Religious Experience Viewpoint

By: Hailey, Hannah, and Kaitlin

Main Ideas

  1. Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the "divine."
  2. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience.
  3. Therefore, there exists a "divine" reality which many people of different eras and of widely different cultures have experienced.

Argument from Religious Experience

The argument from Religious Experience claims actual experience of God. This argument is the oldest form of religious justification but it is also the most controversial. Whereas the other arguments rely on some form of logical persuasion, this argument relies on the authenticity of such an experience.
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Strengths and Weakness

Strengths: In its strong form, this argument asserts that it is only possible to experience that which exists, and so that the phenomenon of religious experience demonstrates the existence of God. People experience God, therefore there must be a God; case closed.

Weakness: In its weaker form, the argument asserts only that religious experiences constitute evidence for God’s existence.

  • The argument relies on subjectivity of the experience, but because it is subjective, a philosophical argument can be made. One of the dominant objections states, that there are powerful philosophical arguments that our experiences of the external world, the familiar everyday objects around us, are insufficient to justify belief in their existence.
  • The problem is that all experience is subjective and any subjective experience is logically consistent with any number of objective states of affairs. No matter how you perceive the world to be, there are any number of ways that it could actually be. For example, you could be dreaming, or hallucinating. If our familiar and lucid experiences of the external world are insufficient to justify belief in its existence, then how much more uncertain must the connection be between barely tangible religious experiences and belief in God?

Evaluating Religious Claims

There is an enormous number of religious claims. Either they are true or not. In evaluating them, we should take into account:

  1. The consistency of these claims (are they self-consistent as well as consistent with what we know otherwise to be true?);
  2. The character of those who make these claims (do these persons seem honest, decent, trustworthy?); and
  3. The effects these experiences have had in their own lives and the lives of others (have these persons become more loving as a result of what they experienced? More genuinely edifying? Or, alternatively, have they become vain and self-absorbed?).
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