RE2b(i) Challenges to the argument from religious experience

We have spent some time considering the argument from religious experience for the existence of God and we know that the key question in respect of this argument is, Are religious experiences really of God?

We have also studied various attempts to strengthen this inductive argument by providing evidence and reasons to support the claim in P2 that religious experiences really are experiences of God.

However, our attention now turns to the challenges to religious experience.


There are lots of ways of talking about philosophical arguments so that we might understand how they work.  In this case, we are studying an inductive argument, an argument where there are various possible conclusions  and it is the philosopher’s job to establish the best conclusion by considering the strengths and weaknesses of the argument.

And so we can see philosophical arguments as like a brick wall.  The wall is constructed of bricks in the same way an argument is constructed of premises.  So in this picture, bricks mean pieces of evidence or reasons.

When an argument is built by a philosopher, they will want to strengthen it by providing foundations and support in the form of additional evidence and reasons.

However, weakness are trying to knock down the wall.  To do this, we need to begin to remove the bricks.  It is very unlikely we will be able to destroy the wall in one go, but if we cause enough weakness by removing enough bricks, then we may be able to cause damage to the wall.  In this way, though we may not be able to completely destroy the argument, we might be able to weaken it so that it is no longer very convincing.

And this is what we now need to do in respect of the argument from religious experience.  We have strengthened the argument be referring to change, the common phenomenological core and the Principles of Credulity and Testimony.  Now we will try to weaken the argument by looking at two different types of challenge – the challenge from philosophy and the challenge from science.

Notice that is trying to knock down the wall, that is, weaken and destroy the argument, it depends where we attack the wall.  Some challenges might succeed in knocking off bricks at the top of the wall.  These do weaken the argument but to very much.  But other challenges might attack the more important base of the wall.  If this attack is successful, then the effect in weakening the argument will be far more significant.

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