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  • Created on: 27-04-10 16:39

Philosophy - Plato's cave

For Plato, knowledge gained through the senses (empirical experience) is no more than opinion. Knowledge gained through philosophical reasoning is certain.

The allegory of the cave makes a contrast between people who see only appearances and mistake them for the truth, and those who really do see the truth.

Some prisoners are trapped in a cave, away from a “real life.” The prisoners are chained and only able to look straight ahead at a wall in front of them, whilst there is a fire behind them. Between them and the fire is a kind of track with a parapet in front of it, rather like the stage of a puppet show.

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Philosophy - Plato's cave

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Philosophy - Plato's cave

People can carry a variety of artificial objects made from wood and stone along the track making them move and sometimes giving them voices – like the puppeteers of a puppet show

Shadows of the puppets are cast up on the wall in front of the prisoners caused by the fire. Since the wall is the only thing the prisoners have ever known, they are lead to believe that these shadows are entities in themselves and the only reality. Due to the flickering fire the shadows are poor quality and are merely images of artificial objects imitating real objects that exact in a reality the prisoners are not aware of.

The prisoners experience echoes of the puppeteers pretending to be the artificial objects

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Philosophy - Plato's Cave

The prisoners thus have an experience similar to that of an underground cinema. Their experience of reality is far removed from the everyday world - they see poor shadows of artificial objects pretending to move and hear echoes of sound that does not really come from the shadows they attribute them to.

Plato suggested prisoners may have made up a game where they observe shadows passing by and remember their order of appearance so can make good guesses about which object will come next. This requires no philosophical insight, just a skill at guesswork. A person with real knowledge will understand that this skill has no value compared with a genuine understanding of reality – the world outside of the cave.

EIKASIA DERIVED FROM “EIKON” – an image or likeness
Eikasia is the state of mind Plato refers to when discussing the prisoners in the cave – the lowest level of understanding

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Philosoph - Plato's cave

Plato explains a series of events in which one prisoner is set free. He can stand up and turn around – finds movement painful at first, and is too dazzled by the light form the fire to see anything properly.

This illustrates how the first response to philosophical questioning is puzzlement

As he becomes used to the light he realizes that his former view of reality was not accurate. Looking at the fire makes him uncomfortable and he wants to go back to looking back at the shadows again, when he was happy with his interpretation of the world. However he is forced outside in what Plato describes as a steep and rough journey. He as so dazzled by the sun at first he cannot see anything. However, the more his eyes get used to the world outside the cave the more he is able to perceive. He is able to look into the sky at nighttime first and then eventually at daytime.

He is able to see the real world and draw conclusions from it which are true

He begins to understand that the world depends on the sun for existence, the source of all light, reflections and shadows. The sunlight thus is representative of true knowledge. He is aware that his earlier understanding of the world is wrong and realises that the former skills prized by the prisoners (their game) are worthless.

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Philosophy - Plato's cave

The escapee or former prisoner feels sorry for others in cave, goes down to tell them. His ability to see the shadows on the wall has deteriorated since his sight has been adjusted to the sunlight of the outside world. The other prisoners laugh at him and say his journey into the light was a waste of time because it spoiled his ability to see clearly. They threaten to kill anyone who attempts to set them free – they are afraid of philosophical enlightenment.

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Philosophy - Plato's forms

For Plato there are two words; the eternal world and the material world. The eternal world possesses the object of knowledge and is more real than the material world which possesses the object of opinion.

The material world when it is in a constant state of flux and therefore it is impossible to know the truth of reality - “You cannot step into the same river twice”

Perfect forms exist in the realm of ideals or forms, which possess the object of knowledge. Sense perceptions of material objects are simply objects of opinion, subject to constant change. Knowledge is innate, a recollection of the perfect forms.

“Her eyes are too close together” – we can recognize that she falls short of beauty and thus understand the concept of beauty, yet we have not ever experienced a perfect example of beauty.

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Philosophy - Plato's forms


We have concepts of the perfect forms thus our souls must have known them before we were born (innate, ‘a priori’ knowledge) –evidence that we have immortal souls.

A circle is a 2D figure made up of an infinite series of points all the same distance from the centre. No one has ever seen the perfect form of a circle but instead imperfect copies, reasonable approximations of the true form. A perfect circle could not be seen or drawn even if one used the most sophisticated computer equipment. This is because, in its perfect form, the infinite numbers of points which make up the circumference don’t take up any space as they exist in logic rather than physical form. Yet although the perfect circle can never be seen, people can define a circle from their soul’s recollection of the true form from the realm of ideas.

Forms give physical objects what reality they have because of their resemblance. The shadows in the Allegory of the Cave only had any kind of existence because of their resemblance to their corresponding physical objects.

Goodness is the most important form. Like the sun in the Allegory of the Cave, Good illuminates all the other forms. Justice for example is an aspect of Goodness.

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Philosophy - Plato's forms

Plato believed that the Forms were interrelated, and arranged in a hierarchy. The highest Form is the Form of the Good, which is the ultimate principle.

Plato's hierarchy of forms (

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Philosophy - Plato Body/Soul

The body is the physical component of each person, trapped in a constant state of flux

The mind possesses the ability and will to achieve an awareness of the realm of ideal forms – the outside world in the Allegory of the Cave

Duality refers to Plato’s belief that the body and mind exist separately and are independent of each other

The body and mind are often in opposition. The mind wants to gain real knowledge of the true forms; the body is interested in empirical pleasures and needs – it “takes away from us the power of thinking at all.”

This way of thinking is reflected in the way we speak of our bodies. If we say: “I have a cat,” we mean something different than “I am a cat.” “I am a cat,” means I am not a cat, separate/distinct form a cat. We say: “I have a body” not “I am a body.” This suggests that the real person is distinct from the body it inhibits.

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Philosophy - Plato Body/Soul

For Plato, the soul is the directing force of the body. Plato compares this with a charioteer - the soul tries to guide the mind and body together like two horses rather than allowing them to contradict and be pulled in opposite directions. Most people never achieve this direction and allow their lives to be dominated by physical needs and sense pleasures.

The soul is immortal and can exist in the spiritual realm. It is unchanging thus pre-exists the body and cannot die

Plato uses the metaphor of sight to differentiate knowledge and opinion:
Sight needs not only the eye and the object but also light. Without light the object cannot be clearly seen. The light is compared with the form of good; knowledge of true goodness allows the eye (soul) to gain clarity of vision (real understanding).

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Philosophy - Plato Body/Soul

Plato claims that practicing philosophy is a rehearsal for death. Thus in causing the death of Socrates his opponents didn’t win, rather his soul was released for re-entry into the world of the ideal forms to renew its knowledge of the form of the good.

Plato postulated that the soul is divided into three parts; reason, emotion and desire

Plato believed that each person has a soul that lives after the body dies. He said that this belief could be justified through logical argument.

Everything comes into being from its opposite being and would not exist without it. Big things would not be bigger and small things would not be smaller without their opposites. Therefore death must come from life and life from death. People who are dead used to be alive but then experienced a change and people who are alive are people who were among the dead but experienced the change we call being born (i.e. an endless chain of death and rebirth – the theory of reincarnation).

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Philosophy - Plato Body/Soul

When we come to understand something if the object of true knowledge, we have a sense of recognition, e.g. we know the square route of 81 is 9. This example cannot be known through the senses and thus is not a matter of subjective opinion, but is true for in all cases – universal and absolute. This is evidence that the soul pre-exists the body.

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Philosophy - Aristotle's concept of cause

Unlike Plato, Aristotle did not believe there are two separate realms. He believed the world we live in is the only place in which we can have true knowledge, because it is through our sense experience that we come to understand things.

Aristotle believed that ‘form’ was not an ideal, but found within the item itself. The form is its structure and characteristics and can be perceived using the senses.

The material of which things are made

Form of a table: It has four legs and a flat surface

Substance of a table: wood, nails and glue

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Philosophy - Aristotle's concept of cause

Aristotle also used the term matter to define the stuff of which something is made:

A chair’s matter is wood, and its form is the structure of the chair itself

Prime Matter refers to anything that lacks a well defined form – not organised in any particular structure. It has matter but no form.

For Aristotle, God is the only thing that has form without matter

Small children often go through a phase of asking ‘why’ about everything. They demand a reason for each answer given, leading to a chain of reasons starting from the immediate response and ending with the final response – ‘because it just is.’

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Philosophy - Aristotle's concept of cause


I. Material Cause – What the object is made of. The material cause of a statue would be gold or bronze. Material is not enough on its own to make the object what it is – we cannot understand a great painting just by knowing the colored paints and canvas used.
It asks the question: What is it made of?

II. Efficient Cause – The agent that brings something about. In the case of a statue the act of chiseling is the efficient cause.
It asks the question: How did it happen?

III. Formal Cause – The characteristics of the object. The person or mythical beast that the statue resembles. The statue is not just a lump of marble someone is chiseling away at.
It asks the question: What are its characteristics?

IV. Final Cause – The reason for its existence. This is the most important aspect of Aristotle’s thinking. The final cause of a statue is the desire of the sculptor to make a decorative or commemorative beautiful object.
It asks the question: What is it for?

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Philosophy - Aristotle's concept of cause

Teleology is concerned with the final end or purpose of something. The ‘telos’ of an object is part of the object itself, it is intrinsic.

For Aristotle, everything in the universe has a purpose; just as the universe as a whole has a purpose

Something is good if it achieves its end purpose, and its telos defines its good. Aristotle said that if it were possible to discover the telos of an organism, it would be possible to determine what needs to be done to reach that end.

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Philosophy - Aristotle's prime mover

The world is transient; it is constantly changing. If nothing acted on A, then it would stay the same and not move. So if A is moving it must be being moved by B, which in turn is being moved by C, and so on.

Aristotle posits that all movement (not just motion but all kinds of change) has a mover. The concept of movement or change is eternal - there cannot be a first or last change. For example, we can observe movement in ‘the heavens’ (in space) with no apparent beginning or end.

Aristotle argued that this eternal movement points to a mover that does not move itself. It cannot be the efficient cause of movement because an efficient causer would move itself. Newton’s third law of motion: ‘action and reaction are equal and opposite. Thus Aristotle argues that the unmoved mover or Prime Mover must be a final cause. The Prime Mover causes movement as the object of desire and love.

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Philosophy - Arsistotle's Prime Mover

For Aristotle, the final cause of movement is a love and desire for God. God is perfection, everything wants to imitate perfection, and therefore everyone is drawn to it – creating movement without moving itself.

God exists necessarily – he does not depend on anything else for his existence, and cannot be thought of as not existing. He never changes or has the potential to change, he is eternal. Since God cannot create movement by physical means, he must instead create movement by drawing things to himself.

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Philosophy - Arsistotle's Prime Mover

Aristotle defined badness or evil as the absence of actuality that God most perfectly has; a lack of something that ought to be there. Thus there is no defect in something that exists necessarily.

The Prime Mover is immaterial. Matter is capable of being acted on thus has the potential to change. God is immaterial and is incapable of performing a physical action. The activity of God therefore must be spiritual and intellectual - thought.

God only thinks about himself – nothing else is a fit subject. Thus God only knows himself and remains eternally unaware of our existence and the physical world in which we exist.

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Philosophy - Aristotle Body/Soul

This is the theory that our minds are inseparable from our bodies. Aristotle was a materialist, unlike Plato who was an advocate of dualism.

BODY = Matter of a person (according to Aristotle)

PSYCHE (Soul) = Form of a person, the structure and characteristics

Aristotle argued that the nature of the soul depends on the type of organism and its position in a hierarchy. Plants have a soul with the powers of nutrition, growth and reproduction as appropriate for their kind. Above plants, animals have appetites as well and thus can have desires and feelings which gives them the ability to move.

At the top of the hierarchy, the human soul has the power of reason

If the eye were an animal, sight would have been its soul. When sight is removed the eye is no longer an eye except in name – it is no more a real eye than the eye of a statue or of a painted figure.

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Philosophy - Aristotle Body/Soul

A dead animal is an animal in name only, it has lost its capacity to do the things animals do thus has no soul and is only matter (prime matter)

The body and soul are not two separate elements but one thing

The soul is not immortal – it does not separate from the body because it is what makes the body a person rather than just matter (it is the form of a person).

All the faculties of the soul are inseparable from the body with the exception of reason. It has been suggested that Aristotle believed that reason is immortal, although this remains unclear. However, if reason does have the capacity to facilitate some sort of life after death it cannot not have a personal, recognisable identity.

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Judaeo-Christianity - Greek Influence

The Greek influence on Religious Philosophy is evident:

Plato’s influence on Judaeo-Christian thought

• First appearances are not as important as the real person (Allegory of the Cave)
• Sense pleasures should not be the objective of one’s existence
• There is an eternal realm where we shall live after death (Realm of Ideal Forms)
• The soul is released form the body when you die (Dualism)
• The concept of good has helped Christians perceive God as perfect and the source of all goodness (goodness as an ideal form)

Aristotle’s influence on Judaeo-Christian thought

• God is unchanging, eternal, and beyond time and space (transcendental)
• The universe and everything in it exists for a reason – it is purposeful (telos)
• God is the causer of the creation of the universe (Prime Mover)
• A pattern of design only capable of coming from God is evident in the world

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Judaeo Christianity


The New Testament is written in a Hellenistic context – it brings Greek philosophy into a Judaeo-Christian understanding of God. Whilst this has lead to many parallels between Plato’s Form of the Good, Aristotle’s Prime Mover and the Judaeo-Christian God, the Ancient Greek approach to theology is markedly different to that of Judaeo-Christianity.


The key difference is that the Greeks adopted a philosophical approach to solving the mystery of the divine. Their concepts of the Form of the Good and the Prime Mover have been devised as an attempt to logically explain the existence of mankind and provide a purpose for life. A Greek philosopher’s starting point therefore is to form a rational, coherent argument to explain why God may or may not exist. The Judaeo-Christian approach is based on the premise of faith – an abiding trust in God and a belief in the events and teachings of the bible. The bible thus does not adopt a philosophical outlook; it is the culmination of written works by people who all share the same faith. Biblical language adopts a non-cognitive approach – it uses metaphors, analogies and symbols usually in a narrative form to explain its concepts, which contrasts greatly with the constructive, well-reasoned lines of argument of Ancient Greek philosophy.

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Judaeo Christianity


This has lead to very different understandings of God and of the divine. The monotheistic God of Judaeo-Christianity is concerned with the actions of man and makes demands; he intervenes in the world and is responsive to human behavior. This is very unlike Plato’s Form of the Good which is an impersonal and non-interactive entity that does not have the capacity to love. Aristotle’s understanding of an unmoved mover who is unaware of his creation and only has the capacity to think about himself is also a far step from the personal and interactive God of classical theism. In this section of the module therefore we shall explore the Judaeo-Christian concept of God and the differences between Greek and Christian ideas in order to come to a better understanding of the Judaeo-Christian influence on Religious Philosophy.

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

In the bible, the belief that the world was created by God is assumed. Biblical writers record how they understand the creation to have come about and the relationship between God and humanity, which has developed as a result of his creation.

According to traditional theism, God stands apart from the universe and is transcendental – beyond the realms of time and space.

The divine attributes include the following concepts:
1. Omnipotence – God is all-powerful, capable of anything
2. Omniscience – God is all-knowing, he is knowledgeable of everything
3. Omnipresence – God is everywhere, he is present in all situations at all times
4. Omni benevolence – God is all-loving, he shares his infinite love with creation

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

It is not made clear whether God was the shaper of a chaos of pre-existing matter, a formless void, or whether God created everything out of nothing, ex nihilno. The Jewish and Christian doctrine of thought usually takes the view that God was both creator and shaper.

Some scientists say that matter could not have been brought into existence when there was no matter before.

Aristotle – “nothing can come from nothing”

St. Augustine of Hippo suggested that time is an intrinsic part of the created world and the descriptions “in the beginning” and “creation out of nothing” do not refer to a particular moment

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

Genesis is similar to Babylonian creation myths in which there were dark swirling waters before the beginning of the world. The writers of Genesis must have believed that their story was either an historic accurate account of creation, or imagery borrowed from myths to express the fundamentally inexpressible.

In the first creation story, God set everything in place before creating people. In the second creation story humanity came first followed by animals as possible companions. However both stories strongly suggest the world was created for humanity, not that people happened by accident or chance once the evolutionary process had been set in motion.

The will of God is required to make physical matter exist, he creates the components of the universe on his word, according to his whim: ‘Let there be…’ and there is.

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

Poetic descriptions of God’s skill as craftsman of the universe can be compared with the work of an expert builder in the book of Job.

This contrasts with Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. According to the bible, God is not unmoved at all and knows his creation intimately - he takes an interest and pride in the things he has made and cares about the actions of his creations.

For Aristotle God creates movement by attracting everything towards himself and it is the objects that have the desire to move. In Judaeo-Christianity the will to move comes from God.

God does not just think about himself but purposefully calls the world into existence desiring a loving relationship with creation, a relationship that works both ways. This is very unlike the Aristotelian concept of a Prime Mover who does not know that the universe exists because the only subject that is worthy of thought is himself.

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

Everything made by God is good and purposeful – nothing exists by chance or is inferior of quality or bad – God is solely responsible for creation and described it as ‘very good.’

However, to say that God made the creation perfectly and it was ‘very good’ does not explain the existence of evil, ugliness and less perfect forms such as disease and disabilities that we have direct and certain experience of in world.

Moreover, if God created the universe and everything in it then he is solely responsible for everything that happens within the universe including evil and suffering. For example, he purposefully gave the serpent in the narrative of ‘The Fall’ its craftiness, and still established it as ‘very good.’

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Judaeo Christianity - Creation

The second creation story begins to address these questions. It tells the story of Adam and Eve falling away from God and destroying the perfection given to them by disobeying God and giving in to temptation by the serpent.

However, this still raises problems. F.D.E. Schleiermacher argued that evil could not have created itself out of ex nihilno from a perfect world. Either the world was created perfect and God let it go wrong, or the world was created imperfect and evil and suffering already existed. In both cases, God can be held responsible for evil and suffering.

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

The goodness of God as described in the bible is very different from the ideal of Platonic thought. God’s goodness is interactive and makes demands of humanity.

God is seen more than just an ideal to follow, which remains unaffected and does not care who aspires to it. God is seen as a personality, reacting to people and caring about the way they behave.

Goodness as a quality or Plato’s Form of the Good is inactive and very unlike the God of the bible. Goodness as a scale against which things are measured is not interested in the results of what it is measuring, because qualities do not have the capacity to take an interest.

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Judaeo - Goodness

God sets a standard for the people to follow, and watches too see the way they respond. In Exodus 20 the Hebrew people who have been lead out of slavery by Moses into the wilderness are given laws directly from God which they are to follow as part of their covenant relationship with him. Some laws relate to their relationship with God and others to their treatment of one another; for example the10 commandments (the Decalogue):

‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God… You shall not steal’

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

Goodness is revealed to faith, not reason (as in Platonic thought). Some of the characters in the bible who are singled out for special commendation are those who through faith continue to obey God’s commands even if they don’t understand them.

In Genesis Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac because of his faith

Job continued to praise and be obedient to God even though he felt he was being unjustly punished

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

God becomes angered at injustice because he cares about his creation, and calls upon his prophets to let his people know they are failing him. He is hurt when people refuse to recognise and respond to his goodness.

Jeremiah – ‘I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you – I am weary of relenting’

God can also be moved to pity. For example at the beginning of 1 Samuel, Hannah was distraught because she had no children and asked God for a child in prayer. She conceived a baby boy soon after.

God is affected by the ways in which people respond to him. The prophet Hosea uses the imagery of an adult and a small child to show how God can be likened to the love and pride of a parent when a baby is taking its first steps; God’s goodness is also compared with the reins used to steady a toddler.

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

It is God’s love that demands people to become the best they have the potential to be by obeying his commands as they are revealed. Therefore God’s goodness is concerned with individual people, not like the universal form of good.

God’s goodness although interactive is described as perfect. Some philosophers would say that God’s interaction makes him capable of change. Since perfection by very nature is unchanging, God cannot be perfectly good and at the same time a relationship with his creation.

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

In the New Testament the goodness of God is shown in the person of Jesus. God came into the world as a man in order to demonstrate his love for humanity:

‘For God so loved the world he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ – John 3:16

This raises the question; how could God be in human form when he is incorporeal? If God is outside space and time (transcendental and omnipresent), how can he enter the world at a fixed point in history? When God was in the world was he also in heaven at the same time?

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Judaeo Christianity - Goodness

In Judaeo-Christianity God is seen to be a judge who will bring about eschatological justice – he will elect those people worthy of salvation and an eternal life in heaven on the basis of their faith and good works in the current life. As creator and shaper of the universe, everything is answerable to God. He can therefore be seen as the primary enforcer of the moral code of the Judaeo-Christian ethical system; he is a moral law giver and is responsible for denouncing what is moral and what is not.

But if God is the moral law giver, the question can be asked: is something good because God commands it – in which case the content of morality is dependent on God’s whim, or does God command something because it is good – in which case God is subordinate to a higher law. This is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma.

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity

The biblical God is transcendental – he stands outside the realms of space and time and is incorporeal. So if God is so different to the world in which we live, how can he have a relationship with humanity? The Ancient Greek concept of God is that he has no interaction at all.

Miracles are one of the ways people understand God’s work in the world; it is an important feature in the framework of Judaeo-Christianity. Many events are recorded in the bible in which it seems that the laws of nature are suspended in order for God to bring about a particular course of events.Examples:

Natural properties of water are changed when God chooses:

 Egyptian rivers turn to blood as a plague in an effort to force the Pharaoh to free the Hebrew people
 The Red Sea parts for the Hebrews to escape from slavery in Egypt
 Water has healing properties for Naaman who was suffering from Leprosy
 Jesus walks on water
 Jesus turns water into wine
 Jesus calms a storm at sea

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity

JOSHUA 10:1-15
Tells how God intervened in the war between the Israelites lead by Joshua, against the Amorites. The Israelites were greatly outnumbered but God told Joshua to stand up to them because he would be helped to win. God intervened by sending hailstones which killed much of the enemy and caused the sun to stand still in the sky so the battle could be finished and men could return to camp safely.

God intervenes according to his plans. It is important for the future of the Jews that the Israelites win, so God suspends the laws of nature to ensure events unfold in the right way for his purposes to be fulfilled.


I. The problem of definition; what we mean when we use the word ‘miracle’ to describe an event
II. Do miracles actually happen and is it reasonable to believe in them?
III. The implications of the concept of miracle for an understanding of the nature of God

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity

Some people claim that any event that excites wonder such as the birth of a baby is miraculous. Others say in order to be a miracle the event needs to be supernatural and unexpected, done for a religious purpose.
Hume’s views fall under the category of radical empiricism. Hume defines a miraculous event as:

‘A violation of the laws of nature by a divine agent. God.’

For Hume, miracles are unlikely explanations of events and it is unreasonable to believe in them.

For some people miracles are important in their faith. If the Bible is the “word of God”, the fact that it says that miracles happened justifies belief in miracles.

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity


The concept of miracle is woven into the whole structure of Christian belief. If we take out the notion of miracle, then we remove the central elements of faith. Both the virgin birth and the resurrection depend on the concept of miracle.


It could be argued that we limit the nature of God if we claim that miracles do not happen, since he is omnipotent and has a plan for us. To remove the concept of miracles is to seemingly reject God’s omnipotence and wider purposes for mankind.

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity

It could also be argued that placing too much emphasis on miracles goes against the teachings of Jesus who refused to throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple and being saved by the angels because he didn’t want to have anything to do with displays of magic.

In Luke Jesus says:
The people who took no notice of Moses and the prophets would take no notice of someone rising from the dead

Thus miracles are not meant to convince the unbeliever but to have a subjective meaning that can be interpreted by someone who has faith. (Note: this applies to all events – “miraculous” or otherwise.

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Judaeo Christianity

For Maurice Wiles, God does not intervene in the world in occasional, individual ways; but the whole world should be seen as an act of God in its entirety. Miracles by definition have to be unlikely otherwise there would be no law of nature.

The concept of miracle and divine intervention as recorded in biblical accounts leaves us with an image of God who only intervenes occasionally:

Why would an all loving, omnipotent God be prepared to help out in the trivial emergency of the running out of wine at a wedding but not prevent the bombing of Hiroshima?

This presents us with a God who is either arbitrary – random in his selection of the circumstances in which he intervenes, or partisan – unreasonable.

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Judaeo Christianity - Activity

Bultmann argued that the mythological view of the world is no longer accepted in the modern world. With our knowledge of science we can no longer believe that such things happen and thus we should demythologise the bible in order to access the ‘kergyma’ or ‘abiding truth.’ He gave the New Testament an existentialist interpretation and many believe he reduced it to a secular philosophy.

Miracles might be seen as a contradiction to the teleological argument for the existence of God. If we can see the world has design and everything is ‘very good,’ then why would God intervene and break this pattern design?

The concept of miracle also does not fit with the arguments that justify the existence of evil. According to the Free-will Defence, evil and suffering are derived from human free-will which is necessary for humans to develop and grow into God’s perfect likeness. Yet God still intervenes and allows a small number of people to escape the consequences of evil. Does this not compromise the free-will of humans? Moreover, how God justified in intervening sometimes and not others; why not always?

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Ontological Argument

The word ‘ontos’ means ‘being.’ The Ontological argument thus attempts to prove the existence of God a priori by focusing on the nature of his existence or being

St. Anslem (1033-1109) was the Archbishop of Canterbury. His argument was first presented in the form of a prayer in his book, ‘Proslogion,’ directed at the fool of the Psalm (Psalm 14) who says in his heart that there is no God.

There are two forms to Anslem’s Ontological argument.

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Ontological Argument

God can be defined as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’:
We can all conceive of a perfect being in our minds, however we can also conceive of an even greater being that exists both in our minds (in intellectu) and in reality (in re). Beings that exist in both the mind and reality are greater than those that only exist in the mind. Therefore God must exist both in the mind and in reality otherwise something greater in reality (in re) could be perceived.

It is impossible to conceive of a God not existing (John Hick agreed):
A necessary being is greater than a contingent being since a contingent being depends on something else for its existence and we can be thought of as not existing. God can be defined as ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived’ and therefore God must be a necessary being – his existence does not depend on other forms . It is impossible to conceive of a necessary being not existing. Therefore God must necessarily exist

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Ontological Argument

Descartes formulated his own Ontological argument for the existence of God based on perfection as a necessary attribute of God:

 God possesses all perfections
 Existence is a perfection
 Therefore God exists

The analogy of a triangle can be used to explain Descartes’ form of the Ontological argument. A triangle has predicates (necessary characteristics); for example, all of its internal angles must add up to 180°. If these predicates are removed the triangle is no longer a triangle. Anslem said, in the same way, existence is a predicate of God.

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Ontological Argument

Immanuel Kant opposed Descartes’ form of the Ontological argument and argued that existence is not a predicate of perfection.

For example:
Adding ‘and exists’ to the end of the word ‘bachelor’ does not change its literal definition

To see this more clearly, suppose that we give a complete description of an object, of its size, its weight, its colour, etc. If we then add that the object exists, then in asserting that it exists we add nothing to the concept of the object. The object is the same whether it exists or not; it is the same size, the same weight, the same colour, etc. The fact that the object exists, that the concept is exemplified in the world, does not change anything about the concept. To assert that the object exists is to say something about the world, that it contains something that matches that concept; it is not to say anything about the object itself.

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Ontological Argument

Gaunilo in his book ‘On Behalf of the Fool’ used the analogy of a perfect island to illustrate the absurdity of the first form of Anslem’s Ontological argument. He cited the example in which one could conceive of ‘the most perfect island’ in their mind. According to Anslem, existence is a part of perfection; therefore, following Anselm’s line of argument, the image of a perfect island that exists in one’s mind must necessarily exist in reality because its existence presupposes its perfection. If it didn’t exist in reality the grottiest island that exists in reality would be better than the ‘perfect’ island that exists only in the mind.

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Ontological Argument

Anslem’s response to Gaunilos’s criticism was to maintain that he was not arguing about contingent beings such as islands, but beings that existed necessarily; ‘that than which nothing greater can be conceived.’ Islands have no ‘intrinsic maxim’ and can always be bettered – according to John Hick, notations of perfection are subjective. Anslem thus formulated the second form of his Ontological argument to counter this criticism.

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Cosmological Argument

The word ‘cosmos’ refers to the universe as an ordered, harmonious and holistic entity. The Cosmological argument therefore argues for the existence of God a posteriori based on the apparent order in the universe.

Central to Thomism – the life work of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – March 7, 1274) is the idea that Philosophy can help us come to a better understanding of Theology – the study of God. Aquinas thus asked the question: is it obvious that there is a God? His answer was no – since such a concept is beyond all direct human experience. He then asked the question: can it be made obvious? Aquinas believed that, since the universe is God’s creation, evidence of God’s existence can be found in his creation using intellect and reason. Aquinas therefore devised his ‘Five Ways,’ five a posteriori proofs for the existence of God based on our empirical experience of the universe.

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Cosmological Argument


The Cosmological argument is based on the first three of Aquinas’ Five Ways

1) THE ARGUMENT FROM MOTION (The ‘Kalam’ argument)



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Cosmological Argument


St. Thomas Aquinas, studying the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. From this, Aquinas believes that ultimately there must have been an UNMOVED MOVER (GOD) who put things in motion. Follow the argument this way:

  1. Nothing can move itself.
  2. If every object in motion had a mover, then the first object in motion needed a mover.
  3. Movement cannot go on for infinity.
  4. This first mover is the Unmoved Mover, called God.

Aquinas is starting from an a posteriori position. For Aquinas motion includes any kind of change e.g. growth. Aquinas argues that the natural condition is for things to be at rest. Something which is moving is therefore unnatural and must have been put into that state by some external supernatural power.

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Cosmological Argument


This Way deals with the issue of existence. Aquinas concluded that common sense observation tells us that no object creates itself. In other words, some previous object had to create it. Aquinas believed that ultimately there must have been an UNCAUSED FIRST CAUSE (GOD) who began the chain of existence for all things. Follow the agrument this way:

  1. There exists things that are caused (created) by other things.
  2. Nothing can be the cause of itself (nothing can create itself.)
  3. There cannot be an endless string of objects causing other objects to exist.
  4. Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause called God.
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This Way is sometimes referred to as the modal cosmological argument. Modal is a reference to contingency and necessary. This Way defines two types of objects in the universe: contingent beings and necessary beings. A contingent being is an object that cannot exist without a necessary being causing its existence. Aquinas believed that the existence of contingent beings would ultimately necessitate a being which must exist for all of the contingent beings to exist. This being, called a necessary being, is what we call God. Follow the argument this way:

  1. Contingent beings are caused.
  2. Not every being can be contingent.
  3. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
  4. This necessary being is God.
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Cosmological Argument

Fredrick Copleston reformulated Aquinas’ argument by concentrating on contingency. He proposed his argument in a BBC radio debate in 1947:

1) There are things in this world that are contingent – they might not have existed e.g. we would not exist without our parents
2) All things in the world are like this – everything depends on something else for it’s existence
3) Therefore there must be a cause of everything in the universe that exists outside of it
4) This cause must be a necessary being – one which contains the reason for it’s existence inside itself
5) This necessary being is God

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Cosmological Argument

F.C. Copleston proposed his Cosmological argument in a famous BBC radio debate with Bertrand Russell. Russell refused to accept the notion of a necessary being as one that cannot be thought of not existing, and concluded that the regress of causal events could not be held responsible for the existence of everything in the universe: “what I am saying is that the concept of cause is not applicable to the total”

Just because each human has a mother does not mean the entire human race has a mother. He reduced the universe to a mere, brute fact, of which it’s existence does not demand an explanation. “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.”

Russell saw the argument for a cause of the universe as having little meaning or significance. He established it as a “question that has no meaning” and thus proposed: “Shall we pass on to some other issue?” Copleston’s response to Russell’s refusal to accept the importance of the issue was to claim: “If one refused to sit at the chess board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated.”

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Cosmological Argument

Hume was famous for recognising when a line of argument disobeys the rules of logic and instead of moving from one step to the next makes a great leap. To move from ‘everything we observe has a cause’ to ‘the universe has a cause’ is too big a leap in logic. This is the same as saying that because all humans have a mother, the entire human race has a mother.

Hume maintains that the Cosmological argument begins with familiar concepts of the universe and concludes with not-so-familiar concepts beyond human experience. For Hume, God’s existence cannot be proven analytically (by definition), since the definition of God’s nature is not knowable. Hume concludes that it is not possible to prove the existence of a being who is unknowable and existentially different from all other beings.

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Cosmological Argument

Immanuel Kant, in ‘Critique of Pure Reason,’ opposed the theory that a chain of cause-effect events can be set in motion from outside the realm of the physical universe. The cause-effect relationship is observed within the confines of the spatio-temporal world, and therefore any talk of the causal cycle stretching beyond the empirical world is non-sensical.

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Teleological Argument

The word ‘Telos’ is Greek for purpose. The Teleological argument thus argues that the universe is being directed towards a telos, an end purpose, and the a posteriori evidence of an apparent intelligent design in the world implies the existence of an intelligent designer, God.

The Teleological argument is founded on Aquinas’s fifth way:

1. All natural occurrences show evidence of design
2. This suggests that there is a being that directs all things
3. Things that lack knowledge cannot achieve anything unless directed by a thing with knowledge
4. There is therefore an intelligent being that directs everyone towards a purpose
5. For Aquinas, this being is God

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Teleological Argument

In his book, ‘Natural Theology,’ William Paley presents his own form of the Teleological argument. There are two parts to Paley’s argument:

Design qua purpose – the argument that the Universe appears to have been designed to fulfil some purpose e.g. bees pollinating flowers, or tick birds (symbiotic relationship), or the human eye.

Paley goes on to argue that there is further evidence for a Creator God in the regularity of the Universe:

Design qua Regularity – the argument that the Universe appears to behave according to some order or rule e.g. Newton’s laws of motion, Keplar’s three laws of planetary motion – points to a mechanical universe.

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Teleological Argument


Analogy of the watch:
A man walks across a heath and finds a rock. He attributes the existence of the rock to nature. He walks further and stumbles across a watch. After some examination he concludes that its purpose is to measure time. Due to the complexities of the watch, he concludes that it is impossible to suppose that the watch had come about without the agency of a ‘watch maker.’

The watch is like the universe – it is too complex to have just happened by chance. It is impossible therefore to suppose that the universe had come about without the agency of a ‘universe maker’ – God.

Example of the eye:
It is obvious that the eye was designed with the specific purpose to see. Thus there is a Designing Creator – God.

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Teleological Argument

There is evidence for a creator in the regularity of the universe. The relationships between the planets and the effect of gravity could not have come about without a designing principle at work – God. For example, if gravity was slightly stronger or weaker the universe would not exist today; the inference being that there is a calculating being who purposefully created the universe according to a well-constructed plan.

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Teleological Argument

Hume set out two versions of the design argument and then criticised them:

- To speak of design is to imply a designer
- Great design implies a great designer
- There is great design in the world
- Therefore, there must be a great designer – God

This implies a superhuman, anthropomorphic concept of God (a God who is human-like) which is inconsistent with the notion of perfection. Moreover, the world is imperfect and flawed thus implying an incompetent designer.

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Teleological Argument

- The world is ordered
- This is due to either chance or design
- It is very possible the world came about by chance
- Therefore the world came about through design

Hume argued that there is nothing in this argument to suppose there is only one creator – there may be a team of lesser Gods who built the world. This supports the theory of paganism. (note: Hume lived before Darwin).

Hume subscribed to a belief in the theory of evolution and the idea that series of random adaptations made in order to survive (the theory of natural selection) could lead to the apparent intelligent design of humans.

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Teleological Argument

In ‘Nature and the Utility of Religion’ John Stuart Mill criticises the Teleological argument. Mill postulates that nature is guilty of serious crimes for which she goes unpunished, and the atrocities through which humans and animals suffer would not go unpunished if they were the result of human agency.

“Nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature’s everyday performances.”

For Mill, there is no intelligent design apparent in the universe and if there is a designer he is either an incompetent or cruel designer:

“Either there is no God or there exists an incompetent or immoral God”

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Teleological Argument

Charles Darwin is the proponent of the theory of Natural Selection. Darwinism thus postulates that the fittest and healthiest members of society survive and their characteristics are passed down – giving the appearance of design in the universe.

Geneticist Steve Jones described the evolutionary process as:

‘a series of successful mistakes’

Richard Dawkins, a biological materialist and reductionist, supported Darwin by arguing that random mutations in DNA alone give rise to variation in the world and the illusion of design. For Dawkins, life amounts to nothing more that bytes of digital information contained in the quaternary code, DNA.

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Moral Argument

Immanuel Kant analysed Aquinas’ 4th way and devised his proof for God based on morality

Kant’s starting point was that we all have a sense of innate moral awareness:

‘Two things fill the mind with ever new increasing admiration and awe… the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me’

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Moral Argument

His argument for the existence of God follows:

1. We all have a sense of innate moral awareness – from this we are under obligation to be virtuous
2. An ‘average’ level of virtue is not enough, we are obliged to aim for the highest standard possible
3. True virtue should be rewarded with happiness
4. There is an ideal state where human virtue and happiness are united – this Kant called the ‘Summum Bonum’
5. Moral statements are prescriptive – ‘ought’ implies ‘can’
6. Humans can achieve virtue in a lifetime but it is beyond us to ensure we are rewarded with happiness
7. Therefore there must be a God who has power to ensure that virtue and happiness coincide

Kant’s moral argument does not postulate that God is necessary for morality but that God is required for morality to achieve its end

‘Therefore it is morally necessary to assume the existence of God.’

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Moral Argument


“We feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is one to whom we are responsible.”

For Newman, the existence of conscience implies a moral law-giver whom we are answerable to – God.

• Moral laws may not be objective or about obeying moral duty. For Joseph Fletcher ignoring individual circumstances will lead to callous and unsatisfactory actions
• The moral argument does not prove the existence of God. Just because our conscience points to a source does not mean that source is God. Could be merely a being that devises laws – “a Kantian-minded angel”
• Kant’s assumption that ought implies can only proves that it is logically possible to bring about the summum bonum – just because it is not a logical contradiction does not means it actually happens.

Kant assumes that only God can bring about the summum bonum but it could equally be brought about by a ‘pantheon of angels.’

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Moral Argument


The theory that morality is absolute and dictated by God is known as the Divine Command Theory. The Euthyphro Dilemma however, which was first proposed in Plato’s ‘Euthyphro’ Dialogue, challenges the Divine Command Theory.

Bertrand Russell’s reformulated Euthyphro Dilemma asks the question:

“Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?”

If the former is true, and something is good because God demands it, the content of morality is seemingly arbitrary and dependent on God’s whim – certain moral actions could have been deemed otherwise immoral had God willed it. Furthermore, this reduces God’s goodness to his power – to say that God is good simply means that he is capable of enforcing his commands.

However, if the latter is true and God commands something because it is good, then God is no longer necessary for an ethical system to work – the almighty Sovereign becomes subordinate to a higher law.

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Moral Argument

According to Freudian thought our sense of duty and moral awareness can be explained by socialisation. Kant said that our sense of duty was based on reason, whereas Freud argued that our conscience was a product of the unconscious mind or super ego of the human psyche.

Freud distinguished between three components of the human psyche (mind):

1. ID – basic instincts and primitive desires e.g. hunger, lust etc.
2. EGO – perceptions of the external that makes us aware of the ‘reality principle,’ one’s most outward part and personality
3. SUPER-EGO – the unconscious mind which consists of:
a. The Ego-ideal which praises good actions
b. The conscience which makes you feel guilty for bad action

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Moral Argument

For Freud, our moral awareness cannot be of divine origin because of the differing opinions on ethical issues – if it were morality would be absolute and we would all come to the same moral conclusions. Rather, our conscience or moral awareness is the super-ego of the mind, a ‘moral policeman’ developed during child hood (more specifically the third stage which is known as the phallic stage between 3 and 6 years old).

If conscience is the voice of God as Kant believes you would expect it to be consistent. Kant’s concept of an absolute moral code enforced by God does not explain the Yorkshire Ripper who claimed to follow voices in his head or the differing views on issues such as euthanasia and abortion. Conscience is not truly objective and therefore has a human not divine origin.

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Religious Experience Argument

1. An experience with religious significance e.g. the act of worship in a religious setting
2. A person’s experience of something or a presence beyond themselves

Swinburne classified five types of religious experience:

1. A normal event interpreted in a religious way e.g. seeing the face of the Virgin Mary on the moon
2. Witnessing a very unusual event with others e.g. the resurrection of Jesus

3. A private experience which may be explained using normal language e.g. the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary
4. A private experience which may not be explained using normal language e.g. mysticism
5. An ongoing impression of a presence based upon no specific experience – just a sense that God is guiding one’s life

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Religious Experience Argument

William James defined Mysticism as: ‘feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude of whatever they consider to be the divine’ In ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ James categorised those forms of religious experience that cannot be explained using normal language:

1. Ineffable
Those experiences that are so extraordinary they cannot be described in a way that would make them intelligible to anyone who has not had such an experience
2. Noetic
These experiences provide some kind of insight or carry a message of revelation of truth
3. Transient
Brief experiences that do not last more than half an hour
4. Passive
Experiences that cannot be actively sought or created. Often people describe their bodies being ‘taken over’ by a superior presence.

Religious experiences can range from experiences of little religious significance to those completely life changing. Most religious experiences happen when a person is in a conscious state rather than a dream state.

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Religious Experience Argument

Freud offered a secular explanation for religious experience. For Freud, religious experience is a reaction to the hostile world – we feel helpless and seek a father figure in our lives and this leads us to project an image God who is able to provide us with security.

 However, even if people do need a father figure – this does not mean that God does not exist. This might be an inbuilt mechanism programmed by God in order to bring us closer to him.

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this is great stuff. Thank you :)

Leonie Donaldson


this is really good! everyone should use this!

Emma Warren


life saver

Sonia Asghar


does this cover all of philosophy AS?

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