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Religious Experience Argument Made Simple

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Religious Experience Argument Made Simple

We have discussed several arguments for God. Now we’ve come to the fifth argument and I think this one will tricker most resistance. The Religious Experience argument for the existence of God!

A religious experience is when someone feels they have had a direct or personal experience of God.

This argument basically says that if people feel they have experienced God, this will be the most convincing proof of God’s existence because they have personally experienced or felt God for themselves. It is not simply an argument based on logic or reason. A religious experience can be a vision or a dream in which God speaks to a person. It can also be a healing like I have experienced when I got healed from asthma.

It is interesting to know that this argument has been around for a long time already So how does this argument work anyway?

Outline of the Argument

  1. There are compelling reasons for considering at least some religious experiences to point to and validate spiritual realities that exist in a way that transcends any material manifestations.
  2. According to Materialism, nothing exists in a way that transcends its material manifestations.
  3. According to Classical Theism in general, and to many theistic faiths, God endows Humans with the ability to have spiritual experiences and to perceive, albeit imperfectly, such spiritual realities and these spiritual realities exist in a way that transcends any material manifestations.
  4. Therefore, to the extent that premise (1) is accepted, Theism is more plausible than Materialism.

Okay, that was a mouth full, I admit. So let’s see whether we can make it a little more compact.

  1. Many people of different eras and of widely different cultures claim to have had an experience of the ‘divine.’
  2. It is inconceivable that so many people could have been so utterly wrong about the nature and content of their own experience.
  3. Therefore, there exists a ‘divine’ reality which many people of different eras and of widely different cultures have experienced.

Do you see what we’ve just done? The basic argument form for religious-experience arguments is inference to the best explanation.

Veridical

The main attack on this argument has to be done on the idea that it cannot be true that all the experiences are false. Can it be a true statement? In fact the biggest question is whether the experience, or experiences, are veridical. What’s that word you ask? A veridical experience is an experience that goes hand in hand with reality. In other words, it needs to be real. Veridicality relates experiences to truth claims.

If I take a few ecstasyi pills and I start to see flying pink elephants with purple bunnies hanging on their tails, you might safely say that this experience is not veridical. However, if I hear a song from UB40, and I tell the person next to me that I believe that to be UB40. Then that belief is true. Thus, the experience is veridical.

Richard Swinburne’sii ‘principle of credulity’ is an important key to find out veridicality. This rule says that, unless there is good evidence to the contrary, if a person seems to experience X, he or she should believe that X probably exists. So, if we have numerous accounts of religious experiences we should assume that at least some of them are real.

Asthma

Let me explain this with an experience I once had. When I was a teenager I practise a sport called BMX. I was pretty good at it as I once became Dutch champion, two times second and one time third. Then, all of a sudden I started to become out of breath real fast. After a while I couldn’t finish drive a full track. After quite some medical tests it became clear that I had asthma, big time! The doctor told me that I had to learn to live with it. A few years later I had become Christian, got married and mostly lived with ,y shortage of breath. One day, my wife and I where having some fun, and she ran after me. I tried to run up the stairs, and she followed me. All of a sudden I couldn’t go on! She won while I was almost thinking that I was going to die. Can you imagine how I must have felt?

Anyway, I was so upset, so angry and disappointed. That evening, when I was alone, I actually screamed at God. More or less blaming Him. “Why did Jesus heal the blind, the lame and all those other people? Why couldn’t He do the same to me?” As a matter of fact, I had never asked God to heal me. This, pretty impropriate way, was the first time.

No thinking about my behaviour towards the most High, I just resumed my daily life. I had an appointment with the doctor somewhere in the next month. We were going to do some tests to see whether my medicine were still sufficient and to see whether the asthma got worst or not. The assistant started the tests. I had to breath in a mask while I was running. All the while all my functions had to be monitored. I remember that I felt unusually well. When the tests were done I had to wait for the results.

The assistant called me in and asked me why I thought I had to do these tests. Well, the doctor and I thought it to be a good idea… Duhh! Now, the assistant asked me why. Why?? Excuse me, didn’t you read my medical report? Of course he did, but he didn’t understand any of it. After all, all the tests showed that my lungs were just perfectly healthy. Later we asked the doctor. He didn’t have a clue. It couldn’t have resolved like that. Barely a month before I still had a major attack. No, even though the doctor had the results in his hands, he still advised me to keep on taking my medicine.

What happened? Oh boy! Did I feel small. How rude I had been to the Lord. Still, He answered my prayer. He healed me. With this little voice in my head: “You could ask nicely next time, okay?”

Burden of Proof

May I be so bold to say that I should suppose that I probably have encountered God in this event? Going back to Swinburne’siii ‘principle of credulity’ This principle challenges the sceptical notion that all experiences about God—are guilty until proven innocent. You see, normally we resist the idea of being ‘guilty until proven innocent’. If every experience had to be checked on the basis of some other experience, we would fall into a bottomless hole of infinite regress; in the end no experience would qualify as veridical. So, if we have no good argument to dismiss the existence of God, these experiences should be taken as some evidence for God’s existence.

Emotional and Logical

I have noticed that many Christians talk about their faith in a rather emotional way. That sounds a bit unverifiable and even creepy to some. Still, I believe many of these emotional arguments are hiding a deep truth. In the Western part of the world many prefer to be rational about almost everything. People would want you to believe that they always think things through before they decide. But, your average salesman can tell you that this is not true of course! People are easily persuaded by emotional arguments. Except your friend, neighbour or any other person you talk to. He or she is different… Yeah, right!

Many Christians, who are being asked about why they believe in Jesus, will tell about their experiences. The Lord makes them feel good; the Lord healed them; they talk with Him; they have a relation with Him; when they felt sad, He comforted them; when they were lonely, He was there; when they were happy, He was happy with them. All about how they feel and many colleagues or friends think to themselves that it would be nice to have this same good feeling. They even often say it out loud “Boy! It must be nice to have that feeling.”

But what is this feeling anyway? Why do many people long to have it? And why are many of them not directly convinced by the more logical arguments as given by the die-hard apologists?

Pascaliv said that

There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace. This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.

On which C.S. Lewisv said that

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly desires were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

Now the critic may say that a yearning doesn’t automaticity means that one gets what he is yearning for. Like it doesn’t mean that when someone is feeling hungry he will definitely find bread to eat. But instead of answering this myself, let’s quote Lewisvi again:

A man’s physical hunger does not prove that the man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and cannot win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called ‘falling in love’ occurred in a sexless world.

Theistic World-view

Some might say that people who practise other religions may have transcended experiences as well. This seems to be a real party-pooper to our argument. However, we see that orthodox Islam rejects this idea since Allah cannot be experienced by mortals—a Muslim just needs to believe what the quaran says, period.

Likewise, whatever may happen in the Eastern religions cannot serve as prove in a world-view in which the highest state of reality is viewed as to be beyond logic, and individuality. Even if the exercises in these religions makes a person feel relaxed and calm, these effects do nothing to the rationality of a world-view in which the whole human-self has to be overruled in favour of a supposed higher state of consciousness. A higher state of consciousness which cannot be described in a coherent manner.

Eastern religions were never designed to help humans to flourish. This in contrary to the teachings of the Bible. The Bible basically states that humans can be restored in their original state. No, the goal of Eastern religions is to escape the limits of humanity so that a person may rise to a state beyond personality, individuality and any relational experience.

Clearly, the religious-experience argument cannot be used on its own to prove the existence of the Biblical God YHWH. What is does though, is showing that it is not irrational to believe in a theistic world-view. We cannot dismiss these reports of divine encounters as baloney. These encounters, together with the other theistic arguments give a strong case of the existence of a being who is the Creator, Designer and Lawgiver.

In other words, religious-experience claims need to be checked with other relevant sources of evidence for or against a world-view. The religious-experience argument is only a part of the case for Christian theism. It should not be used as the main argument within apologetics. However, the religious-experience argument definitely forms a part of the Christian apologetic narrative.

Genuine Experience

Finally, I would like to take a look at the impact of religious experiences. You see, even though I already argued that many are persuaded by emotional arguments, I still think it would be good to find a way to determine whether a religious experience is genuine.

But how? Well, I believe that when one is touched by the Most High, this ought to have at least some consequences. My conversion to Christianity followed after an experience of which I still believe was induced by God. Without going too much into detail, I worked in the bakery and I burned my arm which caused me to realise that I was on the wrong path. If you are curious about this story, I recommend watching my story in a video which I shall link in the description of this video.

Anyway, reading the Bible I noticed that when people had an encounter with God, they changed the things they were doing. In theology, we call this ‘transformational experience’. We see this in the apostle Paul’s life when he heard Jesus’ voice on his way to Damascus (Acts 22; 26). After his conversion, Paul often speaks of the power of Christ. He testified that Jesus helped him even during terrible difficulties (2 Corinthians 1:3-11).

Groothuisvii said that

typically, Christians report a new moral awareness concerning good and evil in themselves and others (Hebrews 5:11-14), a sense of guidance and calling received primarily from the wisdom of the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17), as well as through Christian fellowship (Psalm 133), personal moral progress (adhering to moral principles and developing personal virtues through the agency of the Holy Spirit), and a deep sense of belonging to God through the work of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-16). […]

These reports come not only from the Bible but from Christians around the world for the past two thousand years. This is to be expected if the Christian message is true. While they cannot stand on their own to defend the truth of Christianity, these accounts form a vital part of the confirmation of the Christian message. The witness of a transformed life may very significantly affect those close to the one transformed.

So, I often talk with people who have had an experience and I frequently ask them what it did in their lives. In many cases un-believers gained an interest to find out more about God. Christians who had an experience started to have significant changes in their lives, and they mostly gave God the glory for these changes.

Still, a little warning has to be given. A life changed for the better after a religious experience is not a sufficient argument for Christianity, the existence of God, or the authenticity of the religious-experience argument. Other religious traditions make similar claims about changed lives, and it might be just a placebo effect, or even due to peer pressure—that last things happens quite often in certain groups where people tend to have a very strong idea on how one should behave.

Be that as it may, we can’t, and we shouldn’t, dismiss it right away as nonsense when someone says he or she had a supernatural experience. But the transformational effect after such an experience helps a great deal with the acceptance of that event. The Bible gives advice on how to spot whether someone is speaking truly or whether the person is lying or deceived. For example, the prophet Jeremiah 28:9 stated,

As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.

In other words, if someone says to have had a religious experience, it is always listen to their words. Especially if the person is already a Christian. I have heard Christians say that God revealed this or that to them, and after more some asking it turned out to be something which totally disagreed with God’s word. This can then be dismissed as not genuine, the Holy Spirit will never ever contradict the Words of God.

Strong Case?

So how strong is the religious-experience argument? Well, that depends! If you only use this argument to show that there is a transcendent realm, a supernatural world, than the argument is nearly irrefutable and easy to defend.

However, when you use the argument to try to prove the truth claims of a specific religion, you must come up with a mechanism for determining how to evaluate competing religious experiences. For example, if I say that religious experiences prove that Christianity is the one true faith, because throughout the ages many people have experienced that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, then I must show that the experiences of, Shiva as god or the Mormons for example, are false. This is why I said that it should be used together with the other arguments.

Concluding

So, even though I grew up in a materialistic schoolsysteem en have been taught that everything needs to be proven in empirical ways, I actually love this argument.

It is so logical and straightforward. If you think about vast number of claims, and the quality of life of those who’ve made them, it appears to be very unlikely that they could have been so wrong about them. Especially in the tradition of Christianity we see many believers who, after they received a divine experience, displayed so much altruistic behaviour. They demonstrated unprecedented goodness, love and beauty. And many of them changed the course of history for the better.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Anyway, do take a look in the description of this video! You’ll find a lot of information there. Whenever I find or use some interesting things, I’ll link it there. But you can also find ways to support me. I would also like to invite you to my Odysee channel. Odysee is a platform which based on a new protocol called LBRY. Video that are uploaded through the LBRY protocol are censorship free, unlike YouTube or others. It would be great if you start following me there. I am mostly active on that channel. You may comment on my videos on BitChute or YouTube, but you most likely won’t receive a reply. You can also start your own channel on Odysee. If you use my invitation in the description we will both receive some free LBC!

As always, thank you for watching, God bless you and we see each other in the next video!

i Street name for methylenedioxymethamphetamine; XTC.

ii Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 303.

iii Ibid.

iv Blaise Pascal, Pensees. New York; Penguin Books, 1966, p.75.

v C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 121.

vi C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1980, pp.32-33.

vii Groothuis, D., Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove Illinois, 2011, p.365.


My Story:

English: https://odysee.com/@apologeet:3/why-i-am-a-christian-and-missionary:0

Dutch: https://odysee.com/@apologeet:3/waarom-ik-christen-n-zendeling-ben:f


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