Religious experience

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Part 1 – Religious Experience

A religious experience is an encounter with the divine. Tyler defines it as ‘a non-empirical occurrence that brings with it an awareness of something beyond ourselves’.

Up to 40% have had religious experiences.

A posteriori argument

Inductive leap

Other arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological, Design) seek to discover God through indirect means. In religious experiences, the reality of God’s existence is presented directly to us through an encounter.

For Davies, religious experience is independent of any reason for belief in God apart from experience itself.


Premise 1: If people experience an entity, it must exist

Premise 2: God is the sort of being it would be possible to experience.

Premise 3: People claim to have experienced God

Conclusion: God probably exists.

Paragraph 1 – Is God the sort of being it would be possible to experience?

Swinburne – ‘an omnipotent and perfectly good creator will seek to interact with his creatures, and in particular those human persons capable of knowing him’. He’s imminent and knows people as individuals.

Davies – No atheist arguments have disproved the existence of God, and therefore it remains perfectly reasonable to believe that God exists. If He exists, then it is perfectly reasonable to believe testimony’s of experiences of him.

Do we experience God in the same way as we experience anything else? Peter Cole – if God is immaterial, how can he be recognised? We know people’s presence is not independent to their physical presence and behaviour. We cannot learn of God’s existence independent of his body. This is a problem of analogy – why it can’t be taken seriously.


Paragraph 2 – Do people’s claims make it probable God exists?

Swinburne and Davies – both use the cumulative argument to argue that yes, it makes it more likely than not

Tyler – ‘if the sheer weight of the testimonies of religious experiences is taken into account, then the debate as to whether religious experiences are proof of God’s existence would end with a resounding yes’

Swinburne – Principles of Credulity and Testimony are both rational principles which say they are. ‘How things seem to be is a good guide to how they are’, and ‘in the absence of special considerations, people’s experiences are probably as they report them to be’.

Vardy – ‘the probability of all such experiences must e low, and therefore the quality of the claimed experiences must be proportionately high’

Hume – still not enough to persuade sceptics – ‘There is not to be found…


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