Argument from religious experience

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The argument from religious experience is the argument that because people have reported religious experiences of God, therefore God exists. In the formal logic of philosophical theology the argument may be expressed as follows:

Let E be credible, reliable, valid, true experiences of God
Let T be credible, reliable testimony of experiences of God
Let G be God exists.

modus ponens

1. IF E, then G
2. E
3. Therefore, G

modus tollens

1. IF E, then G
2. Not G
3. Therefore, not E.

Hypothetical Syllogism (or Chain Argument)

1. If E, then T
2. If T, then G
3. Therefore, if E, then G

The atheist response to the argument from religious experience is

Hypothetical Syllogism (or Chain Argument)

1. If E, then T
2. If T, then G
3. Not T
4. Therefore, not G

Religious experience as demonstration and evidence

The type of religious experience most often discussed in the context of arguments for the existence of God is that of a person having an intense inner experience which that person takes to be God communicating directly.

In its strong form, this argument asserts that it is only possible to experience that which exists, so that the phenomenon of religious experience demonstrates the existence of God. People experience God, therefore there must be a God.

In its weaker form, the argument asserts only that religious experiences constitute evidence for God's existence.

Unless there is some specific reason to question the validity of a religious experience, most people will accept that religious experience is at least prima facie (Latin, "at first view") evidence for the existence of God, and as support for the philosophical hypothesis of theism.

Most religious people do not defend their beliefs using any philosophical rhetoric at all. Most people will defend their religious belief based upon their own experiences and what they regard as the reliable testimony of others as evidence for the existence of God, such as the historical accounts of encounters with God in the Christian Bible and the uninterrupted existence and growth of Christianity.

Historical testimonies: epistemological reliability

As history is replete with examples of human beings sensing the presence of God with them to guide them, theism explains individual and collective religious experiences. Many people have on many occasions throughout human history reported having had a religious experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to them that God was present. In each of those cases of the experience in which it seemed (epistemically) to the subject that God was present (where there was an absence of special considerations), God was probably present. As it is reasonable to believe that the world is probably as we experience it to be if we are to avoid Skepticism and Solipsism, in general terms, if it seems to a credible and reliable subject that x is present, then probably x is present.

Philosophical theology

Philosophical theology observes that religious experiences appear to fall into two categories:
1. An experience with religious significance in a religious context, for example, an act of worship, the act of worship in a religious setting, a setting such as a religious building.
2. A person's experience of some power or presence, an experience of something beyond oneself, people's experience of a presence beyond themselves.

Religious experiences tend to be of something "out of the ordinary". Often there is a problem in trying to explain the experience in everyday language. Religious experiences provide insight into something other than the everyday, material world. Hence, it is difficult to verify a religious experience to oneself and to others.

Despite there being experiences which are experienced by everyone (for example, hunger, cold, fatigue...etc.) religious experiences tend to be unique and limited to a few:

an experience which can be described using everyday language (for example, a dream);
an experience which cannot be described using everyday language (for example, a mystical experience);
a conviction that God has been experienced in some way despite lack of material evidence.

Religious experiences are said to be "God given" compared to ordinary experiences which are available to anyone.

Critical objections

Traditionally critics of the argument from religious experience have maintained that it is a fallacy to argue from a psychological experience of x to x; to argue, for example, from the fact that it appears to you that God is present to the probability that God is present. See Confirmation bias. However, both believers and open-minded sceptics accept the fact that not all reported perceptual experiences are psychological, or self-generated. See Testify and Witness.

Wishful thinking

Sceptics would argue that religious experience is the result of wishful thinking or projection. It seems to them very plausible that even if God did not exist, people would still be inclined to imagine that there is a God and even imagine that they are having experiences of God, when in fact their experience is not veridical.[1] Thus the theory that religious experience is delusionary would also explain some of the vast differences which different religious people claim to have in their "experience" of God, namely, that people "experience" what they want to experience. This is the sceptic's logical fallacy of confirmation bias and cherry picking. If an atheist had an experience of God, the committed atheist could freely dismiss it afterward as an aberrent psychological experience having no objective external reality. This is the fallacy of Solipsism.[2]

Conflicting claims

Critics sometimes appeal to the conflicting claims that are made on the basis of religious experiences within different religious traditions, representing these claims as mutually inconsistent and contradictory. This objection does not seem to consider the possibility that the most striking of the apparent differences in claims of religious experiences within different religious traditions could be due to opposing demonic manifestations and phenomena, which sceptics also reject. Compare 1 Corinthians 8:5, 1 Corinthians 10:20, 2 Corinthians 11:14, Galatians 4:8 and 1 John 4:1.

See Demon, Ghost, Magic, New age movement, Occultism, Paranormal, Possession, Spiritism, Thelema, Theosophy, Voodoo, Witch.

Former atheists' experiences of God and their testimony

Against the objection by many thinkers who reject the argument from religious experience as valid evidence for the existence of God, many former atheists have testified to unexpected religious experiences they could not dismiss in which they personally encountered God and in response wholly embraced theism.[3]

The argument of Jesus Christ

Mark 16:14 multiple translations He upbraided them for their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him.

John 7:16-18 Douay-Rheims He that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, he is true, and there is no injustice in him. (truthful testimony)

John 7:17 multiple translations Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether My teaching is from God.

John 8:47 multiple translations Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.

John 15:22 multiple translations If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.

John 3:19 multiple translations Light has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.

The argument of Jesus Christ for the existence of God is wholly intuitive. See Romans 1:19-21

Bible believing Christianity and prayer

See also: Studies on prayer

The Christian Post reporter Stoyan Zaimov wrote:

Double-blind prayer experiments: where people pray for others with terminal illness. Habermas admitted that most such experiments have not worked, but the three that he knows of that have indeed worked were cases of orthodox-Christians praying for the sick.[4]

Habermas has also discussed documentations of miracle claims and referred to thousands of cases around the world of documented miracles, including those where medical doctors witness prayer healing people with severe physical disabilities.[5]

See also


  1. "veridical" —truthfulness, corresponding to reality; "veridically" —truthfully, actually, corresponding to reality:
  2. Compare
  3. See the following
  4. Christian Apologist: 10 Reasons for the Fall of Atheism by Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post, October 14, 2013
  5. Christian Apologist: 10 Reasons for the Fall of Atheism By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter

External links