Science, Religion, and Subjective Evidence

Five Creation Books from EnergionIn our informal series of books on issues related to creation we’ve discussed how creation is represented in scripture, how one goes about forming a doctrine of creation that is truly Christian, and how someone who accepts evolution might reflect his in worship. Soon we will have a volume on how our understanding of God as creator impacts our lives now, and finally we’ll have a volume that talks about the basic science one needs to know about origins in order to understand the debates on the topic.

Chris Eyre is one of our editors working out of the UK. He’s been working on editing the manuscript for Creation in Contemporary Experience, which is coming soon. He posted something today regarding science and religion, and the nature of internal or subjective evidence. Where does our experience stand as evidence? (Note that, as a good editor, he does not cite this forthcoming book in his post, but it is closely related.)

In discussing such concepts of God as “ground of all being,” for example, he notes:

They also, from my perspective, fail to explain all of the evidence, as they do not give any real insight into the mystical experience, the direct unmediated experience of God, which I take as a piece of evidence, as I mentioned above. They do have a transcendent aspect, which is singularly lacking in scientific materialism, and which is well harmonised with immanence of a sort, but it is a vastly impersonal immanence. The mystical experience is in my experience a vastly personal one, and I don’t find this reflected in “ground of all being” or “being itself” theologies, nor in the extremes of the God-of-absence of, for instance, Peter Rollins.

I need something which at least explains the mystical experience as I have experienced it, which accounts for the evidence (albeit entirely personal) I have. …

In his recent book Philosophy for Believers, Edward W. H. Vick occupies an entire chapter (6: Experience and God) on this topic. In this paragraph I hear a reflection of Chris’s discussion:

For the theist the question of God is involved when the question
of the purpose of existence is raised. At such point in our lives
we may be faced with the question of the meaning of the whole,
when ‘openings into the depths of life’ lead us to ask about the
ground and goal of our existence. (p. 112)

So what do you think? Is experience valid evidence? If so, does it operate only for the person who experiences, or can that evidence be shared?

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Chris Eyre
Chris Eyre

I can’t see how my experience is not valid evidence *for me*, but it’s unlikely to be valid evidence for someone else by itself. A large body of anecdotal evidence like mine might be valid evidence, but I haven’t a large body to offer. It would be a different matter if I could point to a set of actions which would enable someone to have the same experience themselves, I think, but the nearest I can get to that is to point to a set of actions which I believe (on balance) encourage (rather than guarantee) repetition of this kind… Read more »