RE2a(v) Supporting the argument from religious experience – part 4: the subjects’ perspective

The argument from religious experience for the existence of God is an inductive argument, meaning if we are to be convinced by it, we need supporting evidence and reasons.

So far we have suggested change in the life of the subject and the common phenomenological core are evidence to support the argument and the Principles of Credulity and Testimony gives us reasons to consider such accounts as realistic and believable.  On this basis, some people might now be persuaded by the argument while others may still be unconvinced.

But there is another group of people for whom whether this argument is convincing or not is utterly irrelevant.  That group os the people who have had religious experiences, the subjects of religious experience.

Consider some of the examples we have studied so far.  Did Moses consider if his experience met the conditions of the common phenomenological core?  Did Muhammad take time to weigh up if his experience was credible?  Was Saul only convinced his experience was genuine when he changed?  Of course not!  These people weren’t convinced by the arguments, by the evidence of by how reasonable the conclusion might be.  They were convinced by the experience itself.

Experience gives us a direct way of knowing about something.  A good example of this is pain.  I don’t know I am in pain because of supporting evidence, I just know I am in pain because I can feel it.  This is called direct experience.  In philosophy, things we know by direct experience are called basic beliefs.  These are beliefs that are reasonable to hold even though there may be no other supporting evidence.  It is reasonable to believe I am in pain because I can feel the pain.  I don’t need a doctor to confirm I am in pain with additional evidence.

So, for those who have had religious experiences, that would seem to be all the convincing they need.  William Alston wrote:

‘It is clear that if I have directly experienced a personal deity . . . then I have the strongest possible basis for believing that such a being exists, just as I have the strongest possible basis for believing that yaks exist if I really have seen one.’

As we have noticed with many of our examples, the subjects of religious experience are totally convinced that they have genuinely experienced God.  They cannot be convinced otherwise, sometimes even despite the threat of death.  So while the argument from religious experience may remain unconvincing for some, it is important to remember that for some people, the subjects of religious experience, the argument is irrelevant as they are already convinced by the direct experience of God.