreases the probability a bit).
These eight inductive arguments are supposed to make the hypothesis of the existence of God roughly a 50/50 proposition:
…it is something like as probable as not that theism is true, on the evidence so far considered.  However, so far in this chapter, I have ignored one crucial piece of evidence, the evidence from religious experience.  (EOG, p.341)
The argument from religious experience (hereafter: AFR) is supposed to put the hypothesis of theism over the top,  making the hypothesis probable, i.e. more probable than not:
…unless the probability of theism on other evidence is very low, the testimony of many witnesses to experiences apparently of God suffices to make many of those experiences probably veridical.    That is, the evidence of religious experience is in that case sufficient to make theism overall probable.  (EOG, p.341)
So long as the evidence from the nature of the universe and from the nature of human life (other than religious experiences of humans) is sufficient to make the probability of theism greater than ‘very low’ that is enough to get AFR off the ground and boost theism to being more probable than not, according to Swinburne.
AFR is based on three principles that are concerned with experience, memory, and testimony:
EXPERIENCE
…(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic)… (EOG, p. 303)
MEMORY
If it seems to a subject that in the past he perceived something  or did something, then (in the absence of special considerations), probably he did. (EOG, p.303)
TESTIMONY
…(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them. (EOG, p.322) 
Many people have on many occasions throughout human history have reported having had a religious experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to them that God was present.  Based on Swinburne’s principle concerning testimony, it is probable in each case (where there was an absence of special considerations concerning testimony) that the reported experience did occur,  and that in each of those cases the experience which seemed (epistemically) to to the subject that God was present (where there was an absence of special considerations) God was probably present.
In the Chapter in which Swinburne presents AFR,  various possible special considerations are reviewed and Swinburne argues that they do not work in general against religious experiences that seem to be of the presence of God.  The main question, from Swinburne’s point of view, is what the degree of probability the existence of God has based on other relevant evidence besides religious experiences.  If this probability is greater than ‘very low’, if the probability of the existence of God is, for example, low but not very low, then the evidence against the existence of God is insufficient to outweigh the force of religious experience.  Swinburne believes that the evidence for and against God, setting aside religious experiences, makes the existence of God about as probable as not.
Here is how I would put these claims in terms of numbers:
x has a very low probability  means P(x) is greater than 0 AND P(x) is less than .2
x has a low (but not very low) probability means P(x) is greater than or equal to .2  AND  P(x) is less than .4
x is about as probable as not means P(x) is greater than or equal to .4  AND  P(x) is less than .6
x is more probable than not means P(x) is greater than or equal to  .6
 
Let u be the evidence in the premises of the arguments from the nature of the universe.
Let h be the evidence in the premises of the arguments from the nature of human life (except for religious experiences).
Let r be the evidence of religious experiences (including testimony of alleged experiences that seemed to be of the presence of God).
Let g be the hypothesis that God exists.
Swinburne’s argument in EOG can be summarized this way:
1.   P(g|u & h)  ≥  .4  AND  P(g|u & h)  <  .6
2.  IF  P(g|u & h)    .2  THEN  P(g|u & h & r)  ≥  .6
Therefore:
3.  P(g|u & h & r)  .6
Premise (1) entails that P(g|u & h) is greater than .2 and thus that P(g|u & h) is greater than or equal to .2, which is the antecedent of the conditional claim in premise (2), so the conclusion is thus entailed by modus ponens.