Arguments for the existence of God: religious experience

Argument from religious experience

A religious experience has significance for the person who experiences it. It involves a sense of the holy or numinous. A person may say they had personally 'seen', 'heard' or 'felt' God.

The experience cannot be proved, but the individual will be convinced of the reality of what has happened. It might lead to a radical change in behaviour or outlook on life. Sometimes a person has a conversion experience so that they move from being an atheist or agnostic to being a theist.

Strengths of the argument

  • The argument supports some things that believers already believe, eg the Bible tells of people who have had an experience of God.
  • The Bible gives advice on how to spot whether someone is speaking truly or is deluded, eg in the prophecy of Jeremiah: 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. Jeremiah 28:9
  • While some religious experiences may be an illusion, it doesn't follow that they all are.
  • Research carried out at the University of Nottingham in the 1990s concluded that more than 60 per cent of people interviewed claimed to have had some sort of significant religious experience. Some people who have made these claims are well respected, eg Martin Luther King Jr.

Weaknesses of the argument

  • It is impossible to prove that these experiences are real.
  • Science might be able at some point to explain these experiences with no reference to God.