A religious experience is a non-empirical encounter with the divine, which often makes the individual feel as though there is something beyond our physical being. They have thus long been the foundation for religious belief as they offer personal evidence for the existence of God. Religious experiences present a tremendous challenge to philosophers who may in turn attempt to offer an alternate explanation.
As there are a great variety of religious experiences and each has a unique quality, it is vital that these be all considered when arguing for the existence of God. The first essential idea can be found in the work of William James, who sought to characterise mystical experience. A mystical experience is one in which a person experiences the ultimate reality; James lists the four different characteristics of this. Passivity; a feeling of being taken over by a superior authority, ineffability; a state of feeling that defies description, noetic quality; revelations of universal and eternal truths and transiency; a brief but profoundly important experience. James concludes that these feelings verify that, to the individual, something has occurred, however, he argues that this religious experience is not philosophical proof of God’s existence. However, the psychological impact on the individual is indisputable, as a religious experience may have a life altering effect as seen with St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Act 9). Thus the essential idea that has been highlighted is that psychological state is key to religious experience.
A further essential idea in the argument citing religious experience as proof of God’s existence arises from induction. An inductive argument claiming the existence of God is as follows; Premise one states “experience of X indicates the reality of X’”, premise two follows “experience of God indicates the reality of God”, premise three claims “it is possible to experience God”, and thus it concludes “God exists”. This suggests that God’s existence is logical, empirical and synthetically verifiable. An essential idea here is that religious believers use logicality and rationality to argue for the existence of God based on religious experience. Furthermore, this inductive argument allows religious believers to look at the subjective testimonies of others and draw the conclusion that their experience can only be attributed God. Richard Swinburne is amongst those who argue inductively, although is not a universally favoured approach, for example, Kant rejected the possibility of such experiences as he argued we do not have to senses to experience God due to his belonging in the noumenal
A further essential idea in the argument for the existence of God based on religious experience arises from the work of Richard Swinburne who emphasises that we must show a willingness to believe individuals who claim to have had a religious experience. Swinburne demonstrates this through the use of his principles of credulity and testimony. The principle of credulity highlights the notion that you should believe an individual if they are claiming a religious experience as Swinburne argues the way things seem to us, or another, is a good guide to what they actually are. He the principle thus “If it seems to a subject that X is present then probably X is present.” This flies in the face of scepticism, as it allows no room for doubt. Furthermore, Swinburne claims we should generally believe what people say, thus the principle of testimony, much like credulity, assumes people usually tell the truth. Swinburne ultimately aims to reason that we have no good grounds to doubt the accuracy of religious experiences in light of these principles unless the prior probability of God based on other factors is very low. Thus the essential idea here is a willingness to believe. However, Dr Peter Vardy used the…