Religious Experience Notes- included Swinburne & William James (mainly from AQA textbook)




[British philosopher] For Swinburne, though the existence of God cannot be proved by logical arguments (such as the Ontological Argument), nevertheless our experiences of the world suggest that God probably exists, and religious experiences are a part of this probability argument.


Swinburne begins by talking about our ordinary sense experiences, and then moves from these to religious experiences. ‘I suggest that it is a principle of rationality that (in the absence of special considerations) if it seems…to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present; what one seems to perceive is probably so.’

Further: ‘How things seem to be is good grounds for a belief about how things are.’

Moreover: ‘From this is would follow that, in the absence of special considerations, all religious experiences ought to be taken by their subjects as genuine, and hence as substantial grounds for belie in the existence of their apparent object.

So, Swinburne makes a very simple claim through the Principle of Credulity- the way things seem to be is the way things really are. it is worth noting that he does add a proviso: ‘in the absence of special considerations.’ He goes on to discuss four of these special considerations.

1. the first consideration concerns the reliability of the claim. If someone describes to you a religious experience, and it turns out that he has been known to tell lies in the past, then you have good grounds for doubting what he says about his religious experience.

2. the second concerns the truth of the claim. For example, if somebody makes unlikely perceptual claims, such as being able to read text of this size you are reading now at a distance of 100 yards, hen his claims about a religious experience are not likely to be true.

3. the third is the difficulty of showing that God was present in the experience.

4. the fourth is the possibility that what is claimed can be accounted for in other ways. To use an example from what we have said about scientific challenges to religious experiences, someone who claims to have had a religious experience may be suffering from TLE.

Swinburne rejcts all four of these special considerations:

1. It cannot be shown that all such claims are unreliable. Just because someone has lied in the past, this does not mean that they are lying now about having a religious experience.

2. It cannot be shown that all such claims are untrue. Again, someone making one claim that is false does not mean that any other particular claim to a religious experience is likely to be untrue.

3. God is presumably everywhere, so rather that the onus being on the experiencer to show that God was present, the onus is on the doubter to show that he was not.

4. As the Creator, God underpins all processes, including those that go on in the brain, so if God causes


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