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Presentation on theme: "RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE A2 Presentation"— Presentation transcript:


2 Winnie the Pooh relied on experience – he was only satisfied that there was honey all the way to the bottom of the pot when he had tested this for himself by eating all the honey. Sometimes experience can be mistaken – as when Pooh and Piglet went round and round the tree in the snow following footprints and they were mistakenly convinced on this evidence that they were following a dangerous animal. Similarly the religious experience arguments are based on claimed experiences of God – but one problem is whether these experiences are good evidence for the existence of God.

3 RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE Religious Experience has been argued to be ground for belief in God. Kant rejected the possibility of such experiences as he argued that we do not have the senses to experience God. The blind woman in Millet’s painting can experience her daughter’s hair and the sound of music as she has the sense organs to do so but she cannot experience the rainbow which she cannot see. Similarly, for Kant, humans do not have the senses to experience God since God belongs in the noumenal realm – God is not an object in space and time.

Reports of experiences of seeing the Loch Ness Monster? Reports of experiences of UFOs and Aliens? Reports of experiences of God? -To be effective, an argument must show why some of the above should be seen as good evidence when other types of claimed experiences are rejected.

St. Teresa was sure she had experienced God and had been pierced by His dart. But how does one separate: INTERNAL: ‘I had an experience of it seeming to me that God pierced my heart with his dart.’ EXTERNAL ‑ e.g. ‘God pierced my heart with his dart' There is a gap between appearance and reality – e.g.: The sun going round the earth A stick appearing bent in water An oasis in the desert. Even in the Acts of The Apostles, the reports of Paul’s conversion experience differ…

6 Paul’s Conversion experience (1)
Acts 9:4 – 8 “He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.”

7 Paul’s conversion experience (2)
Acts 22.6 – 10 “’On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, 'Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarean whom you are persecuting.' My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?' The Lord answered me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.’”

8 Paul’s Conversion experience (3)
Acts 26:13 “At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my travelling companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.' And I said, 'Who are you, sir?' And the Lord replied, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen (of me) and what you will be shown. I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.”

There are various ways of categorising religious experience. Richard Swinburne provides one way - he lists five types: PUBLIC EXPERIENCES: 1) Ordinary, interpreted experience – e.g. night sky (Wisdom’s Gardener) 2) Extraordinary experience – Jesus walking on water PRIVATE EXPERIENCE 3) Describable in normal language (Jacob’s ladder) 4) Not describable in normal language (mystical – cf The Wind in the Willows – next slide) 5) No specific experience (for instance when the whole of a believer’s life is seen in a certain way)

'Breathless and transfixed, the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of that glad piping broke in on him like a wave, caught him up, and possessed him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks, and bowed his head and understood... "This is the place of my song‑dream, the place the music played to me," whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. "Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!" Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror ‑ indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy ‑ but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeking, he knew it could only mean that some August Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look at his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird‑haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.... "Rat!" he found breath to whisper, shaking. "Are you afraid?“ "Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid of HIM? O, never, never! And yet ‑ and yet ‑ O, Mole, I am afraid!“ Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

11 Bridging the External/ Internal gap
Richard Swinburne puts forward two principles: 1) THE PRINCIPLE OF CREDULITY maintains that it is a principle of rationality that (in the absence of special considerations) if it seems to a person that X is present, then probably X is present. What one seems to perceive is probably so. 2) THE PRINCIPLE OF TESTIMONY maintains that, in the absence of special considerations, it is reasonable to believe that the experiences of others are probably as they report them.

12 PRIOR PROBABILITY Assessment of PRIOR PROBABILITY is vital to the argument. If the existence of the Loch Ness monster or UFO’s is highly improbable, then one will be highly sceptical of reports to have seen them. Swinburne claims that there is a reasonable probability of God’s existence if all the other arguments are taken into account. None of these other arguments prove God’s existence but, he claims, they make God’s existence more probable than not.

13 DIFFERENT ARGUMENTS - building a cumulative case?
The idea of the Universe having a cause is more probable than it being uncaused (Cosmological Argument) The sheer improbability of the earth ‘just happening’ is so low that there must have been a designer (the Design Argument) Human sense of moral order requires a source of this morality (Moral Argument) HOWEVER each of these conclusions can be challenged….

14 ANTONY FLEW Flew rejects the accumulation of arguments by his ‘ten leaky buckets’ analogy. He claimed (30 years before Swinburne) that ten deeply flawed arguments do not make one good one. The issue is whether the various arguments are deeply flawed or whether, taken together, they do serve to make what Basil Mitchell called a ‘CUMULATIVE CASE’. It is important to recognise that the Religious experience argument does not stand on his own – it depends on the prior probability of God’s existence being established.

This unit found that between about 30 and 45% of the population of Britain, irrespective of age, geographical position or even of belief say that they have been aware of a presence or power beyond themselves. David Hay’s book ‘Inner Space’ records that many of the people interviewed had never previously spoken about their experiences because they thought that others would make fun of them or would not understand.

The Vicious Circle Challenge This holds that religious experience depends on the prior assumptions of those involved. Thus Catholics will experience Mary and Hindus are likely to experience Kali. This implies that instead of religious experience being a BASIS for faith, they are more likely to be generated by existing faith commitments. They therefore have ’no epistemological role’- they do not underwrite faith. HOWEVER some great mystics have experiences which challenge their existing frameworks…

The Conflicting Claims challenge This argues that if Christian religious experiences underwrite Christianity, then Islamic experiences should equally be held to underwrite Islam and so on. In other words, if one religion relies on their religious experiences to prove the truth of their religion then, philosophically, each religion can claim the same and this provides, as David Hume put it, ‘a complete triumph for the sceptic’ as it implies each religion is equally true.

18 The Conflicting Claims challenge Contd.
If it is held that there is a single transcendent reality but each religion experiences this differently, then the GROUNDS for this claim need to be established. If a Catholic experiences the Virgin Mary and a Hindu experiences the goddess Kali and then someone claims ‘these are the same thing really’, then what is the philosophic basis for this claim? Kali has more arms than Mary and unless there are CRITERIA to say that the Hindu and the Catholic are both experiencing the same reality, then the claim may appear suspect.

The Psychological Challenge Some psychologists hold that religious experiences can be explained by psychological factors. For instance, (a) St. Paul’s experience on the Damascus road could have been due to an epileptic fit or (b) experiences claimed by teenage girls during the hormonal changes at puberty. HOWEVER it is one thing to say ‘Some religious experiences can be explained psychologically’ and another to say that ALL religious experiences can be explained like this. Also, a religious believer can claim that if there is a God, God could work through one’s psyche.

The anti-realist challenge This claims that there are no direct experiences of God – instead religious experiences are the way the world is seen by a religious believer. One ’learns to find God in all things’ and this learning process depends on your framework. However this is to reject the individual experiences of the divine set out, for instance, by William James.

21 WILLIAM JAMES William James’ book ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’ is possibly the most influential book on such experiences this century (incidentally it had a very considerable influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein). James gives a classic definition of religious experience as: ’the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.’ (Varieties of Religious Experience. P. 34) James maintains that underneath all religious creeds and dogmas lies the primary experience of the Divine. The creeds and dogmas are then overlaid on the primary experience.

22 William James gives four Marks of Religious Experience
1) Ineffability (mysticism like love needs to be directly experienced in order to be understood); 2) Noetic quality (mystics speak of revelations and illuminations which are held to provide knowledge and transcend rational categories); 3) Transiency (mystical experiences last for a short time but '.....modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their occurrence') and 4) Passivity (where the experience is beyond the individual's control and cannot be obtained by effort; it is a gift.)

Nicholas Lash, of Cambridge University, has been one of the foremost Catholic theologians in Britain. In his book ‘Easter in Ordinary’, he fiercely attacks William James’ whole conception of Religious Experience. Lash rejects the whole idea that God can be experienced directly in the way that James claims. To hold this, he says, is to make religion depend on a few privileged ‘pattern setters’. Instead Lash puts forward a different view – that God is experienced in the everyday events of life.

24 NICHOLAS LASH Lash rejects the ‘dualistic cartesianism still lurking at the back of the Christian mind’ God, he says, is ONLY experienced in the everyday (hence the title of his book ‘Easter in Ordinary’) He says……… ‘... in action and discourse patterned by the frame of reference provided by the creed, we learn to find God in all life, all freedom, all creativity and vitality, and in each particular beauty, each unexpected attainment of relationship and community... To speak of “spirit” as “God” is to ascribe all creativity and conversion, all fresh life and freedom, to divinity.’ (Nicholas Lash. Easter in Ordinary P. 267) Peter Vardy holds that this view could be consistent with an anti-realist understanding of religious experience whereby one learns to see the world in a religious way as a result of schooling and ‘formation’ into a religious tradition.

25 Religious experience as a learned interpretation of the world
If it is held that God cannot be experienced directly and, instead, that an individual learns to see the world in a religious way – then religious experience can no longer be held to underpin faith. Rather, religious experience then becomes a product of faith. A religious believer is educated or trained to see the world in terms of the religious form of life he or she occupies and in the categories endorsed by this form of life.

26 WILLIAM ALSTON Concentrates on direct experiences of God which exclude, for instance, being aware of God ‘through the beauties of nature, the words of the Bible or a sermon’. These experiences are most likely to be plausibly regarded as presentations of God to the individual (St. Teresa says that God ‘presents Himself to the soul by a knowledge brighter than the sun’). Alston concentrates on non-sensory experiences as, since God is held to be purely spiritual, a non-sensory experience has a greater chance of presenting God as God is than a sensory experience.

27  Alston - 2 Alston rejects the limitation of the five senses suggested by Kant: ‘Why should we suppose that the possibilities of experiential givenness, for human beings or otherwise, are exhausted by the powers of our five senses?’ Animals, he claims, have senses wider than ours so ‘…why can’t we envisage presentations that do not stem from the activity of any physical sense organs, as is apparently the case with mystical perception?’ Alston advocates a ‘perceptual model’ of mystical experience - something presents itself to us. We may ‘see’ it differently depending on our perceptual schemes and prior assumptions, but he claims there is something that presents itself to us.

28 Alston’s Perceptual model
The ‘perceptual model’ relies on a ‘theory of appearing’ in which: ‘... perceiving X simply consists in X’s appearing to one, or being presented to one, as so-and-so. That’s all there is to it.....’ To perceive X is simply for X to appear to one in a certain way. Alston says there are three conditions that must be met if X is to appear: 1.  X must exist 2. X must make an important causal contribution to the experience of X, and 3. That perceiving X must give rise to beliefs about X.

29 Results of the perceptual model
Alston recognizes that to show perceptual experiences are genuine would first mean showing that God exists [see (1)]. What he aims to show is the following: 1) Mystical experience is the right sort of perception to provide a genuine perception of God if the other requirements are met, and 2) There is no bar in principle to these other requirements being satisfied if God does exist. Crucially he says: ‘This adds up to a defense of the thesis that it is quite possible that humans do sometimes perceive God if God is ‘there’ to be perceived. In other words, the thesis defended is that IF God exists, then mystical experience is quite properly thought of as mystical perception.’

30 Alston’s House God is experienced as speaking, comforting, forgiving and also as good, powerful, loving, compassionate, etc… How can these attributes be known? Alston’s claim is that when we see a more ordinary object like a person we may say ‘she looks like Susie’ or ‘the music sounds like Bach’ - we proceed by making comparisons. Similarly in the case of experiences of God we make comparisons of how things seem to us.  Alston accepts that believers make use of their prior frameworks but claims we do this with normal experience. If he sees his house from ft, he sees his house and he may learn something new but it would basically be as he expected his house to look. Similarly God is experienced as believers expect God to be experienced - there is no difference between ordinary experiences and religious ones.

31 What does Alston achieve?
Alston’s argument does not seek to prove God exists, but rather to show that if one believes in God, then it is reasonable to accept that religious experiences are from God. However the key problem is the word ‘if’ – in other words, the conclusion that God is experienced depends on one’s prior beliefs.

If one believes in God, if God is real within the ‘form of life’ of the believing community’, then the whole world may be seen as being imbued with God’s presence. St. Francis saw the whole world as reflecting the presence of God. However this is NOT the same as saying that religious experiences establish the claims that God exists independently of the created universe…..

33 Having said all this…. Many throughout the world are convinced that they have been in the presence of God. Many have staked their lives on such belief. Such individuals are often intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate and deep – not the sort of people who would lie or be readily dismissed. Their testimony may not constitute proof but, at the least, it deserves to be taken very seriously and not discarded. Hamlet said ‘There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt at in your philosophy’. Religious experience may well point to a divine ‘other’ the possibility of which, in a materialistic age, is too often ignored.

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