The Argument From Religious Experience Many Individuals And Groups Have

3305 words - 13 pages

The Argument from Religious Experience Many individuals and groups have claimed many different types of religious experience some people have accepted their reports but many others have been sceptical. We have, therefore, to consider whether religious experiences can provide a fountain for faith or the basis for an argument for the existence of God.It is all too easy to talk of religious experience in general, but there are many different types. Richard Swinburne (in The Existence of God) provides a helpful analysis. He defines five different types of religious experiences two are public, in that they can be seen by anyone who is present, whilst three are individual and private.[pv p99] Public experiences 1.An individual sees God or God?s action in a public object or scene. However, the purported religious experience can readily be explained on other grounds.For instance, the believer might look at the night sky and see the hand of God, whilst the non-believer might just see a beautiful sunset. In this case a great deal depends on personal interpretation.2.Very unusual public events occur, involving a breach of natural law.Examples might include someone walking on water or a person appearing in a locked room or water turning into wine. There is less emphasis on personal interpretation here, although the sceptic can still maintain that whilst something inexplicable may have occurred, there is no need to attribute this to God. A hundred years ago a video camera might have been considered miraculous, whereas today it is simply an example of modern technology.Private experiences By their very nature, these are less easily verified than public experiences: 3.Experiences which an individual can describe using normal language. Examples might include Jacob?s vision of a ladder going up to heaven or the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary.[pv p100] 4.Experiences which cannot be described in normal language but which are nevertheless very real to those experiencing them. Mystical experiences are the most obvious examples of this category. The mystic may be the first to admit that normal language is not adequate to express what has happened.In this case, there is no specific experience, but the individual feels that God is acting in his or her life. Looking back on past events, the individual may say, "God?s hand guided me" although if pressed he or she would admit that there is no specific evidence for this.[rg NEED TO EXPAND THIS] Swinburne?s analysis suffers from the defect of making religious experiences appear very similar to ordinary experiences. He has little feeling for what Rudolf Otto [rg need to expand this and to include Ninian Smart] described as "the numinous" or "an apprehension of the wholly other"[rg need to explain this in terms of Kant and "categories of understanding" Strawson and the "Bounds of sense", Karl Rahner in terms of "Holy mystery"] Nevertheless, the analysis is helpful in that it forces us to be clearer about which sort of...

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