Chapter  3: Philosophy of Religion

Proofs for the Existence of God

Psychic Phenomena  

If reports of certain types of psychic phenomena were accurate and truthful and believable they would establish the existence of a spiritual realm that would support claims of another dimension and spiritual beings and powers.  God as a spirit would then be more believable.  Are the reports of such phenomena veridical?

 A.   Psychic Phenomena-Death and Immortality

       -Support for the post-mortem survival hypothesis

·       apparitions-spirits/ GHOSTS/ poltergeists

·       seances-communication with the dead -Medium

·       reincarnation memories

·       near death experiences-NDE's

·       death bed observations

·       sacred scripture 

Arguments against the post mortem survival hypothesis

·       the irrational nature of the explanation of consciousness

·       lack of clear, unambiguous physical evidence

 B.  Existence of deities and spirits that enter into humans, possess them or channel through them

  ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS

1. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are mistaken, e.g., optical illusion, misinterpretation..

2. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are under the influence of mind altering substances

3. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are suffering from brain malfunctioning, e.g., chemical imbalance

4. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are under the influence of group influence-social psychology

5. Persons are making a false report to get attention from believers

6.Persons are making a false report to raise money from donations to their cause or movement.

7.Persons are making a false report to please others and gain acceptance from believers.

8.Persons are making a false report to get power, perhaps as a leader of a religious cult or sect.  

   The Questions

The questions are:

Is the subject of a religious experience justified inferring from the psychological experience to the existential or the ontological reality of the object of that experience: the supernatural being?

Is anyone else justified in reaching the conclusion that a supernatural being exists based upon the report of the individual who has made the claim to have had the religious experience?

Does the accumulation of reports from such witnesses to religious experiences justify the claim that a supernatural or spiritual being, a deity, a transcendent reality , exists?

Problems with Religious Experiences

Not all who learn of the reports of such religious experiences accept them as conclusive evidence for the existence of a supernatural reality or spiritual beings. Many have attempted to give alternative accounts of such experiences that do not involve acceptance of the existence of any supernatural entities or reality.

Naturalism is an approach to religious experiences which explains them as being the result of natural forces. It accounts for such phenomena in natural terms without recourse to anything that is beyond the physical realm. In general, all reality and all experiences can be accounted for (fully explained) in terms of physical processes.

There are different explanations for the origin and nature of religious experiences. What they have in common is the rejection of a supernatural source or object and the attempt to offer a full explanation in empirically verifiable terms.

Psychological explanations have been offered by several theoreticians, including Sigmund Freud. Sociological explanations have also been developed by several other scientists, such as Emil Durkheim. What they have in common is the refusal to accept religious experiences as being truthful, accurate, or believable in so far as the existence of any supernatural reality. One of the principle reasons for withholding acceptance of the reports is that the experiences can not be verified and what they report encountering can not be verified empirically.

ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS

1. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are mistaken, e.g., optical illusion, misinterpretation..

2. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are under the influence of mind altering substances

3. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are suffering from brain malfunctioning, e.g., chemical imbalance

4. Persons think that they are telling the truth but they are under the influence of group influence-social psychology

5. Persons are making a false report to get attention from believers

6.Persons are making a false report to raise money from donations to their cause or movement.

7.Persons are making a false report to please others and gain acceptance from believers.

8.Persons are making a false report to get power, perhaps as a leader of a religious cult or sect.  

Questions

A. Truthfulness

Are the religious experiences veridical?

1.     What is the scientific analysis of the religious experiences ?

2.     What are the genetic and causal conditions of religious experiences ?

-in the human race ?

-in the individual?

3.     Is the religious experience veridical? Is it truthful? Is it a report which others can accept as being Correct? Truthful? Accurate?

Humans should accept religious experiences as being veridical UNLESS there exists positive grounds for thinking otherwise, for thinking that the reports are not truthful, accurate or correct.

Some claim that there are positive grounds for rejecting the reports of such experiences, i.e., against their being veridical experiences

1.     mystics are abnormal: they tend to be sexually repressed

2.     mystical experience is always mixed with other elements such as sexual emotion or imagery

In response to these observations some offer that perhaps the human being must be in an altered state of consciousness in order to have the experience of the greater (supernatural) reality which the ordinary consciousness can not contain or reach. Sexual abstinence may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having such an encounter.

C.D. Broad notes that reports or descriptions of these religious experiences involve concepts and beliefs that are:

1.     inadequate to the facts

2.     highly confused

3.     mixed with error and nonsense

4.     subject to change in time

Broad notes that these features are also true of scientific concepts and beliefs and that they have and do change in time.

Perhaps religious experiences are not pure delusions or illusions. Perhaps religious experiences are only encountered by those who have an ability to experience them. Perhaps there are people, even many people, who are "deaf" to such experiences.

Wallace Matson:

If the subject of a religious experience is to be believed there are certain requirements to be met. Any perception of an individual should be publicly confirmed. No private experience can establish the existence of God. You would first need to establish the existence of God by other means on order to confirm that what was experienced was both God and True.

No indescribable experience can be publicly confirmed

No mystical experience can be publicly confirmed.

Mystics appear similar to people who are deluded, or mentally ill, not adjusted to reality. Their claims can not be accepted without evidence. But you can not have evidence without a prior belief in God.

To confirm what any subject is experiencing there must be "checkable" statements.

Similar to a blind person confirming what a sighted person sees.

With the religious experiences there are no such "checkable" statements, so there can be no confirmation. Hence, they can not serve as a proof of the existence of supernatural entities because they are not veridical.

 Gary Gutting

The claim is made that in order to establish the veridical nature of religious claims there are three criteria to be met:

1.     many should have the experience

2.     it should exist in different cultures

3.     the experience should produce a major transformation involving ,in part, the moral life of the individual

Gary Gutting claims that the three conditions are met by reports of religious experiences and so they do provide a justification for belief in a supernatural being, a deity, God.

 Louis P. Pojman:

There is both a strong justification and a weak justification to be offered that Religious experiences do provide evidence of the existence of a supernatural entity, a deity.

Strong: this argument would be so strong as to oblige all people to believe in God.

Weak: this justification provides rational support only for those who have had such an experience (or already accepted the world view that holds such experiences are possible)

 Pojman argues against such a strong argument

1.     the reports are too amorphous

2.     they reports are circular- acceptance of them depends on background belief in God

3.     reports are not capable of being confirmed as with perceptual experiences

thus, they are not checkable, not predictable

MEDIUMS

NBC television began broadcasting a hit show titled "Medium" in 2005.  Is it a true story?

READ: Medium

Many people want strongly to believe in a spirit world and deities.  They ask questions such as:  What about mediums?  Don't people like John Edward communicate with the dead?  If they do that is evidence of the spirit world and of souls and of a deity as well. So do they do this?

Well, John Edward and other mediums have been examined closely and have failed to produce evidence that is indisputable proof of the existence of non-physical entities and a spirit world.  John Edward is described as being a "cold reader" as are so many other "psychics" and "mediums".  There is much material on this and it can be reached through the use of a search engine and entering : "John Edward" + skeptical or "John Edward" + hoax or "John Edward" + fraud or "John Edward" + cold reading.

Read about how it might be that he does what he appears to do.

Investigative Files:  John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved  by Joe Nickell
Skeptical Inquirer magazine : November/December 2001

Here is a critique of a particular "experiment" attempting to support conversations with the dead and a book about it.

How Not to Test Mediums1     :Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments Skeptical Inquirer magazine : January/February 2003  Ray Hyman

If one has no had a religious experience how can one reach a conclusion as to whether or not such an experience exists as reported? is truthful? Is accurate? Is sufficient grounds to conclude that there is a supernatural realm? that there is a deity?  That there is a supreme being?

How can non- believers accept the reports of people who claim to have had such experiences when there are so many alternative explanations for those reports which would provide strong reasons to reject the claim that the reports are truthful and accurate?

On GHOSTS

Outcome Assessment

This argument or proof does not establish the actual existence of a supernatural deity.  It attempts to argue for the existence of such a being by offering evidence that is highly questionable and for which there are alternative and often more plausible explanations.  While the argument can not be used to convert a non-believer to a believer, the faults in the argument do not prove that there is no god.  The Burden of Proof demands that the positive claim that there is a supernatural deity be established by reason and evidence and this argument does not meet that standard.  The believer in god can use this argument to establish the mere logical possibility that there is a supernatural deity or at least that it is not irrational to believe in the possibility that there is such a being but the argument does not establish any degree of probability at all when there are alternative explanations for the reports of experiences offered.  The veracity of the reports has not been established.

OUTCOME:

The Argument:

Premises

1. Persons claim to experience contact or communication with the dead. 

Conclusion:  There is a realm of the dead or spiritual realm in which there are souls, spirits, and the deity

Problem with argument:

1.      _X___Premises are false or questionable

2.      ____Premises are irrelevant

3.      ____Premises Contain the Conclusion –Circular Reasoning

4.      ____Premises are inadequate to support the conclusion

5.      __X__Alternative arguments exist with equal or greater support

This argument or proof has flaws in it and would not convince a rational person to accept its conclusion.  This is not because someone who does not believe in a deity will simply refuse to accept based on emotions or past history but because it is not rationally compelling of acceptance of its conclusion.

 

V. FINAL QUESTIONS:

Are there reasons to think that the reports of religious experiences are not reliable?

Can the reports be accepted as being true?

Can they be verified?

Do they need to be?

Can reports of religious experiences be used as support for a belief in a deity, the supernatural realm?  

Proceed to the next section with arguments based upon pragmatic concerns

Proceed to the next section.

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Introduction to Philosophy by Philip A. Pecorino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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