Who is GM Skeptic
Genetically Modified Skeptic is the name of a very popular YouTube Channel (487K subscribers as of March 2022) and also the alias of his owner, Drew McCoy, an American atheist YouTuber who makes videos about atheism, responses to religious videos, and has also criticized alternative medicine (source).
GM Skeptic is special among popular atheist YouTubers because he not only is a former Evangelical Christian, he also claims to have had a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" and plenty of "personal spiritual experiences" prior to his deconversion. On August 19, 2018, he uploaded a video titled My Personal Experience with God (As an Atheist) (~ 220K views). The description reads:
I'm an atheist, but I've personally experienced God in the same way that many religious people have. I left Christianity and my "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" a while back even though I had those experiences, and I think I have good reasons for that. The argument from personal experience is thrown at me often, so I wanted to have this on the record, as well as explain why personal experience isn't evidence for god.
Summary of the argument in the video
In simple words, GM Skeptic argues that:
- Over a century of Psychology & Neuroscience research on religious experiences can provide a naturalistic explanation for these sorts of experiences. Religious experiences are simply the result of brain activity under special circumstances.
- People from different religions experience very intense and religion-specific spiritual experiences with their own respective deities. These religions cannot all be true at the same time, because they contradict each other on several key points. Therefore, this shows that personal spiritual experiences do not constitute proof of the veracity of a given religion. Otherwise, we would need to conclude that mutually contradictory religions are true at the same time, which is a logical contradiction.
- Therefore, personal spiritual experiences are unreliable, and should be dismissed entirely as supportive evidence for religious claims.
For Latter-day Saints, spiritual experiences play a very important role in the confirmation of the veracity of their beliefs (e.g. see Has any Latter-day Saint published a very detailed description of how the Holy Spirit confirmed to them the truth of the BofM, as per Moroni 10:3-7?).
How do Latter-day Saints rebut GM Skeptic's argument against the epistemic value of personal spiritual experiences?
- How do Christians rebut Matt Dillahunty's objection that the resurrection of Jesus is untestable, unfalsifiable and thus unreasonable to believe?
- How do Christians discern genuine spiritual experiences from hallucinations?
- How do Christians who subscribe to the "religion vs. relationship" dichotomy make sure that their own relationship with God is genuine?
- How do Christians approach the evangelization of individuals who have had profound spiritual experiences in other religions?
Appendix - transcript of relevant excerpts from the video
I was raised Christian fundamentalist and have only been an atheist for about two and a half years. Hopefully my regular viewers all know that by now. I believed it all fervently. I wasn't the kid that always had their doubts and asked too many questions in Sunday school and got kicked out for it. I was a leader in my church youth group. I prayed constantly. I studied the Bible diligently and I evangelize to any of my acquaintances who weren't Christian. Most of all, I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ ... or, so I thought ...
A major part of my Christian life was personally experiencing and interacting with God. Some but not all atheists I know say they've never experienced anything they felt was supernatural even when they were religious. But, I have, and I want to take you through the story of a deeply meaningful experience I had, tell you what it meant to me then, and tell what it means to me now.
[...] and suddenly I wasn't alone in the room. Something intense swept over me. God's presence was there and I was overcome with indescribable peace. Time became imperceptible and my sense of self was stripped away. I was meeting with God. No words were needed to communicate what happened from there. I was to become more open, more vulnerable, more compassionate. God would allow me to feel emotion like I never had before for a few days from that point on [...]
As unique or life-changing as that experience sounds, it's far from the only one I've ever had. I actually had to choose between several experiences I could tell you guys about for this video. Growing up how I did, those moments were definitely special but they weren't uncommon. The presence of God was something I felt pretty often. Not always in huge miraculous ways but also in still small ways that felt like the comfort from a close friend. I mean, I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If I hadn't felt like he was there with me sometimes then, I wouldn't have ever called it a relationship.
To run through just a few other spiritual experiences I've had, I asked God for wisdom like King Solomon's at 9 years old and he told me it would come through him as I got older. As a preteen I rededicated my life to Christ and I felt him at the church alter with me. At church camp I felt God in the room with me more than I could feel people there. In high school I intensively studied apologetics so I could effectively share the gospel with my acquaintances who were unsaved and God met me multiple times in that process. During college, I even had experiences much more intense than the one I described here. The point is, I've had a lot of powerful personal experiences with God in my life. So, why then am I an atheist?
The answer is my view of personal experience. See a few years ago a lot of people I knew started using and selling essential oils. A lot of them claimed that the oils cured medical issues of theirs like chronic migraines, heart diseases and even cancer, and that oils could do the same for other people. I found that there was no research showing that essential oils could do any of those things, and those selling them actually admitted as much. They believed oils could do those miraculous things based solely on their personal experiences.
I was studying scientific methodology at that time and I learned that reliable scientific medical studies always test one factor at at time by putting certain controls in place which allow researches to rule out the placebo effect, the effects of other medications, dietary and exercise changes, etc. That way the really know what caused the effects they observed. I realized that people claiming they know what essential oils do based on their personal experience didn't have a leg to stand on. What they experienced could have been and more likely was effects of factors they didn't account for. That realization led me to stand pretty firmly against essential oils and a lot of other types of alternative medicine. After all, they were using them as medicine and making huge parts of their lives based on nothing but unreliable personal experiences ... and then ... it hit me. My personal experiences with God strengthened my faith, but were they any more reliable than others' personal experiences with essential oils? Probably not.
I went on to learn that psychologists have been studying religious experiences for over a century. They've found that experiences of the supernatural had certain triggers, like music, large crowds, extended exercise, meditative states, sensory deprivation, drugs, sleep, food & water deprivation, and much much more. Scientists have even tracked brain activity during supernatural experiences and have seen predictable patterns. Many of which can be even replicated with electrical and chemical stimulation. After that I learned about the religious experiences of those of other faiths. Apparently people of basically every religion on the planet have reported experiences very similar to my own. Personally sensing and interacting with one's own deity is a universal experience regardless of the deity that one worships. People even have unique religion-specific experiences in religions which actively contradict other faiths. For instance, Pentecostals experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit or speaking in tongues, meanwhile Pentecostalism claims to be the only true religion which allows for actual connection to God. Many Muslims, however, experience a connection to Allah during prayer, in which they're bathed in a green light, green being a sacred color in Islam. Meanwhile, Islam claims to be the only true religion which allows for actual connection to God. Because of the exclusive nature of these religions, they can't both be right. One or both of them must be mistaken about the origins of their own divine experiences.
At a certain point, after learning all of this for myself, I ran through the implications of what I discovered. Maybe my experiences were real, but I hadn't controlled for any of the influences on me so I couldn't be sure what I felt was a result of something supernatural. Maybe they were real but they happened in meditative states which are known to cause brain activity, which scientists can both predict and replicate with natural means. Maybe they were real but people of religions that contradicted my own had experienced things just as real and religion-specific as I had. Maybe they were real, but I had no valid reason to think they were supernatural, and every reason to think they were natural. I could no longer be honest with myself and say that I had good reason to believe that my experiences, however powerful, were anything divine. I was dishonest to continue to think that my experiences were special while all others in different religions were most likely just a product of the mind. While that realization disappointed me in a way, it also taught me that all I need to create amazing self-transcending experiences is my brain. In fact, I've had experiences like that since becoming an atheist and they were just as powerful all while being completely naturalistic.
In my deconversion, I lost nothing and gained a greater understanding of the human condition than I had previously. Honestly, I'm glad I experienced what I did as a Christian so that I can know exactly what religious people mean when they talk about supernatural experiences. And ... if nothing else, I love that when a Christian asks me if I've ever experienced what it's like to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I can honestly say "yes".