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Is it ever rational or justified to believe in supernaturalism on the basis of private experiences (of the kind for which publicly accesible evidence can hardly be produced)? If someone has private experiences that make supernaturalism self-evident to them (just like the physical is self-evident to everyone else), is it rational for that person to believe in supernaturalism?


Additional comments

The idea that an experience (or a set of experiences) can warrant belief in something extraordinary is closely related to Alvin Plantinga's concept of properly basic belief. See What makes a basic belief a properly basic belief?, Properly basic belief in God?.

Another important related discussion is whether our private experiences require external (public) validation/corroboration, for example, via intersubjective agreement. See To what extent is intersubjective agreement required for one to be justified in trusting one's own subjective experiences?

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    We can still be critical about our paranormal experiences: we can remain open to the possibility of hallucinations of our paranormal-perception capacity (though we would grant the background), or we might critique the natural/supernatural distinction, etc. Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 22:04
  • Just dropping by to point out that if physicalism is self-evident to everyone in your social circle, or even a large minority of your social circle, you have a very, very rare and almost certainly strictly curated social circle.
    – g s
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 4:08
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    Perhaps, but "private experiences" characterization is so vague that it contributes next to nothing to deciding the answer. It will entirely depend on what other characteristics those "private experiences" have. If they are "private" in Wittgenstein's sense of the word, for example, then not only are they incapable of supporting rational beliefs, but even their intelligibility is questionable. Even "self-evidence" is too vague. Psychological conviction even combined with Cartesian "clarity" is not enough, as Descartes's example shows.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 4:32
  • @Conifold You seem to have good points. Would you mind turning your comment into an answer?
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 5:20
  • @gs I didn't say that "physicalism" is self-evident. I said that "the physical" is self-evident (for pretty much everyone). Even people who believe in the supernatural grant that the physical realm exists (it's just that they also believe the supernatural exists, as the two are not mutually exclusive).
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 5:22

6 Answers 6

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It is important to discriminate between certainty and knowledge. Certainty is a subjective feeling, which can be highly convincing for oneself. Knowledge requires the ability to give supporting arguments which can be communicated to and discussed with other people.

As a consequence, it is not rational or justified to believe in supernaturalism only(!) on the basis of private experiences.

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  • as someone who is prone to psychosis and has had religious intyerests, i feel lol this is a really good answer
    – user67675
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 23:47
  • What would an argument supporting a private experience of the supernatural look like?
    – Mark
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 0:30
  • @Mark Example of transmigration in Hindu or Buddhist context. If a child claims to be his own reborn grandfather who died some time before his birth: A supporting argument would be the precise retelling of the biography of the grandfather.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 6:35
  • Subjects report their private experiences and interpret the reports of others only in the context of private experiences. Everything is mystical in origin. Commented Mar 2 at 0:44
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Is it ever rational or justified to believe in the supernatural on the basis of private experiences (of the kind for which publicly accessible evidence can hardly be produced)?

Anyone who is utterly unaware of both

  1. the degree to which our cognition results from our extremely unreliable psychological mechanisms and
  2. the very large number of occasions in history in which ascriptions to the supernatural have in time been shown to be at least unnecessary and sometimes downright intellectually derelict

couldn't exactly be blamed for interpreting those experiences as having supernatural causes.

But if one sincerely explores and tests the validity of such interpretations in the light of what 21st-century science tells us about the myriad ways that our minds mislead, misinform, and deceive us, one cannot rationally maintain that those subjective, internal experiences--no matter how compelling, and that's important--are anything like sufficient to establish that claims of the supernatural are veridical.

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There can't be a black and white answer. It depends on the nature of the statement believed, your standards of justification, and whether you judge they have been met. For example, millions of people might accept that a belief in god is rational, while other millions of people might not. If you had a spiritual experience that led you to believe you should give ten percent of your money to charity, I might consider that rational, but if it led you to believe that other people were shape-shifting lizards, I might not.

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Well, some things are meant to be subjective ; no-one can tell you whether your love for someone is rational or not; love is supernatural after all, perhaps life too. It's what YOU believe that counts at the end.


In fact physics has become supernatural too : particles appear out of nowhere and dissolve into nothingness.

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    Virtual particles are objective in that everybody knowledgeable enough to calculate their contribution in a given scenario will agree on the answer.
    – sdenham
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 15:07
  • @sdenham, I start with the assumptiuon that when he speaks of "private supernatural experiences" he means that other people being present in these experiences would experience the supernatural too; otherwise we are talking about a mental disposition, so about psychology and not philosophy. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 12:38
  • @sdenham, I agree that the contribution is agreed upon, but only that, nothing else. In the same way the supernatural experience (phenomena) is self-evident to the participants, as the question says. Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 12:41
  • If 'love' is a transcendental signified and as such transcends pigeonholing then it is essentially indeterminate, which is fine to believe. If it is solidified into a simple concept to make it more apprehensible that is where belief can go astray. Commented Jan 25 at 10:18
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OP: Is it ever rational or justified to believe in supernaturalism on the basis of private experiences (of the kind for which publicly accesible evidence can hardly be produced)?

I don't see a problem with that. Consensus reality and orthodox scientific theory make what is considered "natural", and there is no doubt that that does not cover every possibility. A problem only arises if the "unknown" is solidified into a specific idea. If it remains unconditioned there is no problem. By definition, an unexplainable experience is not amenable to rationalisation; its basis is unconditioned and should remain so.

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As your question and details stand...

The answer is... No. Absolutely not justified. And you show every sign of being a victim, and a tool of Christianity. A troll, who is innocent and unrealizing. Attempting to bring attention (unjustified) to the Christian God, by pretending to wonder whether belief in the Christian God is justified.

This is not an accusation. I believe you innocent. Caught in the trap, unawares.

I may be wrong. Here is how you can improve your question and details...

  • Explain the leap. Provide details of your "private" and "personal" experiences. (Which as Christians would want, you are now making public, non-private, non-personal).

Because. I might be wrong. Perhaps God, with beard and robes, in person, the Christian God, and say unto you, your personal self... "I AM GOD". Or in some other way name himself to you personally.

Otherwise...

  • The leap

Do you see the bait and switch that you pulled? You started of fuzzily...

  1. Can private experiences justify private belief in supernaturalism?
  2. Is it ever rational or justified to believe in supernaturalism on the basis of private experiences (of the kind for which publicly accesible evidence can hardly be produced)?
  3. If someone has private experiences that make supernaturalism self-evident to them (just like the physical is self-evident to everyone else), is it rational for that person to believe in supernaturalism?

But then, look who showed up, otherwise unnannounced, and uninvited... Good old grey-beard Himself with a capital G.

The G-O-D leap

Not, I will point out, Posiedon, God of the Seas. Not Thor, God of Thunder.

Not my personal favourite...

Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec and Mayan creator god, who was also the patron of rain, science, agriculture, and much more. His name means Feathered Serpent in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and he was depicted as a combination of the green quetzal bird and a serpent.

Quetzalcoatl the CREATOR GOD

If you edit your details, and explain the mystery leap, that sure seems like "implantation and manipulated belief by suggestion" that you are a victim of. And now a pawn of some church wanting you to "spread the word"... and you don't even know it.

(It's ok, like the kid in 6th Sense says... "I see them everywhere... and they don't even know it".)

Again. I could be wrong... and my downvote could be turned upside down, like a frown... to an upvote, if you provide the details that explain the leap.

Otherwise... aren't you in violation of denying the existence of Quetzy, the True Creator God?

Who named "your" "personal private experience"? Did your experience name itself? Or did the Christians get to you? Implant. Steal your ability to think and reason on your own behalf and draw your own conclusions without their suggestions and their "help" with "your" thinking?

Currently... NOT JUSTIFIED. The flaw, is the leap to naming, that which seems extremely unlikely to have named itself.

The invitation to correct the flaw stands. One must be fair when dishing out justifications.

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  • Given your interest in answering this sort of questions, I think it would be insightful to hear your thoughts on this related question as well. Regarding illustrative examples of personal experiences, if you have some popcorn at hand to grab, 3 hours to spare and lots of interest in phenomenological details, feel free to watch this video. Alternatively, if you only have about 1 hour to spare, feel free to choose between this one and this one.
    – Mark
    Commented Mar 1 at 16:35
  • I appreciate the offer of reading material. But no thank you. I have no questions. And certainly none to which the answer is someones make-believe god. Besides... this is a question and answer site.... if I had a question, I could very easily ask it to the many. Commented Mar 1 at 16:49

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