Theo: Well, I know the holy book is true because…here, I saw a top ten list for this once; let me find it real quick.
Art: Feel free to. But let me ask you something. Was there ever a time when you didn’t believe in the holy book for very good reasons? Maybe when you were young it was just because of your parents until you matured a bit?
Theo: Well, sure, no child is born with a knowledge of all the reasons the holy book is true.
Art: Naturally. When did you first personally determine that the holy book was true?
Theo: There was a time I realized I’d never actually wondered if the holy book was true. But as I kept reading it and hearing from it, I felt for myself that it was. God spoke to me through that book. That was the first time I knew it was true.
Art: And was it before or after that you read those ten reasons it was true?
Theo: After. Years later.
Art: So, it would be fair to say that whatever the ten reasons are, they aren’t the actual reasons you came to believe in the holy book.
Theo: Well, yes.
Art: Instead it was your own experience with the book. Your spiritual experience with it.
Theo: Oh, there have been many such experiences since then. I have tested and proven the holy book many times, and it has consistently guided me closer to God. I have felt its truth as surely as I have felt the wind. It’s really like another sense, sometimes called seeing by the eyes of faith. I could no more doubt it than I doubt what I can feel right now with my hands.
Art: That’s fine. It is well spoken, too, I might add. Now, let me tell you about a device I have. It’s guaranteed to beep for all winning lottery tickets. Do you want one?
Theo: Err…this is an example, right?
Art: Yes, yes, yes. But supposing, would you want one?
Theo: Well, yeah, that’d definitely come in handy.
Art: Now, as it turns out, I can actually get you such a device, if you like. There’s just this one extra detail you might care about. The device also beeps for losing lottery tickets.
Art: Yes, it is useless.
Theo: I can’t wait to see where this is going.
Art: The lottery tickets represent hypotheses. Some are true, some are false, and it’s hard to know which is which. We use tests that tell us which ones are right. The beeping device represents the tests. But if the tests say “yes” for the true and the false hypotheses, it’s a useless test, just like the device that beeps for “true” and for “false” tickets is no good for finding which tickets are true.
Theo: Okay. So?
Art: Well, you came to believe in the holy book by the spiritual experiences you had, no? Can you generalize the principle for me?
Theo: Well, I guess what I’m saying is that when God is communicating to you that something is true, it is true. God communicated to me the truth of the holy book, for example, when I felt His influence as I read it.
Art: It is well done, thank you. Now, I want to Distinguish Between Observation and Inference. You have personally observed the feelings you’re calling the communication of God. But that those feelings come from a supernatural influence, and more specifically, from a specific kind of supernatural influence, is an inference, not an observation.
Theo: What difference does it make?
Art: Well, we can usually be more certain about observations than about inferences. The inference is based on the observation, so if the observation is wrong, the inference will be, too. But you can get the observation right, and then still reason to the wrong inference. So, there’re more opportunities to get inferences wrong.
Suppose you see a hole in your jeans. You can be very sure about the existence of the hole, but you can’t be sure about the cause. You might infer that your jeans caught on something, but you could be either wrong or right. There are always other possibilities, maybe a bad run in the wash or a secretive act of revenge by an offended acquaintance.
Theo: That seems very unlikely, though
Art: Don’t lose track of the principle, though. Distinguish Between Observation and Inference. You observe spiritual feelings, and you infer that it’s your God. With that in mind, would it be fair to reword your Generalized Principle “when God is communicating to you that something is true, it is true,” as instead: “When you feel that God is communicating something to you, it is true.”
Theo: It’s the same thing either way. “Feeling God is communicating with you” only happens when God is communicating with you.
Art: Well. Now that we’ve Distinguished Between Observation and Inference, and used it to reword our Generalized Principle, let’s apply the principle of the Useless Test, like the device that beeps for winning and losing tickets alike.
Theo: *Sigh* Go on, then.
Art: Your hypothesis is that your spiritual feelings are caused by God. Suppose the Null Hypothesis is that those feelings come from something else. Now, what test are you using to know which of these is true?
Art: Did you not say that you could feel that it was God communicating with you?
Theo: Yes, that’s right. The message comes with its own identification.
Art: So you “hear,” so to speak, the message of God, which says, more or less, “This holy book is true, and this message is from God.”
Theo: I suppose that’s more or less it.
Art: So when you feel/hear that message, how do you know it’s true?
Theo: Well, because God said so.
Art: And you know it’s God saying so because the message says so, no? But how do you know that the message is true?
Theo: God always tells the truth.
Art: And how do you know that?
Theo: The holy books says so.
Art: And how do you know the holy book is true?
Theo: Well, I had all these reasons, but you didn’t want to hear them before.
Art: But I thought you said the first time you believed in the holy book for yourself was because of the spiritual experiences you had with it.
Theo: Yes, but I learned a lot more since then. There are many proofs that the holy book is true.
Art: Well, let’s move on to them, them. I hope you will not take offense if I put “Spiritual experiences are from God” as a claim without a proof behind it for now, maybe something else is causing them. We can come back to it later if you think of one.
So, to be clear, so far we have:
because the holy book says so
Which is true because of spiritual experiences
But we don’t know how to show that those are reliable (to return to later)
So without proving the holy book by spiritual experiences, we’ll need to prove it by other means if we want to use the holy book to prove that God exists.
But even if we can’t do that, you’ve already mentioned a way to prove God without the holy book: that there couldn’t be anything in existence without God to create it.
And if both of those were to fail, there might be other ways to prove God that we haven’t yet talked about.
But Sticking to the Issue at hand, how else do you prove that the holy book is true?
Theo: Okay, right, here’s my list…The first reason is…
To be continued
Distinguish Between Observation and Inference – We observe things through our senses. We infer the origins of those observations. If we get our observations wrong, then our inferences will be wrong because they’re based on the observations. If we get the observations right, we could still get the inference wrong, like if we think our cookies are gone because someone broke into our house and stole them, when it was really something else, like a family member eating them.
Null Hypothesis – Whenever you think you have an explanation for how something happened, that’s a hypothesis. The “Null Hypothesis” is the opposite hypothesis, which says that something, anything but your hypothesis is the real explanation.
Useless Test – A test which gives the same answers for both the hypothesis and the null hypothesis doesn’t help us know which of the two is the right one. Thus, it’s not enough to say that a test says your hypothesis is right unless it also doesn’t say that the null hypothesis is also right.