Unlike Swinburne, William James approached religious experience in a different manner by emphasising the varieties of religious experience and underlining its importance to human nature. James maintains that underneath all religious creeds and dogmas lies the primary experience of the Divine. James further regarded mysticism as a central part of human experience. A mystical religious experience is one where the experiencer believes that they have achieved some kind of union with the divine. This quotation from Teresa of Avila, one of the most famous of the Christian mystics, illustrates what many people feel when they have a mystical experience. ‘Thus does God, when he raises a soul to union with himself, suspend the natural action of all her faculties.’ This quotation displays some of the distinctive features of mystical experiences, such as a loss of time, loss of senses and a ‘direct awareness’ at work. James identified four key characteristics of the mystical: Ineffability (cannot be described), Noetic Quality (imparts knowledge), Transiency (brief but profound) and Passivity (it is not sought after). James thus argues that religious experiences express truth in pragmatic terms. They are true to the extent that they help, improve and make sense of our lives in the world. They support the existence of God for those who benefit from such beliefs.
There are other forms of the argument based on religious experience, which are less favoured by modern philosophers, however they supply reason to support belief in God. The ‘historical argument’ states that the experiences of key individuals have been so great and impressive that they must be true, such as St Paul and Mohammed. Another argument is known, as the ‘cumulative argument’, which states that so many people have had religious experiences in the past that they cannot all, be untrue. God must be the cause of some of these experiences. Although these may be weak arguments, they provide evidence to suggest an individual could believe in God. Swinburne writes about the ‘sheer weight of testimony’. Furthermore, although many people have religious experiences, David Hay interviewed people and discovered many did not discuss their experiences for fear of being misunderstood. If this is the case, then many experiences have yet to be accounted for and this contributes to the cumulative argument. The corporate argument is similar to the cumulative argument, however it is large number of people experiencing God at the same time rather than individual experiences. For instance, the Toronto Blessing that started on the 10th January 1994. The effects were falling in the spirit, shaking, weeping and laughter.
Conversation experiences could provide evidence for a belief in God. Each person has a number of ideas in their mind ranked by importance, which aim is of paramount importance at any one time depends on circumstances. A transformation is when one aim establishes a permanent priority. Professor Edwin D. Starbuck noted that all adolescents go through symptoms similar to a religious experience, caused by feelings incompleteness and imperfect. Therefore, adolescents who claim to have a religious experience could simply be shifting their feelings religion. Whereas William James noted that such discussions like this, prevent people from turning to religion and some are temporarily inhibited.
ii.) Discuss the view that the evidence and reasons are not conclusive to support this belief. (12)
Evidence and reasons are conclusive to support religious experience for many reasons, although there are some problematic areas that need discussing. Firstly, Ay Ayer declares they’re meaningless. ‘God’ transcends nature and is mysterious to humans. Some may argue that God can be known through faith without a necessary reason. This means that we cannot fully define God or even fully understand the idea of him, which Ayer says many theists may agree with. Ayer states that if the mystic cannot communicate their experience, then ‘he is bound to talk nonsense’. The ‘verification principle’ is a principle that claims a proposition can only be meaningful if it could be verified analytically or synthetically. Although you cannot ‘verify’ the verification principle, it poses a challenging question to religious experience. If religious experience occurs in the mind, how can it be verified as an experience with a transcendent being rather than an abnormal chemical reaction in the brain? Donovan albeit less provocatively takes this stance by arguing ‘for those who experience God know he’s real and that’s all there is to it’ suggesting an argument from religious experience is redundant. However, the concepts of faith and intuition play a major role in religion. Faith is an extremely powerful tool and without it, there would be no religion. Ayer dismisses faith, as it isn’t a form of empirical evidence. However, faith was never intended to be empirical. Ayer claims it is meaningless for everyone, but is not. Despite not being empirically definable, many find religious language to be meaningful. Many have staked their lives on such belief and although some individual’s testimony may not constitute as proof, their accounts should be taken seriously and the concept of prima facie should apply. Furthermore, for believers, religious experiences are not random occurrences. They play a crucial part in their lives. The argument is a posteriori. Psychologist Carl Jung said that ‘religious experience is absolute, it cannot be disputed. Those who have had it possess a great treasure, a source of life, meaning and beauty which gives splendor to the world.’
Swinburne’s attempt to show that it is probably that God exists is criticised by Anthony Flew and Hick. For example, according to Hick, to say that the nature of the universe leads to the conclusion that God probably exists implies that we can compare this universe with a number of others. Anthony Flew rejects the accumulation of arguments by his ‘ten leaky buckets’ analogy. He claimed that ten deeply flawed arguments do not make a 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’. However, Flew and Hick are rooted in the Enlightenment intellectual tradition that required God to validate himself on their terms. If God is transcendent, then he must be beyond the argument because it cannot be expected to argue him into existence. If God cannot be proved, then he cannot be disproved. He remains a possibility.
To conclude, using religious experience as evidence to believe in God is possible. Although those such as AJ Ayer have disregarded religious experience because of the question of validity, claiming God is a transcendent being who is beyond our experience, the definition of God can be searched for in the Judaeo Christian tradition, through prophets and Christ. There is a series of religious experiences beginning with the ingress/in breaking of God into human history through Christ and the prophets, but being continuously validated by congruous religious experience is not ‘proof’. Instead, it is an accumulation of evidence, starting with the impossibility of disproving God and contributing to a mounting case of probability as one of the factors in congruous religious experience. The Jewish philosopher 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”. However, there are relationships that are much more meaningful and of a deeper level that he calls “I-thou”. According to Buber, this is the relationship that humans have with God, who is the “Eternal Thou”