NAME: God’s Gumshoe
the Validity of The Religious Experience
experience of God-consciousness remains the same from generation to generation,
but with each advancing epoch in human knowledge the philosophic concept and
the theological definitions of God must change. God-knowingness, religious
consciousness, is a universe reality, but no matter how valid (real) religious
experience is, it must be willing to subject itself to intelligent criticism
and reasonable philosophic interpretation; it must not seek to be a thing
apart in the totality of human experience.”
“God’s Relation to the Individual.” In “The Urantia
Book,” The Urantia Foundation: Chicago.
(1955): pp 69
“True Religion, often called Spirituality, must
ever be its own critic and judge; it can never be observed, much less
understood, from the outside. Your only assurance of a personal God consists in
your own insight as to your belief in, and experience with, things spiritual.
To all of your fellows who have had a similar experience, no argument about the personality or reality of God is necessary,
while to all other men who are not thus sure of God no possible argument
could ever be truly convincing.” P.1107 - §6
For the purposes of this paper, one
must be their own translator. For instance, the word symbol “God” translates
here to “SOURCE” (First Cause of Science….Prime Mover of Philosophy, Creator, Upholder
) And the word “Religious” Experience translates to Super-Consciousness, Spiritual,
or Higher Mind, Experience.
For thousands and thousands of years,
thousands and thousands of people have reported experiencing some Ultimate
Reality or presence of a Supreme Personal Being that many call God (Source); is
it reasonable to assume that they are all wrong, confounded,
confused, or mentally ill?
Professor Kurtz seems to think so. In his treatise, “The Transcendental Temptation,” (TTT), he criticizes religious
experiences using the paradox or Problem of Evil, and as being too subjective,
not verifiable, and strongly suggests that these experiences are symptoms of
mental illness. He writes, “These
experiences resemble psychotic states.
The schizophrenic often is out of cognitive touch with reality.” And that, “Schizophrenics are often enmeshed
in hallucinations and fantasies.” (99 TTT)
William Wainwright (1981, ch. 2) has
argued that, “Various psychological naturalistic explanations of religious and
mystical experiences have been offered, including pathological conditions, such
as hyper suggestibility, severe deprivation, severe sexual frustration, intense
fear of death, infantile regression, pronounced maladjustment, and mental
illness, as well as non-pathological conditions, including the inordinate
influence of a religious psychological “set”
(Davis 1989, ch.8: Wulff 20.)
However, he writes, “Naturalistic
proposals of these kinds exaggerate the scope and influence of the cited
factors, sometimes choosing to highlight the bizarre and eye-catching at the
expense of the more common occurrences.
Also, some of the proposals, at least, are perfectly compatible with the
validity of experiences of God. For
example, a person’s having a religious psychological set can just as well be a
condition for enjoying and being capable of recognizing an experience of God as
it can be a cause of a delusion.” (159
OH of PHIL of REL)
Of the thousands of people who report
experiences of a religious nature, we need to ask are these people mental
ill? Some may be. But not all of them.
It is reasonable to assume that some
do have authentic religious experiences of God.
Are these people charlatans? Some
may be. But not all of them. Professor Gary Gutting tells us, “There is
every reason to believe that at least a very large number of such reports are
candid, that the experiences reported did in fact take place.(reading G
Gutting)” Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that some do have authentic
religious experiences of God. If even
one of these people have had an authentic religious experience then God
exists. It only takes one.
In support of this argument from religious experience, Richard Swinburne concludes that the principle of credulity
warrants the reasonable conclusion that God exists. The principle of credulity states that if it
seems to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present. Usually, says
Swinburne, it is reasonable to believe that the world is probably as we
experience it to be. Unless we have some specific reason to question a
religious experience, then we ought to accept that it is at least prima facie
evidence for the existence of God. (Reading R and Rb pg 27)
But, says atheist Michael Martin who criticizes Swinburne’s
use of the principle of credulity, if experiences are generally to be treated
as authentic then this allows an argument from the absence of religious
experience to be constructed. Someone who
experiences the absence of God can argue, using the negative principle of
credulity, that the world is probably as this experience represents it as
being: which is godless. Arguments from religious experiences to the existence
of God can thus be met with arguments from atheist experiences to the
non-existence of God.
Swinburne responds to this objection by arguing
that this negative principle of credulity is false. This negative principle, he suggests, would
only be a good one in cases where it is reasonable to believe that if x were
present then the subject would experience x. There is no reason, however, to
suppose that if God existed then the atheist would experience him, and so the
negative principle of credulity does not apply to atheists experiences of the
absence of God.
Richard M. Gale, tells us however, that there is a fatal step in the
principle of credulity argument because it applies only to perceptual-type
experiences, and religious experiences, on conceptual grounds, fail to qualify as
perceptual. He charges that the
principle of credulity (PC) is not
properly restricted to perceptual-type experiences. These objections are stated
thusly, “The prima-facie probability that the PC bestows upon perceptually
based beliefs is subject to various sorts of possible defeating
conditions—conditions that lower the probability that the experience is
veridical and that its apparent object therefore exists. A defeating condition
is really a flunked test. It is essential that there be possible defeaters, for
otherwise it would be meaningless to speak of prima-facie justification.
Swinburne lists four generic defeating conditions: (i) the subject or
conditions under which the apparent perception were made are of a sort that
have proved to be unreliable; (ii) there is inductive evidence that it is not
possible for the subject to have perceived what he or she claimed to perceive;
(iii) background evidence shows that very probably the apparent object was not
present; and (iv) there is evidence that the apparent object probably was not
part of the cause of the perception.” (Swinburne's Argument from Religious
Experience (1994) Richard Gale The following article was originally published
in Reason and the Christian Religion, ed. by Alan Padgett (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1994).
While it is
the purpose here to critically evaluate this argument, we are told that the religious experience we are to
address is “sincerely described,” and therefore the above “defeaters” do
“In conclusion,” writes Gale, “religious
experiences not only do not have any defeaters analogous to those for sense
experience, they have no defeaters at all. For this reason alone, they fail the
epistemological requirement for being perceptual-type experiences. And when
this failure is combined with their failure to pass the metaphysical requirement,
there is more than ample justification for refusing to extend the PC to them.
We have thereby met Swinburne's challenge to produce a relevant disanalogy
between sense and religious experience that would justify applying the PC to
the former but not to the latter.”
It would seem then, that the veridicality of
religious experiences are not rationally unquestionable using the principle of credulity or
Face value argument and “need further corroboration,” as Prof. Kurtz claims. Here, Evan Fales, would agree, “If religious
experiences are to justify religious belief, such experiences must be
cross-checked to be genuinely from God. Most religious experiences cannot be
He goes on to explain, “So,
what is cross-checking, why is it needed, and how does it work? Let
'cross-checking' denote all those procedures and strategies we use to settle
questions about the causes of something.”
(Do Mystics See God?)
From our readings Prof. Gary Gutting helps us out here. In
responding to C.B. Martin’s virtually identical claim that more checking
procedures are needed he writes, “ What is puzzling here is Martin’s assumption
that the need for further checking immediately excludes accepting the
veridicality of religious experiences.” He asserts the interesting idea that by
including the veridicality of religious experience we would be able to
determine three checkable situations: first, the experience is repeatable,
which would answer Kurtz’s “Subjectivistic methodology” objections (TTT43);
secondly, others will be found who have also had similar experiences, which
answers Kurtz’s “Intersubjective Corroboration”, this principle refers to
public evidence (TTT48); and thirdly, those who have had these experiences are
aided in their endeavors to lead morally better lives, which answers Kurtz’s
“Pragmatic consequences” concerns, (Experimentalism; Every explanatory theory
has within it some implied predictions (directly of indirectly); otherwise it
cannot be said to be true.”) (TTT 53-54).
(Readings Gary Gutting)
In the same vain, John Hick has offered a solution to this
familiar paradox. He states that he assumes the existence of God and then
writes, “We have already noted that a verifiable prediction may be conditional.
‘There is a table in the next room, entails conditional predictions of the
form; if someone goes into the next room he will see, etc. But no one is compelled to go into the next
room. Now it may be that the predictions
concerning human experience which are entailed by the proposition that God
exists are conditional predictions and that no one is compelled to fulfill
those conditions.” The verification of theism is a conditional response to the
fact that when you once start out to find God, that is the conclusive proof
that God has already found you and, “can only be experienced by those who have
already entered into this awareness of God by the religious apperception which
we call faith. (Theology and Verification; Hick in Readings in the Philosophy of Religion; An
Analytic Approach. )
The teachers, masters, mystics and prophets
have been saying this for thousands of years.
If you want to verify that religious experience is proof of the
existence of God, then try it.
“,Ask, and it shall be
seek, and you shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened to you.
For whoever asks, receives;
and he who seeks, finds;
and to him who knocks, the door is opened.
7:7:8 - Jesus of Nazareth
Wayne Dwyer puts it this way, “it’s not,… “seeing is believing,” …but “believing
is seeing.” Unless you believe, that this experience is possible, you shall
not understand, is true in a sense not only of the Christian, Muslim, Hindu,
or other religious believer, but of
every human beings who also undertake this investigation into the validity of
The Religious Experience.
Finally, Prof. Kurtz writes, “Turning to the problem of evil, a
rationalization process sets in. The existence of evil is only apparent, we
are assured.” But, he asks, how can one reconcile belief in an all-wise,
all-good, and all-powerful God with the destructiveness of nature, the
seemingly unjust and arbitrary suffering of people, and social evils like
Dachau, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki? (TTT308) Prof. Kurtz
rightly addresses this, “For the theist to attempt to resolve the
problem of evil by denying its existence is a copout, given the amount of
misery and sorrow discernible.”(309)
The ultimate mystery in theism isthe problem of evil. If there is a God
who is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good, why is there evil? This is
the most widely considered objection to theism in both Western and Eastern
philosophy The history of religion is replete with attempts to answer this
question. Most of these theodicies have more or less failed to give a
satisfying answer to these divine-human incongruities. As space does not allow us to deal with the
differences between moral evil and natural evil, lets us deal with the two
distinct phases of the arguments, namely The
Logical Problem of Evil, and The
Evidential Problem of Evil.
In our readings, (Peterson, et al) points us to J. L. Mackie’s
claim that the existence of evil is logically
inconsistent with the existence of God; this is the “logical problem of
evil.” Mackie’s propositions that generate the logical inconsistency are as
- God is omnipotent.
- God is wholly good
- Evil exists
Mackie writes in his “Evil and Omnipotence” (1955) that this
contradiction shows, “not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but
that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential
theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another.” (200)
The classic response to this argument is the theodicy of the “free
will defense” of Alvin Plantinga’s (1974), whose defense was to prove that
propositions (1) thru (3) were consistent by providing a (4th)
statement that is consistent with (1) and (2) and when joined with them, has
(3) as a logical consequence. His (4th)
proposition was thus: “God is omnipotent and it was not within his power to
create a world containing moral good but no moral evil.” (131 Peterson et
el.) And from this, in combination with
(1) and (2), it does indeed follow that (3) Evil exists.
The critical element here is that God is unable to actualize a
world with moral good but no moral evil, thus putting limits on God’s
omnipotent power. He does this by
arguing The Free Will Defense, which states, “That God cannot determine the
actions of free persons” and goes on the define free will as not compatible
with determinism but that a person is free with respect to an action A at a
time t, only if no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that
he performs A at t or that he refrains from so doing”(5) With this the “Free Will Defense” stands. The key idea being that moral good is
possible only for creatures possessing free will choice and that it is they who
are responsible for the evil in the world and not God. (132) Peterson) This is not a theodicy, which would
vindicate God by showing that God would have good reasons for allowing evil to
occur. As a defense, however, this
argument does show that a particular version of the problem of evil does not
succeed and Mackie’s logical problem of evil fails.
Because of the general perceived failure of this approach, the
focus has shifted to evidential arguments from evil.William Rowe’s classical statement of the
evidential problem of evil is more challenging in that it deals with apparently
pointless, or what appears to us to be meaningless, evil:
“1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an
omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some
greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (Factual premise)
2. An omnipotent, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence
of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby
losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good
being. (Conclusion)”(135 Peterson)
The argument is certainly valid but can we accept the premises?
Premise #1, the factual premise, is probably the softest of the
premises and can be challenged on the grounds that there probably are in fact
outweighing goods for all the evils that exist but we are completely unable to
identify them in each particular case – only God can do that. This is suggested in the Bible passage
(Isaiah 55:9), "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my
ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts"
Stephen Wykstra (1984) has presented an argument termed the
skeptical solution for the problem of evil, which basically states that when it
comes to apparently pointless evil, appearances are deceiving. There is a
purpose for all the apparently pointless evil in the world, a purpose that
prevents such evil from being pointless, which either has not occurred to us or
which we cannot grasp. This line of
defense is the positive claim that God has a reason for permitting apparently
pointless evils, a reason, which deprives such evils of pointlessness and
morally justifies their existence.
Wykstra criticized Rowe on the basis of the condition of
reasonable epistemic limitations, which states that it is reasonable to believe
X on the basis of Y only if it is reasonable to believe that if X is true it is
likely that Y is true. For example, it is reasonable to believe that there is
not a chair in the room if we do not see a chair in the room, because it is
reasonable to believe that if there were a chair in the room, we would likely see it.
On the other hand, it is unreasonable to believe that there is not a microorganism
in the room on the basis of our not
seeing one, for it is unreasonable to believe that it follows from our
inability to see a microorganism in the room that there isn't one. Wykstra
contends that Rowe fails this test because given God's omniscience it is quite
likely that the goods that justify the existence of apparently pointless evils
are beyond our awareness; it is therefore not reasonable to infer the existence
of actually pointless evils from apparently pointless evils.
John Hick has taken a novel approach to the second premise, the
theological premise, with a very
important type of theodicy. This involves the idea that spiritual maturity and
human evolution arises out of effort, struggle, conflict, faith, determination,
loyalty, and progress and that the evils of the world can be warranted if one
views the world as designed by God, not as a hedonistic paradise, but as an
environment in which people, through their free will choices can grow and
develop the very moral qualities that the perfecting human personality needs
for communion with God and growth in God consciousness.
Hick writes, “Courage and fortitude would have no point in an
environment in which there is, by definition, no danger or difficulty.”(John
Hick, Philosophy of Religion, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963, pp.
To develop this further, we may add:
uncertainties of life and the vicissitudes of existence do not in any manner
contradict the concept of the universal sovereignty of God. All evolutionary
creature life is beset by certain inevitabilities. Consider the following:
courage--strength of character--desirable? Then must man be reared in an
environment which necessitates grappling with hardships and reacting to
altruism--service of one's fellows--desirable? Then must life experience
provide for encountering situations of social inequality.
hope--the grandeur of trust--desirable? Then human existence must constantly be
confronted with insecurities and recurrent uncertainties.
faith--the supreme assertion of human thought--desirable? Then must the mind of
man find itself in that troublesome predicament where it ever knows less than
it can believe.
love of truth and the willingness to go wherever it leads, desirable? Then must
man grow up in a world where error is present and falsehood always possible.
idealism--the approaching concept of the divine--desirable? Then must man
struggle in an environment of relative goodness and beauty, surroundings simulative
of the irrepressible reach for better things.
loyalty--devotion to highest duty--desirable? Then must man carry on amid the
possibilities of betrayal and desertion. The valor of devotion to duty consists
in the implied danger of default.
unselfishness--the spirit of self-forgetfulness--desirable? Then must mortal
man live face to face with the incessant clamoring of an inescapable self for
recognition and honor. Man could not dynamically choose the divine life if
there were no self-life to forsake. Man could never lay saving hold on
righteousness if there were no potential evil to exalt and differentiate the
good by contrast.
pleasure--the satisfaction of happiness--desirable? Then must man live in a
world where the alternative of pain and the likelihood of suffering are
ever-present experiential possibilities.”
The Urantia Book, pp.51
This cosmic optimism of Hicks points out however, that each person
must decide this for themselves. He
concludes with, “And so the fact of evil constitutes the biggest obstacle there
is to all major forms of religious belief. Any religious interpretation of the
universe has to recognize the extreme toughness and non-human-centredness of
any creative process that is taking place, and has to set this within a very
large view, involving many lives in many worlds.” 2
Two ministers where talking about God and this
problem of evil, when one said, “ I have always wanted to ask God why he
permits so much pain and suffering, sorrow and anguish, sickness and disease in
this world.” The other minister asked,
“So, you’re a man of prayer, why don’t you ask him that?” “Because,” replied
the first minister, “I’m afraid he will ask the same question of me.”
Mankind can never discover divinity
except through the avenue of religious experience. The acceptance of the truth of God (Source) enables
man to escape from the circumscribed confines of material limitations and
affords him a rational hope of achieving safe conduct from the material realm,
whereon is death, to the “spiritual realm,” which Quantum Physics is just
now beginning to discover and unravel, wherein is life eternal.
From The Urantia Book:
P.1116 - §6 The purpose of True Religion is not to satisfy
curiosity about God but rather to afford intellectual constancy and philosophic
security, to stabilize and enrich human living by blending the mortal with the
divine, the partial with the perfect, man and God. It is through religious experience
that man's concepts of ideality are endowed with reality.
P.1116 - §7 Never can there be either scientific or logical proofs
of divinity. Reason alone can never validate the values and goodness’s of
religious experience. But it will always remain true: Whosoever wants to know
these Cosmic Truths shall comprehend the validity of spiritual values. This is
the nearest approach that can be made on the mortal level to offering proofs of
the reality of religious experience. Such faith affords the only escape from
the mechanical clutch of the material world and from the error distortion of
the incompleteness of the intellectual world; it is the only discovered solution to the
impasse in mortal thinking regarding the continuing survival of the individual
personality. It is the only passport to
completion of reality and to eternity of life in a universal creation of love,
law, unity, and progressive Deity attainment.
1. “The Urantia
Book,” The Urantia Foundation: Chicago. (1955)
2. Paul Kurtz: The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of
Religion and the Paranormal.
Prometheus Books, 1986
3. John Hick: On
Doing Philosophy of Religion. http://www.johnhick.org.uk/article3.html
William J. 1981. Mysticism:
A Study of Its Nature, Cognitive Value, and Moral
Implications. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Richard Swinburne: The Existence of God,
Oxford University Press (Revised Edition, 1991), pp254-271.
Michael Martin: Atheism: A Philosophical
Justification, Temple University Press (1990), pp169-174.
J. L. Mackie: “Evil and Omnipotence,”
Mind 64 (1955): 200.
Alvin Plantinga: The Nature of Necessity
(Oxford” Clarendon Press, 1974), p.170-1
9. “The Urantia
Book,” The Urantia Foundation: Chicago. (1955)