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Discussion 4 on Meditation 44
The value of testimony

By Tom Adam

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Reverend Rodger has an interesting viewpoint. He is correct in his estimation that the only convincing argument for religious belief is testimony. He is also correct that it is not an argument that can ever be used to sway an unbeliever. It cannot be used to sway an unbeliever for two reasons: it is NOT rational, though it is a rationale; eyewitness accounts (of events or emotional states) are of very little value.

In order for something to be rational, it must be able to follow the dictates of logic. Which, ultimately due to the nature of logic, means the experience must be measurable objectively. The basic premise of logic is that the world follows a reasonable structure. That is the only reason logic works. If the world did not, if it followed the dictates of subjectivity, if it were alterable by miracles and spirits, logic would not work. Anything that relies upon that is a negation of logic. It says that the world is not orderly and does not follow the dictates of logic. It is alterable by wish and whim. If this is true, there is no objective that cannot be overcome, and no logic that can stand. Religious testimony of miracles and emotional states is NOT rational; though often serve as arguments between theists and non-theist (even theists and other theists) which can never lead anywhere. We can never truly say to another person that they do not feel something. It is beyond the realm of human knowledge.

If we consider eyewitness testimony of religious events (of the miraculous nature, not the social) we have to follow the same bounds of evidence necessary in court. Any introductory psychology textbook gives a scathing criticism of eyewitness accounts of anything. Both in experiments and actual situations, eyewitnesses rarely recall a situation correctly, and no two recall the situation exactly the same. Human senses are faulty; human perception is faulty; human perceptions are organized into concepts by the premises we agree to, which may not be logical or objective. Given this, we must accept that eyewitness accounts (of anything) are nearly valueless without corroborating physical evidence. To the best of my knowledge, no ecstatic event has resulted in unequivocal eyewitness accounts (should more than one person have been exposed to it) and corroborating physical evidence that is inexplicable by any other means. I do not go so far as to say that scientific explanation is necessary of any evidence at this time, merely that the possibility of scientific explanation exists. If that possibility exists, the evidence is not concrete, and the item not a true “miracle,” as religious mean the word.