PP111 Chapter 11: Religious Experience
Experience and Testimony
• Our present concern is not whether the existence of God can be inferred but
whether God can be known direct experience.
• Mystical experiences will then need to be distinguished from religious
o Experiences that are described by those who have them as experimental
encounters with or of God.
• Two different sorts of justification that might be derived from religious
1. Do the religious experiences reported by other and so inevitably their
testimony of such experiences give us (who have not shared the
experience) reason to believe that there is a God?
2. Are religious experiences a good reason for the persons who have those
experiences the subjects of the experience to believe that there is a God?
The Visions of Teresa (Saint Teresa)
• She had experienced an interaction with God however she was unable to describe
him because although she was sure she had heard him she did not see a body or
any human traits.
• “In any case there is no other way in which it would be possible for us to see in a
moment things of which we have no recollection, which we have never thought of
and which even in a long period of time we could not invent with out imagination
because as I have already said they far transcend what we can comprehend on
• Some of those who have had religious experiences insist that their experience had
such great power that it is impossible for them not to believe that their
experiences are veridical.
• The feeling of absolute conviction is common to both religious experiences and
delusions that feeling cannot be used to decide whether an experience is veridical
• We cannot dismiss all sincere claims to have experienced God as error or
delusion, since that would assume we already know that there is no God.
• To dismiss someone’s claim to have experienced God without some independent
reason to do so is merely dogmatism
Freud on Wishes and Illusions
• Freud claims that people sometimes have a very powerful motivation (conscious
or unconscious) for believing that they see things they don’t actually see they
cling passionately to their belief because it fulfills their wishes
• If a belief is derived from wishfulfillment rather than from evidence then it might
be true, but it is still illusory
• If religious experience is not to be trusted then we will need other and
independent reasons for doubting it.
Relying on Others • There is no absolute rule for when it is reasonable to accept the statements of
others and when it is not reasonable to do so
• Common testimony about religious experiences:
1. That we are not able to get any independent confirmation of what we
are told by those who claim to have had such experiences
2. That the experiences are sometime connected to altered states of
3. That others stand to profit from our accepting their testimony at face
• Whenever such features are present it is not reasonable to use the testimony of
others to justify a belief in God
Experiences of God (C.D. Broad)
• Traditions act in two different ways:
a. The tradition no doubt affects the theoretical interpretation of experiences,
which would have taken place even if the mystic had been brought up in a
b. The traditional beliefs on the other hand, probably determine many of the
details of the experience itself.
• The practical postulate which we go upon