Can We Know God by Experience?

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“Can we know God by experience?” - Donovan 2

In ‘Can we know God by experience?’ Peter Donovan questions whether it is possible to have direct, intuitive knowledge of God. Intuition is an experiential belief characterized by its immediacy. It is direct perception or insight without any need for evidence or argument. Intuition or intuitive knowledge is the main theme of Donovan. He suggested that knowledge can be attained through intuition. Especially the claim that people who have religious experiences can gain an intuitive knowledge of God. Donovan claims that God can be known through ‘finite things’. He considers the views of 20th century theologians and philosophers who have argued that religious experiences may provide knowledge of God, through intuition.

Donovan points out how this idea of intuitive knowledge of God fits with established Christian ways of thinking: God is a personal being who acts in history. He then distinguishes psychological feelings of certainty from actually being right on logical grounds, and associates intuitive awareness of God with the former. Donovan points out that our sense of certainty is often mistaken, an observation he takes from Bertrand Russell. Although he considers the possibility that experience of God might be a type of personal encounter, I-You relation, Donovan rejects the idea that this is itself a form of knowledge. He does not accept that intuition can provide knowledge of God, but claims that this point does not undermine the value of religious experiences altogether.

In this passage, however, Donovan’s focus is upon what intuition is and how it might connect with the topic of religion. He points out how ordinary and common feelings of intuition are – these sensations are part of everyday life. Donovan gives examples of intuition in practice, where people claim that they ‘just know’ moral or mathematical propositions are true. Donovan questions whether intuition should apply to religion too; can religious experience be a source of conviction without any further argument?

The first two sentences of passage two shows that people demand scientific or rational knowledge or arguments, yet they are influenced by intuition sometime. This rises an epistemic question – how do we know anything, what is the legit way to know something? Donovan then states that there are situations where we feel sure that we know something, but we could not provide any further argument to support it or prove it. This is an example of the concept of blik from Hare. A blik is a frame of reference in terms of which data is interpreted – a mental filter in terms of which the notion of evidence is defined. Hare argued that religious statements are non-cognitive. Religious experiences are not verifiable or factual claims, yet it can still influence people’s mind and action.

After describing the situation we obtain intuitive knowledge, Donovan then lists examples of intuitive knowledge. We just know these examples by experience, no further argument or proof needed. He defined this confident of being right with further proof and argument as intuition. He is also discussing about how people obtain their

knowledge generally. People seem to value their experience as a source of knowledge. He considers intuitive knowing is a direct and convincing way of knowing and it needs no further argument. Those examples mentioned demonstrate perfectly ordinary and daily case.

Donovan questions are there such things as intuitions in religious issue; in other words, question the role of intuition in religions or religious knowledge. He then asks does a similar feeling of conviction in cases of religious experience also give us the right to say we know, even without having to produce any further reasons or offer any additional arguments. Religious experience is the feeling of powers of mystery, awe, wonder and fascination, generally occurring in a context of religious expectation, which is beyond ordinary...
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