Notes on Rowe’s Philosophy of Religion, Chapter 5
0.1 Indirect knowledge of God: knowledge by inference
0.2 Direct knowledge of God: knowledge by acquaintance
0.3 Religious experience as direct and superior knowledge of God
1. Toward a Definition of Religious Experience
1.1 Dependence, otherness, union
1.1.1 Schleiermacher: Dependence
184.108.40.206 Relative dependence
220.127.116.11 Absolute dependence
18.104.22.168 Religious experience as absolute dependence (“creature- feeling”)
22.214.171.124 First criticism: wrongly defines religious experience in purely subjective terms – not characterized as awareness of another being, but rather one’s self as dependent.
126.96.36.199 Second criticism: makes knowledge of God indirect and inferential: feel dependent, then infer that God must be the being causing my feeling of dependence.
1.1.2 Otto: Otherness
1.1 Immediate, direct awareness of another being – not inferential
1.2 Awareness of the being as holy/divine
1.3 The awareness of its holiness involves a sense of dread, awe, mystery
1.4 Schleiermacher had it backwards: one is directly aware of a holy/divine being, and this in turn causes one’s sense of creature- feeling/absolute dependence
1.5 A criticism: the highest forms of religious experience seem to be an awareness of union with the divine. If so, then the highest forms of religious experience don’t meet Otto’s account – one isn’t aware of a being distinct from and external to oneself.
1.2 Our working definition: religious experience as the immediate presence of the divine
1.2.1 The divine may be experienced as either distinct or not distinct from the self
1.2.2 Merely believing vs. sensing that the divine is present
1.2.3 This definition is narrower and vaguer than the others
188.8.131.52 other pious experiences don’t count as religious experience
184.108.40.206 experiences of God that one doesn’t recognize as being of God don’t count as religious experience here (compare: the “walnut tree/maple tree illustration)
220.127.116.11 experiences need not be of the God of theism – any deity counts
18.104.22.168 we’re not assuming from the beginning that religious experiences are caused by God – allows for both delusory and veridical religious experiences
1.2.4 Religious experience may contain both sensory and non-sensory elements (illustration, p. 74)
2. Religious Experience as a Rational Basis for Theism
2.1 The question before us: does religious experience provide good reason to believe that a god exists?
2.2 Objection: Religious experiences are just feelings (e.g., joy, awe, etc.) that occasionally occur within people who are already theists who are eagerly yearning for and expecting to have them. How can these count as evidence for theism?
2.3.1 Many religious persons report a difference between experiences of such feelings, on the one hand, and experiences that seem to be of the presence of a divine being, on the other
2.3.2 They also know that they can mistake the presence of a divine being for their feelings, or for some other object, especially when they’re anticipating or longing for the presence of the divine
2.3.3 Unless we have good reason not to, we should take such reports as sincere and accurate accounts of their experiences, and that they seem to be of a mind-independent entity – not as just experiences of their feelings
2.4 Still, why should we think that such experiences are really of a mind-independent being, such as a god? After all, there are such things as illusions and hallucinations. Why shouldn’t we think that religious experiences aren’t in one of these categories?
2.5.1 In general, if it seems that an F is present, you’re entitled to think that an F is present unless you have a good reason to think otherwise (Swinburne’s “principle of credulity” – a basic principle of rationality)
2.5.2 Reasons for thinking otherwise: underminers and rebutters
22.214.171.124 An underminer is something that neutralizes your reason to think that a claim is true. (Cf. the “red wall” illustration)
126.96.36.199 A rebutter is a reason to think that a claim is positively false. (Cf. the “LSD in the coffee” illustration)
2.5.3 But if you have no underminer or rebutter for your experience as of an F, then you’re entitled to believe that an F is present.
2.5.4 But many people report experiences where it seems to them that God is present.
2.5.5 Therefore, they’re entitled to think that God is present in such experiences unless they have good reason to think otherwise.
2.6 Notice that the argument allows that religious experience can be rebutted or undermined in principle.
2.7 However, if you grant the principle of credulity, then it seems that it would be arbitrary to deny that it applies to religious experience.
2.8 Thus, it looks as though those who have religious experiences are rational in believing that God exists, unless or until they are undermined or rebutted.
2.9 The argument:
1. If it seems that God is present, then you’re entitled to think that God is present unless you have a good reason to think otherwise.
2. It seems that God is present.
3. Therefore, you’re entitled to think that God is present unless you have a good reason to think otherwise.
2.10 Extending the argument? Testimonial evidence for those who’ve never had a religious experience
2.11 Criticisms of the argument from non-mystical religious experience
2.11.1 Religious experience is not similar enough to ordinary perception to think the principle of credulity applies to it.
188.8.131.52 Granted, there are some things that can serve as underminers and rebutters of religious experience (e.g., if the experience is of a being that tells you to murder all the good people, then that defeats the belief that it came from the god of theism)
184.108.40.206 However, unlike ordinary perception, the object(s) perceived in religious experience are typically private (often only a single person has the experience, and so others can’t be questioned if they had a similar experience at the same time and location). Furthermore, unlike the ordinary physical objects detectable by the five senses, God can choose whether and when human beings can be aware of him – he can’t be “pinned down” to return to, or to have others come “see” him, in the way that physical objects can
220.127.116.11 But if so, then the worry is that there aren’t enough “checks and balances” to religious experience for the principle of credulity to apply to it.
2.11.2 A person’s religious experience can’t function as evidence for those who haven’t had them.
18.104.22.168 People of many religions have religious experiences
22.214.171.124 The central doctrines of each of these various religions are incompatible with those of each of the others
126.96.36.199 Now since the religious experiences within each of these religions has the same basic nature and structure, then if the principle of credulity applies to the religious experiences within one religion, it applies to all
188.8.131.52 But if religious experiences are to indicate the truth of a given religion – or at least the reality of their god as the “true” god –, then since the religions contradict one another, what should a reasonable “outsider” make of these religious experiences?
184.108.40.206 It seems clear that they should all be rejected as unreliable indicators of the truth of a religion or the reality of a god – i.e., the diversity of experiences is a rebutting defeater for the testimony of those with religious experiences.
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