Another fine comment:
Rich, I’m surprised to see you characterize the “proof from experience” position as “a standard liberal approach to faith.” It seems to me anything but. It’s closer to the evangelical approach (though I hasten to add that it has nothing at all to do with commonly perceived political stances of American evangelicals). It’s the approach that says, “I have known God in a personal way,” which renders the questions of existential proof academic. Where you might justifiably point to a parallel with liberal theology is in the belief that science and faith can coexist just fine….
The question of how to know if one is hearing God right is certainly a thorny one. The smart person applies many checks and balances, including the use of one’s own brainpower. After all, as someone said — Jesus came to take away our sins, not our minds.
I suppose I’m not experienced enough to be able to justify the word “standard.” But it’s Karen Armstrong’s approach (and conservatives consider her scarcely different from an atheist). And it’s the approach of the wonderful minister of the little Unitarian church I attend. And it seems to me to be the only approach that can survive the advances of science.
Of course, it’s an approach that atheists treat with dismissive scorn. As Hitchens put it, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” At least fundamentalists will engage on facts and evidence and philosophical argumentation. You say that Krauss’s argument is barking up the wrong tree. But what other tree should he be barking up? Is there any such tree?
There was a thread a while back on some blogs I follow about whether there was any conceivable evidence that could come to light that would convince an atheist that God exists. They were hard put to come up with anything, because a naturalistic explanation would always be available, and it would always be preferable (using Occam’s Razor) than a theistic explanation. But conversely, it seems clear that no evidence or explanation or argumentation would convince someone with a personal experience of God that God doesn’t exist — that the experience was just a pattern of neuronal firings, different in outcome but not in kind from any other pattern. So neither side has anything to say to the other….
But further, atheists would say that this approach empowers all religions, no matter how fanatical, because once you assert that religion exists in a realm outside reason and evidence, what is the standard for truth and falsity? Armstrong seems to believe that there is one truth, and all religions are different ways of perceiving that truth. So she gives religions a pass on the various atrocities committed in their names — these don’t represent the essential truth of religions. But how does she know what that truth is? How does she know which moral beliefs should be condemned and which should be supported? You use your brain power. But I have met many very smart Jesuits whose brain power leads them to different conclusions from yours. Who should I believe?
Anyway, go Patriots!