Mark Vernon takes issue with the way skeptics insist on applying a reasonable critical analysis to subjective experience:
They fixate on the many ways in which individuals can be self-deluded, and forget that they can also be wonderfully discerning. They miss truths that can only be known by acquaintance, which is to say, by letting them in.
For which he gets seven points for originality of phrasing, and loses them all again for waffling the same old tosh.
Yes, individuals can often be self-deluded, and they can often be wonderfully discerning. The whole point of skepticism is in trying to determine which of those a person is doing at any given moment.
Which are the truths that should simply be “let in” – which seems to mean accepted and believed, without any criticism, doubt, or regard for reality? All too often, it seems to be only those “facts” which fit the preconceptions of whoever is arguing that rationalism should sometimes be abandoned, because it doesn’t let them believe what they want to believe.
That which can be destroyed by the truth should be, after all, and any truth worth “letting in” can only be bolstered by a rational examination of it.
As for the usefulness of subjective experience, and truth “known by acquaintance”, have a look at this checkerboard with a shadow cast over it:
Think the square marked A is darker than the one marked B? Well, that’s where blithely trusting your subjective experiences will get you.
Here’s another popular one:
See the brown centre square on the top face, and the yellow centre square on the bottom-left face of the cube? They’re the same colour. Save the image and go test it out in MS Paint if you don’t believe me.
That second one still melts my brain. I had to go check it again myself just now. They just look like completely different colours – and nobody else knows what’s going on in my brain when I see it. Nobody else can directly share what I’m experiencing. I have this pure subjective knowledge, which strongly suggests a truth based on my own experiences of the world.
And you can prove me wrong in a matter of seconds.
Rationalists are interested in being right. Knowing how and when we’re most in danger of being wrong is a crucial part of that, and it never stops applying. Things don’t get a free pass just because they’re a “subjective truth” or you have “faith”. We’re never obliged to just assume that this is one of those times you’re being instinctively discerning, rather than self-deluded.
Whatever your claim might be, religious or not, faith-based or not: If it can be destroyed by the truth, it should be.