If someone told you that they watched a sunset last night, and that it had certain particular characteristics, would you prefer to accept their assertion that this was true, rather than calling them a liar? If you had spent some time talking to a person and you believe that they’re a thoughtful, honest, sane person, would you like to be able to, by default, accept their claims about their experiences? Most of us would like to think so. But how would we ascertain that they are thoughtful, honest and sane? If someone told you after experiencing a sunset that the sky looked a certain way and made them feel a certain way, does it have the same veracity as if someone told you that they experienced god and it made them feel a certain way? Are beliefs in supernaturalism equivalent in veracity to someone telling you about a sunset?
I don't think so for a number of reasons. One has the means to assess and evaluate the natural world. It is a world which even theists agree exists unless they wish to play the game of, "I am not sure of the existence of anything except the existence of a god." Because sunsets and sunrises are part of the natural world, we can all have similar experiences and thoughts concerning them. Most of us don't, for example, debate whether or not a sunset exists. It is accepted as part of the natural world. We know about the pattern of the sun's movements and the earth's relationship to it. We know that the sun will appear to set at a time which is comparable to our position on the earth. We know many thngs about sunsets that do not put their existence into question. We know that visual displays of this kind can elicit a variety of emotional responses and that these emotional responses are influenced by the experiences of the person who is viewing the sunset. But through all of this, people agree that they are seeing and experiencing something which is part of the natural world.
So, if you said to me after you had viewed a sunset, even if I wasn't present at the time - "That sunset reminded me of my Great Aunt Mabel's cardigan." And if a tear welled in your eye as you remembered Great Aunt Mabel, I wouldn't consider that to be an odd or a potentially unbelievable statement.
It would be believable EVEN if it WASN'T TRUE because:-
- 1. I know that great aunts exist or have existed.
- 2. I know that sunsets exist.
- 3. I know that cardigans exist.
- 4. I know that the majority of people have memory. (Even if that memory is not accurate.)
- 5. I know that visual and auditory stimulation can trigger a memory response.(Even if the memory triggered isn't accurate.)
- 6. I know that memories can have an emotional component.
- 7. I know that tears exist.
So, as I have a large amount of information concerning the natural world, your experience of the sunset is believable EVEN if it isn't true.
If it ISN'T TRUE, it hardly makes a difference unless you are using it as a tool to elicit sympathy in hopes of a quick shag. It makes very little difference whether it is true or not, as you are not requiring me to worship the sunset, pray to the sunset, get naked and dance while the sun sets, provide food offerings to the sunset to keep it happy, or give money to the "Relief of Sad Sunsets Fund." So, it doesn't matter to me or to anyone else if your experience of the sunset is true or not, even if it is believable.
Let's take it a little bit further. You recount your experiences of the sunset with a few added extras. You also add that while you were staring at the sunset, you heard Great Aunt Mabel's voice boom out from the sky " I love you and I want you to make sure that everyone wears red because it is my favourite colour."
At about this stage of your recounting of the sunset and your emotional and psychological responses to it, I am beginning to have some serious doubts about the veracity of your claim. So, I ask you if perhaps you just imagined Great Aunt Mabel's voice in your head. You agree that this might be so, but that it is a revelation, a sign from Great Aunt Mabel and you will do your utmost to make sure her wishes are carried out.
I then ask if you are going to demand that I wear red also. Your reply is that of course I must wear red and not only that, I should be part of a mission to make sure that EVERYONE wears red to honor Great Aunt Mabel and her great red cardigan which is evidenced by the existence of the great red sunset. You then go on to claim that the reason that the sunset isn't as red as it was yesterday, is because Great Aunt Mabel is sad because I am not wearing a red cardigan. That, in fact, if I don't comply with the demands of Great Aunt Mabel, and don't wear a cardigan or a cardigan which is red, I will be sorry and will never be able to join Great Aunt Mabel in the sunset where everyone is happy and content for eternity in their red cardigans.
My lack of compliance in this regard, (not wearing a red cardigan and not telling others to wear a red cardigan), is in fact dooming a whole lot of people to an afterlife which is bereft of Great Aunt Mabel and her multitudinous goodness and red cardigan comfiness. You also claim that Great Aunt Mabel told you that if you hear any other voices in the sky or in your head that you are to ignore them, and only listen to her instructions.
Now consider a guy called Abraham on a mountain somewhere. He may also be looking at a sunset, or he might be twiddling his thumbs or something else for that matter. I don't know. He claims to hear a big booming voice, either in his head, or emmanating from the sky. This voice is telling him that all the male members of his tribe must chop a bit of their penis off. He claims that not only is this true, but that all males of his tribe must have this done with no exceptions. The voice in the sky, or in his head, tells Abraham that those who are not prepared to sacrifice a bit of penis to him, will not be considered part of the tribe and the benefits that he can bestow upon the tribe will NOT come their way. In fact, they will no longer be special and they will have no chance of meeting him in the sky later on to live in happiness forever.
From my position, both sets of claims are equally unbelievable, but from a supernatural worldview, both sets of claims should be equally believable. If you choose to believe one above the other, it isn't because the claims are markedly different.
Your experiences of the sunset have very little impact upon my life UNLESS as part of your experience, you insist that I too will share the same emotional or psychological experience if I view the sunset with you. Or if you insist that I worship the sunset with you because you adored your Great Aunt.
So it is with Abraham's experiences on the mountain and with whatever god belief you may have. What you believe about a god or gods makes absolutely no difference or impact upon my life UNTIL you insist that what you are experiencing is true, whether I accept it as true or not. And that coupled with this insistence that it is true, that everyone, including myself, must comply. That all laws must comply with your god belief and that all people must obey the laws of this faith, regardless of whether I believe in the existence of said god in the first place.
In other words, once you insist that we all must wear "red cardigans because god told you so", I reserve the right to consider that: -
- 1. You might not be honest.
- 2. You might not be thoughtful.
- 3. And/or you might not be sane.
On that basis, I reserve the right not to agree and not to comply.
sunset, naturalism , supernaturalism , god , veracity , truth , parable , religion
ADDENDUM: - Supernaturalists have no consistent methodology with which to test the veracity of supernatural claims. Therefore, they are in the position where they either have to accept all supernatural claims as being true, or they choose to accept specific supernatural claims based on their individual predilections.
The Cardigans - "My Favourite Game"