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Religious Experience God exists


God exists I spoke to him this morning What is a religious experience? (Cole) Wholly other from what is customary or usual Not usually describable Not universal ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Religious Experience God exists

Religious ExperienceGod exists I spoke to him
this morning
What is a religious experience? (Cole)
  • Wholly other from what is customary or usual
  • Not usually describable
  • Not universal to human beings
  • Different interpretations in different cultures
  • Subjective experience
  • Cannot be verified
  • Gives insight into the unseen
  • You cannot experience God unless he allows you to

  • Any experience that is interpreted as religious.

Eat this sweet
  • Write down what it tastes like.
  • I can never experience things as you do I do
    not even know whether when we both call something
    sweet that it is the same taste for both of us.
    Similarly, I cannot share your religious
    experience I can only feel mine.

Bertrand Russell
  • Some people drink too much and see snakes,
    whilst others fast too much and see God.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
When a man says God spoke to him in a dream it
is no more than to say that he dreamed that God
spoke to him.
Religious Experience and the argument
  • A religious experience may be understood as any
    encounter with God, or what is ultimate. It is an
    experience of transcendent reality, seen in many
    different ways in different faith traditions.
  • There are actually a number of different types of
    argument. For instance, some argue from direct
    awareness the view that God can be known
    intuitively (directly) by the person perceiving
    him. This is very personal however, and has
    limited capacity to persuade others.
  • Most commonly, theistic philosophers have
    preferred to talk about an argument from
    religious experience an inductive and a
    posteriori argument based on the evidence of
    witnesses and testimonies.

A summary of the inductive argument
  • If an entity is experienced, it must exist
  • God is the sort of being that it is possible to
  • People claim to have experienced God directly
  • Conclusion God exists

Other forms of argument
  • A few other types of argument based on religious
    experience might also be considered, although
    they are less favoured by modern philosophers.
  • The historical argument states that the
    experiences of key individuals have been so great
    and impressive that they must be true Mohammed,
    St. Paul, etc. Such individuals had enormous
    influence after receiving religious experiences.
  • The cumulative argument states that so many
    people have had religious experiences in the past
    that they simply cannot all be making it up. God
    must be the cause of (at least some of) this.

St. Paul vision of Christ knocked him off his
The trouble with these arguments is that theyre
very subjective and ambiguous. Whos to say
whether Mohammed has had a great impact or
not? Also, its implausible that God would be
evident in all of these differing experiences,
since so many are so different. Surely they rule
each other out.
Read and annotate God and Human Experience
  • Draw up a table
  • Reasons to support the argument from religious
  • Reasons to refute the argument from religious

Is religious experience widespread?
  • 31 of British people and 5 of Americans have
    felt close to a powerful spiritual force or have
    had an experience they consider to be religious.
  • They experience may last for a few seconds but
    may last a lot longer.
  • Those having the experience perceive it to be
    different from any other kind of experience.
  • They produce a change in both behaviour and

Types of Religious Experience - Swinburne
  • Public Experience
  • Ordinary Experiences where a person interprets
    a natural event as having religious significance
  • Extraordinary Experiences experiences that
    violate normal understanding of nature (ie
    turning water into wine)
  • Private Experiences
  • Describable in ordinary language (ie a dream)
  • Non Describable experiences of God/wholly
    other that cannot be explained using words.
    Teresa of Avila
  • Non Specific looking at the world from a
    religious perspective

Visions 3 types
  • Teresa Alvila intellectual vision (more of an
  • Bernadette of Lourdes corporeal vision (seen as
    a physical person)
  • Joseph speaking to angels in a dream
    imaginative vision.

How would you categorise these?
  • Awe and beauty and intricacies of Gods creation,
    such as DNA
  • A young girl seeing a vision of Mary
  • John Wesley feeling that his heart had been
    strangely warmed and his sins removed by
  • The Quran being revealed by Muhammad (pbuh) by
  • Moses receiving the 10 commandments

John Hick experiencing as
  • John Hick developing from Wittgensteins seeing
    as. Hick interpreted Religious Experience
    similarly. It is not that people are
    experiencing different things but they are
    experiencing the same thing differently.

The Varieties of Religious Experience
William James, author of The Varieties of
Religious Experience
  • A significant aspect of religious experience is
    the considerable variety of types conversions
    (like that of St. Paul), corporate experiences,
    near death experiences, or mystical encounters.
  • The philosopher and psychologist William James
    was impressed by this great variety. He thought
    that the heart of religion lay in personal
    experiences which for the individual would be
    absolutely authoritative. James sees
    experiences as personally persuasive, rather than
    as evidence to prove God to others inductively.
  • James regarded mysticism as a significant state
    of mind or awareness, identifying four key
    features of such important experiences
  • (1) Ineffability they cannot be explained (2)
    Noetic Quality they impart knowledge, (3)
    Transiency they are over quickly, (4) Passivity
    they come upon the individual without being
    sought after.

Key mystic Teresa of Avila
Evaluating William James
  • Ineffable they cannot be explained
  • Noetic - they impart knowledge
  • Transient - they are over quickly
  • Passive- they come upon the individual without
    being sought after
  • How could William James four characteristics be
    applied to the St Teresa extract?
  • How could William James four characteristic be
    applied to another case study you have

Criticisms of William James
  • Logical Positivists would argue against this
  • Bases his understanding on a subjective
    understanding of religious experience.
  • If we took David Humes approach to the
    Cosmological and Teleological arguments there
    may be another reason for religious experiences
    a whole committee of gods, demons or perhaps
    telepathic forces

Philosophical Problem Cultural Differences
  • In Christian Europe, it is common to hear of
    religious experiences that involve the Virgin
  • In India, Hindu experiences are likely to
    experience Ganesh

How do you account for this?
  1. Both experiences of the divine are objectively
  2. One experience of the divine is objectively true
    and others are objectively false
  3. All experiences of the divine are subjectively
    true, but none are objectively true

  • All are objectively true
  • It is possible that all these experiences are
    objectively true. This means that in Christian
    Europe, the Virgin Mary is actually encountered
    and similarly in India, Ganesh is encountered.
  • But this causes problems denies the truth
    claims of major religions
  • Denies the NECESSITY proposed by the Ontological
    and Cosmological arguments. The world seems to
    be shared by several Gods who all claim to have
    created it.

One is true, and one is falseParadise Lost
  • Argued that the Christian God is objectively true
    and other religions are objectively false.
    Whilst the Indian may have perceived himself as
    experiencing Ganesh it is infact a demon.
  • However, if Demons can imitate religious
    experience that well, who is to say that all
    religious experiences have not been created that

Both are subjectively true John Hick
  • The pluralistic hypothesis.
  • If the PH is true, then nobody has a direct
    experience of the divine. Hick calls this the
    real not even Moses. Everyone clothes the
    divine in symbols ,images and forms that are
    personally or culturally meaningful to them.

Read Swinburne
  • http//

Criticism of Swinburne
  • JL Mackie (Credulity) In the balance of
    probabilities, it is more likely that a person is
    mistaken than God is the explanation.
  • Gale religious experience is not the same as
    other types of experience and therefore normal
    rules do not apply. Whilst normally we should
    trust our senses. However, if we dream we have
    seen monsters under our bed, then in a sense, we
    have experienced a monster under the bed. Yet
    wouldnt argue that it was veridical.

More criticisms
  • Davis argues that whilst normally we should
    accept what people say as a matter of course,
    however God is not a trivial matter that we
    would be happy to take someone elses word for.
    Swinburne needs to make a much stronger argument.

More Criticisms
  • Michael Martin suggests that Swinburnes
    credulity and testimony can be used to suggest
    that God doesnt exist.
  • An atheist may have a strong sense of the absence
    of God using Swinburnes argument perhaps we
    should assume that the world is as the experience
    suggests there is NO God. that the world is

Weaknesses of the argument
The problem with an inductive argument is that it
only ever gives probable explanations for states
of affairs. This can lead to questionable leaps
in the evidence. Claims to experience God can
never amount to proof as there are many
alternative explanations states of mind can be
chemically or drug induced, or they might be part
of a natural and sub-conscious healing process,
or they might result from activity in the
temporal lobes.
Philosophical critiques
A number of philosophers have also made
criticisms of the argument from religious
experience. J.L. Mackie has argued that it is
wrong to draw evidence from peoples claims to
religious experiences on the grounds that there
are disanalogies between these and other normal
experiences. Mackie states that religious
experiences have different characteristics from
other perceptions, so they should not carry the
same degree of authority. They are not part of
the same scheme of shared and verifiable
experiences common in daily life.
Mackie Disanalogies between experiences
Ayer, verification
  • The argument from religious experience is also
    challenged by the verification principle,
    supported by the British philosopher and atheist
    A.J. Ayer. This is the principle that a
    proposition can only be meaningful if it could be
    verified analytically or synthetically.
  • That is, we could only regard religious
    experiences as meaningful if we could check their
    truth through the logical sense of the terms
    (analytically) or through gathering some body of
    supporting evidence (synthetically).
  • Ayer is particularly critical of mysticism,
    because it tries to ascribe significance to a
    being (God) who, by definition, cannot be
    meaningfully described. If there is no possible
    way to check what is meant by God, then why
    should we accept the validity of religious

Richard Dawkins also has something to say about
this debate. In his book The God Delusion,
Dawkins tells a story from his student days. He
recalls that a fellow undergraduate was camping
in Scotland and claimed to have heard the voice
of the devil Satan himself. In fact, it was
just the call of the Manx Shearwater (or Devil
Bird), which has an evil sounding voice. For
Dawkins, this highlights the key problem with
personal experiences. They are often used in an
appeal to God because people are ignorant of more
straightforward physical or psychological
explanations for what the perceive. It is an
argument based on ignorance.
not convinced
Possible responses to criticisms
  • Mackies claim that religious experiences are
    disanalogous with normal experiences seems harsh.
    William Alston suggests that there is continuity
    in our experiences, focusing on our ability to
    check perceptions, detect regularity, share
    experience, and have common views of public
    objects between cultures. Religion might well fit
    into this scheme.
  • Dawkins use of a personal anecdote is not
    revealing of religious experience as a whole. In
    most cases, testimony or personal experience are
    not easily deconstructed in natural or
    psychological terms.

Contrary to Scooby Doo, there isnt always a
perfectly straightforward explanation.
Burden of proof do the religious have to prove
their experiences are genuine, or must sceptics
disprove them?
Can we verify religious experiences? What would a
good method be like?
Final Evaluation
Should God be something we can experience for
Are religious experiences really different from
normal experiences?
Alternatives to Religious Experience
  • Using Page