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Religious Experience presents a convincing argument for the existence of God. Analyse this claim.

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Introduction

"Religious Experience presents a convincing argument for the existence of God." Analyse this claim. The argument from religious experience is an a posteriori, inductive argument for the existence of God. A religious experience is an encounter with the divine, and for believers, this makes religious experience the most convincing proof of God's existence. According to Saint Therese of Avila, "God establishes himself in the interior of this soul in such a way, that when I return to myself, it is wholly impossible for me to doubt that I have been in God and God in me." The question is: How does one move from the conviction that a person has experienced God to the claim that he or she actually did experience God? I will argue that although the argument from religious experience demonstrates a likely probability that God exists, the evidence is not enough for it to be a proof. Scholars have defined religious experience in many ways. Ninian Smart, in The Religious Experience of Mankind, said that "A religious experience involves some kind of 'perception' of the invisible world, or a perception that some visible person or thing is a manifestation of the invisible world." Martin Buber argues that God reveals himself to people on a personal level as they experience him through life and in the world. He wrote, in I and Thou, that everyday human relationships are of a simple level, which he calls "I-it". ...read more.

Middle

Although, there are considerable, convincing problems with this type of argument. First of all, an experience of God does not always indicate the reality of God. Our regular experiences can easily be mistaken, for example you are walking down the street when you see your friend on the other side of the road, you call out their name but when they don't turn around you realise that it is just a person who looks like them. And since regular experiences are easily mistaken, is it not fair to say that an experience of the divine must be even more ambiguous. Because the argument itself is inductive, meaning that is dealing only in probabilities. The conclusion cannot be sustained simply on the basis of the claims made in the premises. Richard Swinburne argues inductively in favor of the argument from religious experience. He states that it is reasonable to believe that God is loving and personal and would seek to reveal himself: "An omnipotent and perfectly good creator will seek to interact with his creatures and in particular, human persons capable of knowing him". Swinburne attempts to solve the problem of moving from the conviction that a person has experienced God to the claim that he or she actually did experience God, or "bridge the internal/external gap", with The Cumulative Argument for the existence of God. This argument is based on the view that if one takes all the different arguments for the existence of God, then they are more convincing than one argument alone. ...read more.

Conclusion

In particular, the issue with the consistency of religious experiences is a strong deciding factor when considering the existence of God. There are thousands of testimonies of religious experience, with God as the source of them all. It is undeniable that there are common themes to religious experience, but surely there would be a greater similarity between them all? Anthony Flew puts forward a strong argument, claiming that the character of religious experience "seems to depend on the interests, background and expectations of those who have them rather than anything separate or autonomous". He implies that it is strangely convenient that a vision of the Virgin Mary would occur not to a "Hindu at Bewares" but to a "Roman Catholic of Lourdes". Flew clearly puts forward an argument more credible than that used by Caroline Franks Davies in an attempt to justify it. She rejects his challenge on the basis that it applies largely to visions and also claims that people will tend to use the language and ideas of their beliefs in order to describe their experiences. Ultimately, the argument from religious experience fails to provide a definite proof of God's existence. The argument relies on the authenticity of such experiences, and while they may be convincing for those who have had them, we cannot be sure unless we experience it ourselves. Caroline Franks Davies suggests that we take all the arguments in favor of God's existence and when we add in religious experience, the scales have tipped in its favor. However, a collection of bad arguments do not equal a good one. ...read more.

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