I’ve just finished reading The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (got to love summer!). There are a number of great points in here, but I liked this one sufficiently to share it. Basically, the author is talking about the argument for god’s existence (the Judeo-Christian-Muslim personal god) based on “mystical experience” or “sensing god’s presence”. The author of the chapter says,
“…whereas there are objective, agreed-upon tests for determining when a person’s sensory faculty is not functioning properly, there are no such tests for determining when a person’s mystical faculty is not functioning properly. Furthermore, there is no mystical analogue to a sensory observer being properly positioned in space, since God does not stand in any spatial relations. That there is no mystical analogue to normality of observer and circumstances results in a pernicious evidential assymetry in that the occurrence of mystical experiences is taken to be confirmatory, but the failure to have them, even when the mystical way of meditating, fasting, and the like is followed, is not taken as disconfirmatory. Thus the mystical agreement test is one that can be passed but not flunked, and thus is no test at all. It is like a “heads I win tails you lose” sort of con game.” (pp. 98-99)
If you’re like me and have to read this a dozen times to make sure you understand it, here’s my simplified version: (1) You can KNOW god exists through sensory experience. (2) You CAN NOT NOT KNOW god exists through sensory experience. (3) Thus, you can only know god exists through sensory experience. (4) If you can only confirm god’s existence and not disconfirm it, then this method is biased and not a particularly useful way of knowing anything.