Monday, May 15, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 5

5.6 Religious Experience
            Although Plantinga argues that to believe in God does not require propositional evidence or arguments to be considered rational, this does not mean that he thinks “that belief in God is not groundless.”[1] This is an important point because when Plantinga states that religious belief does not require evidence he is speaking of propositional evidence. This does not discount non-propositional evidence. Plantinga thinks that belief in God is grounded in “characteristic religious experiences such as beholding the divine majesty on the top of a mountain or the divine creativity when noticing the articulate beauty of the flower.”[2] C. Stephen Evans content that traditional theistic arguments-- “cosmic wonder,” “purposive order,” “moral obligation,” “human dignity,” and “joy”--can serve as signs that ground religious belief.[3] Other religious experiences mentioned by Plantinga “involve a sense of guilt (and forgiveness), despair, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, or direct contact with the divine (mysticism).”[4] Garcia states that Thomas Aquinas thought that “all human knowledge comes through experience, and that we do not experience God directly but only by way of his effects.”[5]Some believers describe personal religious experiences with “sensory metaphors: they claim to see, hear or be touched by God.”[6] Garcia thinks of Plantinga’s grounds “as a type of evidence and to hold that those who come to believe in God on the basis of such experiences are not in fact holding that belief as a basic belief but as a derived belief.”[7] In addition, she thinks it is difficult “to specify which triggering conditions will lead to belief in God’s existence.”[8]
            People who believe based on religious experience do not contend that their belief in God is “based on an argument (any more than belief in other persons is based on an argument).”[9] They think they have encountered God directly either through seeing or hearing and find themselves believing in God because of this experience. “Religious experience is typically taken as self-authenticating.”[10] Reformed epistemologists like Wolterstorff have been influenced by the thought of Thomas Reid and his moderate epistemology. They believe that “one might simply take it that one has a cognitive faculty that can be trusted when it produces belief in God when induced by the appropriate experiences.”[11] Richard Swinburne thinks we should trust what someone tells us unless we have good reason to doubt it. In other words, innocent until proven guilty. Evidentialist objectors seem to assume that a belief is guilty of falsehood unless proven innocent. So it seems we should trust someone’s testimony of religious experience unless we have good reason to doubt it. In addition, it seems those who do not have a religious experience can believe in God on the basis of the experience of others.[12]
            Although some philosophers do not accept religious experience as validating belief in God, Reformed epistemologists think religious experience grounds religious belief.[13] Since humans are more than mind or intelligence it seems valid to trust religious experience to ground religious belief. Is this what Pascal is asserting when he says that the heart knows some things that the mind does not. The philosophers who reject religious experience for grounding religious belief do so because they “deny that one can reliably infer from the experience that the source or cause of that experience was God.”[14] This seems like the rejection of traditional proofs because they do not give us the Biblical God; instead they give us a thin slice of God. This does not seem a valid argument. William Alston believes that perceptual beliefs face a similar problem. Yet we still trust our perceptual beliefs. Alston asserts, “if religious experiences and the beliefs they produce relevantly resemble perceptual experiences and the beliefs they produce, then we should not hold beliefs based upon religious experience to be suspect either.”[15]

[1] Ibid., 12.
[2] Ibid.

[3] C. Stephen Evans, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Grand Rapids:Mi, 2015), 39-57.

[4] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[5] Garcia, “Natural Theology,” 118.

[6] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12.

[7] Garcia, “Natural Theology,” 118.

[8] Ibid., 120.

[9] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12.
[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[14] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 13.
[15] Ibid., 13.

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