As I'd mentioned yesterday I want to discuss LDS epistemology. Rather than make one single monolithic argument I'll try and do this in a more dialogical nature. I want to address both those critics of LDS claims of knowledge from our fellow Christians as well as those from more of the atheistic or agnostic camp. (Who I think definitely have the stronger stance) To start with, allow me to address some of the points Victor over at the Dangerous Idea raised. I'm probably not going to engage too strongly with his claims that the resurrection is, from historical documents alone, justified. That seems pretty implausible for the reasons various people have pointed out in the comments. I just don't think Christians arguing that the NT establishes much have terribly strong responses for the skeptic.
The first obvious question in an LDS context with applied epistemology is the nature of the Book of Mormon. Now I personally think that many of the arguments against the historicity of the Book of Mormon by critics are pretty weak. So I'll skip the Spaulding theories and so forth. But there are some arguments that are reasonably strong. Those are mainly problems such as claims of horses and swords in the Book of Mormon whereas most of the evidence in archaeology suggests that there are no pre-Columbian horses during the period claimed for the Book of Mormon and no swords matching the description of the Book of Mormon. Apologists have counter-claims to this. For instance Sorenson speaking on horses notes that the word horse was applied by the early Spaniards to animals that weren't horses. Thus he argues that this is an artifact of translation. Others simply suggest that evidence for horses hasn't been found but that doesn't entail there weren't horses, often appealing to a similar lack of elephants for Hannibal or other historic claims without archaeological evidence. These are primarily apologetic moves though. Demonstrating why one can rationally believe in Book of Mormon historicity without really demonstrating that there are persuasive counter-arguments.
So allow me to be completely up front and say that I think any honest inquirer can not neglect such facts. That might shock some, but allow me to explain.
For any claim there will be arguments for and against. Even in science there are often what science calls outlayers in the data. Typically the scientist will, if there is other evidence sufficiently strong, discount such data. Please note that this is not simply ignoring such data. If the data falsifies a claim then it simply can't be so discounted. (Thus, for example, I think scientific data overwhelmingly falsifies most literalist readings of the early chapters of Genesis) This is where Book of Mormon apologetics is valuable. Say what you will about the strength and persuasiveness of such arguments, but they don't rise to the level of falsifying the Book of Mormon.
So one is going to have to deal with all the evidence one can. One can't simply discount evidence without reason. It has to all be dealt with. So let's turn to what, for Mormons, is considered the most persuasive and valuable evidence: revelation.
First let's dispel a favorite canard of critics. "Burning in the Bosom" is not the experience Mormons mean by the spirit or Holy Ghost. That's a frequent description of what one might call an aspect of the phenomena. But no Mormon ever claims it is a total description of the experience. It is more a referring description to help identify it to those who may have had similar experiences. Now I think this is poor communication by many Mormons. If, for no other reason than not everyone has the same aspects of the underlying phenomena. Much like the feeling of being in love isn't manifest the same in all people even though probably we can all identify the phenomena of being in love.
Central to the Mormon claim though is that the spirit is an actual real phenomena and that this experience of the divine grounds in some way Mormon ways of knowing.
I certainly agree that there are special aspects to revelation that make it necessary to treat specially. So while some Mormons say knowledge through revelation is not special in an epistemological sense I probably disagree. It seems to me there is the general or most broad case of epistemology. Presumably most Mormon philosophers who consider the issue of the epistemology of revelation tend to already have beliefs regarding the foundations of epistemology and merely apply it to the problem revelation. (I admit I do that with my more pragmatic approach) Some probably are biased somewhat by their theological commitments. I know there are a few Plantinga like externalists who may well be doing that. (I'm not sure Dennis did, but I confess I'm not sure of his motivations for following Alston)
It does seem that in the more *particular* issue of applied epistemology that revelation offers unique problems. For one it isn't public the way most forms of knowledge are. It also isn't "sensory" in the usual sense of the term. Of course not all knowledge can be deemed public. Look at the crucial role of memory in knowledge. (Something all too often ignored by a vague appeal to "accessible justification.") And of course memory is often taken as allegorical to revelation.
The difficulty is that memory is something we use every day and is thus very well tested. Further we make distinctions between kinds of memory. (Perhaps not as many as the neuroscientist or cognitive scientist would assert we should - but we distinguish between short term memory and long term memory, memory of faces and memory of names or dates, and so forth)
Yet during a religious experience we typically claim that the inquirer knows early on. This is thus quite different from memory since we've used and practiced it through our childhood development before people start making significant knowledge claims.
So while there obviously will be connections to our general ways of knowing it seems that there are some very unique features. So I think to merely say it isn't a special case avoids what is very special about it.
More particularly in the applied case, even if there is nothing special about it how do we identify it as divine given that we don't have everyday sensory encounters with the divine so as to compare our predictions of divinity against something more "objective" (meaning open to the senses and to other inquirers in an openly repeatable fashion) We have what is at its basis is a kind of inconsistent linguistic communication but where the ground or source of the communication is not open for investigation through other means. (Either in terms of the class of entities or particular entity - unlike say an email with a person I've never met)
Now I think I have answers for many of these issues, but I think we err if we discount the problems and special nature of things too offhandedly.
While its probably not the intellectual interaction you were seeking, I love the picture you put at the beginning...
"And please keep my family's tummies filled with goodies and yum-yums..."
Actually your views would be most interesting since you are familiar with the issues, claim to have had religious experiences and have since reinterpreted them. As I said I think that ultimately the Mormon-Evangelical debate isn't that interesting. I find the Mormon-Atheist one much more fascinating.
Now I think I have answers for many of these issues...
I hope you plan to elaborate.
I find the Mormon-Atheist one much more fascinating.
So do I, and I think it is an important front. I will admit that I don't know much about our missionary approach in other nations, but it seems to me that our missionary efforts in the U.S. are mostly aimed at Christians. We're going for the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. And I suppose that as long as we have success that it will stay that way.
I think we (as a group) are unprepared to seriously deal with atheists.
Wow, Clark-- there's a lot of meat here to digest.
Let me try to address a few points, from my on particular (non-Mormon, atheist) point of view:
First, regarding the "falsifiability" of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I think we need to start by bracketing the content of the Book itself. The particular historical claims made are secondary to the fact that they are made based on a claim of revelation instead of research. I could claim that it has been revealed to me that zebras once roamed Norway, and you'd have a hard time refuting it, and if you did, I could always offer up apologetics. It's a no-win game-- anyone with a belief in the validity of my revelation is not going to be swayed by mere facts, and vice versa.
Next, on to the experience of "burning in the bosom". I see why you used the example of love for your wife earlier, and I believe my criticism stands-- I'd argue that the experience of burning in the bosom (whatever particular experience that stands for) is, in essence, a feeling, much like the feeling of love for a wife, or a toothache. The phenomena itself can't be doubted (except hyperbolically, of course)-- but what can be questioned is what the phenomena refers to.
Put another way: one who experiences "burning in the bosom", or hears the voice of God, or sees an angel (to take a few examples) definitely experiences something. One would be a fool to say to such a person "you didn't experience/hear/see anything". But what one can question is whether the attribution of the source/i> of the phenomena is correct-- in other words, is it actually the voice of God, or an auditory hallucination?
So, to get to your bottom point, which I completely agree with: revelation has to be viewed as a special case, for precisely the reason you identify: "we don't have everyday sensory encounters with the divine".
And, as one who personally rejects the category of the supernatural, I can't imagine any kind of experience I could have that I would attribute to a divine source. If Vishnu came down to me in a flaming chariot, I'd just chalk it up to an acid flashback, or incipient schizophrenia. I honestly can't imagine a case where a deity would be a more reasonable explanation to me than a chemical imbalance or psychiatric disorder.
Naturally, there are many (including, presumably, you) who disagree with this assessment, and choose to interpret these phenomena differently. The interesting question for me (which you tantalizingly claim to have an answer for) is: if the "ground or source of the communication is not open for investigation through other means", by what epistemological sleight-of-hand can we justify the supernatural interpretation as the most parsimonious, and not fall into the trap of Russell's teapot?
Oops, I've got a broken closing italic tag there. Feel free to fix it, if you can.
Clark, I find it interesting that you appeared to address the lack of historical evidence for the Book of Mormon, but then glibbly mentioned two issues and then offered a weak counter-argument and happily moved on.
Then you once again fell into the trap of offering up subjective experiences as supposedly a valid epistemological proof. And I have notice you are prone to toss out that work "weak" to describe other's points of view, without offering any strong proof yourself.
Experience, okay, let's take the case of the prophet Mohammed. He encountered revelations from an angel, similiar to Joseph Smith, received a revelation that caused an emotional reaction, similiar to Joseph Smith. We have Mohammed's revelation in the Koran as we have Joesph Smith's in the book of Mormon. Since experience is presented as a valid arbiter of truth, then if one follows your argument, one must declare Mohammed's experience a valid one. How do we determine which is the true one, Smith or Mohammed? For may money given that choice I would have to choose the Koran as the more historically accurate.
On "Relevant Alternatives":
Clark, do you think that the problem of grounding claims about religious knowledge is importantly different from the problem of grounding claims about the external world? Because if the proponent of revelation is up against the same sort of skeptical moves that the proponent of the external world has to face, it doesn't seem to me that there's much hope of an independent proof.
What I'm thinking is that generally a proof of our knowledge of the external world will only be convincing within a larger philosophical system. To what extent are the philosophical systems that allow for 'revelation' in their epistemology compatible with, say, more naturalistic philosophical systems?
Re-write, and then more importantly, re-read, re-think, re-read and then re-write again. Then again. The lot. Then again.
Don´t be too discouraged. This is not so bad for a freshman paper. The grade is a strong "C." (upper case)
My office hours are from 2 to 4, afternoon, if you wish to discuss.
Sorry for the delay folks. A few answers and then hopefully (if I have time) more thoughtful ones tomorrow. (Probably in a separate post)
Jared (#3), I hate to say it but I don't think our missionary efforts are particularly well done at all. (OK, tangent alert) I'm not up on the details of the latest changes but certainly what was done through the 90's was targeting what one could call "low hanging fruit" in general, although I don't think that necessarily just entails those already Christian of some sort. Most of my converts weren't particularly religious and thus didn't have really strong commitments to anything although most accepted some vague sense of God.
Realistically you have a bunch of largely uneducated and naive 19 and 20 year olds teaching off of fairly simple lessons - and less organized now with the recent changes. I think to go beyond the "low hanging fruit" as you call it one has to deal with regular lay members doing the work. I just don't think it really fair to expect 19 year olds to be more sophisticated in their approaches.
Michael (#4) What you describe is why I think the description of "burning in the bosom" is so unhelpful. It's a short hand terminology for communication within the LDS community but is fundamentally misleading in these sorts of discussions. Partially this is for the reason you mention. The discussion tends to focus in on the feeling aspect of the phenomena and ignore the content aspects.
To use an analogy when I have the phenomena of sitting on a chair there isn't just the "feel" of it. I experience sitting on the chair as sitting (with all the content that contains wrapped up in practices, expectations, communities and so forth) on (with the sense of distance and relationships) a chair (with the sense of what a chair is). That is all phenomena involves content. There's never, as with say the empiricists, merely pure sense data that is then interpreted. I'm already already engaged in the content-giving.
Now I know you'd probably agree with that. I just bring it up to illustrate what I see as the problem in how one discusses the issue at hand. A discussion we're only doing the preliminaries for.
I should add as a secondary point, but one that I find important, that I reject the very notion of the supernatural. That is while I may reject most conceptions of physicalism (which to me typically end up being an unhelpful kind of nominalism) I don't believe in the kind of "other world" often brought in when discussions of the supernatural are invoked. It's all natural to me, whatever nature is. There's only one "ultimate" world and God is as much a part of it as we are.
Aquinas (#6) I'm just setting up the methadologies. I don't think debating the particulars of Book of Mormon apologetics is ultimately that interesting. I used to enjoy it years ago. But I think I recognize that most people interested in debating it aren't really interested in a true discussion. Further what guides the debates are the preconceptions about method and reality. Unless those are discussed and brought into the open the other debates are typically pointless. (IMO) Lots of heat with little inquiry. And inquiry is ultimately what is of interest. Thus my turn to the underlying philosophical debate.
As to "how do we know" what I'm suggesting is that objectively (in the loose sense of the term) we can't know which revelation is right. One is logically forced to adopt the position Michael does and simply reject all that is not, as a class, open to public scrutiny. And religion just isn't open to that sort of inquiry and proof. However just as we don't require our memories to only be trusted after being open to public scrutiny I think we can adopt an approach towards religion that can provide justification but not of the form of a public objective analysis.
That is we can point to a path of inquiry but it can't be conducted purely in terms of public facts.
Alex (#7), I think there is a fundamental difference between the kind of skepticism of the external world and religious skepticism. For one, I tend to think the Peircean critique of the skeptic is apt. (He primarily applied it to Descartes, but it was Descartes who ushered in that particular kind of skepticism) That is one shouldn't entertain false doubts. Merely saying one could doubt is not the same as doubting. Most skeptics are skeptics in word only. It makes for interesting philosophy debates but provides a very false and misleading route when applied epistemologically. Especially in terms of practical reasoning.
There are, of course, other approaches to the skeptic. I particularly like the one Heidegger uses in Being and Time. But the fundamental issue is really one of whether the skeptic is being authentic or not. For many philosophical issues they are not.
Contrast this with religion where the skepticism seems to be much more authentic in nature. That is we can entertain real doubts. Further we have competing views which, considered "objectively," seem pretty hard to decide between. So one can adopt agnosticism and a refusal to commit to any religious belief. One can take a Kierkegaardean leap of faith. Or one can try and find a way to resolve the issue.
So to me the issues are fundamentally different. I personally think that attempts to conflate the two (as I think several varieties of epistemic externalism do) is in error.
I do agree though what you say about proofs and "larger philosophical systems." Put in more general terms what makes sense in a given static system might not in a larger system that contains it. Thus the point of continuing unending inquiry.
The problem is (in my eyes) is that many forms of externalism end up saying the epistemology is judged ultimately in one totalizing ultimate discourse of the universe. That is a privileged God's eye view. (In the traditional sense of that term) But I reject any such notion. (I know Peirce's ideal community of inquirers is often taken in such totalizing terms, but as I've often argued I think that an erroneous way of reading him)
Put an other way the trail we hope to investigate is whether there is a third way between total knowledge only in terms of what is purely present to the public at any given point versus some hypothetic totality of discourse.
Re: "The Varieties of Skepticism"
Just because EW skepticism is false doesn't mean it's a non-issue. "It's importance is methodological" -- to quote the epistemology books. I'm sure you're familiar with this argument:
1. In order to know P I must know that not-SK
2. I cannot know that not-SK
C. I cannot know that P
(Where P stands for any empirical proposition and SK stands for a skeptical scenario). The argument is valid, but (hopefully) not sound. Whereas nobody agrees with the conclusion, there isn't much agreement either about which of the premises to reject. The 'externalist' solution is sometimes characterized as rejecting 1 (the closure principle) -- whereas of course there *are* people who reject 2 (Barry Stroud has some good insights regarding why this is not a good strategy). In any event, *how* you go about rejecting skepticism will have a number of consequences for your overall philosophical position, so I don't think skepticism is a non-issue at all.
It's also helpful, to me at least, to consider that part of the skeptical problem is about reasons. Every morning, for instance, I confidently go and wait for the bus. I think I have good reasons to expect that the bus will come. But if I can't give a convincing account of what those reasons are, and such an account doesn't rule out skeptical possibilities, it turns out that maybe I don't have the good reasons I thought I had for doing what I do (you'll recognize that this is a variation of the argument above).
Skepticism isn't just a *global* problem, it's also a local problem. And I think that skepticism in its local varieties (how I can *know* that my house hasn't burned down or that my car hasn't been stolen...etc.) is far more disturbing and devestating. Because whereas on the one hand we have intuitions that we do have good reason to believe all sorts of empirical propositions, even to the point where we would say we *knew* them, it doesn't seem possible to rule out every skeptical hypothesis. So there is a push towards fallibilism. But fallibilism isn't, in the end, a very comfortable place to be in regards to knowledge -- it wasn't what we wanted or expected in regards to the external world.
In addition, a lot of skeptical hypotheses (at least of the global variety) rely on a certain understanding of representation -- i.e. that it's possible that the way things *appear* is not the way things *are*. This understanding of representation has to be wrong (there must be a necessary connection of some sort between appearances and reality) but it isn't quite clear how, and furthermore how we could know it is wrong, if it is (see Kant!). Putnam's essay about Brains in Vats is a step in the direction of exposing our intuitions about representation, but it's a hard problem. And it's a problem in a lot of different domains, including cognitive science and, yes, religious experience.
So that's why I think skepticism is important in both its local and its global varieties.
Alex, I certainly degree that as a fundamental philosophical issue skepticism is pretty important. I guess what I'm saying is that what I see as most interesting about the religious question is that there is a stronger kind of skepticism relevant than the kind you outline above. But don't get me wrong, I'm not discounting skepticism as a logical issue.
Obviously I take the externalist solution and think the whole problem a false one created by Cartesian introspection - but that's neither here nor there. As you say no on takes the conclusions seriously including the skeptics. As such in terms of the common sense and practical senses of "to know" I don't think it necessarily relevant except as a philosophical inquiry into what it means to know. That's why I'm trying to distinguish between fundamental epistemology and what one might call applied epistemology. They are obviously not totally unrelated but I don't think we have to answer the former to probe the latter.
Clark: I agree that the analogy of sitting on a chair is an interesting one, and I am not certainly trying to forget the lessons of phenomenology in examining the question "How do we distinguish revelations from hallucinations?"
Before I get to my points, I want to pick up one thread that seems to be implied, but not explicit so far. Your original posts on epistemology cover two cases-- those of direct experience (such as "burning in the bosom") and those of how to weigh reports of direct experience (such as the Book of Mormon.) I am assuming (but not certain) that you ground the latter in the former-- you judge the Book of Mormon to be true because of some direct experience. If I am mistaken here, please correct me.
So, back to the analogy of the chair. Suppose that I am visiting you in your chocolate factory, and you offer me a chair to sit down. "But Clark", I say, "I don't see a chair there." "Ah, don't worry about that, I've experienced the chair, and it is a very fine chair indeed." And so, I try to sit on it anyway, and (perhaps not unexpectedly) fall down go boom. "Well, that's odd", you say, "perhaps you didn't have enough faith." OK, this is an unfair caricature, but you get my point.
Now, phenomenologically speaking, one of the beautiful things about a chair is that we can all see it, all sit in it. As you yourself have pointed out, spiritual experiences are not everyday experiences. So: when you experience the phenomena, how do you determine the source of the phenomena? What is the rule of thumb one can use to separate (broadly speaking) revelation from hallucination?
Certainly there are causal relationships that have to be considered. But, to use your example, say you say you don't see a chair while I clearly do see a chair. How do we adjudicate? Presumably through secondary experiences. That is the experience itself isn't enough. One has to work out the practical implications. In both Heideggarian and Peircean terms one looks at the pragmatic implications.
Perhaps we should move to a simpler (exemplary) case.
Suppose I hear a voice in my head claiming to be God, telling me to kill my only son. I've heard this voice before-- it has previously demanded genital mutilation, and that seemed to work out ok. Do I go ahead and kill my son, or do I visit a psychiatrist first?
What is the criteria for distinguishing revelation and hallucination? I'm not suggesting that the rule has to be 100% foolproof-- we know how hard it is in some instances to distinguish memory from imagination-- but there should be a good guideline, right?
A related, but not identical question: Suppose I have read a number of differing (and contradictory) texts, each claiming to be the result of a revelation. How do I determine which, if any, actually represent the word of God/Allah/Whomever?
Michael: Keeping in mind that the story details of Abraham's experiences with God before the call to sacrifice Isaac are somewhat more detailed, and apparently external, than simply hearing a voice in his head demanding genital mutilation (i.e. if you're going to draw a tacit parallel, at least be fair to the story details); I do agree and sympathize with your criticism.
Clark: Despite the fact that I am becoming more insistent on having you clearly answer a question Victor and I have been asking you over at DangIdea, I am also on record as sympathizing with issues of epistemic responsibility in regard to internal data. As I put it in a related comment, sometimes all the data a person has to go on is "a burning in the bosom".
The question we have been asking, is whether or not you agree (with Victor, and myself) that it is improper as an evangelical tactic to make an appeal to this kind of feeling as a last resort over against unresolved objections that would certainly involve non-acceptance of belief for the person in question.
Jason, I believed I've answered that several times now. As a communication effort it is mistaken since it will convince no one. However for the individual themselves if they actually had a series of religious experiences confirming some state of affairs then it seems perfectly acceptable to appeal to it. The ultimate issue is that what is required to confirm the state of affairs is a certain reasoning and the experience itself. Merely telling someone else that you've had some experience establishes nothing if they've not had the experience. At best you can try to encourage a seeking after the experience. But certainly "I've had an experience and you haven't" exchange done as you described is ultimately counterproductive.
Michael, certainly in the case you provide one should seek psychological counseling. But there are several reasons for that. First the voices are acting quite undivine like and second you're basically hearing voices from "a stranger." I suspect that Abraham in the example you are appealing to had a bit more experience with God and angels that led him to make the decision he did. I'm afraid that if I had an experience like that I'd be considerably more dubious. As Jeff mentioned, extreme claims require extreme evidence. The amount of evidence to say, "I am God," seems a bit less intense than the evidence for "I am God and I'm asking you to do something that goes against what you understand about me."
Oh, I missed your second question. In my mind there is absolutely no way to justifiably believe any religious text independent of repeated religious experiences and testing of beliefs in what I'd call a hermeneutic circle. i.e. one develops knowledge and slowly over time changes ones beliefs about religion and the divine to be in accord with experience, communities with similar experience, and more "objective" texts such as the religious texts in question. But for me one is always caught in a hermeneutic circle. Thus ones beliefs are always a matter of more and less. That is we believe both more than we should and less than we should. But as the circle develops one develops understanding. (For those unfamiliar with some of my posts - I consider that a case for all understanding)
As to the hallucination vs. reality test. I don't think there is a test. However hallucinations are largely inconsistent and lack certain elements of surprise reality has. Thus knowing entails a continuing process of inquiry taking and testing the elements of belief one has. Drawing out inferences and testing those as well as making guesses about further details about what one is investigating.
The only downside to the whole business might be that those most apt to believe unrealities, say certain classes of schizophrenics, also have as part of the disease a tendency to disbelieve disconfirming evidence. So with actual mental illness of a severe sort things are trickier. But in such cases it is typically difficult or impossible to be rational so our criteria is probably moot.
For individuals who are able to be discerning and rational to some degree I think things are easier. I should add that having a community of believers helps as well - especially if they too have religious experiences. With Peirce I tend to favor the view that knowing is largely a community effort rather than the individual effort that say Descartes suggests.
There is a public test for revelation. LDS theology states that the goal of all beings is the Celestial Kingdom, that kingdom in which God personally resides. Our purpose here on earth revolves around this goal. This goal must be touchstone for understanding revelation.
There is also a hierarchy of responsibility with regards to revelation. That is to say, the President of the Church is the only person responsible for receiving revelation for the Church. The Stake President is responsible for receiving revelation for his stake. The Bishop is responsible for receiving revelation for the ward. The individual is responsible for receiving revelation for himself and that revelation needs to be tied, in some way, to the goal of reaching the Celestial Kingdom. If someone were to say that he received revelation as to what the Church should do and he was not the President, it is to be dismissed. If the Bishop said he had received revelation as to what another person should do, that is also false. If a person should say “I have received revelation that I should kill my children.” We would know immediately that that was not from God. In no way would that revelation help that person in his quest for the Celestial Kingdom. This obviously doesn’t apply to Abraham for reasons already stated.
Thus one of the touchstones of differentiating revelation from hallucination is function. If that experience helps one on the path to the Celestial Kingdom there is no reason to discount the experience. If it does not then there is every reason to discount it.
Rich, I fully agree that there are social structures in place in LDS society to provide checks and balances on revelation. However such structures presuppose one has already embraced that society. But I'd argue (following a common teaching) that one has the check of the scriptures and then the check of church structure to prevent ones revelations from going too far astray. And of course it isn't that uncommon in high Mormon populations to find people who don't follow them and thus have odd claims of revelation. Sometimes its sincere people who just aren't following that process of inquiry I mentioned. Thus guys or girls at BYU convinced they've had a personal revelation to marry someone and then act inappropriately on that.
I do think, however, that that example can be used as a jumping off place for beginning to understand the difference between revelation and hallucination. I certainly don’t believe that LDS people are the only ones to receive revelation. But I think the underlying principles are of value for members and non-members. I think it is appropriate to ask what is the function of the revelation/hallucination.
Just a comment to Michael D. or others of that view. Be sure to work mass hallucinations into your worldview of revelation. The challenge of disproving the 'revelation' way of knowing is not just to explain spiritual sensations as emotions, but also to explain how so many different people concur, sometimes at the same time and place, that a given revelation has occurred. This can be as simple as many people after a church meeting remarking on the amazing spirit that they all felt there, or as complicated as the phenomenon of millions of people describing the same types of 'mystical' or spiritual experiences while reading the Book of Mormon, or other spiritual texts. And in many cases these are people with no knowledge of each other, often people with no religious background at all who are reading the texts for the first time and make their comments about their experience quite innocently. You could make the argument that this is simply an artifact of a type of mass global consciousness, and thus a social type of emotional experience that we can not yet quantify scientifically but may be able to some day (quantum physics perhaps). But then that is just different words for the same spiritual phenomenon people are already describing. Reality is already present in its fullness, the fact that we can not yet provide all of the objective evidence for certain religious texts does not mean that evidence does not exist. Only that it is not yet found, not yet revealed to science.
Kurt: Just a comment to Michael D. or others of that view. Be sure to work mass hallucinations into your worldview of revelation.
That's a good point, and one that shouldn't be forgotten. Mass hysteria is a well known phenomenon, and group revelations have been claimed for all kinds of contradictory religions. So, any adequate epistemology would need a guideline for separating revelation from hallucination in these circumstances as well.
I'm not claiming (here) that revelation is impossible, or doesn't happen-- I'm merely asking: given a phenomenon, how can we tell if it is a revelation or a hallucination? If we want to accept all claims of revelation as bona fide revelations, we're left with a whole mess of gods out there speaking to different folks, sometimes asking them to do outrageous things (like kill their children, for instance.) How do we tell which (if any) of these cases are actual revelation, and which (if any) of the cases are not?
That's why testability is so important. Further having a few skeptics in the revelation helps one accept it. But by and large to me the key feature is predictability arising out of content, repeatability of elements of the phenomena, and then continuing inquiry.
While having multiple people doesn't necessitate that it is a revelation it certainly does add strength to ones justification. (We have to remember it's not certainty we require - merely knowledge and the justification conditions for knowledge need not imply certainty)