X-ray Vision and God Detection

Theists believe they have a sixth sense that brings them to knowledge of their particular god. One Christian Apologist attempts to defend this notion with the following statement.

We form foundational beliefs on the basis of subjective personal experiences. If I perceive a tree [through the sense of vision which has a history of reliability], then I can rationally conclude that there is a tree. If I have a felt experience of God [presumably through the magical powers of a sixth sense with an absent or dismal track record] then I can rationally conclude that God exists.

Lamentably, this illogicality actually seems to be a fairly average example of the current level of discourse among theists. Let’s looks at an analogous scenario.

Imagine an airport security officer named Bruno who checks luggage for weapons with an sophisticated x-ray machine going home and, donning $1 x-ray glasses ordered from the back of a comic book, claims he can see ghosts wandering the hallways. Now imagine him attempting to give legitimacy to the x-ray glasses by invoking the success of the x-ray machine. This is what is being attempted in the theist’s statement above. He starts with the sense of sight which has been demonstrated to possess a high degree of reliability, then attempts to sneak one by us by first assuming the existence of a spiritual sense, then by rubbing, in equivocation, this mythical spiritual sense up against the earned respected reputation of the sense of sight in the hope that we will then irrationally grant both existence and efficacy to his imagined spiritual sense. Is this intentional deceit, or mere ineptitude? And whatever the motivation, are such clearly irrational arguments working to maintain misplaced beliefs among theists? I have to sadly conclude they are.

Let’s take a closer look at this dishonorable apologist tactic of equivocation.

Our eyesight is something we test everyday. To the degree that the sense of sight provides us with reliable information upon which we can base our beliefs and predictions, to this degree we can rationally place confidence in its continued efficacy. To the degree that our eyesight fails, to this degree we must maintain caution about our reliance on our eyes. For most of us, our eyesight has proven to be quite reliable. For some myopic or hallucinating few, they can not rely on their eyes to provide understanding and predictive power. But make no mistake. We all have access to the track record of reliability for our respective senses of sight. Our vision is validated by the explanatory and predictive power it provides, as well as by collaborating reports from others with the same sense of sight.

Now let’s return to Bruno’s x-ray machine at the airport. To the degree that this machine effectively uncovers contraband, to this degree it deserves to be trusted. To the degree that it registers false positives or negatives, to this degree it deserves our distrust. Most of us believe that most of the airport x-ray machines around the world are quite reliable. This belief is based on the track-record of the machines. When Bruno identifies a German Luger, for example, in a bag, his colleague can view the same image on the display to also verify that it reveals a German Luger. This cross-confirmation reduces the subjectivity in the process. The subjectivity is then further reduced by the process of actually opening the luggage to confirm whether it is indeed a German Luger.

Now, let’s consider Bruno’s $1 x-ray glasses that were sold in 1960s’ comic books. The advertisement for these glasses suggests that they can somehow employ x-rays to reveal what lies beneath clothing, though our more virtuous if credulous Bruno dons them solely for ghost hunting. He claims the ghosts he sees with his x-ray glasses are just as clear as what he sees on the x-ray machine monitor. And who are we to argue with Bruno? How could we ever disprove that he was seeing ghosts?

We couldn’t. There are, however, a few significant facts we could demonstrate.

  1. We could easily prove that the glasses have no predictive power. Simply ask Bruno to make a meaningful (falsifiable) prediction. Does Bruno claim the curtains will move as the ghost he claims is walking towards us passes? If he does and they do, then Bruno is on his way to establishing credibility for his claim that his x-ray glasses allow him to see ghosts. If the curtains do not move after a claim they would, then his x-ray glasses are proven ineffectual. If Bruno is forced to claim that there is no possible falsification of the efficacy of his ghost-busting x-ray glasses, then his impotent ghosts are reduced to the same status as non-existent ghosts. The parallel to alleged gods “known” through the spiritual glasses of a sixth sense I’ll leave for you to ponder.
  2. We could also prove that either Bruno’s x-ray glasses or the x-ray glasses of, say, his brother were faulty. All we would need to show is that the descriptions of the ghost each brother reports while looking down the same spooky hallway are irreconcilable. If one brother says the ghost is chubby and the other says it is skinny, then there is at least one faulty pair of x-ray glasses. The parallel to the various incommensurate conceptions of one particular god within a single faith of believers all wearing presumably identical spiritual glasses of truth I hold out for your consideration.
  3. We can also clearly conclude that there is no excuse for equivocating between the two different sensory instruments through a comparison of their efficacy. For one to legitimately invoke the reputation of the other to bolster its own validity, they must demonstrate relevant commonality. They must employ the same mechanism of detection. A simple cursory examination of airport x-ray machine and of Bruno’s $1 x-ray glasses would quickly settle this, as would an examination of eyeballs and any definition of a sixth sense. They must also be shown to be operating within the same domain rather than in the disparate domains of the material and immaterial. Equivocating between two disparate sensory instruments is irrationality at best and warrants the suspicion of mendacity.
  4. And we can definitely prove that, whatever mysterious powers Bruno’s glasses provide him, they cannot save him from irrationality if he is claiming, parallel to our theist above, the following.

    We form foundational beliefs on the basis of subjective personal experiences. If I see on the monitor a German Luger [through a sensory instrument with a history of reliability] then I can rationally conclude that there is a German Luger. If I have a felt experience of ghosts [presumably through the magical powers of x-ray glasses with an absent or dismal track record] then I can rationally conclude that ghosts exist.

The absurdity of this non sequitur is clear, leaving us with another sad but salient example of the intellectual desolation of Christian apologists.

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2 thoughts on “X-ray Vision and God Detection

  1. Stella says:

    Since when are ghosts presumed to have bones or be made even partially of metal?

    The glasses are unnecessary to the metaphor. So is the machine. Those elements put in more dots to connect, but the question is qualitative not quantitative, as far as I can tell. I think including media (in this case, x ray machine and x ray glasses) kind of screws with the correctness and possible simplicity of it.

    Category One: Real Shit (all members must be ‘equal’ for interchangeability, no?)
    1. Eyes => tree
    2. X-ray machine thing => gun

    Category Two: Fake Shit
    1. ESP=> god
    2. “x-ray” glasses-> ghosts

    Or we could put it this way:

    EYES(valid)=> tree (valid)
    6th SENSE (invalid)=> God (?)
    EYES (valid)=> x-ray monitor machine (valid)=> gun (valid)
    EYES (valid)=> “x-ray” glasses (invalid)=> ghosts (invalid)

    Lopsided. Feels like you did an “intra-map” type thing instead of an “inter-map”.
    Our metaphor draws paralleles between only two maps. Unless I am missing something, there are extra variables here that we could apply Occam’s Razor to.

    I think it would be more correct to liken the 6th sense (or the thing you likened it to, ie, x-ray glasses) to x-ray vision, instead of pitting them against each other as ‘invalid’ and ‘valid’, respectively. Plus, you know that people poo-poo x-ray glasses to start. All you really need to mention is the x-rays themselves in order to represent “ESP” or whatever. The mind and x-rays are alike in the fact that they are capable of decoding signals. And causing cancer. Er-no..wait…maybe?

    Terrence and Phillip: What are you doing, Scott?
    Scott from Canada (waving arms around): I’m giving you cancer with my mind.
    Terrence and Phillip: Cancer!?!
    Scott: Yes. In the head.
    Terrence and Phillip: HEAD CANCER!?!?!

    :)
    I really like that graphic. (And to answer it: Equal? Clearly not. That’s why we can’t use them interchangably in metaphor. Again, I could be missing something.)

    • I like your rigorous critique, Stella.

      I am aware of the imperfections of the analogy, but believe that anyone identifying those imperfections as you did will have had to take on a degree of skepticism that will make my main point very clear.

      I also wanted to make the point that every sense we have is an “instrument”, and we never have direct contact with sensory input, requiring us to acknowledge the error in uncritically accepting the perception as necessarily mapping to some reality.

      Cheers.

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