Religious experience argument

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

It is argued that if someone feels 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 could be a dream or vision where God speaks to a person, or it could be a miraculous healing. This first-hand experience is utterly convincing to that person.

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First-hand experience is something we all want in life regardless of the situation. For example, someone can tell you that chocolate tastes really good, that it is very sweet or that it has a creamy texture. But only by trying it yourself will you be convinced. The same is true of God.

In observing this argument, it gains even greater credibility when the life of the person who experiences God is dramatically changed. For example, perhaps the person who has experienced God was previously very unpleasant, but the experience of God changes them completely.

All in the mind?

It could be argued that religious experience is all in the mind. We do not fully understand the complexities of the human mind and perhaps it can play tricks on us, making us think we have experienced God.

Religious experiences that occur during an illness - for example, someone being ‘healed’ - could be explained if the person is receiving medication that creates hallucinations.

Coincidence?

It could be argued that religious experiences are simply coincidences, or that a person is looking for a religious experience and therefore creates one in their mind.

For example, someone looking to make a major decision sees a series of adverts that help them make that decision - they could argue that God placed those adverts for them. But could this simply be the person creating a religious experience or reading too much into things?

Strengths of the argument

  • The argument supports some things that believers already hold true. For example, 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. For example, the prophet Jeremiah 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.” 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 - eg Martin Luther King, Jr. - are well respected.

Weaknesses of the argument

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