Last month, I stated that belief in God is irrational. That got me wondering why I believe in God. How did I arrive at that conclusion? And why the Christian God instead of another? I concluded that my belief was rooted in personal experience of God's presence -- one that confirmed himself as the Christian God.
This struck me as empirical knowledge, so I wrote it in a short post. To this, Keith McIlwain replied:
You're assuming that personal experience is objective, but it is not.
One definition of "empirical" is, "capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment."
The existence of God is experienced by different people in different ways; some would say not at all. God's existence, while I personally believe it to be absolutely true, cannot be objectively verified (or disproved, much to the chagrin of atheists).
This is an incorrect definition of empiricism. What Keith is defining is the Scientific Method, which is a subset of empiricism, but not the entirety.
I think that knowledge exists in three kinds:
The first two I am labeling as "rationality". Now, assume Assertion A:
I saw Richard Hall run across my front lawn this morning wearing nothing but a smile.
Assertion A is not arrived at through formal logic. And it would only be arrived at by faith if, let us say, I said it to Dave Warnock and he believed it, although he did not witness the incident itself nor is familiar with Richard engaging in this activity. That leaves open only the possibility of empiricism. Under Keith's definition, it would only be empirical knowledge if I could verify it through observation and experimentation. But unless, like Jeff, one has a front lawn dotted with surveillance cameras and land mines, it will be impossible to verify Assertion A.
Yet the person who says Assertion A in full honesty nonetheless knows that it is true. It is not faith nor logic, so what kind of knowledge is it?
It is empiricism. What makes knowledge of an empirical nature is not that it can be verified, but that it has been experienced.
The following are empirical statements:
1. Water boils at 212 degrees.
2. Jonathon Norman has blue skin.
3. My dog just scratched himself.
4. An angel of the Lord appeared to me.
5. I love my wife.
Some of these can be verified through observation and experiment (1&2), but some cannot (3, 4&5). But even 1 and 2 are not known at first through observation and experiment. If this were not so, you would not be able to make these statements unless you had actually boiled water and examined Jonathon's skin under laboratory test conditions. Rather, we have either experienced the event ourselves or accepted the experiences of others (e.g. a science textbook).
Some of these statements are conducive to the level of verifiability of the Scientific Method, but all are empirical statements and are first known through experience. It is not even enough to say that they are known through sensory data. Statement 5, whether it is accurate or inaccurate (it is accurate), is nonetheless known.
Religious experiences are therefore, be they sensory or nonsensory, known. That is, they have been experienced. To those who have experienced them, the existence of that experience is undeniable. Religious experiences are thus empirical knowledge. This may not be sufficient reason for belief for anyone else (as my original argument proves), but it is sufficient reason for those who have experienced them.
1. Theism is rational for those who have had religious experiences.
2. Theism is irrational for those who have not had religious experiences.
Here is a more detailed explanation: