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Arguments from Religious Experience

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uments Arguments from religious experience are never convincing. Discuss
Throughout the years, many people claim to have religious experiences, as seen in the research of the Alister Hardy research centre or the work of David Hay. When people say that they have experienced God or the divine in some way; they are not saying that it ‘seemed like’ God but was something else. The issue for many philosophers is: are religious experiences veridical? By this is meant can we actually demonstrate that the religious experiences of people are what they seem to be, i.e. experiences of God, rather than delusions, products of the mind or of some other source such as LSD? Can a person saying they have had a religious experience really be convincing.
To know whether religious arguments are convincing or not, Richard Swinburne has suggested two principles that may be used to assess claims about religious experiences. First, he suggested what he calls that ‘principle of credulity’. Swinburne argued that, other things being equal, we have good reason to believe what a person tells us is correct. In general, if a person tells us that they can see a cat crossing the road, we believe them, even if we have not seen the event. Even if only one person sees the event, they still count. Swinburne says “the principle of credulity states that we ought to belie that things are as seen to be… unless and until we have evidence that they are mistaken” by the evidence that they are mistake, Swinburne means that unless you can prove that the person often lies or has been or drinking or on drugs, then there is no reason not to believe that they had a religious experience. Swinburne also suggests the principle of testimony. He argues that it is reasonable to believe what someone tells you. For example, if your best friend tells you about a religious experience he or she had, do you have reason to disbelieve them? You may one to investigate what they said, but that is not a reason to automatically reject what they claim to have experienced. Therefore, Swinburne believes that arguments for religious experience are convincing.
There are many sociological challenges to claims of religious experiences; Karl Marx in particular has been associated with them. Marx was influenced by a philosophical movement known as the young Hegelians, who suggested that religion was a form of ‘alienation’ from ones true self. By this they meant that religion was about mythological beliefs and an unreal god that distracted people from their own reality in their own reality in the physical world. In particular, Marx saw religion as a form of oppression and control of people in society, which prevented people from being truly human and making their own decisions. Marx believes that religious experience would be the product of the culture in which person lived. It would not be from God but a product of the desperate situation of a person. The origins of the experience would be traceable to the teachings and beliefs of the church. So, Marx is saying that arguments from religious experience are never convincing.
Although, many would agree with Marx’s point, others would also disagree. Marx did not accept the fact that for many people religion is more than a comfort like a rug. Religious people would argue that their faith is a relationship with God, ad God is a real, existing being and not a product of society. Therefore, the arguments for religious experience can be convincing as if God exists and he is not a product of society, then of course people can experience him in different ways, who is to say someone is lying about their experience with god?
St Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is probably the best known account of a mystical/religious experience in Christianity, yes it is significant that the three accounts given in the Acts of the Apostles of this experience all differ quite markedly. The writer of Acts was clearly aware of these three accounts and it would have been simple to harmonise them so that they do not contradict each other – but he chose not to do so, and this in itself points towards the reliability of the stories. Certainly Paul believed that something incredibly dramatic happened to him and the writer of the Book of Acts did not consider the precise details to be directly relevant. Again, however, the question remains whether Paul’s conviction that something dramatic had happened should be interpreted as he interpreted. This example, shows that arguments for religious experience can be convincing, and are definitely believed by many.
Anthony Flew claims that the character of religious experience “seem to depend on the interests, background and expectation of those who have them rather than on anything separate and autonomous…” this is the vicious circle challenge, Anthony Flew is showing that religious experiences cannot be convincing because there is no direct proof and all experiences seem to depend on the same thing. Davies rejects this challenge on the grounds that it applies largely to visions. Also, she claims that the person in one tradition will tend to use the language and ideas of the tradition to explain their experiences. However there is an important assumption being made here; that one can strip away the description and arrive at a common core of meaning or a ‘raw, pre-conceptual experience’ in which is highly debatable.
Teresa suggest that if the experience fits in with the Christian teaching or was against it, and the experience leaves the person feeling at peace with the world and God, rather than distressed, then they were religious experiences and if explained in this way, then they should be seen as convincing because this is what a religious experience consists of.
Another argument against religious experience suggests that the have a physiological cause. For example, did Paul have epilepsy? This could possibly explain his experience of bright light. Equally it is known that damage to the brain can cause hallucinations and delusions, as can brain tumours. The weakness of this challenge is that there is no evidence that every person who has had a religious experience was suffering from an illness that can cause these side effects. Although, this argument is very successful, there are many things that can cause a religious experience, and how do we know that it is just hallucinations, or an illness? There is no evidence to prove religious experiences are convincing.
Buber argues that believers may claim that their encounter with God is so real and so immediate that no justification is required. Hick likens this is a man being asked to justify being in the presence of his wife and maintains that no such justification is required. Nevertheless the possibility of being mistaken is real as the evidence in favour of being in the presence of one’s wife may be held to be higher than the evidence for being in the presence of God. Also, when there are two people and one says that there is a gardener and the other says there is not (Wisdom’s famous gardener example), how do you know which one is right? Taylor maintains that the person with the artists eye sees beauty everywhere and similarly the religious person sees everything in terms of the reality of God. Taylor is effectively maintaining that is the believer who see things correctly – however no real evidence is given. A religious believer may have been taught to experience the world as if it is infused by God.
Davies describes religious experience as, “…something akin to a sensory experience”. Davies in her book ‘The Evidential Force of Religious Experience’ builds on Swinburne’s approach. Effectively she and Swinburne work with a cumulative argument. They maintain that if all the arguments for and against arguments for religious experience are convincing, they are fairly evenly balance. Some of the arguments strengthen the likelihood that God exist whilst other make the existence of God less likely. Given this situation, it is reasonable to rely on reports of religious experience to tip the scales in favour of belief that God exists. It may be argued that neither Swinburne nor Davies give sufficient weight to counter arguments against belief in God.…...

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