Mystical Religious Experiences

This was the major research project for my MA.  This is another work in progress that I am revising to submit for publication



Evaluating the Fales/Gellman Debate on the Epistemic Status of Mystical Religious Experiences



In recent years there has been a debate between Evan Fales and Jerome Gellman regarding the epistemic status of theistic mystical experiences.  Fales argues that a sociological naturalistic account can explain the vast majority of theistic mystical experiences, in that all of the subjects seem to have, in some way or another, gained a sociological advantage by allegedly having a theistic experience.[1]  Fales thinks not only that his naturalistic account can explain mystical experiences, but that it can do a better job explaining them than any theistic account can.  Jerome Gellman responds by presenting several counter-examples of mystics who do not seem to fit into the mold set out by Fales’ naturalistic account, and argues that the burden of proof rests on Fales to demonstrate that subjects of mystical theistic experiences are also subject to the circumstances identified in his account. 

                In section 1 of this paper I will provide a brief account of the Argument from Religious Experience.  Section 2 will provide a brief account of the nature of theistic mystical experiences, while section 3 will provide an overview of each of the papers by Fales and Gellman.  Section 4 will conclude the paper by presenting why I think Fales has failed to establish that the burden of proof rests on the theist, and discuss why I think it is the case that the subject of any theistic mystical experience is justified, if not required, to accept his experience as veridical.  While Fales has presented an interesting alternative to the theistic explanation for mystical experiences, he has not presented a successful defeater.


  1. 1.       The Argument from Religious Experience

While there are different versions of the Argument from Religious Experience they all argue for the claim that religious experiences generally serve as evidence for the existence of God or some other supernatural entity.[2]  The approach generally taken to support this claim tries to liken perceptions of God to other sensory perceptions, and then make the claim that since we are normally justified in believing that the objects of our normal sensory perception exist, we are similarly normally justified in believing that the objects of our religious experiences also exist.  To take this argument and apply it directly to an example of religious experience would be to say that if subject S has a religious experience of p, then, since religious experiences are relevantly similar to sensory experiences, S can be justified in believing that p is causally responsible for S’s experience of p, and thus, justified in believing that p exists.[3]

                Notable examples of philosophers who defend various versions of the Argument from Religious Experience are William Alston, Richard Swinburne and Jerome Gellman.  Alston, in his 2005 essay “Mysticism and Perceptual Awareness of God” argues that in any religious experience, the subject can be justified in believing that she is being directly presented with some phenomenon, and that this phenomenon was, in some way, caused by a supernatural entity.[4] That is to say, as far as the subject is concerned, there is no relevant difference in the super-sensual presentation of God that he is experiencing and the sense-mediated presentation of the chair that he happens to be perceiving.  Richard Swinburne also argues that, in the absence of what he calls “special considerations”, we are justified in believing that things are as they appear to be, and this applies to cases of both normal sense-perceptions and theistic apparitions as well.[5]  Finally, Jerome Gellman argues that humans are not limited to experiencing things solely via the five senses, and that with training, it is possible that we can come to experience things without having to appeal to language, memory, expectations or conceptualizations, which would render the experience what he calls a “pure conscious event”.[6]  Things that would tend to fall into this category of “pure conscious events” could include theistic experiences, and while these kinds of experiences may not be relevantly similar in as many ways to other experiences of sensory perceptions, they are still perceptions nonetheless, and should be taken to have some evidential value.[7]


  1. 2.       Theistic Mystical Experiences

In the literature, mystical religious experiences are those which are not mediated by any sensory modality, and this is thought to give them an ineffable quality.  William Alston, a proponent of the veridicality of mystical religious experiences, describes them as involving, like sense perceptions, a presentation of some object, but the presentation is not categorizable through the senses.[8]  While some mystical experiences may have some aspect of sensory content, these are not the kind of mystical experiences that are considered by Alston in his argument, nor are they relevant to the purposes of this paper.  The mystical experiences of concern here are, as presented by Alston, direct (rather than mediated)[9], non-sensory, focal experiences where the object attracts the subject’s attention so strongly that it blots out everything else.[10]

                As noted above the proponent of the veridicality of mystical religious experiences will generally argue that mystical experiences and perceptions are, in all relevant respects, similar to normal sensory experiences and perceptions, and thus ought to be afforded the same evidential weight.  That is to say, as with our normal sensory perceptions, if doubt is going to be cast on the veridicality of the experience, then the burden of proof rests on the skeptic to demonstrate why it is the case that this perception cannot be justified as veridical, rather than on the perceiver to prove why it is the case that he is justified in holding the veridicality of his perception despite the relevant differences between the two kinds of experiences.  The caveat, however, is that since we are discussing phenomena that are either non-sensory or super-sensory, those arguing in favour of mystical religious experiences will also have to deny that the possibilities of human experience are limited by the five senses.[11]  Essentially, the claim is that just because an object appeared to us via some method that was not mediated by one of the five senses, it does not follow that it cannot serve as evidence.

                Arguments from religious experience are highly controversial.  Some authors have objected to them by saying that sensing that an entity is present or that it is causally connected to some perception does not entail that it actually exists,[12] while others have claimed that we are often not justified in accepting testimony of such experiences because the wealth of sensory experiences that we have experienced all seem to provide stronger reasons to reject the testimony than to accept it.[13]  One common move in objecting to such arguments is to defend reductionism.   In his 2001 book Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry, Jerome Gellman distinguishes two kinds of reductionists who oppose the argument from religious experience: evidence-reductionists (or E-reductionists) and truth-reductionists (or T-reductionists).[14]  E-reductionists claim that while mystical religious experiences are prima facie justificatory, “there is a set of naturalistic circumstances in which perceptions of God occur, which generate alternative explanations that give good reason for abandoning the initial evidential sufficiency of God perception”.[15]  In other words, the E-reductionist does not go so far as to claim that people do not in fact perceive God, but only that we do not have good evidence that they have had such perceptions.  The E-reductionist does not argue that any or all God perceptions are illusory, but only that they cannot reasonably be believed to be genuine.[16]  On the other hand, T-reductionists make the stronger claim that “perceptions of God occur in a set of naturalistic circumstances that generate good reasons for rejecting perceptions of God as genuine – for saying that subjects do not have veridical God-perceptions”.[17]  Gellman, however, thinks this position is too strong to be plausible, and so recommends that T-reductionists hold the less ambitious view that “…most God perceptions were illusory and those that might be authentic, for all we know, just were not numerous enough to provide the cohering evidential support required by the Argument from Perception”.[18]  That is to say, T-reductionists can recognize a limited number of God-perceptions as veridical while at the same time denying the evidential sufficiency of most theistic perceptions.[19]  Gellman claims that Fales, is a T-reductionist in this less-ambitious sense, because of his overall claim that “…the explanation of theistic mysticism is in the political power and social control it confers on the mystic, rather than in its being a veridical experience of God”.[20]


  1. 3.       Scientific Explanation of Mystical Experiences, Part 1: The Case of St Theresa

In this first part of a two-part paper written in 1996, Fales aims to show that theistic mystical experiences can be adequately explained by a specific naturalistic account and that there is absolutely no need to invoke any sort of theistic explanation in these cases.[21]  Essentially, he is arguing that we do not have grounds for granting the “prima facie veridicality of apparitions or spirits with traditions which hold the supernatural to be amenable to mystical techniques”.[22]    Rather than explore a variety of mystics from a variety of societies and time periods and try to disprove them one by one, Fales focuses his attention on what he takes to be a paradigm case of a mystic within Western religious tradition.  He chooses to focus on Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Christian mystic.  He does so because of the richness and diversity of her purported mystical religious experiences, and claims that she is at least a very good  representative of Christian mysticism.[23]  Fales thinks that if he can explain her theistic mystical experiences with a sociological naturalistic account then he can plausibly extend this account to explain a substantial amount of other allegedly theistic mystical experiences. 

                Fales notes that Teresa’s experiences seem to encompass the full range of mystical religious experiences, in that she has reported cases in which “her soul leaves her to ascend to her Lord; in others, her Lord insists upon taking her bodily up to heaven, though she resists with all her might.  On other occasions, He enters within her, after her own soul has been curiously inactivated; and in yet others, He is apprehended externally in visions or auditions”.[24]  For all the variety that Teresa’s accounts enjoy, Fales argues that there are still certain themes that underlie all of them.  The themes that Fales mentions include, but are not limited to,

[Teresa’s] insistence that her visions conform to orthodoxy, and that she is prepared to judge them demonic if they do not; her readiness to submit them to the judgment of the Church hierarchy…; her insistence upon their involuntary nature and upon the tremendous pain and trouble they cause her (as well as ineffable joy); her view that there is little or nothing one can do to merit or provoke divine visitation, beyond purity of heart, mind and action; and her repeated assertions of unworthiness.[25]

Because of these similarities between Teresa’s multiple experiences, Fales argues that there is a naturalistic explanation that can account for the entire range of Teresa’s religious experiences better than theism can.

                The main argument mounted by Fales against the veridicality of Teresa’s mystical religious experiences is put forth in section 4, a section entitled “Anthropological Insights.”  He applies a hypothesis of theistic mystical experiences put forth by anthropologist I.M Lewis in his 1989 book Ecstatic Religion.  What this hypothesis claims is that there are significant ties between the kinds of mystical experiences mystics report having and the social contexts in which they find themselves, and that all mystical religious experiences serve merely as a means to gain social or political power or control.[26]  That is to say that most, if not all, mystical experiences are reported by individuals who are, in some way or another, marginalized members of society.  Fales goes on to describes a distinction within Lewis’ theory that differentiates between two different social contexts under which mystical experiences can occur: peripheral possession cults, and central possession cults.[27]  Fales describes each of these social contexts as follows

Peripheral possession cults arise among groups of people who are socially marginalized and who are deprived by the institutional structures of their societies of the kind of power, control over their lives, or at least the care they believe – often rightly – that they deserve.  Central possession, on the other hand, occurs among people who are vying for positions of power and authority within precisely those institutions that are normative and central – but in societies in which access to power, while it may be restricted to certain groups, is fluid, competitive and dependent on individual initiative.[28]

Fales thinks that Teresa ought to be considered part of a peripheral possession cult. 

                Teresa of Avila, as Fales goes on to argue, was a member of not only one, but three marginalized groups in 16th century Spain, and is thus a prime candidate for Lewis’ theory.  First, Teresa was a woman in a society and culture in which the opportunities for advancement of women were highly controlled, both by the cultural norms and by the conventions of marriage.[29]  Secondly, as Fales put it, “Teresa failed to regularize her social status by means of that route most normally open to women, namely marriage” and chose to become a nun.[30]  And finally, Teresa was a member of a converso[31] family, which would lead her and her family to be subjected to unprovoked suspicion and exclusion from church and state.  With all of that in mind, however, Teresa still came from a wealthy family, which Fales suggests may have made her the type of woman to be driven by high ambitions despite her membership in other marginalized groups.[32]  The suggestion that Fales ultimately goes on to make is that Teresa’s high ambitions, paired with her status as a marginalized individual in the three ways discussed above, make her theistic mystical experiences ones that would fit perfectly into the framework of Lewis’ theory.  Teresa’s theistic mystical experiences were simply a vehicle for amelioration for both herself and for the marginalized groups of which she was a member, and a platform from which she was able to more freely criticize the power structures at play within 17th century Spain than she would have otherwise been able to do.  Fales goes on to discuss how Teresa’s reported theistic mystical experiences “are connected in a quite functional way with her practical projects and her need for support in them” in precisely the ways noted above.[33]  If nothing else, her alleged experiences could have given her more of a voice in helping persuade people towards Catholicism by having God give her the strength to persevere through ongoing sicknesses and ailments in order to continue to spread His word.[34]

                In all, Fales’ argument is that Lewis’ sociological theory, according to which “mystical states serve as a strategy for attacking or gaining entry to power structures and for claiming some measure of social attention”[35] can be applied to Teresa of Avila in order to provide a naturalistic explanation for her theistic mystical experiences, and that if Teresa of Avila’s experiences can be explained naturalistically (due to the sheer variety that is covered by them) then there is a good chance that most other mystical religious experiences can be explained naturalistically as well.


3.1.  Scientific Explanation of Mystical Experiences, Part 2

In this second part of the two-part article, Fales explores various other possible naturalistic explanations for mystical experiences that could also be in play in conjunction with Lewis’ view.  These are that (1) mystics are just plainly lying; (2) mystics are subject to self-deception, either in judging whether the supposed experience has occurred, or in their interpretation and description of it; (3) certain kinds of social states of affairs facilitate the ease with which people with certain personalities undergo mystical experiences; (4) that we are simply misunderstanding the content and descriptions of the mystical experiences as they are described by the mystic; and that (5) in some cases there is a social function served by a publicly maintained fiction.[36] 

                Fales next examines whether or not it would be plausible to “tack on” a theistic explanation of mystical experience to any one of the naturalistic explanations; a possibility that both William Wainwright and William Alston find attractive.[37]  This move aims to extend the Lewisian naturalistic theory out of the realm of tribal spirit possession and mysticism and into wider theism as a whole.  In other words, some, like Wainwright and Alston, attempt to absorb the naturalistic account into a wider theistic account, resulting in the naturalistic account no longer being a rival to the theistic account.  Fales aims to demonstrate that Lewis’ naturalistic theory is the most adequate explanation for a variety of allegedly theistic phenomena, all on its own, and that any further appeal to theism is an unnecessary addition to the causal explanation of these phenomena.  Fales even goes on to say that in cases in which Lewis’ theory fails to provide a complete causal explanation of certain situations, it is still the case that these explanations will have no need or use for the insertion of some theistic mechanism.[38]  The objection is then raised against Lewis’ anthropological argument that it applies only to cases of pagan cultures, and will not apply directly to Christian religious experiences, and as such, that a theistic explanation does need to be “tacked on” to the naturalistic explanations in these cases.  Fales quickly dismisses this objection by shifting the burden of proof onto the theist by asking what specifically it is that relevantly differentiates Christian mystics from pagan mystics, and whether that differentiation is strong enough to allow for Lewis’ theory to hold for pagan cases but not for Christian cases.[39] 

                Another issue discussed by Fales with regard to “tacking on” a theistic explanation is whether or not one particular theistic explanation will suffice for all mystical theistic experiences, all theistic experiences, both, or a mixture of the two.  If there is a particular theistic experience that can be adequately explained by the Lewisian theory, but a theistic explanation is “tacked on”, Fales sees one of two problems arising.  The theist will either have to admit that all there are a variety of supernatural beings, each of which account for various theistic experiences within their respective cultures, or that there is only one (or particular set of) supernatural being(s) responsible for all theistic experiences across all cultures.[40]  For Fales, both of these options are implausible.  On the one hand, the theist would have to invoke the existence of a vast number of supernatural beings to account for theistic experiences ranging across all cultures and times, while otherwise he would be forced to claim that theistic experiences within his own belief system are veridical due to the actions of some particular supernatural being, but any theistic experiences falling outside of his belief system can really only be explained by Lewis’ theory.  This raises the question of why it is the case that theistic experiences within his own belief system would not be susceptible to the same kind of naturalistic explanation as every other theistic experience.[41]  On the other hand, the variety of the content described within various mystical theistic experiences is such that it would not lend itself to an explanation that makes use of just one supernatural being.  The similarities seen between alleged theistic mystical experiences are only found at the level of context and structure, rather than in content, making it implausible that a single supernatural force could adequately explain all such experiences.[42] 

                The article culminates with Fales scoring the case for theistic explanations versus the case for naturalistic explanations.  He finds that naturalism, and Lewis’ anthropological explanation in particular, makes a stronger case than does any theistic explanation.  Fales goes on to say that

Lewis’ theory goes much further: it illuminates connections between social conventions and Christian mystical claims, between social context and these claims, and between all of these and the behaviour of mystics.  How well does a theistic explanation fare on that score? Theists can certainly claim to provide an understanding of the connections between ecstasy and subsequent behaviour (as well as inner transformation). But theism does not, so far as I can see, have the resources to supply similarly powerful insights into the empirically discovered correlations between ecstasy and social context and convention.  If that is correct, then Lewis’ theory has an advantage in terms of fertility and power.[43]

For Fales, the best explanation for mystical religious experiences and accounts is simply not theism, but a kind of anthropological naturalism. 

                To close the paper, Fales addresses a final possible criticism which argues that on Lewis’ model, we would expect to see that most mystics are visible minorities, female, low-income, or some combination of those things, but that this is not the case.  Data collected in the United States and Britain show that most mystics are likely to be male, over the age of forty, college educated and somewhat financially stable.[44]  If this is the case, then it would seem that as white, educated, financially stable men, none of these mystics would be part of a marginalized group, and hence be counter-examples to Lewis’ theory.  Fales’ response to this criticism is that in the study where these data were collected, the subjects were merely asked whether or not they had ever had certain kinds of experiences,[45] but not when they had experienced them.  Because the question of when the subject had a theistic mystical experience was not asked in the study, Fales argues that Lewis’ theory is left unharmed due to the possibility that the subject could have been in completely different circumstances when the experience occurred.  That is to say, while it may be the case that the subject is presently educated, financially secure, and the like, this may not have been the case when he experienced the alleged theistic mystical experience.  It could very well have been the case that, at the time of the experience, his socio-economic status was in a far lower position than it is currently.[46]


3.2. On a Sociological Challenge to the Veridicality of Religious Experience

In his 1998 article “On a Sociological Challenge to the Veridicality of Religious Experience”, Jerome Gellman offers a reply to Fales’ two-part article from several years earlier.[47] Gellman is quick to point out Fales’ concession that his example of Teresa of Avila does not provide sufficient evidence to establish “his sociological reductionist thesis for theistic mystics in general”, but she can work to provide sufficient evidence for a sociological naturalistic account of many theistic mystics.[48]  With that concession in mind, Gellman’s strategy is to discuss the cases of four other theistic mystics, and to demonstrate how he believes they do not fit into Lewis’ theory, thus showing that a sociological naturalistic explanation cannot adequately account for all theistic mystical experiences. 

                While I will not go into detail here about the accounts of the particular mystics discussed by Gellman, the cases of Jacob Boehme, Abraham the son of Maimonides, Israel Baal Shem Tov, and Rabbi Abraham Issac Kook are presented as counter-examples to Lewis’ theory.  In each of these cases, Gellman argues that the mystic did not gain substantial (or any) socio-political power in any personal sense through his mystical experiences, and as such, serve as examples of theistic mystics that do not fit within Lewis’ sociological naturalistic framework of using theistic mystical experiences solely as a means for the socio-political betterment of some marginalized group or individual.  Furthermore, Gellman goes on to argue that, even if it were the case that these theistic mystics gained greater social status or power due to their experiences, Fales would still have to show that this was the motivation for producing the mystical experiences in order for Lewis’ theory to hold:

In order to show that a given mystic fits Fales’ theory it is not sufficient to have shown there was a causal connection between her having been a mystic and her having gained fame or power.  It must also be shown that she was motivated by a quest for power.  This would be shown either by explicit evidence to that effect or via a well-founded theory concerning human psychology.  Otherwise, there may be other, equally plausible explanations, for the causal connection.[49]

So for Gellman, while Fales’ argument and Lewis’ theory may bring to light an interesting connection between social status and theistic mystical experiences, they fail to demonstrate that there is a direct causal connection leading from one to the other.  Without such an established connection, Gellman thinks that there could be any number of other explanations that could comparably explain the phenomena. One further thing that must be demonstrated by Fales, according to Gellman, is that he must provide us with “good reason for thinking [Teresa of Avila] sought power for her own self-aggrandizement or for the marginal group she identified with, and not for the greater glory of God.  Otherwise, the mystic does not fit Fales’ theory.”[50]  If it only turns out to be the case that she was trying to spread the word of God, without seeking some sort of personal gain, then it is not the case that she fits into Lewis’ theory, in that her motivation was not to achieve any socio-political benefit.

                Gellman moves on to question whether or not Lewis’ theory, while it may hold for general spirit possession in small-scale tribes, can be suitably applied to mystical theistic experiences in large societies.[51]  Firstly, Gellman argues that in some societies, specifically those in which Christian mystics have operated, do not often have avenues that would allow a person to gain any sort of greater social status by way of theistic mystical experiences.  In these kinds of societies it would simply be the case that if a person were to have a theistic mystical experience and subsequently come to enjoy some sort of greater social status, then he would have gained that greater social status by his own doing, and not as the result of any religious experiences.[52]

                Secondly, Gellman argues that it is “common knowledge that many people who do not fall into the category of ‘great’ or ‘important’ mystics have theistic mystical experiences”.[53]  Because of this, even if it is the case that Fales and his theory are correct about the prominent historical mystic figures who have managed to achieve some level of power and prestige, the theory fails to pose a real problem for the evidential value of the experiences of ‘average’ mystics who have seemingly gained nothing of that sort from their experiences.[54]  Gellman anticipates a potential response by Fales, in which he would argue that the ability to be subject to ecstatic experiences is simply a natural human capacity, so it should not be seen as surprising that we happen to see a small number of ecstatic experiences similar to those seen in theistic mystical experiences.[55]  It seems that perhaps these ecstatic experiences could be very similar to, and mistaken for, the kinds of sensations often associated with theistic mystical experiences.  Gellman’s response to this anticipated objection, however, is that we do not need some sort of scientific study to show that there are many cases of individuals having theistic mystical experiences, who are not classified as “great mystics”, for that is common knowledge.[56]  Gellman goes on to say that “…we do not have common knowledge of the extent of the phenomenon as opposed to the ‘great mystics’, but that is a problem Fales should address, not a theistic defender.”[57]

                Finally, Gellman suggests that a key difference between ‘ordinary’ mystics and ‘great’ mystics is that the latter are intent on spreading the news of their experience, and are able to make a profound difference within and amongst certain groups.  In contrast, the ‘ordinary’ mystics are simply disinterested or lack the ability to communicate their experiences in ways comparable to those of which the ‘great’ mystics have.  If this is the case, argues Gellman, then an alternative hypothesis arises: “it is not that people become theistic mystics as a means of gaining power, rather there are theistic mystics who are blessed with an abundant desire for power and fame and with the talent to make the try rational.”[58]

                Gellman thinks that Fales is mistaken in his assumption that the burden of proof falls to the mystic to prove the veridicality of his experience.  Fales has argued for the conclusion that there is no prima facie case for the veridicality of theistic mystical experiences, and as such, the onus is on the theist to provide sufficient evidence for his case.  Gellman, however, does not think that Fales’ argument is as strong as it should be, and argues that it does not provide sufficient reasons for denying the prima facie case for the veridicality of mystical theistic experiences.[59] 

Gellman goes on to dismiss two problems raised by Fales: (1) that mystical experiences are widely divergent, and (2) that there are multiple ways of cross-checking normal sense perception but the same cannot be said for cross-checking religious claims, and that without the availability of these cross-checks we cannot conclude that the theistic experience was causally connected in the right sort of way to God.[60]

                In the first case, Gellman simply states that he has addressed Fales’ worry about the divergence of various mystical experiences at length elsewhere and that he will not address it again in this article.[61]  In the second case, Gellman provides two responses to Fales’ cross-checking and causal connection worry.  Firstly, Gellman states that, according to the ‘appearance theory of perception’, it is always conceptually possible for an object to appear to a subject in some way other than the specified “right causal way.”[62]  Because of that, no matter what kind of correct causal role is defined for being adequate to justify the claim that God directly caused a theistic mystical experience, it is still possible for God to cause a mystical theistic experience in some other way.  Secondly, argues Gellman, even if we remove all talk of the “appearance theory of perception”, a subject’s perceiving of an object implies the object’s being in the right kind of causal relationship with the subject, and that any evidence that the subject really perceived the object is also evidence that the object was in the right kind of causal relationship to the subject.  Because of this, we need not search for external and independent evidence telling us just what the causal connection between the subject and object: is it is sufficient only to know that there is a causal connection.  If it is the case that Gellman’s counter-arguments hold up, he goes on to say, then we will still have “a prima facie case for the evidential value of theistic experiences, and the burden of proof falls on Fales to show otherwise.”[63]


3.3. Can Science Explain Mysticism?

In 1999 Fales responds to Gellman, with the final response paper in this debate.[64]  He uses this paper to address the counter-examples to Lewis’ theory that were discussed by Gellman, and attempt to illustrate how they are not as strong as Gellman would have hoped.

                Firstly, Fales addresses the case of Jakob Boehme – a Christian mystic cited by Gellman as having very little desire to write or speak about his mystical theistic experiences.  Fales simply says that there is not enough known about the life of Boehme to serve as a sufficient counter-example to Lewis’ theory.  He does note, however, that despite the fact that Boehme did not publish his first writings for quite some time, he displayed no reservations to print his works upon their completion.[65]  Secondly, moving on to address Baal Shem Tov, Fales points out that while Gellman disputes the claim that Tov was a peripheral mystic, this still leaves open the possibility of him being a central mystic, in which case the Lewisian theory would still apply.  Fales also notes that the fact that Tov did not found a particular theistic movement does not entail that he would not still qualify for Lewis’ theory, and that Lewis’ theory makes no mention anywhere of a common characteristic of subjects to which the theory applies.[66]  Finally, regarding Issac Kook and Abraham, Fales says that there is simply not enough of the required historical information regarding the lives of these two individuals to make an adequate judgement about whether or not they fit the Lewisian theory, so they are certainly not sufficient to constitute counter-examples to the theory.

                Fales then moves on to address Gellman’s claim that Lewis’ theory cannot account for the large numbers of “ordinary” mystics who have not gone on to publicize their experiences or gain any sort of improved social status or power.  Fales claims that recent neuro-physiological research suggests that these mystical experiences could be initiated by non-severe micro-seizures in the temporal lobes of the brain.[67]  He goes on to say that significant proportion of the general public is susceptible to these seizures, and that because of the area of the brain in which they occur, it is not surprising that these minor seizures can be interpreted and experienced in ways that are in line with the subject’s belief systems.[68]  So, for Gellman, the mystical experiences of these “ordinary” folk that do not seem to be covered by Lewis’ theory are simply the result of “a variety of stimuli, which may operate perhaps in each case by provoking micro-seizures in the temporal lobes.”[69]  That is to say, if there is a case in which the sociological explanation does not account for the perceived experience, then it seems that there is a physiological account that will, but that it will not be the case that a theistic account can be “tacked on” to either of these, which is essentially the same claim that was argued for in the earlier paper as discussed above.


  1. 4.       Critical Analysis of Fales-Gellman Debate

It does not seem to me that Fales has sufficiently established that the burden of proof rest on the mystic to prove the veridicality of his experiences.  While Fales does present Lewis’ theory as an interesting explanation that may account for some instances of mysticism, he has not provided enough evidence to support his suggestion that all, or even most, theistic mystical experiences are simply a route by which the mystic is attempting to gain greater social status.[70]  There are several flaws in Fales’ arguments, which will be discussed in the following sections.  First, Fales needs to establish that a desire to improve the status of either oneself or one’s marginalized group was the motivating factor for reporting the alleged theistic mystical experience, which he has failed to do.  Second, Fales presents a “catch-all” argument for anybody who reports having had a theistic mystical experience, yet does not fit into Lewis’ theory, which seems not to fit with the rest of his argument.  He argues that these individuals may have been subject to a series of micro-seizures in the brain, causing them to have mystical experiences.  Finally, I discuss Fales as a T-reductionist, and make the argument that people ought, generally, to be justified in accepting their perceptions as veridical. 


       4.1   Proof of Sociological Status-Gain as the Motivating Factor           

The biggest hurdle that Fales has failed to overcome is responding to the criticism presented by Gellman, that for Fales’ application of Lewis’ theory to succeed, he would have to show not only that the mystic stood to improve the status of himself, his cause, or his marginalized group, but that this is also what motivated the mystic to allegedly have one or more mystic experiences.  And if it is the case that a particular mystic had one or more theistic mystical experiences, then Fales would have to prove that the desire to gain greater social status was the motivation for, minimally, a substantial number of his mystical experiences in order for his theory to hold.[71]  Since this is clearly not something that is possible to prove, in that there is no way to go back through history and determine precisely what motivations were at work for each mystic prior to each of his mystical experiences, Fales seems only to be able to employ Lewis’ quasi-scientific theory as an inference to the best explanation.  Without being able to prove that Lewis’ theory was or is at play in a number of theistic mystical experiences, while it may be a rival to the theistic explanation, it cannot be established the best possible explanation.  Even with regard to Teresa of Avila, who is presented by Fales as his paradigm case of a key mystic who fits into the framework of Lewis’ theory, Fales has only shown that it was possible that she could have been motivated by a desire for greater social status, for either herself or the marginalized groups of which she was a part of, but Fales has not shown that it was the case that these were her motivations.  It seems to me that in cases where an individual’s testimony (let alone the testimony of a very large number of mystics ranging across history) is being questioned, we ought to accept that testimony as true in the absence of any special circumstances that would lead us to think otherwise.[72]  In cases such as this, the burden of proof is on the individual questioning the veridicality of the testimony to identify the special circumstances that would cause us to deem the testimony false, since it is generally the case that we accept that things are the way they seem to be, and for the subjects of theistic mystical experiences, it seems to them that they are having a theistic mystical experience.  Fales needs to establish why it is not the case that we can reasonably accept our perception as accurate, as we are generally justified in doing in most other cases of perception, in cases of theistic mystical experiences.  It is simply not enough to suppose that it could have been the case that one or more of these special circumstances were at play and that we ought not to accept testimony, it must be shown, if not conclusively then at least that it is likely, that these special circumstances were responsible for the misinterpreted experience and subsequent testimony of it before we can deem it invalid.[73] 

I do not think that this is a monumental request, in that it seems to be how we operate in our daily lives.  While I do fully appreciate the duty that we all generally have to at least try to seek out the truth, to place everything that is told to us under the level of scrutiny that Fales thinks we ought to place testimony regarding theistic mystical experiences, would simply be implausible, irrational, and in many cases, pointless.  I would argue that, while it may be the case that testimony regarding mystical theistic experiences should be met with a slightly higher level of skepticism than testimony regarding, say, what time the Clippers game starts (if for no other reason than because we are dealing with a super or sub-sensory experience of which the one receiving the testimony has no first person access to), we are in no position to reasonably reject the testimony purely based on the possibility that it could have been the result of some causal force other than the supernatural.  It would seem that, if we genuinely do not know the cause of someone else’s internal experience or feeling, then to invoke any sociological naturalistic explanation as superior to that of a theistic explanation is groundless in the absence of any evidence pointing towards that particular sociological naturalistic explanation.  Barring any evidence pointing towards a naturalistic explanation, it would seem that the only evidence we have regarding the experience and its cause (the testimony of the subject) is being disregarded in favor of a speculative sociological analysis which Fales seems to think is stronger evidence than the self-reporting mystic.


4.2 Micro-Seizures

In his response to Gellman’s questioning whether the Lewisian hypothesis would apply to the ordinary people who have claimed to have experienced mystical theism and have neither gone on to publicize or to gain any improvement in social status from it, Fales suggests that these people are perhaps the victims of a series of micro-seizures in the frontal lobe of the brain, which triggers the illusion of mystical experiences that are often in line with the pre-existing belief systems of the individual.  This explanation of mystical religious experiences suffers from the same problem as does Fales’ account of what causes such experiences in the “great” mystics, as opposed to the ordinary ones.  While there may be some marginal level of evidence suggesting that it is the case that individuals today suffer micro-seizures that lead them to believe that they have had mystical experiences,[74] he is not justified in either retrodicting that every mystic throughout history (save for those who fit into the Lewisian hypothesis) suffered from this malfunction, or in inferring that this is the best possible explanation for modern-day cases of theistic mystical experiences.  Even if it were the case that this micro-seizure theory were the best explanation for modern-day cases of theistic mystical experiences, it still does not preclude the realm of theistic causation, nor can it establish beyond a reasonable doubt that past cases were the result of these same micro-seizures. 

It now seems as if Fales is trying to work from present to past, taking modern-day scientific research and retrodict instances of the past, while the bulk of his argumentative strategy up to this point seemed to be the opposite: taking instances of the past that seemed to fit into Lewis’ naturalistic sociological account and demonstrate that similar future events must also be explained by such a theory.  It seems that Fales is trying to have it both ways.  The main argument put forth by Fales against Gellman’s presentation of what he believes to be counter-examples to Lewis’ hypothesis is that we simply do not have enough historical information to make justified claims about whether or not these individuals actually serve as adequate counter-examples.  This objection cuts both ways, and if Fales thinks that it cuts Gellman’s objection, then it cuts his as well.  We simply do not have the kind of information that is necessary in order to reasonably suspect that all “ordinary” mystics over time have been subject to suffering micro-seizures that cause them to have mystical-like experiences.

 This argument is simply Fales trying to shift the burden of proof onto the theist, which once again seems to be misguided, in large part because the subject of the mystical experience ought to be justified in believing his perception is veridical since they have generally turned out to provide him with veridical accounts of the external world for everything else in his life.  Surely there are cases of alleged theistic mystical experiences that turn out to be explained by some naturalistic causal mechanisms, but this should not discount the value of testimony of first-person theistic mystical experiences to a status that is significantly lower than the status of testimony regarding any other kind of sensory experience, and it cannot take the counter-examples presented by Gellman and turn them into paradigm cases for exemplifying Lewis’ theory.  With regard to this particular objection by Fales, it simply seems as if it is a last-ditch effort to throw in some other way of accounting for mystics who do not seem to fit into Lewis’ account.  So, if it is not the case that these experiences can be explained by the sociological naturalistic theory, then they can be explained by a radically different kind of theory claiming that they have suffered some sort of neural trauma.


4.3 Fales as a T-reductionist

I now turn to Gellman’s claim that Fales is a truth-reductionist.[75]  Recall that T-reductionism, on Gellman’s account, maintains that “…most God-perceptions were illusory and those that might be authentic, for all we know, just were not numerous enough to provide the cohering evidential support required by the Argument from Perception.[76]  If it is the case that Fales is a T-reductionist, as it certainly seems, then he would only be justified in claiming that we are not justified in accepting any third-person information regarding the veridicality of theistic mystical experiences.  T-reductionism does not preclude the possibility of a person who experiences, first-hand, a theistic mystical experience from taking that to be sufficient evidence for the veridicality of that particular experience.  It does not seem to be the case that, if an individual were to be the subject of what he believed to be a theistic mystical experience, he would be concerned with whether or not there are a sufficient number of other similar experiences that have also been verified in such a way as to provide the entire family of mystical theistic phenomena with justification by way of the Argument from Perception.  That is not to say that, in the event that a person has what they believe to be a theistic mystical experience, and then at some later date come across the arguments of Fales and Lewis, they cannot be justified in accepting a sociological or other naturalistic explanation of their experience.  It is only to say that they can be justified in believing that they experienced a genuine theistic mystical experience if that is the belief that they have come to hold. 

Let us imagine a case in which Jones, a young man, tastes an orange for the first time.  There is nothing particularly exciting or extraordinary about this orange, it simply tastes, feels, smells like, and in fact is, a standard orange that we would find in any supermarket.  So, the taste that Jones experiences is the exact same orange taste that you or I would experience were we to eat an orange as well.  Let us also imagine that, for unbeknownst reasons, a significant percentage of people, both in the past and presently, who have tasted oranges and have claimed to have had similar taste-experiences to that of the one Jones is currently enjoying, have turned out to be false cases of orange-taste sensation, and that the orange-taste experiences were merely the result of some neural transmitter malfunction in the brain.  The remaining number of people who have had orange-tasting experiences that have not been proved as being false orange-taste experiences, simply do not know whether their experiences reflect a neural malfunction or a true taste-experience, but they genuinely believe that they did in fact have a true taste-experience of the orange.  Let us also suppose that Jones knows nothing about these faulty, potentially faulty, or genuinely-believed orange-tasting incidents. 

Since Jones knows nothing about these previous cases, he is completely justified in taking his taste-experience to be veridical.  Of course, some would argue that Jones would have some sort of duty to seek out that kind of relevant information, which is a possibility that I will consider shortly.  The simple fact is that Jones does not know of these other instances of faulty taste-perception, and as such, has no concrete reasons that are strong enough to lead him to believe, or perhaps even consider, that his taste-experience is non-veridical.  Likewise, with regard to determining whether or not we ought to take Jones’ taste experience as veridical, it does not seem to me that we are justified in rejecting Jones’ experience as non-veridical, however, given that we are aware of the large number of faulty taste-experiences, we are justified in either withholding judgement or of meeting his testimony with some skepticism.[77]  Rejecting it completely, or deeming it to be prima facie non-veridical, would be to completely disregard the evidential value of Jones’ sensory perception (which we can also imagine has been generally accurate throughout his life).  It would simply be wrong to disregard the findings of Jones’ usually accurate sensory perceptions simply because a variety of other people have been faulty in their sense-perceptions.      

We can alter the example slightly to accommodate those who think that Jones has a duty to seek out relevant knowledge regarding similar taste-experiences, without it affecting the conclusion that Jones is still justified in accepting his experience as veridical.  In this case, we can imagine that Jones possesses all of the relevant knowledge related to each and every preceding case of orange-taste perceptions.  He knows all that there is to know about the cases in which people thought they were genuinely experiencing orange flavor but were mistaken, and he knows as much as can be known about the cases in which people genuinely believed that they were experiencing orange flavor but it is unclear whether they actually were or not.  It seems that despite that fact that Jones possesses of all of this knowledge, he can still be justified in accepting his individual experience as veridical.  Given his background knowledge of the other instances of orange-tasting, and his background knowledge of his sense-perceptions typically tending to be accurate, then he is justified in believing his sense-experience to be veridical based on the fact that he has an incredibly vast number of sense perceptions that he has already confirmed to be veridical.  The fact that other people have been mistaken in their sense perceptions, no matter how closely related these cases are to his own, should play no role (or at most a minimal role) in determining whether he deems his own sense perceptions to be veridical or not, since the weight of all of his reliable past sense perceptions far outweighs the fact that some people have been mistaken in similar situations.  That is to say, the fact that many other people have been mistaken in the past with regard to their perceptions is irrelevant to Jones and his perceptions in this particular case, and that Jones is, in the absence of disconfirming evidence, justified in believing his orange-tasting experience to be veridical. 

Of course, the example just given is regarding normal sense-experiences, which differ from the generally non-sensory theistic mystical experiences that is at issue here.  The parallel that I aim to highlight, however, is that in each case, the subject is presented with some sort of feeling, sense, awareness, or whatever you want to call it, whether it is mediated by the senses or not.  In the case of Jones, he is presented with the taste of the orange, and in the case of theistic mystic, he is presented with the experience of some deity or mystical being.  Whether or not there have been a series of other similar instances over time that have turned out to instances in which these experiences were non-veridical, the present subject is still justified, if not required, to accept his own perception and interpretation as being veridical, lacking any sort of disconfirming evidence.  To be clear, this is not to say that the experience itself was or is veridical, nor is it to say that we ought to believe that it is veridical, it is simply to say that, given the long-standing history of correct perceptual interpretations that would have to be made by any individual to successfully make it through life for any significant period of time, he ought to believe that his perceptions are again, in this case, accurate.

To the example just presented, Fales could possibly reply with an example of his own.  Suppose Jones is an avid map-enthusiast, and has always had an unusually good talent for reading maps.  Jones has, for as long as he and anyone else can remember, had such a skill, and has been correct in an overwhelming amount of occasions in which he had to make any sort of map-based decisions.  Suppose further that one day, on a hiking trip with his map in hand, Jones finds himself at the border of Land of Map-Reading Mistakes.  It is widely known to everybody, including Jones, that most or all people who travel through the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes often or always make mistakes in reading their maps and end up getting lost.  Fales would most likely argue in this case that the previous map-reading errors of others who have travelled through this area should make Jones, at the very least, wary of his map reading skills while he is in this area.  This is because things simply seem to be different in the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes, just as they are with theistic mystical experiences.  They are simply different kinds of experiences than other everyday sensory experiences, and as such, we should be wary of our perceptions and accounts of them in just the same way that Jones should be wary of accepting his map-reading skills when in the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes.  

This analogy fails for several reasons.  First, in his naturalistic sociological account of theistic mystical experiences, Fales is not simply proposing that the subjects got (or reported) their perceptions wrong, but he also provides the reason for why they got it wrong.  This is not the case in the present example, which does not aim to report why they got it wrong.  The analogy presented provides a far weaker conclusion than does Fales: that the perceiver was simply wrong, rather than the perceiver was wrong because of such and such.  Were Fales to only make the claim that theistic mystical experiences are non-veridical rather than go on to provide an explanatory account of why they are non-veridical, then it seems that the analogy presented would be able to be more easily applied to instances of theistic mystical experience, but this is simply not the case.  So on this front, either the analogy would have to make stronger claims as to why the maps were read incorrectly or the conclusion of Fales’ argument would have to be weakened by eliminating the explanatory aspect of it, to create parity between the two. 

Second, in the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes, it is clear that people have been mistaken in their interpretations of maps, but the same cannot be said for cases of theistic mystical theism.  What Fales tries to do through his naturalistic account is demonstrate that all or most theistic mystical experiences have been non-veridical, but the analogy presented takes for granted one of the very things that it should be trying to prove, that the map readers in fact did make mistakes in their perceptions or interpretations.  Because the analogy is operating on the fact that there were mistakes made rather than the reason why the mistakes were made, we cannot look closely enough at Jones and his situation to see if any of the special circumstances that rendered previous map readers’ perceptions faulty are at play in Jones’ situation. 

Thirdly, we have a series of cross-checking processes available to us to check for the veridicality of map-reading perceptions and interpretations, while the same cannot be said for mystical experiences that are, by their nature, essentially first-person.  Because of this lack of cross-checking procedures, it seems that we cannot prove that they are non-veridical conclusively, or even probably.  We are only able to rely on either our first-hand experience, or third-person testimony regarding them, and that is it.  For these three reasons, it does not seem that the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes is an apt analogy for cases of theistic mystical experiences, and that anything concluded from the analogy cannot reasonably be directly applied to theistic mystical experiences.

On another note, if it is the case that we are to accept that Jones is not justified in accepting his map perceptions and interpretations while in the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes, then it is unclear on what else he should be relying.  From a practical standpoint, if Jones is lost in this area, he cannot simply sit and do nothing:  he ought to at least attempt to find his way out and get back to some kind of land where map-reading is once again normal.  In order to do anything, however, it would seem that Jones would have no other choice than to trust his usual map-reading and interpreting faculties despite the evidence that they may not be working correctly, simply for the fact that he has no better option.  There is no simple regularized formula (let us assume) in the Land of Map-Reading Mistakes such that every time the map says Jones should go North he really should go South, or when the map says Jones should go East he really should go West, and vice-versa.  Clearly, if there were a regularized pattern of deception such as this, then Jones could, in theory, decipher it and make his way home, but this is not the case.  Since Jones would be utterly clueless as to whether or not his faculties are functioning properly, or of how they are malfunctioning if they in fact are, it seems that the only reasonable option for Jones is to trust his generally reliable map-reading skills and carry on as he normally would.


5.0 Conclusion

The debate between Gellman and Fales is fundamentally about where the burden of proof rests: on the theist to prove that his mystical experiences are veridical, or on the atheist to prove that the experiences can be explained naturalistically.  The claim that Fales has aimed to advance, that the burden of proof in on the theist to provide evidence for veridicality of his claim, has not been sufficiently established. 

                Through Fales’ discussion of Lewis’ sociological naturalistic account of mystical theistic mysticism, it seems that all he has been able to do is establish an alternative theory to theistic mysticism, but not a defeater for it.  There are, no doubt, many cases throughout history that can and have been explained by Lewis’ theory, but to say that all cases of theistic mysticism can be explained by this theory is a bit of a stretch, and a claim that Fales fails to establish.  There is simply no way to know precisely what motivations were at play for each person who claimed to have been the subject of some mystical theistic experience, so to make a claim that we ought to reject their testimony regarding such experiences does not seem reasonable.  Similarly, to argue that the subject of the experience ought to disbelieve his own senses and interpretation of an essentially first-person intimate phenomenon without having clearly established any disconfirming evidence is simply misguided as well.  It seems that in the case of theistic mystic experiences, as well as in the case of any other first-person experiences, the burden of proof rests on the individual claiming that the experience is non-veridical: he ought to clearly demonstrate that there is a sufficient level of disconfirming evidence.  To merely suggest that there could have been an alternative explanation for a particular phenomenon is not enough to claim that that alternative is the one that was at play in most or all other similar circumstance.















Works Cited

Alston, William, “Mysticism and Perceptual Awareness of God” in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy

                of Religion, edited by William Mann, 506-521. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Cohen, J.M.  The Life of Saint Teresa. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1957.

Fales, Evan. “Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experience, Part 1: The Case of St. Teresa.” Religious

                Studies 32, no. 2 (June 1996): 143-163.

— “Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experiences.”  Religious Studies 32, no.2 (June 1996): 296-313.

— “Can Science Explain Mysticism?” Religious Studies 35 (1999): 213-227.

Gellman, Jerome. “On a Sociological Challenge to the Veridicality of Religious Experience.” Religious

                Studies 34, no. 3 (September 1998): 235-251.

Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry. England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2001.

— “Mysticism and Religious Experience”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, edited by

                William Wainwright, 138-163.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

— “Mysticism.”  Last modified February 9, 2010. 

Kwan, Kai-Man.  “Can Religious Experience Provide Justification for the Belief in God? The Debate in

                Contemporary Analytic Philosophy.” Philosophy Compass 1/6, (2006): 640-661.

Lewis, I.M.  Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession, 2nd ed. London: Routledge,


Swinburne, Richard, “The Argument from Religious Experience”, Chapter 13 in The Existence of God,

                Second Edition, 292-327.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004.




[1] I.M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1989).  This is a view first proposed by I.M. Lewis in Ecstatic Religion, and has been applied by Fales to cases of theistic mystical experiences.

[2] Hereafter, for explanatory simplicity, I will omit subsequent references to ‘other supernatural entities.

[3] Of course, S might fail to be justified in believing that p is causally responsible for S’s experience of p. This could happen in several ways.  S could have ingested hallucinogenic drugs, the environment may not be such that it provides optimal conditions for the proper functioning of his senses, and other similar circumstances.

[4] William Alston, “Mysticism and Perceptual Awareness of God,” in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, edited by William Mann (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 506-521.  This essay is a condensed version of his 1991 book Perceiving God.

[5] Richard Swinburne, “The Arguments from Religious Experience,” Chapter 13 in The Existence of God, Second Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), 303.

[6] Jerome Gellman, “Mysticism and Religious Experience,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, edited by William Wainwright (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 149.

[7] Kai-Man Kwan, “Can Religious Experience Provide Justification for Belief in God? The Debate in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy,” Philosophy Compass 1/6 (2006): 640-661.  For more information and arguments on arguments from religious experience see Kwan 2006, or Gellman’s entry “Mysticism” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

[8] Alston, 501.

[9] A good example to think about the difference between “direct” and “non-direct” in this context is to think about seeing someone on television versus seeing them in person.  Seeing them on television would be seeing them non-directly, whereas seeing them in person would be seeing them directly.

[10] Alston, 503.

[11] Alston, 502.

[12] Michael Martin, “The Argument from Religious Experience”, Chapter 6 of Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 154-187.

[13] David Hume, “Of Miracles”, Section X of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  This is an argument particularly against miracles, which Hume takes to be violations of laws of nature, but if theistic mystical experiences involve some sort of violation of laws of nature, then Hume would take himself to have a good argument against the veridicality of these experiences. 

[14] Jerome Gellman, Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2001), 56.

[15] Gellman (2001), 56.

[16] Gellman (2001), 56.

[17] Gellman (2001), 57.

[18] Gellman (2001), 57.

[19] Gellman (2001), 57.

[20] Jerome Gellman, “On a Sociological Challenge to the Veridicality of Religious Experience,” Religious Studies 34, no. 3 (1998): 235.

[21] From this it would seem that Fales is actually one of the more ambitious T-reductionists rather than a modest T-reductionist as deemed by Gellman.  It would seem that since Gellman thinks that his arguments will strike down even the modest T-reductionists, he is simply extending some charity to Fales and his view.

[22] Evan Fales, “Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experience, Part 1: The case of St. Teresa,” Religious Studies 32, no. 2 (1996): 147.

[23] Fales (1996), 145.

[24] Fales (1996), 145.

[25] Fales (1996). 145.

[26] Fales, (1996). 149. Of course, the theory, as presented by Lewis, is far more detailed and complex than was presented by Fales in his paper, in that he goes on to differentiate between the various kinds of cultures that there are the kinds of mysticism that is prevalent within these kinds of cultures.  For the purposes of this essay, I think it is sufficient only to note that the core hypothesis is that mysticism is used as a means for improving, or potentially improving, one’s position in a given society.

[27] Fales, (1996), 149.

[28] Fales (1996), 149.

[29] Fales (1996), 153. Women at this time in Spain were excluded from church hierarchy and political office.

[30] Fales (1996), 153.

[31] Conversos are people of Jewish or Muslim descent, particularly in 14th and 15th century Spain and Portugal, who converted to Catholicism.  The conversions were often as a result of government pressure.

[32] Fales (1996), 154.

[33] Fales (1996), 154.  He does not go through each experience one by one, nor does he even appeal to any experiences in particular, but simply states that this is the case.

[34] J.M. Cohen, The Life of St. Teresa (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1957), 67-68.

[35] Fales (1996), 158.

[36] Evan Fales, “Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experiences,” Religious Studies 32, no. 2 (1996): 300.

[37] Fales (1996b), 304.

[38] Fales (1996b), 305.

[39] Fales (1996b), 305.

[40] Fales (1996b), 305.

[41] Fales (1996b), 305.

[42] Fales (1996b), 305.

[43] Fales (1996b), 306.

[44] Fales (1996b), 309.

[45] Presumably among these experiences is one which describes a theistic mystical experience.

[46] Fales (1996b), 310.

[47] A similar discussion is undertaken in chapter 5 of his 2001 book.

[48] Gellman (1998), 237.

[49] Gellman (1998), 244.

[50] Gellman (1998), 245.

[51] Gellman (1998), 245.

[52] Gellman (1998), 245.

[53] Gellman (1998), 246.

[54] Gellman (1998), 246.

[55] Gellman (1998), 246.

[56] Gellman (1998), 245.

[57] Gellman (1998), 246.

[58] Gellman (1998), 247.

[59] Gellman (1998), 248.

[60] Gellman (1998), 248.

[61] This discussion takes place in ch. 4 of Mystical Experience of God: A Philosophical Inquiry.  Gellman argues that while many instances of theistic perceptions seem to be divergent on the surface, there is still the possibility of an underlying common thread that runs through all of them.

[62] Gellman (1998), 249.

[63] Gellman (1998), 250.

[64] There is a final paper written by Fales in 2001, but it is a book review and does not introduce any new ideas to his case.

[65] Evan Fales , “Can Science Explain Mysticism?,” Religious Studies 32 (1999): 218.

[66] Fales (1999), 219.  Aside from the criteria already set out in the hypothesis, such as marginalization, the desire to advance socio-politically, etc.

[67] Fales (1999), 222.

[68] Fales (1999), 223.

[69] Fales (1999), 223.

[70] Save for the cases in which the experience is created by a micro-seizure rather than a desire to gain power.

[71] Establishing what the acceptable minimum number or ratio would be is not something that I propose be done here, but it is sufficient to say that the number of mystical theistic experiences that happen to fall into Lewis’ theory would have to be more than just one or two to undermine the entire body of mystical theistic experiences with regard to a single subject.

[72] “Special circumstances” could be said to include things such as the individual providing the testimony is a pathological liar, they were under the influence of some hallucinogens at the time in question, or something.

[73] While I have been discussing testimony, the same holds for an individual’s first-hand experiences.  That is, a person is justified in believing his first-person experiences in the absence of special circumstances that would cause his to doubt them.  An example of this could be a man seeing what he believes to be a family of snakes on the floor in front of him, but he also knows that he has just taken LSD.  Knowing that he has just taken drugs gives him a defeater for his snake-belief.

[74] A claim that Fales has not sufficiently established, and mentions only very briefly.

[75] Gellman (1998), 236.

[76] Gellman (2001), 57.

[77] I use the term “faulty” here simply to denote that the experiences in which the orange did not play a direct causal role in the taste-sensation that was felt by the subjects.


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