As the crowd applauded thunderously Randal walked out on stage smiling. "Great performance by our atheists tonight. We've definitely had some lively discussion. And rest assured there is more to come. But for the mid-week intermission I have invited beetle496 to come on stage and deliver his final parting jab from the last thread as some food for thought. Ready? Drum roll please? Okay, go Beetle! Give it to us!"
With that Beetle walked on stage, cleared his throat, and said into the microphone: "God-perception is indistinguishable from wishful magical thinking."
Silence. The crowd began looking around confused. An old fellow scratched his head. "That's it?" he grumbled. Suddenly a young lady in the corner of the theatre stood up. "Yeah, what's with that?"
Sensing the mood of the house was quickly going sour, Randal walked on stage beside a now-trembling Beetle. "Folks! Settle down. Let's be curteous. Beetle came a long way to share his views."
"So what's he saying?" shouted an elderly lady in the front row. "After all, God perception is completely different from wishful magical thinking. The former is a perception of the creator of all things, the latter is not."
Randal glanced at Beetle and then continued. "Well that's true, so that can't have been Beetle's point, I suppose. So let me suggest that his claim is an epistemological one. Perhaps he means to argue that while the act of coming to believe a proposition about God could result from a true perception of God it could also result from a delusion or some other sorry cognitive state. In short: we could be wrong."
"Wait a minute." the old lady barked back. "Are you saying that because I could be wrong, therefore I can't be right?"
Randal looked confused. "I suppose..."
"Ridiculous!" the old lady continued. "My coming to believe there is an apple in front of me could be wrong as well. But the fact that we can misperceive physical objects does not warrant the conclusion that we can't perceive them, or that we can't have reasons to believe we perceive them."
Beads of perspiration began appearing on Randal's forehead as he struggled to keep the crowd in check. "True, but if you hallucinate an apple in front of you, you could later test that percept to see if it is false. I think Beetle believes you can't do that with a God-percept."
The old lady laughed. "Are you saying that you have to test every sense percept in order to confirm that it is not a hallucination before you can know it? Can you say 'infinite regress'?"
"Hey," Randal sternly replied. "Let's not get nasty."
A teenage boy interrupted. "But she's right. Anyways it has been pointed out many times that all that we sense perceive is consistent with us being asleep, with the world being created five minutes ago, with our being in the matrix, with our brains being stimulated in vats of nutrient fluid, or with our being deceived by an evil demon. So everything we sense perceive about the world could be wrong. But that is not a reason to believe it is wrong or that we can't have grounds to believe it generally reliable."
The old lady jumped in eagerly. "Right you are young man. The skeptic of sense perception needs an argument to show that beliefs formed about the world are generally unreliable. So does the skeptic of God-perception."
The teenage boy continued. "So show us that beliefs about God could not result from a perception of God."
"How so?" Randal asked meekly, his voice cracking under the strain.
"You must demonstrate either that even if there is an omnipotent God he could not reveal himself directly to human beings through a form of immediate intuition or perception, or you must provide adequate grounds to believe that there is no God to begin with. Without that defense you're just a blinkin' secular fundamentalist magisterially declaring without argument what can and cannot be known!"
With that the crowd descended into a cacophany of shouts and cat-calls. Quickly Randal hustled Beetle off the stage. Once safely in the green room he turned to Beetle: "Well," he said "that went as well as could be expected."