Religious experience as an argument for and against God’s existence

When we talk about sensory experiences, we sometimes talk about how such experiences can give justification to a belief. For example, me seeing a cat with my eyes provides a reason/justification for me to believe that there is a cat in front of me. This same move is commonly made when it comes to religious belief/experiences.

But, some apologists like to go further and argue that religious experience can actually serve as an argument for God’s existence, which means that these experiences can convince others of the existence of God*.

One problem with this strategy is that there are conflicting religious experiences, which we wouldn’t predict on the hypothesis of theism.

The second problem is that, if God exists, we would expect more people to have religious experiences, but not everyone does have such religious experiences.

Thirdly, many of these religious experiences of God are ambiguous and vague, which is expected on the no-God hypothesis.

Fourthly, we would expect people to have some religious experiences, whether or not those experiences match up with reality. This is evident from the fact that not all religious experiences, and/or the interpretations of those experiences, can be true.

Finally, it is unclear why the God hypothesis would predict that we would see religious experiences in the form of what we see in the actual world. If anything, one might expect to be constantly experiencing God in a very strong form, but that’s not we observe.

Notes:
*I am talking about classical theism.

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2 thoughts on “Religious experience as an argument for and against God’s existence

  1. Perhaps what we generalize to call “religious experiences” is to loose a category for what is occurring. Maybe a classically theorist God has a plan that human beings can only be partially included in, and maybe what we generalized to say this human experience called religious experiences is an overgeneralization, and maybe just only a small minority of such expenses are actually communication from God.

  2. When we talk about sensory experiences, we sometimes talk about how such experiences can give justification to a belief. For example, me seeing a cat with my eyes provides a reason/justification for me to believe that there is a cat in front of me.

    I’m inclined to think that’s not quite right.

    You experiencing a cat is reason to believe that you experienced a cat. Or, to say it different, it is reason to believe there is a subjective cat in front of you.

    Having often experienced a cat and having that experience confirmed by others, is reason for you to believe that your subjective cat experiences are of objective cats.

    It is when you put the two together that you have justification for believing there is a cat in front of you.

    When we get to religious experience, we don’t have that second step of objective confirmation. And the rest of your post makes a good case against such confirmation.

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