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The appearance of God: A defense of the argument from religious experience

Burns, Aaran

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Aaran Burns


Should we trust religious experience? Discussions of religious experience in analytic philosophy have, over the last fifty years, focussed primarily on whether such experiences can serve as non-inferential evidence for the existence of God. Richard Swinburne’s work on the subject is the locus classicus of the discussion, with debate centring on whether his Principles of Credulity and Testimony afford religious experiences with prima facie epistemic value. In this work, I criticize and reject both principles. Nevertheless, I maintain that religious experiences are evidence that there is a God, for those who have such experiences. I deny, however, that testimony about religious experiences can provide non-inferential evidence for anyone and, consequently, those who have never had a religious experience might reasonably disagree with those who have.

With the question of whether or not religious experiences are to be afforded a prima facie epistemic trust set aside, the second most important question is whether or not there are any positive reasons to think that religious experience is unreliable. The most prominent arguments in this vein are: those which contend that results from the natural science undermine the value of religious experience; those which contend that religious experience is far too varied and inconsistent to suppose it reliable; and those which insist that the most common types of religious experience are merely sensory experiences with an unjustified religious interpretation. I argue here that none of these objections is fatal, concluding that many people do in fact have good grounds for believing that there is a very good, loving and powerful God.

Publication Date Jul 1, 2016


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