Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  5 Arguments for the Existence of God: Experience

Section  5. Religious Experiences

For many religious people there is in the center of their religious nature the feeling that there is something more than their individual consciousness could contact. There is a sense of something "more" or bigger than anything in the known universe. This issues into a hypothesis or idea of a supernatural reality or dimension of reality beyond that which normal sensation can encounter. There is in many people a longing to have their conjectures of a higher realm or a supreme being confirmed.  When such people hear reports of individuals who report encountering spirits or the deity there is a sense of confirmation.  But what does a rational human being make of such reports? 

A Religious experience is an encounter of a human being with a supernatural being, be it a deity or an emissary or intermediary for the deity, nevertheless a spiritual entity. It is a numinal experience. Religious experiences are for the most part, individual and esoteric.

Some are quick and pleased to accept a report of someone claiming to have heard the voice of GOD or Allah or of Mary or Jesus.  If they are inspired to lead or continue on with moral lives, few would be troubled by the reports but what of these cases?

A woman claims to have heard the voice of GOD command her to kill her own daughter who is possessed by Satan.  And she does kill her.

A man claims that Jesus appeared and directed him to throw his son out of the window and then he does do so.

A young man claims he has been commanded by Allah to throw or plant a bomb to kill the blasphemers.  He does so.

See below for other examples of people who claim a deity or devil spoke to them and issued commands. GOD MADE ME DO IT !

Why is it that people are quick to reject claims of people who report contacting GOD or spirits or emissaries from GOD when the result is some heinous act?  Why is it in such cases nearly everyone would look for an alternative explanation to account for the claims being made?

When people report having seen Mary or Jesus why is it they are not asked how they knew who it was?  Why is it that the reports of the appearance of sacred and divine figures vary?  Should not the deity appear the same?  Why would Mary sometimes look one way and then appear differently?  How does anyone know what Jesus or Mary or Ezekiel or Gabriel looked like?

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.  

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

Suppose we accept that 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 do claim that there are positive grounds for rejecting the reports of such experiences, i.e., against their being veridical experiences .  They offer alternative explanations:

When people hear of those who claim to have seen god or an angel or have heard a voice or were instructed by god to kill their child, most people are inclined to think that the claim is not an accurate and truthful report.  Most tend not to believe the person making the claim.  Most people would be inclined to suspect one or more of the following factors are the more likely explanation of the claim other than that the claim is accurate and true.  

  persons reporting the experience believe their claims are  

Persons are mistaken, e.g., optical illusion, misinterpretation,  hallucination

Persons are under the influence of mind altering substances TRUE
Persons are suffering from brain malfunctioning, e.g., chemical imbalance in brain TRUE

Persons are under the influence of group influence-social psychology

Persons are self deceiving TRUE
Persons operate with confirmation bias and belief perseverance. TRUE
Persons are preconditioned for Misinformation Effect but self deceived TRUE
Persons are manipulated by Compliance Techniques TRUE
Persons operating with Projection TRUE
Persons have a need for Closure TRUE
Persons have a need for Agenticity : Anthropomorphism TRUE
 Persons are making a report to get attention FALSE  
6.Persons are making a report to raise money. FALSE  

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

8.Persons are making a report to get power. FALSE  

Why is it that people who make reports of contact with the supernatural tend to be isolated individuals, single, reclusive, eccentric, even sexually repressed?

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 maintains that 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.

In relation to religious experiences, consider that:


No indescribable experience can be publicly confirmed


No individual, isolated and private experience can be publicly confirmed.


Many religious people claiming to have contact with spirits and the deity 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. Consider a blind person who hears what sighted persons are reporting is present but the blind person can not see them. Similar to a blind person confirming what a sighted person sees there should be a method by which those who do not "see" or experience the deity can nevertheless confirm what those who do claim to see the deity are saying is accurate or truthful.  With the

Gary Gutting claims 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.

On the other hand Louis P. Pojman is not so confident.  He claims that 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 because:

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

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 encountered the deity or its emissaries 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? 

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.

God Made Me Do Itů

Stories & Articles compiled by Nicole Nohs (Nassau Community College, 2012), Based on the book God Made Me Do It: True stories of the worst advice the Lord has ever given his followers by Marc Hartzman  Sourcebooks Inc. , 2010

Excerpts at this location:

March 2002 the mayor of a small Florida town bans Satan

September 1993 San Fernando Valley, CA.... God tells man to rob banks

May 2008 in Wisconsin...God told me if i prayed hard enough she would come back to life...,2933,354849,00.html

May 2009 in Minnesota. Bank practicing Christianity

August 1993 in Texas, 20 naked people emerge from a car that struck a tree

September 2001 in Cinncinati...God told man to steal

San Antoni, TX...God tells man to ram another vehicle at 100mph

Various dates...God told me to kill and eat people

June 2008...God told me to kick her in the face

June 2005...God will remove judges from the supreme court

October 2005...God tells president to end tyranny in Iraq

June 2009...God told me to invade Iraq

December 2007...God told me to run for president

April 2000..."I'm leaving it in the Lords hands"

February 2009...God has brought an Africa American woman back from the dead

January 2008, God told me to get Laura Bush to back me in running for president

May 1937, near Stooping Oak,TN...God told me to fast,9171,757781,00.htm

August 2007 in Los Angelos...God tells reality show contestant thatshe will be in the finals...

January 2002, Boca Raton,FL...God writes messages in the sky

January 2008, God told me to resign

More cases of God's bad advice found and compiled by Nicole Nohs...

January 2008 in Texas...God made me kill my girlfriend

2011 Midtown Manahnttan Murder ordered by God

July 2012, It was God's plan to kill Teyvon Martin

July 2007 in Houston,TX...God made me kill for the ultimate sin

November 2009, Nassau County, Long Island, NY...God made me hate gay people...

August 2011, God made me cheat...

 April 2012, God told me to quit Fox news

August 2001, Palm City,FL...God told me to kill my son...

June 2011, Lubbock,TX...God told me to kill my son...

March 2004, Texas...God told me to kill my 3 sons...

January 2012...God told me to kill my pastor...

February 2009, Virginia Beach,VA...God told me to kill..

November 2006...God told me to kill my daughter...

January 2008, God told me to eat my girlfriend...

 July 2012, God told me to shed some blood...

 March 2012, England...God told me to saw off my managers head...

 June 2012, Effingham,CO...God told me to kill my father...

November 2011, God told me to run for president...

 Unknown date, England...God told me to smoke pot...

October 2012, Sacremento,CA...God told me to steal...

July 2012, God told me to cut my genitals...

June 2012, Spokane,WA...God told me to set my apartment on fire...

June 2012, God told me to send her threatening letters...

October 2009, Lexington, KY...God told me to steal the car...

November 2012, Fort Pierce...God told me to drive 100mph in a 30mph zone...

December 2004, God told me to kill my parents

July 2012, Lexington,KY...God told me to kill dog

November 2011, Enfield,Conn...God told me to molest boy

 Lastely, a few stories about the horrible deeds the Devil caused people to do...

 March 2009, Arlington,VA...Devil made me steal...

 October 2008, Devil made me do drugs...

 more to come if God wishes.....

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ę Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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