Can religious experience be used to justify belief in God?
Religious experiences mark the crucial events of the major religions and are the primary substance of their sacred texts. They also have been the foundational source upon which billions of people anchor their beliefs, faiths and practices from Taoism to Mormonism. Here we will first outline the term religious experience, how it will be used and the constraints that define it. Next we will show how a religious experience is actually a miracle and that they are one and the same thing. This leads us on to how miracles justify a belief in god but how Hume argues against miracles by his attack on personal testimonies. From this the main argument will be that religious experiences (miracles) can be an individual and collective justification for a belief in god but are not a strong argument for the existence of god. Religious experience implies a perception or an awareness of the unknown transcendent realm. Though subjective in nature and biased by culture, the religious experience is the 'proof' that stands behind all other proof, either in scripture, faith or reason for the existence of god. Ward says Hardy defines religious experience as 'any experience of something beyond the normal and perhaps of greater significance than ordinary experiences' (A222 Book 1: Philosophy of Religion Track 7). This is too broad a definition as beyond the normal could be a catchall that includes feats of extraordinary ability or the effects of chemical stimulants upon the normal human being. An example is a person demonstrating unexpected ability at a time of imminent danger to a loved one or child. This experience could be construed as a ‘miracle' by some due to the assumed intervention of a spirit or guardian angel. But in fact it was a combination of adrenalin and the impulse of urgent necessity. Perhaps a better expression of religious experience from our theistic stance is awareness or a perception brought about by the intervention of some supernatural being or god. This would obviously preclude any hallucinations or delusions for we are dealing here with a transcendent contemplation, an awareness and not psychosis or narcosis. A shaman’s 'mystical' experiences whilst on peyote or a schizophrenic vision or mumblings would not qualify within the above strict definition. Our narrower definition leads us on to miracles as a necessary part of the general phenomena of religious experiences. How these two are connected is by the very definition of the word miracle. Miracle means occurrences, happenings or events which defy natural laws and which are brought about through supernatural causes /or agents or god. Religious experiences and miracles are intimately connected by the assumed common intervention of a supernatural agent or god. Ergo a religious experience is a miracle and from here on we will use the term miracle to encompass religious experiences. However Ward attaches conditional requirements on religious experiences that create a kind of peer group 'proof' that a miracle is genuine. He says 'There is a moral test. There is a test of... is there pretty wide agreement among a group of your peers?'(A222 Book 1: Philosophy of Religion Track 7). What he is saying is that a miracle ought to improve conduct, be affirming to your faith, be transforming for the greater good in some positive sense. Also it should be classifiable as similar when compared amongst your peers by testimony. With all the above conditions being met then a miracle has occurred. Though these two qualifiers seem reasonable they are not required for the authenticity of a miracle by our definition as I shall explain. A person could experience a ‘vision’ via the deity or a supernatural force and go insane, possible depending on their psychological integrity. God turned Lot's wife to a pillar of salt for defying his instructions at Sodom and Gomorrah. These would not pass Ward's tests for peer group conformity or...
References: Cottingham, J. (2012) 'Western Philosophy ' (eds)
'Exploring philosophy ' (2011) The Philosophy of Religion [Audio CD 1]
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