Religious experience 2005 question 4

a) Analyse the key features of religious experience and explain how these are used as an argument for the existence of God

  • what constitutes a religious experience
  • what features do they have? William James – ineffable, noetic, transient, passive others think more (see recap sheet Sept 05)
  • what makes people think they’re religious
  • what kinds of experiences do they have? Where? When?
  • Need to use religious language to describe them
  • Then
  • Why do people think these arguments show God exists?
  • Some regard these experiences as proof
  • Cumulative effect
  • They aren’t asked for
  • Don’t aggrandise the experient
  • Can be frightening
  • Therefore why would the experient lie?
  • Swinburne’s principles of credulity and testimony
  • Swinburne the fact of religious experience swings the balance in favour of God. If there was no God why would anyone claim to have these experiences?


b) To what extent is this a weak argument for the existence of God?

  • Alternative interpretations: delusion, interpretation within cultural mindset, ‘seeing as’, hallucination, neurological response
  • Not proof
  • Probability
  • Wittgenstein – assertion not verifiable (not synthetic or analytic) therefore meaningless
  • Flew: believers will let nothing count against God so claims are nonsense
  • Swinburne: some statements cannot be confirmed but it doesn’t necessarily make them untrue.
  • It’s an a posteriori, synthetic and inductive argument: so if we can accept the nature of the evidence then we may agree on the conclusion but we don’t have to!
  • The evidence can be interpreted to form alternative conclusions
  • Yet because they rely on evidence they can be tested to some extent
  • And they don’t rely on fixed definitions
  • Different experiences in different religions therefore bliks therefore some would argue less valid


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