Religious Experience

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  • The Religious Experience
    • Definitions
      • Swinburne
        • Ordinary Experience (Public)
          • A person experiences the work of God in an everyday occurrence or natural event
        • Extraordinary Experience (Public)
          • Experiences that appear to violate normal understanding of the workings of nature
        • Describable Experience (Private)
          • unusual experiences that are imbued with religious significance - the individual is able to talk about it
        • Non-Describable Experience (Private)
          • These are particular to an individual but they cannot be described as they are beyond words
        • Non-Specific Experience (Private)
          • There may be an experience of the divine but that isn't attached to any particular feeling, vision or personal experience
      • Otto
        • A religious experience is a numinous experience
          • An experience of awe, terror, fascination and love
        • Three qualities: mysterious with a relaisation that God is incomprehensible, a realization that God is the ultimate important, the feeling of God cannot be controlled
      • James
        • Ineffable
          • The recipient goes through certain sensations that are beyond verbal description. Any descriptions offered will be meaningless to the listener.
        • Noetic
          • The experience provides knowledge grasped through intuition and perception: it is revelationary
        • Transciency
          • The significance and effects of the experience are out of proportion to its physical duration; they cannot be accurately remembered but they can be recognized when they occur
        • Passivity
          • The experience is beyond the individual's control and cannot be obtained by effort
    • Arguments For
      • Swinburne
        • Cumulative Argument
          • Hume said that putting together lots of weak argument doesn't make a large strong argument: it just makes a large weak theory
          • Whilst the argument from religious experience alone isn't enough to prove the existence of God, with all the other arguments it does.
        • The Principle of Testimony
          • Generally, unless we have special reason not to, we should believe what another person says
            • Russel said that as there are many people who have believed that they have seen the devil, by Swinburne's theory it follows that we should believe these.
            • Mackie: we might not know people to be deceitful or untrustworthy, but they could be mistaken. They could interpret events wrong  by saying that the experience came from God when in fact the source was different.
            • Gale: religious experiences are not the same as other experiences and therefore they must be treated differently. As a general rule we should accept what people say as the truth, by this only applies to every day experiences of the 5 senses.
        • The Principle of Credulity
          • The way that things seem to us is a good guide to the way things actually are in the world
            • Descartes noted that our sense often deceive us, and so our experiences could be an illusion
            • Russel: Swinburne does not consider the negative: that if x seems not to be present, then it is likely x is not present (if people do not experience God, then this would mean God doesn't exist)
            • Alston: there's no reason to reject an explanation of something just because it's unusual.
    • Arguments Against
      • Many religious experiences may be due to an unusual mental state (epilepsy or drug use)
        • Russel: there's no distinction between a man who eats too little and sees God to a man who drinks too much a sees a snake.
        • Davies said that it may be necessary to be in a special mental state to experience God.
      • Verificationism
        • We cannot verify religious experiences are therefore they are meaningless
          • With this principle, the principle itself cannot be verified and so is meaningless.
          • Hardy: 50% of people have had a religious experience of some kind
          • Hume: eschatological verification
        • The Principle of Credulity
          • The way that things seem to us is a good guide to the way things actually are in the world
            • Descartes noted that our sense often deceive us, and so our experiences could be an illusion
            • Russel: Swinburne does not consider the negative: that if x seems not to be present, then it is likely x is not present (if people do not experience God, then this would mean God doesn't exist)
            • Alston: there's no reason to reject an explanation of something just because it's unusual.

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