We laugh about the person who says, ‘I know I’m right; don’t confuse me with arguments’. And yet there are times when we find ourselves wanting to say that too. For there are situations in which we feel sure that we know something, even though if asked to give a good argument to back up our claim we are at a loss to know quite how to do so. ‘I know you’re the person I spoke to on the bus yesterday.’ ‘I know I have two hands.’ ‘I know it is wrong to let that child starve.’ ‘I know that six minus four leaves two.’ Our experience of being confident that we are right in cases like those is often called intuition. Intuitive knowing seems to be a direct, convincing way of knowing, which needs no further argument. And it is a perfectly ordinary, everyday occurrence as those examples show. Are there such things as intuitions in religious matters too? 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? (a) Explain the argument and/or interpretation in the passage. (30 marks) (b) Do you agree with the idea(s) expressed? Justify your point of view and discuss its implications for understanding religion and human experience. (20 marks)
Explain the argument and/or interpretation in the passage. (30 marks) In his essay ‘Can we know God by experience?’ Peter Donovan questions whether it is possible to have direct, intuitive knowledge of God. After setting out this question, he considers the views of 20th century theologians and philosophers (like H.P. Owen) 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), 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 specific 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? Donovan says ‘We laugh at the person who says, ‘I know I’m right, don’t confuse me with arguments’. Although this sounds anti-intellectual it can actually be quite common when it comes to religious belief. In saying such a thing a religious believer is claiming that their belief is based on something different to logical arguments such as the design, cosmological or ontological arguments. It is based on something more immediate and direct and perhaps something more personal. It might be compared to moral intuitionism. Perhaps such a religious belief could be confirmed through arguments, but it is certainly not based on them. Donovan’s point here is that even though the person who says this sounds intellectually juvenile they are actually only doing something that we all do on a daily basis when we say things like ‘I know I have two hands’ and ‘I know 2+2=4’. Donovan then says ‘Our experience of being confident that we are right in cases like those is often called intuition. Intuitive...
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